Did Jesus Come to Atone For Our Sins or to Show Us How to Live and Love?

Feb 24, 2020

The end of Jesus’s earthly life certainly ends in his death on the cross, His resurrection and His eternal life in God in Heaven. And we’ve taken that to mean that He had to die to atone for mankind’s “original sin,” to redeem the choice Adam and Eve made in Eden to disobey God. Personally, I don’t believe in “original sin,” a late addition to Christian beliefs in 4th C. A.D. through Augustine. Let me describe how I came to this conclusion.

 

God designed the whole universe in great detail, for instance on the planet earth He created an interdependent system of plants and animals and humans providing for all our needs. Within any one category there is so much variety: plants—391,000 species with 369,000 of those flowering;[1] animal species are estimated to be between 3 and 30 million.[2]  The numbers are huge, but every website I consulted had a different number for each.The way I think about this is that God, who was able to design so many millions of creatures and plants in an interdependent system in such detail could not have been ignorant of the fact that creating mankind with free will meant that we would rebel against His laws and desires for us.

 

Certainly Jesus lived a life of challenge from the powers that be and suffering on the cross as the people on earth still do today, but I don’t think he is atoning for our sins. He was there with God from the beginning, a part of the web of life, a Spirit who represented the Word of God.  In Genesis 1 God spoke and the earth was created—“Light;” then “Day and Night” then “Sky” and “Land” and so on. God spoke and the Word created. Later that Word came to earth to be a human being to show us how to love God with all of ourselves. He came to show us how to live a life anchored in God. He showed us how a human being could bring forth within us the God-image[3] that we are each created with. He showed us how to live the ultimate challenge of death on a cross and how that death would not contain us—His resurrection meant that death does not have a hold on us. There is always life after any death, whether it is a little death/loss or a bigger loss of a child or spouse or even the loss of our own earthy lives.

 

The Parable of the Prodigal(or Lost) Son shows us what happens when we repent and turn to God. The lost son has decided that after throwing away all his inheritance wastefully and working as a servant for someone else, that he could go home and be a servant in his father’s house. He expected that low status and perhaps some other punishment for the wrong he had committed. But there was his father, who was watching for his errant son in hopes that he would return, running out to greet him as he came near. He threw his arms around him and welcomed him, then threw a party for him to welcome him home. And restored him to his rightful place in the family. The errant son heard no recriminations, only welcome and love and forgiveness. The punishment he experienced in losing all of his inheritance and working as a servant to someone else came to him by his own choices.[4] Not from his father at all.

 

He had already paid the price for his sin, his choice to exercise his free will. And that’s what Jesus taught: to repent from our past sins, to turn back to God, to dedicate our lives to Him, to enjoy the lifting of burdens, and to experience fully the care of the Father. He proved His teachings by the way He lived, dedicated to the Father and serving all the poor and needy, the sick and lame and even the hated, the tax collectors—healing and challenging them to remember God by the way they lived their lives.

 

We could come to see that Adam and Eve’s choice to eat of the forbidden fruit was inevitable given our free will. It is not that we are stained by original sin. We were given the choice of how we were to live in this world. And until we experienced that distancing ourselves from God, we had no idea of the consequences of our actions. There is a lot of punishment in the Old Testament of sinners, but I believe that it is God simply explaining what will happen to someone who chooses to sin, not the Father reaching out in anger and revenge to punish us. Deuteronomy 28 states it clearly that our choices bring us blessings or curses. Our choices bring us what our choices imply—curses for not doing God’s will or blessings if we do. It is in how we choose to live that we experience grace or disaster. Or sometimes we experience great wealth because of our choices, but we live in misery with it, fearful of it being taken away or someone doing better than us or some other anxious state of affairs that will not let us rest in peace.

 

Deuteronomy 28 clearly puts the responsibility for our behavior and outcomes on us. God doesn’t have to punish us, we have already set that punishment in motion every time we choose to do something that God would not approve.  It’s on us; it’s on my shoulders, how my life goes. That’s the clear message in this chapter of the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean that our lives will be without challenges and suffering, but it does mean that we will always be in the presence of God who will help us through whatever happens.

 

When we are not alone dealing with suffering and shame and all that tends to happen to human beings here on earth, when we are healed of all that has happened to us, then we are able to see other people with God’s eyes, with love and forgiveness and mercy. And that is what we are created to do.

 

Questions to ponder over the week: How do I view God, as punitive or welcoming? As harsh or forgiving? As judging me or loving me? What difference does it make to me if God is punitive, harsh, and judging or if he is welcoming, forgiving and loving? Have you experienced God’s welcome, forgiveness and love?

Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who know God’s welcome, forgiveness and love. May we accept them without qualification from God. May we shower those qualities from God on everyone we meet.

 

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Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. 2.24.20s is entitled, “Discipleship has two sides to it.”

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=number+of+plants+in+the+world&oq=number+of+plants+in+the+world&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l7.5885j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

 

[2] https://www.thoughtco.com/how-many-animal-species-on-planet-130923

 

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] See Deuteronomy 28 for how our own choices create blessings or curses in our lives.

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