Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. – Isaiah 53:4
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. – 1 Peter 2:24
In recent years many folks have tried to help people understand what exactly it means when Christians say that Jesus “died for our sins.” Brian Zahnd has focused on the perspective that all of humanity has participated, implicitly or explicitly, in the systems which led to the crucifixion of Jesus. Others have commented that he did bear “our sins” in a figurative sense. He experienced hunger, thirst, exhaustion, pain, and even death, and those are all “our punishments” for “our sins.” The Reformed tradition however, has pushed for a more direct understanding of how Jesus bore our sins. This is what has led many people to accuse them of suggesting that the Father committed violence against the Son on the cross.
Reformed pastors and theologians often deny this, but say it is true that the Father must pour out his wrath on the Son in order to satisfy divine justice. In this brief post I want to lay out a way in which I believe Jesus does literally bear the punishment for our sins, but in a manner that is much more consistent with the story I shared in Part 2 of this series, rather than the story from Part 1. In his defense of venerating icons, Saint John of Damascus describes the incarnation this way, “I do not venerate the creation over the creator, but I venerate the creator who became creation like me, and came down into creation without humiliation…” Later he emphasizes the truth that the creator became creation, or the Word became flesh, without change.
This simple but profound truth helps us understand that the incarnation did not require a change in the divine nature of Christ because the creation has always had it’s being in God, as the apostle Paul says, “it is in Him (Christ) that we live and move and have our being.” As I have mentioned in several previous posts, God’s knowledge encompasses all of human experience. In his eternal decree God has chosen to create all things in and through Christ. Jesus has in a real and literal sense taken on the pain and suffering of all humanity through his willingness to allow creation to participate in his being, or as Maximus the Confessor states, “The Word of God, very God, wills that the mystery of his Incarnation be actualized always and in all things.” Jesus literally bears the punishment for our sins by sharing them with us.
It is through the comprehension of this truth, that Jesus has suffered with us, that we will ultimately find reconciliation with God. The apostle Peter describes it this way, it is through this knowledge that we will, “participate in the divine nature.” By trying to prove Reformed folks wrong, I have come to these conclusions. They may not agree with my assessment, but I would love to know their thoughts. In the next post I will look at what ways in which the atonement is figuratively and literally substitutionary, and in what ways we can say that the cross was necessary to satisfy divine justice. I do not write these posts because I believe that I have found the truth and now I simply want to share it with the world. I write them in the hopes that something I say will inspire someone much smarter than I am to interact with my thoughts. In that spirit, if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve written, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, on twitter, or on facebook.
The painting at the top of this post is by Garrett Archambeault-Kosmosys