How exactly would you explain the doctrine of the atonement. I’ve been trying (for some time now) to comprehend it. This is after all the whole point of the Christian faith. I find the so-called “penal substitution theory” to be replete with problems. (For those unfamiliar with different theories of the atonement, the penal theory basically says God had to punish us for sin, but punished Jesus instead. This somehow let’s believers off the hook, and we’re good to go. The whole things gets even weirder when we realize Jesus is God.) However this view seems to be the most consistent with scripture. What would you suggest?
You are right to question penal substitution. It is a concept that is not consistent with scripture.
God’s standard of justice demands that any grievance against his Law must be atoned for. This was the point of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. It was a reminder to the Israelites that blood would have to be shed in order to appease God’s wrath on those who have transgressed his Law. We, as sinners, were never let “off the hook” because the blood of the Messiah, the blameless one, is on the hands of everyone who has transgressed God’s Law.
What you are struggling with is the result of a common occurrence in theological discourse. Oftentimes, people introduce extra-biblical concepts or terms that cause confusion. Yeshua was not punished for our sins, and he could not be punished because he did nothing wrong. Instead, he gave himself as an offering for our sins. This sin offering parallels what the Israelites did prior to the temple’s destruction.
When Abraham was found to be righteous (Genesis 15:6), it resulted in the establishment of a covenant that would result in the Nation of Israel. Just the same, Yeshua was found to be righteous (though, unlike Abraham, Yeshua was righteous by his following the Law whereas Abraham’s faith in the Messiah was the reason he was found righteous), and this resulted in the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and the promise that was reaffirmed to Abraham (Genesis 12:7, Galatians 3:16), and it resulted in the Gospel being spread not only to Israel, but to the Gentile nations. Through Yeshua, the believing Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree of Israel (See Romans 11).
As for Yeshua being God, you are correct. Yeshua is a manifestation of God in the flesh. Let’s be clear, however. I am not advocating that God transformed into Yeshua and came down to earth. While Yeshua was on earth, God was still on the throne in Heaven. God came to earth as Yeshua because that is how he decided to satisfy his Law. Since God is the lawgiver, he is the one who determines how the wrath that comes from that Law shall be appeased. We are not in a position where we can rightfully say God should have appeased his Law in a different way.
My book on apologetics: