Penal Substitutionary Atonement Ruined Easter for Me
Every Easter, without fail, I end up feeling a little depressed.
I assumed this was because my emotions often aren’t in sync with the cultural holiday calendar. Christmas rolls around and I have trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. The same happens around Thanksgiving and my birthday.
When culture tells me I’m supposed to feel a certain way, I often don’t feel that way.
This is frustrating because I want to feel the way everyone around me feels, and the fact that I don’t compounds the issue.
This is part of why Easter is difficult for me. But, I’m realizing there is more to it than that.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I always heard the Easter narrative told through the lens of a particular atonement theory. That theory was called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. It says that God is wrathful and Jesus died to save us from his angry father.
In Christianity, an atonement theory is basically an explanation of what Jesus’ death did (if anything).
The explanation that I heard growing up in church was disturbing now that I think about it in hindsight.
There was a God that saw me as totally depraved. I was deserving of death. And if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus died for me, God would still be super pissed off at me.
To put it bluntly, God’s love for me was conditional. This is the story I heard every Easter.
I never could muster up the energy to get excited about this narrative.
I realize now that part of the reason why I’m never excited or interested in Easter is because Easter and Penal Substitutionary Atonement went hand in hand for most of my life. I couldn’t have one without the other. The PSA was hard-wired into the whole thing.
When I stopped believing in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, I stopped believing in Easter too.
In a nutshell, Penal Substitutionary Atonement ruined Easter for me.
I tweeted about this the other day and I got a few responses saying, “well thank goodness Penal Substitutionary Atonement isn’t true and there are a lot of other ways to view Easter.”
Sure, that’s true I suppose, but I can’t unsee the Penal Substitutionary Atonement side of things. Every song. Every scripture reference. They're all reminders of PSA.
Maybe given enough time and space I’ll regain a love of it all, but that’s not where I am right now.
Instead, I spend most Easters feeling a little sad that the faith I once knew and loved isn’t the same anymore. I don’t think Jesus had to die. I don’t think God is mad. I don’t think he likes blood sacrifices. I don’t even think he is a he but as you can tell old habits die hard.
Penal substitutionary atonement dies hard.
To borrow part of a phrase I heard Yuval Noah Harari use in a book I’m currently reading...
Penal substitutionary atonement is dead, but it takes awhile to remove the body.
How do you feel about Easter these days? Tweet at me.