This is part of an ongoing review of Fleming Rutledge’s new book, Crucifixion. This post is excellent.
Theologically, I’ve always been committed to the sheer nothingness of evil. Rather than a thing with any substance or subsistence of its own, the tradition holds that evil is absence. Maybe evil is the privation of the good, as Augustine thought it, but during the prayer service I led in the days when Hannah was still missing, when everyone hoped for the best but suspected the worst, the presence of sin and evil was felt palpably throughout the sanctuary. In the months since then the devastation and trauma felt from her murder have grown and festered. I’ve watched with sadness and something like righteous anger as many of Hannah’s friends in my congregation continue to struggle with depression, despair, and a loss of faith. Two weeks ago, when it was reported that Jesse Matthew, her accused murderer, had decided to plead guilty, I rejoiced confident that God rejoiced too now that Hannah would receive at least this measure of justice.
My takeaway from this experience:
A vital refrain of scripture gets obscured when we individualize and moralize sin.
Sin costs something.
Sin must be atoned for.
Yes, Jesus enjoins us to forgive as much as 70 x 7 times, but sin, like the sin done to Hannah and the entire community who loved her, requires justice too. As my mother used to tell me, ‘Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to repair the damage you’ve done.’ Even for my mom, repair required sacrifice.
It’s right, even holy, to rejoice that Jesse Matthew will pay for the damage he’s done.
Sin costs something. This is the convicting acknowledgment running through the rituals of sacrifice in the Book of Leviticus. Counter to the popular complaint about traditional atonement theories which asks, flippantly, ‘Why can’t God just forgive?’ the fundamental presupposition of Leviticus is that there must be atonement for sin. Put aside distracting conceits like God’s offended honor and simply focus on the concrete, real-world devastation wrought by sin.