The absurdity of atonement

Imagine a judge who is ruling in the case of a serial killer (a man who has committed countless atrocities). This judge for some reason develops love and compassion towards the serial killer (perhaps he sees that the killer had a rough upbringing and his actions are a result of psychological torment, etc..). Anyway, the serial killer is condemned by the jury as guilty and, according to the law, should be placed on death row. However, the judge was not happy with that outcome because he loved the serial killer. So the judge finds a legal loophole to get the serial killer free by applying the punishment instead to his 5 year-old-son, a sweet little boy who has never committed any crime in his life. This was done with the complete and free consent of the child (who is assumed to be capable of giving such consent). But the judge wasn't just gonna let his child die; he was planning to let his child be sentenced to death but then later file an appeal and get him out of prison. And so no one dies (neither the serial killer nor the judge's son)! The only problem is that the judge's son would have to suffer in prison during this appeal process (for days, months, maybe even years) until his father is able to get him out. 

What kind of stupid legal system allows a little innocent child to suffer on behalf of a serial killer and allow the serial killer to go free? How is this justice?
What kind of father allows his little innocent son to suffer in prison because he sympathizes with a serial killer?


  • you seem to be confused with protestant theories.

    the picture you describe above does not fit with orthodox Christian explanations of salvation.

    read 'the incarnation' by saint athanasius and it will make a lot more sense.

  • I second Mabsoota's wise words
  • edited April 2020
    Yeah it's actually not just protestants, this blog posts has very relevant quotes that highlight the church's view on the topic ... but also just read passages like Isiah 53:5-10, 1 John 2:2, Romans 3:23-26, Colossians 1:19-22, etc... all of which imply the idea of Christ as the perfect sacrificial lamb who suffered as a propitiation  for our sins and thereby reconciled us to the Father who was deeply offended by our sins.

    Also 'On the Incarnation' is mostly a book of symbols and metaphors revolving around three central ideas that a) God couldn't just forgive humans cuz then he wouldn't be just, b) God couldn't just destroy humans cuz then it would seem like his "humanity project" failed, and c) Jesus's death on the cross creates a balance between God's justice and love because only He is capable of paying the price of everyone. However, no where in the book does it address the problem that this is a very weird system of justice that allows an innocent to take the blame for the guilty.

    All that said, this may seem accusatory towards God or the church, but I honestly believe that there was another reason for Christ's suffering and death ... the idea of atonement just ridiculous (regardless of whether the Coptic church endorses it or not), and I'd like to think that God is at the very least a rational being.
  • That blog is owned by a servant from the LA Diocese named Maged who has been spreading these penal substitution protestant ideas within the church. He has been reprimanded and dealt with multiple times concerning these improper understanding of salvation. 
  • That’s fine but are the quotes he listed not real or taken out of context somehow? If they are real, then it doesn’t matter what his own biases are, right? For example, one of the quotes is also used here

    Also if that’s not what the church says about the purpose of the cross, then what does it say?
  • Your reasoning relies on the assumption that Christ is a mere 'child' and therefore 'innocent.' However, fathers such as St. Cyril I made it abundantly clear that terms like 'Father' and 'Son' are only relative, as we cannot fully comprehend the workings of the Holy Trinity or God Himself. 
    Christ was brought to suffer for our sins because he is God descended unto earth, who took on a human form thus blessing it and making it fit for sacrifice, for he is without blemish (as St. Athanasius writes). 
    I understand your confusion, and you made me have to think about it for a second, but I think it's a confusion caused by terminology. Please forgive me if I am mistaken.
  • @Kyrillos97,

    Nice attempt at the parallel, but I think your story is so excessively flawed, failing to capture the entire picture. 

    First, it is the judge Himself who sacrifices Himself. The word son, as others alluded, is not as we understand it.

    Second, it is not a guaranteed out for the sinner but rather a new option which is narrow and difficult. 

    Third, the sinner still undergoes a death but a new death that has OPPORTUNITY for new life. His penalty is still pending.

    Fourth, there is no salvation in a moment here, there is a difficult faith expressed and a reverence and dedication to the offer given. The real sad part is most won't take it as seriously as you may have portrayed and as such might actually lose on the offer the judge is making.

    Fifth, it is not one serial killer that the judge offer himself for, but to ALL. This surely is a big difference, as it includes a level of justice that is not present in your story.

    Point is, there's too much in your story that is left out. Salvation is not but merely a word called atonement but rather a combination of numerous complex Godly traits, that will be very hard to comprehend. No story can be paralleled... 
  • Dear brothers and sisters,

    I'm new to this forum. I'm no theologian whatsoever, but am intrigued by this subject. 

    Are there any priests online who can help on these questions?
  • Yes this is just an analogy to demonstrate how ridiculous penal substitution or atonement is. Christ may not have been a 'child', but he was certainly 'innocent' (most people would agree). The idea is that "justice", as we understand it, can't be served on the innocent on behalf of the guilty. 

    Question is simply this: What did Christ achieve by his suffering and death that couldn't be achieved without his death? (And we're talking about God here so there is very little-to-nothing that can't be achieved)
    My understanding of the church's (and Bible's) answer: He paid a price that needed to be paid to reconcile humans to the Father after humans sinned. 

    I hope that my understanding is wrong because it makes God into a blood-thirsty ruler who just wants to punish someone/anyone to cool his wrath. But unfortunately I can't find an alternative answer that makes sense. Hence, all these posts. Thanks for response :)
  • @Theodosia
    1. No Priests are currently on this forum.
    2. It's Holy Week. I would think, even with the lack of laity and open churches, any Priest would be a bit busy this week.
  • @Kyrillos97

    The Lord Jesus Christ HAD to take flesh in order to renew it from corruption. He was not a substitution to suffer God's wrath. He was a physician who destroyed an engrained disease. The work of salvation began at the moment St. Mary agreed to Gabriel's annunciation. It was not only His death.

    This is from "On the Incarnation" by St. Athanasius (4th century patriarch of Alexandria):

    For the Word, perceiving that no otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which had come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. Whence, by offering unto death the body He Himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightway He put away death from all His peers by the offering of an equivalent.

  • @ShareTheLord

    Thanks yes and I agree with everything you said. No analogy captures every aspect of the real thing. But I was just trying to capture two aspects: a) complete innocence of Christ (hence little kid) and b) the loving relationship that exists between persons of the trinity (hence father son relationship; not necessarily that they are like an earthily father and son). The idea is that that the Father gave up His innocent Son whom He loves to die for humans who supposedly deserve punishment. The major flaw in my analogy that you didn't point out is that the judgement here was made by an outside party (the jury), whereas in the real story the judgement supposedly came from God himself which actually adds to the absurdity of the whole story (the judge is powerless in front of a jury ruling whereas God can do whatever He wants).
    Finally, yes it's not salvation in a moment and the person still has to overcome this nasty habit of murdering other people, but that just goes back to the default state before his first murder. That is to say, the road to heaven for us is not any narrower compared to Adam/Eve when they were tempted to eat that first fruit.

    Thanks but I'm just having trouble saying Christ/God "HAD" to do anything. God can change the rules, He's the boss of the universe. If God simply utters the words "Let the human nature be renewed", is there anyone/anything to stop it from happening? Call me arrogant or whatever, but I have to disagree with St. Athanasius when he says "no otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition". And some may say that God had already decreed death as the wage for sin; but again I say God can do whatever He wants, and there are several examples when God "changed" a decision or "went back" on His word (assuming that God's decisions follow the same sequence of time as we know it).
  • edited April 2020

    No. God cannot change the rules. 

    Are you familiar with God's nature?

    His Nature is perfectly Just, Merciful and Immutable. He cannot change. 
    Changing the rules simply undoes free will. Doesn't it. 
    Why create us free to sin if you then take away from me the consequences of my sin?

    What happens to His perfect Justice when there is sin committed? Agreed, this not a question of wrath and He needs his pound of flesh to feel OK about it. Not at all.

    Heaven forbid!

    His perfect justice means there are consequences for actions that have to be paid. That's all. Due to the fallen nature of man, there is now an abyss, a gap, an eternal void between Man and God. 

    This has nothing to do with wrath. 

    How does Man fill this void? He cannot. So God did it. 

    So let's say God did nothing.

    The very definition of Love, which is God's nature would not be exercised. 

    The act of Christ on the cross is an act of Love, not appeasement. 

    But Maged appears to be saying the exact same words. What have I misunderstood? I am a bit astonished to learn that St Isaac the Syrian is Nestorian. That's new to me, but he has indeed quoted the Church fathers.

    I think many people are getting stuck on semantics. 

    There is a difference between due to the Divine to Justice and for the Divine Justice. 

    God does not need anything. He doesn't need your sorry, He doesn't need your sacrifice. He doesn't need anything. He didn't even need the sacrifices in the OT. His justice, His perfect Justice cannot allow the consequences of sin to exist without any effect. The effect is eternal separation from God. It is not that the consequences deserve punishment (they do) - it is that the consequences result in eternal damnation. 

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but that is my understanding anyway.
  • Dear @Theodosia

    I'm not sure why you say God can't change the rules? Yes God's nature is immutable but his laws are not necessarily part of his nature. To say that God can't change the rules is to say that there is another being above God who sets the rules.

    Why would changing the rules take away my free will? The decision to commit a sin and the act of the sin come before any consequence of the sin. So I can decide freely and exercise my free will regardless of whether or not there is a consequence. Silly example: [if you watched The Purge] people during the purge kill each other with no consequence .. would you say that they don't have free will? Does that mean they are not morally responsible for their actions? I don't think so.

    Let's look for a second at what happened before and after the cross and the resurrection. Before the cross if I had sinned I would be condemned and that would be it. But I can now sin, repent and confess, and there would be no consequences for my sin. So it seems that the rules have changed. It seems that the whole point of the cross was to change the rules, to make sins (after repentance) without consequence. My question is: why was the cross needed to fulfill this end result? Why couldn't God simply say it and it would happen?

    Finally, your point about the abyss, gap, or eternal void that was between God and humans ... how did Christ's death fill this gap? Why was the cross needed to achieve this?
  • @ Kyrillos97...i think you're confused about what the "rules" are. They are not the Law but the Law fulfilled the rules.

    The rules are based on the nature of God, and if they change, then you are changing His nature. In our context here, His nature includes being fully just: He gives free will and we must choose wisely, Him preferably or we will be dealing with the consequence. 

    We are judged by God for our thoughts and the act of sin, not just the consequence. 

    ANd you are missing something about the Salvation made available to us....Christ didn't "change" the rules for us but he fulfilled them so we are not bound by them, at least not all of them anymore. Repentance was there in the OT too but the forgiveness of sin is what was not being given fully or sufficiently to cover all sins.  
  • @Kyrillos97... I realized also that there is the idea of "if God can't change his rules, then He's not God." That comes out of the atheistic argument of "Can God create a rock so big that He can't carry it?"...the simple answer to that is, no. Mainly because that question leaves out a lot of God's other characteristics such as his knowledge and power. If God is who He is, why would He set something in motion that later He would have to change, considering that He is also All-knowing of all time, the past the present and the future?!  
  • edited April 2020
    Dear @Kyrillos97 

    I wrote a post to share with you. You didn't acknowledge it, which makes me think you disagree, so I erased it.
    However, I would not totally agree with your wording below
  • edited April 2020
    Ok thanks. The rule I'm mainly referring to is that the wage of sin is death. God set this rule when he created humans. You are saying that, for reasons that are not clear to me, if God goes back on this and decides to simply forgive without anyone dying that would go against his nature of "justice". So his solution was to send his son to die on behalf of everyone. And somehow he saw it "just" to have Christ bear the consequence of everyone's sin. God's "justice" has to be different from our regular notion of justice. It makes no sense that the innocent pays for the guilty. In a normal legal system you can't go to prison on behalf of someone you love. 

    Whether Christ's sacrifice "changed" the rule or "fulfilled" the rule is just semantics. From a sinner's perspective, they no longer have to pay the wage they owed. Maybe the wage was forgiven by the debtor or maybe someone paid the wage for that sinner. The end result is the same. So God would have achieved the same end goal by simply forgiving the debt (ie changing the rule) instead of having Christ die on our behalf. 

    You say that "If God is who He is, why would He set something in motion that later He would have to change, considering that He is also All-knowing of all time, the past the present and the future?!" 
    Agreed! And therefore I ask: if God knew that humans will sin, why would he set a wage so high that he would have to pay it himself (or have Christ pay it on our behalf)? Seems counterproductive.

    What is the point of all of this? I simply cannot accept that the sole purpose of Christ's death was to pay the wage of our sin. There must have been another reason, that's what I'm trying to find out.
  • Dear @Theodosia

    I did acknowledge your response, and I replied above. Also your post is still there as far as I can see. Thanks again for your help!
  • @Kyrillos97,
    - You are correct about God's justice system wouldn't be like ours. But that's the mystery, we can never fully comprehend God's characteristics. Also, 2 things:
    - It's not just a matter of innocent blood paying for the guilty, but it's more about One whose sacrifice covers all. That was Christ's sacrifice. 
    - This is the problem with looking at only one aspect of God's Plan. You can't just concentrate on that aspect of sin=death without considering the creation, and the fall, and the reason for both or the reason for the restriction of not eating from the tree.

    "From a sinner's perspective, they no longer have to pay the wage they owed."
    but we are not talking about the sinner here, we are talking about are putting God on a trial and judging Him...which is ok. But then you Must not ignore how thing came to be since that reflect on our understanding of God.

    you are's not all about repaying sin...that's just part of it
  • hi theodosia and meneeryacoub, your understandings are correct from what i have learnt serving in the church (feel free to send a personal message if you would like to discuss further).

    share the Lord and church bob have written beautifully about this, and minatasgeel has nailed it (sorry about the 'nail' pun!)

    kyrillos97, the main and vital point we are trying to make is that the Son of God (who is fully divine as well as human) came to our level and picked us up from our broken state so that we could take part in the divine nature.

    Jesus Christ is God. He planned our rescue (salvation) as well as being the sacrifice.

    what we are praying about and celebrating this week is the chance we all have to be made one with God through God's suffering and His grace and peace.

    i pray God will guide you. understanding this is about living it, not just reading about it.

  • edited April 2020


    You mention: 

    "I'm not sure why you say God can't change the rules? Yes God's nature is immutable but his laws are not necessarily part of his nature. To say that God can't change the rules is to say that there is another being above God who sets the rules."

    This is the million-dollar question, and I feel no one is talking about it.

    Is killing someone wrong because God says it is wrong or because it goes against God's nature? Why is killing wrong? Why is lying wrong? Is it because God said so, or is it because lying is against His Nature?

    It is wrong because it goes against God's Nature. His nature is Holy. What is Holiness? 

    I don't know. 

    I have absolutely no idea what Holiness is. 

    But I am sure I can find out the definition of Holiness from its absence, and we know what the absence of Holiness is. 

    We have seen, and we continually see every day, what the absence of Holiness is.

    So man's nature became corrupt and is in a state that is the exact opposite of Holiness. As Holiness is God's nature, we have entered a state of unholiness - or ungodliness. Eternal separation from God. Eternal death.

    You asking now to change the rules is like changing God's Nature. Holiness has no fellowship with ungodliness. So there are 2 options mankind has to move forward in this state of deadliness: 

    a) we work hard by making God unholy (which is what man is trying to do and has been trying to do for a very long time )
    b) God makes us Holy.

    and indeed, God did b) - he became man so that man might become Godly. 

    But a) is an interesting idea and I see that society really seems to be interested in this option. This option works and is based on definitions. What makes something right or wrong? Well, if we change what is right to wrong and wrong to right, then our definition is what makes us Holy - not God's. Or at least that's what we think we are doing! Mankind is currently undergoing a grandiose exercise in creating their definitions of right and wrong, of Holiness and Unholiness. They've removed God from this exercise (which is the very substance that makes something & everything Holy!). 

    What this really wicked and evil philosophy tends to forget is that it is not the definition that makes something Holy or good - it is not because God said do not kill that killing is wrong - it is because His Nature is Holy and Just. His nature is life-giving.

    Why is stealing wrong? 

    Why is swearing wrong? Who said? 

    Why is lying wrong?

    It is clearly God's Nature that makes the rules. God's nature = the absolute Holiness = the absolute definition of right and wrong.

    When man sinned, his state changed - from one of abiding with God (via the Holy Spirit), to one living without unity with God (death). 

    Man's state is now prone to breaking these laws - i.e. it is prone to living in unholiness. I.e. it is prone to living in a state of constant death. And constant death = constant separation with God. 

    So God can see this. He can see that the only life you have is through Him and with Him. He either lets you perish or finds a way to get you out of your state of death. Eternal death.

    So changing the rules is not an option. What needs to change is man. 
    How does man change? Well, we get a chance to bury this nature that is prone to sin in baptism. We have an opportunity to make sure we can live in Holiness through the Eucharist, confession & repentance. All this simply allows the Holy Spirit to abide in you, to work in you, and to give you the life-giving graces of Unity with God. 

    So what happens if we change the rules? At least from our side. At least in terms of the definitions. It is just that. You take God out of the equation. By taking God out of the equation incurs wrath. That is the only time there is wrath:

    Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. 

    Which makes sense that there is God's Wrath exercised in this very condition (of changing the rules): So God died for our sins. He died for all the sins we have done and could possibly do in the future. It has been paid. But if we say that there was nothing really bad about what I've done, as my definitions have changed, then the death of Christ on the Cross - for your sins, was pointless. There's no need. We've done nothing wrong. Our definitions are now what makes us holy and our definitions are respected even by our lawmakers and judges. This incurs God's wrath. 

  • Brother @Kyrillos97 ,
    I do not have the opportunity to take a detailed read through the above responses, which I'm sure are much better than this, but here is the logical setup for the Economy of Salvation, and why your example (and the idea of penal substitution) do not apply to the Mystery of Salvation

    The preface to all of this is that it is a Mystery- it is above the human mind to fully comprehend, just like the Communion, or the Trinity. We can never explain every aspect of the Salvation of our souls, but we can try to explain the underlying reasoning as follows:

    1- At the time of man's creation, he was entered into a sort of agreement with God (although this agreement was by no means fair, as we were given so much in exchange for so little)- we enjoyed the joy of the Paradise, as long as we did not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was an infinite gift, and thus the punishment for it's abuse was infinite and eternal- eternal death, the price of sin.

    2- Man is finite, and as such we can never repay our death payment. If I have a bucket of infinite volume, a finite number of finite drops of water can never fill the bucket!

    3- God is Merciful, and thus wished to fulfill our debt on our behalf. He did this through the Messiah who He sent in the fullness of time. Now, until He came, He gave his chosen people (Israel) guidelines on how to remain close to Him and prepare for the coming of the Christ. However, until He comes, there is no way for man to repay his debt to God.

    4- God sends His Son, who is Fully God, and therefore Infinite. Now, as mentioned before, this Son is not any less than the Father, and has the full Divinity of God. He is fully God (therefore infinite) and fully man (and therefore, His death adds water to the bucket, so to speak)
    Why would God do this? Out of His infinite love for mankind, and His desire for His creation to join Him again, like in the Paradise.

    5- Therefore, when Jesus Christ died on the Cross, the Only Infinite Man died in the flesh, and His soul was separated from His body (death), but not His spirit (that is, His divinity). A man died: water was added to the bucket. But, as He is God, and infinite, the amount of water added to the bucket filled it up. Thus, we were given a path to heaven- notice, not a free pass, but a path
    This path is hard, and the gate is narrow, but it is our only hope of returning to our former glory.

    6- God is fully merciful, so in His mercy, He gave us a path back to Him. However, as He is also just, we still have to pay our price, although it is tiny compared to the former. Our price now is that we should strive to live a godly life, and toil through the death of self rather than the death of the flesh. And when we fall, we now have a path to forgiveness, that is, repentance and confession.

    "I simply cannot accept that the sole purpose of Christ's death was to pay the wage of our sin. There must have been another reason, that's what I'm trying to find out."
    You are absolutely right- Christ's death was not solely to pay our death-wage. It was a manifestation of love and divinity and power, an act of mercy, a lesson in sacrifice, and much more that we can never understand. 

    If I said anything inaccurate, please correct me, and pray for me.

    Pi`hmot gar nemwten tyrou> oujai qen `P=o=c
  • Thanks everyone for responses. This has been helpful!
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