Thursday, October 23, 2008

Atonement and the Divine Initiative

Our Lesson emphasizes correctly that long before sin arose in God’s universe He had made a plan to deal with it when it should arise.

But let us remember that even though a “plan” had been devised, still the rise of sin brought immeasurable grief to the heart of the Father.

For example, the suffering that sin has brought to human beings is immense, beyond words.

That’s reason enough to long for the Lord to come back, to put an end to sin.

But the Lord Himself wants to come back soon, for we down here never suffer alone: “In all their affliction He [the Lord] was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).

Even among those whose hearts are not in unison with God, who suffer in darkness, those too are included in the suffering of the Lord. Even we, who are sinners by nature, can sympathize with the suffering of other people and also with the brute creation in their suffering. Paul says, “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, and not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22, 23).

And if the “whole creation” groans in pain, what about the Father? How He must suffer!

The key word that we need here is “appreciation,” one of Ellen White’s favorite words. There is no word for “appreciation” in our Greek New Testament, but its absence is an amazing revelation: its absence is very eloquent because the idea permeates the Letters of Paul.

Paul was obsessed with what happened on the cross of Jesus. Even though there was no one word to express it, his grasp of what the cross means needs the words “heart-appreciation.” He felt that his heart wasn’t big enough to express the idea he wanted to say; doubtless he would read Psalm 119:32, the prayer of David, “when Thou shalt enlarge my heart,” and long for his own shriveled up little worldly heart to be “enlarged” to appreciate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love (agape) of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that [he] might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).

Christ took the initiative in coming to save us and in dying our second death on His cross. There is nothing we can do to repay Him; but it pleases Him when He can find a people who “appreciate” what He sacrificed for us!

Perhaps, even on His cross hanging there in the darkness just before He screamed, “My God, why have You forsaken Me,” the Father permitted Him to have a brief glimpse in prolepsis of the multitudes who would “appreciate” what He had done. Psalm 22, you remember, is the prayer that Jesus prayed as He hung on His cross, as though a stenographer took it down: He was permitted to know that “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord ... A seed shall serve Him. ... They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this” (Psalm 22:27-31; in the Hebrew, that last clause is one word only—the Hebrew word for “It is done!”).

Is your heart big enough to “appreciate” it?

Robert J. Wieland