Why the Atonement is so hard to discuss. (Warning, this is all Meta)

September 4, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 5:55 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology

Today I went back and read a few old posts, and a few things became apparent.

1.) I forget things. Thus every six months or so, I post the same posts over again and say the same things, in a slightly different way, forgetting that Geoff J or Blake or Jacob or somebody and I already had the argument and I lost the argument, but I wasn’t 100% convinced, or I wasn’t 100% clear. My mind can’t focus on and recall all things that aren’t clear and believable. There is too much data in the air for me to do that. It’s a shame that the Atonement, the most important thing in the universe falls in this category.

2.) Language is a major barrier to clarity and understanding. When we talk about the atonement, we often mean different things. Other words we use to break down the atonement also have the same problem. These words include suffering, penalty, sin, and love. There are probably others, but these are the ones I noted in relation to the atonement as sticking points. Without these clearly defined, we even can’t get past what is or isn’t penal substitution (ie- Christ suffers the transfer of sin-energy from us to him in Blake’s theory, is Sin-energy the penalty for Sin?) much less whether this is taught. This language issue is heightened via the internet, because language is all the relationship we have to begin with.

3.) Our Understanding of the Atonement, as the hinge upon which everything turns is dependent on our understanding of the plan of salvation as a whole. While we say that all other things are an appendage to the atonement, the atonement necessarily needs a framework in which to live. Framing the atonement with an ontological gap between God and Man, for example, changes how we think about the atonement. Progression between Kingdoms, Eternal vs. Organized Mind of Man, and our understanding of the fall as either literal or metaphorical can all hamper our understanding of the atonement.

4.) We often obfuscate the issue with analogies. We find something that fits close to our understanding of the facts, or something the “feels good” and then we pore the atonement into the analogy. The problem here becomes not that the analogy is symbolic in nature, but it is more problematic in that the analogy is not a perfect fit, and so theological suppositions are taken away which dismiss the whole of the analogy as problematic. While analogies can help illustrate a point in a devotional sense, they often carry with them problematic components which at a net level, can do more harm than good.

5.) Nay Sayers always seem to pop up and muddy the waters. Every time it feels like I am getting momentum, some jackass (I mean that in the pastoral sense, and not as any sort of swear word, mind you) pops up to remind me that it is impossible to make sense of the atonement due to our finite minds (or some other such garbage). This completely derails the process, introduces contention, and generally has a tendency to kill the thread.

6.) We don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes, while we are thinking about the atonement, our mind, of its own accord creates speculations and implications which we are not even aware of. This bias may come from other reading we have done, and it may just come from our own natural instinct to fill lacunae. So often, as we express our atonement theories, these base suppositions are shot down, and we struggle, flabbergasted that we can’t find the source for what was previously so obvious to us.

7.) We do know what we don’t know. On another level, we are often very aware of lacunae in our reasoning and develop hypotheses to test in these lacunae. The problem here is that there is no true way to test these hypotheses, and thus we end up either with a multiplicity of ideas, which can be intellectually frustrating, or we end up committing to one or many of these hypotheses, which can be problematic as it disables us from detecting the truth.

8.) We lack the time. As much as we strive to seek first the kingdom of God, we still have little mouths to feed, corporations that need our analyses, customers who expect our support, spouses who want to talk, kids who want to play, and lives that need to be lived. And we all can’t be online at the same time, so sometimes, we don’t respond to every comment, and don’t follow every lead. There just isn’t enough time.

So what can we do to make the situation better? Is there anything we can do? Do we just accept that these obstacles must exist and press on iregardless? (and are there any barriers to discussion I am missing?)

43 Comments »

  1. I don’t know why you are so opposed to the idea that the atonement cannot be comprehended by mortals. It’s true that this pov tends to stifle discussion, but after all the fruitless discussion, it seems apparent that no one is any closer to understanding the atonement – as you note. It may be that since it is incomprehensible to mortals, God has given us analogies that will suffice for the present, but are not satisfactory when pushed on the details. After all I have read by yourself, Blake, McConkie et. al., and many others, that position is the only one that makes any sense and gives me any comfort. Otherwise, I cannot get my mind around the notion that the atonement is so incredibly important, but is so amazingly underexplained.

    Comment by Jack S. — September 4, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

  2. A certain mindset requires that things be able to be taken apart, understood in their components, and put back together in order to be accepted. I have that mindset myself. The imprecision of our doctrine presents continual challenges. It practically begs to be axiomatized and systematized.

    Almost ironically, I take some comfort in Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. If ‘gospel truth’ contains an infinite number of true statements, it follows that it must be either finite and incompletely specified, infinite and completely specified, or approximate. I believe we have a fairly useful and comprehensive set of approximations for many things, and I’m becoming more comfortable with (and often excited by) understanding the gospel by analogies.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — September 4, 2008 @ 7:41 pm

  3. Matt W: this is one of my favorite posts ever. I know that might seem a bit strange, but you articulated so well something that has been on my mind for about 2 years. I would not have expressed it so well. I cannot think of anything to add to your list.

    “Is there anything we can do?” I stopped worrying. I asked myself, “Why do I care so much about the Atonement?” The answer is of course that it is so important (duh!). But then I asked, “Why do I care so much about knowing so much about the Atonement?” I concluded that my pursuit of knowledge—with knowledge, comprehension, understanding as the goal—was a wasted effort. Far more valuable to me was the experience of pondering the atonement, both while I studied and throughout the day. That immersion in the doctrine kept me closer to the Lord.

    Your #1 concern is that you forget things. So do I. But I stopped worrying about that once I decided that gaining intellectual ground on the atonement wasn’t all that important. Now I really enjoy relearning things I forgot.

    Comment by BrianJ — September 4, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  4. BrianJ: Same here. I determined that the mechanics of the act are much less important than its application, and were actively distracting.

    I wonder if sometimes we feel that pinning down those metacelestial mechanics will give us some special new insight, though. That certainly might be true, but how could you ever know that you’ve got it exactly right without some trustworthy oracle that would tell you such or a collection of perfectly precise statements to check it against? The first is a prophet’s privilege, and the second is what we’d be trying to establish because it doesn’t exist…

    FWIW, thinking about this has given me a new appreciation for the folks who made the creeds. Specifically, the audacity they had to assume they were correct.

    Still, discussions on the mechanics of the atonement serve a useful purpose. We’re talking about it. A friend of mine (also an egg-heady math/CS nerd) thinks truth is often given in approximate and apparently contradictory ways for exactly that reason.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — September 4, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

  5. Matt,

    Very nice. Your #3 reminded me of what I was thinking when I wrote this:

    After that, we still have to ask how well a given theory of atonement can be integrated into the rest of the gospel. As I mentioned, the meaning of the atonement ends up having implications on almost everything. So, we must ask what implications there are on the Godhead, what it says about the plan of salvation, how well it fits our overall cosmology, and on and on. (in this post)

    Of course I am thrilled to see your #4 and couldn’t agree with it more. I have struggled with #7 a lot. #5 is a good reason for moderation. Sometimes I am more tempted to moderate the people who destroy the progress of a good discussion than the ones who say outrageous things.

    For what it’s worth, I have thoroughly enjoyed many of the discussions we have had here about the atonement and have gotten a lot out of them.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 4, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

  6. Jack **S (#1), Hilarious!

    Comment by Jacob J — September 4, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

  7. Language is a major barrier to clarity and understanding.

    I believe it was Niels Bohr who considered accuracy and clarity to be complementary, which is to say possibly mutually exclusive. At any rate, one wouldn’t expect something the length of a blog post to approach an accurate description of the atonement.

    Comment by Peter LLC — September 5, 2008 @ 3:58 am

  8. Matt:

    I think what we can and must do is press on with humility and patience. And I think this lack of these characteristics is often what makes discussion less than what it could be.

    I also have this sneaky suspicion that at some future point, when we do understand the atonement completely, we may likely give ourselves a forehead slap because it is so simple. I often think we know a little more and are closer in our approximations that we give ourselves credit for.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 5, 2008 @ 5:43 am

  9. I think the Atonement is best discussed not theoretically or allegorically, but in description by those who are changed through its power. Which is pretty much what we do. I don’t think we have the information to discuss at a granular level the metaphysics: why it is, within the basic stuff that makes up reality, that Christ’s suffering and death opens access to these healing powers that would otherwise be closed to us. But we can know that those healing powers are real, and we describe their action and results, especially that they are the result of faith in Him.

    I know that this isn’t so much Thang’s thing – just sayin.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — September 5, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  10. Matt, there are perhaps some other reasons that make the atonement difficult to understand.

    a) Lack of revealed truth. I’ll analogize with the evolution of physics over the past few hundred years. It started with Newton, and the laws of motion, which did a great job explaining gravity and are still quite useful today. But it failed to explain how planets orbit and how other heavenly bodies worked, which led to the theory of relativity. Physics has continued to evolve from there to quantum mechanics and string theory, all in an effort to find a universal truth about our physical universe. Each theory is an improvement and is more comprehensive than the one preceding it, but the simpler laws still have their use in their own realm.

    I see understanding the atonement in much the same way. We only know what we know based on what has been revealed to us. So until we have further light and knowledge on the matter, it is unlikely that we will have any better understanding of the atonement than we have today (not that we can’t each refine our own personal understanding). The explanations in scripture are good enough for our realm and what we need to achieve on earth, but until we have the tools to see beyond our own realm, I don’t see us being able to go beyond our current understanding, as limited as that may be.

    b) Cultural bias. I am not aware of anything in our culture that allows us to use a proxy to pay for our debts. Our justice system is based on punishing the criminal for the crime, and our laws of finance require the debtor to pay the debt. Even bankruptcy does not apply “atonement” principles, since the creditor loses capital when a debtor cannot pay a debt. There is no expiation.

    As a result, the fact that anything can pay a debt for us seems odd. Perhaps there are other cultures that do, but Western Civilization does not, and that makes the concept difficult to understand.

    Comment by Darin W — September 5, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  11. I want to apologize for not being able to repsond yet. Work is extremely busy. (see #8 above). I’ll make time this weekend. Some of you have said some very interesting things.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 5, 2008 @ 11:08 am

  12. Most sin takes place between ourselves:
    “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

    There are three distinct steps here: 1) Has no one condemned you? No one, sir. 2) Neither do I. 3) Go and sin no more. So, it appears that 2 & 3 were dependant on the answer to 1.

    Jesus also said:

    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    Most sin may simply take place among ourselves. If no one was injured perhaps there was no sin or no debt. So, the sin is not the act itself but rather the damage that was inflected on others.

    Atonement amounts to balancing the books between us. We must repent and provide restitution to the extent that we have done all we can do. We must forgive to the extent that we let it go completely. Our hearts must be changed to the extent that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

    At this point I visualize the kingdom gates opening and we join others who have gone through the same steps as we enter into a closed society.

    Jesus comforts us as we go through this process and rewards us in our next estate.

    Comment by Howard — September 5, 2008 @ 11:58 am

  13. Jack S.- amusing.

    R. Trousers and Brian J.- Aproximations are good, and not worrying about what I don’t know is fine, but I do want to know, and I want to be better. I think the first step is being aware of what the obstacles to better performance are, and seeing if any of them are helpable. I believe some of them are. (language issues, etc.) Others are not in my control, but being aware of them as issues helps make them less disappointing.

    Jacob J.- I remember hat post, and in many ways, that very post was the beginning of sorts for me. Before that, I had dipped my toe, but that really made me realize how much more I was missing. Anyway, I think we have a tendancy to not fully understand what the atonement is and does because we don’t fully understand the problem it is the solution for.

    Peter LLC: this is a fine example of how language can be confusing “accuracy and clarity to be complementary, which is to say possibly mutually exclusive”

    For my #7- I guess that since the atonement is really, and I have really experienced it in my life, it is more a matter of expressing what I have experienced on a macro level. Maybe I’ll do a post on that soon. That is really the only check I can think of for testing hypothesis, does the hypothesis match my experience? Of course, there are dangers in limiting to ones own experience, as in if I see something and it was a fluke, then I shouldn’t base all my experience on that. I have to be careful…

    Eric: I too often think the solution is so simple and just beyond my ability to articulate. But if I can not express the Gospel correctly, am I really correctly experiencing it? It troubles me.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  14. Thomas: What and in what way does the atonement heal us? I think what sometimes happens when we focus only on those who are changed by it is we lose sight of what it is, then suddenly God is reduced to a vending machine dispensing good when we put in our prayer quarters. (evil analogy, sorry about that). What I mean to say is I don’t want to reduce God to an object.

    I do think we need to focus more on our experience, like I said earlier to Jacob. We need to ground our theories in our experience. Of course, this means we need to define what of our experience is or isn’t the atonement.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 6, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  15. I have read accounts of those who experienced the atonement by watching the Savior bleed and suffer in the Garden for them. I believe they know and understand the atonement in ways that words could never express.

    Comment by Steve Graham — September 25, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  16. Orson F. Whitney has one such famous account, David B. Haight another.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 25, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

  17. Every week I drive up to a station, plunk down an excessive amount of money, and fill my car up with fuel. Why? I’m no mechanic, I don’t understand the chemical properties, or the combustion, or other words. I know the fuel makes the car go, however. When I get really confused about the atonement I think about that and remember that I know something works even though I can’t explain and define each aspect. Still, I ought to know enough to keep the car going, such as the fact that any liquid doesn’t help, I can’t pour water in the tank, for example, so something of a correct understanding is needed. This example is flawed in and of itself, but hey, gas make car go.

    And to the fellow who said “Most sin takes place between ourselves” (#12): I would ay I have felt the same thing. When God commands us to forgive all men, whether or not they have petitioned for forgiveness (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/64/10#10) I start to get the feeling God may be more like that than I have realized before. If he expects us to do so, why wouldn’t he do so? (I guess we could talk about limited knowledge vs. His superior knowledge. But still, it seems we will be the ones exercising the most judgment, and as we mete so shall it be meted.)

    Good food for thought, yet again.

    Comment by BHodges — October 7, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  18. BHodges, I have alway sfigured God to be forgiving. When we shrink away, it is because of our guilt within ourselves, rather than his unopen arms, IMO.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 7, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

  19. I have always thought of God as forgiving, but in a contradictory way that also thought he has a very heavy hand to punish us with, which can be a frightening thought. I think my views on God’s scariness are changing in fundamental ways.

    Comment by BHodges — October 8, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

  20. my post got kicked! but here again is its main text:

    The perfect sacrifice of the sinless one deserves the perfect reward that comprises anything that the sinless one asks before God. Denying the perfect reward to the sinless one who offered the perfect sacrifice would be an utter injustice. But God cannot be unjust. God is perfect in all the attributes of grace, mercy, and justice. God cannot be found lacking in these attributes. God cannot deny the reward to the Lord Jesus Christ, for otherwise God would cease to be just and so cease to be God. But God cannot cease to be God.

    i hope the above can help. the above is from one of the webpages in the kinematicrelativity.uuuq.com website.

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 7:40 am

  21. I think God is bound by the law of His absolute justice. Such that if we come short of perfection because of sin, God must condemn us according to His absolute justice.

    However, He is not only a God of absolute justice, He is also a God of mercy and a God of love.

    Therefore, in His mercy He allows enough time for our repentance and provides for our redemption.

    And when the redemptive act is done perfectly by one who offers a sinless sacrifice, God forgives the sinner because the sinless one who offered the act of redemption pleads for the perfect reward that includes the forgiveness of the repentant sinners that the sinless one loves.

    God cannot deny the pleadings of the Lord Jesus Christ for that would be an utter injustice to the Lord Jesus.

    The Lord Jesus obeyed the will of God in everything; God is thus bound according to His sense of justice to accept the atonement that the Lord Jesus is pleading before Him – the atonement that allows us the forgiveness of our sins.

    So, justice does not rob mercy, and mercy does not rob justice – because the Lord Jesus fulfilled the sinless sacrifice and he loves us so.

    If we obey the Lord’s commandments and thereby show that we believe on his merits before God then are we forgiven of our sins.

    All we have to do is to believe and listen to the Lord who is pleading our cause before God our Father. And our Lord Jesus pleads for us because he who is our Savior loves us so.

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 8:23 am

  22. The ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement is quite simple. Its simplicity is sometimes hard to fathom simply because we resist it.

    From the viewpoint of a member of the CJCLDS, all we really need to do is recognize the love that the Lord has for us…

    I must admit though that I in many ways still fail to appreciate the Lord and his love for me…

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  23. mmanuu,

    God cannot deny the pleadings of the Lord Jesus Christ for that would be an utter injustice to the Lord Jesus.

    This sounds like a version of the Clean Skousen version of the atonement. The problem is (I believe) that justice doesn’t work this way at all. If we were to boil down the concept of justice to simple statements, certainly one of them would be that in a just system, everyone gets what they deserve. If mother Teresa had a son, should we let him commit whatever crimes he wants because of his saintly mother loves him so much? The idea that some people are off the hook because they have a Good friend is not found in our concept of justice, so yes, I definitely “resist” this formulation of the atonement. Not because it is so simple, but because I think it is wrong.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 10, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  24. Jacob,

    I guess I should have made the statement as follows:

    God cannot deny the pleadings of the Lord Jesus Christ for that would be an utter injustice to the Lord Jesus who deserves anything he desires for his perfect reward that is according to the will of God.

    Obviously, we can’t be off the hook just because we have a Good Friend. But we can if we also obey and love the Good Friend who suffered because of our sins. What he suffered for us was the work that he did according to the will of God; and, having done the work, he deserves the perfect reward which is everything he asks that is according to the will of God.

    The principles of justice, mercy and grace work together in the expression of God’s love for us, and in the fulfillment of God’s great purpose of allowing us the knowledge of the gods which is the experienced knowledge of good and evil.

    Yes. If you only consider the love aspect in the effort to satisfy the justice aspect, it won’t work at all.

    You said:

    If mother Teresa had a son, should we let him commit whatever crimes he wants because of his saintly mother loves him so much? The idea that some people are off the hook because they have a Good friend is not found in our concept of justice…

    This is your idea. This idea evidently presents either a shortsighted view or a distorted view; your statement fails to mention a lot of other things involved in the ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement.

    The principle of justice is not the only thing involved in the ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement. My post was about the ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement.

    The principles involved in the Atonement are a compound; each principle gets satisfied without one principle robbing another; and each must be considered in the light of the grand purpose of God.

    I still know that the statement “God cannot deny the pleadings of the Lord Jesus Christ for that would be an utter injustice to the Lord Jesus” is true. For why else would the Lord be pleading our cause before God if that is not the right thing that a Good Friend can do for a repentant sinner? And why would the Lord thoroughly plead for it if its objective is not possible?

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

  25. Please forgive my ignorance. I haven’t read any of Willard Cleon Skousen’s work. But I just made a google search.

    The sense of the ideas I posted came pretty much from Castel from a promotional copy of his work posted at the website I have cited earlier.

    I’d appreciate it if you can give me a direct web reference for the “Clean Skousen version of the atonement” that you cited above… Thanks.

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  26. I found:

    reperiendi.wordpress.com/2007/06/11/the-atonement-by-cleon-skousen/

    Yup! Do we have others like it from Skousen or someone else?

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

  27. I read Skousen’s talk. I find the talk (just that talk) a bit lacking. But I can fill-in for the lack and then agree that he speaks the truth.

    I have difficulty putting together the ideas that come to mind as my reaction to that talk. Yes, I question a bit the idea behind Skousen’s

    The Gods know that these little intelligences have a capacity for compassion. . . Therefore, the atonement is based not on law, but mercy.

    I think the chance for the eternal purpose of our existence is by God’s grace – He wants us to be happy like Him.

    But, without leaving out the other principles, I think justice is mainly the working principle in the Atonement – justice condemns us and justice redeems us. The principle of mercy is pretty much covered by the provision of the time of probation and the opportunities given for our repentance.

    So, we are forgiven because the Lord did something of a greater measure in the law, which allows the Lord the greater claim that overcomes the demands of justice on the account of our sins. The Lord’s demand for justice is greater (supreme) because he updheld himself as a sinless one and he suffered the work that God commanded him to do. The sinless one has done something that allows him the claim for the forgiveness of the repentant sinners as part of his perfect reward. This is what Paul tells us in Hebrews.

    The Lord claims the repentant because he (the Lord) has love and compassion for the repentant sinners. It is the Lord’s resolute love for us that saves us. And this love is also the expression of God’s love for us.

    Indeed, the Lord only pleads in all humility for our cause before God. And we can say that it is the compassion of the Father and of the infinite hosts of the gods in the hierarchy of the heavens that grants to the Lord the perfect reward. But again compassion is within the bounds of the law -and that is saying that it is still according to the demands of justice.

    I see much of these in Castel’s work (kinematicrelativity.uuuq.com) but I don’t see enough of these in Skousen’s talk (reperiendi.wordpress.com/2007/06/11/the-atonement-by-cleon-skousen/).

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  28. Alma 34:15 says –

    the bowels of mercy, which over-powereth justice,

    The tense of the above statement is essentially already perfected (present perfect) on account of the assured accomplishment of the last sacrifice. That is saying that we are already given the time for the chance to fulfill what is stated in the next line where it is said that the mercy already given -

    bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance

    Goodness! This is difficult.

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

  29. A nicer font & page format of Skousen’s talk:

    creatorscorner.googlepages.com/home

    Comment by mmanuu — January 10, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

  30. C’mon Ginobli, I believe in you!

    More seriously, I am glad we peaked your interest mmannuu. My own current thoughts on the Atonement is here. Jacob’s thoughts on it are here.

    Hope these help.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 10, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  31. mmanuu: God cannot deny the pleadings of the Lord Jesus Christ for that would be an utter injustice to the Lord Jesus who deserves anything he desires for his perfect reward that is according to the will of God.

    I’m afraid that doesn’t solve the problems Jacob brought up. As he said, if there were a perfect mother it still would not be “just” to punish her for the horrible crimes of her son even if she asked for it to be so. So it is with Christ. You can call substitutionary a lot of things but calling it “just” doesn’t really work.

    your statement fails to mention a lot of other things involved in the ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement.

    You say this as if you understand the ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement. The problem is you don’t. You can only speculate on them like the rest of us.

    I still know that the statement… is true

    Well you are certainly free to believe it is true if you want. I just happen to disagree.

    The real problem you face is that you haven’t described the metaphysical assumption you are bringing into this conversation. Until we understand you assumption about the nature of spirits and God and the universe it is hard to even address these atonement questions.

    See here for all kinds of discussions on the atonement and soteriology that we have had in the past.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 10, 2009 @ 11:22 pm

  32. “Ginobli”

    Nice.

    BTW — I think the word you were after is “piqued”

    Comment by Geoff J — January 10, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

  33. Geoff,

    I must have missed something. You said:

    I’m afraid that doesn’t solve the problems Jacob brought up. As he said, if there were a perfect mother it still would not be “just” to punish her for the horrible crimes of her son even if she asked for it to be so. So it is with Christ. You can call substitutionary a lot of things but calling it “just” doesn’t really work.

    Christ was not punished. I understand that he suffered – in spite of the fact that he was without sin. He suffered because of other’s faults. So, he was not punished at all. That he was able to earn infinite merits to cover our accounts is another matter. He simply earned enough merits to redeem us from the account that we incurred.

    And because he carried the burden of his sufferings according to the will of God so that man may have the knowledge of the gods according to the grand purpose of God, he deserves the perfect reward that completes the plan of salvation.

    I don’t believe in the “penal substitution” you’ve assumed in your dicussions. I don’t see the penal substitution to be the case. It is not so in Elder Packer’s “The Mediator.” And the “mother Teresa” or “perfect mother” analogy does not work at all.

    What I see in the real thing is that we transgressed to obtain the knowledge known to the gods (which is supposed to make us happy as God is) and then we got into doing a lot of wrongs (an unavoidable circumstance – for we won’t see evil if we all do good). The Lord Jesus did something that was infinitely right – and that is his sinless life and his painful sufferings. The Lord deserves whatever he asks as his reward, which can only surely be acceptable to God because the Lord only does the will of God. The Lord’s own reward nullifies our own encumbrances if we do according to the requirements that the Lord imposes on us; if we repent and obey, then he will cover us in the redemption that he is able to do – no penalty will be imposed on us, the debits and credits in the accounts (the Lord’s and ours) are offset.

    A brief summation of what I consider the meta is:

    God found the instance of our existence in the eternities of His mind and also found the substance of our existence in the eternities of the unorganized ‘elements’ and brought us forth and formed us into organized elements – from chaos (absence of order) to cosmos (essence of order). By His grace He offered us the same happiness that He enjoys. By His wisdom He prepared a plan to bring to pass our “immortality and eternal life”; and we agreed to execute the plan and our parts in it, and the Lord agreed to execute the plan and his part in it. The plan is according to law (justice) but the plan also allows for a time provided by His mercy because the Lord promised to do something. The Lord fulfilled his part – so the divine provision for redemption is done. What remains is our execution and fulfillment of our parts in the plan. The big question is whether we are going to be lovable to the Lord or not. If he can love us then is God’s love fulfilled and the kindness that He extends by His grace will be fulfilled. Those that the Lord can’t love are SOP&DOP. Those he can love but not to the fulness of salvation are EHBEDS – eternally happy but essentially damned souls. Those he can love to the fulness of salvation are SOG&DOG. No progression from the lower kingdoms of glory to the highest kingdom of glory – becasue there is no trial of faith when all things are already made known. This temporal life on earth is where the trial of our faith occurs – and perhaps in the spirit world which may be on this earth, too. There appears to have been a time that the trial of faith occured in the spirit world before the Lord fulfilled his mission. So, I’m not sure that the trial of faith does not occur in the spririt world now. I think it does – else why should we that are baptized for the dead and etc.? The trial of faith only occurs where there is uncertainty for those subjected to the trial, not when the glory of truth is already present.

    Geoff, you said:

    The real problem you face is that you haven’t described the metaphysical assumption you are bringing into this conversation. Until we understand you assumption about the nature of spirits and God and the universe it is hard to even address these atonement questions.

    Well then – consider the fundamentals/assumptions that I am looking at here. And then let’s see your take.

    Comment by mmanuu — January 11, 2009 @ 1:46 am

  34. I mean here > kinematicrelativity.uuuq.com/page%208.png and here > kinematicrelativity.uuuq.com/index.html

    Comment by mmanuu — January 11, 2009 @ 1:53 am

  35. That he was able to earn infinite merits to cover our accounts is another matter. He simply earned enough merits to redeem us from the account that we incurred.

    Herein lies the problem with your assumption. In your analogy who or what is the bank where this proverbial account is stored? Is God the Father the bank? If so you are implying that God is a person who demands that somebody suffer when a sin is committed but doesn’t much care who pays the “bill”. The problem is that is a substitutionary version of the atonement that don’t think jibes with justice at all. If you say the “bank” is some nameless faceless aspect of the universe it still makes no sense. It just assumes that there is some great bank in the sky that demands that somebody suffer when a sin is committed but doesn’t much care who pays the “bill”.

    Now if you want a substitutionary theory that makes more sense on the surface I recommend Blake Ostler’s Compassion Theory of atonement. I have qualms with the mechanics he assumes but at least it is coherent.

    BTW — if you want to link to outside sites you can use the blue arrow button in the future and it hyperlinks directly.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 11, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  36. BTW manuu,

    I think this assumption of yours that there are people who God “can’t love” (because of their choices or whatever) is poppycock. This is the God who commanded us to love our enemies after all. To claim he can’t/won’t do the same is to make him a hypocrite.

    (I won’t get into the unsupportable natures of your speculations about God one day finding “the instance of our existence in the eternities of His mind” for now. Suffice it to say I think this doesn’t work at all either)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 11, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  37. mmanuu,

    Sorry, I was on Mt. Hood again yesterday snow boarding with scouts, so I was not around to respond.

    Since you characterized my summary of your point as distorted, may I ask a couple of questions to help me understand what you are proposing?

    What does justice demand?

    Where do the demands of justice originate? (Is justice an eternal principle existing outside of any individual, is it something God originated, is it something demanded by all the “intelligences” in the universe, or somethings else?)

    Presumably God already wanted to forgive us and save us before Jesus suffered and died for us so that he could be our advocate (i.e. God loves us too, not just Jesus). Supposing that there was no Jesus, what would prevent God from forgiving us when we repent and eventually exalting us in the celestial kingdom?

    That should give us a good start for a discussion.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 11, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  38. So will you still be able to snowboard on Mt. Hood after Congress turns it into a wilderness area, Jacob?

    Comment by Mark D. — January 11, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  39. Mark, I sure hope so. Sheesh.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 11, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  40. Geoff,

    I don’t know that I want any substitutionary theory. Do you? What have you? It would be lovely if you answer in this here thread for surety of context.

    You seem to imply that God loves everyone – including Satan and the one third who fell from heaven with him and also the SOPs in-the-making now. Are you a proponent of those who are scripturally considered damned? Would you not mind eventually being among the damned – since God, as you imply, loves and will love everyone anyway?

    I always thought that God will love whom He will love, forgive whom He will forgive, and will have mercy on whom He will have mercy – because He knows proper who to love, to forgive, and to have mercy. To us it is required to love, to forgive, and to have mercy to all – because we don’t know proper the hearts of men. And these are according to the spirit of the scriptures. I know the spirit of the scriptures on these – so please don’t bother asking me where these came from. But if you have scriptures that contradict these – please humor me and cite ‘em.

    Moreover, even if you say “speculations,” “it” works fine for me.

    And, I don’t know what your “poppycock” is. I can assume you do? Is it that when somebody cocks after a dose of poppy? I have people trying to help enforce law and order where poppy abounds, but I never had the mind to try any poppy. But perhaps “poppycock” is something else, yeah?

    —–

    Jacob,

    It is surprising that you asked!

    Where do the demands of justice originate? (Is justice an eternal principle existing outside of any individual, is it something God originated, is it something demanded by all the “intelligences” in the universe, or somethings else?)

    I thought that justice is according to law/jus, and that the law is where order is, and that the cosmos is the place of order. So where do you think justice is or comes from? And what do you think demands justice? Is it the place of chaos that demands justice, or is it the place of order that demands justice? And where do you think God is? Is God in the pandemonium (all-demons) of chaos? Or is God in the cosmos? If God is not in the cosmos – then He need not care about justice at all, nor need we. What do you think?

    Guys, your sincere answers in this here thread will do. Otherwise – this thang ain’t cool no more.

    —–

    BTW – Do you guys like the geometric measures? Or, do you like the kinematic measures? Do you like dimensional analysis? Or, do you like vectoral/vectorial analysis? What is it that belongs to phenomena? What is it that belongs to noumena? Just asking. That you think whatever it is that comes to your mind upon reading these is exactly what is expected. Your answers to these need not matter at all. These are just BTW…

    Comment by mmanuu — January 11, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  41. mmanuu: And, I don’t know what your “poppycock” is

    Google it. It’s not a particularly obscure word.

    Overall I can’t really even comprehend most of your comment so I am not really sure how to respond to it.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 11, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

  42. mmanuu,

    Guys, your sincere answers in this here thread will do. Otherwise – this thang ain’t cool no more.

    If you’re implying that we are dodging your questions or being insincere, I may be done with this exchange very quickly. I tried to carefully read and respond to your proposal about the atonement and you said I distorted it, so I decided I should ask some clarifying questions to understand your position more correctly. If that’s not cool with you then I don’t think we can have a productive conversation. If you are already getting frustrated then maybe we should stop before we waste more time?

    I laid out my views of the nature of justice in the paper linked to by Matt in #30. I cannot possibly paste all of into “this here thread,” but I can summarize. I believe that justice is ultimately captured in the concept that glory and law are inseparable and people can only abide an amount of glory corresponding to their ability to live the corresponding laws. Thus, there is no magic by which God can let us into the celestial kingdom other than each of us individually learning to live the law of that kingdom. I believe this constraint arises from the nature of interpersonal relationships and that God has no power to change it. So, when you said that:

    God cannot deny the pleadings of the Lord Jesus Christ for that would be an utter injustice to the Lord Jesus who deserves anything he desires for his perfect reward that is according to the will of God.

    I can tell we have different ideas about justice and the universe. I don’t believe God has the ability to give Jesus “anything he desires” because I believe there are some things (like bringing us into the celestial kingdom) which are not within God’s power to give by fiat. Thus, the atonement, in my opinion, must be based on a different principal than that of God granting Jesus his any wish because of his immense suffering.

    Now, it is clear from your comments that you are not suggesting God make us celestial by fiat. Rather, you see it as a matter of securing God’s forgiveness. You seem to have said that Jesus’ wish is that God save the penitant. As you said:

    God forgives the sinner because the sinless one who offered the act of redemption pleads for the perfect reward that includes the forgiveness of the repentant sinners that the sinless one loves.

    You are careful to specify that it is “repentant sinners” who are forgiven, so that this forgiveness is still dependent upon our repentance. My question, then, is why God would not forgive a repentant sinner without the need of Jesus’ atonement at all. After all, God loves us, right? If we repent, then why does God demand the torture of his only perfect son before forgiving us? What prevents God from saving the penitant without the atonement?

    My only guess so far comes from this statement:

    if we repent and obey, then he will cover us in the redemption that he is able to do – no penalty will be imposed on us, the debits and credits in the accounts (the Lord’s and ours) are offset.

    In this statement, you use a debt/credit analogy to explain what the atonement is accomplishing. By suffering, Christ built up “credits in the accounts” to offset our “debts.” I talked about the problems with debt analogies in this post. Geoff summarized the problems in #35, but apart from saying you don’t want a substitutionary theory, you didn’t explain how your debt analogy avoids being substitutionary. You didn’t explain what the bank is or who the creditor is, so I still have no idea what you are suggesting the atonement accomplished.

    To summarize:

    1) Christ getting whatever wish he wants because of his suffering does not account for the fact that God may be constrained as to what he can grant. Further, it does not explain why God would not have already wanted to do whatever it is Jesus is asking for given that they are both all-loving.

    2) Christ suffering so that we can be forgiven after we repent does not make sense unless you explain why God could not forgive a penitant person outright (i.e. without an atonement).

    3) Christ suffering to build up credits in a cosmic account does not make sense unless you explain what the account is and how his suffering is tranferable in the way money is to cover our debts. (This would require you to explain what a “debt” really amounts to without appeal to an analogy.)

    Comment by Jacob J — January 11, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

  43. Geoff/Jacob,

    My idea that I think is not of the subsitutionary theory is that when we are forgiven, the sins are forgotten – blotted out. The Lord then justifies us into a new life because that is part of his perfect reward.

    Whether the idea is substitutionary or not really does not matter; the important thing is that we get salvation when we get it; the important thing is that the Atonement works.

    The underlying idea in my posts is that: We lost something and couldn’t regain it by ourselves, and that something was given to us by God according to His grace; the Lord Jesus saved/gained for himself what we lost; and he is willing to share it with us according to his grace and on condition that we repent and obey his commandments.

    So, what we lost, we lost; what the Lord gained for himself, he gained for himself – which he is willing to share with us.

    Yes, the term used is redemption, so it may be substitution. But evidently there is no substitution as regard the sufferings… If we suffer for our sins, then we suffer and get damned – all have sinned, and for its wages all die. But if we acknowledge for good that the Lord worked and then suffered because of our sins, then we, including the Lord, will all obtain the glory according to what each of us deserves.

    I don’t see any substitution. We really have two equations. Not merely one. In Adam we die. In Christ we are made alive. Two. Not one. The results differ. How do you make the substitution? What is the common term that can be substituted in the two equations? Adam=Christ? Death=Life?

    I simply tried to explain according to my understanding how the Atonement works. If my explanation does not work for you, then does it really matter? After all the Atonement works.

    My intention is that we get into the mindset that the Lord is the sole means of our salvation and we look to him for our salvation – since there is no other name … whereby we are saved according to the will of God.

    Why speculate that God could have forgiven us without the Lord’s sufferings? I am sure God knows why He didn’t or couldn’t, and He knows the reason why He allowed the Lord to suffer. I am sure that there is an all-important reason why we needed the Lord in the story. I think God knew it was necessary. And I tried identifying, explaining and showing what the reason is and how it works.

    I tried to show that justice was over-powered by mercy for the purpose of allowing the time for another instance wherein the more fruitful and all-encompassing demands of justice will realize the need to be satisfied.

    Please understand that to me mercy is not only the compassionate feeling; it is also its expression in the time it can be expressed; once mercy has been expressed, justice and its demands return; which is why mercy cannot rob justice; the judgement for justice is the final end. But, an absolute demand of justice as per the transgression for the needed knowledge may be overcome by another demand of justice as per the work of a supreme sacrifice; and so, the transgression is forgotten because the sacrifice demands that it be forgotten.

    And thus, I identified and tried to show the idea of justice as the main working principle in the Atonement and therefore the main reason why the Atonement works. And this also because I understand that the cosmos is mainly sustained by law, and because I understand that if the law in the cosmos is violated the violating part of the cosmos must of necessity be redeemed or otherwise be cut-off from the cosmos and relegated to the chaos where anarchy, injustice and pandemonium reigns. The necessity is also inevitable, and evidently it has always been that way – because the cosmos is the realm of order, of justice and law.

    You asked who (and perhaps, what) needed justice – the answer should be obvious to you now. As to where or what the bank is – ditto.

    I can relate these ideas for myself; it’s just not easy relating them in these threads for your own consumption. The efficient transfer of the energy (negative or otherwise) of my own thoughts to you is a bit difficult – perhaps you can do some substitutions to augment the ideas for your own consumption.

    I presented what I think the reason why we needed salvation through the Lord’s work. I simply presented what I think were the underlying principles for the ‘mechanics’ of the Atonement.

    If you don’t comprehend most of my comments, I might as well suggest that you google you minds and hearts a little bit more regarding the ideas. I do not see them as particularly obscure ideas – even if you think they’re poppycock… æææ!

    Poppycock! Most people I know consider me very sensible, although I may have bouts of levity.

    Lastly and frankly, I actually just wanted to do a good turn for Castel who needs some ebook sales; Castel’s ebook has got better stuff in it; it’ll probably serve you better. Lovely if you take a look at the –

    kinematicrelativity.uuuq.com/index.html

    website and then buy. I’m sure this is not spamming, for after all we’ve had some exchange…

    It was great, guys. Thanks. Perhaps another time…

    Comment by mmanuu — January 12, 2009 @ 12:29 am

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