An Eastern Take on the Atonement

This is a post from a previous blog from 2008. I thought I’d share it, especially as we prepare to offer the RESURRECTION Jesus made possible.

In our Western theological landscape, we think of redemption as the appeasement of God’s anger toward sinful mankind. In brief, it goes something like this: God is angry with sin, so we are justly condemned; Jesus’ sacrifice pays the price of the anger; man is saved from wrath.

But in the Eastern church, there is a very different perspective. The Eastern church teaches that the redemption of man is an act of restoration and reconciliation, not of ransom from punishment. In other words, while the judgment for sin is atoned for on the cross, it is the manifestation of love, not anger.

It is a subtle nuance; and it might be lost on some; but to me, it is beautiful. God cannot abide sin; but it is because it is the corruption of his creation. It is not his intent at all for mankind, so in his love for his creation, Jesus restores us to God.

All at once, one of the great theological arguments of the Western Church disappears. It does not matter who the ransom is paid to (God or Satan) because there is no ransom. We are not held captive, but rather simply distant and sick. Our relationship with God is severed by sin and restored by Jesus.

For the most part, the Orthodox do not speak of redemption in legal terms (grace, punishment) but rather in medical terms (sickness, healing). Repentance is not remorse and acceptance of punishment but an act of our freedom to choose Christ and therein receive reconciliation.

To be honest, I am just reading this for the first time, but I love it. Rather than emphasizing condemnation, the Eastern church sees restoration. Through Jesus, we do not lose our humanity in the pursuit of holiness but rather true holiness before God is the pursuit of becoming fully human, as we created to be.

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