A look at atonement, inspired by Yom Kippur

As Jews throughout New York State prepared for Yom Kippur on Friday, I paused to give some thought to the concept of atonement, as I do each year. I discovered that the word “atonement” appears 70 times in the King James version of the Bible — and 69 of those are in the Old Testament (65 in the first five books, the Torah). So atonement is clearly an important concept in Judaism.

Christian Scientists (like other Christians) do not set aside a single day for contemplation in the way our Jewish friends do. But the concept of atonement is one that is central to our theology; it is the subject of one of six “important points, or religious tenets, of Christian Science”:

We acknowledge Jesus’ atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man’s unity with God through Christ Jesus the Way-shower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by the Galilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, devoted a chapter in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures to “Atonement and Eucharist.” Here are some excerpts:

Atonement is the exemplification of man’s unity with God, whereby man reflects divine Truth, Life, and Love. Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated man’s oneness with the Father, and for this we owe him endless homage. His mission was both individual and collective. He did life’s work aright not only in justice to himself, but in mercy to mortals, — to show them how to do theirs, but not to do it for them nor to relieve them of a single responsibility….

Every pang of repentance and suffering, every effort
for reform, every good thought and deed, will help us to
understand Jesus’ atonement for sin and aid its efficacy; but if the sinner continues to pray and repent, sin and be sorry, he has little part in the atonement, — in the at-one-ment with God, — for he lacks the practical repentance, which reforms the heart and enables man to do the will of wisdom….

If Truth is overcoming error in your daily walk and conversation, you can finally say, “I have fought a good fight . . . I have kept the faith,” because you are a better man. This is having our part in the at-one-ment with Truth and Love.

I find it helpful to think through basic religious concepts in this way, seeing how much we have in common with one another as well as where our beliefs diverge. And I’m always grateful for those points of commonality that open the door to conversation, which can lead to understanding and greater respect.

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