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Cosmic Conflict View of Atonement

The cosmic conflict view of atonement[1] is a theory within Christian theology, which teaches that Christ, through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection, addressed the existential questions of God’s response to the problem of evil. If there is an all-powerful God and he is good, why does he allow evil to exist? Can he be trusted? In this view, God’s response, through his son Jesus, is said to reveal the truth about both God’s character and the nature of evil. It teaches that this revelation, mediated through Jesus, provides clarification of theodicy questions and invites restoration to a trusting, transforming relationship with God, which is salvific.[2]

Origins of the Conflict and God’s Response
This view of atonement is based on an understanding of a cosmic conflict that began in heaven when the highest-placed created being, Lucifer, the “Light Bearer”, became envious of God and began to question the goodness of God. The theory states that Lucifer’s envy led to rebellion, producing slanderous lies that God is arbitrary, stern, and unforgiving. Further, he insinuated there can be no real freedom under God’s governance. Using deceptive tactics, he persuaded a portion of other created beings to distrust God, including Earth’s first humans.[3],[4],[5],[6],[7]

In response to this challenge, the cosmic conflict view teaches that God has sought to convince us of the truth about himself using transparency and evidence.[8]  Because, in this view, God has been charged with not looking after the best interests of his creatures, mere claims of authority or displays of overwhelming power would not suffice to convince intelligent beings of the goodness of God.[9] Moreover, this view teaches that this is not God’s way of working.[10] God’s use of any kind of coercive force would merely confirm the charges that his government is based on his use of self-serving power. With these charges originating in the universe at large, God’s answer must be given in that same universal context in order to be ultimately effective.[11]

Revelation Through Jesus’ Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection
This view teaches that the clearest and most crucial evidence that God provided was when he sent his son Jesus to this world to reveal what he is like, thereby both exposing and refuting the lies of the rebellious Lucifer.[12],,[13] The incarnation reveals that God did not abandon humanity when they chose rebellion.[14]  Rather, it demonstrates that God can be trusted to keep his promises.[15] It further demonstrates his commitment to come near to us and dwell among us, sharing in our plight.[16]

The cosmic conflict view teaches that Jesus’ ministry of healing people illustrates the way God deals with the problem of sin and evil—restoration, not punishment; healing in response to brokenness.[17] Further, it teaches that God will ultimately heal all who respond to his love, all who are reconciled back to a trusting relationship with him.[18] In this view, it follows that this restoration reveals that God’s justice and mercy do not work in opposition to each other. God’s justice is making right what went wrong; his justice is restorative, not retributive.[19] In this light, justification is setting straight what has been misaligned.[20]

This view sees further illustrations of God’s character in the way Jesus treated people and in the stories he told. For example, his treatment of the woman taken in adultery[21] demonstrates that it is not God who accuses sinners; rather, God is working toward restoration.[22] The story Jesus told about his being the Good Shepherd demonstrates that he puts himself between his people and the Adversary, putting his own life on the line in order to protect them (substitution), but not because it is God who is their adversary, seeking their death.[23]

The cosmic conflict view agrees with commonly-held Christian views that Jesus did not sin and that he voluntarily laid down his life. This view also sees similar meanings in the New Testament metaphors regarding Jesus’ death that other atonement models utilize.[24] However, where this view sees further revelation in Jesus’ death is that it declares that Jesus died as if he had sinned—meaning, he died the ultimate death of the unrepentant sinner, which is called the “second death.”[25] In the cosmic conflict view, the significance of this death is that it demonstrated the truthfulness of God’s warning about the consequences of sin that had been contradicted by the Adversary in the Genesis story.[26] This revelation about God’s truthfulness was as much for the created beings who did not follow the Adversary into rebellion as it was for humans, since the questions raised about God’s character were also relevant to them.[27] The cosmic conflict view declares that Jesus died the unrepentant sinner’s death to reveal the natural consequences of sin so that no one else would necessarily have to suffer the same consequence.[28] This has been called “revelatory substitution” by one proponent of this view,[29] in contrast to a transactional substitution as portrayed by forensic atonement models.

This view teaches that God did not need Jesus’ death in order to forgive sinners.[30] He had already been forgiving humans for millennia before Jesus came, using a sacrificial system to remind people of the direct causal link between sin and death.[31]In this view, God’s purpose for this process was to evoke humility and repentance in the person offering the sacrifice so that they would be willing to listen and learn.[32]

This view holds that the Adversary twisted God’s sacrificial illustration to imply that payment is necessary in order for God to forgive sin.[33] He also twisted God’s words of warning that sin is deadly, insinuating that it is God who punishes by ultimately killing the unrepentant sinner.[34] The cosmic conflict view, however, defines sin as an attitude of rebellion against God, the inherent consequences of which are death.[35] In the freedom that God maintains in his universe, this view teaches that evil must be allowed to demonstrate and reveal its self-destructive nature, establishing conclusive evidence of God’s truthfulness.[36] God’s role in the final death of the wicked is, with his terrible anguish, giving them up to the full consequence of their choice to separate from himself, the source of life.[37] The cosmic conflict view categorically rejects the doctrine of hell as an imposed punishment; it is considered to be one of the many lies of Satan, aimed at thwarting a trusting relationship with a loving God.[38]

As with other atonement models, this view teaches that Jesus’ resurrection reveals God’s power over death and his assurance of our liberation from the power of the system of lies and sin that lead to death. His resurrection also reveals to a broken, hurting humanity the promise of eternal life and shows the way to its fulfillment. Additionally, this view nuances these beliefs with the theodicy questions raised in the cosmic setting, specifically, that “the resurrection settles the issue of God’s character because it ratifies Christ’s real-life demonstration.”[39]

Love is the Law and the Transformative Power
The cosmic conflict view of atonement emphasizes God’s principle of self-giving love as the foundation of his government.[40] Jesus fulfilled this law of love, revealing how God’s law is perfect and eternal, and is a universally applicable moral code.[41] Because genuine love like this cannot be commanded, the cosmic conflict view teaches that God is absolutely committed to maintaining freedom in his creation.[42] Consequently, God does not wish to manipulate or control any of his creatures. Rather, he desires to help each one to recover their self-control, which is accomplished through a trusting, transforming relationship with him.[43] The sinner is set right, or justified, as God works repentance in them, turning them away from their rebellion and toward himself; then, by his transforming love, to other-centeredness.[44]

Criticisms and Foundational Concepts
Critics have claimed that the cosmic conflict view is equivalent to Peter Abelard’s Moral Influence Theory[45] While there are attributes of Moral Influence that other atonement models embrace (including the cosmic conflict view),[46] it is an incomplete model. To address these deficiencies, this view has embraced certain foundational concepts:

1) It focuses on God’s answer to the charges that have been leveled against him by the Adversary.[47]

2) It clarifies the reason why Jesus died was to objectively clear God’s name by revealing his truthfulness about sin and death. Specifically, that it is sin that kills, not God who kills.[48] Because the charges were against God himself, this could not have been demonstrated in any other way or by anyone other than God.

3) It confirms the validity of God’s law and contends that sin is much more than merely breaking rules; sin is a mindset of rebelliousness against the principles of self-giving love that sets up a barrier between people and God,
who is the source of life.[49],[50],[51]

4) It addresses the great theodicy questions of why there is evil in the world, why there is so much of it, and why it seems that God is absent.[52] If God had prematurely intervened in the working out of evil by forcefully halting it, or even if God had simply allowed Lucifer to die of natural consequences when he first rebelled, questions about God’s involvement in death would remain for eternity. This would leave the seeds of distrust and rebellion within God’s creation.[53] Instead, evil had to be allowed to fully reveal how damaging and deadly it is. The cosmic conflict view does not teach that sin was ever necessary, but with this terrible experience that was so costly for all, including God, the universe will be forever inoculated against evil.

5) It emphasizes the importance of evidence in the development of trust. The cosmic conflict view holds that God will heal and save all who trust him, but he does not expect his creatures to believe and trust him based on mere claims of authority or demonstrations of power. Rather, the long record of God’s involvement with his creation provides evidence of his trustworthiness and commitment to restoration, without sacrificing freedom.[54],[55] This view sees atonement as at-one-ment, or reconciliation,[56] that is based on the revealed evidence of the true character of God.


[1]This theory of atonement has also been called the Larger View and the Trust-Healing Model. Some notable adherents of the cosmic conflict view who have called it by these names are Graham Maxwell, Daniel Duda and Jon Paulien (Pineknoll Publications, Conversations About God, and Pineknoll Biographies) and Dr. Tim Jennings (Come and Reason Ministries), respectively, and by critic Norman Gulley (1992) A Look at the Larger View of Calvary: An Evaluation of the Debate in the Seventh-day Adventist Church Many proponents of this view merely refer to it by its “cosmic conflict” or “great controversy” perspective (see Jonathan Gallagher,Dr. Ken Hart, Ty Gibson, and Richard Duane Smith). Because revelation is a foundational aspect of this atonement theory, some have also called it the Revelatory Theory of Atonement. Although a significant subgroup of Seventh-day Adventists holds this view of atonement, it is not a formally recognized doctrine of the church. The Seventh-day Adventist church does, however, teach a great controversy that was espoused by its prophetess Ellen G. White in her book The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, on which the cosmic conflict view of atonement is based. This specific understanding of the atonement has not yet been settled as a matter of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine.

[2] Theodicy and soteriology are traditionally separate areas of study within Christian theology, theodicy having to do with God’s character and soteriology dealing with human salvation. However, the cosmic conflict view understands these as intimately related and intertwined issues. In this view, the question of God’s character must be settled first, otherwise, it would be dangerous to trust God if he is the kind of person his enemy has made him out to be.

[3] An understanding of a cosmic conflict can be documented as early as Origen of Alexandria (185-254 CE) in his work Against Celsus. However, it quickly lost prominence in the history of the Christian church. An early proponent of the cosmic conflict in the modern-era was Ellen G. White, which she described in her book The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (see chapters 29 “The Origin of Evil” and 33 “The First Great Deception”), first published in 1858. She used the disparaging adjectives “arbitrary, stern, and unforgiving” in describing how Satan sought to mischaracterize God (see Youth’s Instructor 2-22-1900 ¶9). Contemporary theologians who have also interpreted certain Biblical passages (Revelation 12:7-8, Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-15, Genesis 2:16-17 and Genesis 3:1-5) to describe a cosmic conflict, are John Peckham, Sigve Tonstad and Graham Maxwell, among others. Their views are described in Notes 4-7 below. Alden Thompson, also a proponent of this atonement model, provides a nuanced interpretation of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 in his book Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God (see pp. 46-8). Although some contemporary theologies continue to recognize a cosmic conflict, even acknowledging the existence of a Satan, the cosmic conflict does not influence their views of atonement. The cosmic conflict view of atonement sees existential implications in the issues raised in the conflict that are resolved only by the atoning actions of God through Jesus, and seeks to explain them.

[4] John Peckham explains why the cosmic conflict understanding might lack prominence today, but why it is still essential to consider in Christian theology. In the first two chapters, Peckham explores “the relationship of love, free will, and evil…suggesting that God permits evil for the sake of love. However, by itself, free will of the kind and extent necessary does not appear to account for God’s allowance of the kind and amount of evil in this world. Could not God…grant us free will sufficient for love without allowing such horrendous evils?… Whereas many approaches to such questions have been offered, most have neglected the prominent biblical theme of conflict between the true God and false gods or demons. Perhaps the main reason for this relative neglect is the supposed implausibility of such a conflict. Although the vast majority of Christians throughout the ages have believed in a conflict between God and demonic agencies, since the rise of Enlightenment modernism this view has often been dismissed or overlooked. Further, some wonder how any such conflict could be compatible with the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. In order to address whether and how such a conflict might provide significant insights into the problem of evil, we must first understand the framework and the nature of the cosmic conflict as depicted in Scripture.” (Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil p. 55)

[5] Sigve Tonstad explains the nature of the conflict in his book Saving God’s Reputation: The Theological Function of Pistis Iesou in the Cosmic Narratives of Revelation. He writes: “…[T]he narrative in Revelation 12 points to a cosmic conflict that began in heaven before embroiling the earth. Essential to this unveiling is the discovery that the earthly conflict cannot be described or understood in human terms alone…. The cosmic perspective signifies that the heavenly beings are assembled for their own sake and not only in order to model heavenly peace for the benefit of the earthly believer. The issue before the heavenly council, framed in terms of the worthiness of the One who sits on the throne, has a bearing on the heavenly beings as much as on earthly realities. When, on the one hand, Revelation asserts that ‘war broke out in heaven’ (12.7), it pinpoints where the conflict arose and identifies the contestants in the conflict. On the other hand, however, the repeated identification of Satan as ‘the deceiver’ solicits an understanding of the means by which the uprising must be overcome. As a deceiver, Satan wins support for his cause and programme by something other than what he truly represents. If this is the case, simple demolition of the deceiver will not suffice unless or until his true character has become manifest. Such a perception of the cosmic conflict depends on presentation of evidence for its resolution. To the extent that the deceiver wins support by purporting to be what he is not, he must be unmasked by evidence to the contrary, that is, by the evidence of his own actual deeds. To the extent that the deceiver gains influence by slandering his opponent, again hewing close to the language of Revelation and to the indicators of the agent’s programme, his cause will unravel if the actual deeds of his opponent turn out to be different from what the slanderer has made them out to be. The crucial point relates to the fact that a conflict of this nature cannot be resolved by force. Inevitably, this requirement exposes at least one troubling risk that is intrinsic to the non-use of force: If the deceiver is partly to be unmasked by the evidence of his own actions, it means that he will be granted the opportunity to bring his design to fruition. Satan must be allowed to commit evil for his evil character to be manifest. The political risk to the divine government of this projected policy, not to mention the theological risk, hardly needs to be elaborated.” (pp. 68, 129)

[6] Graham Maxwell describes the beginnings of the conflict and the issues that were raised: “Who would dare to question the integrity of God? Who would dare suggest that God cannot be trusted? Yet with this incredible accusation, the Biblical account of human history begins. The one who raised this charge had not always been God’s enemy. He is pictured first as highly honored, standing in the very presence of our heavenly Father. As God’s trusted spokesman he went out among his fellow angels bearing light and truth. He was called ‘the Light Bearer’—sometimes translated ‘Lucifer’ or ‘Morning Star’—a name belonging also to the Son of God Himself…. But Jesus later called him ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). The last book in the Bible describes him as ‘that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world’ (Revelation 12:9).’ … ’God has no respect for your freedom and dignity as intelligent individuals,’ Satan argued. ‘In selfish tyranny He is depriving you of knowledge and experience that are rightfully yours. He has lied and is not worthy of your trust.’ With such falsehoods Satan had already led one third of the angels to side with him against God. Though he is a created being, he had come to think of himself as divine…. Insane pride led him later even to ask Jesus, his Creator, to bow down and worship him…. To set himself up as God he first must undermine confidence in the One he wished to supplant, and he sought to do this by destroying God’s reputation. Since he could find no fault in God, he must resort to deceit.” (Can God Be Trusted? pp. 11-2)

[7] As to the insinuation of lack of freedom under God’s governance, Tonstad writes: “In the Garden of Eden God casts the character of the divine government in terms of freedom (Gen. 2.16). When ‘the ancient serpent’ has his turn, however, he insinuates deprivation of freedom as the hallmark of the divine regime (Gen. 3.1). In the ensuing crisis of credibility the biblical narrative leaves no doubt that the serpent’s proposition is accepted, promising greater freedom and a more exalted state of existence (Gen. 3.1-6). The all-absorbing issue facing the heavenly council in [the book of] Revelation should also be construed in such a way that freedom is the issue on which the decision will turn. In the scroll that no one is worthy to open lies the evidence that freedom constitutes the basis of the divine government, precisely the opposite of the mudslinger’s charge in the Garden of Eden. Within the logic of freedom, working itself out in the transparency of an open system, ‘the ancient serpent’ inexorably reveals his true character, and the process happens precisely by the quality in God that the adversary has denied.” (Saving God’s Reputation pp. 142-3) Elsewhere Tonstad adds: “What is the character of the divine rule and, by inference, the character of God? In one representation, God gives ability, freedom, and responsibility to human beings. God stands for principles valued in a free society: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Above all, God’s command makes sense, inviting consent and admiration on the part of human beings and not only obedience. On the other side in the conflict, God is represented as a tyrant who wields authority arbitrarily, exemplified in a savage prohibition and certainly not along lines of provision, promotion, or protection. This God is hostile to the pursuit of happiness, as evidenced by the allegation that the divine economy is an economy of deprivation and lack ([Genesis] 3:1). In this representation, the harsh terms must be hurriedly overturned for life to flourish. An important feature in either representation is absence of demonstrable suffering at the point when the charges are made. To the serpent, God is at fault not because there is demonstrable suffering, but because there is lack of freedom…. Not to be missed in the representation in Genesis is the fact that God allows an opposing power to misrepresent God in the most barefaced manner. God does not curtail false speech by shutting it down. The serpent who blames God for issuing harsh and senseless prohibitions is itself the beneficiary of God’s permissive stance. The God who allegedly puts a restriction on the freedom to eat, has not restricted the freedom to talk even when the talk is malicious and untrue.” (God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense pp. 102-3)

[8] Using a courtroom analogy, Maxwell explains why God’s method of transparency and evidence is necessary: “The great controversy is not over who can perform the greatest miracles but over who is telling the truth. As the former Lucifer, Satan has seen the awesome power and majesty of God…. God has not been charged with lack of power but with its abuse. The controversy is over the character of God. How can we know who is telling the truth?… When God took His case into court, He was inviting the universe to test even His claims and to believe only what proved to be true. Since the truth was on His side, He had nothing to fear from the most searching investigation. Nor was there any need for Him to tamper with the evidence or to intimidate His inquirers. All that was needed for God to win His case was the clearest possible exposure and demonstration of the truth. The more openness and light the better!… God Himself has come to the light. And the universe has clearly seen that the truth is with Him. No lie has been found in the mouth of God. ‘How right and true are your ways!’ all heaven agrees (Revelation 15:3, TEV; compare 16:7; 19:2). We can safely place our trust in Him. Surely such faith is no leap in the dark—unless one should believe that God has left us without light. And if God has really left us in the dark, without sufficient evidence of His trustworthiness, then Satan’s charges have not been met, and trust in God would indeed be an unenlightened risk.” (Can God Be Trusted? pp. 41-2) Peckham explains it this way: “Since the enemy’s slanderous allegations are epistemic in nature, they cannot be effectively answered by any display of power, however great. Indeed, no amount of power exercised by a king would prove to his subjects that he is not unjust…. A conflict over character cannot be settled by sheer power but requires demonstration…. [Because] the cosmic dispute is primarily an epistemic conflict over God’s character, God’s mode of operation makes sense. Since God’s very character and government has been challenged, it makes sense that he would operate in a transparent way that involves celestial beings, allowing them and others to see that God is wholly fair and just and loving. Doing so involves parameters, or ‘rules of engagement,’ in which the allegations can be settled and defeated once and for all.” (Theodicy of Love pp. 91, 104) See also Note 5.

[9] See Peckham in Note 8 and Tonstad in Note 11.

[10] Based on Zechariah 4:6, Graham Maxwell explains the cosmic conflict understanding of how God works and why this method is important: “[G]od’s message to Zerubbabel was that, much as he longed to help Israel become such people [of trust and friendship], it could not be accomplished by might and power, but only by the way the Spirit works. And while no one can oppose God’s power,…it is still possible for the weakest human to say no to the still small voice of love and truth.” (Servants or Friends? Another Look at God pp. 51-2)

[11] Maxwell explains the necessity of God’s response within the universal context, as well as the importance of God’s method of response within that context: “Since the great controversy began, it has been Satan’s studied purpose to persuade angels and men that God is not worthy of their faith and love. He has pictured the Creator as a harsh, demanding tyrant who lays arbitrary requirements upon His people just to show His authority and test their willingness to obey. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible tells of Satan’s unceasing efforts to pervert the truth and blacken the character of God. But if God were as Satan has pictured Him, how easily He could have blotted out His rebellious creatures and started over again! If all God wanted was unthinking obedience, how easily He could have manipulated the minds of men and angels and forced them to obey! But love and trust, the qualities God desires the most, are not produced by force—not even by God Himself. That is why, instead of destroying or resorting to force, God simply took His case into court. In order to prove the rightness of His cause, to demonstrate that His way of governing the universe was the best for all concerned, God humbly submitted His own character to the investigation and judgment of His creatures.” (Can God Be Trusted? p. 31) Tonstad adds: “God’s method is the crucial issue in the drama. Since the issue in the conflict revolves around the kind of person God is, the winner of the battle is not determined simply on the basis of power and might. A more subtle and circumspect reading is therefore required. In [the book of] Revelation God’s leading adversary is called ‘the great dragon,… the ancient serpent,… the Devil and Satan,’ said to be ‘the deceiver of the whole world’ (12.9). This disclosure explains why the antagonist in the conflict cannot be brought to heel by force. The deceiver must be unmasked, and the task of doing that has in Revelation been accomplished by Jesus in the form of a Lamb that looks ‘as if it had been slaughtered’ (5.6). This Lamb is the definitive manifestation of God’s character in history…. This manifestation encompasses the twofold mission of unmasking the deceiver on his own terms and of unveiling what God is like in a way that wins the confidence and admiration of the entire universe (4.8; 5.9-13; 11.17; 15.2-4; 19.1, 2, 5-7).” (Saving God’s Reputation p. 3)

[12] Some atonement theories present Christ’s mission as primarily being a means of providing a sacrificial payment for sin (for example, see Penal Substitution), placing the main focus on his death for salvific effect. In contrast, the cosmic conflict view sees the entirety of the “Christ event” (incarnation, life, death and resurrection) as being essential. For example, Marco Belmonte explains the purpose of Jesus’ mission this way: “Any attempt at analyzing the life of Christ would be incomplete if not placed in the framework of these words spoken by Jesus to his Father hours before he faced his own execution. ‘I have finished the work.’ What work? What was this work that Jesus came to complete?… Fortunately, we don’t need to guess what ‘the work’ was, because Christ himself went on to make it very clear: ‘I have manifested Your name.’ ‘Name’ is synonymous with character in the Bible… Jesus’ whole mission was to reveal to the entire universe the true character of his Father in Heaven—our God. Every action Jesus performed, no matter how significant (or insignificant) the impact may appear on the surface, was designed to give insight into the very heart of God’s character, which had been so grossly misrepresented by Satan and the men and women who had come to believe those lies.” (Servant God: The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Trustworthiness ch 13 “The Life of Christ” by Marco Belmonte, p. 191) Peckham adds: “If the cosmic conflict involves a courtroom drama regarding God’s character, it could not be settled prematurely by the exercise of divine power but first requires a public demonstration of God’s justice and character to defeat the enemy’s slanderous allegations. This demonstration has been set forth ultimately and definitively in Christ…. This demonstration of God’s righteousness was at the same time a demonstration of his character of love: ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8)…. Christ’s mission was, in large part, one of epistemic revelation of God’s kingdom of truth and justice (contra the enemy’s kingdom of slander), which is made clear in Christ’s stated purpose: ‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth’ (John 18:37; cf 8:44-45).” (Theodicy of Love pp. 120-1) This understanding of Jesus’ mission is not necessarily unique to the cosmic conflict view. For example, Bradley Jersak in his book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel states: “[I]n the flesh and blood person of Jesus, we have the only life ever lived that perfectly reveals the true nature of God, as far as it can be revealed in a human being. New Testament writers remind us that Jesus of Nazareth was more than a wandering peasant-prophet from Galilee. They insist he was and is the exact image of God’s essence, the precise imprint of God’s being (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:13). They testify that in Christ, ‘all the fullness of the Godhead lived in a human body’ (Col. 2:9)…. In simple terms, we say that Jesus showed us exactly what God is like, not just a facet of divinity; Jesus was the one true and living avatar of the transcendent God. When the Apostle Philip asked him, ‘Show us the Father and that will be enough for us,’ Jesus himself declared, ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9)…. These are profound claims, not only about who Jesus was and is, but even more importantly, these claims mean that Jesus is the decisive revelation of who God is and the radical re-definition of what God is like. If so, then understand: God is entirely Christ-like!” (pp. 83-4) What is unique to the cosmic conflict view is why this revelation of God through Jesus’ life was so crucial, and therefore, how it influences atonement theology. See Tonstad in Note 11.

[13] Variously called Satan (Luke 10:18), the Accuser (Revelation 12:10), the Adversary (1 Peter 5:8), or the Destroyer (Revelation 9:11). Peckham provides an explanation of these terms in the cosmic conflict atonement model: “In the NT, ‘Satan’ (satanas) basically means adversary, and ‘devil’ (diabolos) basically means ‘slanderer.’ The devil is repeatedly called the ‘evil one,’ and Christ’s work of redemption is repeatedly framed as against this adversary…. Satan is not an equal or eternal force against God. Colossians 1:16 rules out any hint of eternal cosmic dualism, declaring that by Christ ‘all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him’ (cf. 1 Chron. 16:25-26).” (Theodicy of Love pp. 59-60) As explained in Note 3, not all Christian theologies recognize the existence of a Satan, and those that do and connect this belief to a cosmic conflict, do not recognize a connection with atonement theology. This connection is unique to the cosmic conflict atonement model.

[14] Although on the surface this understanding is not unique to the cosmic conflict view, this view stands in contrast to some other atonement theories in that it does not see God as needing in any way to be reconciled back to sinful humanity. Rather, it teaches that the incarnation demonstrates that, while humanity was still in rebellion against God, God loved humanity so much that he sent his Son to reconcile rebellious humanity back to God, knowing full well the suffering that would be involved in the process. For further explanation, see Tonstad in Note 28.

[15] Other atonement theories do not connect the theodicy issues raised in Habakkuk, which Paul uses in Romans 1, to the issues of the cosmic conflict and the atonement. In contrast, Sigve Tonstad argues in his book The Letter to the Romans: Paul among the Ecologists that “his faithfulness” in Habakkuk 2:3-4 refers to God’s faithfulness. He writes: “The source of [Habakkuk’s] bewilderment is God’s apparent un-faithfulness. The moral order is coming unglued for lack of the requisite action on God’s part…. [T]he problem for Habakkuk is the apparent absence of God’s faithfulness. The promise to Habakkuk is that something is to happen that will put God’s faithfulness on display. The summons to Habakkuk…is that ‘the righteous will live by my faithfulness’…. Habakkuk…received the answer that God’s righteousness would be revealed, telling him that ‘it awaits an appointed time…it will certainly come and will not delay’, and then, ‘the righteous one will live by my faithfulness’ [Hab. 2.4, Tonstad’s translation]. This is the statement quoted by Paul [in Romans 1:17]. We should be reluctant to assume that Paul applies this answer to a completely different question than Habakkuk. ‘Thus, when Paul quotes Hab. 2.4, we cannot help hearing the echoes—unless we are tone-deaf-of Habakkuk’s theodicy question’, says Hays.” (pp. 13, 14, 15; Tonstad quoting Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1989), p. 40.) The cosmic conflict view of atonement captures the OT context of Paul’s quote from Habakkuk which is not concerned with human salvation as traditionally defined, but rather the theodicy questions and God’s apparent absence, i.e. God’s faithfulness to deal with evil. God’s faithfulness then becomes apparent in the incarnation of God in the man called Jesus.

[16] This understanding is a further amplification of how the cosmic conflict view sees the entire “Christ event” as being revelatory about God, but is not unique to the cosmic conflict view of atonement. For example, Brad Jersak writes in his book, A More Christlike God, proposing a co-suffering, anti-violence atonement model: “…[God] has not stood by as a passive spectator. He consented to participate in the human condition. Fully. In love, he saw our predicament and, through the Incarnation, entered into our affliction. He underwent the brunt of these forces with us, in the flesh.” (p. 132)

[17] Other reasons have been provided within the Christian tradition for Jesus’ healing ministry, such as authenticating Jesus as the true Messiah (for example, see Don Stewart’s “Why Did Jesus Heal the Sick?”) and demonstrating Jesus’ power and compassion, providing proof of his divinity (for example, see Ligonier Ministries’ “Why Did Jesus Heal?”). While the cosmic conflict view does not disagree with these explanations, it sees an additional and revelatory purpose in the healings. Marco Belmonte explains: “What could be more revelatory about the kind of God Jesus came to reveal than the sheer volume of restorative healing Christ extended to those who were afflicted with physical, mental, and spiritual ailments? Humble and compassionate, Jesus never forced his patients into being healed but frequently asked, ‘What would you like?’” (Servant God ch. 13 “The Life of Christ” by Marco Belmonte, pp. 193-4) Maxwell adds: “God has presented himself as our heavenly Father and Physician. When Jesus was here, he spent much of his time healing the sick. He had so little time to accomplish his purpose. Why didn’t he spend more of it preaching? It is apparent from all sixty-six books, that God’s way is not only to explain but to demonstrate. What was Jesus showing about the Father, and about God’s treatment of sinners, by healing all kinds of people the way he did? Some of them never thanked him. Some of them may even have been among his enemies at the end.” (Servants or Friends p. 124)

[18] The cosmic conflict view agrees with most Christians that soteriology includes the commonly-held doctrine of the Second Coming and a subsequent existence of heavenly perfection. Additionally, the cosmic conflict view understands human salvation to include healing from the damage caused by sin, which process can begin prior to the Second Coming. Maxwell explains it this way: “Doctors don’t condemn their struggling patients. They know healing takes time. They don’t expect an injured patient to sprint home from the first office visit. God works like an infinitely skillful physician. He can save and heal anyone who trusts him. He is not at all satisfied when we come to his office just to be forgiven. He proposes to bring us to the place where we won’t have to ask for forgiveness any more.” (Servants or Friends p. 155)

[19] Whether God’s justice is restorative or retributive is one of the concepts on which atonement theories disagree. For example, Penal Substitution (Atonement in Salvation in Christianity) understands God’s justice to be retributive. The cosmic conflict view maintains that God’s justice is not ever retributive. Rather, it always has a restorative purpose. Brad Cole explains the cosmic conflict understanding of God’s justice: “In the Old Testament, to ‘bring justice’ does not mean to bring punishment but to bring healing and reconciliation. Justice means to make things right by correcting injustice. Justice is ultimately an expression of mercy—it is God’s mercy in action…. The Old Testament definition of God’s justice as compassionate intervention in this world does not suddenly change in the New Testament. Unfortunately, we often fail to rely on the Old Testament as a basis for understanding God’s justice in the New. Instead, we apply our modern-day understanding of courtroom justice and interpret any New Testament reference to justice predominantly in legal terms: Quid-pro-quo payback justice, retributive justice, legal justice, and justice that primarily involves an imposed, painful penalty and a punishment that fits the crime…. The beauty of the Bible is that it is internally consistent on the subject; we can use both Testaments to define and explain God’s justice….” (Servant God ch. 11 “Do You Fear God’s Justice?” by Brad Cole, pp. 168, 174-6) This view of God’s justice being restorative is not necessarily unique to the cosmic conflict view. Some theologians holding to other atonement models agree that this understanding is the Biblical view of God’s justice. For example, Derek Flood in his book Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision of Grace, Justice and the Cross explains: “While our understanding of justice has shifted as a society away from a punitive model and towards a restorative one, most of us continue to think that punitive justice is what the Bible teaches. As a result, many Christians defend a punitive model, even when it conflicts with their own values…. We struggle to believe it, even though it seems wrong and hurtful to us. We hate it, but think this is what God wants us to believe…. What I want to propose is that the above is not at all what the Bible teaches, and instead is the result of people projecting their worldly understanding of punitive justice onto the biblical text. The New Testament, in contrast, is actually a critique of punitive justice. It presents it as a problem to be solved, not as the means to the solution…. In other words, restorative justice is how God in Christ acts to heal the problem of punitive justice…. A restorative approach, rather than a punitive one, recognizes and addresses our underlying brokenness that leads to hurtful behavior. It is a focus on healing rather than on hurting, on restoration rather than on retribution…. The irony then, is that it is in fact penal substitution that ends up ignoring sin because it understands salvation as a mere legal acquittal. According to this model, once a substitute is punished in our place, God can then justly overlook our sin. Nothing changes in us, nothing is restored for the one who was hurt. All that happens is that someone is punished, and with that it is declared that the demands of justice have been satisfied. Case closed. This amounts to what many have called a ‘legal fiction’ where the harm our sin does to us and others is simply ignored via a legal loophole. In contrast, a restorative model recognizes the real harm that sin can do, and seeks to heal it. This involves both caring for those who have been hurt, and restoring those who are hurting others (and if we are honest, we all fall into both of these categories). A restorative model does not deny the problem of sin, but like a doctor, its response is to heal.” (pp. 6, 17, 24-5)

[20] Manuel Silva explains the cosmic conflict view of justification: “To receive ‘justification of life’ means to be placed in right alignment or right relationship with God. To be back in alignment with God is to be reconnected to him as the only Source of life. His indwelling Spirit can heal us from all of the damage done by sin. This healing is what salvation is all about.” (Servant God ch 15 “The Cross: Virus Protection for the Mind” by Manual Silva, p. 218) Using Jesus’ declaration in John 15:15 regarding servants and friends, Maxwell explains how this perspective differs from other atonement models that have a forensic understanding of atonement (see, for example, Atonement in Salvation in Christianity and Justification): “Servant-believers understand that what needs to be put right between them and their offended Master is primarily a legal matter. The solution to this problem, as they see it, is forgiveness and the adjustment of their legal standing. They use the word ‘justification’ to mean pardon and the declaration that now they are legally right with God. This brings peace with God, they say, because now they need have no fear of his wrath, or of punishment, or of loss of reward…. Friend-believers have a different understanding of justification—if one must use that word at all. What has gone wrong, they believe, is primarily a breach of faith, a break-down of trust and trustworthiness. To set this right, trust must be restored. To be right with God means to trust him and to be his trustworthy friend.” (Servants or Friends p. 152)

[21] This story is found in John 8:3-11.

[22] See the cosmic conflict explanations of non-condemnation and restoration in Notes 17, 18 and 19. This view of atonement takes literally Jesus’ statement that he didn’t come to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47). This contrasts with other atonement theories, particularly those that have a more forensic bent (see Note 20).

[23] This story is found in John 10:14-15. The Old Testament background for this story is Ezekiel 34. Tonstad expands on this story in his presentation Re-Reading the Fourth Gospel (2021), see #10 “Words and Works” (premiered 4/30/2021, retrieved 5/5/2022): The “Good Shepherd” discourse assumes that humans are vulnerable like sheep, exposed to predatory forces that are bent on killing and destroying ([John] 10:10, 12). Worse yet, there are good shepherds and bad shepherds, the latter of no use to the well-being of the flock (10:1, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13). The Good Shepherd is in it all the way: he puts his life on the line for the sake of the sheep (10:11, 14, 15).”

[24] For example, “redemption”, “sacrifice”, “Christus Victor”, etc. The cosmic conflict view agrees that Jesus’ death was meant to redeem sinful humans, that his life was given as a sacrifice in this effort and that, through his sacrifice, God has won the cosmic conflict.

[25] Understanding the second death mentioned in Revelation 2:11 (and other texts in the book of Revelation) as the ultimate disposition of the unrepentant sinner is not unique to the cosmic conflict view. What is unique is the understanding that this is the death that Jesus died while on the cross. This stands in contrast to atonement theories that see Jesus’ death the result of a murder or of God’s punishment.

[26] These story excerpts are found in Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:4-5. This point, which ties together God’s warning of death with Jesus’ death, is unique to the cosmic conflict view and is one of its most significant contributions to atonement theology. As Maxwell explains:The most important story in all the sixty-six books is how the Son of God came to this earth, how He lived among us as the most gracious person the world has ever seen, how still in the prime of life He died a terrible death and then rose from the grave and returned to His heavenly Father. What does this tell us about God? Why did Jesus come in human form? And why did He have to die?… The first mention of death in the Bible is in God’s solemn warning in the Garden of Eden: ‘in the day that you eat of it you shall die’ (Genesis 2:17). Satan has denied the truthfulness of these words. ‘You will not die,’ he asserted to Adam and Eve. ‘It is perfectly safe—in fact, highly beneficial—to eat the fruit of this tree. You cannot depend on God always to tell you the truth. This is why it is not wise or safe to place full trust in Him’ (see Genesis 3:1-6). But Satan has not only denied the truthfulness of God’s words of warning; he has also led to a perversion of their true meaning. The enemy of God and man, who would have us fear our heavenly Father as arbitrary, unforgiving, and severe, has led to the misunderstanding of this warning as a harsh demand for obedience under penalty of death. What a baleful effect this distortion of the truth has had worldwide! How it has poisoned people’s attitude toward God and their practice of religion! Obey, or face execution at the hands of an angry God. How could this satanic view have met with such wide acceptance? For thousands of years men have offered sacrifice—sometimes even their own children—to win the favor of offended gods. Even in the Christian world some teach that had it not been for Christ’s appeasement of a wrathful God, we would long ere this have been destroyed; and but for His Son’s constant pleading in our behalf the Father could not find it in His heart to forgive and heal us sinners. But need anything be done to persuade God to love His children? Nothing is more emphatic in Scripture than that God has always loved—even His most wayward child. The consistent testimony of all sixty-six books is that our heavenly Father loves us as He loves His Son. When God said, ‘In the day that you eat of it, you shall die,’ He was uttering no arbitrary threat. In love for His created beings, He was only warning of the consequences of sin. Sin so changes the sinner that it actually results in death. Separated from the Source of life, he will surely die.” (Can God Be Trusted?
pp. 77-9)

[27] The cosmic conflict view interprets John 12:32, Colossians 1:19-20, and Ephesians 1:8-10, as meaning there were other cosmic created beings who would have known about the Adversary’s allegations of God’s untrustworthiness, yet did not follow the Adversary into rebellion. Therefore, a demonstration of God’s truthfulness would have accomplished “nothing short of a cosmic reconciliation” when it answers their questions about God’s character. (Peckham, Theodicy of Love p. 122) As Maxwell explains: “The universe was watching when God forgave Adam and Eve. Angels had heard God’s warning of death. They had heard Satan’s bold denial. Again the same question had been raised that started the war up in heaven. Who was right? Who was telling the truth—God or the former Light Bearer?” (Can God Be Trusted? p. 81) And, further explaining the implications of this demonstration for unfallen beings: Angels are watching. They, too, need to see the answer to Satan’s charge that the Creator has lied. They were listening in Eden as the Serpent mocked God’s warning to Adam and Eve that if they sinned they would die. If God has failed to tell the truth, that is the end of trust.” (Servants or Friends? p. 129)

[28] While other atonement models recognize that death is the result of sin, the distinction in the cosmic conflict view of atonement is that death is a natural consequence of sin, in contrast to a punishment that is imposed by God – including the final disposition of the unrepentant sinner. Maxwell explains this further, along with the implications for freedom and trust: “Had God permitted our first parents to reap the natural consequence of their rebellion and sin, the truthfulness of His warning would have been clearly seen and Satan’s falsehood would have been exposed. But ‘the Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Instead of death He offered forgiveness and healing…. He preserved the life of the sinner that he might have more time to consider the truth. What a risk God ran of being misunderstood! Satan would not hesitate to take advantage of God’s willingness to forgive as evidence supporting his evil charges. ‘I told you God has lied!’ the devil could claim. ‘Sin does not result in death. You will not die.’ Why did not God allow Satan and his followers to reap the full result of their sin? Would not their death have been the most effective way to halt the spread of rebellion and wipe out temptation and sin? But the universe had never seen death. It was not yet apparent that death was the inevitable consequence of sin. There was danger that the universe would assume that God had executed His enemies, that onlooking beings would thus be led to obey Him out of fear. In spite of Satan’s charges to the contrary, God does not desire the service of fear. It grieves Him to see His children afraid. If we should be moved to keep God’s commandments merely by fear of His power to destroy, our obedience would not speak well of our loving heavenly Father. To remain free and unafraid of God, the universe must learn the truth about the results of sin. They must be helped to understand that the sinner’s death is not execution at the hands of a vengeful God.” (Can God Be Trusted? pp. 81-2) Tonstad adds: “The human predicament is not adequately described in terms of violation of the divine command as though this is the main problem that needs to be made right. What, then, is the other—the main—problem? The main problem is misrepresentation and misperception of God’s character (Gen. 3.1-6). The death of Jesus is redemptive as revelation because it addresses the kind of person God is (Rom. 5.6, 8). Erstwhile enemies become friends by force of the discovery that the human perception of God was widely off target (5.10)…. The God toward whom human beings are hostile, is a God thought to be hostile toward them. Sin’s triumph, thus understood, is nowhere more evident than in its success in construing God as though standing in the posture of a virtual executioner toward humans. When human enmity is…predicated…on a perception of divine hostility, God’s action must address the reason for the enmity. This should be taken to be the primary—and the revelatory—meaning of the statement, ‘We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends…through the death of his Son’ (5.10, GNB).” (The Letter to the Romans pp. 172-5)

[29] Dan Smith explains his view of “revelatory substitution” this way: “God’s warning at the Tree was a loving warning of the natural consequences of sin, rather than a threat of divine punishment…. This was simply reality, and the eternal future of their [i.e. Adam and Eve] relationship was dependent on their realizing that cause-and-effect reality…. He could have either Adam or Eve die the second death. That would immediately teach the surviving person that sinners will surely die, but it would cut the class in half. You can learn about the consequences of stealing with a little bit of jail time—but you can’t learn about the consequences of sin with a little bit of death!… So, God had to underline the fundamental reality of the natural consequences of sin in such a way that…Adam and Eve could be kept alive to be able to learn the lesson… The incarnation of Christ was the ideal solution. By living among the human race, Christ could reveal Himself through His life and His teaching, and through the Cross and the Resurrection. And, as a substitute, He could die in humanity’s place to demonstrate the natural consequences of sin.” (Lord, I Have a Question: Everything you ever wanted to ask God but were afraid to say out loud see section “Revelatory Substitution” pp. 53-9)

[30] This teaching of the cosmic conflict view stands in contrast to forensic atonement models, and is based on the many Old Testament instances where God is described as forgiving, or promising forgiveness, that precede the death of Jesus, e.g., Numbers 14:19-20, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 103:2-4, Jeremiah 33:8, and the portrayal of the father in the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32. As explained by Maxwell: “For many years God pleaded with His erring people to come back and be faithful once again. Patiently He kept on calling, ‘Come home, Israel, come home to the Lord your God! For it is your sins which have been your downfall. Take words of repentance with you as you return to the Lord; say to him, Clear us from all our evil.’ And God promised, ‘I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them with all my heart’ (Hosea 14:1, 2, 4, Phillips). The prodigal son did just this. He came home with words of repentance. And his father was so glad to see him that he didn’t let him finish his confession. This is how our heavenly Father feels about every sinner who comes back, Jesus explained (see Luke 15:10-32).” (Can God Be Trusted? p. 104)

[31] Servant God ch. 17 “Roots of Legal Metaphors for Atonement and Salvation” by Jean Sheldon, p. 266.

[32] This view is not unique to the cosmic conflict view of atonement. For example, in his book Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross, Derek Flood writes: “Sacrifice does not make an angry God loving through appeasement or payment…. Our repentance is in response to God’s love, not the condition for it…. The temple sacrifices are not about appeasement because God is the initiator. God does not respond to what we do, we respond to what God does…. So what was the point of the sacrifices, if it was not to appease? The writers of the Old Testament are emphatic that the main object of sacrifice is not about a mechanical transaction detached from relationship, but the outward ritual effecting inner change, devotion, and repentance. Psalm 51 is traditionally attributed to David’s confession of sin…. God, David says, is not interested in outward actions, but in the state of his heart…. Echoing [David], Isaiah writes that God does not need a sacrifice from us. The offering God desires is to see compassion and justice reigning in our lives. God is not interested in detached ritualistic actions or legal requirements, but in a real relational exchange with us that affects us down to the core of our being and flows outwardly into our lives together.” (pp. 27-8)

[33] Christian atonement theories often cite Hebrews 9:22 in support of the necessity of sacrifice for God’s forgiveness. The cosmic conflict view understands both sacrifice (see Note 32) and Jesus’ death differently: “Hebrews 9:22 is often interpreted to mean that God insisted that blood had to be shed before he was willing to forgive. A common perspective is: ‘Everyone has sinned. Death is our sentence, but because Christ was put to death instead of us, God can forgive us.’ This interpretation, however, is not in harmony with the principles of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Christ’s death was not a demonstration of how God would have executed us if he had not exchanged Christ’s death for ours. As our Substitute, Christ demonstrated what sin would inflict upon us if we refused to turn to God for spiritual healing.” (Servant God ch. 21 “Difficult New Testament Passages” by Sue Lewis, p. 305)

[34] See Note 28.

[35] See Notes 28 and 50.

[36] This is another instance where the cosmic conflict view of atonement sees theodicy as an essential element of a complete atonement (and, hence, soteriological) model. Peckham explains: “Insofar as God maintains his commitment to epistemic freedom, the use of force can do nothing to counter such allegations, so another strategy is required to meet the allegations. Thus in the case of Job, God allows such allegations to have a hearing before the heavenly council and to be put on display so that creatures can make their own decisions. Toward answering such cosmic allegations, God allows Satan parameters within which he might make his case. In order for a finite being to be able to make such a case against the omnipotent God, there must be consistent parameters within which that finite being is allowed to operate. The finite being must be granted some jurisdiction that the omnipotent being covenants not to override. This is just what we see in Job 1-2. Satan is initially restricted and later brings requests to the heavenly council to have more license to demonstrate his charges. This evinces not only that Satan works within limits that are known to him and to God but that these ‘rules of engagement’ can be modified by agreement before the heavenly council. Insofar as God covenants to act or refrain from acting in a certain way, he is morally bound to do so. Given such covenantal ‘rules of engagement,’ then, God’s action is (morally) restricted…. We might wonder why God would enter into a covenantal arrangement that would grant Satan such jurisdiction in the first place, even if only temporarily. …[I]t may be that the kind and extent of free will necessary for the maximal flourishing of love—coupled with the enemy’s slanderous allegations against God’s character and government—required a context in which a demonstration could take place, apart from which the conflict could not be settled without severely damaging the flourishing of love (cf. Matt. 13:29). Since the cosmic war is not one of sheer force but one of character—a challenge to God’s moral government and thus a battle for hearts and minds—there must be known limits or rules within which the enemy can operate (cf. Job 1-2; Dan. 10). Further, if Satan is to set forth a real, demonstrative counterclaim, he must possess some jurisdiction to do so…. This jurisdiction was presumably triggered or greatly increased by humanity’s fall, providing the context for Satan to manifest his government as temporary ‘ruler of this world’ and concomitantly to lay forth his charges against God’s government of love. Insofar as this covenantal arrangement is itself morally justified as the best (or only) available avenue to settle the cosmic dispute, the great good of ensuring that love flourishes throughout the universe for eternity serves as the morally sufficient reason for God’s allowance of evil, without affirming that any such evil itself is justifiable or necessary for such flourishing.” (Theodicy of Love pp. 103, 109) Tonstad explains how this process of unveiling works: “If evil is posing as something other than what it is, the truth will come to light only when evil is made to show its hand. If, too, the divine intent is to make manifest the self-destructive character of evil, this happens only by letting evil stage its own defeat…” (God of Sense p. 58) See also Notes 5 and 7.

[37] In contrast to what other atonement models teach regarding the ultimate disposition of the unrepentant sinner, the cosmic conflict view teaches that the Old Testament develops the concept of God giving people over to consequences. For example, see Deuteronomy 28:32, 1 Kings 8:46, Nehemiah 4:4, Psalm 41:2, Isaiah 34:2, Ezekiel 23:46, and Daniel 8:12. The text that reveals the anguish God feels by this, however, is best reflected in Hosea 11:8. The New Testament continues this concept in how it describes Jesus as “given over” by Judas to those who sought to kill him (Matthew 26:15, Mark 14:11), which Paul reiterates in Romans 4:25 and Romans 8:32. Based on this, Maxwell explains further: “God’s wrath, as Paul seems to describe it, is His turning away in loving disappointment from those who do not want Him anyway, thus leaving them to the inevitable consequences of their own rebellious choice. Surely no more awful sentence could be pronounced upon a sinner than for God to say, ‘Leave him alone.’ … There is no clearer picture of God than may be seen at the foot of the cross. God had told the truth when He warned that the wages of sin is death. In His Son He was dying that death. But God was not executing His Son. He only ‘gave Him up,’ as He will give up the wicked at the end. And though by rights we should have died, God did not ask us to prove the truthfulness of His word. He sacrificed Himself in His Son…. Christ died primarily to prove the righteousness of God in the great controversy…. With this supreme demonstration of God’s righteousness all questions about His character and government were settled throughout the universe. God had won His case. The issues in the great controversy had been clearly seen…. Even as the wicked die, God will not be angry with His unsavable children. As He watches them perish, we shall hear His cry, ‘How can I give you up! How can I let you go!’” (Can God Be Trusted? pp. 84-9) Although this understanding is fairly unique among modern atonement theories, Derek Flood explains that it is not a new idea: “…Athanasius defines sin as corruption leading to death…. Instead of externally inflicted judicial punishment, the model Athanasius has is one of natural consequence. In breaking our communion with God, Athanasius says that we have cut ourselves off from the very source of Life. As a result we return to the state we were created out of: nothing, ‘returning, through corruption, to non-existence again’… Being separated from the source of Life, we die. This ‘corruption’ and resulting ‘death’ is not understood by Athanasius in terms of a punishment externally inflicted, but as the inevitable consequences of sin, ‘Inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it’…” (“Substitutionary atonement and the Church Fathers: A reply to the authors of Pierced for Our Transgression” p. 147)

[38] The cosmic conflict view teaches: “God isn’t saying, ‘Love me, or I’ll kill you.’ He is saying, ‘You are dying! Let me save you!’” (Servant God ch. 24 “Intrinsic or Imposed? Thoughts on the Fire of God” by Herb Montgomery, p. 354) See also Notes 26 and 28.

[39] Servant God ch. 19 “Without the Resurrection of Jesus, All Is Lost” by Ken Peterson, Jr., p. 283.

[40] The understanding of self-giving love being the foundation of God’s government is not unique to the cosmic conflict view. As other atonement models recognize, and Jersak writes: “God has woven supernatural love into the very fabric of the world; a love that not only consents to violence but also subverts and overcomes violence. Far from feeble in this nonviolent consent, God’s love is powerful—all-powerful! In fact, it’s the only conceivable power that can make all things right and new. God’s love does not need to violate the freedom or the laws of that which exists by suspending natural and spiritual order, because love is the ground of all that exists. Love is part of that order—its essential heart.” (A More Christlike God p. 211) Where the cosmic conflict view nuances this understanding is in its answer to the theodicy questions about God’s character. For further explanation of this, see Note 50.

[41] Matthew Curtis Fleischer, The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence, p. 41.

[42] This is another area of atonement theory where the cosmic conflict view differs from other atonement models, further emphasizing the interdependence of theodicy and soteriology. For example, Peckham writes: “In my view, the free will defense is strongest when the value that is offered as the morally sufficient reason for God’s allowance of evil is not moral freedom alone but love, which I take to be a greater good, perhaps even the greatest good in the universe. Indeed, if ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8, 16), what value could be greater? Thus I agree with [Stephen T.] Davis and many others that love was a ‘main aim’ of God in granting free will: ‘God wanted to create a world in which created rational agents (e.g., human beings) would decide freely to love and obey God.’ [quoting Davis, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (2001), 74] As such, love itself might be God’s ‘overriding reason for allowing the amount of moral evil that exists in the world.’ [Davis, p. 77] If love requires freedom and if the rejection of God’s love is itself evil, then love requires the possibility of evil. Davis explains, ‘Obviously, in making human beings free, God ran the risk that they would go wrong. The possibility of freely doing evil is the inevitable companion of the possibility of freely doing good.’ [Davis, 75] Rice further argues that love ‘requires freedom.’ He explains, ‘God’s creatures would not be free to say yes to God unless they were free to say no. Sadly, this is just what some of them did.’” [quoting Richard Rice, Suffering and the Search for Meaning (2014), p. 47] (Theodicy of Love p. 11) Or, as succinctly summarized: “In order for there to be love, there must be the possibility of love rejected. Love cannot be forced, as love forced is not love at all. Love must be freely given. Given that God is love and has created us in his image, it is not surprising that God would view love, and hence freedom, so highly.” (Servant God ch. 4 “Freedom: What’s Love Got to Do with It?” by Tom Ewall, p. 68)

[43] Continuing the theme of theodicy and soteriology interdependence, Ellen White explains: “The law of love being the foundation of the government of God, the happiness of all intelligent beings depends upon their perfect accord with its great principles of righteousness. God desires from all His creatures the service of love—service that springs from an appreciation of His character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience; and to all He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service.” (The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets p. 34)  Or, contrasted against forensic atonement models: “Because our wound is deep (to borrow the phrase from Augustine) we need to understand justification not merely as a legal declaration, but as an inner transformation making us healed and holy. Far beyond being simply a kind of legal action, it is a creative act of God that brings life from death.” (Healing the Gospel p. 23)

[44] In contrast to both forensic and exemplarist models, the cosmic conflict view of atonement recognizes the soteriological value of the revelation of God accomplished by Jesus in response to the challenges raised against God’s character (i.e. theodicy). Dr. Scrutton explains: “The revelation of God’s love for us is salvific because it initiates in us a response of love for God, and, consequently, for our neighbours, our selves, and our bodies…. Love is salvific because (to employ Hick’s terminology) it leads individuals away from egocentricity to theocentricity and, as a part of this, to other-centredness.” [Scrutton uses terminology from John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (London: Fontana/Collins, 1968. She further adds in footnote 283, “Being virtuous is a consequence of being saved and in fellowship with God, and is not a cause of salvation, as in exemplarism or Pelagianism.”] (Transforming revelation: towards a revelatory model of salvation pp. 105, 107) Or, stated simply, “When we see and believe the love that God has toward us, sin loses its hold on our hearts…. Why? Because there is nothing more healing to the sinful heart than to be fully known and yet fully loved.” (Ty Gibson, See With New Eyes: The True Beauty of God’s Character, p. 55)

[45] See Graham Maxwell – Wikipedia. Critics contend that this view of atonement is nothing more than an extension of Abelard’s exemplarist, “moral influence” model. In their understanding of this view, humans are responsible for saving themselves by following Jesus’ example, thereby minimizing the salvific role of God’s grace. However, the cosmic conflict view advances the salvific role of God’s grace in its understanding of how it changes humans, infusing them with God’s love as they respond to the revealed truth about God. See Notes 17, 18, 19 and 44.

[46] For example, “Abelard focused on changing man’s perception of God as not offended, harsh, and judgmental, but as loving.” See Moral Influence Theory.

[47] See Notes 6, 7 and 11.

[48] Critics of this view contend that it is not a first-order model of atonement because there is nothing that objectively changes outside of the human heart or mind. By contrast, other atonement models portray a “payment” being made for sin by which God is able to then forgive and save. In the cosmic conflict view of atonement, however, since the original problem is one of an epistemic nature, the solution must begin by addressing the questions raised, one of which was God’s truthfulness about the consequences of ignoring his warnings about sin. God’s character must be cleared (theodicy) before the salvation of humans makes sense (soteriology). Humans must be able to trust God before they will be willing to listen to him in a manner that allows a saving attitude, thereby bringing about reconciliation, or at-one-ment (see Note 56).

[49] Jean Sheldon explains how legal atonement models employ an understanding of law that is more narrow than the perspective of law used in the cosmic conflict view of atonement: “In philosophy of law, there are two kinds of law—descriptive law and prescriptive law. Descriptive law in modern usage refers to laws that describe the way things work and are fixed; natural laws, such as the law of gravity, fit into this category. When descriptive laws are violated, the consequences are said to be ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’; that is, they are not externally imposed but rather stem from the action that is out of harmony with a particular law. Prescriptive law, on the other hand, prescribes for its adherents what they are expected to do and is usually based on local and specific situations; thus, prescriptive laws can be changed. A key distinction is that when a prescriptive law is broken, punishment results, but administrators of the law must impose it externally on the wrongdoer. The legal perspective views God’s moral law as primarily prescriptive, so that instead of people suffering from the natural consequences of sin, God must punish those who break his law.” (Servant God ch. 17 “Roots of Legal Metaphors for Atonement and Salvation” by Jean Sheldon, p. 244) The cosmic conflict view does not disagree that sometimes God uses prescriptive law, but it does disagree with other atonement theories that God’s law is primarily prescriptive. Consequently, sin constitutes much more than merely breaking a rule.

[50] Dr. Timothy Jennings connects cosmic conflict views of law and sin and how they differ from other atonement models: “We can describe God’s law in two primary ways:  1. A legal enactment by the Creator of the universe. An imposed set of rules to which created beings are required to adhere, upon threat of an imposed penalty by the Creator of the law.  2. A principle emanating from the Creator upon which life is designed to operate or function. Deviations are inherently incompatible with life as the Creator designed it. From these two diverging ideas of God’s law, two separate views of sin have emerged; and, subsequently, two very different ways of resolving the sin problem have been taught. From definition number one emerges the version that argues God is arbitrary and imposes laws upon his creatures that they must obey. When the law was broken, God, in order to be just, had to impose penalties upon his creatures. This view portrays sinful mankind under the legal condemnation of God and without hope of life eternal unless the ‘legal penalty’ is paid. Sin, from this perspective, is merely disobedience to an imposed law. Rule breaking equals bad behavior…. But what if the law of God is not enacted, imposed, legislated, or decreed? What if God’s law is something entirely different? What if sin is something more sinister than a mere breaking of rules? What if sin is a damaging condition that kills people? Wouldn’t that call for a treatment or solution for sin that is more than just a legal payment? Is it possible that the sin situation requires some change in the heart of those affected?… The Bible teaches that God’s law is the ‘law of love.’ The ‘law of love’ is not something God ‘created’ but is the life principle that emanates from God’s very being, because ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). Love is not enacted or legislated or imposed but is simply the natural order of all things arising from the God of love. This law of love is the design template upon which God has constructed all life to operate and is described in Scripture in this way: ‘[Love is] not self-seeking’ (1 Corinthians 13:5). In other words, love is other-centered and outward moving. The law of love is the law of giving…. When the God of love created, he created all life in harmony with his own character of love. Life is constructed to exist only when operating in perfect other-centered love. All life, health, and happiness are dependent upon harmony with this law (Romans 1:20, 13:8)…. Sin is stepping outside the law of love, breaking the circle of life’s normal operation, severing the outflow of selfless giving, violating the construction protocols for life. In other words, sin is ‘lawlessness,’ or being outside the design template of life, outside of love.” (Servant God ch. 2 “What Is Sin?” by Timothy R. Jennings, pp. 49-51)

[51] Maxwell explains the different views of sin this way: “Sin is not so much a failure to live up to this or that specified duty. It is rather a spirit of lawlessness, and attitude of rebelliousness, an unwillingness to listen to God or to heed His instructions. Sin is lawlessness, rebelliousness. To continue in a state of habitual lawlessness means that one is still resisting the truth, still unwilling to trust and let God heal. But in the person who has been reborn, faith has taken the place of rebelliousness, there is love instead of lawlessness, there is a longing to be completely healed.” (Can God Be Trusted? pp. 124, 129)

[52] See Notes 5, 7, 8, 11 and 15.

[53] A full and fair demonstration of the Adversary’s proposed way of governance is essential to the cosmic conflict view. Ellen White explains why this is the case: “The rejecters of [God’s] mercy reap that which they have sown. God is the fountain of life; and when one chooses the service of sin, he separates from God, and thus cuts himself off from life…. By a life of rebellion, Satan and all who unite with him place themselves so out of harmony with God that His very presence is to them a consuming fire…. At the beginning of the great controversy, the angels did not understand this. Had Satan and his host then been left to reap the full result of their sin, they would have perished; but it would not have been apparent to heavenly beings that this was the inevitable result of sin. A doubt of God’s goodness would have remained in their minds as evil seed, to produce its deadly fruit of sin and woe.” (The Desire of Ages p. 764) See also Notes 26 and 28.

[54] Other atonement models emphasize the “Christ event” to the exclusion of the Old Testament to explain God’s atoning actions. In contrast to this, Matthew Fleischer explains the cosmic conflict view of atonement: “[N]ot only is God’s attempt to cultivate trust a central theme in the OT, but there’s a sense in which it explains the entire OT narrative. It starts with humanity’s first sin in the Garden of Eden. After creating the first humans, God commanded them to not eat from only one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it would cause them to die. But then Satan claimed God had lied. If they ate of it, he told them, they would certainly not die but instead would become ‘like God, knowing good and evil’ (Gen. 3:2-5 NRSV). So they ate. They disobeyed God because they believed him untrustworthy. Satan had convinced them that God’s rules were not for their good but only for God’s good…. From that moment on, everything God did was aimed at proving himself trustworthy…” (The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence pp. 82-3)

[55] Tonstad explains why freedom is essential in the cosmic conflict view and why God will not sacrifice it in order to resolve the conflict: “Evil arose in the context of freedom. There could not be evil if the angels and human beings were not endowed with the gift of freedom. And yet freedom only provides the opportunity and is not the cause of evil. Freedom, too, is the value that God will not surrender even in the face of sin…. Freedom is grounded in the character of God. God is willing to defend freedom at a high cost rather than solve the cosmic conflict by giving up on freedom. At all stages of this argument lies the conviction that God’s remedy will not overrule or eclipse freedom.” (God of Sense p. 45) See also Note 7.

[56] The cosmic conflict view seeks to return original meaning to the word “atonement”, that is: “Perhaps originally derived from the Latin ad (‘to,’ ‘at’) and unum (‘one’), the word atone comes from the Middle English word atonen, which means ‘in accord,’ or literally, ‘at one.’ In the sixteenth century, ‘to at-one’ was used in the sense of achieving unity, or reconciliation, between two parties and was pronounced ‘atwun.’ Shakespeare used this term in his writings to describe the sense of making up or reaching reconciliation. The original meaning of the word atonement simply means ‘at-one-ment,’ in the sense of two parties experiencing ‘one-ness’ or accord.” (Servant God ch. 16 “At-one-ment” by Dorthee Cole, pp. 224-5)

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