Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Atonement and the Love

Ephesians 5
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

I've recently been pondering more and more about Christ's work on the cross, especially the question: For whom did Christ die? Those of us with any appreciation for the cross will agree that Jesus' crucifixion was big news, it made a big deal - all the difference in the world. My question has always been, Who reaped the benefits of Jesus' work? We naturally assume, The whole world, of course! Sinner, saint, the Pope in Rome, the Pygmy in Africa. Jesus died for everyone all the same.

But the above passage suggests differently. The kind of love that a husband shows his wife is not the same as kind he shows to his secretary, the door-to-door salesman, or the shoeshine boy. I know it's the 21st century and anything goes these days, but hey. Paul seems to be saying that it was love that propelled Jesus to lay down his life to sanctify his bride into a spotless splendour. But this wasn't any kind of two-bit love for just anyone, it was a husbandly love, the kind that sacrifices his own life for the sake of his wife, his own flesh. If a husband shows the same amount of affection for the stranger at the grocery check-out as for his wife, we call him a Playboy, a cheat, a fool. He doesn't deserve to be married.

Special deeds are motivated by a special love, directed to special people.

This is precisely in line with what we see in God's affection towards Israel in the Old Testament: special treatment for special people as a result of a special love. I'm not saying that God doesn't love those who are not his people. Psalm 145:9 says, "The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." But, it seems clear that some enemies and non-Israelites weren't shown the same type of "love."

How does this fare with our assumptions about a general love of God for all humanity, or a general atonement made for all humanity? Of course, on the surface, it does sound better, more polite, more universal and makes everyone feel equally cuddled. But it just seems that the embrace of God's arms are more tightly wrapped around those he loves more.