Reply to Brad Jursak’s Objections to a Violent Atonement
In a summary of his book, Stricken By God, Brad Jursak summarizes his objections to the traditional view of the atonement (summarized in my recent sermon) in point-form. I have taken these points slightly out of order (I put the less helpful and the repetative questions nearer the bottom, since I was going to use this in my sermon, but ran out of time). I have taken the time to respond to each of his objections in turn. I hope to read his book in whole someday as well, but as it stands, I just don’t know where I will find the time this year. Maybe next year!
Brad Jursak’s Objections to Propitiation/Violent Atonement
1a) Does sin separate us from God? If so, how?
Yes it does: Isa. 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”
1b) But how?!
I don’t know. That is a good question! Let’s ask that question and pursue truth together in Scriptures, rather than ignoring Scriptures that don’t make sense to us!
2a) Must sin be punished?
Yes it must. Heb. 9:22, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Prov. 17:15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.”
3) And does punishment really restore justice?
No. Propitiation shelters us from the just wrath of God. It is justification which satisfies the justice of God, when we are “declared righteous” because the righteousness of Christ is credited to us in the place of our wickedness. Justification is a separate thing from propitiation.
4) Does punishment pay for forgiveness? How? Why?
NO! Certainly not! Punishment assuages the wrath of God (Rom. 5:8). However, forgiveness is offered freely by God to all who repent (Mk. 1:4, Lk 3:3, Acts. 2:38). It is like a child who says, “Daddy, I am sorry I lit the house on fire.” The daddy can forgive the child as soon as he repents: but rescuing him from the fire may be another task entirely!
5) Does sin agitate God in a way that is only rectified through violence and retribution?
Yes. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7)
6) Does punishment of a sinner truly satisfy God’s wrath?
No it does not. For those who do not enter Christ, God’s wrath is never satisfied. That is why Hell is eternal (Rev. 14:11). Only the sacrifice of Christ can fully propitiate the wrath of God which is why all urgency must be applied to bring all into the rest of union with Christ! (Heb. 4:1)
7) Is a guilty person’s offence really erased by the punishment of yet another substitute victim? Rather than eye for an eye, why would taking the perfect eye of an innocent third party absolve me of sin?
Jesus takes our just punishment, by enduring the wrath of God for us in His death. This is propitiation: however, we are forgiven because the rightousness of Christ’s life is imputed to us in the place of our own sinfulness. Thus, we are justified – or “declared righteous” – before God, because in Christ, we really are righteous.
8) Can or must God’s wrath against sin be satisfied by punishment before he can forgive what he otherwise could not? Can’t he forgive without it? Would that truly make him unjust?
9) If it was God’s will that Christ should die, did Christ endure suffering as punishment for God’s sake or was it, rather, out of costly love for our sake?
It certainly was God’s will that Christ die. (Isa. 53:10, Mk 14:36). This sacrifice was to assuage the wrath of God on our behalf (Isa. 53:10), out of radical obedience (Phil. 2) and love (John 15:13). So it’s both.
10) “Father, forgive them…” Was it God’s will that we sacrifice Jesus for him? Were we being forgiven by sacrificing Jesus so that we could be forgiven for killing him? (This is dizzying.)
It was God’s will that the spiritual and temporal powers crucify Jesus: however, this does not remove their guilt (1 Cor. 2:8). And being forgiven does not remove the need to be saved from the wrath of God.
11) Are the guilty agents of their own atonement as God allows them to commit the very act of sin for which they are being punished and by which they are being saved? If my sin crucified Jesus, then didn’t my sin pay for my sin? This seems like circular reasoning to me… or simply nonsensical.
Not at all! Not everyone who is a part of an action have an equal role, nor do they deserve equal credit. My children eat, forcing me to go to work. So their eating makes me work, which pays for their eating. Yes, that is circular, but it is not circular reasoning: it is clear enough how the cycle works. But notice that they do not deserve any credit for eating, thus causing me to work. Rather, they are in my debt. In the same way, our sins caused Jesus’ death – but why should we think that we have earned some sort of merit by participating in the death of God’s Son? My sin did not “pay for my sin” but rather created a great debt which needed to be paid.