One of the conundrums for me has been in resolving how the effects of the atonement were efficacious before the cause of those effects had even occurred.
There are really only three options I am aware of:
Events like the atonement, while happening in linear time, have effects which can occur forward and backward in linear time. The pros of this explanation are that it is a tidy explanation which is easy to state, impossible to test, and has some traction with Neal A. Maxwell and some potential backing from a few statements and scriptures tying directly to Joseph Smith. The big pro for me is that this way offers an extremely tidy theory for the relationship between evolutionary human beings and the fall bringing death and sin. The cons for me are that the concepts of a concrete timeline run contra in my logic to the whole purpose of the atonement to begin with, freedom and happiness.
A second option is that there are no â€œeffectsâ€ of the atonement outside of memetic effects, similar to those generated by propaganda. Thus the story had the same potential to transform lives before it occurred as it did after it occurred, dependent on faith in itâ€™s occurrence. There are several ugly cons in this solution. For starters, this concept somewhat trivializes whether the event really occurred, and whether Christâ€™s atonement was exactly the necessary means to the ends of what had occurred.
The Third option is that the direct effects of the atonement were not available before itâ€™s occurrence, and those things we consider effects of the atonement which happened before the atonement occurred are actually effects of the existence of the plan of salvation, which is dependent on the atonement occurring, but not on the atonement already having occurred. In other words, the Godhead knew exactly what needed to be done before it was done, and knowing it would be done, set up all other tenants reliant on the fact that it would be done.
One way to think of this is in terms of risk taking activities like taking a loan or placing a bet. We are making decisions now based on our belief in what will happen in the future. An extreme example makes such a concept seem fairly stupid, like buying a lottery ticket and then buying a house based on the assumption that we will win. However, a more common example seems more reasonable, like getting up in the morning and going to work, based on the idea that a nuclear bomb isnâ€™t going to go off and incinerate your family while you are with your boss.
So the question comes up then as to what are the effects of the atonement? While there are concepts which we can throw out (like being like God, entering the celestial kingdom, being resurrected, receiving a remission of sin, etc.) I see none which would be perceptible to us in our fallen mortal state. We can not look back and note a perceivable difference between a man in 60 BC and a man in 60 AD. We can look back to Enoch and Zion and ask what is the difference between their exaltation and the exaltation of the three Nephites, yet we see no answers there. If we say the atonementâ€™s effects can not be perceived until the final judgment, then why did the atonement occur 2000 years ago?