I deeply respect C. S. Lewis, although I have never idolized him. He thinks he has too much figured out for my liking. He was also a consumate modernist, at least in the first half of his writing and lecturing. I think I would have liked him, but I think I would have teased him a little too, like his buddies at Oxford did, especially about his cult like following by Americans. :-)
There, I have absolved myself so that I can now compliment him. I've been moderately impressed with him this week as I've been doing research for a chapter of the philosophy book. I think some of his arguments unravel pretty quickly, but you have to give him credit for others.
When it comes to explaining atonement, the idea of "deep magic," taken from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is as good as anything any theologian has ever written on the subject.
And I might say, since a number of skeptics come across this blog from time to time, that this concept works whether you actually believe in atonement or not. The sacrificial practices of the world can hardly be unpacked in rational, propositional language. There is something much deeper going on here, something that defies literal linguistic expression.
We can say that this deep magic involves the disempowerment of evil powers and the empowerment of the person offering the sacrifice. In the case of Christ, it is the disempowerment of Sin over us and the empowerment to do the good we want to do through the presence of the Spirit in and among us.
We can say the deep magic in some way satisfies the need for order. To speak in sterile terms like to satisfies God's justice doesn't get at the mysterious. There is a setting of the world to right, somehow in the sacrifice. The offender needs to make amends in some deep way. It defies rational explanation.
In pagan contexts, there is the need to let the god be the god, to show that you are merely mortal and you would not dare think yourself anything. You humble yourself, giving the god no reason to want to put you in your place by throwing a lightning bolt, a sea storm, or a volcano.
And the victim magically takes the place of the offerer. It enables the criminal to escape death or the penalty.
All these aspects of atonement are a deep magic. Even to describe them is to disempower them. The need for atonement is a Jungian archetype, deeply imprinted within us. Some might want to say it is a deep part of our unconscious that we have inherited from Adam.
I don't know whether Christ had to die for us to be forgiven, although this seems part of Christian orthodoxy. Part of me would like to say that God had the authority to forgive us without anyone paying, if He had so chosen. He did not so chose, making it somewhat of an academic question. Even so, it may very well be that, like prayer, the need for sacrifice had a whole lot more to do with us--the "deep dynamics" of our deepest mind--that made it necessary for us to have this "deep magic" available for us.