Friday, May 7, 2010

The Cross – Who is Satisfied??

Chapter 5 of John Stott's The Cross of Christ is on 'Satisfaction for Sin'. As Stott says, there are no words more likely to cause offence in discussions of the atonement than 'satisfaction' and the related term 'substitution'. He quotes Sir Alister Hardy, former professor of Zoology at Oxford and researcher into religious experience who describes his inability to come to terms with the 'crude' beliefs of many 'orthodox churchmen. Quoting from The Divine Flame (c. 1965) he says:
I feel certain that he [Jesus] would not have preached to us of a God who would be appeased by the cruel sacrifice of a tortured body. . . I cannot accept either the hypothesis that the appalling death of Jesus was a sacrifice in the eyes of God for the sins of the world , or that God, in the shape of his son, tortured himself for our redemption. I can only confess that, in my heart of hearts, I find such religious ideas to be among the least attractive in the whole of anthropology. To me they belong to quite a different philosophy – a different psychology – from that of the religion Jesus taught.'
Stott reminds us that opponents will often caricature the Christian understanding of the Cross in order to more readily condemn it. "The real question", he says, "is whether we can hold fast to the saving efficacy of the death of Jesus, and to its traditional vocabulary (including satisfaction and substitution) without denigrating God". His answer is "I believe we can and must."

While the words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' are not strictly Biblical terms used for the atonement, Stott argues that they are indeed Biblical concepts. He says:
There is, in fact, a Biblical concept of 'satisfaction through substitution', which is uniquely honouring to God, and which should therefore lie at the very heart of the churches worship and witness. That is why Cranmer included a clear statement of it at the beginning of his Prayer of Consecration (1549). In consequence, for 400 years Anglicans have described Jesus Christ as having made on the cross, by his 'one oblation of himself once offered', 'a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world'.
He then goes on to say that the way that theologians have developed the concept of the satisfaction depends on their understanding of the obstacles to forgiveness that need to be removed.
What demands are being made which stand in the way until they are satisfied? And who is making them? Is it the devil? Or is it the law, or God's honour or justice, or 'the moral order'? All these have been proposed.
Stott goes on to look at each of these in turn, with a historical review of the theologians that have argued for them. But in the end he will argue that the 'primary obstacle' is found within God himself. He must 'satisfy himself' in the way of salvation he devises; he cannot save us by contradicting himself.
It is helpful to consider each of the possible responses to the question of 'who is satisfied by the cross', because there are good arguments for each of them, yet most of the 'answers' fail in significant ways. Stott helps us navigate each of these answers to come at last to the Biblical teaching about why the cross provides the means by which God 'satisfies himself'.

What do you think? Who or what needs to be satisfied for us to be saved?

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