Evil in us

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adam recently asked this in the comment section of a blog on God's justice. I thought it was such a good question that I wanted to devote a blog post to it. Here's Adam's question:
I just finished reading your essay on penal substitution vs christus victor. I am very intrigued and I think you are putting into words some things that have been on my mind for a while. One thing I struggle with there and in this blog post is the idea that christus victor takes on a victim mentality to sin. I would really like to know how this view of atonement fits in with the idea that we do viciously choose to sin and are guilty, not just victims, of evil.

If God is out to fight evil then in a sense he is out to fight us since the fall corrupted us such that we have become evil ourselves. This is the one issue I am grappling with. I can understand how the cross works to free us from the oppression of evil, but not how it deals with the fact that I am evil.
I do think there is a tendency for people today (myself included) to see ourselves in terms of victims. This comes as a response to many people being wounded by self-destructive guilt and self-loathing. As a result we shake off this negative self-hatred, and instead see ourselves as broken. Christus Victor speaks to this self understanding. But at the same time there is a danger in us only using Christus Victor to echo the sentiment of our own time, rather than letting it speak to evil on a much broader scale, including the evil in us. If we have all been hurt, it stands to reason that we have also deeply hurt others. We need to own up to that, not out of self-loathing, but out of compassion for the hurt we have done to others which produces other-focused regret and remorse.

Christus Victor, as expressed by the early church stressed that we shared culpability in our captivity. This is expressed in the often misunderstood legal idea of humanity being enslaved to the devil. The point here Gustav Aulen argues was not (as Anselm had it) to say that the devil has any rights, but to stress humanity's own participation and guilt that led to its bondage. This echoes the Hebrew prophet's understanding that Israel was in Exile under the oppressive pagan rule because of her sin. In the New Testament this external political bondage is taken to a deeper level where we see that our enemy is not some other nation, but evil and oppression itself, and that this evil is not in them over there, but in us. Which brings us to Adam's question: if God is opposed to evil, and we are ourselves evil, how can we be saved?

We cannot simply be removed from external bondage, nor is it enough to merely wipe the legal charges clean. What we need is a change of identity. We need to not only change what we do, but who (and whose) we are. So Scripture speaks of us going from being children of wrath, defined by the hurt and hate of the world, to being adopted children of God. In terms of the Atonement, this is known as "recapitulation". God becomes human, entering into our estate in all of its weakness, woundedness, shame, and guilt. God in Christ so deeply identifies with us in our wretchedness that he "becomes sin" and suffers godforsakenness and accursedness for our sake. Because having been embraced in our darkness and ugliness, we can share in the resurrection life of God.

That plays out in our own lives as we experience the new birth, where God's spirit comes to live in our hearts, and we can cry out with this inner witness "Abba! Father!" as the Spirit of God in us testifies to our inmost being that we are a new creation, born from above. We die to our old self, defined by the world, an enemy of God, and are raised to life in Christ. As we abide in Christ, in an intimate personal relationship with God, we come to know God's grace and love first hand, and that love transforms us into Christ's image. So the cross works to free us of our evil when we come to Jesus and join him in his cross and resurrection. There at the foot of his cross we die to our evil hurtful self, and are born again. We are brought out of our self-focus and separation, and united with Christ, restored into relationship with God, where we were always meant to abide and thrive. In that sense we are justified, meaning "set aright", by being restored into relationship with God as his beloved.

Yes we were because of our own evil God's enemies, but God loves his enemies and gave his life for us while we were his enemies so that we could be conquered and overcome and brought back to our eternal home.

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At 4:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. That cleared some stuff up though I am still absorbing things and will likely have more questions at some point.


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