As part of this week’s whirlwind series on the atonement I skipped ahead in the reading of Blake Ostler’s Exploring Mormon Thought – The Problems of Theism and the Love of God to chapters six and seven which cover soteriology and the atonement. Blake proposes what he calls “The Compassion Theory of Atonement”. Here are the basic components (not necessarily in the right order):
- Atonement is happening all the time as an ongoing process.
- Sin creates in each of our bodies “a real energy of pain” or “dark energy of sin” that is connected also to feelings of guilt
- When we repent we “transfer this life energy” directly to Christ and he transfers his light back to us. “What is transferred to him is not guilt or culpability but rather the pain for sin we would otherwise suffer” (pg. 249)
- “A key concept of the Compassion Theory of the Atonement is that Christ’s suffering is not a necessary condition of God’s being able to forgive us; rather Christ feels pain as a consequence of entering into a union with us because such a union entails feeling the pain of the energy of sin we release when we repent… Christ feels pain in the atonement because it is painful to be in a relationship with us… In so doing, the pain of our sins is transferred to him” (pg. 250-1)
- The climactic acts in Gethsemane and the cross serve to help us “see the temporal instance of the atonement in its fullness manifested in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.” (pg. 254)
- The primary purpose of those events is “to motivate us to enter into a saving relationship with God”.
- “… the release of the energy of life effected through repentance is symbolized in blood sacrifice.” (pg. 246)
So there you have it… As you might know, I’m a big fan of Blake’s work. I think that he is usually right. I think he has a remarkable high batting average when it comes to important theological ideas. It is clear that he is swinging for the fences with this theory… but I gotta say I think this one is a foul ball. Close, but no home run.
I have a real issue with the whole “painful energy of sin” concept. It seems so new-agey to me… I just can’t buy it. To wit:
In living such an alienated life, we create a real energy that remains in our “flesh” in the sense that we have a “psychosomatic memory” of it. The damage that we do to ourselves through sin is literally stored in our bodies in the form of painful memories and disease. Our bodies manifest the energy of such pain in the form of heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses and manifestations of our neuroses. (pg. 245)
Ummm… I’m not even sure what to say about that passage. It sure sounds like Blake is saying “heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, and all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses” are all direct results of sin. I’m sure he doesn’t mean that but… there it is.
The reason why I call it a foul ball instead of a complete whiff is that I think he hits some good points here. It does make sense to me that the atonement is an ongoing and never-ending process that happens in real time as we repent. Also, his theory is a valiant attempt to figure out why Christ had to suffer at all (as opposed to God just forgiving us) and it does nicely tie into the idea of our need to create an intimate personal relationship with God. Blake will surely face objections for his necessarily reducing the events at Gethsemane and the cross to just samples of the ongoing atonement and perhaps even reducing them to just an attention getter. But there may be something to that idea if the atonement is a process not just an event. (That shift is probably too similar to the Moral Example theory of atonement for many saints though.)
So I’ll leave you to comment and Blake to defend his theory. I can’t give it the Paula Abdul rosy review, I won’t give it the Simon Cowell treatment, so I’ll have to give it a Randy Jackson “It was just alright for me, dog”. (Too bad they judge singers and not batters… my analogies might have worked better together in this post…)