Friday, April 25, 2008
I've been thinking a lot about atonement lately. That probably has something to do with a book and a movie I've experienced this week. The book is Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brook. It's a novel about the plague coming to an English village in the 1660s. Not to give too much away (in case you want to enjoy it yourself), but the idea of atonement runs throughout the book and is especially strongest in one scene toward the end when one of the main characters goes on a rant about how a person can ask for and receive forgiveness, but still needs to atone for sin.
The movie was "Atonement," based on Ian McEwan's excellent novel. It's a really fine flick, filled with nuance. It's not as good as the McEwan's novel, but then that would be an impossible task, I think. Once again, as the title none to subtly suggests, atonement is the theme. The ending is wonderful though -- and completely unexpected.
So, atonement. Which one dictionary defines as "reparation for an offense or injury." As I watched the film and read the book, I kept coming up with the question, can we offer reparation for an offense or injury? I mean really? Can we ever make it right? Certainly courts try to set ideas of what reparations ought to be in civil suits and the Bible (and other scriptures) set other standards ("an eye for an eye," etc.). Still none of them really seem to work -- they never bring about what we really want most -- restoration of that which was lost, be it a relationship, a loved one, or an eye.
When I was a younger know-it-all (as opposed to being an older know-a-little-bit), atonement seemed like a pretty good idea. A person ought to make up for his or her offenses or injuries or sins. That was only right. Except I think it was only wrong. It led me to rely too much on my efforts and not enough reliance on God's grace. The fact is that I have too many offenses, injuries, and sins to atone for. And, as I age and reflect on my life, I come up with even more -- things from my past that haunt me like Hamlet's ghost.
It seems to me then that, should I ever be in the place of having been offended, injured, or sinned against, that I need to be graceful. I need to extend my grace, my forgiveness if you will, to those who have sinned against me. I need to let go of the idea of needing them to atone. And hopefully, as I live in a spirit of a contrite heart and soul and ask forgiveness, much needed, undeserved grace will be extended to me.