I refer here to the article* by Richard Rohr, that talks about Franciscan monks not holding to an atonement theory, so much as a simple incarnation one. He says that God never required atonement for sin, and certainly didn’t need to punish people for sin, unless I am reading it incorrectly.
That God did not need anything in order to be able to love people. He simply needed to introduce correction so people could find their way back to Him. I quote “Jesus was precisely the “once for all” (Hebrews 7-27) sacrifice given to reveal the lie and absurdity of the very notion and necessity of “sacrificial” religion itself.”
In other words, we may have gotten it wrong, and Jesus came to fix the problem, but not necessarily with all the surrounding present religious inference.
So moving further into possibly blasphemous country, to try and clarify things – When Jesus went to the cross, whatever happened there did not effect us directly at all. There is no influence over us other than by us coming into knowledge of what it was all about, and then ‘acting on it’ because we believed it. If you never heard of Him you cannot be affected by His message, or by his actions.
Jesus did not directly take away our sins. That can only happen as we believe the message of the cross. If we do not believe it, our sins are retained inside us. If we believe it, that new belief will disempower the prior old belief we held, which was what empowered sin. This is based on the perceived sacrifice of innocence taking our guilt, taking the sentence of death for us, on himself. It is also the visual demonstration of what happens to sinners. It is our death revealed.
Really though, the belief in sins forgiven is a separate issue from the sins themselves. Faith causes our sin to be expelled from power over us, but the actual overpowering of sin occurred in Jesus body, and did not physically or actually touch our sin at all. Sin did not magically jump into his body, nor was sin mystically transferred there. The sin that was involved at the time, was the sin of humanity as represented in his body, being human like ours, and prone to death and dying.
As Hebrews says, “That he might taste death for everyone”. In other words, he was going through the death process so that we didn’t have to, so that his action on the cross averted the inevitable death we otherwise would encounter, but that our rescue was still by the result of faith. Having tasted death for everyone, He became a life giving Spirit. So when did new life come, regardless of the sin process? When the Spirit was given. And then received.
So we could say that the removal of our sin was directly related to his overpowering of death, regardless of what that meant. That His bearing of our sin simply meant that he died in our place. This is what many deny, but the truth is that God himself, through his son, suffered the death processes inherent in the sin process. So we could relate sin bearing directly to his death bearing, and nothing to do directly with OUR sin at all. So we could understand that God’s love covers our sin at His own cost, that he has the authority and power to do this. [Did it, on the cross]
Problems occur when groups think they can gain righteousness by following the example Jesus set, that is, by following His standard of righteousness, and by trying to copy his overpowering of the flesh, of human nature, because of their new knowledge of righteousness itself. They try to deny the power of the flesh on the basis of their initial forgiveness, and not on ongoing forgiveness through God’s love. When things start to go wrong, they have no power to reinstate themselves, because they think they have to uphold this standard of righteousness by themselves – They create a new kind of law which is worse than being under the Mosaic law, because the standards are so much higher. They continually rely on the principle of reinstatement through petitioned forgiveness, instead of through the permanent forgiveness [His love] of Him having removed the whole power of sin completely and for all time, as an action of His love and His Son’s love, in action as demonstrated on the cross.
And what happened on the cross was not confined to that point in time, except for the purpose of our apprehension of its meaning. God has always been the same – He didn’t have to get to this point in history before He decided to take some action to rectify the problem – this ‘point in time’ thing is only for our understanding, apart from the logistics of when to reveal the message of course. God has always been love, and always has loved, there is nothing else to it.
Our sin had to be removed because we wanted it gone of our own choice, because we were dismayed by its nature, rather than by the convenience of death being removed, although that is the practicality of it perhaps. Recognition of the dynamic of death is obviously involved, along with fear of death.
The actual event of dealing with sin is encompassed within the time span of Jesus in the garden through to his death on the cross. When He cried “it is finished”, it was finished. When He cried “My God My God, why have you abandoned me”, He was still involved in the process of sin bearing, which amounted to Him of his own righteousness doing battle with the inner unrighteousness of human nature. HIS human nature.