Doctrine of Atonement: A Hard Problem
“Atonement is the exemplification of man’s unity with God, whereby man reflects Truth, Life and Love“(Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 22). These are the words of the Discover of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. What does she mean by that statement? How does it affect man’s understanding of his ability to overcome sin, sickness and death?
These are questions that I have pondered for many years as a student of Christian Science. Do I have a definitive answer? No! But I do have a foundation that allows me to build on each level of understanding continuously. Let’s begin by examining the meaning of the definition above. “Atonement is the exemplification” . . . what does that mean?
“Exemplify” means “to show by example” (Webster). Paraphrasing, Mary Baker Eddy is saying atonement is demonstrated when one shows his unity with God by expressing in thought, words and deeds Truth, Life and Love. She capitalizes Truth, Life and Love because she sees these as other names for God. Consequently, we can assume that she is not talking about human life, love and truth. She is speaking of the absoluteness of Principle–divine Law–Truth that is unchangeable, Life that is eternal and Love that is unconditional. Thus, if sin, sickness and death are to be overcome in our lives, we must atone or harmonize with God. There is no other way. We can of ourselves do nothing!
Mortal thinking says atonement means “asking God to forgive you of your sins.” This concept comes from its use in the Old Testament in verses similar to Leviticus 14: 19 which states: “the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt offering:” This verse has reference to a priest using the blood of a lamb and oil to cleanse a leper from his sins. Logic tells us that neither of these can prevent one from sinning–only truth destroys error. Cleansing or purification of sin comes from a change of thought–giving up evil ways of thinking and doing and replacing them with goodness and love, not by rubbing blood or oil on the body.
A meaning more in line with the teachings of Jesus can be found in Romans 5: 11. ” . . . we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” What is this atonement that we have received from Jesus? Mary Baker Eddy sheds light on this by saying:
If Truth is overcoming error in your daily walk and conversation, you can finally say, “I have fought a good fight . . . I have kept the faith,” because you are a better man. This is having our part in the at-one-ment with Truth and Love.”
At-one-ment means “oneness with God.” Thus, if one is “at one” with God, how can there be sin, for there is no sin in God? Forgiveness of sin means destroying sin–ridding oneself of sin. Ridding oneself of sin is the process, atonement is the effects of that process. Simply asking God to forgive one of sins is not a process, it is a petition, a request or a desire for something. Having a desire for something is only the first stage–one-eighth of seven-eighths.
Example: At fifteen, I desired a college education, but did not receive it until I was twenty-three. Eight years of trials and tribulations kept me from receiving it, but as each one was overcome, I learned the difference between a desire and actually doing the work to get one. The “eight years” were the process, the degree placed in my hand was the effect. This was a three-step process: a petition(which was my application to the first college), course work and the myriad challenges along the way (process) and graduation (effect). Similarly, atonement is the effect of one’s desire to serve God and doing everything He directs him to do to get there. One of the main reasons we do not receive the atonement is because we are not willing to complete the process–giving up greed, lust, false gods and evil thinking. This is why atonement is a “hard problem.”
Learning Doctrine of Atonement
Students of Christian Science study a lesson based on the “Doctrine of Atonement” twice each year from the Christian Science Quarterly. These lessons are filled with ideas and concepts from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures that help jog thinking and promote deep concentration of the meaning of that phrase.
My study has revealed to me that atonement does not fit with the commonly held views of the word doctrine. According to Webster, doctrine is “a theory based on carefully worked out principles and taught or advocated by its adherents.” As we have discussed in previous paragraphs, atonement is the effects of a step-by-step process that an individual goes through as he seeks to listen and obey directions from God. These directions are not pre-determined or carefully outlined by the individual, but by God, because He is all-knowing–divine Principle. Since God is Principle and Principle is the only Knowledge, God always know all. So, to the extend that we hear divine messages, understand them and obey them we become purified–at one with God. This precludes one from having a doctrine of his own, but seeks to understand what the doctrine of atonement really means.
Learning this doctrine of atonement starts with recognizing that God is the sole Creator and all He creates is perfect and good. Man and the universe are His creations, therefore, are perfect and eternal. God already knows this, the man He created knows this. It is mortal man who is ignorant of this fact. The process of reaching this at-one-ment with God forces man to give up his belief that he is separated from God and can experience the myriad forms of evil. He learns through the process that not only is he is perfect, whole, complete and sinless, so is everyone else. Humans learn from studying the life of Jesus that to overcome the evils of the world is a “hard” process. We also know the difficulty we have in trying to love the guy who stole our car out of the driveway, how difficult the process is. It forces us to overcome the human and reach the divine.
Redemption comes only by giving up the things of the world and holding fast to the things of God. It is through faith, hope and demonstration that we do this. These are unattainable through the senses. Atonement means letting go of all wrong thinking, saying and doing, and holding on to the right, pure and just. To the extend that you do this, you are demonstrating the “doctrine of atonement.”
Pass this article along to a friend if you found it helpful.