Christ's Death: A Rescue Mission, Not a Payment for Sins

Because we don't owe a debt of guilt for Adam's sin, Jesus' suffering wasn't a payment to the Father.

 

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This means that something else is missing-guilt. Now, of course we are responsible for our sins, and guilty in that sense. But we're not born carrying the debt of guilt for Adam's sin. That's what the fourth-century theologian Augustine of Hippo meant by the term "Original Sin." But his theory was not widely accepted in the early church (in fact, not all Eastern Christians call him a saint, and he was far from the towering figure that he became in Western thinking later on.) The idea of inborn debt compelled Augustine to say that, logically, a baby who died before baptism would have to be damned.

Instead, although early Christian spiritual writings are continually focusing on sin and repentance, the concepts of guilt and debt rarely appear. St. Andrew, like most writers of the age, views sin instead as a self-inflicted wound. Likewise, he sees God as compassionate rather than wrathful. God is always described as rushing to meet us like the father of the prodigal, or coming like the good Samaritan to bind up our wounds.



In Orthodoxy, there is less of an emphasis on discrete, external acts of sin, and more a sense of it being a pervading sickness. Christ didn't come to save us just from the penalty for our sins, from death and eternal misery. He came to save us from our sins, now, today--from the poison that flows in our veins, that alienates us from the Light, that marches us toward death. He saves us like the fireman carrying that child from a burning building. We are as helpless as that child; nothing we do saves us. But as we gradually creak open the rusty doors of our hearts, we begin to discover the faint sense of His presence. He was there all along, as He is present in every person He creates. Attending to that flickering flame, we nurture it and allow it to spread, until we are filled with His light and glory.



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