It has been a while since I’ve written a theological post, but I have been doing LOTS of thinking recently around the subjects of atonement and salvation and what these two concepts reveal about the nature of God.
Atonement is a concept I accidently ended up super interested in.
This was mostly because I had to take a paper on Christology in order to complete my bachelor of ministries a few years ago. I don’t know how to say this politely… the lecturer drove me nuts.
Mostly because her thought in and around atonement seemed super random and more Deist than Christian – sorry lecturer!! – so I studied super hard so that when she said something I knew I disagreed with, at least I could tell her why.
As a result of this, Christology became one of the papers I did quite well in – and it ended up being a central part of the subject I undertook for research in my final year of study (looking at the way we communicate salvation to young people, and how in turn they hear it)
It is only recently, as I am doing some personal study into what the concept of salvation method of atonement and the meaning of the gospel say about God that I found myself confronted with a really, really obvious question.
Why did it take so long?
Seriously. Wouldn’t it had been easier for Jesus to show up a WHOLE lot sooner than he did, and be all like, ‘hey guys, it is all good now, I’ve made everything better.’
And yet instead, there was this slow, unfolding of what is honestly an edge of your seat drama where we see mankind being amazing and doing the right thing and striving to have right relationship with God and then suddenly there’s making golden calves and being carted off into exile.
I mean the question has stared me in the face for years but I’ve never really thought to ask it. I always figured, well, that’s how it had to be.
But is it how it had to be or is that me giving one of those ‘Jesus made it that way,’ cliché answers?
So I did some digging, and ended up pretty sidetracked on why it took so long for David to become King.
Seriously, he was anointed THREE times, and had to wait seven years before he was finally given any kind of royal title.
Same question applies, here, why did it take so long?
The answer is that while God can maneuver things to get us WHERE we need to be, it is up to us to respond to become WHO we need to be when we get there.
Just as Jesus stormed into the temple a few days before he was born and tossed tables over and condemned the ‘hierarchical’ nature of approaching God that had become practice in the temple… he was preparing the people’s hearts for the fact that this hierarchy wouldn’t exist.
God had to prepare David’s heart to be ready to be King. David had to co-work with God to change and develop as a person, and be suitable to rule over Israel – and even when he was king, he STILL managed to mess up!
This reminded me of that passage in Exodus 23:29 where God says basically that he’ll allow the people of Israel to inherit the promised land, and it will be handed over to them… but he’s not going to do it all at once otherwise the lush land will turn into a wilderness and the wild animals will thrive.
God had to prepare the people to be ready for the promised land.
I was thinking the other day too about the original form of sacrifice the people of Israel had to undertake. Killing animals to atone – or cover- their sins. The Bible says that blood was the only thing that could atone because blood represented life.
Thinking about it this pattern of sacrifice is actually hugely useful, just as Jesus’ table throwing episode in the temple was useful as it pointed out a gap, a missing piece that could only be filled by something that was yet to come.
Just like salvation.
Let’s be honest, the whole ‘Adam and Eve in the Garden’ thing was a LONG time apart from the whole ‘Jesus Died To Restore Creation Back to God’ thing.
But the more I look at the length of time Salvation took, the more I believe this distance of time was really a parallel of why David had to wait so long to become King, and why Israel wasn’t able to just inherit the Promised Land all at once.
Salvation is in many ways a collaborative event. Yes, we are only justified through God with no work of our own, but he does prepare our hearts for him and his grace. I believe this length of time was because Humanity on a whole – and Creation on a whole, as it was ALL of the world that was won back through Jesus’ death – had to be prepared for Jesus.
Prepared for the Kingdom, to understand it, to be able to implement it through the help of the Holy Spirit.
We might not understand everything, especially when it comes to dealing with God who exists separate to time and is therefore not limited to it, but looking at these parallels I would say humanity was a young shepherd who God purposed to make a King.
I don’t believe at all that God held out on humanity, that he manufactured an elongated season of hardship for the people over this time – because as it says in the Bible, he is God and there is no darkness in him. He just isn’t capable of wickedness and bad things, not even in that weird post modern round about way that people often try to justify bad stuff happening.
He wasn’t trying to teach us a lesson like a looming and grumpy parent.
He was collaboratively working with us.
Sin was a deeply rooted change in our appearance from having been made in his likeness that had a long process which needed to be worked out with awe and reverence of who he is (Philippians 2:12)
He is a God who is willing to get on our level, and work with us to help lift us where he sees us.
PS: How fab is the parallel of the promised land not becoming like a ‘wilderness’ and the idea of man being sent out to till the land following the fall in the Garden, and the imparting of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (a harvest festival think plants and gardens) where we are told to go out and spread the Kingdom (like cultivating the land as man was told to by God following the fall!?) – more on that later…