ƒ Christianity for Thinking People: How to Save Your Kids Without Having to Kill Them!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to Save Your Kids Without Having to Kill Them!

Rick and Sandy had a solid marriage. They had been friends since high school, and began dating in college. Sandy was ecstatic when Rick asked her to marry him during their senior year. They had so much in common. They both liked listening to and performing classical music. They both loved to read and hike. But their most beloved hobby was gardening and horticulture. Rick had won several competitions at the state fair for his prize butternut squash, while Sandy was more of a flower person. So when they got married it was a match made in heaven – or perhaps the garden.

After several years of successful and award-winning gardening together, Rick and Sandy decided to move beyond the plant kingdom, and have children. Over the next several years they had 7 children together. While many hobbies and activities were laid aside to raise their children, they still kept up the gardening together, especially Rick's prized butternut squash.

As the children grew older, Rick and Sandy followed the counsel of "few rules, well enforced". This allowed them to have a close and positive relationship with all their children. Of course, the most important rule was "don't mess with Dad's butternut squash" – don't play in it, don't eat it, don't even touch it, just to be on the safe side. The children weren't exactly sure what the consequences would be, but from the look on Dad's face and the tone of his voice, it looked pretty terrible, and they didn't want to find out.

Unfortunately, as with all children, the draw of the "off limits" pulled at them. They wondered, "What is so special about the butternut squash. I wonder what it tastes like. I wonder what it feels like. It looks like it would be fun to play with, almost like a football." Surely it wouldn't hurt to play with just a couple of them. After all, there were dozens of plants and squash in that special section of the garden. What difference would losing one or two make?

Finally, one afternoon, when Rick and Sandy were out ingathering in the neighborhood, Lucy, the oldest daughter and second child overall, said it was time to check out the butternut squash. After all, squash is good for us, and will boost our immune systems. Michael, the oldest, warned against it. "You know that's the one thing that father would definitely be angry about Lucy," said Michael. But, as Lucy had great influence with the younger children, and even with Michael, they all ended up playing in the butternut squash patch, and even eating a few of them. After eating a raw squash though, they had no desire for them anymore, and they slowly began to feel a sense of fear and dread about the return of their parents. On this afternoon, instead of greeting Mom & Dad when they came home as they usually did, all the children were in their rooms – quiet.

When Rick and Sandy inquired why they hadn't been greeted at the door, the squirming and downcast looks of the children caused Rick to inquire about his butternut squash. Soon the whole sad tale came out with accusations against Lucy as the instigator by Michael, and counter accusations that Michael was the oldest and should have controlled things.

From the devastated and distraught looks on the faces of Mom and Dad, the children really became afraid of the consequences of violating the butternut squash law. Sadly and carefully, Dad began to explain that because he was not only a loving Dad, but also a just Dad, he couldn't just forgive their trespass, even if they were truly repentant. They had violated the most vital of rule in their home, and even if he wanted to, he couldn't just forgive them, because he was a just and righteous father. The rules of the home had been violated, and the penalties must be dispensed – or he wouldn't be a just and right father.

First of all, because of their violation, he could no longer allow them to stay in the presence of him and Sandy, because misbehavior and good behavior could not dwell together. From now on, they would have to live in the shed, with the dogs – Winston & Chester.

Second of all, the penalty of their crime must be paid, in order for them to even continue to live on the property at all, even in the shed. Dad explained to them that long before they had had children, he and Mom had decided that if any, or all, of their children should violate this vital family law, then Mom would pay the price necessary for them to continue to live in the shed. She would bear the penalty for them. And then, if they accepted Mom's sacrifice in their behalf, and demonstrated an appreciation of Mom's sacrifice, they would eventually be allowed back in the house.

Sadly and slowly, father, mother, and children trudged out to the garden. There, Dad took one of the broken vines of the butternut squash plant. And as Mom stood under the apple tree, Dad made a noose in the vine, placed it around Mom's neck, threw the free end over a branch, and pulled until Mom's feet were dangling off the ground. Slowly Mom asphyxiated, and died.

Dad turned to the children and said, "Now my justice is satisfied, the price has been paid, the penalty I set is exhausted. You will now be able to come back and live in the house someday. Mom and I did this because we love you. The demands of the law were met."

Now a father and his children could be AT-ONE. Do you want to move back home with Dad?


Where "atonement" came from

The word atonement was first used in 1513, it was soon employed by Tyndale in his translation of the Bible in 1526. The word atone, from which atonement looks like it was derived, did not come along until 1555, through "back formation" from atonement. So what did it mean? The story you've heard is true: atonement really means at-one-ment. The idea of being at one, in harmony. It is a "made-up" word, formed by running at and one together, as the rather free writers of the time were fond of doing. To quote An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English: "atone. Originally to reconcile, from adverbial phrase at one, and preserving the old pronunciation of the latter word, as in only, alone." That's why we say "atone" and "at one" differently today, which disguises their commonality. But in reality, and when they were first used, they meant the same thing. (The original pronunciation of the word one continues in the words only [one-ly] and alone [all-one]).

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary describes the word atonement: "the condition of being at one with others; concord, agreement." There is no concept here of some necessary paying of penalty, of appeasement or placating a hostile person. It is simply "one-ness". The same source gives a further definition: "3. Spec. in Theol. Reconciliation or restoration between God and sinners. 1526 (Tyndale)." and then adds the note "Atonement is variously used by theologians in the sense of reconciliation, propitiation, expiation. (Not so applied in any version of the N.T.)"—an interesting "theological" comment from a work not particularly concerned with religious matters!

This is a far cry from the meaning that the word atonement has assumed in the present: that of doing something in the form of payment or penalty to "atone" for some wrongdoing; a very "legal" word in which recompense is made and obligations met. As Chambers Universal Learners Dictionary puts it: "Atone. To do something good to show that one is sorry for doing something bad."
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary also well illustrates the changed meaning: "atonement. 1. Archaic. Concord; reconciliation. 2. Satisfactory reparation for an offense or injury." The archaic meaning was the original sense, the second definition of making amends is the meaning most often used today.

In this way then the meaning of the word atonement has shifted considerably from its first meaning of one-ness and the state of "one-ment". Tyndale, who introduced the word into his Bible translation, saw it in its simple meaning. Jesus came to make us one with God: "One God, one Mediatour, that is to say aduocate, intercessor, or an atonemaker, between God and man." "One mediatour Christ,..and by that word vnderstand an attonemaker, a peacemaker." (Tyndale, Works, p.158, p.431, cited in An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, art. atone.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Alister

What a great blog post! You really hit the separation problem and the re-creation of our unity with God with pinpoint accuracy. Has got me thinking and scurrying back to my bible!

Leaves lots of hanging questions though - lots of material for follow-up blogs?

Sydney, Australia