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Atonement with the Father


"No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” - 2 Samuel 24:24b

This week we continue our study of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, with the stage he called "Atonement with the Father".  It is important to note that Campbell used symbolic language and this stage does not have anything to do with the men or fathers.  For the rest of this devotional, I will refer to this stage as "atonement with the ancestors".  In this stage, the hero has to confront the mistakes of their parents or ancestors.  This can take the form of avenging a parent figure or fixing their wrongs.  This is where the hero separates themselves from their ancestors, building above their legacy by building on or by building anew. 

In the original Star Wars Trilogy Luke finds out that Darth Vader is his father.  After resisting the temptation to the dark side he succeeds in calling Darth Vader back to the good.  Together they defeat the Emperor.  Luke builds on his father's legacy by facing him, resisting the dark side, and giving him a redemption arc.  

Two views of the cross give us interesting ways to think about this stage of the Hero's Journey.  Let's look at the "atonement with the ancestors" from the perspective of the Atonement Theory and Process Theology.   

In the atonement theory of the cross, Jesus took on the sin of the world and suffered the consequences of facing God's judgment.  In this theory, God is both just and merciful.  God's justness requires a consequence for the mistakes made, but God's mercy provides the payment for humanity.  God set aside divinity to become the human Jesus and pay the price for humanity's mistakes.  When Jesus was crucified, he was bearing the mistakes of his ancestors and the holy demands of a just God at the same time.  Since Jesus lived a holy life his atonement was accepted.  

Some Process Theologians take a very different view of the cross.  They see a universe that is in constant relationship with itself.  The systems within inevitably impact and change each other.  In the same way, they might view God as changing and evolving.  They might explain the cross by saying that God in the form of Jesus was making atonement for the God of the past.  In the same way that God used a rainbow to tell Noah that the world would never be destroyed in a flood again, the cross was the end of the sacrificial system.  They would say that the cross ushered in an age of grace, mercy, and love.  

In either case, the cross is a symbol of confrontation with an old system and an ushering in of something new, something better.  In our own lives, we often face situations where we can lift above or build upon the old, but it is never easy, it costs something.  Sacrifices must be made in order to advance as an individual or a society.  We tell stories that include the "atonement with the ancestors" because they are a powerful reminder of the potential for change found in our most difficult sacrifices.  

God, help us to see a path forward when we face challenges.  Help us to confront old systems and give us the courage to sacrifice what is needed to advance as individuals and as a society.  Give us strength and wisdom as we look for new ways of being, ways of lifting above our old selves.  Make us new creatures, make a new creation inside of us.  Let us bring your Kingdom wherever we go.  

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