Once upon a time there was a kingdom of children, with a wise and celebrated leader. The leader was a healer by trade and he brought these children from abusing families to be his children, and he cared for them with sweetness and gave them a wonderful home with all his vast resources at their disposal.
At one point the children, still very young, decided that they were old enough and that they could take care of themselves. The leader said, “You are still very young and need someone to guide you. You can feed yourselves, but you can’t get along together.” The children rose up in protest and anger and demanded that they be left alone to take care of themselves. The leader said, “You are ultimately in charge. If you want to leave my house and take care of yourselves, you can. But I would rather you stayed in my house and lived with me and let me care for you. I love you so.” These words fell on deaf ears, and the children, as a group, decided to leave that night and rule themselves.
You could guess what happened. The children, at first, were focused on surviving together and figuring out how to eat and build their shelters. But soon little squabbles broke out. Broken bones happened that weren’t healed correctly. Some children wanted what they did not make, and if they were bigger, they took it. More and more children got hurt, and everything was a mess. They chose some of the children to be in charge, to bring some order and stability, but all they did was cause more hurt.
But rather than think to themselves, “We should go back to our leader’s house” the children blamed the leader for all their troubles. “The leader could heal my hurts, but he didn’t,” some would say. “The leader said he loved us, but look at how miserable we are!” “The leader could feed us better than this, but he abandoned us.” “The leader is angry at us because of our misdeeds and so is causing us to suffer so.”
Of course, the leader never took his eyes off of them. He loved them so, but he knew that they wouldn’t welcome him. Finally, he couldn’t stand seeing them in their misery so he went and visited them. Right away, he saw a child who was covered with sores and so he brought out a bottle of salve and made him feel better right away. He saw another child who was irrational with anger and he spoke to him and calmed him and gave him peace. He saw another child who was suffering with a broken bone that never healed, so he gave the child a local anesthetic, reset the bone and carefully wrapped it. He saw two children fighting and he separated them, listened to them and loved them.
Soon many children flocked to him, realizing that he didn’t come to punish, but to love. And he told them, “You all need to learn how to care for each other. Take the effort you put in your anger, in your punishment of each other and put it into love. Stop studying how to be in charge, and study how to help each other better. You have everything you need to care for everyone.”
The chosen rulers of the children could see their power slipping away, and that children would soon choose the leader to be in charge of them again, he was so kind and caring. So they arrested the leader, beat him up to an inch of his life, and told him he had to leave. He turned to the children and said, “I have to go. But I will always be here. Any of you can choose to have me as your leader again. All you have to do is ask me, and I will guide you to love and care for each other. Just call out my name, and I will be there to lead you.” At this, the rulers of the children stabbed the leader, causing him to bleed, and he left.
Some of the children wondered if the leader was too weak to lead them. Some of the children wondered if they should go to him, and try to find the house where they all once lived. Many of the children said that the leader was just selfish and he was trying to trick them. But many of the children listened to the leader, called out to him and he did lead them. We aren’t sure how, but he did. They would say, “Leader, your kingdom come.” Then he would come, secretly, and lead those children to love and to care for the other children, even if the other children didn’t deserve it. And the world became a better place because the king came, if only for a little while.
This is a representation of Peter Abelard's soteriology. I don't believe that it is a complete theology of salvation, but I do think it represents a better theology than substitutionary atonement.