I am taking the youth staff through Paul Zahl’s Who Will Deliver Us? (Wipf and Stock, 1983). Its a great book, honest and vivid and courageous in applying the gospel to our deepest emotional struggles. The great strength of the book, as I see it, is that Zahl takes classic atonement theology and translates it into modern psychological categories of experience. He argues in chapter 1 that a deep-seated fear of ultimate judgment stands underneath our feelings of stress, depression, and anger, and that we tend to respond to deep fear with either escape, open resistance, or appeasement. In chapter 2 he explores the universal human need for atonement as a response to this fear, looking at both religious and secular expressions of this need. In chapter 3, which I read today in preparation for our staff meeting tomorrow, he presents Christ’s death on the cross as the answer to this human need for atonement in light of our deep, inner fear of judgment and condemnation. I found this chapter a refreshing reminder of the infinite value of the death of Christ for me, each moment afresh. Here’s a good sample quote:
“What is the present value of the death of Christ? How can something that happened long ago meet the judgment that afflicts us now? We have proposed that the problem of being human is essentially a factor of fear. We live our lives under judgment. Whether it is for wrongdoing in a conscious mode or the pervasive, irrational, multiform fear that we are worthless and no good, we live our lives under judgment…. I believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ because it disarms the law and frees me from the fear of judgment. This judgment would use as evidence against me not only the deliberate sins and conscious moral failures of which I feel most painfully aware, but also the compulsive patterns and imprisoning proclivities the origin of which I scarcely know except they feel like the flesh of my flesh. I have often felt judgment not as the condemnation of things about me I can help, but condemnation of my very self and character…. I believe in the atonement. The law is powerless: Christ’s death has disarmed it. ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!'” (38-43).