Unsatisfactory satisfaction (Part 1)

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 5: Satisfaction for Sin

Satisfaction is a frankly theological term–and one it is hard to come to grips with. Stott writes:

“How, people ask, can we possibly believe that God needed some kind of ‘satisfaction’ before he was prepared to forgive, and that Jesus Christ provided it by enduring as our ‘substitute’ the punishment we sinners deserved? Are not such notions unworthy of the God of the biblical revelation, a hangover from primitive superstitions, indeed frankly immoral?”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Merriam-Webster’s entry for satisfaction gives me little satisfaction.

1 a : the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin b : reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice
2 a : fulfillment of a need or want b : the quality or state of being satisfied : contentment c : a source or means of enjoyment : gratification
3 a : compensation for a loss or injury : atonement, restitution b : the discharge of a legal obligation or claim c : vindication
4 : convinced assurance or certainty

Okay, so it mentions a theological meaning–but still, this seems difficult. Who’s doing the satisfying? Who or what is being satisfied? This definition doesn’t really cut it.

Stott describes four historical and contemporary views on satisfaction.

1. The cross satisfied the devil’s demands

This view suggests that humans, having sold themselves into slavery to the devil, are satan’s property, and can only be ransomed (bought back) if the devil’s conditions are met. I find a bit of this view in C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan’s conversation with the White Witch regarding Edmund:

“‘Tell you?’ said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. ‘…You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and the for every treachery I have a right to a kill.’

‘And so,’ continued the witch, ‘that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.’

‘Come and take it then,’ said the Bull with the man’s head in a great bellowing voice.

‘Fool,’ said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, ‘do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.’

‘It is very true,’ said Aslan, ‘I do not deny it.'”
~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Here the Witch (the devil) stakes her claim on the lives of all traitors (sinners). Aslan (God) does not deny it. Instead, he dies in the traitor’s place to satisfy the witch’s demand for blood while satisfying his own love for Edmund the traitor.

There is certainly appeal to this view. It lets the devil be the “bad guy”, the one responsible for the particularly grotesque display that is the cross.

Yet there is a profound problem with this view as well. It gives the devil too much power. It gives him power over even God Himself. It makes God subject to satan’s demands.

No, the satisfaction obtained at the cross was not a satisfaction of the devil’s demands.

Since I’m getting a bit long-winded here and still have three more views to discuss, I’ll be stretching this chapter into a couple of posts. Check back tomorrow for the rest.

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

3 thoughts on “Unsatisfactory satisfaction (Part 1)”

  1. I know! It’s quite a disappointment. (But not so much if we realize that the Chronicles are not actually an allegory, but a tale with Christological elements.)

    It was hard to include something that might be unfavorable to Lewis, I will admit.


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