Friday, March 13, 2009

One of the Best Comments on the Atonement I Have Ever Read

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…

Comment #50 by quin - The Totality of Mortality (Times & Seasons)


SilverRain said...

"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."

Justice, no. Mercy, yes. In order to be an infinite Atonement, it would have to atone infinitely.

In order to be an infinite Atonement, Christ had to suffer for sin whether or not a person repented. In other words, the opportunity to repent had to be there, whether or not a person would take it. That is how mercy was able to balance justice without robbing it. That is why the Atonement is so awe-inspiring.

"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."

I don't think we are "made" to feel guilty, I think that guilt is a realization that we are cut off from God. We can then either use that to come closer to Him, or to reject Him.

I also have experienced for myself that healing for the victim does not need to come "at some point in the future". It is important to understand that Christ's atonement can heal a victim, regardless of the repentance of the perpetrator. Our relationship with Christ is necessarily completely independent of any other's relationship with Him or with us.

Even further, for a victim, healing through the atonement can come while the sin is still being committed. It is unimaginable, but it is true.

Kent (MC) said...

Ray, I also really enjoyed that comment by Quin. I think I find it particularly frustrating to discuss the atonement with others because so many people approach it from such a different place. I, for example, do not view the demands of justice as an external force, rather an internal judgment I pass on myself which keeps me from being fully open and engaged in a loving relationship with God and others. So it changes the paradigm from demanding punishment to requiring healing.

The one aspect that I think Quin got absolutely right is that what I need Christ to do for me is heal those damaged relationships and people that I have hurt. I need him to heal me too, but I need his love to undo the ill effects of my actions that I can't undo. I mean, what good would it do for Christ to let me "live with him" if the people I hurt are still hurting? If I am a perfect and good person through Christ at that moment can I stand to see my brothers and sisters in pain which resulted from my actions? How can I accept forgiveness in that state of affairs? That's why I really love Quin's point about that.

I really think we as a church can start to move away from the "Penal Substitution Theory" of atonement formalized by John Calvin. We reject most all other aspects of Calvinism but seem to have a hard time giving up the idea that justice demands that God must punish us for all infractions, and that Christ will take our beating for us. What could be more unjust? Joseph Smith provided a better paradigm I believe which focuses on loving relationships needing to be healed, not some impersonal "justice" demanding suffering.

Papa D said...

My own thoughts, since I didn't add them:

I agree that the Atonement has to "atone" infinitely, but I'm not certain if that means a pain-for-pain payment for every single thing suffered by every single individual (as believed by some) or an overwhelming and unfathomable payment for the totality of human existence, irrespective of the actual details. I believe deeply that Jesus suffered for me, but I don't think he literally paid distinctly for me through pain and suffering that was for me "only" then moved on and suffered again for each and every other person. Iow, I believe in a "communal scapegoat" model of the Atonement (the entire thing, not just the suffering) that includes all, including me.

SR's point about being able to be healed even while being hurt is excellent - and I agree completely. That's why I like quin's phrase "at some point in the future" at its broadest definition - since "at some point" can include any time after the initial harm is inflicted, even while subsequent pain still is being inflicted.

I also read "made to feel guilty" as inclusive of all the ways we can feel guilty - whether that be external or internal.

"I really think we as a church can start to move away from the 'Penal Substitution Theory' of atonement formalized by John Calvin."

AMEN, brother! Amen.

Papa D said...

One more quick thing:

I believe that when we limit "The Atonement" to just the Garden (or just the Garden and the Cross), we lose MOST of the power of seeing His life as part of the Atonement.

Kent (MC) said...

Ray, truly, you are my brother! The atonement is God's way of relating to us today. We live our lives in each other. He experiences my life (pain and joy) and I experience his love and perspective.

One thing I found interesting is that the scriptures never speak of a "payment" for sin. Christ never "paid" for our sins. Do a search, it just doesn't exist. The closest we have is Paul stating that we are "bought with a price", speaking of Christ redeeming us from Satan's slavery to become Christ's slaves. I think it is very easy to dismiss the idea that Satan actually owns us and that Christ had to pay Satan to get our souls back from him; Paul is being poetic. The payment for sins has crept into our language from the middle ages and is what led to a view that indulgences could exist.

Talking about healing the pain from sin is a much more beneficial paradigm, since then we can focus on the relationship that Christ is offering instead of worrying about guilt and God judging whether he will forgive us. When I sin, I trust myself less to love others, I withdraw from others, including God. I think I should pray more to repent fully, rather than that God will forgive me. As a sinner, I think he already does forgive me, I just have to change more to better feel his love in my life (that he is already sending my way but I can't accept until my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite).

Papa D said...

Kent, I am not ready to discard all references to payment from the Atonement, particularly given the title "Redeemer" and the "payment" inherent in that designation (even with the concept of how worthless and irredeemable we are **in our fallen state** - which, I believe, is meant to help us be humble and recognize the need for a Savior and Redeemer in the first place), but I very much prefer to focus MOST of our attention on the idea that He lived and suffered and died in order to know how to "succor" us (because we actually ARE worthy of redemption) - which I think is the heart of what you are saying.

Kent (MC) said...

I look forward to our discussion at when I do my chapter on Atonement. Thanks for your kind words.