Do any of you really understand the atonement? I don’t think I do. Sure, I have the pithy one-liners about the atonement memorized just like ya’ll do but I can’t say I really get it. As we approach Easter 2006 I thought I’d post on the atonement this week to see if we can help each other understand this whole concept a little better.
As has been discussed in lots of places, the word atonement is an English word that is simply the words at-one-ment mashed together. The idea, as I understand it, is that God’s act or process of atonement is the act or process of helping us become one with Him.
Ok, our scriptures say that because Jesus Christ was resurrected we all will be resurrected too. I honestly have no idea why that is the case. If God can cause all of us to get new bodies then why did Jesus specifically have to be resurrected to make that possible? If Christ never came couldn’t God have resurrected us all anyway? If so, then what’s the connection? If not, then what is the law that would prevent God from doing so?
God vs. Justice
The scriptures also indicate that Christ came to pay a debt on our behalf. We sin and therefore we are in debt. But who or what are we in debt to? (And what exactly is sin anyway? I prefer the idea that it is freely choosing to alienate ourselves from God.) Apparently we are indebted to Justice. It seems to me that in Mormonism, Justice is a Universal principle that is at least co-eternal with God and apparently it is a principle that God cannot overpower. It further seems to me that Justice is immutable (immoveable and unchangeable) whereas our God is quite changeable and movable. So while we Mormons reject the immutable God of creedal Christianity, we accept passionless and immutable Universals like Justice to which God must adhere. What that gives us is a God who legitimately is a person with passions and parts with whom we can have a real personal relationship. But it also gives us a God who must obey certain laws rather than being above all laws. I’m happy with that exchange, but I suspect others would not be.
Process vs. Event
Because I am wholeheartedly buying in to the concept that Blake Ostler is preaching that exaltation is almost entirely about our personal relationship with God, I think the at-one-ment is best described as the process that God has undertaken over the eternities to lovingly persuade us to freely choose to become one with Him. It seems to me that such a personal relationship also necessarily changes our fundamental character over time and makes us more like God.
But in addition to that eternal process there is also the event in the Garden of Gethsemane (and on the cross) to consider. That grand event seems to be the point at which Jesus paid a debt to the passionless Universal called Justice so that we would not have to pay ourselves if we repent. So the question might be: If the entire process is really about our personal relationship with God why was that payment to Justice so necessary? What exactly did our debt to Justice do to interfere with our relationship with God?
I have some vague ideas but they are not yet coming together for me. I’m hoping we can brainstorm on the subject a little together here to try to figure this out — or at least come up with some coherent theories…