Today as my wife and i took our daily walk in the local mall, a woman came out of a store with a T-shirt that had a graphic depicting Jesus on the cross with a clever quip about his "sacrificial" death. My initial reaction was judgmental, as i thought how this image and lettering trivialized the terrible suffering of crucifixion. Suddenly, my mind did a double-take, as if i had two minds conversing inside my head. This other mind challenged me for so quickly condemning someone i didn't know, rather than seeing to the "mote" in my own eye.
As i walked on, i began to ask myself about the idea of "atonement." Why should it be necessary for someone to die so horribly to "atone" for my sins and the sins of others? If we worship a loving God, would such a God demand an atoning death to forgive the sins of humankind? Such an idea is repugnant to me. Within the matter of a few steps, i realized that i had never taken the time to think about concept of "atonement."
What about the sacrificial rites that are described in the Old Testament? Were these necessary to maintain relationship with God? i can't accept such a notion. The offering of one's best, whether it is a "lamb without blemish" or the best life one can lead, is what is needed. Forgiveness has to do with motive and intention, not a symbolic act. Considering the teaching about the offerings of Cain and Abel, that one was acceptable while the other was not, i wonder if the acceptable offering had more to do with the intention inherent in the offering rather that the offering itself. Was one acceptable because it was offered as the best there was to offer, while the other was unacceptable because the best was withheld?
As the prophet Micah said, "What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" My prayer for each of us is that we will give our best because that is the sacrifice of a loving heart.