Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Atonement vs the primacy of the Incarnation

Reading an article on an alternative to the atonement theory of Jesus' death - The Mystery of God and Suffering by Ken Overberg SJ. I do like this alternative idea (the primacy of the incarnation) much more than the idea that Jesus had to die for our sins, and I find it more believable too.

At the end, the article also touches on theodicy and suffering ...

[...] We respond to suffering simply by being truthful, avoiding denial and admitting its pain and horror, whatever the cause. We must never glorify suffering. Yes, it can lead us to deeper maturity and wisdom, but suffering can also crush the human spirit. The first step to grief and healing, then, is to move from overwhelmed silence to speech, the bold speech of lament. The Psalms show us how to speak out against suffering and oppression, even against God. But such crying out allows us both to grieve and to grow into a mature covenant partner with God. A paraphrase of Psalm 56 expresses well this relationship: ‘Be gracious to us, O God; enter our lament in your book; store every tear in your flask’.

Awareness of suffering and relationship with God allow and inspire our action. We acknowledge that, at times, our choices have caused personal and social suffering, so one form of action is moving towards repentance and a change of heart. We also suffer from sickness and many other personal challenges. In this suffering we need to reach out to others, to ask for help, to receive what they offer, to allow them to accompany us in the dark abyss.

Following the life and ministry of Jesus, we also work as individuals and as communities to overcome and end suffering. We know that some suffering results from people’s evil choices (war, injustice, oppression). We know that other suffering simply happens in a world that is not yet fulfilled (earthquakes, debilitating diseases). Our deeds include remaining with others in their suffering, along with action for political and economic issues. We cannot do everything, but we can and must do at least one thing, whatever God asks of us.

The third element in our response to suffering—trust in God—is, of course, especially challenging in suffering’s dark times. Jesus, as we have seen, is a marvellous example of trust in God. His deep, trusting relationship with Abba grounded his life and teaching, and sustained him in his suffering .... We follow Jesus’ words and life by entrusting our lives to our God, who has been called a Loving Abyss.


We can trust because there is even more: our God is a God of resurrection, of new life. Jesus’ story did not end with suffering and death, but with new and transformed life. Trust in God is not some pie-in-the-sky piety, but a profound conviction rooted in the experience of the risen Jesus. Christians are an Easter people, trusting that good overcomes evil, that life overcomes death. Christians trust that God leads us as individuals and as community in resisting evil, and brings us all to the fullness of life.

I kind of like this but it's not enough, at least for me. Instead of answers about why there is so much suffering and why God allows it to happen, we're asked to just trust (have faith?). I'm not a very trusting person. I do trust others, but that trust is conditional and based on my experience with them. I guess the question is, do you have the kind of experience with God to foster trust in him. I don't think I do.


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