When we do wrong, we need some kind of justification to address our guilt-debt. Thinking contrastively about our wrongdoings can lead to righteousness. If instead we are comparative in our thinking, then we rationalize our wrongs or do something in order to justify ourselves. I call this Justification of Man. The actions we do to justify ourselves are a subset of Justification of Man called religion.
The first Act of Justification
Adam and Eve actually committed the first religious act immediately after they ate the forbidden fruit. They took actions to cover the shame of their newly discovered nakedness. Instead of contrastively addressing the ramifications of their wrongs, they decided to take a few fig leaves and start the world’s first natural clothing outlet.
Since they were not willing to be contrastive and rejected righteousness, God had no other just alternative but to judge them and evict them from the Garden. They lost paradise and probably gained leaf-rash. All would be lost for the First Couple unless they could find some form of atonement for their wrongs.
To atone for an offense is to pay the prescribed penalty for it. Then the scales are balanced and justice has been satisfied. The offended party justly defines the penalty. As we saw in first post on religion, the offended party is God, and in the Eden narrative, God was pretty clear about the penalty – He said that eating the fruit would lead to death (Genesis 2:17).
A high price tag
To atone for Original Sin, someone had to die – justly, the person(s) who did the wrong. Of course, death is a rather permanent way to pay the penalty, and it kind of puts a crimp in the whole “meaning of life” scenario”. Heaven’s not going to be much fun if everybody there is dead.
But God gave the hint of a way around this – a loophole in the “death as payment” scenario.
Justice demands a life as the penalty for Original Sin, but what if the life taken was not that of the perpetrator? What if a different life was sacrificed for the sake of the wrongdoer? What if an innocent (debt-free) person – a “Second Adam” if you will – volunteered to pay the penalty for the perpetrator?
Technically, the penalty would be paid, atonement would be accomplished, and best of all, the perpetrator could live! Everybody wins! Well, except for the innocent person who sacrificed himself . . .unless BY sacrificing himself, the innocent person gets something HE wants . . . (this sounds like something we will need to revisit in the future).
But how does this atonement factor into the discussion of religion?
Let’s go back to the Eden narrative. The fig-leaf covering (the first religious act) would not cut it as atonement in the eyes of a just God. So after God confronted and judged Adam and Eve, He made for them acceptable coverings out of animal skins (Genesis 3:21). How? Well, He killed an animal of course.
It was the first time in history that blood was shed; that a life was taken – and only by the shedding of blood and a sacrifice of a life, could Adam and Eves’ transgressions be “covered”.
Now this covering was not adequate in and of itself because the life of an animal, while “innocent”, was not the equivalent of a human life, and only an innocent human life would be a truly atoning sacrifice.
The animal skin/sacrifice served as a symbol of a future atonement that would become available to man. At some point subsequent to Original Sin, God will accept the sacrifice of an innocent human life on behalf of fallen man just as He did with the animal. But instead of just covering man’s shame, this future sacrifice will completely atone for it. The scales will be completely balanced and the debt will be paid.
Until then, God ordained certain rituals and activities that served as symbols of the coming atonement. These rituals make up a significant portion of the Levitical Laws in the Bible that we will discuss more when we look at the Fifth Dispensation.
These activities are NOT religion!
God never said or implied that Levitical rituals alone would ever justify anyone.
This is an extremely important distinction. Not understanding this distinction is the reason that people who claim belief in God confuse ritual with religion – they see the ritual as a form of atonement instead of a symbol, memorial, or commemoration of atonement. As I wrote before, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with performing rituals; it’s the motivation behind the performance that separates ritual from religion.
Unfortunately certain men decided of their own volition (and convinced countless others) that rituals alone could provide justification and atonement, and they warped them into religious acts. But this was NEVER God’s intention.
As I wrote last week, the men who perverted Levitical rituals into religion are the ones whose actions led to the death of Christ. Their religion blinded them to the advent of the very person the rituals were put in place to make them aware of! See what I mean when I say religion causes brain damage?
Atonement is an absolutely vital key to understanding Christian philosophy and Biblical doctrine. But in order to understand it better, we need to examine a couple more terms introduced in the Eden narrative. Next time we will discuss “Life” and “Death.”
Religious Hypocrisy and the “Nice Jesus”
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