Experimental Theology. I consider George McDonald to be my theological guide in many ways. So, when Beck writes about McDonald... I am having a good day.
His latest post - George McDonald: Justice, Atonement, and Hell - articulates thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while. Specifically, that our typical Christian concept of Justice does not capture the heart of God on the subject. Very often, it sounds like scales being balanced, or someone getting what's coming to them, exacting a pound of flesh - an eye for an eye. However, Beck echos in his article a thought that I heard N.T. Wright say a year or so ago.... Justice is when things are put right.
This twofold notion of justice--an act of reconciliation requiring the participation of victims and perpetrators--is at the heart of MacDonald's notion of God's justice and atonement. This is the notion that sits behind his "universalism." That is, God just can't ship people off to hell to earn the label "just." Neither could we view hell as a manifestation of God's justice. Because hell doesn't heal the wounds of sin. Hell doesn't mend. Hell doesn't bring peace. Hell doesn't atone.
I couldn't agree more. The problem with Hell, as it is evangelically interpreted, is that is offers no redemption, no hope, no peace. This runs completely counter to the message of love, hope, and redemption spoken of by Christ. It offers only brokenness. A story that ended badly.
He later says:
A further problem with the allure of substitutionary atonement--to have Jesus suffer the consequences of my sin rather than me getting into the hard work of repentance and reconciliation--is that it is selfish, a theological product of my sin. Substitutionary atonement is an attempt to cling to my sin ever more tightly! Let Christ suffer the consequences of my sin so I don't have to make amends and restitution. I'm off the hook as it were.
I don't think many evangelicals would say they do not have to do repentance or reconciliation, but the underlying thought that all of my wrongs are "paid for" does cause us to often leave those words in their rhetorical state. It becomes less urgent.
I highly recommend the entire article.