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A STONE FOR A PILLOW: Concerns with Madeleine L'Engle
 

By Marcia Montenegro, January 2017
Page 1 of 2

I looked into Madeleine L'Engle years ago after hearing some things she said at a nearby church that I found disturbing. I was also dismayed by her association with and defense of the very New Age oriented Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NY City, where she had worked as librarian and writer-in-residence. I read A Wrinkle in Time and found disturbing New Age elements in it as well as universalism. In time, I read through a few dozen interviews with L'Engle as well as articles about her.

What L'Engle said in some of the interviews I came across was startling. The original link to this article no longer works and I have been unable to find it; however, I had saved it in my files. These are L'Engle's words.

Excerpt of interview==I don't know where we got this idea of a punitive God, a God who required death, Jesus' death, as a substitute for ours. When I hear some believers plead with God, "Oh, please forgive them," I think: "This is dreadful. God doesn't need to be taught to forgive."

According to my etymological dictionary, atonement means "at-one-ment." That word has nothing of sacrifice or substitution. It means Jesus was at one with God, and we are at one with God also.

Instead of thanking Jesus for dying for me, I want to rejoice that Jesus was born for us, to
thank Jesus for showing us how to live.
==End excerpt

L'Engle here minimizes and almost dismisses the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross, which was the mission of Jesus. It is because of that sacrifice that man can be forgiven of sins and have eternal life through faith in Christ and his work on the cross. Her misuse of "atonement" is a classic twisting of the meaning of the word, which derives from "atone," not "at one."

In her non-fiction book, A Stone for a Pillow, L'Engle makes quite an issue of two words: "atonement" and "disaster." Throughout this book, she misinterprets these words using faulty etymology and offers meanings they do not possess.

Atonement or At-one-ment?

L'Engle writes the same thing she said in the interview: that "atonement" means "at-one-ment" and she bases this on an etymological dictionary. One would think that a writer of L'Engle's stature and reputation who is represented as a Christian author would at least do more investigation than this.

Based on this erroneous source, L'Engle declares that the idea that Jesus had to die to atone for sins is all wrong (23). But it is L'Engle who is in error. The Hebrew word translated as "atonement" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "to cover" and "to propitiate."


The Old Testament, in the Old Testament atonement, and related phrases, such as sacrifice of atonement, most often translates the Hebrew piel verb kipur and two related nouns, one, kippurim, found always in the plural and signifying the noun equivalent of kipur, and the other, kapporeth, meaning the so-called mercy-seat or the place where the sacrifice of atonement happens. These occur with meanings related to atonement around 140 times, almost always in the context of the cults, as a sacrifice for sins and to provide reconciliation to God. ==From http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/atonement/

Also

The English word atonement is used to describe the New Testament concept of Christ presented as our reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), as a propitiation (1 John 4:10), in giving his life as "a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), having poured out his blood "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28). ==From http://www.theopedia.com/atonement

I heard the re-interpretation of "atonement" as "at-one-ment" in the New Age because they favor the idea that Jesus was making everyone realize we are all one and we are all at one with God. As is evident, L'Engle's assertive and repetitive claim that "atonement" means "at-one-ment" is totally unfounded.

How can one ignore the fact that the Old Testament sacrificial system was set up by God to foreshadow the sacrifice of the coming Lamb?

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Leviticus 17:11

...since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:19b

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. Romans 5:9

Disaster, Separation from the Stars?

As she does with "atonement," so L'Engle does with "disaster." Creating a straw man argument (just one of many in this book), L'Engle writes that we are not to "call on Jesus to come save us from an angry, vengeful Father" (see also 81, 82, 122, 169, 182), but rather we are to revel in the delightful things God has given us versus experiencing "dis-aster" (26), which is being separated from the stars, according to L'Engle. This is the title of her first chapter, "Separation from the Stars," and is referred to again on page 105 and elsewhere.

In truth, the word "disaster" originates from the astrological belief of being ill-fated according to the position of the stars (from "aster," which is Greek for "star"). So the meaning is ill-fated by the stars, not separated from the stars, which is a thoroughly different, and even almost opposite, concept.

Having set up these two words completely inaccurately, she weaves these invalid perspectives throughout the book, writing that "we are like trees, drawing spiritual water through our rootedness in creation" and that this is what incarnation is all about (79). Continuing, she asserts that "Jacob was indeed rooted in cosmos. At that moment he knew at-one-ment."

No one can draw "spiritual water" from creation, but only from Christ.

"....but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." John 4:14

Summing up her apparent universalism, the author ends the book with these words: "In this harmony, we will no longer be separated from the stars, and we will be at-one, too" (240). She thus repeats these spurious notions as though they are the message of the story of Jacob and God; and yet, astonishingly, she is claiming something that is totally untrue.
 

 

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