Another attempt at explaining the atonement.

January 12, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 12:30 am   Category: Atonement & Soteriology,Ostler Reading

This post grew out of a need to explain my discomfort with the “Parable of the Bicycle”, as well as a complaint from a friend that too often the bloggernacle refers to other older posts and does not leave room for new conversations. Because I do not wish to be critical directly of the faith of others, I have decided not to directly critique the “Parable of the Bicycle” but instead to focus on the Gospel as I understand it, as simply as I am able. In that, Mormon Culture sometimes calls for us to define salvation and exaltation as two different things, I am here asking you not to.

The words saint and sanctity both come from the same Greek root hagioi, meaning to set apart, or make holy, and entails a change of being through choices, experiences, and works. It is a process which requires the free use of agency and defines who we are in relation to God, others, and ourselves. In relation to the atonement, we typically refer to this as sanctification.

This process of sanctification is typically coupled with justification. This is often defined as an instantaneous legalistic act which declares the sinner free of sin due to the goodness of Jesus Christ. It requires no use of agency on our part, as it is Christ freely declaring us free from sin. In fact, justification comes from the Greek dikaioo meaning “to declare righteous”.

These terms, justification and sanctification are not new. Much of the New Testament, and especially the Pauline Epistles, used them often. It is from readings around these two terms that I believe much of the debate regarding faith and works has come into Christianity.

Mormonism itself has a unique view on these terms, in that the day Joseph Smith was commanded to organize his church, he was given instruction regarding them, noting both to be by the grace of God, but that sanctification additionally required action on the part of the person to realize. Also it noted that a person, though justified, was free to depart from the living God and reject his grace.

Perhaps the greatest LDS sermon to focus on this concept was given by current Apostle, D. Todd Christofferson. [1] He noted the infinite nature of eternal law, and in perhaps the most impactful moment of apostolic exegesis I’ve come across in recent memory, closed the circuit for me on a few thoughts I’ve been fumbling with in regards to the atonement.

Elder Christofferson noted that in this context , D&C 76:4 could be understood as:

“And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
“That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear [justify] the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness”

Blake Ostler has noted that Christ chooses to live in unity with us, even though, at this time, His unity to us requires that He bear our sins, and these sins cause Him pain. In the scriptures we read that those who are sanctified cannot look upon sin save it is with abhorrence. In that there is no one more holy than God, it is especially true that they would feel this aversion to sinfulness, and yet they bear these sins to be with us and live and love with us. They give up their own good for ours. They do this at no cost, and it requires no choice on our part. Even if we rejected them, they would still choose to come unto us. I propose that this is justification. Though the eternal law of cause and effect notes that sin must cause aversion, the Lord does not turn away, and removes the affects of sin (separation from God) and death (more separation from God) by choosing to step over the brink and come to our aid. He declares us righteous enough to merit his love and aid despite our imperfections.

No payment is required on our part for this aid. This rescue is completely an exercise of the Lord’s free will. Again, we can neither accept nor decline it. It is His act, not ours. I propose this is grace.

However, even though the Divine comes to us, we are not like them, and may even, in our sinfulness, be averse to them. We, being free, must choose them and choose to be like them. This is sometimes called Theosis. Due to the availability of divine guidance via justification to show us what we wish to become, we can repent. We may begin to slowly, imperfectly work to love God as he first loved us. Through this process we call the plan of salvation, and his continued interaction, we may grow to be like he is. Being like he is will make us happy, and this happiness is the object and design of existence. We call this exaltation.

And so that to me, as simply as I can express it, is how the atonement works.

[1] D. Todd Christofferson, “Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, Jun 2001, 18


  1. I’ve been thinking about this too. The question that comes to my mind based on your post is:

    Who can access His justification and grace?

    Using your approach to understanding the atonement how would you interpret the following scriptures:

    Those who have no law Nephi 9:25
    Those who seek forgiveness Alma 33:11
    Blood shall not cleanse-hear me not D&C 29:17
    Saves all except sop D&C 76:44
    Cast down to hell until…D&C 76:106

    Comment by Jared — January 12, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  2. Matt–sounds good to me. [grin]

    Comment by Clean Cut — January 12, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  3. PS: I’m also convinced that it would be more beneficial all around if we all spoke more in terms of “justification” and “sanctification” rather than merely “salvation”.

    Comment by Clean Cut — January 12, 2010 @ 11:59 am

  4. I think that is an excellent description, Matt. It is worth mentioning that justification means that the ordinary consequences of the law are suspended.

    For example, suppose there is a member of a group who is really annoying. The natural thing to avoid the irritation he inflicts would be to for the group to effectively shun, avoid and ignore him. Justification in this case would be like accepting him back into full fellowship based on awareness of his good faith effort to improve, indeed to some degree based on general principle.

    Sanctification, on the other hand, would be the process of that person developing his character so he does not irritate everyone else in the first place.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 12, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  5. Jared: The thrust of my post was that everyone can access justification and grace. There is absolutely nothing we can do to remove it from the playing field. WE may not choose to do anything with God’s grace, but that does not mean it is not available to us.

    Clean Cut: Did this clarify why I think the bicycle analogy, with our paying our little bit so we’d appreciate it, makes no sense to me? And I totally agree on the “salvation ” front.

    Mark D. Are you calling me annoying? No seriously, good point, I could have been more clear on that in the post.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 12, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

  6. Matt W–

    Got it. Thanks for the explanation. Interesting point.

    Comment by Jared — January 12, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

  7. As I understand it, the parable of the bicycle was made up as something most Mormons can understand and accept, not something that is theologically correct. I believe Robinson tried to correct it in a different book.

    As for grace, it is something that has to be accepted and one must also repent for it to take affect. But you are right, it is always being offered freely. I think Blake calls it prevenient grace.

    I really wish Mormons better understood justification, but they don’t.

    Comment by CEF — January 12, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  8. It’s important to realize that the main bone of contention in most descriptions of the atonement is what it is all about. You seem to be verging onto what some call the psychological interpretation. That is the unity is due to us chosing to be like them. Christ feels our sins because of a psychological thinking or experiencing of them. But there’s nothing else going on.

    Blake’s theory is actually stronger. He thinks there is something he call “energy” (sort of a Mormon chi or ki) that is involved. I’m actually halfway through a post discussing this so I’ll have something up on my blog.

    The other popular idea is a legal theory where laws are eternal and have to be dealt with. If a punishment is associated with the law then it has to be met. (Most these theories break down trying to explain how Jesus does this)

    There are others. But I think there really is a key disagreement over the atonement and a reason why many fall flat. Note that I don’t have a good answer. I’m very skeptical of all the ones I outlined.

    Comment by Clark — January 12, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

  9. No, Matt. If anyone has a reputation for being annoying around here it is me (smile).

    The only extension of this whole thing I am inclined to make is implicit in my example, by the way. When we sin, suffer the consequences of other’s sins, or other hardships and infirmities, I believe that the whole divine concert suffers by degrees, because they are spiritually bound together, and by justification spiritually bound with us as well.

    As the scripture says: Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink (D&C 19:18)

    That is the way I see it, with God understood both individually and as the entire divine concert.

    The scriptures say we are justified by faith through grace. God accepts us, on account of our faith, despite the suffering we cause him (and others). No works required. We are *justified* by faith and not by works. That is just the beginning of course. Sanctification clearly requires some serious effort, not only on our own behalf but on behalf of others as well.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 12, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

  10. Clark: I don’t think there is any basic disjunction between legal theories of the atonement and shared suffering theories of the atonement.

    Somebody sins and injures themselves and others. Injury leads to suffering and death. The basis of a typical justice system is to require the offender to make everyone whole again, as best as he can, by making restitution. And if not that, at least to deter him and others from committing similar acts in the future.

    Now suppose the community said, we are not going to employ this fellow until he pays his debts in full, instead we will expel him from the city. But his family or some other benefactors could come along and make payments on his behalf until he was allowed to return.

    The only way such payments can be made is if his family labors (or allocates the fruits of previous labors) on his behalf. In other words, by virtue of his relationship with them, his family is willing to justify him in the eyes of all the community, by making restitution that he himself is not in a position to make.

    Now suppose we enter a more contemporary system, and someone files for bankruptcy. In such a case the judge stands as a representative for the entire community, and justifies the debtor by wiping away all his debts. However, the consequences of those debts do not go away, and one way or another the entire community will suffer as a result. More work, less pay, inflation, interest rates, etc. There is no free lunch, right? Justification has a price.

    The place where most theories of the atonement break down is the assumption that there really is a free lunch. If that were the case neither God nor anyone else would suffer or need to suffer the consequences of sin and error. The idea of God as an infinite fount of grace with the ability to make all wounds whole (including his own) in an infinitesimal amount of time is not compatible with any vaguely scriptural theory of the atonement, or any reasonable theodicy either.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 12, 2010 @ 8:21 pm

  11. Clark, I am aware of Blake’s energy portion of his theory, and I guess I leave that in the magnum mysterium part of the process, as I don’t experientially have any way to know those things. I do experientially know Christ’s relationship with me in my life. I do truly think there is more going on than the psychological, as you put it. I even hold to some of the legality of it, in that I believe there is a universal law of cause and effect. I am not saying this post is the end all be all in the discussion. I do think that understanding the concepts of sanctification and justification are very enriching to the topic of atonement and move us further along the path.

    Mark: I intentionally used the terms “they” and “them” in the post so as to not exclude such a possibility.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 12, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

  12. I agree with the energy perspective in the sense that suffering (and ultimately death) are caused by energy (e.g. food) deprivation.

    Now if spiritual coupling is also energetic coupling, the loss of energy on the part of one leads to a loss of energy on the part of all, so long as they are spiritually coupled together. In order to keep the group from failing, one or more members of the group must make up the difference, to restore the status quo ante, or the group itself will die.

    If we looked at energy like heat, bodies like houses, and spiritual coupling like heat ducts that connected all the houses together, justification would be like keeping the ducts to a neighboring house open even though they leave the door open to the outside cold some of the time.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 12, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  13. Clark: You and Matt are both correct that there is an “energy” component to my theory of atonement. However, I am distressed that you would associate that notion with the Taoist energy of Chi (tho I like that notion as well). The notion is actually derived from Paul’s discussions of justification and what happens in the moment of entering into life in Christ.

    The actual background is the well established notion of zoe, Gree for the energy of life. That is both Paul’s and the writer(s) of the gospel of John term for what we share with the Father through being united in life with Christ. It is the life of Christ that we open to enter into us that renews us, gives us a new life and makes us over in the image of Christ. It is closely associated with Christ’s glory or doxa which is growth in this life. We are made one in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost because we share the same life or “energy.”

    In any event, that is the background of the notion of energy as I use it. Prior to repentance or the free choice to repent and accept Christ as Lord by opening our hearts to him, we are closed and this life does not enter into us fully.

    What is somewhat novel (tho not completely as I hope to show) is that we also have an energy of life, a zoe that we have been asked to share with the world by letting it shine. In atonement we commingle the energy of our lives together — this specialized sense of zoe and doxa that the scriptures speak of. What is novel about my theory is that I suggest that our life’s energy — the zoe spoken of in scripture — can cause spiritual and physical pain.

    I suggest that there are three types of problem in the notion of atonement: (1) why is the atonement necessary for sin to be eradicated? and (2) why did Jesus suffer physically and spiritually for our sins; and (3) how is Christ’s suffering efficacious in eradicating our sins. I am a bit amused when I see attempts to explain atonement that really don’t address these issues squarely. There is also a requirement for atonement explanations: they must explain why the Son suffers in a way that the Father does not to accomplish atonement.

    I agree with everything that Matt says in this post. Justification is the moment of entering into relationship and of beginning to share a common life-enegy (zoe and doxa) together. Sanctification is the process of continued growth in this life toward a fullness of glory. The completion of this process is to share a fullness of zoe and doxa and this to be deified through the process of theosis. All of this I agree with Matt and as far as it goes it is enlightening and relevant to atonement. But it does not address what I call the “hard problems” of atonement.

    Comment by Blake — January 13, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  14. Blake, I have a half finished post on your notion of energy. I think the problem is that you are reading too much of the greek metaphysics of zoe into things – especially in terms of D&C 88 – which leads to something more like Chi. (IMO) It’s possible to read Paul’s comments as referring to the spirit or simply the Christian Life as a way of being.

    Comment by Clark — January 13, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

  15. Blake: thanks for your concurrence and the “hard questions”. I was attempting for simplicity and completeness here, but apparently need to work more on my completeness.

    1) why is the atonement necessary for sin to be eradicated?

    I think this question is entirely dependent on the definition of sin. In my post, i implied, but failed to directly define sin as those things which cause abhorrence in God. It could be argued that my definition of sin is circular, and I don’t currently have a solid defense for this. After all I am saying sins are bad because God abhors them, rather than sins are abhorrent because they are bad, but I am relying on the existent of some natural law which says God must abhor some certain set of things, and thus their badness must predate their state of being abhorred. Thus with Sin defined loosely as “being offensive to God” and the atonement loosely defined as “God willing to work with us”, I think it becomes self evident why the atonement is necessary to the eradication of Sin.

    (2) why did Jesus suffer physically and spiritually for our sins?

    Are you here talking about the Gethsemane event or in general? If in general, I said “they would feel this aversion to sinfulness, and yet they bear these sins to be with us and live and love with us.” By this I hoped it would be clear that the spiritual and physical suffering involved in the atonement are caused by this aversion, or at least by choosing not to avert those things which are abhorrent. This answer may lack the depth you were hoping for, in that it does not necessarily define the suffering and pain of the atonement, but I think it unwise to try and lock it down, as it should cover the fullness of all suffering and pain in human experience.

    (3) how is Christ’s suffering efficacious in eradicating our sins?

    I think from 1 & 2, we can see this is efficacious because we gain access to divine help in overcoming those things which cause misery to ourselves which we would not otherwise be able to overcome alone.

    (4) They must explain why the Son suffers in a way that the Father does not to accomplish atonement.

    Within the confines of this post, I do not answer this question. Is there a reason to believe the Father does not suffer in some way that the son does?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 13, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  16. Here is my take:

    1) why is the atonement necessary for sin to be eradicated?

    I think Matt answered this question well enough. At-one-ment and the end of sin one towards another go hand in hand. One cannot be at one with someone he is at enmity with, and sin creates enmity, practically by definition.

    (2) why did Jesus suffer physically and spiritually for our sins?

    Because sins have consequences, the most prominent ones of which are both spiritual and physical death. Spiritual death due to the enmity that sin creates with all others and physical death in any number of cases due to the suffering that results. There can be no at-one-ment unless those consequences are reversed, which means shared effort and consequent suffering on the part of all who participate in that union. Jesus Christ is the great high priest at the head of all those who take upon themselves his name. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).

    (3) how is Christ’s suffering efficacious in eradicating our sins?

    Two parts – the sinner must fully repent, which generally requires spiritual support. Such support entails effort, acquaintance and suffering. The second part is the effort and consequent suffering to make complete and effective restitution for the consequences of the original sin.

    (4) They must explain why the Son suffers in a way that the Father does not to accomplish atonement.

    Nothing more than a matter of timing. The Father would not be the Father unless he participated and continues to participate in the same process of at-one-ment that the Son participates in.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 13, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

  17. Blake, you know that I agree with your theory to a large degree. Let me talk through the atonement scenario with you and you can show me what is missing and why what is missing is important to effect Atonement.

    Christ lives on the earth and his life is drawn into communion with the Father to the point that he shares the Father’s thoughts and desires. Christ also begins to open his life to communion with others as an extension of his budding omniscience. Once he arrives in the Garden of Gethsemane, he becomes fully aware and omniscient, experiencing the lives of all those around him and eventually experiencing the lives of all the universe. In my definition of omniscience, God experiences my life exactly as I experience it, leading to perfect understanding and true compassion. He refuses to cut himself off from the pain of full knowledge of our experiences and died while being fully engaged and omniscient. He is still fully engaged today. The pain Christ experiences is my pain (and everyone else’s) which he is unable to avoid due his decision to be fully present with my life. In this sense, Christ is at-one with me and holds the power to influence me when no others are able due to his perfect understanding and love of me by refusing to shut himself off from my experiences; though his love may be one directional most of the time.

    Christ can offer healing precisely because he can help me release the hatred and bitterness I hold onto which then heals all my relationships as he reconciles me to those I’ve hurt and those who have hurt me. He facilitates our mutual forgiveness and helps us open our hearts to the love and glory that is omnipresent. The atonement is pure grace since Christ accepts pain for knowledge of my soul, resulting in love for my soul.

    I don’t see why Christ would have to accept additional pain by accepting my zoe as a free gift I would then give (once I chose to enter into communion with Christ) since he already is fully knowledgeable. As I understand it, I would then receive Christ’s life and glory but Christ has already received my life through living it with me. I can understand him receiving new glory from me (joy in loving relationships), but not new pain.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — January 13, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  18. Matt & Mark: With respect to your answer to (1), you have it backwards it seems to me. You answer why ending sin is necessary to atonement or to be at one, not how atonement eradicates sin.

    I can’t see how either of your answers to (2) amounts to more than “Jesus feels bad that we sin.” Further, it is clear that this answer commits you to also saying that the Father, HG and all other beings who are divine also suffer in exactly the same way. In other words, Jesus didn’t atone, he was just aware of our sins and suffered the same way any divine persons would suffer as a result. That isn’t a very good answer in my book and commits you to the unpalatable consequence that Jesus’s suffering is not unique in atonement.

    Each of your answers to (3) leaves me wondering what Jesus did that any other person couldn’t do (and at times have in fact done). It also leaves me wondering what he did that really relates to sin at all. I don’t see how Matt’s “divine help” follows at all from (1) and (2). I can’t see how Mark’s suggestion that we must suffer to make restitution for Christ’s suffering makes any sense at all. If I suffer, how does that pay Christ back?

    Your responses to (4) just seem contrascriptural and frankly contra everything-we-have-been-taught-about-Jesus’s-atonement to me. Christ atoned — the Father didn’t suffer physically as the Son did. The Father didn’t render atonement, the Father accepted Christ’s atonement.

    Kent: I don’t see how anything you’ve said remotely explains Christ’s suffering except for the suggestion that in being one with us, he suffers because it is painful to be in relationship with us. That of course just is my view. I don’t understand why Christ’s sharing our lives can lead only to joy and glory and not also pain. Our life’s energy is slow and filled with the effects of sin. Thus, it is painful to enter into relationship with us to share those effects of sin that are just part of sharing our lives. Christ has no choice about it once he chooses to enter into relationship with us. It just is painful to be in relationship with us. The energy is merely the reality that a being of pure light experiences when sharing life with a being of lesser or slower light.

    Comment by Blake — January 13, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  19. Blake, I guess I didn’t make it explicit that being in a relationship with us is painful, but I did imply that and I fully agree with it. Nothing you just stated is contrary to my view and it is fully complementary. So, again I ask, is there a “new” pain that Christ feels when we repent and choose a loving relationship with him, or is it already experienced by Christ through his decision to be omniscient?

    Comment by Kent (MC) — January 13, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

  20. Kent: There is a new relationship created and we release this energy to be shared when we open to accept Christ. It is just part of entering into a relationship in a more open way. It is kinda like entering into a relationship with a person who tries real hard but keeps breaking promises to you. It is like entering into a relationship with another person but just the choice to be in relationship exposes to new risks and new pains.

    Comment by Blake — January 13, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

  21. Blake,

    based upon where the comments are heading I wanted to press your assertions a little. I have always wondered why you feel certain assertions are correct such as your assertion that our “life’s energy — the zoe spoken of in scripture — can cause spiritual and physical pain.” Why do we need this metaphysical relation?

    You listed some of the problems in the notion of the atonement and I am wondering why for example we should accept the assertion that atonement eradicates sin rather than the possibility that atonement gives us the ability to exercise faith to change or eradicate sin? Why for example should we assert that Jesus suffered physically and spiritually for our sins in some metaphysical manner rather than him suffering because of our sin or taking away sin in the singular as John writes, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World”? I understand that there are scriptures like D&C 19 and others that suggest a fair amount of suffering but I am unclear on why this has to have a metaphysical relation to our own personal sins.

    I guess where I have a hard time with your theory is that I fail to see the need for certain metaphysical aspects in the atonement. I am not saying that such things dont exist or that your theory is necessarily wrong, only that I cannot grasp why it is necessary. I lately tend to see the atonement as much more anthropological in nature if that helps at all in explaining where I am coming from.

    Comment by J. Madson — January 14, 2010 @ 1:43 am

  22. Blake: you have it backwards it seems to me. You answer why ending sin is necessary to atonement or to be at one, not how atonement eradicates sin

    To give a better answer to this question, it would help if you would define what you mean by “sin” and “eradicate”. The past is fixed, a sin committed in the past is still a sin in the past, right? So are two parts as I see it, one is curing the harms caused by the original sin, and the other is the change of character so that sins are not repeated in the future. It is not at all clear by the use of the term “eradicate” which of these three senses you are referring to.

    I can’t see how either of your answers to (2) amounts to more than “Jesus feels bad that we sin.”

    I don’t think you read very closely then. The question was “why did Jesus suffer physically and spiritually for our sins?” The answer is spiritual coupling. When two parties are spiritually coupled suffering on the part of one is suffering on the part of the other, to one degree or another. So if God withdrew his Spirit completely, we would have no benefit, and he would no longer share the burden of our suffering. This is in an entirely different category than mere “awareness”.

    I can’t see how Mark’s suggestion that we must suffer to make restitution for Christ’s suffering makes any sense at all.

    That is not what I said. I said that ultimately complete restitution for the harm caused by all sins must be made. Not restitution back to Jesus Christ, but rather restitution made by Jesus Christ and (in part) by others.

    Now, if you suppose that no other person is a necessary participant in the atonement (by virtue of mourning with those that mourn, comforting those that stand in need of comfort, suffering as a true Christian etc), then the proposition that the grace of God is sufficient to save us without any work on our part at all immediately follows.

    I call this the “Santa Claus” theory of the atonement, more commonly known as the doctrine of “Eternal Security”. Now many people (orthodox Calvnists for example) who reject Eternal Security nonetheless admit that righteousness is a pre-requisite for salvation. The difference is they say that all righteousness is to God’s credit alone, hence divine grace is the only kind of grace that exists. Arminians modify this slightly and say that a person must accept grace, but divine grace does all the work regardless.

    Either way, both orthodox Calvinists and Arminians believe that people must do something (i.e. be good) for the Atonement to take effect in their lives, and that by being good they help the Atonement take effect in the lives of others.

    So how is it that this Christian service is not a part of the atonement? No matter the accounting for divine grace plus added personal effort, the Atonement *would not happen* and *could not succeed* without those efforts.

    Now I take a relatively radical viewpoint on this and say that through the process of sanctification a person takes upon himself the name of Christ and comes to participate in the atonement the same way Christ does. I call it the “distributed atonement” for short, and it is a key part of my conception of the “divine concert”.

    Of course if one does not accept that “Christ” can ultimately properly refer to more than one person, such an assertion is seriously problematic. I believe there is evidence all over the scriptures for it, however, and even in the temple.

    For example, Paul says “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1).

    Now tell me, why in the world should anyone make any such sacrifice if it doesn’t actually do any good? And how can anything good *not* be considered part of the great Atonement?

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2010 @ 6:30 am

  23. J. Madson: First, I don’t know what you mean by “metaphysical relation.” the notion of Christ suffering isn’t metaphysical. It is physical. The reason for insisting that he suffered physically for our sins is very clear: the scriptures are pellucidly clear that Christ bled from every pore so great was his suffering as a result of bearing our sins. I know that is uncomfortable (isn’t it supposed to be?) Further, there is a clear relationship: Christ suffers as a result of our sins and it isn’t just the kind of empathetic psychological suffering that any other omniscient being would suffer in knowing that we sin — otherwise each and every one of the divine persons undergoes atoning in the same way.

    Look at D&C 19 again:

    16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
    17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
    18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
    19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
    20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.

    Say what you will — Christ suffered both spiritually and physically because he bore the pain of our sins. Now what does that mean to you? The only relation on which I insist is that the suffering of Christ in atonement is the result of “bearing” our sins in his body — as these scriptures say. Now this is important: IF YOU DON’T CARE TO MAKE SENSE OF THESE SCRIPTURES ABOUT ATONEMENT, THEN WHY BOTHER WITH A NOTION OF ATONEMENT AT ALL?

    The second reason is that the scriptures are also pellucidly clear that Christ bears our sins — he is wounded by our sins.

    Hebrews 9:28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many,

    1 Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

    Matthew 8:17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.”

    Alma 7 11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
    12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
    13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

    Christ suffered “according to the flesh” in “bearing” our sins. If that is a “metaphysical” kind of suffering to you, then so be it. But just a note — I don’t know what you mean by “metaphysical” when you use it this way.

    Comment by Blake — January 14, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  24. Blake: While I understand your commitment to “zoe”, I simply suggest all the evidence, as I understand it, points toward it being a figurative explanation for the actual physical reality I have tried to lay out.

    Let me try and be more explicit on (1) how atonement helps eradicate sin. First, we could not change our behavior (eradicate our sinfulness) by ourselves. Second, We could not have help without God being at one with us.

    (2)- Your saying that my solution denies a uniqueness to Christ’s suffering. I can see why that’s a legitimate complaint. I’ll think on it.

    (3)- You are correct, in that I think we have the capacity to be at-one with others, like Jesus. I just think we, being sinful creatures, can not be as deeply at one with another as Jesus could. I also think we, being limited beings, would not be able to be at-one at the Macro level which Jesus was able to accomplish. I do think Jesus would like us to emulate his atonement in a practical since to the capacity we are able, by seeking out loving and indwelling relationship s with those around us. (Like in the book, the Peacegiver)

    (4)- I believe any scriptures which say the son suffered and the father didn’t are referential to the Gethsemane Event.

    Anyway, I’m out of time, but keep the comments coming folks.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 14, 2010 @ 8:00 am

  25. Matt W: First, we could not change our behavior (eradicate our sinfulness) by ourselves. Second, We could not have help without God being at one with us.

    Both of these assertions seem quite false to me. Why couldn’t we change by ourselves? I get help all the time from people who aren’t one with me.

    Comment by Blake — January 14, 2010 @ 8:20 am

  26. I agree with Matt W’s first point. While Jacob is talking about the physical body and resurrection I believe his argument is perfectly applicable to human nature.

    Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. (2 Nephi 9:7)

    Or as another more contemporary philosopher once wrote, “If all we ever did were to regurgitate our prior categories of thought or fixed framework of beliefs, then there could never be anything novel or creatively new things. (Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment)

    In of ourself, we cannot change. We have to have an external help for our corruption to be altered. This is the function of the atonement. The Savior descended below all things – being incorruptible he exposed himself to all corruption and conquered them and acquired the power whereby he could assist us.

    Comment by A. Davis — January 14, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  27. Blake, let me see if I understand you correctly in comment #20. The idea that Christ suffers because he knows me perfectly makes complete sense, his knowledge of my experience is personal because he experiences my life as I experience it.

    Now here is how I am understanding you: when I enter into a relationship with him I open my heart to his glory and he receives my glory in return and we are edified together. As I depreciate my relationship with Christ it causes him a new pain because it is specific to our mutual relationship and I have hurt him personally. He is not experiencing my pain, but rather his own pain which I am causing due to my indifference to his love and our relationship.

    Now, I do understand that this is what the Sons of Perdition do and crucify him anew with full knowledge of the impact of their actions on Christ. What I’m still uncertain about is whether you are asserting that Christ is taking upon him “new” pain that he did not already experience when we choose to enter a relationship with him APART from that interpersonal relationship.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — January 14, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  28. Mark, I agree with you that the Father suffered with the Son, though not in the flesh. With the Father’s perfect knowledge how could he not know what Christ experienced? The call to Godhood is the call to embrace knowledge, and mortal existence is knowledge of pain and suffering. The Buddha got that one absolutely right. Attachment to anything that is not God/Christ will cause additional suffering apart from the suffering of the flesh.

    So, I agree with the proposition that as one joins the chorus of gods one experiences all the pain in the universe as well. Fortunately, the joy and love of that chorus certainly does overwhelm and mitigate that pain.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — January 14, 2010 @ 9:58 am


    First reaction (depending on how literally one reads the scriptures concerned), is that there are a number of comparable scriptures about the Garden of Eden, forbidden fruit, no death before the (very recent) fall, and so on that any rational interpretation of which might provoke the reaction “If you don’t care to make sense of these scriptures, why bother with any notion of the Fall at all?”

    Personally, I agree that Jesus Christ did and does suffer in both body and spirit, and that such suffering on his part and on the part of other divine persons is a necessary part of the Atonement.

    I have a few basic problems: one is causality, which effectively prevents suffering that Jesus performed during his mortal life from having any non-exemplary effect on the people who preceded him on the earth. That pretty much rules out the all suffering in three days theory.

    The second is the idea that suffering per se has any beneficial causal effect to anyone anywhere. That doesn’t make any sense. If nothing else is accomplished, suffering is useless. Sadism, masochism, whatever you want to call it. So the question is what exactly is going on that causes Christ to suffer and what process is coincident with his suffering that provides a benefit to anyone? I claim that Christ suffers *in the process* of providing spiritual support to others.

    The third problem is the much more complicated issue of having one person do all work while everyone else becomes like him without having to lift a finger. That goes for all other exalted persons as well.

    As long as we are talking about Christ suffering *in his body* and Christians suffering *in his name*, we might well ask who / what the body of Christ is anyway. Paul says “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Cor 12:27).

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2010 @ 10:15 am

  30. Kent: So, I agree with the proposition that as one joins the chorus of gods one experiences all the pain in the universe as well. Fortunately, the joy and love of that chorus certainly does overwhelm and mitigate that pain.

    Yes. I think Moses 7 is the best explication of this idea in the scriptures, especially with regard to the Father and the Son.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  31. Blake. #23

    let me clarify

    I agree that Christ obviously suffers physically not only the cross but in the garden (whether this is primarily spiritual or mental with physical manifestations, the point remains there is physical suffering).

    Now, where I am not sure I can follow you, although I think your theory is much better than most traditional atonement models, is that this suffering actually has some direct relationship through a physical tie (zoe or some force) as you describe it. I fail to see the need for that? Is perfect understanding in that moment not enough to cause suffering, even physical? What of the anguish of knowing what he would endure up to and on the cross?

    What i meant by metaphysical, perhaps a poor choice of word, is this connection you seem to make: that when we enter relationship with Christ there is an actual cosmic/physical zoe or some tether between us and him. You state that “Christ suffers as a result of our sins and it isn’t just the kind of empathetic psychological suffering that any other omniscient being would suffer in knowing that we sin — otherwise each and every one of the divine persons undergoes atoning in the same way.” I think that if we limit the atonement to just knowing then perhaps you would be correct but I dont see why we would narrow it to just that. I think we are all invited to participate in at-one-ment and that a major role of the spirit/parakletos is to help us understand the accused, the victims, etc. Granted, Girardian thought has influenced me heavily here and I see the atonement more about revelation of the nature of God and a revelation of man’s collective sin.

    D&C 19 is an important scripture to quote on this matter but again I fail to see the connection in 19 that Christ suffered both spiritually and physically because he bore the pain of our sins. It doesnt say that necessarily does it? It says to me that Christ suffered so that we wouldnt have to, if we repent. This can simply mean that if we learn from him and exercise faith to change then we will not have to suffer like he did. I see this suffering as a natural consequence of sin, not some cosmic punishment or pain. Many suffer as innocent victims, others as victimizers, but it seems again that the way out of this mess is to repent and learn from his revelation. I again, dont see the need to have some sin/energy transfer.

    I am not seeking to ignore the scriptures and not make sense of them, I just dont think they require the assumed reading we have.

    Comment by J. Madson — January 14, 2010 @ 11:24 am

  32. Blake,

    maybe I can come at this another way. I reject satisfaction, penal, etc theories of the atonement. I presented on this at sunstone and that in my view, all of these theories obfuscate the true nature of deity and present us a Father who is not very fatherly and in direct contrast to Jesus’ teachings on the nature of God, teaches a retributive/violent form of justice as opposed to the restorative justice God uses (alma 41), and in turn allows us to justify, incorrectly, all sorts of violent and other behavior because of this obfuscation about the nature of God.

    I see no problem at all in your theory from this standpoint. In fact, I mentioned in my presentation that your theory is a very thoughtful, more likely, and less problematic theory. I guess what gives me pause about it, is my failure to see the need for some actual spirit/energy connection. Maybe I am misunderstanding you on this point and making more of it than there is. I also wonder if part of my reaction to such is that I fear that if we emphasize such a connection, which I am currently agnostic but more against than not, then do we run the risk of again failing to see that Jesus was not just suffering in some unique, universal way but just as importantly trying to reveal God’s nature and make profound important statements about relationships with others from family, community, to even among nations and others.

    Comment by J. Madson — January 14, 2010 @ 11:46 am

  33. Matt W., thanks for the great posting. I’ve been given a lot to think about here by you and others.

    Here are a few of my thoughts to add.
    First, I’ve been thinking for years now that we make the atonement seem more mystical than it is. I’m not trying to detract from its significance, just saying that we could understand it better if we made more of an effort (as you are doing here). I think many of us think that the atonement happens somehow by means that we are incapable of understanding, as if by magic. My feeling has been that part of the way it works is as follows. When we are baptized, part of what we are agreeing to do when we agree to obey Christ’s commandments is to forgive everyone else for their sins against us. And because we believe Christ, we also believe it when he says that he will not forgive us unless we forgive each other. Since we believe him, and because we keep our baptismal covenant to do what he says, we do forgive each other (which is likely a process that continues into the next life). Forgiving each other is part of what is required for us to “become one” with each other. This is because, as has already been pointed out here, you can’t become one with someone until you have forgiven them and they have forgiven you. Once we have completed the process of becoming one, which also entails personal relationships where sin has ended, all the suffering will have ended and the atonement will be complete. I’m not saying this will happen any time soon, just that I believe Christ when he says that it WILL happen. Therefore, we all suffer with each other, and Christ suffers with us for as long as it takes to “become one” with each other and with him.

    Another more radical thought has to do with near-death experiences—but I doubt I’m the first to have had this thought. Some of the people who have had life reviews during a near-death experience say that they felt not only their own pain but also the pain they had caused others during their lives. Some of them also say that Christ was there with them, and that he was seeing what they saw, feeling what they felt, and experiencing what they experienced, right along with them. So as they felt the pain of (caused by) their sins, so did he. Perhaps this could shed some light on the mechanism by which Christ suffered or suffers for our past sins. I’ve envisioned the mechanism for his suffering for our past sins in the garden of gethsemane as possibly the same as a near death experience, but one that he had with all those who had already died, thus beginning his suffering for our past sins, which suffering for past sins he will continue to feel with each of us when it is our turn to die and have our life review. This is speculation of course, but if true, it would help to explain, in part, some of the questions that have been raised here.

    Another simpler and less radical explanation for Christ’s suffering for our past sins is that we all suffer for past sins until, by forgiving, we let go of the pain we are suffering. People hate each other and wars are fought over past sins. So, the suffering continues until there is forgiveness. At some point in the distant future, after we have all forgiven each other, our suffering and Christ’s suffering for our past sins will end.

    I really liked Kent’s remark, “Christ can offer healing precisely because he can help me release the hatred and bitterness I hold onto which then heals all my relationships as he reconciles me to those I’ve hurt and those who have hurt me.” I think that one sentence eloquently sums up the goal of the atonement and the mechanism by which it works.

    Sorry for being so long-winded.

    Comment by Bill B. — January 14, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

  34. Wow lots of traffic. A few brief comments.

    1. While there are clearly similarities between the penal theory and the idea of repairing negative consequences in practice they are quite different. While the penal theory perhaps includes the idea that you have to repair your own damage in general penal theories have a punishment. And it is just inherently unjust for one person to suffer an other’s punishment whereas we generally see helping someone repair damage as quite positive. So the distinction of repair as punishment versus repair as charity is huge. (IMO)

    2. The main issue isn’t Jesus suffering for sin but rather the particular narrative of the NT (or in LDS expansions, the role of Gethsemene) If suffering was merely Jesus suffering because he loved us that would be fine. It’s just that’s not what the scriptures present as important. As Blake noted the issue of the uniqueness of Christ is very important here as well. There is a more Pelegian view of the atonement as Christ suffering to more or less catch our attention. That is as a kind of pedagogy. I’m really skeptical such a view can be resolved with Mormon theology and scripture.

    3. While I’m skeptical of Blake’s use of “life” or zoe I do think one has to see something real and not just psychological in the atonement and something more than just repairing consequences.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

  35. Clark- I am not sure what you mean by “real” vs. “psychological”. Why do you consider my approach purely psychological? Why is something that occurs in the mind not real to you? I am suggesting that the atonement is perpetual divine assistance due to an indwelling relationship with the Father. I don’t see that as merely psychological or “just repairing consequences”. Think of it more as an extension out of Jacob’s concept that the atonement generates the light of Christ.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 15, 2010 @ 8:55 am

  36. Matt, in philosophy the realism/anti-realism debate is precisely about whether entities are in the mind or out of it. See the SEP</a?

    Comment by Clark — January 15, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  37. Clark: in philosophy the realism/anti-realism debate is precisely about whether entities are in the mind or out of it

    I think the issue is a little bit more subtle than that. The question is whether a thing exists and has definite properties independent of what anyone thinks about it. Anything you can be wrong about is real in some sense. And one can certainly be wrong about what someone else is thinking, for example.

    I am sure you know all that and more of course, and probably agree.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 15, 2010 @ 11:34 am

  38. I think that the claim that the Atonement is more than psychological is roughly equivalent to the claim that more is going on than can be represented in mental and emotional terms alone.

    Any transfer of energy, including spiritual energy, anything that drains the capacity of the brain or the body, any labor, any restitution, any service, any healing, in fact pretty much anything that requires significant effort.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 15, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  39. Mark D. and Clark- Since the atonement involves not just forgiveness of sin, but also resurrection and transfer of wisdom, I believe reducing it to mental or emotional terms is impossible. I am here singularly attempting to focus on the “sin” portion of the atonement. That said, since I hold in my original post that there are natural sempiternal laws of cause and effect which physically require abhorrence on the part of the righteous to the sinful state of others, I think it is reasonable to say this effect is not merely psychological.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 15, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  40. Mark, I don’t think being able to be wrong entails realism. After all there are truths of existence and truths of agreement. Now of course you can say “person X believes Y.” But that is a different kind of truth from a claim that merely depends upon someone believing Y. I like the way Peirce handles this. He says the real is what doesn’t depend upon what any finite group thinks about the claim. But all this is getting into the meta discussion of what the anti-realism/realism debate consists of. (The very nature of the debate has been debated – such as by Dummett who I think got a lot wrong)

    Matt, I think the issue is more than that. We all agree that the resurrection entails a physical change and Mormons tie that to the Atonement. Rather the question is whether overcoming sin entails more. More particularly the focus is on what Christ did. While clearly Mormons believe in the resurrection by God’s power tying that to what Christ did in his mortality and death is a bit trickier. And I don’t the Mormon theology has remotely come to grips with this. (Although the traditional folk view emphasizing Gethsemene as Christ experiencing our experiences points in a direction)

    Comment by Clark — January 15, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

  41. BiLL_ Just a quick note — I like your comments.

    Comment by Blake — January 16, 2010 @ 10:49 am

  42. Matt: What is the “Gethsemane event” in which the Son atones but the Father does not as you see it?

    Comment by Blake — January 16, 2010 @ 11:54 am

  43. Clark, I claim that a “belief” (not “what is believed in”), as instantiated in a single mind is real. Such a belief is “in the mind”, and its existence and properties are things one can be wrong about. William of Ockham asserted as much.

    I happen to think that sufficiently well defined universals (i.e. universals defined with mathematical precision) are real in the sense that one can be wrong about them. But that is certainly a different order of reality compared to anything with an existence that is necessarily materialized in time and space.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 16, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

  44. Mark, right. I think we agree upon that. I think we have to distinguish between the belief and the instantiation. I also am somewhat a scholastic realist although to me what is key isn’t the mathematization but rather whether the structure exists independent of any finite community of believers. The reason I make the distinction I make is I think beliefs can become real structures independent of the finite community of believers as matter itself takes upon itself a habit. That is the standard pragmatic view of real “universals.” (I put that in quotes since pragmatists allow exceptions)

    Comment by Clark — January 16, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  45. By the way, Clark, I couldn’t agree more with your first point in #34. Punishment and restitution (or repair) are entirely different things. The idea that somebody out there has to be “punished” for any given sin is wrong.

    The idea of the Atonement as a transfer of punishment is nonsense, because there is no added value in punishing the wrong person. There is no added value in punishing the right person either, if that person is sincerely repentant. Quite the opposite.

    Restitution, on the other hand, whether made by the offender or by a third party is not punishment. If I slide off the road and damage a parked car, it is not punishment for me to be required to repair the damage. If I were virtually penniless at the time and unable to pay, the car would still have to be repaired. So a key question here is what is my moral obligation to the community at large if someone else pays for the damages I caused? What if the Savior pays (spiritually) for the emotional damage, hardship and suffering I caused? Even though what I did was no sin?

    Comment by Mark D. — January 16, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  46. Yesterday, I didn’t have time to write any comment, but I printed the all of your comments and read them before walking home from the library. I rejoiced in spirit all of the way home. It warmed my heart and soul to hear my brothers’ earnest endeavors to make real sense of the atonement.

    I too believe that deity works by real means. Jesus felt some kind of “virtue” or energy flow from him when a woman with faith to be healed of an “issue of blood” touched him.

    It seems to me that when the powers of heaven channel certain resources to a particular end, then those resources are not simultaneously available for other purposes. Decisions have to be made about how to manage the resources of heaven.

    Here on earth, a bishop has the vast resources of the church more or less at his disposal. Some members actually wonder why the bishop would have to be guarded in dispensing assistance, since to them it appears that the resources of the church are limitless. Indeed if 99.9 percent of bishops were prudent in managing the resources of the church, a few bishops might (for a time) get away with lavishing resources on a few people, who would then feel justified in their expectations.

    My point is that I think that the atonement has to square with this reality, and I think that Mark D. has done the best service to this idea, though nobody has contradicted it, which is a miracle, since it is hard to find any discussion about the atonement without implicit wand waving magic that assumes that the resources of heaven need no management.

    Infinite resources can be squandered by infinite waste.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — January 16, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  47. Confusion about the atonement often comes from taking its poetic metaphors beyond the limits of their relevance, especially the metaphors of “by his stripes we are healed,” and “by his blood we are ransomed.”

    Even the best metaphor, that he has become a father to us, or spiritually begotten us as we are born again, could be taken too far by a sufficiently determined person.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — January 16, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

  48. Someone pointed out that although Christ has a unique (to this world) role in the atonement, others can become “Saviors on Mount Sion” by taking upon us the name of Christ and following Him in the great work of assisting our fellow beings in their progress towards their eternal potential.

    Now here’s something that hasn’t been mentioned yet, and I think it goes along way to explaining the uniqueness of the role of Jesus as the Christ:

    Someone had to be willing to take responsibility for carrying out the entire plan of salvation for this world. Jehovah accepted that calling and was foreordained to it in the pre-earth existence. But just as any other person foreordained for a role in the plan, he retained his agency, and could have rejected this role after feeling the realities of the flesh.

    It seems to me that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was asked to renew his commitment to be responsible for the salvation of this world so long as there remained one creature left upon it to be saved.

    Jesus had been alive long enough to know first hand all of the humiliations, disappointments, and other emotions and pains and vicissitudes of the flesh.

    Now he was given a graphic vision of all of the physical and spiritual messes that he would be in charge of healing, i.e. all of the broken stuff (including relations) that needed at-one-ment.

    The Father called him to be the one in charge of this infinite work of at-one-ment. He didn’t feel adequate to the task. Nevertheless, he drank the bitter cup by giving his unbreakable word, “Thy will be done.”

    In other words, the last and great sacrifice was the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

    Nothing can make a man sweat blood like taking on an infinite responsibility, and wondering perhaps if anybody else is going to pitch in and help with the work.

    The work is not t o be done by wand waving. It is done be real work. Jesus promised that the work would get done. He bears the entire responsibility. But he has asked us to help him.

    His yoke is light because working together with like minded spirits is supremely enjoyable. When we take his yoke upon us, we are yoked together with him.

    Both Nephi and Moroni commented that He spoke to them as one man speaketh to another. Moroni said, “He spoke in plain humility …”

    Comment by Forest Simmons — January 16, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  49. Notice that I never mentioned the word “sin” in my discussion of the atonement. It seems to me that the term has accrued so many different layers of meaning for different people that it just gets in the way of communicating an understanding of how the atonement works.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — January 16, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

  50. For a miniature prototype of the the atonement read Alma’s intercessory prayer before his mission to the Zoramites:

    Alma 31: 2, 24-26, 30-35
    2 For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.
    • • •
    24 Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.
    25 Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride.
    26 And he lifted up his voice to heaven, and cried, saying: O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?

    [he enumerates the heart rending wickedness of the people.]
    • • •
    30 O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.
    31 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people.

    [He knows as Christ knew that undertaking this mission will require great “compassion,” which means “suffereing together.”]

    32 O Lord, wilt thou comfort my soul, and give unto me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me—yea, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and also Amulek and Zeezrom and also my two sons—yea, even all these wilt thou comfort, O Lord. Yea, wilt thou comfort their souls in Christ.
    33 Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people.

    [Like Christ, he has no doubt of the afflictions entailed by the great work.]

    34 O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.
    35 Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — January 16, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  51. Another great compassion (joint suffering) scripture is

    Rom. 8: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

    Fifteen years ago when our last child was a Junior in High School, my wife expressed a desire to have one more child; having found the restored gospel, she wanted an opportunity to raise a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

    I had mixed feelings. I was kind of looking forward to the empty nest syndrome for various (not entirely selfish) reasons.

    Thinking of all of the compadecimiento (compassion or joint suffering)entailed by parenthood, I shrank from the bitter cup. Nevertheless (glory be to my wife and to the Lord) I said, “Thy will be done.”

    We ended up getting wonderful twin girls to raise in our old age!

    Any suffering has been swallowed up in the joy of the Lord.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — January 16, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  52. I just want to apologize for not giving this thread the attention it deserves. Life seems to have invaded on the space I have for blogging at the moment. I owe everyone from Comment 21 on a good reading and response, but just do not have the time at the moment. I do appreciate your thoughts, and enjoy sharing/learning with you. Again, I am sorry for not getting to you in a timely fashion.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 18, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  53. Bill B.(33)- While I am a horrible NDE skeptic, I agree with everything you said. Thanks for participating. I think that forgiving and letting go are part of the sanctification process of the atonement as described in the OP.

    Clark(40)- I agree, which is why in 39 I said “I hold in my original post that there are natural sempiternal laws of cause and effect which physically require abhorrence on the part of the righteous to the sinful state of others, I think it is reasonable to say this effect is not merely psychological” In any case, when diving into this question of Zoe and energy transference, I guess I have to go with the fact that I don’t see any way it changes my practical approach to the atonement. I guess I am looking for a way to accurately and simply explain the atonement without setting up false paradigms of how it works and what we need to do in order to benefit from it. I think Penal Substitution and Cheap Grace theories set up false understandings of what is required for the atonement to work, and thus deprive us the full benefits of it. I do not see, on the other hand, what added benefits we receive from an understand of some form of metaphysical/metaphorical “zoe”

    Comment by Matt W. — January 19, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  54. Blake(42)- The Son bled physically from every pore, the Father did not. I’m not sure what you are driving at, can you elaborate?

    Forest (46-51): I honor your enthusiasm to discuss, and so am leaving your comments up, but you wrote so much and in so many different directions, I’m not quite sure how to respond. I do definitely agree that analogies and metaphors often obfuscate more than clarify when thinking about theology, and especially in regards to the atonement.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 19, 2010 @ 11:32 am