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« Just As I Am | Main | Same-Sex Marriage Is "Expanding Our Sense of Possibilities" »

June 24, 2014


Isn't he making an assumption that us invalid by defining God on his own terms? He also lacks understanding of His holiness it appears . Lastly, atonement is not for God but for man. God does not "need" it, man does.

This person is assuming that atonement is a need of God rather than a requirement of God. In other words, God does not have to offer atonement at all. He would still be perfect in every way if He exacted justice on the guilty.

Atonement is a payment. So it's not that God needs something, but rather that God is owed something. So it is we who lack something - the ability to pay.

God is defined as an Almighty being. An Almighty being does not require atonement (for “sins”). Therefore if God requires atonement as the Bible says, he is imperfect and not Almighty....

Sorry, I just can't make the logical connection between God's omnipotence (Almighty) and His mercy (atonement). Vince is right. The lack is not in God, it is in man. God's decision to make up for this lack through atonement (first in levitical sacrifice // the Old Testament experience :: then in the New Testament sacrificial death of Christ) does nothing more than enhance our limited understanding of divine omniscience. How powerful is God? So powerful as to die for a cause that is spurred by divine love.

That seems sort of backwards. I always thought atonement had everything to do with us and nothing to do with God. Atonement is the concept of justice. Since God is just, he cannot leave injustice unpunished because it is unfair. Old Testament atonement was more for the benefit of the person offering the sacrifice. The atonement of Jesus is far more complex than that. Jesus atones for Israel because Israel is called to bear the sins of the world, but Israel cannot because she refuses to do so. Therefore Jesus takes that mantle on himself and does it on Israel's behalf, therefore bringing forgiveness to the whole world. That really doesn't have to do with God's nature, but the situation of the way reality is. Without Jesus stepping in, there is no way for forgiveness to begin and sin to begin to go in reverse, so to speak. I think the person asking this question does not understand the concept of atonement at all.

Everything exists to reveal the glory of God to His creatures. Sin and wrath show the righteousness and corresponding justice of God. Atonement in Christ and eternal life through the justification of sinners show the wisdom, mercy and love of God. A lop sided revelation of God would exist if you had one without the other. (Eph 3:9-11)

I’d be curious to ask the person making this claim, “Ok, let’s assume that’s right. God doesn’t require atonement. If that’s the case, what do we make of our prospects as human beings?”

Of course, the person probably wouldn’t say we’re doomed. The person would most likely say that a perfect God wouldn’t punish us at all (so why the need for any type of reconciliation to God?)

I think those two errors, when dealt with together, are pretty easy to address. I’d first hit the justice part (2nd part) and how God’s perfection requires it (i.e. God is not a doormat). Then hit the first part (atonement) and how it’s related to God’s love and mercy.

Now, the same twisted logic could be said of God’s love. Does he need it? Love is part of His nature. The absence of love isn’t perfection.

All in all, the people that make these kinds of objections have a fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘Almighty’ means.

I jumped to the site which inspired the challenge. It is supported by Bishop John Shelby Spong. this may explain the confusion behind the question.

JBerr, you are definitely on to something. The bishop's response seems more a discrediting of the teaching of atonement. It closes: So, rather than worrying about whether God can be understood in terms of atonement, I would prefer to remove atonement from the Christian vocabulary altogether.

It does not necessarily follow that an almighty being cannot require atonement. However, I do not believe that God requires atonement. His perfect character requires justice, and some payment must be made for our sins for His people to be made right before Him (forgiven). Justice is what God requires. Atonement is what we need.

I think it can be explained with the ambiguity in the word "requires". It's a fairly true statement to say "God requires atonement", but it's more accurate to say "God requires atonement from us, in order for us to be saved".

The first statement as interpreted in the OP seems to mean "God needs atonement or He is lessened, and therefore not almighty". Where as the second statement is "God has set this law: If we don't atone for our sins, we are not saved.".

I would relate this situation to a tenured professor who gives a syllabus with requirements for his class. You might say, "The professor requires assignments" from his class. But in truth, he is tenured and does not care whether or not your assignment is completed(as an ex-PhD candidate, I know this to be true). He requires you to do assignments to receive good marks.

In both cases (God and the professor), the word "requires" does not imply need of the one who set the requirement, but a set of rules and consequence imposed on another. "If you want THIS, I require THAT to be done". One does it to help us be better, the other because it is required by his provost. (Hopefully, it is obvious which is which) :-D

And I just read Spong's response. Wow.

Jesus is Lord.

My very first thought was "what does 'atonement' mean?" So I looked up the definition, which immediately clears up the confusion inherent in the question.

"satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends."

In other words, it is something God requires of man because of crimes committed by man. So it is not a question of power ("Almighty") but of justice. It has to do with God's perfection.

So the counter question would be, "Can God be perfect and not require atonement for a crime?" The answer seems obvious to me: No. In order for God to be perfect, He must also be perfectly just, punishing evil with perfect equality. And that punishment is atonement.

So atonement is not something which He is incomplete without, it is something He must demand of us because of the total perfection of His character.

What is amazing is that He chose to provide that atonement on our behalf, not because we deserved it, but because He wanted to. That is unmerited grace, and it chokes me up every time I think of it.

Pardon me for not having time to review previous posts, so hoping this isn't redundant.
God does not need atonement. We do.
God provides atonement. We do not.
Indeed, that He attributes to my account the atonement that Jesus accomplished on the cross is a reflection of His love and mercy, not of any need on his part.
Moreover, as a triune being, God already experiences perfect relationship with others within the Trinity. This highlights even more that He does not need to provide atonement to me so that He can have a relationship with someone else. He already has that, and has it perfectly.
Such love as this, who can describe adequately?
Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
- Jim in Houston

Pardon the length:

There are a number of issues in the chain of reasoning presented. First is an issue of equivocation. “Require” has two different meanings that are pertinent to this discussion. The first is the sense that is used here “to have need of; need.” The second is the sense that it is used when it is declared that “God requires atonement” by Christians; “to call on authoritatively; order or enjoin to do something:” or “to call for or exact as obligatory; ordain.” To understand the level at which atonement is “required,” one has to look at what it is required for.
A number of people have said that God does not require atonement, we do. However, this is still the second definition of atonement because it is not an aspect of existence (I require air) but an aspect of necessity in light of a desired goal. Another respondent mentioned God’s holiness, and here is where the idea of God requiring atonement (because God IS the one that requires it) is accurate. God’s holiness, containing within it perfect justice, must have some atoning (“satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.”) for sin. Justice demands that a breaking of the law be punished. God’s requirement of atonement for sin is in the legal, not the existential, sense, and is therefore not an indication of a lack in God, but an outgrowth of one of God’s fullnesses and perfections (justice).
Another issue is with the link between “Almighty” and “imperfect.” These two concepts (well, almighty and perfection) are combined in God, but separate in logical function. Almighty is, at the extreme, the capacity to bring about any state of affairs. Almighty is, in the Christian expression, the capacity to bring about any coherent state of affairs. So the Almighty cannot create a square circle, but that is not a lack of the ability to bring about a state of affairs, for the state of affairs described is nonsensical. Perfection, on the other hand, is “conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type.” So in itself perfection is an empty descriptor unless it also contains an expression of what is perfect. God is perfectly holy, perfectly loving, perfectly just. None of these are directly related to capacity to bring about a state of affairs.
Again relating to perfection, the lack of something does not imply imperfection. God lacks fingers, but that does not make him imperfect. God lacks sinfulness, but that is in fact an expression of his perfection (morally perfect) not an imperfection. Again, unless you say perfectly *what*, perfect is an empty descriptor.
So, what the originator appears to be getting at is that if God were almighty, were capable of bringing about any state of affairs, then he would be capable of bringing about the state of affairs of a sinner in heaven just sheerly out of his power. Atonement is unnecessary in the face of the almighty in that regard. Here again we go back to the list of God’s perfections, specifically perfect justice and holiness. Because “almighty” does not include the capacity to commit logical contradictions, it cannot produce a state of affairs in which a perfectly just God is unjust. Perfect justice requires recompense for sin. Atonement is that recompense. As a perfectly just almighty being, God requires (demands) atonement, but also *provides* the means of atonement, therefore maintaining perfect justice and perfect mercy.

"An Almighty being does not require atonement" is begging the question.

Wewre in the world did this assertion come from?

The holiness of God is incompatible with man's sinfulness, so yes, atonement is required if man is to be reconciled with God.

A God that doesn't require atonement for sins in order to be reconciled to him is not holy.

It seems to me, the questioner makes a misstep at the outset. The claim that "God requires atonement" is actually false, at least as far as the Christian world view is concerned.

God does not require atonement. He requires JUSTICE. Atonement is offered, by His amazing grace, to meet the requirement of justice by placing the burden of justice on the shoulders of Christ who, by taking on that burden, pays the debt we owe in order that justice is served AND we are reconciled.

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