Friday, November 12, 2010

The Visiting Mechanic View of the Atonement

A while ago I finished reading Robert Farrar Capon's Between Noon and Three and found it an interesting read -- more like a conversation in words than a novel or non-fiction work.  It is where I got the quote in the Reformation Day sermon.  I have written up a bunch of stuff prompted by this book but I am releasing it only in dribs and drabs here.

In one section he speaks of the way we often limit ourselves to a childish understanding of things -- the God who made all things and then went away to see how things would unfold, only to have to return and fix what went wrong.  Creation is kind of like a big wind up toy and when it runs down, God descends to wind it back up, but this time with enough oomph to keep it going.

In this understanding of things God is always distant from His creation.  It might be better to say that God is rendered inaccessible due to sin but not distant from His creation -- even a sinful one.  Capon suggests that we generally see the Bible story as God making the world, letting it go out of whack, then managing to repair it by coming back down out of heaven.  It is sort of like putting in a fuse to repair a dead circuit or having a valve job done on an engine that no longer runs and even then the repairman or mechanic goes away and the fixed item is left to hum along on its own.

But Capon suggests that makes God ultimately a foreigner to His own creation -- visiting it like some cosmic road service come to repair what is wrong and then heading back to whence He came.  This is not how Scripture speaks of God.  God has always been here and His repair was not a reaction to a road hazard but "before the foundation of the world was laid."  Capon suggests that God intervened  before the damage was done (creation was sealed to its doom of death and despair).

I certainly understand the problem Capon is addressing.  We come to Church to find God but most folks - even church going Christians - feel a bit alone in their lives and do not know or realize the presence of God (I do not mean in some vague spiritualized sense but concrete and real as the Sacraments impart).

According to Capon He was always present but hidden until in Christ He makes Himself known to us -- not as a visiting mechanic to repair a broken car but as the Lamb of God who from the foundation of the world was its Redeemer but once in time was incarnate.  In this sense the New Testament is not a separate story but the final chapters of what God was doing all along.  I am surely putting words in Capon's mouth here, but the point is that Christ is not some johnny come lately Savior but the unity of old and new, of prophet and fulfillment, of prophecy and saving event.

This is one of the things so missing in the way most of us as Christians view the Scriptures and its one (not many) story and this is one of the reasons we feel so distant from God and the cross merely an event in history.  This Capon makes you think... and this book was written in the mid-1970s.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

As always, the problem is balance, between immanence and transcendence.

God IS near (immanent), as near as your own beating heart. I don't mean in some mystical/spiritual way; we are baptized into Christ, and He has sent His Spirit into us.

God is far (transcendent). He is high and holy. He is as the liberals were wont to say, totally other.

So the perennial problem for we puny, sinful/justified mortals is to have both the fear and awe of this huge and holy God along with the God who is as close as our own skin.

This takes place every Sunday in the Divine Service. Our Holy, transcendent God deigns to come at our bidding and be immanent among us. His Son feeds us a foretaste of the feast to come, when He will be truly both: Immanent and Transcendent.