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A Baha'i's view of atonement

Discussion in 'Christianity and World Religion' started by smaneck, Jan 12, 2014.

  1. smaneck

    smaneck Baha'i

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    In various context the issue of atonement has come up in this forum, whether it is by Christians insisting that we can only be saved by Christ's blood or Muslims asking how the crucifixion can ever be an expression of divine love. I'd like to address both of these things here from the standpoint of both a Baha'i and a historian (the latter means this will be a long post.)

    Most Christian conceptions of atonement, even when they don't realize
    it, are based on a formulation made by a Christian theologian named
    Anselm who lived a thousand years ago. He had a neo-platonic
    conception of a God as possessing both perfect justice and mercy which
    must be satisfied. Because of His perfect justice He cannot forgive
    sins without satisfaction. And because He is merciful the means had to
    provided for making that satisfaction. Living in the hierarchical
    world of early medieval Europe, Anselm felt the gravity of a sin or
    crime was measured by the station of the one against whom the crime or
    sin had been forgiven.God being exalted above all stations, it stood
    to reason that a sin against Him was of infinite gravity with eternal
    repercussions. It therefore incurred a debt which man could not hope
    to satisfy. The only way in which the satisfaction could be made, and
    men could be set free from sin, was for God Himself to make the
    satisfaction as a man. This formula seems to have more to do with
    'fire insurance' than a relationship, except if one is seeing
    'relationship' in cold, legalistic terms. It seems to me this is
    necessarily so, because when God's attributes are seen these kinds of
    static categories of justice and mercy we are trying to look at God in
    Greek terms of essence rather than Hebrew sense of conception of God
    as a Living God, a Person. And we can only have a relationship with
    the latter, not the former.

    Having said that, there are passages in the Baha'i Writings that appear to
    accept the notion of atonement and sacrifices for sin. For instance,
    we have this:

    "Fix your gaze upon Him Who is the Temple of God amongst men. He, in
    truth, hath offered up His life as a ransom for the redemption of the
    world. He, verily, is the All-Bountiful, the Gracious, the Most
    High.If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before
    your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name's sake
    and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause."
    Gleanings, 314.

    and


    "That which thou hast heard concerning Abraham, the Friend of the All-Merciful,
    is the truth, and no doubt is there about it. The Voice of God commanded Him to
    offer up Ishmael as a sacrifice, so that His steadfastness in the Faith of God
    and His detachment from all else but Him may be demonstrated unto men. The
    purpose of God, moreover, was to sacrifice him as a ransom for the sins and
    iniquities of all the peoples of the earth. This same honor, Jesus, the Son of
    Mary, besought the one true God, exalted be His name and glory, to confer upon
    Him. For the same reason was Husayn offered up as a sacrifice by
    Muhammad, the Apostle of God.
    No man can ever claim to have comprehended the nature of the hidden and
    manifold grace of God; none can fathom His all-embracing mercy. Such hath been
    the perversity of men and their transgressions, so grievous have been the
    trials that have afflicted the Prophets of God and their chosen ones, that all
    mankind deserveth to be tormented and to perish. God's hidden and most loving
    providence, however, hath, through both visible and invisible agencies,
    protected and will continue to protect it from the penalty of its wickedness.
    Ponder this in thine heart, that the truth may be revealed unto thee, and be
    thou steadfast in His path." Gleanings 75-76.

    So the Writings do speak of ransom but they also speak of repentance
    as being the sole prerequisite of forgiveness. We even have references
    to the kind of 'death-bed' conversions that some people make fun of
    Christianity for:

    "He should forgive the sinful, and never despise his low estate, for
    none knoweth what his own end shall be. How often hath a sinner, at
    the hour of death, attained to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the
    immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the celestial Concourse.
    And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul's
    ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire." KI
    194-95

    He likewise says; "Should anyone be afflicted by a sin, it behoveth
    him to repent thereof and return unto his Lord. He, verily, granteth
    forgiveness unto whomsoever He willeth, and none may question that
    which it pleaseth Him to ordain."

    Repentance doesn't mean simply feeling sorry for one sins, it means
    turning towards God. One story that is told about Muslim mystic Rabi'a
    is that one day she came upon Hasan al-Basra (an earlier Muslim
    mystic) who was weeping and wailing over his sins, saying what a
    wretched man he was. Rabi'a said, "Yes, you are. Because had you truly
    turned towards God you would be looking at Him and not noticing your
    own sins."

    If repentance is the only prerequisite for forgiveness why then does
    Baha'u'llah speak of 'ransoms'? Perhaps it is because only these kinds
    of sacrifices which make true repentance, true focusing on God out of
    love possible. This is what another medieval Christian theologian,
    Peter of Abelard argued. He held that the Crucifixion was necessary to
    forgive men's sin not because it was required on God's part but
    because only such a dramatic expression of God's love would enable
    people to repent and cause them to turn towards Him.

    It strikes me that this form of atonement, unlike Anselm's formulation
    is relational. But it is also something which could not be done once
    and never again as in Christianity. If it is indeed grounded in God's
    determination to reach us, instead of satisfying some abstract
    requirements of the Divine Essence, then it would happen again and
    again as Baha'u'llah seems to affirm.

    I think there is a great danger in seeing God as static,
    understandable by human categories like justice and mercy as Anselm
    liked to do. The God of the Hebrew Bible was a Living God, a Person
    and like all persons (and unlike pure essences) He had a Will, one
    like all wills was subject to change on occasion. It seems to me this
    attempt to make God fit our mental conceptions, to put Him into a
    predictable box is in the end, a form of idolatry. The Living God is
    not so predictable. He fulfills prophecies in ways we don't expect,
    and at times appears to fulfill them not at all.
     
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  2. light upon light

    light upon light Baha'i

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    Wow, Susan.

    I hope you post that to your blog or something too. It's a keeper.
     
  3. smaneck

    smaneck Baha'i

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    Thanks.

    My blog is devoted almost entirely to Baha'i-Muslim dialogue but I do have a webpage I could post it on.
     
  4. light upon light

    light upon light Baha'i

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    I hope you do.

    The way you describe the relational nature of the crucifixion, the martyrdom of Husayn and (of course!) the Bab really gets to the heart of it for me.

    Often times we Baha'is fail to understand other religions to a sufficient depth and thereby fail to understand our own. I think this post you wrote can help other Baha'is in that area, as well as helping open-hearted Christians see that we "get" what Christ's sacrifice means to humanity.

    Thank you again.
     
  5. Masihi

    Masihi love based faith is truer than fear based faith

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    The idea of atonement was not as new as you suggested.
    Is it just you or did Mirza Ali also not make mention anywhere, the tabernacle in the wilderness, the ark and its seat of atonement. Moses first constructed the tabernacle following Gds instructions. Once constructed, the levitical priests could only enter into Gds presence with blood from the altar. The blood was sprinkled in the direction of the seat. Only then would Gd permit the priests presence before the seat and only then would Gd expiate the sins of the people (in this case Israel). There is no remission of sins without blood. This was known by Israel for 1500 years up to the time of Christ and Christ knew this as well. The deception of forgiveness without blood, came by gnostics well after Christ walked the earth.

    But its fine to see the bahai pov on atonement.
     
  6. smaneck

    smaneck Baha'i

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    Actually, no. The statement that there is "no remission of sins without blood" is from the New Testament not the Tanakh. While there were certainly sin offerings in the Tanakh, not all blood sacrifices were sin offerings nor was it impossible to forgive sins without sin offerings.

    But I'll let Loammi speak to this if he is following this thread.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2014
  7. gordRedeemed

    gordRedeemed Well-Known Member

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    of course there is. blood was the least important of the ways to get atonement from G-d. it is also completely useless for any sin except unintentional sins. sacrifice was inadequate to atone for a transgression committed intentionally.

    the best way to find atonement from G-d is the contrite and repentant prayer of the remorseful sinner as it can bring about a complete atonement.
     
  8. gordRedeemed

    gordRedeemed Well-Known Member

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    LoAmmi is a he.
     
  9. gordRedeemed

    gordRedeemed Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing by the way smaneck. I will read this a bit later. Looks interesting.
     
  10. smaneck

    smaneck Baha'i

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    I know, I know but way back when I got it into my head that he was a she and it is stuck there now.
     
  11. gordRedeemed

    gordRedeemed Well-Known Member

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    Haha ok. ;)
     
  12. Masihi

    Masihi love based faith is truer than fear based faith

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    I find people asking me to believe in an interpretation of scriptures as given to them by Mirza Ali or islam when I have the scriptures in front of me and the Israelites to whom they were given, understood them and followed the manner thereof for 1500 years up till Christ. Are you saying I should believe you over Christ???


    Question: Where do we find the statement "there is no remission of sins without blood"?

    Answer:
    Leviticus 17.11 "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."

    Question: Was it known to Christ?
    Answer: Mathew 26.28 "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

    One can become Bahai it seems, once one believes that these verses and others like them, do not exist.
     
  13. smaneck

    smaneck Baha'i

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    I've never met a Jew who believed that blood sacrifices were the only way sins could be forgiven.

    Jesus didn't say that either.


    Sorry, Leviticus doesn't say there is no remission of sin without blood. It simply says that the blood will make an atonement. That is not the same thing. I wasn't denying they was any such thing as sin offerings in the Hebrew religion, only your assertion that this was the only way sins could be forgiven.

    That's nice. Still doesn't say this is the only way sin can be forgiven.

    Oh, the verse stating there is 'no remission of sin without blood' does exist. It can be found in the epistle to the Hebrews. It just doesn't come from the Tanakh or from Jesus.
     
  14. HeathenWarrior

    HeathenWarrior Newbie

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    What kind of power could be holding the Creator of the Universe to the need for bloodshed for forgiveness? Because whatever is holding it must be even more powerful then the Creator itself!
     
  15. ViaCrucis

    ViaCrucis Evangelical Catholic of the Augsburg Confession

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    I think Anselm's thinking made a lot of sense within the cultural context of feudal Europe, insofar as Anselm understood sin as having dishonored God--the highest lord--and thus requiring a satisfaction of that honor debt.

    I'm not saying I'm an Anselmian, only that I understand where Anselm was coming from given the time.

    Where I think it gets derailed is when the Anselmian-Thomist theory of Satisfaction mutates into Penal Substitution via some of the Reformed theologians post-Calvin.

    For a number of years now I've leaned toward Christus Victor theory. I'm not as against Satisfaction as I have been in the past, but I feel that satisfaction language needs to be used carefully. For example, I don't believe it is incorrect to say that Christ made satisfaction for our sins; but I do not want to entertain the notion as it is from the Penal Substitution camp that said satisfaction is God needs blood, and if He couldn't have ours then He'd send His Son to become flesh for the sole purpose to shed blood.

    Bloodthirstiness is not an attribute of God I'm willing to entertain.

    But if we understand Christ as the Just One who justifies the sinner by cloaking the sinner in His own justice, thereby bringing the sinner into a reconciled relationship to God by eradicating the enmity that exists between God and man (i.e. that by our sin and unrighteousness we show ourselves to be enemies of God, hating Him and His Law) thereby covering over that unrighteousness, covering over Adam satisfying the need of righteousness which we are--in ourselves--unable to be or have.

    This of course would ultimately break down under pietism with its insistence that personal righteousness is possible through human effort; that we can be just and do righteousness. Especially those forms of pietism that advocate impeccantia--sinlessness. But that's likely an entirely different conversation for another day.

    But if one understands the satisfaction not as an appeasement to God's lust for blood (as is so often the case in modern re-tellings of Penal Substitution), but a satisfaction of justice, not as a debt or honor payment, but as the Just One making just the unjust; then satisfaction language--I think at least--better conforms to the language of the New Testament (as I think it's rather Pauline) and is a form of satisfaction language that I would be comfortable having.

    And at that juncture I don't think one needs to choose a side between Christus Victor and Satisfaction; the two being not mutually exclusive ways of talking about the Atonement.

    But where I continue to draw the line is Penal Substitution and its rather petty re-tellings of a blood-thirsty God who ultimately needs blood to satiate His uncontrollable anger and wrath. That simply isn't the God I encounter when I open up the pages of Holy Scripture, neither Old nor New Testament.

    -CryptoLutheran
     
  16. smaneck

    smaneck Baha'i

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    There are not many people who go over my head, but sometimes you do.

    I had proposed Abelard's understanding as an alternative to Anselm's. Are you suggesting the same thing as Abelard or something else here?
     
  17. ViaCrucis

    ViaCrucis Evangelical Catholic of the Augsburg Confession

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    I think I'm suggesting Luther and St. Paul more than anything.

    The chief soteriological question of the Western Church going at least as far back as St. Augustine is "How is man made just, i.e. how are we set right with God?" That question is the one fundamentally behind every Western discussion of salvation theology from Augustine, to Anselm, to Aquinas, to Luther, to Calvin, and so on.

    If it is true as St. Paul says that we are "dead in our trespasses" and "at enmity with God" and emphatically unrighteous by our sin; and as such God's Law reveals our own lawlessness--being in itself righteousness itself--it therefore shows forth by being what it is that we aren't righteous; that we have--we all have--"fallen short" (that was a heck of a sentence).

    Not as though God has turned away, precisely the opposite, we have turned away, each gone our own way, doing as we please according to the desires of our flesh; abiding by our own selfishness, being that we are curved inward upon ourselves and thus flee from God.

    So, then, how can man be set right with God? If we are unable to be just, to be righteous, how can we be made right with God. Here is St. Paul (with context and emphasis on the bolded portion):

    "But now apart from the law the justice of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This justice is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood--to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." - Romans 3:21-26

    Namely this: That Christ who is Just justifies sinners, justifies the unjust. His own justice--righteousness--being upon them so that they may no longer be estranged from God, no longer aliens, no longer enemies of God, no longer dead in their trespasses--but friends of God, members of God's household, children and heirs.

    That Christ takes the ungodly and covers them with His godliness; Christ takes the unrighteous and covers them with His own righteousness. That we are justified--set right with God--by Christ who is the Just One. Christ is the covering, the hilasterion ("mercy seat", "propitiation") that covers the sinful and the unrighteous thus accomplishing what the unrighteous could never do--be righteous--and to take the unrighteous into Himself and present them as righteous in order that they may not remain dead in sin, dead in death, falling away headlong to the destruction that is fated for this world of sin, death, decay, and suffering. To stand with the Just One, on the Final Day, raised, redeemed, healed, and made whole.

    Christ takes the unrighteous into Himself as God's Righteousness, thereby justifying--setting right--them. Christ, therefore, makes satisfaction the righteousness that is lacking of those who are without righteousness in order that they might be called righteous on His account. Thereby even though the Law which calls unrighteousness unrighteousness, and thus condemns sin and those that commit it revealing their unrighteousness, He nevertheless takes these and calls them His own, presenting Himself as their righteousness so that they might be set right, made right, justified. And this being God's good pleasure, His grace, because His generous and loving disposition toward sinners revealed in this is that He is unwilling that any should perish, that any be stuck in their unrighteousness, that any be caught, stuck, trapped in the sinking ship that is this present world/order/system that is to pass away--which Christ defeated and destroyed by His dying and rising liberating mankind from the bondage of sin, death, hell and the devil, overcoming the world and so that we might pass through death and hell unsinged and not destroyed and stand in His own victory by being raised up, standing on the other side, when God has made all things new, renewing and restoring all things, all creation. New heavens and new earth, life and world everlasting. God being all in all.

    *takes in deep breath*

    Something like that anyway.

    Edited to add: I see this coming under moreso the idea of Recapitulation theory, the breaking, undoing, and inversion/reversing of Adam's disobedience by Christ's obedience as per Romans 5.

    -CryptoLutheran
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  18. Masihi

    Masihi love based faith is truer than fear based faith

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    Im with crypto on this one. The Christ made propitiation by his blood but that was done once and for All. For humanity its about trust in Christ.

    I also don't think Gd changes His mind on the form of expiation; I don't think Gd changes his mind, period.

    If someone were to quote old testmant JHWH saying "I repented", the word in Hebrew "nacham" means to be consoled, feel sorry, grieve. It does not mean to "change the mind" as the verb form found in the new testament, "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Two completely unique words, one in Hebrew and the other in greek, for two different epoch.
     
  19. gordRedeemed

    gordRedeemed Well-Known Member

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    Seems so confusing. I like G-d's original plan of giving some commandments out, try do your best to follow them. If you don't, repent and turn back to His precepts. If you want sacrifice some stuff for unintentional sins, since that is all that blood covers, feel free, but don't rely on it as eventually you will render for bulls the offering of our lips. Do some charity if you want. That can give you some atonement, but really just turn back to G-d with sincere prayer and it's all good. If you don't you may have to spend some time being purified after you die, but it won't be more then 12 months or so. Unless you are truly wicked, then you may have to stay longer.....
     
  20. Rationalt

    Rationalt Newbie

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    May be you should start with salient points of bahai doctrine before criticizing christian doctrine.

    Having managed to read the tripe I am still wondering whether blood sacrifice(Of animals) is Ok for atonement in bahai faith .

     
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