Did Jesus’ Crucifixion Satisfy God’s Wrath by Greg Albrecht
An idyllic, beautiful setting surrounds a rambling country estate in rural England. It’s 1935, and this pastoral setting provides the backdrop for the initial scene that plays out in Atonement. During the brief respite between the first and second World Wars, Cecilia Tallis, a rich young lady in her early twenties whose family owns the estate discovers she loves, and is loved by Robbie, a young man whose mother is the housekeeper at the Tallis home.
As the love story begins, we are also introduced to Briony, Cecilia’s younger sister. Briony is an aspiring writer who is, in her coming of age 13-year-old way, envious of the courtship enjoyed by Cecilia and Robbie.
Three cousins visit the Tallis family during the summer, and during their stay, two of them run away. Briony happens to witness her oldest cousin being raped as the family searches for the lost children on the extensive grounds of the estate. Unable to clearly identify the perpetrator, Briony decides that Robbie must have been the rapist. Her cousin agrees to Briony’s claim, and their contrived false charges convince the police to imprison Robbie. Cecilia alone believes in the fact of Robbie’s innocence.
Atonement was an award-winning movie released in 2007. Its screenplay was based on a 2001 novel of the same name, written by Ian McEwan and proclaimed by Time magazine and the British Observer newspaper as one of the 100 best novels ever written. The moral dilemma presented by the novel, and the movie that followed it, is the problem of sin and guilt—and the desire to compensate for the pain and heartache we leave in our wake.
Following Briony’s false accusation of rape, Robbie spends three years in prison, finally being released on the condition that he will join the army and serve in World War 2. Atonement follows the lives of Cecilia, Robbie and Briony and how the trumped-up allegation is never adequately resolved and plays havoc with their lives.
Briony is plagued with the guilt of her fabrication. She gives up her hope of attending university and instead becomes a nurse. Briony willingly volunteers for the most difficult work (physically and emotionally)—thinking that somehow such self-imposed, penitential punishment will atone for her sin of depriving Robbie and Cecilia of happiness.
The two young lovers die during the war. Robbie dies on the beaches of Dunkirk, and Cecilia loses her life as a result of a direct hit on a London underground tube station (subway) where she takes refuge during a bombing raid. Tragically, they never marry.
In the final section of the story, titled “London 1999” we meet Briony, who is now a successful novelist in her seventies. We learn that Briony is dying and that she is still haunted by her guilt, still attempting to atone for her sin. As her final attempt to set the record straight, she is writing, it seems, the very story we have just read (or watched)—Atonement. Briony determines, as she faces her own mortality, that the truth must be told, and that in some small way, perhaps that truth will help set right the wrongs of her past.
It’s perhaps one of the most profound questions we humans can ever ponder. Like Briony, given the fact of our complicity in so much hurt and pain, what does it take for us to find peace, healing and forgiveness? How can the Cross of Christ atone for the ugliness of our lives and make it right?