Aug. 31, 2016:  Atonement and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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In his satirical science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams plays with the popular aspiration that the world could be a happy place if we could only fix whatever it is that prevents us from being nicer to one another. He writes of a young woman in a tearoom in Rickmansworth, England, who, in the very moments before she unexpectedly dies at her table, discovers the solution to this problem. “This time,” we are told, “it was right, it would work!” And with a glancing reference to the crucifixion, Adams writes, “…and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

Michael Lloyd points out in his wonderfully accessible volume Café Theology that if “niceness” were really the answer to the world’s problems, then we’d be truly doomed because we just don’t have enough niceness in us. The Biblical solution to the human condition – the fault in our souls and in our stars – is not niceness but something called “atonement” – a reconciling, sacrificial love that repairs and restores broken relationships. The Apostle John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NIV).

We certainly did not love God. In fact, when we came face to face with our creator in human form – when we finally got our hands on Him – our response was to kill Him! Tom Smail puts it this way, “When the divine love that we see in Jesus comes among us, not only do we fail to imitate it, we turn upon it; not only are we not like Him, but all the priorities by which we live turn us against Him.”

The Russian theologian Alexander Schmemann arrives at the same bottom line. He concludes, “Christ is crucified because His goodness, His love, the blinding light that pours from Him, is something that people cannot stand. They cannot bear it because it exposes the evil they live by, which they conceal even from themselves.”

There is much about the Cross that we may never understand or see clearly, but what is clear is that, because of the toxic state of the human heart, Jesus found it absolutely necessary to die for us. The Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV). In other words, the Cross is both the demonstration of God’s love for us as well as the act of supreme love by which we are saved.

Of such a love, Lloyd concludes, “We need, like the prodigal, to come home, to know the running, embracing, forgiving, accepting, re-clothing, dancing, love of the Father…and for that, someone did have to get nailed to something.”