Friday, August 6, 2010

The Atonement Rarely Gets Addressed from the Perspective of the Father

There is an old, short movie produced by the Church entitled, "The Bridge". In summary, it depicts the choice a father must make to sacrifice his son or the passengers of a train as he controls the switch that either will allow the train to cross the bridge and kill his son who is running across that bridge or swing the bridge in such a way that his son will survive while the train crashes. The following is a statement made by someone criticizing that movie and my response:

"It becomes trite, not majestic, when one tells a story like this. It makes the Atonement seem like a cheap parlor trick."

"Maybe for you and some other adults, but the basic construct can teach a powerful lesson for the children and teenagers for whom it was intended - who have no personal frame of reference for the concept of a parent who would watch a child die willingly and not intervene to provide help when He seems to have that power. The Atonement rarely gets addressed from the perspective of the Father who did not intervene. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son." Most kids really don't get that, and many adults don't get it until they have kids. Some don't even get it then - and many of the common constructs of the Trinity essentially deny the need to understand how one separate Being (the Father) interacted with another (the Son). Without the foundational aspect of separate beings comprising one Godhead, the film makes no sense whatsoever.

Are there flaws in the analogy? Of course, there are flaws in all analogies. Can it make a very simple point in a powerful, visual way - something to help somewhat immature and inexperienced hearts and minds begin to grasp it? Yes. God, the Father, really did love all of us enough to allow His Son to die for us - enough to not intervene and save that Son while we all die. There really are two separate Beings in this narrative, and the Father literally was an active participant - first, of course, in strengthening Jesus in the Garden, but also in stepping back and "forsaking" Jesus as He died.

The film does a pretty good job capturing that aspect in a way that resonates in our current world, which is what analogies are all about - imperfect though they are."


SimplyMe said...

With God being all powerful and THE creator of heaven and earth, why is there such a thing as good and evil and us needing a savior? Why did he create the plan this way? If he can make up the rules (no disrespect intended) then why couldn't he have made up the rules to save all our lives? I realize that the same is what Lucifer wanted while in premortality, but I really wonder sometimes why agency is so important that to have it would warrent such a great and terrible sacrifice? The frustration over analogies and things mentioned in your post makes me take a step back wonder why Heavenly Father created it to be this way in the first place. Hope you don't mind the question as it's not a direct response to the topic of your post.

Papa D said...

I don't mind, SimplyMe. My own answer (the one that makes sense to me) is to focus on the foundational purpose for our existence - from an eternal perspective.

Without getting too long and complicated (although this answer will be quite long), I view our eternal existence as a series of stages. The "ideal" we teach is: "intelligence" (whatever that means), pre-mortal spirit (an added "layer of being", if you will), mortal being (another added layer of being), post-mortal spirit (a state of awaing an added layer of being), resurrected being (an added - or refined - layer of being), perfected Being (the final added layer of being). When discussing what goes on in this life - particularly struggle, pain, suffering, good/evil, etc. - I try to analyze it looking backward from the ultimate objective. In other words, I try to see why it would be important or necessary in hindsight - how it might assist in the growth process in a way that the lack of it would not.

The key in this construct is that there is an actual "growth" or "development" that occurs in moving from one stage to the next - not merely a natural, outward, growth or development (similar to a baby growing into an adult), but an actual change of basic condition (like an immature person growing into a mature person). In a very real way, it's like any creative process when trying to take material and make it into something it doesn't become naturally. External change can occur in a vacuum (like what makes a baby into an adult); internal change can't occur in a vacuum. It must be the result of conscious, chosen reaction to external "forces".

In other words, there really are only two ways to take something and make it something else: direct and constant manipulation of inanimate and senseless material (that changes the outside but leaves the inside "nature" unchanged) or influence of animate, sentinent beings (that might or might not change the outside but alters the internal "nature"). That, in a nutshell, is the presentation of God's plan and Lucifer's alternative proposal.

The kicker is that Lucifer's plan would have brought everyone back to God safe and sound, but the purpose of our creation (as taught within Mormonism) is to make us subject to but independent of our Heavenly Father (to change us from immature and dependent "things" to mature and independent "Beings") - and "controlled independence" (meaning a level of maturity that isn't destined to implode and destroy) requires an internalization of "godliness" (charity, patience, self-control, etc) which will not occur naturally in a vacuum. It must be learned and internalized and chosen through exposure to competing elements.

In the end, I believe strongly in the principle of opposition in all things - and I mean ALL things. It's the only way that I can envision to experience the type of growth that can produce "agents unto themselves" who can "act and not be acted upon" - not just things whose only purpose of existence is to sit around telling their creator how wonderful he is.

Anonymous said...

This post brought to mind a book, "The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen (former priest, taught at Harvard Divinity School before your time there). I think you'd enjoy his conclusions reached through meditation as he studied and analyzed the Rembrandt painting by the
same name.

His bottom line is the realization that each of us at different times
in our lives is the father, the younger son, the older son - and the
journey as we strive to leave behind the sons and become like the

The love of the father for BOTH his prodigal son and the older son
represents the love of the Father for each of us, who from time to
time play both roles - the tie to the Atonement.

It is deep and thought-provoking without being obscure and difficult
to follow his journey of self-discovery - much more than the surface
Sunday School reading of the parable.

$10.88 at You can click on the cover there and "look
inside." They don't include all of the pages, of course, but a good
deal of the book is there.

SimplyMe said...

Papa D, you are wonderful. Thank you for providing that truly thought provoking answer. I've saved it to my computer b/c it's a keeper and I'm sure to return to it often.

Firebyrd said...

I'd also suggest to SimplyMe that God isn't omnipotent in the way that traditional Christianity presents Him to be. There are basic laws of existence, such as opposition in all things, that He cannot violate without no longer being God. He doesn't make up the most basic of rules in an eternal universe where there are an infinite number of gods and worlds and intelligences striving to learn and grow. No doubt there are specific rules He decided on for us as His children, but as far as the very biggest picture is concerned, He is bound in some ways.

To tie into what Ray said, I suspect that at some level, our agency as eternal beings simply cannot be taken away. Our bodies might be able to be forced to do certain things, but an internal change cannot be forced from the outside. Satan's plan might have ended up with us all having resurrected bodies, but without that internal change, we wouldn't have the potential to grow any farther.