Suffering as Atonement
Making the Most of a Bad Thing
In the ancient world, breaches of covenantal loyalty were thought to have been forgiven through substitutionary atonement. This “wiping the slate clean” took several forms: for example, human sacrifice, animal oblations, gifts of wine and cereal, and a ritual involving a scapegoat that carried transferred human guilt into the wilderness. Beyond these, episodic instances of innocents suffering because of other’s folly are recorded such as Jephthah’s daughter’s “immolation” and the death of the first child born to David and Bathsheba. This substitutionary concept reaches its highest point in the suffering servant of Isa 52:12–13 and is echoed in the passion of Jesus.
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