A Good Friday Reflection. God’s Atonement in Christ is Love

The Good News (the ‘Gospel’) is that Jesus died for everyone, which is what we are celebrating this Good Friday evening. There is something very profound that happens in the atoning work of Christ, of course! And as usual there are various readings of the implications of what Jesus did, and these readings are informed by how we first think of God. I think one of the most important premises that we can read the atonement from is that God loves us first that we might love Him (I John 4:19); and God loved us first, because He is love (I John 4:8). It is this love that was demonstrated so many years ago now at the cross. It is this love that holds all of the treachery and vicissitudes of human history together. Without this love, nothing makes sense; everything is aimlessly bounding as Jude says ‘like wandering stars’.

Holbein Dead Christ, detail

Thomas Torrance offers us some enlightening words on the significance of Christ’s death as he reflects on the theology of John Knox:

[S]everal comments on this understanding of Christ’s sacrifice may be in place. While traditional forensic language is used, the atoning sacrifice is not to be understood as fulfilled by Christ merely as man (which would imply a Nestorian Christology), but of Christ as the one Mediator between God and man who is himself God and man in one Person. This means that ‘the joyful atonement made between God and man by Christ Jesus, by his death, resurrection and ascension’, is not to be understood in any sense as the act of the man Jesus placating God the Father, but as a propitiatory sacrifice in which God himself through the death of his dear Son draws near to man and draws man near to himself. It is along these lines also that we must interpret the statement of the Scots Confession that Christ ‘suffered in body and soul to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people’, for in the Cross God accepts the sacrifice made by Christ, whom he did not spare but delivered him up for us all, as satisfaction, thereby acknowledging his own bearing of the world’s sin guilt and judgment as the atonement. As Calvin pointed out in a very important passage, God does not love us because of what Christ has done, but it is because he first loved us that he came in Christ in order through atoning sacrifice in which God himself does not hold himself aloof but suffers in and with Christ to reconcile us to himself. Nor is there any suggestion that this atoning sacrifice was offered only for some people and not for all, for that would imply that he who became incarnate was not God the Creator in whom all men and women live and move and have their being, and that Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour was not God and man in the one Person, but only an instrument in the hands of the Father for the salvation of the chosen few. In other words, a notion of limited atonement implies a Nestorian heresy in which Jesus Christ is not really God and man united in one Person. It must be added that perfect response offered by Jesus Christ in life and death to God in our place and on our behalf, contains and is the pledge of our response. Just as the union of God and man in Christ holds good in spite of all the contradiction of our sin under divine judgment, so his vicarious response holds good for us in spite of our unworthiness: ‘not I but Christ’…. [Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, 18-9.]

As usual, there is a lot packed into a little space by Torrance. There are two things I want to focus on: 1) God initiates for us, because of who He is, Love! He does not initiate for us after He has chosen us, but He has chosen Himself, His own being as Father of the Son consummated in the communing love of the Holy Spirit; and as a result of this shape of God’s inestimable Triune self, as a result of His over-abundant life, He has showered this upon us in Christ, His Dearly beloved Son. And all of this ever before He gets to us. He chooses us not arbitrarily or in an ad hoc fashion, but instead, because of who He is in Himself. There is no abstract notion, no speculative conceiving upon ‘who’ God has chosen for Himself; He has chosen Himself in His Son who is for us by the conciliation of the Spirit. He has not chosen us based upon an utilitarian mechanism of Divine favoritism, or upon the meeting of some sort of conditional law-code; He has chosen us because He is Love, and He has embedded the trajectory of all of creation and re-creation in Love, the Father in Love with the Son. 2) And so God, because He is love, and because the greatest exemplum of this is in His Son on the cross, has hidden us in Himself, in the Yes of the Son first pronounced in contradiction as the No to sin. We have no resource in ourselves, we have no assurance to be groped for in the excesses of our humanity; He has left no room for us to shimmer around in our strength and angst. He has taken us all the way down to the grave in Himself and brought us back up in the resurrection and ascension. Our Yes comes from His Yes for us. We say Yes by the same Spirit that Jesus said Yes from, and it is through this Divine undertaking of super-abounding Love made intimate in the Son for us that we find rest; even, and especially in the death of ourselves.

So God is Love this Good Friday evening, and God’s Love is Yes for us in the vicarious humanity of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. There is nowhere to look this evening, but in anticipation of what Saturday will bring, and Sunday morning will hatch anew. I look forward to the resurrection! amen.

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One Response to A Good Friday Reflection. God’s Atonement in Christ is Love

  1. dtkleven says:

    a couple Torrance questions:

    What are the top three Torrance books (in your opinion), and what’s the best place to start for someone who has never read any Torrance? also, any good introductions to the man and his theology?


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