On Not Understanding the Atonement

There are some pretty major aspects of our Latter-day Saint faith–and of Christianity in general–that I don’t really understand. Specifically: the necessity and efficacy of the Atonement. Repentance and forgiveness make sense to me. The Atonement is a mystery, and none of the explanations or theories resonate with me on a deep, personal level.

I am convinced that the scriptural accounts–especially in the Book of Mormon and New Testament–are true. I believe what they tell me. I just don’t understand them.

What I do feel, and feel viscerally, is the fundamental brokenness of the human condition generally and my own shortcomings in particular. The world is broken, and I am broken in it. I am just as utterly convinced of the splendid beauty which we may all glimpse from time to time within this broken world and among its broken inhabitants. We are broken, but we we dream of wholeness. That dream came from somewhere. Wholeness–perfection–is also real.

What I don’t understand is how Christ and the Atonement comes into play in helping us get from the Point A of Brokenness to the Point B of Wholeness.

There’s only one thing I’ve ever read that helped me start to build a scaffold across the chasm of my ignorance. That’s Sister Neill F. Marriott’s talk from the General Women’s Session of the October 2017 General Conference: Abiding in God and Repairing the Breach. I read the talk about a year ago, and I loved it so much that my underlined, commented hard copy has been sitting in my top drawer ever since, waiting for me to write this post. I’m not sure I’ll do the talk justice, so–in case I do not–please just go read it yourself. Having said that, I’m going to do my best to explain what I personally took from Sister Marriott’s talk.

Early on in the talk. Sister Marriott stated that “Our sins and pride create a breach–or a gap–between us and the font of all love, our Heavenly Father.”

This got my attention because the concept of a gap between what we are and what we want to be is one of those things that does resonate with my core. I quote this a lot–so apologies,if you’ve heard it from me before–but I love Ira Glass’s discussion of an aesthetic gap that, to my mind, applies just as much to a gap in character.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. (You can find the quote many places. This version is from Goodreads.)

So far so good, as problem statements go. Just as aspiring artists are convicted by their own good taste, all of us are convicted by our consciences when we fail to live up to the light of Christ we inherit as our birthright. But, whereas an artist can get across the gap by sheer stubborn practice, Sister Marriott argues that the gap in character is one that we cannot cross alone: “Independently forcing ourselves to have humility and trying to make ourselves love others is insincere and hollow, and it simply doesn’t work.”

I’m not absolutely convinced by this. It seems to me that if you try hard to act as if you love someone then–over time–you may actually stumble your way to the real thing. In fact, it seems that a lot of LDS arguments in favor of obedience are based around this principle that if you go through the motions long enough, you eventually break through. You can fake it until you make it.

Indeed, there’s something almost Calvinist in Sister Marriott’s assertion that we can’t lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But if there’s a faint echo (very faint!) of total depravity here, it’s one that is also discernible in the Book of Mormon.

8. O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.

9. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself (2 Nephi 9:8-9)

So, according to Jacob, without the intercession of Christ we are ultimately unable to escape the gravitational pull of evil. We are all trapped on the wrong side of a moral event horizon, and nothing but Christ can pull us out.

I’m amenable to this, but up to this point it’s all very abstract. What does it mean, really? Without Christ, we ultimately fall back to earth–an inevitable personal fall as inexorable as gravity–because, why? Why are we doomed to recapitulate the Fall in our own lives. Is it because we ultimately just get too depressed by our individual failures? Is it some kind of moral equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics?

Sister Marriott has a concrete example:

One memorable night a relative and I disagreed about a political issue. She briskly and thoroughly took my comments apart, proving me wrong within earshot of family members. I felt foolish and uninformed—and I probably was. That night as I knelt to pray, I hurried to explain to Heavenly Father how difficult this relative was! I talked on and on. Perhaps I paused in my complaining and the Holy Ghost had a chance to get my attention, because, to my surprise, I next heard myself say, “You probably want me to love her.” Love her? I prayed on, saying something like, “How can I love her? I don’t think I even like her. My heart is hard; my feelings are hurt. I can’t do it.”

Then, surely with help from the Spirit, I had a new thought as I said, “But You love her, Heavenly Father. Would You give me a portion of Your love for her—so I can love her too?” My hard feelings softened, my heart started to change, and I began to see this person differently.

Now this begins to make sense! For one thing, even if it is possible that in some hypothetical sense we could fake it until we make it–pretend to love until the feelings arrive–that’s not necessarily very helpful in the real world. In the real world, we do not have infinite time to wait for habit to become something more. We have a lifetime, at most, in most cases a lot less than that. For another, we don’t have the luxury of taking apart our relationships and dealing with them one at a time, each in isolation from every other. We are enmeshed in dense networks of relationships, and during the time when we are incapable of loving someone, that has consequences not only for them, but also for other people who are close to us. To be honest, even if it were possible to do this the hard, slow why: who would want to wait? I would not. If the option is a painstaking process of chiseling my own heart into something beautiful or exchanging my hard heart for a new one from God, I want to give mine away today and experience love.

Sister Marriott’s story made me see even more than that, however. For one thing, it’s a literal and beautiful example of living on borrowed grace. It’s not only that we depend on God to love us, but that we depend on God to share His love for others with us. “The Savior’s Atonement is a conduit for the constant flow of charity from our Father in Heaven,” says Sister Marriott. “We must choose to abide in his love in order to have charity for all.”

It also explains how the Atonement can be communal. It’s not about–or, at least, not only about–repairing a breach between ourselves and God. This has always seemed a bit strange. If I can forgive my child when they do wrong without requiring someone pay the price, why can’t God forgive me without extracting a price from Christ in blood? I am not denying that this is the case; I’m just saying I still don’t get it.

But if the Atonement is also about borrowing God’s love so that we can forgive and love those around us, then in that case I can clearly see how the Atonement can bind the human family together.

Our Father’s infinite love reaches out to us, to bring us back into His glory and joy… we must make the connection with Him now to learn what really matters, to love as He loves, and to grow to be like him.

This explanation from Sister Marriott speaks to my mind as well as my heart. It makes sense to me. I do not believe it is the final answer to the Atonement. There’s a lot I still do not understand. But it is, for me at least, like a sip of cool water in a wide, dry desert. I’m still thirsty, but the taste of this water is sweet.

I’m grateful that I’ve had my parents’ example to teach me to be patient with things that I do not understand. There are many claims in the scriptures that seem strange to me. If I lived according to my own understanding, I would have rejected them by now. I would have rejected the necessity and efficacy of the Atonement and jettisoned claims like those–oft repeated in the scriptures and in General Conference–that the ultimate solution to the problems of the world is a return to Christ. With my training in economics and all that I’ve read of political theory, it’s awfully to see how returning to Christ has any direct relevance to the controversies of our day in a real, concrete, practical, effectual way.

But I haven’t lived according to my own understanding. I accept things that I do not understand. I affirm things that are beyond my comprehension. Not out of wishful thinking. Not out of blind obedience. But out of simple trust. God has revealed a few, small things to me. Enough for me to rely on Him and be patient while I struggle to make sense of the rest.

Sister Marriott’s talk is another breadcrumb. Another reassurance that I’m on the right trail. Another signpost pointing onward. And I’m incredibly grateful for it.

32 comments for “On Not Understanding the Atonement

  1. I was uplifted by the quotes from Marriott’s talk as much as I was hearing about your own struggles to make sense of Jesus’ atonement. Thank you for taking the time to write this up.

  2. I appreciate knowing that I’m not the only one that struggles with the basic concepts of Christianity.

  3. Yes, it’s good to know that I’m not alone in my bafflement at theories of Atonement. The ones that resonate most are the more mystical ones: this (thanks for reminding me of it!), Christus Victor, and so forth. And I’m glad theories that aren’t penal substitution are being discussed!

    I’ve tended to approach all the theories as attempts to explain some aspect of the Atonement (in the symbolic language that resonates with those who created the theories or wrote down the original accounts and commentaries), but none of which capture the whole thing. Through diverse lenses can we get a better perspective.

  4. Deep thoughts, and great references to Sister Marriott’s talk about the deepest and greatest doctrine of the Gospel. When you ponder “how returning to Christ has any direct relevance to the controversies of our day in a real, concrete, practical, effectual way”, what specific controversies of our day (or of any day and time) do you have in mind, if I may ask? Occasionally, I used this very “relevance” argument with my children to help them understand how the Gospel — and Christ, the Gospel made flesh — has (or may have, or should have) real, concrete, practical, effectual, and tangible effects in our individual and collective lives.

  5. In appreciate scripture that is so universal, it even works as metaphor. It does not have to be real to be helpful. Even if the god we connect with us just the better part of ourselves, or the transcendent self we find through quiet meditation, we are still lead to betterment.

  6. Acknowledging the ambiguity of the Atonement is so important. It’s a black box. We don’t really know what it means, or how it can be practically applied, or what our individual role or responsibility might be (beyond simply believing in it). But we’re constantly given the impression that others have it figured out, and that if we don’t know what they know, we’re inferior and need to strengthen our testimony (and I have no idea how my testimony relates to the Atonement). In the end, all I am left with is – the Atonement is important, I’m not exactly sure how it works, and those who say they do probably understand less about it than me. Beyond that, I haven’t decided if trying to figure it out is worth the effort. That sounds defeatist, but I guess I have made my peace with that. Sure, the exercise can lead to other positive outcomes. Will it deepen my appreciation for the Atonement? Probably. Will it lead to greater understanding? I’m not confident in that.

  7. I think people are talking of a couple different things here.

    There’s a lot we know about the atonement. But certainly, we don’t have any kind of materialistic description for it that explains how our cells can be rejuvenated by Christ’s suffering. Equally true, however, we don’t have any kind of materialistic description of how putting your hands on their head links the atoms in their spirit with the holy ghost.

    But in the big picture, Christ’s mission with his atonement is to make it possible for God’s children to become like Him. And He received the fullness of the Father. So Christ went below all of the human race in terms of suffering to be endowed with the power to lift every last one of us up to his level, where our Father is.

    Christ himself used multiple parables to communicate different aspects of the same idea. We likewise explain his atonement for all creation from different angles and analogies. But his purpose was the same as His Fathers — to make his children like Him. Which explains a lot about all of our doctrine, commandments, and so on.

    If you’re looking for God to say, “I forgive you” that’s easy enough and God does do exactly that. But that forgiveness is incomplete when it comes to fulfilling God’s work and glory if it can’t exalt us. That’s why the condescension was necessary.

  8. I also have never quite known what to do with the atonement.

    libcon, I (and I’m guessing many others here) already understand what you are saying in your description of what the atonement is. What I’m saying is that such a description makes no sense to me at all, neither logically nor emotionally nor spiritually. I accept it as doctrine and am not trying to argue against it, but it just makes no sense to me that God is so limited (so pedestalled).

    For me, I just don’t worry about Atonement as a single element. Instead I focus on grace. And grace more along the lines of how Pres. Uchtdorf approaches it. I see Grace as the primary and ultimate gift freely given. And as I allow myself to be filled with it, I can’t help but radiate out to the world around me. That radiance is then ‘good works.’ Somehow the atonement fits in with that, but I can’t see how and the op has put in way more time in trying to figure these things out than I have.

  9. Many years ago my mother told me that understanding the Atonement is the hardest thing we will ever do. Through the decades her words have proven true. There are many “Why?” questions to answer before we understand it the way we want to. While I have firm and unshakable faith that it was necessary, I cannot explain it. I understand that Christ paid the ransom to rescue me, but I don’t understand WHY the price had to be what it was. I concentrate on the fact that He was willing to pay the unexplainable price, and that is enough to keep me going on this topic — the rest I will understand in the Lord’s time.

  10. Since I believe the Fall (and Adam and Eve) to be allegorical, I also struggle to understand the Atonement and the need for an Atonement.

    But I really struggle with Nathaniel’s assertion that: “The world is broken, and I am broken in it.” This seems unnecessarily and depressingly gloomy. I firmly believe that the world is what we make it. And N you don’t seem broken.

  11. Agree on the difficulty of understanding the atonement. My take
    After the change making gay marriage apostacy, and the exclusion of their children, became public, my wife and I started praying to know how to understand this.
    A few months later while doing our scripture reading we were particularly struck by 2nd Nephi 2:25 “Adam fell that man might be; and men are that they might have joy.” My thoughts were then that there is another scripture that talks about the purpose of life in Abraham 3:25 “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (it was then pointed out to me that this ended in a semi colon which means it continues in v26) which says “and they who keep their first estate shall be added upon…. and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added their heads for ever and ever.”
    My new understanding is that the proving is to see if we will keep our second estate, which means partaking of the necessary ordinances, and learning how to be joyfull, and that then we will be worthy of glory.

    If we accept that our purpose here is to have joy, (which is life changing) how do we do that, I asked?

    Matt 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect” and it was pointed out that the previous verses all refer to loving our fellow man. So we are to learn to love our fellow man as God does. The first part of doing that is to see our fellows all as his children, not as others, not as wicked world, not as immigrants, not as muslims, not as homosexuals. We become perfect by loving unconditionally, not by obeying rules.

    Here the atonement comes in, because we will have grace to help us as we progress, as Uchtdorf has tried to explain.

    Another scripture then came to mind, which is in the BOM, the bible, and in the prelude to Declaration 2, “All are alike unto God, black and white, bond and free, male and female.” These are contrasting the powered with the oppreseed of that day, now we might add, gay and straight, immigrant and resident, muslim and christian.

    Individually whenever we discriminate(deprive, hurt, or treat differently) against anyone, we are refusing to love unconditionally. When we love we become closer to loving as God does.

    Finally the youth theme John 14:15 “If ye love me keep my commandments” in the same sermon 15:10-12 “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” The commandment in the youth theme is to love one another as God love us all.

    There is no gospel principle called obedience. Will the grace of Christ strive with you if you go in the wrong direction? If he wants you to learn joy by loving, and you are obeying a bunch of laws, will his grace strive with you?

    Apart from his grace striving with us the rest of the atonement is the possibility of exaltation. Having glory added upon our heads for ever. Again if we spent this life learning joy through love we will be ready for exaltation, we will have kept our second estate. If we spent this life learning to be obedient? Perhaps re education??

    Having had this personal revelation, this is my understanding.

  12. Like Roger I also don’t agree with all the broken ness. The new light and knowledge is that brokenness is part of the obedience culture, and nothing to do with the gospel of Christ.

  13. My understanding of the atonement shifted a couple years ago to what I call the Knowledge Theory of Atonement. It’s centrally based on the idea of Alma 7:12 that the purpose of Christ’s suffering is “that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities”

    It has a lot of the side effects of looking like the common penal substitution model, but pretty different in its overall essence. The ultimate idea of this model is that Christ (and God) need knowledge in order to govern the light of the universe (offer forgiveness, show us the way out of sin, etc.). A knowledge of all good requires a knowledge of all evil. Christ willingly takes upon himself the suffering of the world, so that by going through and overcoming that pain he now has the immediate knowledge of how to overcome our pains and sins. Having descended below all things, with that newfound knowledge he may now ascend above all things and govern the light of the universe and therefore offer that light to teach us and clean us from sin (as well as teach us how to become godly after being clean). There is no other way to obtain that knowledge. This suffering is the inevitable natural result of having perfect love and then a perfect knowledge of the sin or suffering that occurred, by nature the suffering would be felt as if it was your own. And by this knowledge you may ascend and know how to properly succor your people. Without someone going through that, there would be nobody with sufficient knowledge to govern all light and good that could truly lead all people to overcome all things.

  14. An example of the fruits of loving unconditionally is the way New Zealand has responded to the shooting there. The shooting has been an opportunity to include all the community in a bond of love.

  15. Thanks, Nathaniel, for taking time to write this! I have enjoyed the comments too – what a great way to start my day.

  16. These attempts to explain the atonement are confirming my original thesis.

  17. My own highly tentative understanding of the Atonement (tentative because like others I know for sure that my understanding is extremely incomplete and imperfect and maybe just plain misguided) runs along the lines explained by Steve LHJ. One might think that an omniscient deity would not need any particular experience or addition in order to “know how to succor his people.” Doesn’t He know everything? And yet it seems to me that, paradoxically, omniscience might actually impede the knower’s ability to understand– really to understand– creatures who are themselves exquisitely weak and lacking in knowledge and vision. Think of school subjects that came easily to you: wasn’t it a bit difficult to understand or feel much sympathy for classmates or students who just couldn’t seem to grasp what was so obvious? Some of us gained that sort of sympathy in subjects that were very difficult for us. Similarly, it might be that God needed to experience mortality in order (so to speak, and again paradoxically) to overcome the limitations in understanding imposed by His omniscience.

    This is admittedly more of a hypothesis about the need for the Incarnation– a term that we don’t often use but that seems to be what the verse cited by Steve refers to. But on this account, what we describe as the Atonement at the end of Jesus’s life would be essentially the culmination of the Incarnation, and again would be necessary in order for God to “know how to succor his people.”

  18. Steve LHJ – That’s a fascinating way to look at it. My take on what you are saying then, is if we all obtain perfect knowledge of good an evil through experience, and we need that knowledge to progress/rule spiritually, then Jesus (who started off the same as everyone else in the premortal existence per Mormon doctrine) needs it too. And his taking on our sins/experiences full-fills that need for him.

    Although looking at it that way, the purpose of everything then becomes the exaltation of Jesus with us as third-parties. But I’m not against that. I’ve wondered if we haven’t played up the importance of humans importance too much anyway.

  19. I only mention this since it has not been mentioned yet… There is a theory that seems very plausible by W. Cleon Skousen.

    It basically explains how the intelligences of the universe, which are vast and innumerable, respect and obey God’s commands because he is completely perfectly just to the laws of the universe (where those laws come from is another deep question). God would cease to be God if he allowed us to return to His presence after the sins we have committed, so Christ was sent to suffer on our behalf and satisfy the justice the had to be exacted. The intelligences of the universe infinitely love and respect Christ, and they were moved with compassion by his suffering and accepted it as sufficient justice for the sins of the world. Thus allowing God to extend mercy, but also allowing God to remain God.

    Of course, this is just a rough explanation, so I would recommend reading the theory as brother Skousen lays it out. There are two sources where you can read it that I know of. One is at the end of his book, The First Two Thousand Years, which I’m sure many of you have heard of. There is a section toward the back of the book that is titled something like, Why is the atonement necessary? I would highly recommend reading this first. The second source comes from a talk he gave, although I’m not sure when and where it was given. In the talk, he explains how he came to his conclusions, with the help of the apostle, John Widtsoe. You can read or listen to that talk here: https://josephsmithfoundation.org/audio/the-meaning-of-the-atonement/

    There are definitely more questions that this theory creates that are not answered by the theory. But many things about it make a whole lot of sense.

  20. That theory of Skousens he largely lifts from Orson Pratt who in turn gets it from the Stoics and Leibniz (albeit with a more robust theory of free will)

  21. Some thoughts.

    First, if the Atonement makes little sense as a literal principle rooted in an actual, historical even (of Christ’s suffering at Gethsemane), then it makes even less sense as an allegory. If the Atonement is not really real, then it surely cannot be necessary either. And if it’s not necessary than the allegory–which specifies that the Atonement is necessary–is misleading and counterproductive. At best, an allegorical atonement is a Dumbo’s feather. At best.

    Second, and I think this is related, if we are not broken than the Atonement is not necessary. I realize this may seem gloomy, but you have to accept the cancer diagnosis before you are ready to hear the good news that a cure has been found. Else, if you reject the cancer diagnosis, the good news is just trivia. A resistance to admit our actual state is, among the privileged of the developed world, the greatest resistance to accepting the Gospel. Besieged by death, oppressed by callous elites, afflicted by deprivation and disease, the poor of this world do not find the prospect of our brokenness gloomy. They find it obvious. They see through the facade that wealth has erected.

    Brokenness is gloomy. It’s supposed to be. Our condition is dire. That’s why we need a Savior.

    If we are broken, then we need to be healed. And if this brokenness is on a cosmic scale, then it makes sense that the cure must also be. Brokenness leads to the necessity of a real atonement.

    If you toss out the brokenness, then of course you’re free to suffice with an allegorical or a symbolic or a metaphorical one.

    For me, speaking personally, that is not enough. I am here for the real thing. The old magic. The literal healing. The first breath of air I gulp long after my body has been laid beneath the ground. The pressure of a real. physical hug when I embrace loved ones I have missed for so long. The sociality of brothers and sisters resurrected and sitting together with our Lord, grateful for His sacrifice.

    That’s what I’m here for.

  22. In Joseph Campbell’s Creative Mythology he mentions 3 theories:
    1. Ransom theory (?) whereby after Adam’s & Eve’s fall they became somehow the property of the devil. Christ’s suffering & death were traded for the soul of man. But, the devil didn’t realize that Christ would escape through his resurrection.
    2. The Atonement theory (Anselm) where when Adam fell the offense was against God. But since God is infinite man’s offense was also infinite and man could never repay it particularly since living sin free was his duty and there would never be enough merit to spare. Therefore, Christ had to suffer. As the second member of the Godhead, sinless and perfect he deserved no punishment and yet he suffered. So he passed the benefit of his infinite suffering on to man to balance the scales of justice man’s sin. This sounds like the Book of Mormon’s infinite and eternal atonment, and might be appealing to people who are interested in mathematics (although the concept of infinity gives a lot of mathematicians problems). This can also be aligned with the Cleon Skousen speculation that forgiveness without the scales of justice being balanced would result in the “intelligences” no longer trusting & therefore no longer obeying God and therefore, drawing upon the Book of Mormon phrase, God would cease to be God.
    3. The Love Theory (Abelard) perhaps addresses the issue of concern here, brokenness. Here Christ’s suffering and death are neither offered to the devil or God but to mankind. Per John 12 I think Jesus states that he must be lifted up that he might draw all men to him (signifying the manner of death he should die). This “theory” says that the Christ’s suffering and death awakens mankind to the love & reality of God and in response awakens mankind to respond with love back to God. King Benjamin said that men would be carnal and sensual and devilish until they hearken to the enticing’s of the Holy Spirit. You could interpret this to mean that men are broken and that only through the “atonement” can they overcome their brokenness by responding to God’s love.
    These ideas are all, of course, very esoteric, and in the end it still comes down to your personal beliefs and experiences.
    Thanks for listening and please pardon any typos and errors.

  23. ReTx, if I understand what you’re saying then I think yes that’s a big part of the idea. In this line of thinking, it also seems to suggest that all who partake of exaltation (or who ascend above all things) must likewise first descend below all things in the same or similar manner. While it could be seen as beneficial in one sense, I don’t see this as being selfishly motivated, rather the motivation really is to take upon the suffering so you can know how to help / provide light to those who are in need and would like to progress. But in like pattern of all loving choices, it does seem to likewise bless the person who made the loving choice.

  24. I refuse to wallow in gloom. I don’t believe in a Creation, I believe that we are all co-creators with God in an ongoing Creation (or Creating). We are God’s agents of change. If parts of the world are broken, then we as God’s agents need to do our best to improve them. Christ suggested ways to make things better. We need to follow His example. I’m not perfect, but I don’t consider myself broken. Flawed, sure.

  25. Roger,
    What do you choose to call a clock that’s capable of telling time with the right fixing, but presently unable?

    What do you call a god that chooses not to be god so it can waste time, or insulate others, think uncharitable thoughts, manipulate, lie, maybe even abuse, steal, etc

    You might see the suggestion of being broken as negative.

    But it’s positive with regard to the reality of who you have the potential to become with the Lord’s fixin’.

  26. roger-

    Accepting bad news and wallowing in bad news are two entirely distinct activities.

    I accept that we are broken. I don’t see any way to read the scriptures without acknowledging that reality. For that matter, I don’t see how anyone can look around this planet and not accept that reality.

    But I don’t wallow in it. Because–although there is bad news–there is also good news! We have a Savior.

    So, yes, we’re in a pit.

    But I see no reason to stay here.

    We’re climbing out.

    Climbing out of the pit, being healed, learning to be like God: this is a process. Until it’s complete, I’m still broken.

    But, with the grace of Christ, we’re less broken today than we were yesterday.

  27. Libcom, my clock may be imperfect but it’s still keeping time, more or less. I’m still capable of action, and some of it is probably good. The clock analogy doesn’t work for me.

    Calling “broken” positive seems like something out of “1984” or “Brave New World.” The strangest form of double speak.

    Nathaniel, I don’t understand the need to be so gloomy or broken or whatever you call it. There is good news in addition to Christ being our Savior. He set a wonderful example about loving your neighbor. He was also a rebel who threatened both the Jewish and Roman establishment.

  28. Roger, this is just word games based on sentiment. If you go to the doctor with a sharp pain in your arm after falling on it, I hope you don’t argue that your imperfect arm is not actually broken, but still capable of doing stuff. Talk about doublespeak!

    Yes, we need to have charity and try to drive people into to the ground telling them they aren’t good enough. But come on, there’s clearly a point both rhetorical and metaphysical to the broken term.

  29. I appreciate the sincere inquiry in this post.

    I’m not trying to answer any puzzlements, but the post evoked some thoughts. I was reminded of something that President Nelson taught recently in general conference. This doesn’t necessarily answer the question of how Christ accomplishes what He does. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that He does accomplish it, and that He does so because of the infinite love that He has for His father and for us. As a wise man once put it, I do not know the meaning of all things, but I know that God loves His children. For what it’s worth, here is the citation:

    “It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement” or “applying the Atonement” or “being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

    Under the Father’s great eternal plan, it is the Savior who suffered. It is the Savior who broke the bands of death. It is the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions and blots them out on condition of our repentance. It is the Savior who delivers us from physical and spiritual death.

    There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him.”


  30. “If I can forgive my child when they do wrong without requiring someone pay the price”

    That would be you that pays the price. If my child trespasses on my neighbor, and I forgive my child, then the consequences of that trespass are mine to bear and not my child’s to bear. Now it may be that my neighbor forgives me (or my child), in which case any consequences that happened as a result of that trespass are his to bear. Now if there wasn’t actually any consequences of that trespass, and it has no physical consequence and is simply “statutory”; I made an arbitrary rule and you broke it without even knowing the rule exists, then no harm done and no price to pay by anyone.

    As to God forgiving trespasses, of course he can do that. He’s presumably omnipotent. But there is always a consequence! What would be the consequence of God forgiving everyone of every trespass all the time? There would be no need for law, few would obey, and no need for reward for all get the same reward. For reasons that are the topic of a different conversation he has not chosen that path. There is law, and consequences, but he does still want everyone to succeed. That means that someone bears the consequences, but with that also goes bearing the glory.

    Jesus/Jehovah/Son of God does both. He bears the consequences both good and bad; we belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to God. Any sin he forgives he bears. But any glory we “earn” is also his. The eventual success of the entire enterprise is his. But as with statutory trespass that has no consequence, things labeled “sin” in my opinion are not always trespass with consequences, depending on the situation (yes, I know, situational ethics).

    Now just as one person can do something with consequences on millions (think Nagasaki and Hiroshima), evidently the consequences of Adam and Eve persisted through generations of people that had nothing to do with that decision, yet they bear the consequences. That’s both good and bad; I enjoy the consequences of the people that sacrificed everything to create the United States of America, consequences of which have borne fruit for millions of people around the world for 200 years.

    The real consequence of Adam and Eve wasn’t, in my opinion, “original sin” as such but rather mortality. It is evident that an omniscient, omnipotent God foresaw everything and thus expected it; probably required it. That’s also a different conversation. But merely expecting it does not make God responsible for everything; Adam and Eve each had a choice. Whether they chose correctly is a bit late to argue; CS Lewis makes interesting science fiction out of it in his Perelandra books, what if they had chosen to obey God strictly? Well, I don’t know but it makes interesting speculation.

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