Chapter 5 – Atonement

May 22, 2009    By: Kent (MC) @ 2:29 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Plan of Salvation

Click here for previous posts in this series and why I’m writing this children’s book.

Every living person is given the Light of Christ when they are born, which is also sometimes called our conscience. This light helps us know basic right from wrong. When we feel we should do something kind for someone else, and choose not to do it, we sin against this Light, which diminishes our light and defeats some of our purposes of being here. When we hurt someone else, it hurts us too and creates guilt. The largest consequence of sin is that it hurts our relationships with others to where we can’t be trusted by others and we can’t trust ourselves. In such a state, we wouldn’t be able to stand being with holy and clean beings like our Heavenly Father. Heaven is not just a place, but it is rather a society in which trust abounds; trust that my tender heart will be valued as highly as I value it. My character is defined by my trustworthiness with the needs and feelings of others.

Without a Savior, feelings of hurt, anger, guilt, hate, revenge, etc., would never go away, either from us or the people we hurt. Jesus Christ atoned for the world in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross on Calvary by experiencing the pain that we feel in this life from sin and from mortality. Christ experiences our lives with us today too and knows everything about our experiences and needs. As we repent and learn to forgive others, Christ offers peace, healing, and the promise that all will be made right for ourselves and those we have hurt. Christ has given us the opportunity to have eternal life with joyful and caring relationships with each other.

Eventually our bodies die physically. Our spirits also die as we sin against the light that is within us (what we feel we should do), which kills joy and love within us. In this respect, Satan is dead: He feels anger, frustration, some pleasure, but no joy. Spiritual death is a state of existence without joy. Without Jesus Christ, we could not replace the light that leaves us when we do wrong and we would be uncomfortable being with Heavenly Father. Without Jesus Christ, we could not restore and receive more glory and perfect resurrected bodies.

Because of Christ’s atonement we can all overcome physical and spiritual death. In other words, we can all be resurrected and can all gain more light, glory, and joy. There are three parts of resurrected people, they are spirits, have bodies of flesh and bone, and glory. Jesus lived his life to bless others. When we follow Christ’s example in serving others, we receive joy/light. Sin reduces that light/joy. Because Satan wanted all the glory for himself, he cut himself off from the God’s glory and became “a light unto himself”. In sharing glory, we share experiences, love and joy.

Christ’s condescension was being emptied of glory, though His capacity to receive glory was still great. He left behind His power and glory and was born like the rest of us. He grew grace for grace and grace to grace until He received a complete knowledge of His identity and received instructions through the Spirit on how he could best serve others. That is an opportunity available to all of us. Christ suffered the worst of the plan. None of us will ever suffer more than Christ. He can comfort us because He was also alone and in the agony of Hell, and He can take us out of Hell and give us the constant companionship with the Holy Ghost if we will let Him.

I look forward to your critiques (except from you Calvinists, you can keep your comments to yourselves).

28 Comments »

  1. Jesus Christ atoned for the world in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross on Calvary by experiencing the pain that we feel in this life from sin and from mortality.

    I would refine this statement so that it says his atonement wasn’t just experiencing pain, but also, ahem, his death. I’m not sure where you got that definition of atonement that is merely “experiencing pain.”

    Comment by Hunter — May 22, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  2. Kent,

    This is pretty good. I like the way you focus on the atonement as an enabler to the process of growing spiritually. I also like the focus on each of us being in relationship with other people as the measure of our growth.

    There was only one line that stuck out to me as problematic, which was:

    There are three parts of resurrected people, they are spirits, have bodies of flesh and bone, and glory.

    Besides being a somewhat awkward sentence (the items in the list aren’t parallel expressions) I don’t think of “glory” as being one of three parts of a resurrected person. This seems to give glory a separate existence which I don’t think it has.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  3. I especially liked your first paragraph Kent.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2009 @ 9:42 am

  4. You might consider changing “The largest consequence of sin” to “The most important consequence of sin.”

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2009 @ 10:40 am

  5. Hunter, what does Christ’s death have to do with the atonement? There is nothing special about dying, we all do it. What preceded the death was what I find noteworthy. The reason Christ had to die (after experiencing excruciating pain) was three-fold I think: 1. To evoke pathos from us, 2. Because his work was finished, and 3. To show that he had power over death to raise himself from the dead.

    Jacob, it is awkward phrasing, isn’t it? Awkward phrasing aside, I would actually like to argue that glory is an independent property that is possessed, just as a spirit possesses a body, though there may be free flowing particles coming and going. I think our best evidences of this are found in the Pearl of Great Price. You have the light “gathering” to Moroni prior to his ascension in the conduit. You also have Moses asking Satan where his glory is (since he can look upon him with the natural eye). Are you saying that glory isn’t a property of resurrected beings mainly because it can be enjoyed by non-resurrected beings too? I’m not quite sure what you are getting at I guess, would you elaborate?

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 23, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  6. Well, I guess it strikes me as an odd formulation because I’ve never thought of glory as the kind of thing that would appear on a list with “spirit body” and “physical body.” It would be sort of like saying all resurrected beings have three things: spirit, body, and free will. It’s not that I disagree, but just from reading what you said I can tell you have a more developed theology than I do regarding what glory is and why it is important. I have always thought of glory as being indicative of goodness, power, intelligence, etc., but not as those things themselves. I can have a spirit with no body, or a body with no spirit, but can I have glory with no person?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 24, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  7. Kent: A couple things:

    Regarding this:

    When we feel we should do something kind for someone else, and choose not to do it, we sin against this Light, which diminishes our light and defeats some of our purposes of being here. When we hurt someone else, it hurts us too and creates guilt. The largest consequence of sin is that it hurts our relationships with others to where we can’t be trusted by others and we can’t trust ourselves.

    It seems you are trying to elude to Arbinger Institute concepts of self-deception here. If I’m wrong about that, sorry, but if not, you may want to call out that a consequence of sin is not just it hurts us, and creates guilt, but that it causes us to lose touch with reality (or something, not quite sure what to say.) in any case, It just feels like you jumped over that part.

    Also, I read this to my five year old, and she didn’t know these words: Society, Atone, Holy, Conscience. Depending on who you are targeting, you may want to simplify the vocab. (Although it was cool talking to her about what conscience is).

    Comment by Matt W. — May 24, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  8. Well, Jacob, I think I better understand what you’re saying now. I think the aspect of glory is actually very important, though we seem to gloss over it a bit in our culture because we can’t even define it very precisely nor do we really experience it apart from feeling the Spirit. I point it out for a couple of reasons, one is to point out to people that their experience in life will be different as a resurrected being because they will have an added element that will actually “gather” around them. Whenever anyone has an experience with an angel or God, it is the glory that gives them strength to even look at the being, and when the glory leaves the person feels drained and weak.

    Another reason is because I think the idea of God’s omnipresence/omniscience is best argued as being part of his glory which actually provides the bandwidth and sensors for him to receive that knowledge while he is physically only in one place at a time.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 24, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  9. Matt, I am an Arbinger fan, I could add that suggestion; thanks! Also, the book is meant for older kids 8-12 and my kids think they understand what words mean but sometimes they are way off. I do expect that there will need to be a little bit of simplifying the language. Once I’ve firmed up the content I’ll work on that.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 24, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  10. What I love about this post is that I was seriously thinking I would take a lot of flack for my description of the most important doctrine in Mormonism, yet now that it has been a week nothing I’ve written has really elicited any controversy. I don’t know if you guys are just going easy on me, but I take this silence as acceptance of my ideas.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 27, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  11. Sorry for having taken so long to come back and reply. You ask, “Hunter, what does Christ’s death have to do with the atonement?”

    Warning: In my answer, I will quote some scriptures, but I don’t want you to think I’m trying to “scripture bash.” I don’t mean to get into a proof-texting shouting match. I offer them as a way to explain how I’ve come to my understanding that, no matter how you come down on the whole “atonement stew” thing, Christ’s death is a vital part of God’s plan. Here goes (I’ll try to keep it short):

    Paul tells us repeatedly that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And he even goes so far as to say that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) And Jesus himself made the connection from his death to the remission of sins: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” (Luke 24:46).

    I believe the Book of Mormon is consistent with the above quotes, too. Frankly, you surprised me when you said that you think there’s nothing special about Christ’s death. I would like to know how you came to this understanding? Again, I’m not interested in getting into a scripture bash. Rather, I want to understand. Thanks.

    Comment by Hunter — May 27, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  12. Hunter, I’m not dismissing the fact that Christ died and that was the culmination of the atonement. I’m trying to understand from you how his death (apart from his suffering) “atones” or makes you at one with God. Do you take the view that Christ could have just died by beheading? I really don’t understand what his death (again, apart from the suffering) means to you in how he effected the atonement. Can you explain to me how you understand those scriptures you cited?

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 27, 2009 @ 5:46 pm

  13. Kent, I’m not sure how to handle this discussion if you’re going to take the position that Christ’s death is “the culmination of the atonement” (comment 12) while also asking “what does Christ’s death have to do with the atonement” (comment 5). Isn’t that contradictory? I don’t get it. Truly.

    My view of Christ’s atonement is that he brings me to him through his sacrifice for my sins, and the subsequent effects of and pain from my sins. To me, one of the best images that explains the connection between Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his at-one-ment is found in the passage in 3 Nephi 11. Here, Jesus invites the people to come forth and feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet, “that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, . . . and have been slain for the sins of the world.”

    By the way, I think it is notable that Jesus did NOT say, “Come, and feel the pores of my skin that bled.” In like fashion, the prophecies of Jesus foretell an innocent lamb that would be sacrificed – not a figure who only suffered. I agree that Jesus’s suffering, his passion, IS an integral part of his act of redemption, his atonement; it’s part of his condescension below all things, his comprehending all our pain. But you seem to stop at the suffering and discount his death. I am made at one with Him because he has paid for my sins; he has imputed his righteousness to me.

    Now, it’s your turn. Explain to me why Jesus’ death is separate from his atonement?

    Comment by Hunter — May 27, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  14. Hunter, the way I see it, his death is the SIGN of his atonement, not the SUBSTANCE of it. The way I understand the atonement is that Christ chooses to live his life so fully with mine that he literally experiences my life with me; not just in an omniscient intellectual way, but in a way such that every pain I feel, he feels too. Every time I feel sad, he feels my sadness. Every time I hurt my toe, he feels that pain. Christ experiences my life in such a way that it is far beyond sympathy and the way we use the word empathy. He is “at one” with me in such a way that he condescends to experience all the pain, hope, fear, and joy of my life. He lives his life with me and I hope to also more fully live my life with him as time goes.

    Christ literally takes my pain from me and absorbs it into his life, which is what I understand as the substance of the atonement. This type of grace and love that Christ shows is truly irresistible to me and I am humbled to the dust by his desire to show me that he is willing to experience all of the worst of my life and the lives of all those I interact with so that he can reconcile us to each other as a true mediator of all my relationships.

    Now I think I understand where you are coming from when you say “I am made at one with Him because he has paid for my sins; he has imputed his righteousness to me.” I didn’t know that you had not been exposed to the Compassion theory of atonement, but rather the penal substitution theory of atonement. I forget that some people are haven’t been reading this blog for years. Sorry for not being clearer up-front.

    This language you have used to describe the “payment of sins” is actually not scriptural. A while ago I looked at LDS.org to see if there were any uses of the word sin and pay (payment, paid, etc.) in the scriptures; and there aren’t any that relate to the atonement. I think so often that we have thought about sin as a debt to Justice that we have misconstrued what the atonement is about. What sin does is destroy relationships; that is it! The atonement heals relationships, especially with those that have hurt me and eventually for those I have hurt; not to mention my relationship with God. There is no pain in the past, only my memory of having felt pain in the past or me presently feeling pain in the present. When Christ removes the pain from those I have injured, I will no longer have a sense of debt to those individuals for my mistreatment of them, since they will no longer feel the pain in their “then present” (which will likely be completed in a post mortal world).

    Being cleansed presupposes the idea that I was dirty or unclean before the cleansing, which I am not rejecting. What I am rejecting is the idea that it is an external “shunning” by God and other “good” people, rather than an internal judgment where we choose to remove ourselves from the association of others because it becomes too painful to see others in loving relationships without being able to participate. See Mormon 9.

    If the idea in the scriptures is that God will be “disgusted” with me and my sins, and therefore deny me a place in his presence, how is it possible for Christ to then condescend to save me, a sinner? I see the scriptures as stating that God cannot give any countenance or permission for sin, but why not? It is because it causes alienation (spiritual death), “the fruit of sin is death”, not because he then finds us deplorable. This is my main point: Sin is something that keeps me from God, not God from me. Christ couldn’t take upon himself a guilty verdict, since that is something only I can pass on myself; otherwise when Christ atoned for us, he would remain unclean and guilty, since who would atone for Christ then? If the stain of sin is like a boulder that can’t be destroyed, only transferred, that boulder would still be crushing the only innocent one; but it isn’t some impersonal external “Justice”, it is my own sense of justice that condemns me.

    You may want to look at the post “Penal-Substitution anyone?” for more details on why righteousness can’t literally be imputed (the sense of “not guilty”).

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 28, 2009 @ 8:01 am

  15. Kent, thanks for taking the time to set forth your understanding of the Atonement. I’m so pleased to see that you have elevated the discussion again and avoided bickering. Thanks for that.

    I will spend some time looking over the link on the penal-substitution theory. Thanks.

    Please understand that I am not asserting that a compassion/empathy/suffering conception of Christ’s saving work is unscriptural. I think you can find support for it in the canonized scripture. But what I do assert that it is not a complete view of Christ’s redemptive work. It’s kind of like how sometimes people take D&C 82:10 and read that particular description into EVERYTHING else they read or understand about the Gospel. So, too, I think your theory places an undue emphasis on a couple of passages in Alma and Mosiah and D&C 19 – but not because those scriptures aren’t profound, meaningful, and true, but because I think you read them to the exclusion of others relating to Christ’s death.

    I also take issue with your assertion that the “payment of sins” idea is not scriptural. Perhaps you’ve not found particular phrases in your online search of lds.org. But I think the one I already mentioned fits nicely: I’m not sure how you get around (i.e., exclude) Christ’s own words in Luke and 3 Nephi “I am the God of Israel, . . . and have been slain for the sins of the world.”

    Please also note that I don’t think the penal view of the atonement tells the complete story. I do think there is an important place for the role that Christ’s suffering has in all of this. His suffering is certainly part of his saving work. I, too, subscribe to the view that God sent Christ into our world to save it, and not to condemn it. But he did come to save it. Save it from what? Sin, and the effects of sin. A complete theory of the atonement thus includes both his suffering and his death.

    In the end, I do believe you and I are closer than I originally thought as to the final effect of Christ’s mission. I enjoyed reading your description. I just view Christ’s work as having included both his suffering and death. To exclude his death from the whole process requires one to read certain scriptural passages to the exclusion of others.

    Comment by Hunter — May 28, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  16. Two words – Cleon Skousen

    ;)

    Comment by Riley — May 28, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  17. Hunter, I agree that we are closer than I may have initially supposed. I wouldn’t say that his death isn’t part of the atonement, rather it is part of the presentation of the atonement; the sign of the atonement as it were. I see it as frosting on the cake, but the cake is the substance not the frosting (it can seem like a silly grace vs. works kind of argument). I agree 100% that Christ saves us from sin and the effects of sin. What I think we disagree on are what the effects of sin are. I have stated that the effects of sin are an estrangement of relationships – that is it. I don’t believe in a “Justice” which exists outside of relationships. Now, let’s look at Alma 34, which I feel is states a very important aspect of the atonement and justice:

    11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
    12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

    Christ can’t just DIE to atone for us, that just isn’t sufficient nor is it just. What he can and must do is heal the debt to the relationship that I have damaged through my sins. How does he actually atone for the effects of sin if his death alone can’t satisfy the demands of justice? Well, justice is personal, not impersonal. Who holds the debt to be paid? Not God, or some impersonal “Justice”; rather the person whom I have offended and hurt. It is MY sense of justice that must be satisfied as well as the sense of justice from everyone else (including God). Christ actually has to “undo” the murder in a sense.

    True story: In 4th grade I lied to the teacher about a girl named Carrie. I said that she threw a snowball at another boy (which resulted in his crying from pain). The teacher was upset and knowing that I had been trustworthy in the past, and how unpopular Carrie was, the teacher hauled Carrie inside for detention while Carrie cried and protested her innocence. Now, I stand condemned by my own sense of justice, not by God, but by myself (which is why without understanding (ie. little children) there is no sin). I knew she was innocent and I bore false witness. Carrie was my victim. What I need from Christ is not to impute righteousness and pass a “not guilty” sentence on me because he has forgiven me. What good does that do Carrie? What I need is for him to undo the pain I caused Carrie. Only when she is healed and she is reconciled to me can I release the demands of justice from my own heart. I cannot be in Abraham’s bosom and look down at Carrie in hell and in pain and feel good about God’s justice (which in that case would just be a legal fiction). I need restitution to be paid to Carrie, but I don’t have the means to undo the pain I caused her. Only Christ has the power to take away her pain and bring us together into a loving and trusting relationship again.

    Allow me to narrate (speculatively and imperfectly) the mechanics of the atonement from my perspective, so that you can see how his death was necessary in my eyes. As a human, Christ chooses to experience the lives of those around him as he walks with them. Receiving more grace from the Father, he eventually knows the thoughts and intents of the hearts of the people, feeling their feelings literally. His power becomes greater and greater as he opens himself to God’s knowledge of existence. He weeps with those who weep and becomes a man of sorrows while seeking to mitigate that pain of this life wherever he can by healing others.

    Now, fast forward to Gethsemane. Christ has grown to the point where he is experiencing a fullness of Godhood, which means he becomes fully aware of the lives of the apostles sleeping in the garden. He knows them perfectly and intimately. He feels the pain that others have caused them. He knows the burdens in their hearts and the debts of justice they carry for those they have hurt. He feels the pain of those they have hurt. He bleeds from every pore because he is experiencing the cumulative pain of all of those individuals.

    Christ decides to stay “present” with that pain, then he expands his omniscience to include more and more individuals until he is present with all of creation, experiencing all of the joy, hopes, dreams, desires, and pain of everyone (but mainly existence is pain, just ask the Buddha). This is the way that the atonement is infinite. The burden of sin, pain, and existence in this fallen world is fully upon him and only his power as having received a fullness allows his body to not pass out under the weight of it all. Christ carries that burden with him and presents himself to us and asks us if our demands of justice which we hold against others for hurting us are not satisfied by him suffering our pain too. Ashamed, we look upon him bloodied and in excruciating pain and relinquish any additional demands from our hearts and allow healing to come into our lives as he takes those pains from us and absorbs them. We repent and forgive. He expiates, purges, scrubs clean, and undoes all the painful effects of sin, my own and others’. Christ is betrayed, whipped, and put on a cross. These acts cause those of us who have no idea what he is suffering internally to pay attention to his pain and listen to the message that it is his love for us that he chooses to suffer (this is what I mean by it being a SIGN of the atonement, but not the atonement itself). Christ remains fully present (omniscient) while on the cross, experiences alienation from the Father (since it is also part of our experience through sinning) and then because the human body cannot survive such torment internally and externally, he dies. He dies, but he does not cease to stay present with us; he remains fully divine and aware of our lives. He is resurrected and by showing his power to reverse the regular course of life he demonstrates that he can also “undo” all the acts that we deem negative in this life. His life, death, and resurrection reveal that all that we experience in this life can be for our good because he has power to mitigate and return beauty for ashes. All the bridges we feared were burned are rebuilt.

    The atonement is Christ’s way of BEING with us. He is at one with us always, whether we acknowledge it or not. It wasn’t just in Gethsemane and on the Cross that he was at one with our lives, he is still choosing to be with us in that way. His death is an invitation for us to look deeper into his desire to be at one with us as John 17 so well describes. His death is the culmination of being at one in the flesh with us, but by itself, his death has no power to save. If Christ were merely executed without being fully present with us, it would be the same as executing the brother of the murderer (Alma 34) to make up for the crime of the murderer. We all need restitution to be paid to others for our sins, not just punishment for the sinner (or Christ in this case).

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 28, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  18. In anticipation of one additional criticism about how (and when) Christ heals those we have hurt, I’ll quote from Jacob J and my response when he once asked:

    Jacob J: My observation is that Christ is not able to make all bad things into good ones. To do so often requires the injured party to let Jesus heal them and turn it to good. If the injured person turns bitter and rejects Christ due to the injury we cause, does that mean the stain of that sin can’t be removed unless and until the person we injured allows the atonement to heal them?

    My response:

    Faith in Christ means faith in his ability to heal everyone. It is not necessary for him to have already healed the individual I have wronged for my pain to leave me, the fact that he will heal the individual sooner or later (or after death) is sufficient. I also am not asserting that we have to comprehend the atonement intellectually to be able to feel free of the pain of sin, the knowledge that things will be okay is a knowledge similar to one’s knowledge/feeling of the truthfulness of the gospel or the restoration. My belief is that Jesus can heal all, will heal all, and will save all as all will repent and receive the resurrection and enjoy a degree of glory.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 28, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  19. Thanks for that, Kent. I appreciate it. I think I understand better your explanation about the effects of sin, Christ’s being one with us, as well your understanding of the role of justice. And I feel I have learned something new about how multi-faceted the Gospel is.

    The lawyer in me wishes to simply, for the record, lodge my objection (as previously explained) and let this rest. In the end, I think we will have to agree to disagree on some of the mechanics. I don’t say that to be dismissive; I just think we’ve both explained ourselves and so I wanted to acknowledge your contribution but then simply rest.

    Good luck with your book! I’ll look for other forthcoming chapters.

    Comment by Hunter — May 28, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  20. Hunter, you are kind. Thank you for engaging with my ideas. If you are unfamiliar with Blake Ostler’s books, I would highly recommend the second volume which spends considerable time reviewing the various theories of atonement.

    In the end, I’m not really certain I understand your view of the atonement outside of the penal substitution theory (which you have alluded to as being incomplete in your mind) based on the language you have used in your posts. If you have the time and ability to further explain your understanding of the atonement and what you view the effects of sin to be, I’d really enjoy more dialogue. The main benefit of this exercise, as I see it, is how it allows me to better refine my own ideas too.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 28, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  21. Kent, the reason you don’t feel you’ve understood my view of the atonement is probably because I’m not sure I understand my view, either!

    Seriously, I rely way too much on the mixing of all the atonement theories and probably can’t give much more coherent an answer to the question.

    The one thing I do know is that, to me, any atonement theory that treats Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as merely “frosting on the cake” is too heretical even for this ostensibly liberal-minded Mormon. To me, an atonement theory without a death figured in seems to me to be writing out the need for redemption and salvation, and hence, the efficacy of doctrines such as grace and mercy. Doesn’t even the Judaism concept of atonement rely on a sacrifice for sin?

    To me, if you point merely to an act of suffering as the salvific act, you could just as easily say that the atonement was accomplished when Job suffered from boils and loss of friends, or when Nephi experienced his sense of loss, or when Joseph Smith felt alone and depressed in Liberty Jail. Each of those experiences adequately show us suffering, and that God understands pain and suffering. If the atonement is merely to demonstrate that God feels our pain, then, why didn’t Jesus just fly up to heaven after, say, the experience along the Via Dolorosa?

    I think what I’m having a hard time with is that your theory tends to make me think you’re a universalist. And, though I certainly empathize with the motivation behind such a belief, my (current) understanding is that such a belief improperly dismisses the full role of Jesus Christ in the Gospel plan.

    I have to say, too, that part of me responds to the denigrating of the cross on an emotional, personal level. (Don’t feel picked on! Mormons everywhere seem to denigrate the cross.) For me, to read about the lead up to the cross, where, in Gethsemane, Christ actually prays to have that cup (his death) removed, and then, to read the actual process of that death, including the spear in the side as prophesied, and his slow, agonizing death, I just feel that it disrespects what He went through to dismiss it. I know that may not be a strong theological argument, but I wanted to share it, because that perhaps explains some of my response above.

    If you want to take this discussion offline, you have my email address, I take it – send me an email, and after I’ve gotten a little more sleep. I’m afraid I’m getting pretty useless now.

    Comment by Hunter — May 28, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  22. P.S. I will check out Ostler’s books. Thanks.

    Comment by Hunter — May 28, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  23. Kent, it is extremely late, and I just got home a couple of hours ago after driving more than 1000 miles in the last 36 hours, so I am going to respond to your request very briefly:

    I view the Atonement as the work of making us one with God as laid out in the Intercessory Prayer. I see it as starting with, “Here am I. Send me.” I see it as continuing through the creation, the pre-incarnation prophetic communications around the world, His mortal life (which I think is a critical part of the Atonement that gets under-valued and under-emphasized within our current church culture), His suffering in the Garden AND on the cross, His death, His resurrection, the post-resurrection appearances, the modern revelations (both organizational and personal) all the way to the end when the final judgment is complete AND we finally become one as They are one.

    Iow, I see “the Atonement” as the overarching process of salvation, redemption and exaltation – the infinitely powerful and comprehensive MISSION of God, the Son, to accomplish the infinitely powerful and comprehensive WORK and GLORY of God, the Father.

    Given that view, I think nearly all of the “models” that are discussed by Christian scholars are “correct” ways to describe certain aspects of the Atonement – but I have read very, very few treatments that I think portray the full complexity and reach, because people tend to focus on the particular model that makes the most sense to them. I have no problem with that in practice, since I want everyone to understand whatever they can understand in a way that moves them to become more like God to whatever degree they are able, but, in theory, I simply think the Atonement as a universally encompassing, on-going “work” is FAR more comprehension and articulation defying than we tend to admit.

    I could give specific examples of my own speculation as to some of the ways that I believe we (myself included) still are in a Neanderthal stage of understanding, but they would be pure, heterodox speculation – and I honestly don’t want to go there for a post like this. I’ve hinted at some of them in various posts around the Bloggernacle, but generally I “keep these things and ponder them in (my) heart” – since I’m probably wrong about as many of them as I am right.

    Comment by Ray — May 28, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  24. Ray,

    You stated what I feel in your statement represents how I see the atonement: it is not limited to the life of Christ (especially his last three days) but also includes his work in the pre-mortal life and his work today to make us one as you alluded to in the intercessory prayer. Like I said previously, Atonement is his way of being with others; meaning he allows himself to fully feel and experience our lives and beckons for us to do the same that we may be one.

    Hunter,

    I’m really glad that you are still able to contribute to this discussion. At this point very few people are even reading these posts and so I’m happy to continue the discussion here (it also encourages my best thinking).

    I feel like I am not writing clearly enough if you feel like I am denigrating (or shortchanging) the Passion of Christ, which includes his death. At the end of the day I think it comes down to definitions of terms. See this post on Separating the Atonement from the Christ Event for background on some of the ways we use terms the way we do. I guess my biggest point is that the Passion of Christ (his last 3 days) is just a smaller piece of the much bigger whole (hence my frosting analogy). I do not wish to imply that the death was an unnecessary part of his salvific act (it was very important), but only that it was just a smaller part of the whole act of becoming one with us. Again, I would like to see this ascend to more than a grace vs. works kind of discussion since I don’t think we disagree in substance as much as in emphasis.

    The one aspect I do disagree with (if I understand correctly your point of view) is the idea that it is his death itself (or his death APART from his acceptance of our lives into his life) that saves us from our sins. I quoted the scriptures in Alma 34 to explain why the death of an innocent person is insufficient to satisfy our demands for justice. I think the view that God needed a sacrifice of Christ’s blood to satisfy his demands of justice is insufficient to describe how restitution is made by Christ (I think it works from the wrong side of the issue putting the cart before the horse). If you look at some of the criticisms of the penal substitution theory you may be able to see better where I am coming from. The way I wee it, it is not God’s justice that Christ is trying to satisfy, it is my sense of justice that Christ is trying to satisfy, which keeps me from forgiving others, repenting of my sins, and entering into loving relationships with others.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 29, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  25. So, with that being said let me address my universalism and what it is and what it isn’t. I will address this cursorily in future chapters for the book, but it won’t be as explicit. I think we both believe that Christ can save anyone (he has the power to do so), but that he can’t save us if we choose to remain in sin. Repentance is the only way to receive the atonement into our lives and be healed. If I repent of my sins, Christ can remove the pain that others have caused me. Okay so far?

    Now, after we die we are still basically the same people, just disembodied. Salvation from the effects of sin is still based on conditions of repentance and a willingness to live according to a level of right living (which we associate with degrees of glory). People have to choose to let Christ into their lives and they signify that acceptance by baptism. Now, when it is time to be resurrected (after many people have experienced the pains of hell like Alma), you have to repent and accept Christ. The way I see it, everyone eventually chooses to accept the relationship Christ offers because they are all eventually resurrected. They are saved just as quickly as they accept Christ and repent.

    Now, do you see why I am a universalist in a sense? I believe that Christ’s influence is so powerful that he will eventually entice all but the sons of perdition to repent of their sins and enter into a degree of fellowship with all of us.

    Just as Christ has healed me and helped me let go of my need for revenge or justice for those that have hurt me, he will so the same for others; whether in this life or in the very end of time.

    My view of the atonement requires restitution be paid to those I have offended and hurt. I need their forgiveness for real damage done. Only Christ can provide that healing that they need. Now, since no one suffers endlessly for any act that I committed do I feel that my responsibility to other people is fulfilled. Again, justice is satisfied because we release our demands that others suffer for what they did and we forgive them, and only because Christ suffers with us do we let that pain go.

    I’m happy to reiterate what I think the role of the cross is again if you would like an expansion on that (from comment #5).

    Comment by Kent (MC) — May 29, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  26. OK, then, just a couple of short follow ups. First, you say:

    [I]t is not God’s justice that Christ is trying to satisfy, it is my sense of justice that Christ is trying to satisfy, which keeps me from forgiving others, repenting of my sins, and entering into loving relationships with others.

    OK, forgiving, that’s good. Repenting, that’s good. Entering into loving relationships, that’s good. But would you include “worshipping God” in this list? I’m being serious. I want to know. In other words, is a love for God and the gift of his Son, also a necessary by-product of the atonement? (I don’t mean that question to be a thread jack.) I mean, if Christ is not dying for our sins, but instead just “feeling our pain,” then it further suggests that your theory of the atonement tends to minimize and downplay a love and appreciation for the work of God in all of this.

    I should have said so earlier, but actually, I read that Alma 34 passage totally differently than you. I read it to reinforce the notion that meeting the demands of God’s justice could not be done by a mere mortal. So, while I get your point about disliking the penal substitution theory, I just don’t see Alma 34 as good support for that. Not that I believe in a spiteful god, but just saying I don’t think Alma 34 is good support for your theory.

    You say that “the view that God needed a sacrifice of Christ’s blood to satisfy his demands of justice is insufficient to describe how restitution is made by Christ.” But that reads into the whole thing the need for restitution, no? Isn’t restitution a concept better associated with the penal substitution view that you abhor? So, I’d like to understand your opinion about why restitution is needed, and how Christ’s suffering is payment of that restitution. Which, again, to me, reinforces the notion of the penal-substitution theory.

    I’ll go and check out that other NCT link you mention…you know, the one that promotes the removal of all meaning from Christ’s passion and death (yes, I am now being snarky). (I just read the opening post, and none of the comments, which I will go do.)

    Comment by Hunter — May 29, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  27. Hunter,

    I have no idea how you can come away with the feeling that I am downplaying love and appreciation for God the Son in all of this. If anything, I think that what I believe Christ did during the passion (as well as continues to do today) is even more amazing and humbling since he was actively seeking to stay present with us rather than passively accepting the burden of atonement.

    Back to Alma 34, this comment by Blake Ostler from that same thread I referenced you to earlier on the penal substitution theory gives a very detailed analysis of those verses. In fact, that whole blog post has comments about how to interpret those verses.

    After you have really engaged those ideas, I’d like to continue in dialogue with you if you are still able and interested. I think the concept of how Christ effects restitution is one for which I may be solely responsible on this blog, but I’m happy to discuss it with you. I may try to do a separate blog post on the need for restitution through atonement later.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — June 1, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  28. OK, sounds good. Thanks.

    Comment by Hunter — June 2, 2009 @ 1:36 am

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