When I picked up my manual to prepare to teach Gospel Doctrine this Sunday, I figured it would be a lesson about the spirit of Elijah (second week = section 2 = turning hearts, etc). I was surprised and delighted to find that Lesson 2 is instead about the atonement, highlighting powerhouse passages in Doctrine & Covenants sections 19, 76, 88, and 93. While reading the material I was reminded of a favorite quote from Chieko Okazaki on the topic and had a hankering to share it.
We know that on some level Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything–absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means Jesus knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer–how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student-body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked, and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.
The passage continues on, highlighting the fact that Jesus understands the suffering unique to women even though he is a man. This is a topic for another post (check Blog Segullah on Sunday if you’re interested). What I want to focus on right now is this line: It’s our faith that he experienced everything–absolutely everything.
That’s my faith. Is it yours? Why, or why not?
Doesn’t Jacob say the same thing in 2 Nephi 9:21?
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. “
Of course. How else could he succor those who come unto him?
Its not my faith, but it is my belief.
1) If the experience of mortality is valuable or instructive, more complete experience could be more valuable and more instructive.
2) Christ puts all things under his feet. This could mean confronting and overcoming every possible temptation and trial, which could only be done if he shares in our tempations and trials.
3) D&C 50 implies that spiritual communion includes sharing the consciousness, or qualia of experience.
4) 2 Nephi 9:21 doesn’t go as far as Sister Okazaki, but it goes pretty far. What she describes is a pretty plausible interpretation of what 2 Nephi 9:21 is talking about, with plausible extensions.
5) Sister Okazaki seems to think that’s our faith, and while I don’t think she can definitively and finally pronounce on what our faith is, she should be taken seriously.
6) Christ understands me from the inside.
As a Trinitarian who believes in the two natures of Christ, the biggest problem I have with the blockquote from the post is that it makes Jesus out to be a superman instead of a God-man. In other words, I want to be careful not to make his humanity anything more than humanity, and his deity anything less than deity. The human nature doesn’t experience a kind of omniexperientialism. When Jesus died on the cross, nowhere in the Bible does it speak of this happening on the cross. Rather, the value was that the righteous, sinless Lamb of God, in the human flesh, was sacrificed and cursed on the cross as a substitute for us.
Sorry, I mistyped, “When Jesus died on the cross, nowhere in the Bible does it speak of this happening on the cross.”
I meant to say, “When Jesus sweat in the garden and died on the cross, nowhere in the Bible does it speak of this omniexperience happening.”
Alma 7:11-12. I am teaching this lesson on Sunday, too, to the older teenagers. I will look to comments here for ideas. Keep ’em coming.
Dachau was a concentration camp but not a death camp and therefore did not have gas chambers. That I would notice something like this is good evidence that I am a stunted human being with a shriveled, twisted soul.
Re: #4–To our Trinitarian friend: We believe that Jesus is the Christ, both born into the flesh and the literal Jehovah. Typical formulations of the Trinitarian creeds assert that God is omniscient. That means that god “knows” all of these individual facts of the lives of each person who has or will ever live. To claim otherwise would be to claim a limit to God’s knowledge. While another part of the standard creeds is to assert with Aristotle that God has no emotions, since emotions would make God changeable, and God must not change or he cannot be perfect, if one takes this very human deduction too seriously, then there is a whole, infinite realm of knowledge which God cannot have, which God is barred from ever acquiring. Certainly the Bible does not assert that God lacks emotions. It describes God as loving the entire world (John 3:16), as well as being angry at evil. The notion that emotions are an aspect of imperfection is a wholly human notion, not one that God uses to described himself.
Indeed, the New Testament could not be more explicit about the reality of the suffering experienced by Christ. Docetism, the notion that Jeus did not really suffer in his physical body, was an early heresy that was roundly rejected by Christianity. Yet it seems to come in the back door when Christians insist that (a) God cannot suffer, (b) Christ suffered, but (c) Christ is God. Proposition (a) is a human assertion based on fallible human logic, while (b) and (c) are the plain proclamations of scripture. Since these three statements produce a paradox, and (a) is human in origin, it is clear that (a) must be rejected in order to affirm the basic assertions of the gospels and the epistles.
Several Protestant theologians have adopted the “Open God” theory of God’s nature, and rejected the passionless aspect of the God of the creeds, precisely because the mission of God, as manifest in Christ, cannot be fulfilled without the love that begets pain in the lover, God, when his children suffer. It may have pleased some ancient church leaders to portray God as if he were a distant, dispassionate emperor, but there is no way such a character can be the same person as the suffering Son and the loving Father depicted in the Bible.
Following the verses cited by others, I have suggested that the simplest way to understand the Atonement is that God’s infinite knowledge, added to God’s infinite love, equals an infinite compassion. We know that Christ’s compassionate pain was greater than the sum of all humanity’s pain because it contains and encompasses every individual’s pain. If God truly loves us all, then He cannot avoid feeling that pain, not because He is limited, but precisely because He is both infinite and loving. And that was experienced by the Son as He performed his atoning sacrifice, becoming each of us and bearing the guilt of each of us, so that He could suffer in our stead, offering a gift that would be effective for each of us as we acknowledge our debt to Him. Just as the sacrificial lamb must first be “ordained” as the substitute for the person offering the sacrifice, Christ in Gethsemane assumed our identity and our guilt, and on the cross suffered the penalty for our sins as our vicarious substitute. (See D&C 19 and 45.)
Also to our Trinitarian friend: I am not a trinitarian, but I do not think that rejection of the belief that Jesus suffered everything in his Passion is necessarily Doceticism. Nor do I think that Mormon doctrine requires that belief. Indeed, I hope not, since I don’t believe it.
That was an amazing post, and it earned you a new RSS subscriber. Keep up the good work!
I have a hard time thinking that Jesus Christ felt the actual pains of childbirth. He is not male. I don’t believe he could feel female. However, I don’t think it’s necessary either. I think he suffered for all in the sense that we all have the pains and suffering of the human condition–and if you all boil it down, it doesn’t vary so much.
I like Blake Ostler’s theory of atonement which also espouses that Jesus became at-one with us in a way which makes our experiences his experiences, but that it isn’t limited to the Garden of Gethsemane, it is his way of relating to us in the present as well. In that sense, he does feel the pains of childbirth with the only distinction being that he knows it isn’t his own pain but someone else’s. I’ll get a quote from his 2nd book and post it here later.
Why does it have to be so difficult. Obviously mortals who are totally mortal cannot experience what Jesus suffered. However, can a mortal enter the Holocaust Museum and come out without a feeling of loss. Can anyone stand in front of the Vietnam Memorial wall and not feel bereft. Is there an finite number of events such as loss, betrayal, physical infirmities etc. that it is possible to suffer everything man suffers without experiencing my personal arthritis. According to Russell Means, the Native American activist, the manhood rituals of some of the tribes such as cutting and whipping and other self torture are attempts to teach the braves what it is like to be a mother and to experience the pain of child birth. Do they forget as quickly as a new mother forgets?
I think the belief that Christ suffered each individuals personal anguish over the loss of things dear and persons greatly loved and each individuals personal despair over betrayal by persons once trusted is for many people comforting. That is a good thing. So let them believe what they will.
D & C 101:29 speaking of the millennial era says “And there shall be no sorrow because there is no death.” It is my belief that living in mortality, the totality of it from birth to death with all its attendant vicissitudes, is part of the experience of Gethsemane. The difference is in degree. While I think my individual suffering is included in Sister Okazaki’s statement I do not think it means it happened by some mysterious metaphysical means.
It is not part of my faith, and I don’t really understand why I would care. In fact, this particular doctrine strikes me as a relatively recent innovation. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember this idea being taught much 30 years ago.
Regardless of whether or not it is a modern innovation, this idea does nothing for me. I don’t care if Jesus somehow experienced the pain of addiction or the loss of a student body election. My daughter lost a student body election, and it would never have occurred to me to say “Don’t feel bad, Jesus felt the pain of losing an election too”. In fact, I think this idea almost trivializes the atonement. Whether or not Jesus somehow experienced these pains doesn’t change anything. The slaves were still slaves, the holocaust victims still suffered the torture of the holocaust, and the failed student body candidate still feels the same disappointment. So why would it matter if all of that pain was still somehow felt by him also?
I think of the atonement as something that repairs my relationship with God. I don’t see how it has having anything to do with losing student body elections or even the much more serious pains of slavery.
Given the timeline it is hard for me to comprehend or believe that he felt every experience man would ever feel. More likely that he felt every emotion and pain that man is capable of feeling. I have always believed he paid the price of sin losing an election or a family member getting cancer is not a sin. I agree with Gary this trivializes the sacrifice made to try to link it him gaining experience rather than what he said it was and what the scriptures teach. Christ may have experienced similar let downs and trouble in his life as we do but I can’t see connecting that to Gethsemane.
#13 I agree. Just because there is someone in the Universe who is super empathetic, or even perfectly empathetic even, I’m not sure what that buys me. Some of the suffering must be suffering in time. Boredom for example. Was Christ super bored and watching the clock waiting for work to end? This idea that he experienced everything during the atonement (whatever that could mean) does not make sense to me. That he can experience it with me now, maybe that makes sense. So it’s not my Faith and I don’t believe it.
2 Nephi 19:21 and Alma 7:11-12 say that Christ suffered our pains, not just that he suffered the pain of our sins. You need to deal with this fact somehow. And while you don’t have to agree with S. Okazaki, you should take her more seriously than you are doing.
I take her quite seriously. I think she is a terrific leader and speaker. I just disagree, and I think it is a stretch to read those two verses of scripture as implying that Jesus experienced everything, ranging from lost student body elections to the holocaust. I think that the atonement is about reconciling us to God, and I don’t see any reason in scripture or logic to layer on to that doctrine this idea Jesus actually experienced everything that each of us experiences.
I believe Jesus suffered everything we experience at its most extreme. I believe nobody has suffered anything more severe than what he suffered. I’m not going to dismiss anyone else’s view about the Atonement, because, in the end, I think it’s semantics – and I’m not going to reduce the Atonement into a debate about semantics.
I also believe the Atonement stretches from the pre-mortal existence past mortality, but that’s for a different post.
I don’t see how it has having anything to do with losing student body elections or even the much more serious pains of slavery.
To me, it’s about knowing that no matter what the source of my pain, “major” or “minor” I can know that there is always Someone who understands. I don’t see that as trivializing the atonement at all, but magnifying the kind of love God and His Son have for us. If They keep track of lost hair, fallen sparrows, and lilies of the field, why not student body elections or other parts of our lives that affect us? I am stunned that He cares about the little things in my life as well as my eternal salvation. I have felt Their presence and help too often in the seemingly little things of mortality to not be able to believe this.
“Surely He has born our griefs, and carried our sorrows….”
As I think about specific instances in the Savior’s life and ministry as well, I think there are evidences of His mercy and lovingkindness about more than just sin. He cared about Mary and Martha’s sadness when Lazarus died. He lingered with the Nephites to heal them physically. He blessed children. He fed thousands miraculously.
Other miracles and works performed by His power or with His help are also plentiful in the scriptures. Manna. Oil and meal. Serpents. A liahona. Barges and arks and ships. Reassurances at difficult times (think of the help and reassurance Nephi received various times when he was being abused, or comfort for Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail).
I think we have an overabundance of evidence that there is more to His work and Atonement and love and mercy than just forgiving sin. He cares for mortal, physical needs and problems as well.
Someone mentioned the importance of the Atonement to repair our relationship with God. I think that is a beautiful summary of the Atonement — but can’t our mortal fears, pain, concerns, and problems be some of the things that potentially separate us from Him? Sometimes we as mortals react to them by doubting God, or getting angry at Him, don’t we?
I know for me, the comfort and reassurance I have felt at difficult times has done just what has been stated — they have helped me come back to God, to understand His love and purposes and plan better, to help my character grow, to increase my faith and closeness to God.
I think it’s all interconnected, and that ALL good things are made possible because of Christ and His Atonement. Again, this to me doesn’t trivialize the Atonement, but helps me realize its breadth and reach and depth and amazing power and influence — and my absolute reliance on the Savior in every way, physical and spiritual.
I just disagree, and I think it is a stretch to read those two verses of scripture as implying that Jesus experienced everything, ranging from lost student body elections to the holocaust. I think that the atonement is about reconciling us to God,
It is a stretch to read those two passages that far. However, it isn’t a stretch to read those two passages as saying that Christ’s suffered our pains, not just for our sins. That being the case, either the Atonement is about more than just reconciling us to God, or else part of the process of reconciliation is that Christ suffer what we suffer. Once you’ve gone that far, its hard to see why you shouldn’t go all the way and say that Christ suffers *everything* that we suffer, like Sister Okazaki did.
Y’all think that it demeans Christ to say that he suffered for trivial stuff, like student body elections. It makes him sound like Buddy Jesus. I understand that point of view. But I think its a human point of view, not a celestial one. Christians have that same impulse when it comes to prayer; they feel that their prayers have to be more spiritual and important. But the scriptures never say anything like that. They say ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ They say, ‘pray over your flocks and fields.’ They say not a sparrow shall fall, and every *hair* is counted. They say that in nothing is his wrath kindled save against those who acknowledge not his hand in *all* things.
So while you might be spiritually amiss to think of Jesus primarily as this guy who helps you deal with hangnails, you are not spiritually amiss if you believe that he takes on everything and overcomes everything, from the trivial to the great, he bears it all.
Beautiful last paragraph, especially, Adam. That sums up my feelings perfectly.
I’m trying to understand how if God is omniscient (at least in the sense that he comprehends everything that is knowable) he wouldn’t somehow experience everything we experience. I think the atonement is an extension of God’s perfect understanding.
Sorry for the minor threadjack, but you are only partially correct. Dachau was not a “death camp” on the scale of an Auschwitz, but it does have a gas chamber which was kept quite busy. It is located in the far back corner of the camp. I believe they also did hangings in the gas chamber building, as well as executions just outside.
Dachau is one of the best preserved and most easily accessible (it’s in a quiet suburb of Munich) concentration camps. It is also an oppressively sad place. The haunting feeling and lingering pain of the place is like a sticky fog that never leaves one who visits. My wife still cannot discuss her visit there without crying.
I cannot comprehend the Savior’s taking upon himself the suffering of those who were imprisoned at Dachau, let alone the rest of the camps. Yet, I agree with Adam (#21) that the Atonement is so sublime and so comprehensive that it covers not just these monumentally egregious experiences, but also the pain I feel when my heart is broken or my soul aches over much smaller issues. I do not believe that there is any set criteria for what kind of “pains” qualify for the blessings of the Atonement. As been taught many times by the Apostles, the answer to the question “Is there no Balm in Gilead?” is yes — and it lies with Jesus Christ and his Atonement.
BTW, m&m (#19) — thanks for quoting one of my favorite scriptures.
I do believe that Christ suffered an infinite and eternal sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. I do think, however, we get fixated on those two instances. I’m not trying to belittle them. But remember the rest of his life. Can Christ relate to the girl who lost the student Body election? Sure! He, too, was rejected – Christ, JEHOVAH, was rejected by his own people – long before he suffered in Gethsemane.
I think that we forget that he lived for 33 years – experiencing much of what we experience along the way. He was tempted by Satan – before His ministry. He had to deal with liars, backbiters, and hypocrites. He also dealt with the loss of loved ones. He was able to experience the joy of love from friends and family. He had many experiences that help him to empathize with all of us before he entered into Gethsemane – except that he had not yet sinned. He didn’t understand the pain of sin!
That is when, through no fault of his own, he felt every pain associated with mortality – and especially the pain of guilt and sin. That is where he made the infinte and eternal sacrifice that enables Him to Heal us completely. That is where he gave the sacrifice WE needed so we could return to God. This is the atonement. The atonement was made so that we could return to our Father in Heaven, and if we desire, then we can find peace in it. I know this to be true.
Catania raises an interesting point: The connection between the condescension and the atonement. Part of the beauty of the doctrine of the condescension is that God himself would come to earth and experience mortality. Why? Nephi did not understand the meaning of all things, but knew that God loves his people. And why did Christ undertake the atonement and its attendant suffering? Because he so loved the world that he gave his own life (D&C 34:3). As I think about it, the condescension may have informed Christ’s (infinite) understanding of the atonement as much as anything else. It certainly gave him experiential understanding of why the atonement was necessary for his mortal brothers and sisters. The two are connected, probably inseparably. In the end, both the condescension and the atonement are about Christ’s infinite empathy and love for us.
Don’t forget, either, that he had watched his mortal children sin for a long time prior to his birth. He has experienced every little thing we have experienced in that way (being in tune, I believe, with the cosmic dissonance pain and suffering and sin cause), without exception and without debate.
I really do believe that the Atonement is eternal not just in nature but in duration, as well – and that we shouldn’t overlook the parts of it that occurred outside “mortality”.
See Alma 7:13: “. . . 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 trangressions . . . ” I am going to have to think about the condescension/atonement connection some more.
Let me clarify a couple of points.
I agree that Christ loves us and understands our pain and suffering and has perfect empathy for our pain and suffering.
I agree that there is much more to his work and mission than just forgiveness of sin. Certainly his mortal ministry was about more than that, and I believe that there is more to his eternal ministry than just that. Bringing to pass the eternal life of man is about more than just forgiving sin.
However, I see no reason to believe that in some mystical sense he actually experienced my life and your life, and the lives of slaves and holocaust victims. I think that view goes well beyond what has been revealed, and I see no point in going there. For me, it is not even an attractive doctrine even if it were true, because I just don’t see why it makes Christ or his atonement more beautiful than it already is. Perhaps I was going too far to say that it trivializes it, but if I already believe that the atonement reconciles me to God and allows me back into his presence, it adds nothing to say that in process of effecting the atonement, Christ experienced everything that we experience, including our trivial disappointments that are just part of life.
I don’t even know what people mean when they that the atonement “covers” or “applies to” the sufferings of slaves and disappointed student council candidates or that Christ “overcomes” those things. In what sense is that the case? The atonement did not prevent or even mitigate the suffering in the concentration camps or the slave ships. The pain was still there. My own pains, although trivial in comparison to those, are still with me. Cancer is still cancer, the slaves were still enslaved and my screwed up friends are still screwed up and so I don’t understand what people mean when they say that the atonement covers those things, or that Christ overcomes them.
When the scriptures teach us that Christ suffered for our sins, they also teach that he did this so that we would not have to. But when we expand this teaching and teach that he suffered the pain of slavery, divorce and hangnails, I wonder why. The people who suffer those things still suffer them. If, unlike the pain of sin, these pains are not eliminated by his suffering, what is the point of it all? Why would I feel better about the pain and suffering experienced by humans throughout history knowing that he, rather pointlessly, experienced all of that too?
But when we expand this teaching and teach that he suffered the pain of slavery, divorce and hangnails, I wonder why.
How do you respond to the scriptures that pretty clearly say he suffered our sorrows and pains, not just our sins?
As to your other questions: Christ overcomes suffering by experiencing them and remaining whole. It is important to us that Christ be able to do so because it speaks to his character and greatness and ultimately his ability to overcome on our behalf the obstacles that keep us from being co-heirs with him.
Many of us might find it difficult to believe that a person could have perfect empathy for a problem or a situation without in some sense experiencing it. In fact, I don’t think there’s any difference between saying ‘Christ has perfect empathy for my situation’ and saying ‘in some way, Christ is experiencing/has experienced this situation along with me.” People who have empathy are people who imaginatively put themselves in the other person’s shoe and try to feel what the other person feels. Perfect empathy would mean doing so perfectly.
You may want to look at D&C 122. http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/122
Thanks for this good discussion of Christ’s atonement. Just reading it makes me feel better and more peaceful. The Spirit testifies to me that the Atonement is real. I am very grateful to have felt its healing and redeeming power in my life.
This discussion contrasts rather strikingly with a discussion I happened upon yesterday about whether Adam and Eve and the Fall are to be taken literally or figuratively. I believe in both a 4.5 billion year old earth and a literal Adam and Eve, but the exact details of the Fall remain mysterious to me. The speculations about Adam and Eve and the Fall left me feeling cold. I know that the Atonement is real. I believe that a Fall must necessarily also have taken place, but I do not know the details yet. I look forward to learning (or “remembering”) them, but for now they seem to be hidden. Probably this is just not as important as knowing that Christ redeems and blesses us, but I remain curious and will continue to ask of God. I am confident that eventually I will learn the details, though maybe not in mortality.
I love Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony given in April of 1985:
“We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane. We know he sweat great gouts of blood from every pore as he drained the dregs of that bitter cup his Father had given him. We know he suffered, both body and spirit, more than it is possible for man to suffer, except it be unto death. We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name. …
“And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way. God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.”
I see no reason to believe that in some mystical sense he actually experienced my life and your life
I don’t see it as mystical. Christ is connected in consciousness to every living thing through the medium of the spirit–the avenue for him experiencing life along with us is always in place. (Indeed, remove that avenue and we die). The logistics of how so much experience could be crammed into such a short stretch of time aren’t difficult when we consider that the atonement’s reality was surely not limited to a few short hours–an infinite event can’t be restrained by the bounds of mortal time. The crucifixion was real from the foundations of the world. I believe that during the atonement, God’s time (one eternal now) intersected with man’s time, enabling Jesus’s totality of experience.
Kathryn (#0) and Adam (#21), thank you both for this.
yes indeed He did. The scriptural passages you mention seem pretty clear to me as I reviewed them this week.
Adam: I don’t know that I can respond in great detail, but I will try to offer a couple of comments.
I don’t think that 2 Nephi 9:21 is referring to all pains of every kind ever suffered by humankind. The verse is not particularly explicit, but I read it as referring to the pains of sin.
Alma 7: 11-12 is probably harder for me to explain. However, even there I still think it means that Christ would suffer all kinds of pains and suffering, not that he will suffer the hangnails, hurt feelings and real tragedies experienced by every person. When those verses say that he will take upon himself “their infirmities” I think that means that will condescend to become human and will suffer die voluntarily, and through that process take upon himself the mortal experience as well as suffering that exceeds any suffering that any mortal ever experiences. He knows what it means to suffer, because he has suffered more than we ever will. But that does not imply that has experienced the minutiae of my life and yours. I don’t see any reason to assume that he had to experience everything in order to be able to succor his people.
I don’t see D&C 122 as implying that Christ had experienced Joseph’s life. I see him as saying “look, I know it is hard. I know what it is to suffer but sometimes suffering is essential to soul making. My suffering was much worse than your’s, so don’t think that it is somehow unjust, or that you have been abandoned because of your sufferings.”
To be honest, I have enough trouble understanding why the atonement was necessary to deal with sin. But the scriptures are so unambiguous on that point, that I accept that in some way that I don’t understand, Jesus suffered for my sins and therefore I don’t have to. But when people go further and tell me that he also experienced and suffered all the physical and emotional sufferings experienced by everybody who has ever lived, even though at least some of that suffering is probably a good thing and an essential part of the mortal growth experience, and even though their pain is not avoided or diminished by Jesus’ concurrent suffering–well, I just can’t make sense of that. The atonement becomes even more baffling and that diminishes it for me. I realize that I am probably quite unusual that way, because a lot of people seem to have become rather enamoured with the ideas taught in Kathryn’s post.
I don’t think that Christ suffered each individual pain for each individual person. If you could add up all the suffering from sin, pain, hangnails, etc, for each person, it would be mind-boggling-ly huge, but still finite. Christ’s suffering was infinite. In some way that takes care of the sin, hangnails, and student body elections. Not because he lost a student body election, but because he suffered infinitely.
We don’t have to understand the concept of infinity (but it is interesting to think about). We need to have failth in Christ’s atonment, but we are not required to understand the mechanics behind it.
For me, I am sure that I am covered. (if I repent.)
Thanks for the insights. They’ll be helpful as I prepare my lesson as well.
I think it’s a really impressive discussion, and I particularly thank gary for being willing to take a slightly different view; it’s through polite disagreements that we come to better understand our own points of view as well as those of others. I have two points to chip in.
First, I think of the atonement as being something that makes us whole, and that wholeness is part of the process that enables us to come into the presence of the father. No one makes it through life uninjured. Because enduring is, as the word suggests, often hard and effortful, whenever we approach the father we are separated not only by the ways in which we have fallen short of the glory of god, but by our wearied and sometimes broken selves. As I see it, the atonement repairs all that was lost by our coming into this world, if we will but accept it–and so his taking him our pains as well as our sins is a way that He compensates us for taking the risks and enduring the difficulties of this world. For some time I have been struck by the apparent role of fear among those who followed Satan in the pre-mortal rebellion. But part of the beauty of god that this reveals is that, for those who accept him, there never really would be any risk in embracing our agency: that we would be made whole, entire, and more complete than we then were by doing so, should we use it to chose him.
Second, I’ve always thought of this line of doctrine as being related to his complete approachability. Because he has experienced all kinds of pain in their most infinite expression, he makes clear that no one is isolated from him by their experiences. Sometimes one sees people in pain isolating themselves through a conviction that others cannot understand them and their problems. The beauty of this doctrine is that, when properly understood, this doctrine means that even when we feel isolated from all around us, there is indeed one who we can turn to.
This is a great discussion. I love looking at an infinite atonement in a more than one finite way.
I hope I can express the words in my heart in terms that gary’s heart might understand so that he and I might be “one” for just a moment…
The Atonement is much more than just mathematical justice. It is more than just our Lord “trading places” with us and paying the penalties required by our actions. Our “sins” are not the only things that keep us from returning to dwell with God.
When we “fell”, we became mortal-inferior creatures in every way-not just spiritually-and thus completely unable to endure the presence of God the Father and His glory. Our human flesh is corrupt-weak-sick-and decaying. To become “one” with God again, our “infirmities” must be corrected and perfected. Christ’s Atonement absorbs our physical imperfections in much the same way it can absolve our spiritual sins. It doesn’t happen now any more than sanctification or exaltation happens now. Cancer patients must still endure suffering and death, but someday their mortal temples will be healed, made whole, and perfected. Sinners must still repent and learn and falter, but someday their spirits will be healed, made whole, and perfected.
In this way, the Atonement frees us from experiencing FOREVER the pains and sufferings of mortality that have nothing to do with our own personal “sins” per se, but have everything to do with being fallen, inferior beings due to mortality. Yes, a lot of the suffering experienced here on Earth is educational, and allows us to gain knowledge and wisdom that we might not have been able to gain any other way. The fact that it exists and serves a purpose here and now, does not mean it has to exist and serve a purpose in the next life. And the same way the Atonement cleanses our souls from sin, darkness, and regret-it also cleanses our bodies from disease, pain, and degeneration.
In other words, I don’t believe that Christ had to “experience everything in order to be able to succor his people”, although it certainly would accomplish that as well. I believe that Christ had to experience everything in order to restore or correct what each one of us lacks that might prevent us from being perfect. If we are to truly become “One” with Him, to share in His glory, He must experience each one of us to the same degree that we experience Him. The woman who touched the hem of His robe…was healed physically AND spiritually…and He FELT a portion of His virtue/power/strength leave Himself and become part of her. Imagine the drain and loss experienced in Gethsemane as His power and strength was applied to ALL the infirmities and physical imperfections of mankind, as well as to ALL our sinful acts…
I don’t see this as diminishing the Atonement-I see it as expanding it beyond human comprehension-glorifying it above anything we can even imagine. It was more than just the key to repentance and forgiveness-it was literally the key to EVERYTHING.
I believe that Christ had to experience everything in order to restore or correct what each one of us lacks that might prevent us from being perfect.
I was just going to say that very same thing. Thanks, quin. A very important point–one that deserves a post of it its own, I think. Stay tuned.
This whole discussion has resonated with so much of what I have been thinking about lately. Thank you. May I share with you a poem used in a talk by a friend, and shared with me afterwards. I have never seen it in its original published form. I am less interested in whether it is scripturally accurate, but in the currently unknowable possibilities inherent in having a more than mortal being.
Christ’s Passion by Mary Carr
Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked
the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.
He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul
this dirt speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods
with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh
felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.
So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came
and the farmer’s back muscles
growing specific under his shirt
and the sad resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.
Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each
pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill
and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they
unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope. For Walt Mink
Appears in Viper Rum by Mary Carr
“I see no reason to believe that in some mystical sense he actually experienced my life and your life.” Yes, I want to echo that sentiment.
Additionally, what happens to our agency if he actually experienced each life, mortal life, in the garden? How can any persons act for themselves? The whole thing is meaningless if he lived our lives vicariously for us before we were born into mortality. We are here to make choices between good and evil. When we choose evil we suffer. Emotional suffering is always accompanied by physical suffering and vise verse. If we don’t sorrow for our sins then we can’t repent of them. It only makes sense that a being suffering one would suffer the other.
On the other hand so much of pain both physical and emotional comes from our perceptions it makes no sense, to me at least, to believe that is even remotely possible for any being to suffer in anticipation of specific individual lives and not for the collective lives and ills that can be foreseen as part of the human condition. If hangnails and student body elections fit in those categories then good. But not everyone who loses an election suffers from feelings of rejection. Some feel relief.
The atonement is about making it possible for us to return to live with our Redeemer. That is the most important part to remember.
Additionally, what happens to our agency if he actually experienced each life, mortal life, in the garden? How can any persons act for themselves?
This is the problem of God’s foreknowledge, stated differently. You can solve it the same way you solve the problem or foreknowledge. Or you can conclude that Christ’s atonement isn’t confined to the garden and the cross–he is suffering along with us in realtime.
The atonement is about making it possible for us to return to live with our Redeemer.
Yes. That’s precisely why Jesus had to suffer for us one by one, not collectively. How can suffering for “murder” instead of for each individual murder that has taken place meet the demands of justice?
Or you can conclude that Christ’s atonement isn’t confined to the garden and the cross–he is suffering along with us in realtime.
I believe he suffers with us in realtime whether or not this suffering is redemptive. How can he not, given the intimate connection he has with each soul animated by his spirit?
For those who are interested, I’ve just posted the next segment of Okasaki’s quote at Blog Segullah.
Reminded of gary’s statement, “I don’t see any reason to assume that he had to experience everything in order to be able to succor his people.” I thought I’d add this quote that appears in the Gospel Doctrine teacher’s manual:
Jeffrey R. Holland
When…difficult times comet to us, we can remember that Jesus had to descend below all things before He could ascend above them, and that He suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind that He might be filled with mercy and know how to succor His people in their infirmities.”
Alison: Is “descending below all things” the same as “experiencing every event that occurs in my life and in the lives of all humankind’? I really don’t know, but it is not clear to me that they are the same thing. They seem rather different to me.
Kathryn: How does Jesus suffering for each individual murder sataify the demands of justice? What principle of justice is satisfied if Jesus suffers for each individual murder (or other sin)? I don’t see how it is just, or how justice is satisfied if Jesus (or anybody else) suffers for a sin that I commit.
If Jesus did not suffer for my sins, or the sins of any other sinner, then for whose sins did he suffer? . . . . I think we may try, and fail, to understand the mechanism by which Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies the law of Justice, but we may be sure that, mercifully, Jesus’ sacrifice is adequate, somehow, to redeem our souls’ debt. God be praised! The question of whether he felt my pain individually or, instead, suffered a more general pain is a question of mechanics. I have had enough experience to know, by what ever mechanism, Jesus is able to give me peace and remove my guilt. I do not know how he can do this, but the scriptures that contain his direct words state that it is because he suffered. I believe them.
I was strucked first, by what it said about Peter. “Peter wept.” Peter was my mentor as a priesthood holder. Peter held the highest position in the earthly part of Father’s kingdom, yet he had flaws and held on the Nephi’s Iron rod. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Jesus and I believe would have been willing to give his life for Him. Like him, I see the world through my mind eyes and not the eyes of faith, which put us at a disadvantage, because we are still in the “becoming” phase, while Jesus is the Great I AM. I have read about flaws of prophets in the Old Testament, but we know so little about their weaknesses with Peter it was different. The New Testament shows so much more about this Prophet.
The second idea, that impressed me was Jesus telling His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane that ‘tonight I shall offend all men.’ The New Testament is filled with the testimonies of mortal souls, who attest to His status as the Son of Man, as the giver of the Word of the Father and of other marvelous works and wonders. As I read the four gospels I notice that He and His disciples were often in a somber mood as they contemplate carrying out the Will of Father.
Indeed He accepted the Judgment of the Herodian Temple Authority and came to His slaughter as the Lamb of God. For His Father’s sake, He did not judge them at that time. That is a good thing for the Son of God and a priesthood holder.
My thoughts have been on this topic all day and I agree with you on several things to some degree.
First, Christ suffered for our sins-hangnails and lost school elections are not sins. I am not 100% bound to the idea that Christ “experienced” every moment of my life in Gethsemane, and I don’t see a need for Him to do so at that particular moment in time either. I believe that He can see the daily events of my life or yours now anytime He needs to, so I agree that it makes no sense to conclude that Christ “lived” every single moment of our individual lives on the last day of His mortality.
Dread, sadness, pain, suffering, loneliness, hunger, shame, rejection, sorrow…all of those emotions Christ suffered before and after Gethsemane…He knows them all intimately-and on a deeper level than any of us ever could. I don’t need Him to feel “MY” sadness, pain, hunger etc to believe that He understands my pain. His personal experiences trump all of mine and I am humbled and in awe that He would still come to my aid and comfort when He endured so much more than I am required to.
Second, the gospel tells us that murderers do not receive forgiveness in this world, nor the world to come. Did Christ suffer for murderers? There’s no way to know. I see absolutely no justice in requiring our perfect and innocent Lord to suffer for those who will later suffer again for the same sins.
To me, the idea of “descending below them all” means no matter what I may suffer in this life, He has endured the deepest pain possible, the fiercest hunger that exists, the darkest evil etc. If I personally experience a trial that is unique to only me and thus no one else has ever felt that way, then He experienced that too.
I also had another thought. “Restitution and/or restoration” are a part of forgiveness (look it up) and there are so many sins that we commit that we are powerless to fully restore or make restitution for. I believe that part of the agony He suffered during the Atonement was absorbing the physical and emotional scars of those we injure through sin. Christ alone can “heal” us all, make us whole again-He takes our burdens and the wounds in our bodies and souls and fills them up again. He makes repairs what was damaged. He restores what existed before.
When we say “He suffered for our sins”- we often think in terms of “Action X= Punishment Z”.
Or in other words…if I commit action “X”, then I deserve punishment “Z”-and we imagine that Christ suffered “punishment Z” for me, so that if I repent, I wouldn’t have to. But what if we’re looking at it wrong? What if “Action X=damage Z” instead? Bare with me here…putting it into words is proving more difficult than I’d hoped.
Let’s say I abuse a child. (Not that I have or ever would, but rather than pointing at another, I will make myself the example here.) Action X (the abuse)= damage Z-emotional wreckage, physical pain, fear, bitterness etc. I fervently and completely repent for my actions to the best of my ability, but I am POWERLESS to restore that child’s emotional health, erase the physical pain, fear, and bitterness that my actions caused. I simply cannot do it. But Christ CAN. At some point in time, Christ can and will “heal” that child (and later adult) that I wounded. (Forgiveness on the part of my victim enters the picture here too, but this discussion is deep enough!)
So…when we say that “Christ suffered for my sins (of child abuse)” it could also mean that in Gethsemane He felt what that child felt during my abuse, so He would know exactly and specifically how to heal that child. He is able to make a full restitution that I am incapable of making, and while I am made to feel guilty and horrible and agonize over my actions during the process of mortal repentance, at some point in the future, that child/person will be made whole and what I damaged will be restored.
For me, this idea opened up a whole new view of the Atonement for me and makes perfect sense if it is accurate. The victim of my actions really WOULD be able to find comfort in the Savior’s atonement because He really would have suffered exactly what they had endured and have a perfect knowledge of their suffering. But, it also means that my Savior might not just have felt “pain” or “punishment” because of my sins (Punishment Z). He might have suffered “Damage Z” (the effects and feelings and sensations of child abuse) because of me.
Maybe these thoughts are old news to you and others, and maybe I’m not expressing them very well in this venue, but rather than trivializing the Atonement (as you suggested) by insinuating that Christ endured my every stubbed toe and hangnail in order for his Atonement to be “personal and individual” to me, it made the Atonement humbling and horrific and amazingly personal to imagine causing my Lord and Savior to suffer as if I had committed my sins TO Him and ON Him and TOWARDS Him instead of myself and others…
When I think about the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane I think of the scripture Abinidi quoted in his discourse to King Noah and his wicked priests. “… when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed … “(Mosiah 14:10). I imagine in my mind that since He is doing the ultimate act of vicarious work for us it is like the vicarious work we do in temples. What I mean is that in my mind I see the Savior go through a list of names, our names, suffering for each one individually, and then moving on to the next. In this way, He knows me and has actually taken time for me. When He comes to my name He sees a picture of me in vision and what I will be like. He sees my strengths and weaknesses. He also sees the sins for which He is atoning. It becomes a very intimate and holy experience.
This has been an exellent discussion.
I have seen lots of tesimony and good-sprited debate that has helped to clarify my own thoughts and I’m sure has helped others in the same way.
<iIs “descending below all things” the same as “experiencing every event that occurs in my life and in the lives of all humankind’?
I don’t know. I’d say the next part of the quote, “He suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” confirms that Christ had sufficient experience to fully understand *any* pain, affliction, temptation we have been through. Whether he literally lived through each moment of my life isn’t terribly important to me. That he actually, completely understands where I’ve been means more to me than I can say. Whatever it took to get him to that place, I’m eternally grateful that he was willing.
#50 – I think you expressed your thoughts beautifully and profoundly, quin.
Gary (#47), I’m not sure how to reply. If you don’t believe that Jesus’s suffering fulfills the demands of justice for our sins (on condition of our repentance, of course), then I don’t think we read the same scriptures.
Sean (#51), I love that verse for the same reasons.
quin, THANK YOU.
Kathryn: I am quite certain we are reading the same scriptures, and I certainly didn’t mean to be flippant in my question. Nor did I mean to insult you or anger you. My question was genuine, and it is something I have wondered, pondered and prayed quite a bit about. Yet, I still don’t understand the atonement and I don’t understand how or why justice is satisfied by Jesus’ suffering for sins committed by me. It seems like an unusual notion of justice to suggest that it is satisfied by the suffering of a sinless God for sins committed by others. I may indeed be just plain stupid, but I just cannot seem to connect those dots. I apologize for the apparent offense which I have given.
gary, I have no clue whatsoever the mechanics of the part of the atonement accomplished in the Garden of Gethsemane, but I really believe that the symbolism of a scapegoat (the ancient concept of figuratively loading a goat with the sins of the people and releasing that goat into the wilderness, taking the sins of the people with it) is powerful. I’m not trying to imply that the suffering in the Garden was soley symbolic, but that representation would have resonated deeply with the people of that day.
The key for us, I believe, is taking that basic idea (of truly casting our burdens upon the Lord) and finding a way for that to resonate with us. If that means someone believes He actually suffered every exact pain and sin she does, great; if someone else believes He suffered extreme representative pain (the worst of every type of pain), great; if someone else believes it all is figurative (that Jesus’ sinless suffering typified pure obedience and submission regardless of the actual pain), great. All I care about at the most fundamental level is that I accept Him as the Lord and Savior and Redeemer – that whatever He did, it covers my sins and imperfection and allows me to pursue growth and eventual perfection. I care FAR more about what we take from it than the actual mechanics of the event.
I don’t know if that helps at all, but it’s what hit me when I read your comment.
Ray: I agree with the fundamental message of your last post. My frustration arises when people teach as doctrine concepts that I can’t make sense of. Now, the fact that I can’t make sense of it does not mean it is not true. Maybe I am just thick. But the atonement is such a central doctrine, that I would like to understand it. There seem to be a number of atonement theories advanced from time to time. I am on a quest to try to understand, because it is difficult for me to be spiritually moved by concepts or doctrines that don’t make sense to me, or which seem to offend my own understanding of justice and mercy. (I spent several hours just this weekend reading more on this topic, but came away still unsatisfied though perhaps better informed.)
I realize that many, perhaps most, don’t care about these issues. They find a metaphor or an analogy that works for them and they find great power in that. Some of us are still searching and in the process, we probably tend to annoy those who for whom it all seems so simple and clear.
I don’t think you are annoying at all, just different minded. I also don’t think that everyone else finds the Atonement to be “simple and clear” to understand. If it was, it wouldn’t require so much faith, or gratitude for that matter. If it made perfect sense and seemed totally “just” we would probably view it as a “fair trade” of sorts and I don’t think that frame of mind honors and glorifies our Lord much, if at all. To me, the beauty and grace and condescending LOVE of the Savior is intensified because He chose to do it whether we deserved it or not, whether we could comprehend and appreciate it fully or not.
I read a theory the other day that I’m mentally chewing on, but haven’t really processed fully yet to say I find it truthful or not. In a nutshell, the idea is that because Christ is sinless, perfect, and completely innocent of all sin, when He willingly sacrificed both His life and His freedom from ever HAVING to experience the effects of “sin”-it literally “overcame” justice in some manner. In other words, because of the pure and undefiled MERCY of the Savior, and because He has the power necessary to actually repair, or make complete restitution for the damages caused by sin, Justice was rendered “void” or powerless to exact the PENALTIES for repented-for sins from Him for those covered by His Atonement. Because He can “save” and restore both the sinner AND the sinned against, there is no “balance” owed to satisfy perfect justice. Does that make sense?
Again, I’m not saying I agree with this theory, but I did find it interesting. It could mean that the suffering Christ experienced in Gethsemane could be as I stated above-the results of our actions upon others, the suffering of those sinned against, instead of suffering the “penalties” we would “owe” to Justice if we chose not to wrap our sins in the security of the Atonement. This theory allows for Christ to know the suffering of the innocent, as well as having felt and endured every physical and emotional mortal pain and disease etc (because those are a result of The Fall and we are innocent in that as well) AND for Him to “save” us from having to pay for our own sins after death. It also allows Him to escape having to suffer (needlessly or redundantly) for those who refuse to repent and must pay the price for their own sins themselves.
In my mind, it solves a lot of the “injustice” a lot of people feel regarding His suffering on our behalf. I believe that part of the Atonement could ONLY be done by Jesus Christ-because no other power existed to redeem us from mortality. If He didn’t conquer death and it’s affects, the plan would have been voided, and all of us would have been lost. So even though it may not seem fair, it was the only way the Father’s plan could be accomplished and I believe that Christ knew and accepted that BEFORE God the Father set His plan in motion. In a way, that would mean the reason we exist at all is because Christ agreed to His role in the first place. And it would have been “unjust” of Him to back out at the last moment or change His mind at some later point. I also believe that part of the Atonement was an act of personal, loving, pure mercy and grace-the part where He took our pains and fears and debts upon Himself and asks NOTHING in return except our love and faith and obedience. His perfect power AND perfect love is what makes the Atonement an act of glory and holiness.
Trying to understand the Atonement within the confines of mortal justice or mortal mercy or mortal comprehension is impossible. I don’t think we will truly understand it until the veil is lifted and we have all things restored to us. Thus, spending our lives trying to explain it or make it fit within a mold that satisfies mortal acceptance is an exercise in futility. We would have to fully comprehend infinity and eternity to accomplish such a task, and humans simply do not have that ability. God requires faith…even in accepting the Atonement. We humans want to rationalize everything, reason it out until all the nooks and crannies are exposed before we accept something as truth. It’s one of the hardest things to let go-and only by doing so can we ever hope to be exalted. Perfect faith is ultimately the ability to trust God and Christ with every fiber of our being, without having a perfect knowledge. Knowledge is the reward-faith is the key to that reward. We human beings tend to want it to be the other way around.