Questions for penal substitution

So for a while now I’ve had a lot of questions for the penal substitution theory of the atonement (which is the idea that God required a death in order to pay for our sins, and Jesus was that death), and these are ones I’ve never heard satisfactorily answered. Do any of my readers have any ideas? Do I even have any readers? Anyway, I’ve come by far more plausible and inspiring ideas about the significance of Jesus’ death, and yet still this is the dominant (at least in my circles), if not the only, image of the atonement. So if you’re a subscriber to the theory, help me out. If you’re not, have a go anyway.

What’s the significance of the resurrection? Did Jesus have to rise?

Is there any significance to the particular type of death suffered by Jesus, or could it have been any kind of death?

If it couldn’t have just been any kind of death, what parameters exist for the kind of death that would have constituted an acceptable atoning death?

If God required a sacrifice, why did God get others to do it? Why couldn’t he do his own dirty work?

Why does God require us to forgive without recompense, when God does not do so?

4 thoughts on “Questions for penal substitution

  1. I reckon these are important questions, and I only know the one answer that covers them all – and I don’t think it’s adequate: God did do his own dirty work because God is Jesus. Which justifies everything else – the torture and bloody death included. If God suffered it, then it’s okay.
    There are some problems with this – most people who subscribe to the pen.sub.atonement theory separate God and Jesus in order to implement the substitution, but this must necessarily end in a kind of self-loathing that God has. It seems God is one or three depending on which stage of the theory you are explaining, but not at the same time.
    The assumption that “if God suffered it with Jesus, then it’s okay” has scary implications if you are into bonhoeffer’s idea that Christ suffers with us – does that make our suffering okay? If God feels it, then is the pain justified?
    Hmmmmm… Jude 🙂

  2. perhaps I didn’t word the question very well, but what I meant was…why didn’t God kill Jesus? Why did God get other people to do the sacrificing? And if that’s what happened, why didn’t they know they were doing the sacrificing for our sins – why were they mislead to believe that they were killing a political revolutionary? substitutional atonement clearly wasn’t the meaning of Jesus’ death for those who killed him…and probably not for the disciples too, who only “got it” at the resurrection, not at his death…

  3. I’ve always been of the theory that people rely on God and Jesus to answer the unanswerable questions in life. There are some awful things that happen for seemingly no reason. When people cannot find strength in themselves to cope, they look to Jesus. I’m not claiming to have the right answers, but here are mine

    The significance in the resurrection is to demonstrate power and strength. These two are not interchangeable. Power is to show the non-believers. God is the only being in the recorded history of earth that has brought back someone from the dead. I think it was necessary to prove that power to show his non-believers

    The strength is to show his believers. He can make such a sacrifice as killing his own son. And yet, we need to believe that our own sacrifices are not in vain. He is teaching us that there is a rainbow in the darkest hours of despair. That good comes from bad. And again, I believe this was the best demonstration he could give on these principals.

    I have to believe there is a significance of the way that Jesus died. There are many ways he could have died, yet his fate was to the worst type of death possible. Jesus not only died, he was persecuted. He suffered. His body gave in much sooner than his mind did. Does the cross make a significant difference? Im not sure. Is it better that he was nailed to a cross than a door or a circle or something else? I dont know, but I know that the suffering makes it important.

    If God required a sacrifice, why get others to do it? Because I believe he was teaching an important lesson of human nature. People betray you, God does not. It is like “The Heart of Darkness”, the lightest and darkest parts of a soul are found within yourself. You have free will to choose which person you want to be. The betrayer or the betrayed. God does not choose this for us.

    Why does God require us to forgive without recompense? I don’t believe that. There have been some things that have been thrown at me in life that I have forgiven for selfish reasons. I have forgiven to allow myself to not dwell, and it has nothing to do with the sins committed against me from another person. As long as I (the offended) am at peace with the forgiveness, I don’t think it really matters why the forgiveness is given. Maybe that’s me being bitter and spiteful, but I don’t believe that humans are meant to be okay with everything.

  4. hey alicia…thanks for stopping by and posting your thoughts on this.

    I think part of what intrigues me about this is the way we’ve made God in our own image. We want power and strength (defined by control and domination) and think that that way lies success. Yet the God revealed in Jesus is the opposite of that. He humbles himself, he takes on servanthood, he says that the last will be first, etc etc and ends up being killed. I think the resurrection is the stamp of approval on that way of doing things, not a reversal of the values demonstrated in Jesus’ life. I’m not sure that the resurrection was for non-believers – for a start, he only appeared to his disciples afterward.

    Your second point about strength being to show his believers that he can make such a sacrifice as killing his own son…I suppose that’s exactly the point I’m trying to question. That seems more like a monster than a God to me; what Steve Chalke refers to as a kind of “cosmic child abuser”. what kind of father kills his own son, for whatever reason? why couldn’t God just forgive us without a death, especially when that God requires that we forgive without requiring blood? That God made good out of bad seems to me to be the point here – but it was OUR bad, not God’s bad.

    Under penal substitution, it seems to me that it only requires death to be an atoning death – or, at most, as some have pointed out, that it required some kind of bloody death, and probably one that was intentional (to echo the traditional interpretation of the OT sacrifices). But why put to death as an insurrectionist? Especially if he wasn’t “really” an insurrectionist…could it be that he really was?

    Your point about human nature is an interesting one, and one I agree with, but not as an answer to that question…because if God required the death, then God does betray Godself. God seeks the death of something. But if the darkness is in us, and NOT God…then the death has significance.

    As for God asking us to forgive without recompense…I’m not saying that humans are meant to be ok with everything – denial isn’t forgiveness. But Jesus clearly tells us to forgive others freely up to “seventy seven times” (unlimited times). How do we reconcile that with a God who won’t forgive without the shedding of blood?

    again, thanks for sharing and I hope this conversation can continue…

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