Posts Tagged ‘Atonement’

Surprised By Government Grace: 6 February

February 6, 2017

At the beginning of this year I drove without due care and attention and knocked a man off his motorcycle. He was taken to hospital by ambulance. In other circumstances, what I did could easily have killed him. I tried not to think about how I would live without my driving licence. 

My first reassurance came from the policewoman who attended the crash. She showed no anger or judgement against me, rather care and concern as she made sure everything happened from them on as it should. The injured man’s brother came, furious with me, and she kept him away. She kept coming to me, as I sat in my car, asking if I was OK. Eventually she explained that she was worried that I had my eyes shut. I was praying hard for the man. 

This kind government official took time to phone me a couple of days later. She wanted to reassure me that the man had been discharged from hospital the same day with bruising and some skin damage, nothing more. What a relief! I was, and am, deeply grateful that I live in a country where I had to do nothing to help repair the damage I had caused to this man because it was all taken care of by the government, the NHS. They didn’t even charge it to my insurance. (Maybe they should..?)

The policewoman also said she thought that I would be invited to go on a course rather than face a charge in court. This was great news but seemed to me unlikely, much less than I deserved. She said I would hear within a month. 

Two days later I received the official letter inviting me to register for a course instead of being charged. Another huge relief! The people at the busy government office, understaffed compared with a few years ago and catching up after the holiday period, had made and processed my decision immediately. I was spared even three weeks of wondering. 

I was given a choice of where and when to attend the course. Six of us bad drivers came to learn Driver Alertness. Again no hint of anger or judgement from the trainer. He was calm, respectful, and subtly talked about his own impatience with elements of ‘the system’ to assure us that he understood those of us narked by being there. He focused on the learning, with only a little mention of what we had done. We were keener to talk about our driving ‘incidents’ than he was, starting with waiting in the lobby for the course to begin. 

The trainer gave time and detail to explain a key factor in my crash. This, and him pairing me up with another man with a similar crash, makes me think he knew our crimes. They key factor is that, if we look far left and then far right, our brains fill in the middle without us actually seeing it. (This is true for multi-tasking women as well as for one-track men.) Because I was not looking at the road near me, only at the gap further away, my brain did not register that the motorcyclist was there, so I pulled out. This knowledge is a great relief. There is nothing seriously wrong with me. I suffer from a common human fault of which I need to be aware and to correct. I now look far left, middle left, near left etc. This takes practice but is not too difficult. 

The ‘classroom’ learning was well led, with an impeccable mixture of lecture, delivered sitting, individual and pair exercises. It brought out the complexities of responsibility for driving accidents and therefore the need for all to be alert. We were then paired up and taken on the road by a driving instructor in his car. Mine was a BMW Mini. I have now driven one! (Once is enough.) 

We each drove for about 20 minutes and then the instructor gave his comments. He too was calm, cheerful, making suggestions rather than giving orders. He overrode the instruction given when I first learnt to drive, to move smartly through the gears to 4th. With modern cars especially, it is better to drive at 30mph in 3rd. He said that I would do better not to wait until the last minute to brake for an obstruction ahead. The gentle way he said it made it easy for me to accept. My fellow criminal drove most of the time with one hand on the steering wheel. The instructor picked this up gently and clearly, not arguing when the man said he didn’t think it mattered, but calmly mentioning it again and again. After lunch we drove for longer. The instructor was quick to praise the good, especially the improved, driving. A very helpful day. 

The UK Government has said to me: ‘We’ll take care of the immediate human damage, and make sure you have insurance to take care of the vehicle and maybe longer term human damage.’ (My insurers, NFU Mutual, were also impeccably kind and efficient.) ‘We’re not going to throw the book at you, not this first time. We know people make mistakes driving, we’re with you in that. We don’t want you to feel terrible about your driving, we want you to understand human weakness. We want to help you to drive better.’ 

What an amazing attitude! It’s called grace. Like Jesus who shows care and concern for everyone, aware of the requirements of the Law, but more focused on helping people feel better about themselves. (Jesus knows that most of us, prodded by the devil, feel plenty guilty enough about what we have done.) Jesus who is with us in our guilt, to take care of the damage we have caused, to deal with our accuser, and to help us to live a better, less damaging, life. Jesus who offers us a choice: law or grace, like I was offered the choice of a criminal charge or a helpful course. It’s great news and seems at first too good to be true. .

If our government act, sometimes at least, according to grace, maybe the UK is closer to being a Christian country than I had thought?

Roger Harper

 

Advertisements

Atonement as Blood Covering, A Fresh Understanding? 17 November

November 17, 2016

On Sunday evening I was talking ‘Atonement’ with assorted Derby clergy who do beer and theology once a month. I was presenting an understanding that the central problem with sin is the wounds we inflict on others. God deals with this by a covering of blood like a scab covering a wound to enable healing and prevent festering.

‘There goes my theology!’ said one Minister half-joking. He described himself as less Conservative Evangelical than he has been. He recognised that the ‘Blood Covering’ understanding has claims to be more Biblical than the classic Evangelical view.

‘Why haven’t I heard this before?’ asked a fired-up Minister’s spouse. He was aghast that he was hearing a Bible truth which he thought many others needed to have heard before. 

This understanding comes from Leviticus 16, the instructions for the Annual Dealing With Sin – Yom Kippur. ‘Kippur’ means, simply and literally, ‘covering.’ The blood makes a Covering, v 27. (‘Kippur’ was spread over the inside and outside of Noah’s Ark to prevent it leaking. There kippur is usually translated ‘pitch.’ A covering which protects, preserves, makes good.) When Wycliffe was translating into English he didn’t want to translate kippur as ‘covering’ (not sure entirely why not) so he invented a new word: ‘at-one-ment.’ For years we have thought that the blood ‘makes atonement’ whereas the Hebrew is more literally that the blood is ‘for covering.’ This has been known in theological circles for a long time. 

Where do we see blood covering? Blood is released by a wound and then covers the wound to form a scab. This covering by blood enables healing, repair, reconstruction, to take place under the covering. The covering by blood stops infection from entering the wound and hindering healing. (Similar to the pitch-covering stopping the waters of chaos from seeping into and damaging the ark.) Is this the fundamental understanding of what is happening to the sins of the people? Their wounds, especially the wounds they have inflicted on others, are covered by God-given blood so that healing and repair can happen, without the world, the flesh and the devil hindering the process of healing? This likening of the Covering by blood to the formation of a scab is probably a new insight.

A further insight from the Hebrew, which I have not fully thought through, is that the covering happens in the Holy of Holies, the blood being placed specifically on the top to the covenant box. We are used to this top as the ‘mercy seat.’ The Hebrew word is ‘kaporet.’ The same ‘kpr’ root as ‘kippur.’ The NRSV translation rightly notes that the Hebrew is literally the ‘cover.’ The blood–covering is placed on the cover. Does the blood renew the cover, annually? Is this like a damaged scab being renewed with more blood, covering the parts which have become exposed? 

Implications of ‘Blood Covering’ as how God deals with sin:

The primary focus is on what the blood covers rather than on the relationship between humankind and God. The primary problem with sin is that humans wound each other. This damage provokes God to anger, as any parent is angry against someone hurting their child. The anger means that there has to be a distance between God and the wounder. But the rift with God is not dealt with directly, even by an intermediary, leaving the wounds untouched. The rift with God is dealt with by the blood which covers and heals the wounds. Once the wounds are on the way to being healed, God’s anger can pass and the relationship with Him is restored. 

On the cross Jesus was pouring out His blood to cover all the wounds inflicted by humanity, thereby bringing healing, repair, to those wounds. By Hs stripes we are healed. The blood which oozes from cuts all over Jesus’ body, covers not the wounds to His skin and tissue, but the wounds we have inflicted on other people. On the Cross Jesus was extending His ministry of healing. He had demonstrated Himself as the Healer par excellence. As he died, His blood, His life, was made available for wound/injury-healing for everyone, everywhere. There is a clear connection between Jesus ministry and death, which are often separated in other understandings of the cross.

The world, the flesh and the devil try to make wounds fester. Festering wounds, in people’s bodies, hearts, communities, nations, are the work of evil, trying to hinder the work of God through Jesus. How much do we see this in our world, our news?

The blood stops the forces of festering. The wounds are then healed gradually. Jesus’s blood covers once and for all. ‘Under the blood’ the Holy Spirit works gradually to heal, repair, sanctify. The work of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with Jesus is seen to be integral. Other understandings of the cross don’t see the Holy Spirit as integral to the process.

The primary focus on the wounds we have inflicted (rather than on the rift in our relationship with God which is a consequence of the wounds) is the same as the Biblical focus in Judgement on ‘according to their deeds.’ (Mth 25:31-46 Sheep and goats, Rev 20:12,13 and many other places.) We are not judged for what we believe or how we have related to God. We are judged according to what we have done. (This goes against the understanding that idolatry is the central problem in humanity.) All of us have injured some people. That is our central problem to which we have to face up. (Our good deeds are irrelevant. The common view that the good deeds outweigh the bad is like making a defence in court on a stabbing charge by saying ‘I’ve donated millions to charity.’ What else we have done is not the point.) Have we inflicted injury? Was it our responsibility? How are we going to put it right? Those are the central questions. We need Jesus to put it right, heal the wounds we have inflicted, by faith in His blood shed on the cross. (Idolatry can and does lead to us wounding others and thinking it is justified for the sake of all kinds of false gods. Idolatry is a malign influence, but the wounds which idolatry justifies are the core problem. Think someone walking by on the other side because their understanding of religious purity, or of bad events being God’s will / punishment, trumps the need to help the injured traveller.)

This understanding answers the exact question ‘What does it mean that Christ died for our sins?’ ‘Christ died to cover our sins, the wounds we have inflicted on others, like a scab covers a wound, ensuring that, in the end, the wound is healed. Christ’s death, Christ’s blood, means that all sins are covered, ultimately healed.’ The classic Evangelical understanding says ‘Christ died for me. He died in my place. He took the anger of God so that it doesn’t come to me.’ This is answering a slightly different question: ‘What does it mean that Christ died for me?’ The Evangelical answer says my sins caused God’s wrath but leaves me in a good place and my sins untouched.

The primary focus on the wounds we have inflicted also echoes the ‘Life Review’ in Near-Death Experiences. This Review enables us to see and to feel all the wounds we have inflicted, so that we can acknowledge responsibility for them and have them healed by the Being of Light.

Is the Blood Covering understanding a fresh insight? Has the connection between covering by sacrificial blood and covering by a scab been made before?

Can the Blood Covering understanding be said to be more Biblical than the classic Evangelical understanding?

Please comment!

Roger Harper