Monday, May 10, 2010

The issue of atonement

This is a serious and difficult to approach issue. What is this word that means to be at one in English and was coined for the English Bible to translate the word cover in the sacrificial language of Torah?

At the SBL Regional meeting last weekend, Isaiah 63:1-6 was put before me.
מִי-זֶה בָּא מֵאֱדוֹם
חֲמוּץ בְּגָדִים מִבָּצְרָה
זֶה הָדוּר בִּלְבוּשׁוֹ
צֹעֶה בְּרֹב כֹּחוֹ
אֲנִי מְדַבֵּר בִּצְדָקָה רַב לְהוֹשִׁיעַ
1Who is this coming from Edom,
with crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
this one glorious in his apparel,
stooped by the abundance of his strength.
I that speak in victory, abundant to save.
מַדּוּעַ אָדֹם לִלְבוּשֶׁךָ
וּבְגָדֶיךָ כְּדֹרֵךְ בְּגַת.
2Why is your apparel red
and your garments like one that treads in the wine press?
פּוּרָה דָּרַכְתִּי לְבַדִּי
וּמֵעַמִּים אֵין-אִישׁ אִתִּי
וְאֶדְרְכֵם בְּאַפִּי
וְאֶרְמְסֵם בַּחֲמָתִי
וְיֵז נִצְחָם עַל-בְּגָדַי
וְכָל-מַלְבּוּשַׁי אֶגְאָלְתִּי
3I have trod the crushing alone,
and of the peoples there was no one with me
and I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my fury
and their juice is spattered on my garments,
and I have defiled all my apparel.
כִּי יוֹם נָקָם בְּלִבִּי
וּשְׁנַת גְּאוּלַי בָּאָה
4For the day of vengeance was in my heart
and the year of my redemption has come.
וְאַבִּיט וְאֵין עֹזֵר
וְאֵין סוֹמֵךְ
וַתּוֹשַׁע לִי זְרֹעִי
וַחֲמָתִי הִיא סְמָכָתְנִי
5And I paid attention, and there was none to help
and I made myself appalled
and there was none to uphold
therefore my own arm brought salvation to me
and my fury, it supported me
וְאָבוּס עַמִּים בְּאַפִּי
וַאֲשַׁכְּרֵם בַּחֲמָתִי
וְאוֹרִיד לָאָרֶץ נִצְחָם
6And I trod down the peoples in my anger
and made them intoxicated in my fury
and I wrung out on the earth their juice

This is a passage I should have recognized and it fits in with my reading of the Song of Solomon and of the Apocalypse but I could not read enough words to place it in my memory without my usual 'helps'. My helps are in books and on the web. But I have to ask, who helps me to read and how do I conform my will and spirit to that help? Is it the one who calls me to unity with the Shema and who celebrates my unity in Psalm 133? Clearly, this is my faith - but can I find words to express the mechanism by which I am or claim I am able to come to such a unity?

Can I explain atonement in a blog post? Already I see the original gap - כָּפַר glossed as atonement when it 'means' to cover over. And what are those English people that coined the gloss taking for granted when they read kaphar that way?

Carl Kinbar brought to my attention a paper on the Trinity by Robert Jensen that has some close reasoning about the unity of identity yet separation of will in the human Jesus. Have I grasped it? Two natures - therefore a will for each, one identity... It is a fascinating piece of logic. The reference is Jenson, Robert W. "Identity, Jesus, and Exegesis" in Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Ed. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. 43-59. (Online here.)

Again in this essay by Jensen as in the latest short film intro to the Gospel of Mark, I see a statement from Moltmann (see page 54 of Jensen op. cit.) that implies a disunity between God and God. Holding myself back from a rash bluster, I don't think I would put it this way. The article suggests to me a way in which our will can be conformed to this pattern of death and resurrection. There is no disunity between God and God, but there is a failure of unity between God and us earthlings. But my wind and God's wind can blow together in a finely pressured oil spray, a unified emulsion of dew and oil, flowing down the beard, coming down from the mountains and coming up from the desert leaning on our Beloved.

By the human will of him who as Anointed earthling tasted death for all, I, as one of the all, may learn in his successful handing over of his 'spirit' (John 19:30) to follow him in the will of God by the same power of agreement which he in faith exercised on my behalf and to which I have access through my baptism into his death.

He succeeded in himself. And in his identification with me through this spirit/wind, he succeeds in doing in me what Ecclesiastes 8:8 says cannot be done
it is not of an earthling to be master in the wind
that it might hold back the wind
for there is no mastery in the day of death
and there is no handing over in battle
and wickedness will not let escape any that belong to it

Since he did not belong to wickedness, he escapes and all who believe in him escape with him - if indeed by his 'wind' they work the work that he gives them to work even as he worked his own.

And his work is described in that passage of Isaiah above. (At least believe his work.) I compare the 'who is this' with the Song - who is this coming up from the desert? The 'coming up' in the Song is a different word and related to sacrificial language or ascent (e.g. Psalm 24) but the 'who is this' is my link.

I hear the spattered crimsoned clothes as a source for John of Patmos. I read the sign of Jonah into this passage. Why is a mock-prophet included among the 12? Of the 12 only Jonah has no mention of the day of the Lord (another tidbit from the SBL meeting.) That is in the sign of Jonah. (How often do we look for confirmation of a sign in what is not mentioned?)

This day of vengeance is the day of the atonement, the revelation of the suffering of the Anointed that is fulfilled in the work of Jesus. This is the passion and the meaning of wholeness in Samek, ס, the circle letter (in a sans serif font), a word that means uphold and support.

Here too we see the juice of the grapes, the blood up to his bridle, which is poured out or wrung out vs the 'trickle down' (same word) in Psalm 133. The precious oil and the dew of Hermon are what remain when the blood is poured out. That is what creates the possibility of unity, the same unity as is given and commanded in the Shema.

It is the unity of fire and of love. Judgment and love are both aspects of the same fire. The bride and her Beloved are also to be intoxicated. God is in the Anointing reconciling the age to himself and creating the new age where the unity in him is made effective through the judgment of the death of Jesus. Here everywhere is unity - not abandonment. And through all this there is here a true help for us who walk alone. I need the help because of sin. His work in the pressing out of the grapes covers my sin and brings me to a unity I could not have imagined if I had not agreed to run with him in his yes. His yes is the unified will of God and makes one my wind with his and my will also.

Whew - what a mouthful! But I wouldn't say it if I had not known it. I wouldn't have known it if I had not believed and called on the name of Hashem in whom alone is salvation - the name that is Jesus to the Greeks and Joshua in Hebrew, the name, without limitation and in abundance, that derives from the last word in verse 1.