Vicarious Atonement, Christus Victor

What if it's Vicarious Atonement

What if it’s vicarious atonement?

Vicarious atonement is the Holy Grail of Christian Fundamentalism.

It is vicarious atonement, or you are no Fundamentalist. Doubtless some believe that it is vicarious atonement, or you are no Christian. For one very simple reason, that is untenable. Vicarious atonement is about 480 years old. And that is being very generous.

Do some texts support vicarious atonement? Yes. And they zero in on guilt, debt, obligation, obedience, debt transfer, payment and justification. Sound familiar? Those ideas shape Fundamentalism’s Gospel. What’s more, they are legal terms. All of them. This begs a beguiling question:

Is it vicarious atonement that makes fundamentalism, ‘Fundamentalism?’

Might vicarious atonement illumine Fundamentalism’s fixation on law, guilt and obedience? And if so, do alternatives exist with the depth and redemptive import to found and nurture true faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is ‘yes.’ Here is a much older alternative to vicarious atonement.

The Christus Victor view of Atonement

Through Christ, God revealed the definitive truth about himself [Rom 5:8, cf. Jn 14:7-10], reconciled all things [including us] to himself [2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22], forgave sins [Ac 13:38; Eph 1:7], healed our sin-diseased nature [1 Pet 2:24], poured his Spirit on us, and empowered us to live before himself [Rom 8:2-16]. He also showed us what it looks like to live in the kingdom [Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21]. But above all this, Christ undertook his work to defeat the devil [He 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8].

Christus Victor recognizes that Jesus saw Satan as the functional Lord of this earth at that time [Jo 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]. Everything Jesus did was to contest and take back the world the Satan seized, and restoring it to its rightful guardians [Ge 1:26-28; 2 Ti 2:12; Re 5:10]. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil [1Jn 3:8] and free those held in slavery [He 2:14-15].

Jesus demonstrated God’s power over the Satan, demons, rebellious principalities and powers, thrones, dominions, rulers. He became incarnate, died and was raised to reconcile to himself all things on earth or in heaven by making peace through his blood on the cross [Co 1:20].

What is Salvation?

Salvation certainly involves forgiveness of sins; but forgiveness is also about release from Satan’s grip. Salvation is primarily concerned about escaping ‘the snare of the devil’ [2Ti 2:26], about being freed from this present evil age [Ga 1:4], and about ending enslavement to the spirits of this world [Ga 4:3, Ro 6:18, 8:2; Ga 5:1; Co 2:20]. It is about our transfer from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son [Co 1:12-13] and receiving forgiveness of sins and an inheritance in him [Co 1:14].

In the NT, salvation is not primarily about deliverance from God’s wrath and/or hell. Salvation is a cosmic event liberating the whole cosmos from demonic oppression, as well as overcoming our rebellion so that we may live new lives under his loving reign [Ro 8:19-22]. Everything Jesus did — healing, teaching, exorcisms, confrontations — pushed back the kingdom of evil. More, it expressed the victory of the cross in all of life. Result?

By fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, by forsaking tradition to heal and feed on the Sabbath, by crossing racial and social barriers with Samaritans, Gentiles and lepers, by treating women with respect and dignity, by showing mercy to those culture said should be judged, Jesus waged war against religious legalism and oppression. He resisted, exposed and battled the powers of racism and social exclusion, sexism, as well as social and religious cruelty and judgemental-ism.

That is the earthly system Jesus came to destroy. It is what ‘repentance’ calls us to forsake. But it is also too much like the earthly power system Fundamentalism means to keep and enforce. This brings us to …

The Meaning of Jesus’ Death

Ask your typical North American evangelical what Jesus’ death means and you will hear something like this: our lawbreaking alienated us from God and incurred his anger. But Jesus took our sin and guilt on himself. God poured out his anger on Jesus, removing the obstacle to a relationship with the Father, which is now offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

For some 11 centuries, the church answered otherwise. Ask what Jesus death meant in generations past and you would hear, ‘Christus Victor.’ Christ the Victor! He engaged the powers in spiritual conflict in life, and by his death and resurrection, defeated them. When he ascended to glory, he led out a host of captives in his victory train [Ep 4:8]. That’s us.

Other theories of atonement do exist. All have strengths and weaknesses. Vicarious atonement fleshes out the legal issues but does little else. Given what Christ’s death is to Christian faith, it’s bound to shape us deeply. But if that leads to Fundamentalism’s legalistic bent and disinterest in broader issues of justice, peace and goodness, there is good news. Christus Victor embraces more of Christ’s life and ministry than vicarious atonement. It also shifts the discussion back to the Gospel narratives. And that’s good.

Why? There is more to Christian faith than penal substitution theory. Fundamentalists [and others] need to embrace ALL that Jesus does.

This material was shamelessly copied without permission from Greg Boyd, whose fine work I hope I’ve enticed to read. Please click the graphic.

Greg Boyd on Atonement

20 thoughts on “Vicarious Atonement, Christus Victor”

  1. Perhaps penal substitution is the legal mechanism behind atonement (at-one-ment), but it is not for us to suss out so we can invent doctrine and tradition from our limited understanding. As a ‘good news’, vicarious atonement is pretty soul-sucking, especially when it enslaves the unconfident believer by plucking at the ol’ guilt strings.

  2. I am reading a book that, among other things, talks about the first Great Awakening from a non-fundamentalist perspective, and I think we can point to a lot of fundamentalism’s roots right there. The “assurance of salvation”, the “personal conversion experience”, the extreme guilt-tripping, etc. it’s all there. As is vicarious atonement.

    I like Christus Victor much better.

  3. I LOVE that I am learning different perspectives on doctrines here! I have never heard any other doctrine regarding Christ’s death beside vicarious atonement.

    This idea, Christus Victor, does it mean that Christ’s death meant many things, possibly substitutionary atonement being one of those things? Or does it exclude the idea of substitutionary atonement all together?

    Does Christus Victor line up more with the idea of universalism?

    And if there is no such thing as substitutionary atonement, then what was the purpose of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament?

    Lots to think about.

    1. I think (though I don’t know) that you could kind of go either way with Christus Victor.

      Which is probably why it makes fundies uncomfortable. They don’t like any ambiguity in their theology.

      I agree on the different perspectives of both this and the old blog! I had sensed so many problems with fundie theology, but I didn’t really have any other framework to look at until I came here. It’s definitely thought-provoking.

    2. Dear First time caller:

      On your first question, ‘God accomplished many things by having his Son become incarnate and die on Calvary.’ [Opening line of Greg Boyd’s fine article; it’s well worth the time to download and read]!

      Atonement theories do overlap, although one meshes better with some than others. Some later theories are outgrowths of earlier ones.

      Boyd affirms substitutionary atonement, but with a twist that avoids the Father abusing the Son for our benefit:

      In the Christus Victor view, Jesus died as our substitute and bore our sin and guilt by voluntarily experiencing the full force of the rebel kingdom we have all allowed to reign on the earth. To save us, he experienced the full consequences of sin that we otherwise would have experienced. In so doing, he broke open the gates of hell, destroyed the power of sin, erased the law that stood against us, and thereby freed us to receive the Holy Spirit and walk in right relatedness with God.

      An important refinement, ‘Narrative Christus Victor’ avoids several Christus Victor issues while retaining the essence of that view. The result is more responsive to women’s issues and to people at the margins of society.

      Greg addresses your last question also. To paraphrase from another place:

      Given the antiquity of the practice, Israel likely sacrificed animal before God addressed it. Possibly, animal sacrifices accommodated people already sacrificing not only animals but offspring to demons [Ex 22:20, 34:15; Lev 17:7; Dt. 21:17; Ps 104:37; 1Co 10:20]. God also allowed polygamy and concubines to accommodate established practice. If it seems odd that this is necessary, recall that it took many, many centuries just to establish one point in Israel: monotheism.

      God covenanted with Abram. Abram hacked apart animals, arranged the pieces, walked between them, and called God to do the same to him if he ever forgot or broke faith with God [Ge 15]. This ancient world treaty was well understood. But it happened NOT so God could forgive Abram, but so Abram would recall the deadly consequences of forsaking God.

      Jesus died to ‘destroy him who had the power of death – the devil’ [He 2:14; cf. IJn 3:8]. Breaking covenant is death NOT because God can’t forgive without killing someone. Breaking covenant is death because all sin [covenant breaking] aligns us with and enslaves us to Satan, ‘the destroyer’ [Heb 2:14; cf. Jn 8:34; Re 9:11] and his dark kingdom [Col.1:13].

      In Isa 1 God says, ‘I despise your sacrifices!’ God wanted broken hearts, not animal blood. And in Christ, God did put an end to sacrifices.

      Rene Girard [d. Nov. 4, ‘15] said that our continuing wars/adversarial relationships/brokenness/marginalization of others etc. are based upon a rejection of, and an attempted substitution of the sacrifice of Christ. This beguiling idea sets our continuing conflicts and refusal of reconciliation in direct opposition to the sacrifice of Christ and makes a devastating rebuke of the ‘Christian nation’ thesis, and of claims that our wars are God’s wars. But I digress…

      Christis Victor [and Narrative Christis Victor] is a ‘nonviolent atonement’ theory. While honoring the canon and teaching about Jesus’ death, nonviolent atonement theories try to avoid problems tied to vicarious/substitutionary views such as a Father that must vent anger to be appeased or to vindicated his justice, or the abuse of his innocent Son for the benefit of others.

      For another take on nonviolent atonement, see an article posted a week ago today by a friend from years long past, Baxter Kruger. Bax wrote:

      ‘Jesus did not die at the hands of a ruthless Father who needed to be appeased. The witness of the gospels is that Jesus died at the hands of ruthless men, Jew and Gentile, representing religion and empire joined as one to damn the Father’s eternal Son incarnate.’

      Baxter is a fine scholar and has addressed the question of universalism. Bax addresses Narrative Christis Victor with his unique brilliance in this brief post.

      The SFL tradition has always been a place of theological ferment. Discussion isn’t simply permitted but is encouraged. That is what makes SFL work.


      1. So, if Jesus defeated evil on the cross and is victorious, why does it seem so much the opposite?

        It seems like there’s so much hatred and unkindness in the world. If evil was defeated 2000 years ago, why is there so little evidence for it? Hate seems very loud and strong in this world, and love is so quiet and hard to find.

        1. Dear First Time Caller:

          As your insightful and challenging question waited patiently, I worked on the ‘Leaving Fundamentalism’ series. I’m sorry that this is so lengthy. But your question is a very serious one. It has occupied some fine minds. Please take no offense!

          Answers run along the lines of what theologians call ‘the now but not yet.’ While real, the victory is spiritual; only on the last day it will become apparent to all and undeniable by any that Jesus is victorious.

          Perhaps you’ve heard, ‘I’m saved, I am being saved, I will be saved [on the last day]. This looks at salvation from past, present and future standpoints. I’ve made a commitment to Christ, but I’m not there yet so I press on to the goal. On the last day when Jesus comes to raise the dead and translate the saints, I will be saved.

          A similar thing is said of the Satan’s defeat. By rising from death, Jesus defeated the Satan. Through the church, Jesus is defeating the Satan. One day, the Satan’s defeat will be final.

          D-Day is an oft-cited example. The allies landed on the beaches of Normandy. It was just a toehold. But Hitler couldn’t dislodge them! From that, the allies knew that his defeat was certain. But it wasn’t yet complete. Many costly battles and set-backs lay before them. But they knew Hitler was beaten. So it is for us.

          Various narratives support this idea. Lu 11:14-23 tells of the binding of the strong man who is subsequently plundered. That Jesus cast out demons by God’s power demonstrated that the Satan was bound. At the same time, the Satan still roams [1 Pe 5:8], which requires our faithful diligence. We might say that the Satan is on a leash. Sometimes, that leash seems long. His wrath and power are great, and armed with cruel hate. But praise Jesus, the right man is on our side!

          The kingdom parable of the wheat and the tares [Mt 13:24-30] is perhaps more helpful. This is a powerful corrective to the fortress concept of church that rules Fundamentalist sects. We’re a bastion against the world. But that completely misunderstands the nature of the struggle. If you’ve heard it rightly, wheat and tares look much alike. And their roots intertwine as each competes for nutrients and moisture from the soil that they need to survive.

          This parable offers a very different picture of our Christian existence. This is no fortress. Our situation is like a camp overrun. Battle rages all around you. Every combatant crosses sword with the enemy. It seems as if it is every one for her/himself. That is where we are. But our side is assured of victory. Why? Jesus rose from the dead!

          The stock answer runs along those lines. Gregory Boyd does the ‘D-Day’ thing on his site. Greg also discusses warfare somewhat in a naturalistic mode – disease, blighted crops, natural disasters and the like.

          You on the other hand cast the question differently, focusing on the reality of hate and all it does in the world; beside that, you note the seeming weakness of love. And your question does intrigue me. Why?

          I have long interest in social alignment with heretical ideologies rooted in the operation of demonic forces [i.e., the intersection of human agency and institutions with fallen and demonic powers of this age]. Greg and others would doubtless agree with that; but my own thinking brings human agency more in the fore in my understanding of spiritual warfare. That is the basis for my own reply to your question. It comes in several parts:

          1] Just as Jesus’ exorcism of demons demonstrated that the kingdom had come and the Satan was defeated, so the mere existence of any grace, mercy, truth, goodness and hope in the world at all shows the victory of Jesus’ kingdom.

          2] Jesus’ words in Jo 12:31 reveal the essential nature of the crucifixion as an exorcism, indeed, the ultimate exorcism. ‘Now the ruler of this world is cast out.’ This is followed immediately with ‘if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.’ This refers to Jesus’ resurrection. And ‘draw’ has the idea of ‘drag, win over or impel.’ But as Jesus’ body, we must lift him us by living resurrected lives in Christ. When we don’t, his victory is diminished in others’ eyes.

          3] We are called to bind demonic powers. As William Stringfellow [d. 30+ years] said, the petition that we be ‘led not into evil but delivered from temptation’ prays for binding the Satan. This petition has the character of an exorcism. In no small part, failure to do this accounts for our increased secularization [itself a demonic heresy] and the lack of evidence of Christ’s reign among us. I see Narrative Christus Victor as a remedy for this.

          4] Dealing largely with spiritual warfare, the much tortured book of Revelation brings Christus Victor to the fore. If we dump the pre-millennial fantasy of a thousand year period, Revelation 20 is a case in point. Re 20:2-3 show the seizure and confinement of the Satan in the abyss. Result? The Satan can no more ‘planao’ deceive ‘ta ethna,’ the nations. We proclaim this in Advent – the nations which sat in darkness have seen a great light! It is to the nations that the church is commissioned to take the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the revelation/proclamation/demonstration of Jesus’ death and resurrection that binds the Satan’s power to deceive.

          5] Re 20:4: The much discussed ‘mark’ is a based on Deut 6:4; God’s words were to be attached as a sign to the hand and to the forehead. This meant that believers were to serve God with their minds [remembering, agreeing to and aligning with the covenant God], and with their hands [their works and deeds]. The same meaning is found in Re 7:3 and 9:4 which refer to those who bear the seal of the Spirit on their foreheads. What John calls the ‘seal of the Spirit’ on the forehead, Paul describes as our sealing [baptism] with the Holy Spirit [2Co 1:22; Ep 1:13, 4:30]. In Revelation, the seal of our baptism [signed by water on the forehead (in some churches)] is in parody/contrast to the mark of the beast. The difference attested by the sign of the Spirit [our baptism] and the mark of the beast is whether our minds and works are devoted to God or to the demonic powers of this world.

          Instead of projecting the Revelation into the future, this reading situates us in the midst of the spiritual conflict of the ages. In this reading, confrontation of the powers of this age inevitable and necessary for faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

          As I age, I am increasingly convinced that it precisely to AVOID this necessary confrontation of the powers of this age [arising from Mt 28:18-20 cf. Re 20:2-4] that we project the Revelation into the future. And it is because we project the Revelation into the future, and do not engage the enemy in the spiritual battle raging around us by praying for the Satan’s binding, and by propagating the good news of Jesus’ victory that the powers of this age wax strong. Let the church challenge the dominant ideology of Nationalism, Patriotism, Militarism, Hedonism, Materialism, etc., etc., and the power of hell will diminish. Of course this will also bring the very persecutions John describes in Revelation 20:4.

          God bless you in your continuing search, First time caller!

          1. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough and well thought out explanation.

            There is so much here to think about. It seems that what I have been taught regarding church history, and the beliefs of the early church fathers is greatly lacking, but I desire to know more. These are ideas I’ve never before heard or considered, and it will take me some time to contemplate it all. Thank you so much!

            As to your observation-
            “You on the other hand cast the question differently, focusing on the reality of hate and all it does in the world; beside that, you note the seeming weakness of love. And your question does intrigue me. Why?”

            I don’t believe that love is weak. I believe love is incredibly powerful. But, love is quiet. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It often goes unnoticed. Hate, on the other hand, it does the opposite. It’s loud, it makes itself known. I DO believe that love is stronger, and will ultimately win. But, in the daily struggles of life, love seems so easily overshadowed. Maybe it’s just where I’m at now, in the midst of many uncertainties and changes … I want to see love win sometimes. I hope that makes sense.

            I once heard someone say that Satan shouts, but Christ whispers. I’m not sure if that’s correct theologically, but I know that I have to quiet my mind and heart to hear Him. And when I don’t take time to hear him, the meanness and hatred in the world seems so overwhelming.

            Again, thank you…much to think about here.

          2. Dear First time caller:

            Not for one moment do I doubt your conviction that God’s love in Christ is victorious! At the back of my mind in my remarks on the ‘weakness’ of love was Paul’s comment on the weakness/foolishness of the preaching of the gospel.
            That quiet heart and mind which you cultivate breathes the spirit of many Psalms and is a gift of Jesus Christ to his church. Blessings!

  4. Thank you. This is really beautiful and thought-provoking.

    Personally, I think Christus Victor and Vicarious Atonement are not mutually exclusive. In other words, our personal sin was just ONE thing that Jesus conquered.

    The Christus Victor understanding (compared to Vicarious Atonement alone) makes a lot more sense out of the life and ministry of Jesus, and for that matter, the resurrection. In vicarious atonement (if that is ALL the crucifixion means), the life of Jesus and his ministry here on earth is just kind of a comma, a parenthetical statement, a means by which he arrived at the cross, or at best, a way of demonstrating that he was God’s son and therefore a worthy sacrifice. In vicarious atonement (if that is ALL the crucifixion means), the resurrection is merely an afterthought, a matter of convenience, a way of putting a happy ending on the story because after all, it wouldn’t due to leave a dead deity in the ground. That’s probably one reason why Fundamentalism puts so little emphasis on the life of Christ and his teachings (besides that the life of Christ shows all of us up for our lack of compassion toward others), and puts more emphasis on the cross than the empty tomb.

    In the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement, the life of Christ is not just a way to show us how to live, or a vehicle to get him to the cross. It is a victory march toward the cross, the empty tomb, the resurrection! The resurrection is the ultimate triumph.

    Another aspect of the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement is that it’s not just a theory or a doctrine or a business transaction. The atonement is a drama, a story — the greatest Story of all time. Jesus said to receive the kingdom of God like little children. Little children love stories and they learn by hearing stories, often asking to hear the same story over and over and over again. My preschool-age child’s favorite Bible stories are the ones that involve Pharaoh, Goliath, King Herod, the pharisees, Judas, Pilot, the Roman soldiers, Satan, and of course Jesus and the empty tomb. Almost every good story contains conflict, adversity, triumph. Almost every good story has a hero and a villain. The same is true of God’s Story.

  5. I have struggled with the idea of God as an angry, wrathful Father for a long time. At some point in the past year or so, I’ve been able to view Jesus differently. I know that Jesus said if we’ve seen him, we’ve seen the Father, and that he and his Father are one.

    This morning, I’m reading a passage I read very often. Lamentations 3. I read it in the Message version because of its beauty. It’s a chapter that has given me great hope over the past months, and helped instruct me on the need to just sit with Jesus during hardships, of being quiet and waiting with him and waiting on him.

    However, the beginning of the chapter speaks of an angry, wrathful God. A God who pursued us, not in love, but who hunts us down to harm us. I don’t usually read that part, because it robs the peace I find in vs 19-33.

    The dichotomy is confusing. I hope this doesn’t seem disrespectful, but it seems to make God appear abusive… pursuing, hurting, abusing, then suddenly flipping and becoming loving and showing compassion and kindness. My heart tells me that God cannot be the kind of person who engages in those cycles of abuse (abusing then loving and giving hope). But I don’t understand it all.

    There is no rush in answering this, and maybe there isn’t even an answer. Does the Christus Victor idea have an answer for passages like this?

    1. Dear First time caller:

      Your struggle with the vision of an angry, wrathful Father is a heartbreaking indictment of widespread failure — not only in Fundamentalism but the broader evangelical community as well — to communicate even basic truth about our God.

      If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father; Jesus and the Father are one. With this, you go to the very heart of what is at stake. The Christian faith is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God.

      Earlier, I mention my friend from many years ago, Baxter Kruger. Baxter puts it best by noting that we can say nothing about God that is not rooted in that eternal, changeless relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He then asks what part or side of the Father is angry with the Son. Or is the Son somehow divided? Is there is a part of the Son with whom the Father is not pleased, feels neutral about or toward whom the Father is hostile? Obviously not!

      The Father can be only what the Father has always been, and what the Father has been in relationship with the Son and Holy Spirit! And all that the Father has been is revealed fully and perfectly in Jesus Christ. First time caller – this goes also to the heart of Athanasius’ theology. Athanasius is no liberal theologian!

      Greg Boyd also discusses the ‘wrathful, vengeful Father’ theme. Don’t let his rough appearance fool you. This guy is a Princeton Seminary grad and holds an earned Ph.D.


      Lamentations in context:

      In ancient custom, laments were composed and sung over deceased friends [2 Sam 1:17ff, 3:33ff.]. This practice also included the fall of nations and cities [Am 5:1; Je 7:29, 9:9, 17f., Ez 19:1, 26:17, etc.]. The five laments in Lamentations refer to the sac of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah by the Chaldeans [Babylonians].

      The poems that make up Lamentations deplore the unspeakable misery that befell God’s people, and the disgrace this brought on Zion. Each of the five laments reflects on this subject from different points of view. That’s what’s happening.

      The poem laments going into captivity, the desolation of Zion, the oppression, plundering and starvation, together with the scoffing and contempt shown by the enemy at their helplessness and comfortless condition.

      The second laments the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, which is set forth as an act of God’s wrath against the sins of the people.

      The third laments the deep, spiritual sufferings of God’s people in their general distress. This takes the form of deep complaint, from which the soul attempts to rise and see God’s compassion and justice.

      The fourth expresses the misery that befell every class of Zion’s citizens, which is represented as a punishment for the sins of the people and their leaders.

      The fifth is an entreaty to the Lord to remove the disgrace of his people and restore them to their former state of grace.

      The first and second laments end in sorrowful complaint. The third [starting in La 3], begins with the complaint of a man in grievous, personal suffering. The word ‘man,’ [geber] actually describes a young man in the prime of life, a soldier.

      But this warrior is defeated. Yes, he sees God’s hand behind this defeat; but don’t miss the warfare conditions woven into this poem! ‘Besieged and encompassed’ [La 3:5] describes a city placed under siege. This is the language of warfare. The ‘flesh and skin wasting away’ [v. 4] is the hunger that siege warfare brought. And the ‘broken bones’ of v. 4? Of his own illness, Hezekiah said, ‘he breaks all my bones’ [Ezk 38:13]. And after confessing his sin with Bathsheba, David prayed, ‘let the bones which you have broken rejoice’ [Ps 51:10]. Again, we’re reading poetry.

      It isn’t hard to see this guy trudging down the road to Babylon muttering under his breath, ‘he has driven me and made me to walk [v. 2] and ‘he has made my chain heavy [v. 7]. How were defeated warriors marched into the victor’s city? They were linked by a long chain. They were quite harmless and helpless. Vs. 8 is especially wonderful: ‘even when I cry out and call for help, he shuts out my prayer.’ What believer has never felt that the heavens are like brass and prayers bounce off the ceiling? This is poetry! So, by the way, is vs. 16!

      And more wonderful is that even as this guy drags his chain along the Babylon road, he STILL finds hope by remembering that the lovingkindnesses of Yahweh [God’s proper name] never fail [21ff]! Then, something else happens! Singular, personal pronouns are used throughout Lam 3. But a change begins in v. 40, and we see a call to corporate confession: ‘let us examine and probe our ways!’ And ‘we lift up our hearts toward God’ [v. 41] and ‘we have transgressed and rebelled’ [v. 42]. But even so, he struggles with the fact of death [v. 43], God’s seeming distance [v. 44], their humiliation [v. 45], and panic and destruction [v. 47]. One can still look to God in prayer while weeping for Jerusalem [v. 48].

      So much more could be said about this. But several more points should be made.

      1] There are days when God’s people need Lamentations, including Lamentations 3.

      2] Such passages show us that God is not offended by our use of such language. When we feel that we must use such language in prayer, let no one contradict you for so doing! God knew we’d need language for lament and gave it to us.

      3] Lament makes powerful liturgy. At times, it is much needed. IT can be a powerful, public testimony to communities and nations. But it must be used soberly and appropriately. This requires due recognition of the original context, and that as poetry, it must be handled appropriate for this genre. We lost a city to Katrina. Declaring that this was God’s judgment on sinful New Orleans was not appropriate. Lament would have been.

      4] Too often, unscrupulous pulpiteers rip such passages from context, extract from them universal principles and employ these as weapons to flail God’s people. That is inexcusably bad behavior. Scripture is not to be used that way.

      5] As you read Lamentations, remember not only ‘sinners’ [that includes us all] but the righteous were carried off into captivity. Jeremiah was among them. He lived and continued to preach and minister in Babylon for a number of years.

      6] Included in Scripture, even laments are ultimately about grace. And where they are not proclaimed graciously, neither the texts nor God’s people are respected and well-served.

      Hope something here helps!


      1. You, again, have put a great deal of time and thought into giving a clear and thoughtful explanation.

        I’m humbled by the generous gift of your time. Thank you, and yes, there is much that is helpful.

      2. As to Lamentations 3, I think what you are saying is that it is not necessarily meant to be doctrinal in nature. That, as a lament, it is based upon the perceptions of those who are expressing their grief. That because their world is falling apart around them, it seems as if God is trying to harm them; that He is angry and cruel, and is silent in response to their cries. You’re saying it’s not meant to be a doctrinal statement to instruct us about how God treats us when we displease him, but is just an oit pouring of grief. Am I correct?

        I guess, keeping that in mind, it makes it more beautiful. It seems to be an amazing example of what true faith is. When life shattered around the author, and it seemed to him that God was intentionally destroying his people and wouldn’t hear them, he continued to have faith in what he knew of God’s love and goodness. It reminds me of I Peter 1:7, that maybe our faith is best displayed when we feel as if He is against us, but we continue to find hope in Him even while in the darkness.

        1. Well said. I think that Lamentations, many of the Psalms, and other scriptures clearly demonstrate that lamenting is a “biblical” response to loss and calamity. Jesus wept. The book of 1st Samuel opens with Hannah — inarguably a godly woman — weeping to the point that she would not even eat.

        2. Dear First time caller:

          You got it! To your observation [and WorkinMama’s], we may add Job, David’s lament at the death of Absalom, some Psalms and other examples.

          God said that he would remove the idols from his people, and Babylon did that. In the NT, you find no references to idols in Judah. During the Babylonian captivity, they had no city, no temple, nothing. Either they would cling to Yahwism or their identity as a people would be lost.

          Evil eroded society in their day as much as our own. Their own injustice brought destruction upon them; it always does. But by no means was God finished with them. Blessings!

          1. Sorry to keep commenting on an old post. I just have a couple of additional questions that I’ve struggled with as I work through this.

            First, if God is not angry and wrathful, how does one explain his commands in the OT that seem quite angry and wrathful… genocide, etc.

            Second, if animal sacrifices were not necessary for forgiveness, then what does Hebrews 9:22 mean?

          2. Dear First time caller:

            You can return to stuff as long as you want! As I mentioned in today’s post, I’m making preparations for going abroad [which I usually do twice a year]. Computer access is more difficult, but I’ll reply as I’m able. Remember, First time caller — it is never an act of unbelief to question Scripture with Scripture. We are SUPPOSED to struggle and wrestle with the text! Act 26:18. We’ll talk more later. Blessings!

          3. Struggle is a good word! Wrestling… and, at times saying to Him, “I won’t let you go until you reveal yourself to me!” (Unlike Jacob, I have plenty of blessings! What I need is truth!)

            Thank you for your graciousness.

            Enjoy your travels.

  6. Thank you for this. My husband and I having been looking into the Christus Victor idea lately, but I wasn’t sure how or if it fit with vicarious atonement. The discussion here has been very helpful.

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