Jacob on Why we talk about the atonement and agency

March 6, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 8:39 pm   Category: Scriptures

The Book of Jacob is a pretty short book, I thought about combining it with Enos-Words of Mormon, but I thought it had two really interesting points I hadn’t before thought of, so I’d go ahead and share them.

1. Every so often, we get people that come across this blog and wonder why we are wasting our time talking about the atonement or other things, because as Jacob 4:8 says “it is impossible that man should find out all his ways”. But I believe it is our sincere hope that we will receive revelation as “we search the prophets” (Jacob 4:6) Further Jacob encourages us to talk of these things, saying “And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?” Of course, some may accuse us of “looking beyond the mark” seeking out complexities where we ought not, but I think everyone blogging here would agree we are hoping for the plainness of the true Gospel. Sometimes it does seem otherwise, I’ll grant you. My wife teases me that we are like this scripture:

And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new [cool] th[a]ng.)

And yes, there seems to be an unwritten order of things which says Blake, Geoff and Jacob can’t all three agree on any one given thing at any one point in time, but I have become more connected to Christ as I have thought more deeply on his atonement. While it is true that it has become readily apparent to me the many things I do not know about the atonement, that has been really valuable to me, to shake off assumptions that I thought I knew, but upon investigation proved flimsy. More so, being able to tear away what I don’t know has also helped strengthen what I do know, as the truth becomes less muddled by false assumptions. Some say (I honestly don’t know who to attribute this to) we will not receive more revelation until we master what we already have, and we have been given so much instruction on the atonement that we had better dig deep into it.

In fact, in Jacob it teaches that Christ has the power of the redemption and the resurrection (jacob 6:9), which allows us to either reconcile ourselves through the atonement and be presented as “the first fruits of Christ unto God” (Jacob 4:11) or that same power can bring us to stand in that presence in “shame and awful guilt” which will ultimately cause us to “go away” (Jacob 6:10) So I say we must be reconciled to through the atonement by properly understanding it, by believing in it and hoping in it, and making it a part of our minute to minute way of being. As we accept it into our lives, we will feel it’s power and I believe it will change us.

2. Jacob 3:9 notes that there are two types of bad. There is the bad of those that comes because of their fathers, and there is the bad of those who are bad of their own accord. In vs 9 Jacob tells his people not to revile against those who are bad because of their traditions, but to think of our own error. This caused me to ponder a bit on agency, a much-discussed topic here of late. This scripture is basically saying that some of our actions are caused by determinism and some are not.

Often we run on autopilot, not being self-aware of what motivates us to do what we are doing. This is similar to what Terry Warner calls self-deception, where we do something wrong, it puts us in a state of self-deception, and then we are perpetually justifying out poor behavior until we brought out of our initial poor behavior, except it’s not that deep. See, a determined being isn’t aware they are being determined. Becoming aware of what determines them would break the spell, and then they would be making a choice.

Here’s an interesting paradox of the gospel. God wants us to make a choice, however, it is better for us to be determined rather than make a bad choice. While living a life that is not self-aware (determined) fails to allow us to progress and leaves us stagnant and frustrated, willfully making bad choices produces a worse case, where we are miserable and trapped by the consequences of our bad choices in a self-destructive cycle. So making choices is better than not making choices, but making bad choices is worse. This is a case where the benefits apparently outweigh the risk, as God has set up the entire system of the atonement to improve our odds in overcoming the risks of making bad choices.

Ok, I think I am rambling at this point.


  1. Study and pondering leads me to a greater understanding of the atonement and to a greater closeness with Christ. NCT discussions often stimulate new thoughts and ideas for me that are helpful to this process, but it requires wading through minutiae and some ego contests as these ideas are developed.

    God’s ways are not our ways, it is highly unlikely that we will discover God’s ways through logic alone. Since you are aiming for the plainness of the true Gospel, the discussions might be improved by following D&C 9:8, study it out in your mind and ask if it be right.

    Comment by Howard — March 7, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  2. I think you’re right in that thinking about these issues can draw us to Christ.

    Especially if we’ve reached that stage where most SS lessons seem like “dead repetitions.” We need something to keep us thinking about our religion such that the concepts in religion remain alive.

    The danger is that if we merely repeat standard answers we’re no longer thinking and doctrine isn’t affecting us the same way.

    Comment by Clark — March 7, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

  3. Clark,
    Sure blogging adds an interactive aspect that stimulates our thinking and furthers the process.

    SS lessons are designed for mass consumption, if blogging fails to go beyond SS, why blog?

    Comment by Howard — March 7, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  4. Clark and Howard, that was exactly my thought.

    The complaint I often here is that you don’t need to understand the atonement to benefit from it. I agree with this, as someone who can not claim to understand the atonement completely. However, if you are not seeking out the atonement constantly, can you really be benefitting from it as well as you would otherwise?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 7, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  5. Matt,
    It is true, you do not need to understand the atonement to benefit from it. I remember trying to understand the mechanics of it, wanting to accept it but not understanding it. Can I just accept it on faith, I asked? I was instantly showered with comfort from the Spirit. I was blessed for exercising that blind faith. But my relationship with Christ grows deeper when I study and ponder the subject, not just how it works but also what it must have been like from his perspective.

    Comment by Howard — March 7, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

  6. And yes, there seems to be an unwritten order of things which says Blake, Geoff and Jacob can’t all three agree on any one given thing at any one point in time

    Har! I suppose this is largely because we bring up controversial/debatable things for discussion here. There are loads of things we all agree on at the same time though.

    I really like Clark’s comment in #2. Thinking about the gospel keeps me feeling connected to it even if that thinking comes across as ostentatious and “looking beyond the mark” to someone else. I don’t think that everyone gets value from the same things, which is why blogging is cool because those of us who get something out of it can come together across great distance.

    Experiencing the power of the atonement is my motivation for wanting to explore it and understand it. I don’t study so that it will be effective in my life, I study it because it is effective in my life. Not wanting to understand things you believe in is a foreign concept to me.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 7, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

  7. Jacob:

    That’s a really good point. I want to understand the atonement more because I’ve had a good experience with it before. I guess I think I could get more out of it if I understood more. If I didn’t think that, my interest might wane. For example, I’m pretty sure there isn’t more I could get out of my TV by understanding it’s inner workings better (I am probably wrong about this, but you know what I mean) so I live with a certain level of mystery in many aspects of my life that I totally believe in, but I think it is the belief I have that if I understood the gospel and atonement better, I’d be better for it.

    Anyway, I was really thinking about your animals post as I was writing about determinism vs free will, with the major difference being self-awareness. Do you agree with that?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 7, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

  8. I think thinking about the gospel becomes “looking beyond the mark” only when one moves from curiosity and questioning seeking to understand into the idea one has discovered dogma and its ones duty to convince everyone else. That is one is the idea of the question and tied with humility. The other is the idea of the statement with the perceived authority to teach others. That question of authority seems to be what brings one beyond the mark. Humility keeps one focused on the mark since one recognizes one hasn’t “achieved but one is still moving towards the mark. To move beyond the mark one must think one has achieved it and is stepping beyond.

    I’m far too aware of my intellectual limitations and too skeptical of my inquiries to be able to look beyond the mark.

    Comment by Clark — March 7, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  9. I was really thinking about your animals post as I was writing about determinism vs free will, with the major difference being self-awareness. Do you agree with that?

    Well, I am not perfectly clear on what you mean by self-awareness. Your basic point about intentionally choosing evil being worse than unconsciously going with the flow seems sound, but I don’t think we can throw all the things we do based on the “traditions of our fathers” as being causally determined.

    Comment by Jacob J — March 9, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

  10. Are you saying sometimes we do things based on the traditions of our fathers by our own choice, even after we know they are wrong(we become self-aware we are doing these things and that they are wrong)? Then aren’t we making a choice, and thus moving from camp A to Camp B?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 10, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  11. Matt, I appreciate the opportunity to read a number of blogs about religion. This is my first post, so please put me in correct direction on how these blogs work. In my current job there is only 1 other LDS person that I can conduct services with. Our schedules are so different that sometimes we cannot meet for 3 or 4 weeks. I have read some blogs that are very thought provoking and help me stay closer to the savior.

    I agree that these blogs can go different directions then Sunday school at home, but it is a good chance to think out loud and use someone as a sounding board for out thoughts. I encourage you to continue these blogs, because it will help you and me to continue to understand the gospel and grow closer to the Savior.

    I agree with Clark when he says that we go “beyond the mark” when we stop asking questions and start to tell others what the spirit is telling them. It is important that we allow the spirit to teach us, and one way for some of us is discussing how things work in the gospel and receiving revelation. That is what these blogs are about is trying to get in tune and receive the revelation that will help us through our daily trials and return to live with God.

    I have just one issue to discuss in regards to the idea of choices (it may have been discussed in another thread, if so please point me to the right place to comment). You said “God wants us to make a choice, however, it is better for us to be determined rather than make a bad choice.” I don’t think it is better for us to not make a choice. A big part of the plan our Father established was that we come to this earth to make choices. When we make a wrong choice (sin/transgression) God made it possible to overcome that choice and this is the Atonement. If it were better for us to be determined then Satan’s plan would have been approved and the “better” plan would have been to just make no choices. I may not be understanding your analogy here, but it is always better for us to make a choice then to be slaves. That is not the purpose of life to be slaves but to be agents.

    In the end of your paradox you say, “So making choices is better than not making choices, but making bad choices is worse.” I would disagree that making a choice is always better than not being capable of making a choice (slave). If we make a bad choice then we take advantage of the atonement. I think it is important to have the ability to make choices, because we learn from these choices (good or bad). You are correct that when we make a wrong choice we are then cut off from god and the spirit, but because of the atonement (which we are still learning how it works) we are able to learn and grow to become closer to perfection. The Atonement is so important because it is always allows us to make a choice. We always have the ability to repent and come to God and Christ. The times we can’t make a choice is when we are then not being like god. Learning to be like God is a very important, if not the purpose for this life.

    Lastly, you said that the atonement “God has set up the entire system of the atonement to improve our odds in overcoming the risks of making bad choices.” I again have to disagree with this statement. The atonement does not “improve” our odds of overcoming the risks. As we take advantage of the Atonement there are not risks to returning to live with God, we are guarnteed to live with God. This is a promise from God and Christ not a poker game of risks.
    I may be misunderstanding you “odds in overcoming risks”, but the odds are defiantly in our favor that we will overcome as long as we have faith in Christ (100%). I may not be understanding your paradox correctly and you are saying that with the atonement humanity as a whole increases our odds of more people returning, but I think you are speaking as an individual here and not humanity. Please steer me correct if I am missing your point (which could be the case).

    I appreciate the opportunity to read the different arguments and aspects of the Gospel and how they affect our daily lives. Please continue with your “ramblings” as we can all learn something from each other, no matter who that other person is.

    Comment by Todd S — March 10, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

  12. Todd: glad to have you, and thanks for your long and thoughtful response.

    Let me try and be clearer.

    1. I was rambling based on Jacob 3:9, which says:

    revile [no more] against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.

    So I was musing along the lines that the two groups were different in that one was “filthy” due to their own choice and the other filthy because of their fathers. It is true, it is important we have the freedom to choose, but we can choose then not to follow the savior. This is the risk I was talking about. In Satan’s plan, which was evil, Satan wanted to keep us in a state were we could not progress, but this state was attractive to many (1/3rd) exactly because of this, no one could progress, but there was no chance that anyone could fail or regress either. Ultimately, there paradox is, in part, that we MUST make a choice, and in that, we have no choice, because of the way life is. Eventually, everyone will reach a point where they will know they are wrong and they can either choose to repent and come unto Christ, or they can choose to turn away.

    ALso, I don’t think we take advantage of the atonement when we make a bad choice, but rather when we repent.

    Hope this clears things up.

    Comment by Matt W. — March 10, 2008 @ 4:14 pm