Growing up, although I was familiar with “atone” as a verb, it didn’t occur to me to consider it in any theological/religious context. To me it simply meant making amends for mistakes or misdeeds, owning up to them, straightening things out. The implications were somewhat grim and foreboding.
I suppose that this view remained somewhere in the back of thought as I came into Christian Science. The Bible Lessons on “Doctrine of Atonement” did not seem of great import or relevance to me for some time, although Mrs. Eddy’s hyphenation of the word into at-one-ment began to give a fresh, clearer sense to the term.
The fourth tenet of Christian Science begins “We acknowledge Jesus’ atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love…”. What followed was for me like the pre-digital days when any presentation with visual images likely included transparencies projected onto a screen. As each slide came up, there was a brief interval before the light and heat of the projection bulb touches it, when the image was blurred and unclear. Then suddenly it snapped into perfect focus and remained crisp and distinct to the viewers.
Similarly the word “evidence” stood out and called for attention. I knew you can’t have evidence of something that doesn’t exist. So Jesus didn’t, couldn’t have, originated atonement; he was demonstrating something already in existence. Genesis 1 tells us God created man in His image and likeness. As long as God and man have been (that is, since the beginning of creation) there must have been at-one-ment. Like that slide popping into focus, what this made obvious to me is that atonement is not a process – it is and has always been an established fact. We have to acknowledge and bear witness to it, but we can’t make it happen, because it already has.
The effect of this realization has been to replace the old, dire, somewhat off-putting view of atonement with a warm, joyous, uplifting sense of it. Familiar terms take on wider, richer meaning – unity, oneness, coexistence, indissoluble connection (some terms Mrs. Eddy uses in Science and Health). Atonement has become comforting and encouraging, it has warmth. No longer an item on the “to do” list, it is a cause for gratitude and rejoicing, opening wonderful new dimensions to the idea of “togetherness”.
Beth Sanborn, Member