Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Revisiting Perfection and the Atonement

In my last post, I mentioned my frustration over certain song lyrics and how they influence how we view Jesus and His perfection. I realized there is more I want to add to that post, so here it is:

I use the song lyrics simply to illustrate the tendency for people to deny, in practical terms, His humanity - His mortal half. I also use them to highlight the way that "perfection" is interpreted now as opposed to in the scriptures themselves.

Just to consider: There is a difference between "sin" and "transgression". One is a willful choice; one is a mistake made in ignorance or without real choice. The latter "transgression" is MUCH broader than most people realize.

As an example of something pretty serious but done in ignorance, think of a child born in a home where terrorism is taught as a way of life. Great rewards are promised for suicide death in the name of God. If that young boy grows up and carries out a suicide bombing that kills people, is his action a "sin" or a "transgression"? How can we really know for sure - seeing only the result and not what caused it? If he were mentally disabled, we would understand and allow for an exception. How can we be sure exactly what constitutes "mental disability" in God's eyes?

Another example - a very emotional one: We are commanded to abstain from sex with anyone who is not our spouse. In the case of rape, there is a sin (the one who rapes) AND there is a transgression (the breaking of the law by what is done to he one who is raped). The victim does not sin, even though the commandment truly is broken - since sex outside of marriage has occurred. The Atonement covers that "technical violation", since it was not done intentionally or willfully. Therefore, the victim remains "clean" in the eyes of God.

Now, turn to the example of Jesus. We know he was subject to the Fall because of his mother's fallen status. This means that He inherited from her the ability to "sin", but it also means He inherited from her the same type of weaknesses and inclinations and tendencies to "transgress" as we do from our mortal parents. ***This means that he had to go through the process of overcoming His "natural man" exactly like we do, while never "sinning".***

Have you ever considered that Jesus was acting in His role as Redeemer not just for everyone else, but also for Himself? Lest I be called a heretic, remember, I also believe He never "sinned" - acted in opposition to what He understood and knew. I'm just saying that we are not held accountable for our transgressions; the Atonement paid for them. Therefore, I believe, the Atonement also paid for His transgressions, as well - those "innocent" mistakes He made as a child and as He was learning and growing from grace to grace. He probably was a more naturally obedient child than most, but I think it's instructive that, like other prophets, He was not accepted "in His own country" - by those who watched Him grow up as just a normal child in their eyes.

When He condescended to come to earth, He agreed to do so in a way that put Him in subjection to the Fall - so He could experience EVERY aspect of mortality that we do. I believe that in doing so there had to be a way provided for *all* of us to be freed from the effects of the Fall - including He who condescended to become as one of us - in every way other than succumbing to actual sin.

In the end, I return to how "perfection" was applied under the Law of Moses (and in Lucifer's plan) - never making a mistake and following everything with exactness, generally at threat of punishment. I then look at Matthew 5:48 and see that Jesus defined it as "complete, finished, fully developed" - covering lots of mistakes by allowing for repentance and focusing on spiritual growth toward an eventual completion of character. If we understand this difference, I believe it can change and empower the way we look at Jesus - and our children and our friends and our fellow saints and our leaders - AND OURSELVES, making us much more able to "have joy" in this life and in the life to come.

***We need to quit using "perfect" the way the world uses it and start using it the way that our Savior and Redeemer did.***


funnysoprano said...

As Brad explores LDS message boards, he finds your name sprawled across most of them. He thinks you're pretty cool. Check out my new post and tell the girls I love them and miss them very much, thinking about them a lot.

Papa D said...

I told the girls; they were ecstatic.

Call anytime you need to talk - collect, if necessary. We will hang up and call you right back.

I mean that; call us if you need to talk. You know Mama will understand and support you.

Patty said...

The whole "sin" vs. "transgression" thing gets me wondering- are there different prices to pay depending on the person's accountability? Here's an example: two people are caught in adultery- they both have a basic understanding of the law of not committing it, but neither has a full testimony of it or a desire to even follow it because of bad marriage experiences. One got excommunicated because of a belligerent attitude and the other was only disfellowshipped because there was no malice towards church authority. Was the attitude when confronted all the difference? Is this one way we can tell a sin from a transgression? I have to wonder, of all the bad things I did in my life, how many were sins and how many were transgressions because it seems like the line gets really fuzzy. I had been taught the basics of the gospel, but didn't have them emphasized in my life and so it was very easy to ignore a lot of the commandments. Does this mean that most of what I consider to be sins were only transgressions? It seems to me that there are natural consequences regardless of whether it was a sin or a transgression. I just wonder if the consequences are greater for sins and more mercy shown to us when it is a transgression.
I know this is horribly long, but you definitely got me thinking again. I hope you didn't feel the need to expand on your topic because of my last post, because I didn't mean to make it sound like Jesus didn't have to overcome His mortal side and that He never transgressed (or that He was "perfect" all along.) I'm with you on those points.
Thanks for the great insight, as always! I'm glad I've had the time to stop by and get my brain stimulated!

Brad said...

When we are resurrected, our bodies are perfect: a paid-for gift of the Atonement to all men. Jesus Himself was not perfect in all senses of the word until He was resurrected. At that point, He was in all ways just like our Heavenly Father. Thanks for your insights on this matter. I've always believed Jesus tripped over his feet as a child, just like all others, but I hadn't contemplated the nature of a transgression and the Christian applications.

Papa D said...

Great questions, Patty. I think the short answer is, "Yes."

I know that's not good enough (*grin*), so I'll leave my shell and talk a little.

Sin and transgression have two basic things in common: 1) they are denoted by the violation of a commandment / law / standard; 2) they bring consequences that often cannot be erased. Transgressions are covered by the Atonement regardless of our actions, so that we are not worse off for accepting the Plan of Salvation and following HF and Jesus than we were in the pre-existence. This application of grace (this gift) guarantees us a degree glory in the hereafter, assuming we do not openly renounce our pre-existent choice and consciously choose to reject HF's plan.

Sins and our reaction to them determine if we receive a greater degree of glory. They also are covered by God's grace (the Atonement), but that occurs as we accept the core principles of the Gospel (faith and repentance) - and that acceptance is symbolized by our participation in the core ordinances of the Priesthood. We exercise faith in Christ by being baptized; we promise to repent through the help of the Holy Ghost we receive upon confirmation.

So, to address your specific example, disciplinary actions in the Church usually revolve around a determination of the severity of the sin (adultery vs. fornication, for example) and the contrition of the person who sinned. Generally, transgression is not punished by anything other than probation, during which time the transgressor works at overcoming the tendency that led to the transgression. ( - unless the transgression is of a deeply serious nature - like fornication - in which case, disfellowshipment can and does occur)

Also, two people who commit the same sin but who exhibit different levels of contrition / repentance often receive different results from their disciplinary councils. Other times, when the same result is required, the time it takes to return to full fellowship differs radically - always based on each person's willingness to repent.

I think most people tend to equate many of their transgressions with sin - and that's only a bad thing if it leads to debilitating guilt and feelings of inadequacy. The fine line is whether or not one is able to accept the Atonement and realize that they really have been "forgiven" for their natural tendencies - for those things with which they might struggle until the day they die - that it's ok if they aren't perfect (complete and finished) before they die - but that they need to try to overcome them nonetheless. In these cases, it's the effort (the proof of one's broken heart and contrite spirit) that counts.

OK, long enough for now.

Papa D said...

Just to clarify:

"Consequences that often cannot be erased" refers especially to those actions that affect others - like the baby that is born into extreme poverty and dysfunction because of her parents' sin or transgression. Each parent can be forgiven for the action, but the practical consequences of that action cannot be erased.

adamf said...

This transgression vs. sin topic is definitely on that I need to think more about. I never really got it with Adam and Eve, and am still grasping a little for it now. For example, you wrote "One is a willful choice; one is a mistake made in ignorance or without real choice." How do we really know what kind of state is "ignorance?" Maybe it's a personal matter between oneself and God...

Thanks for the post--this is a topic I have not thought much about for a long time.

Papa D said...

"How do we really know what kind of state is "ignorance?" Maybe it's a personal matter between oneself and God..."

EXACTLY, Adam. Hence, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."

If my friend is bi-polar or suffers from depression (and will never completely be cured), how in the world can I know which of her actions she really can control ("choose") and which of her actions she simply can't control - specifically because of what she inherited genetically from the Fall?

I wish beyond description members understood and practiced that principle better.

kuri said...

I'm not sure I can agree that there is any "transgression" at all in a person who is raped. A commandment has been broken, but not by the one who has been raped. That person has not had sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse has been had with her/him.

Papa D said...

kuri, I understand what you are saying, but let me give you another example:

A Catholic smokes. That is a violation of a law - the Word of Wisdom. It is a "transgression" - simply meaning the violation of a law; it is NOT a sin.

The victim of rape as transgressor is NOT a condemnation in any way. It simply says that she was involved in something that is forbidden, but that such involvement is NOT imputed negatively to her since it was not done of her own volition. She was an INNOCENT participant; her *body* broke the command, but *she* (her soul - body AND spirit) did not. Remember, the Atonement pays for transgressions and allows transgressors to remain clean in the eyes of God.

Frankly, I am fine in this example with ANY definition that keeps the victim clean and worthy in the eyes of God and man. If you don't want to use "transgression" because of its cultural and historical misuse, I understand and can't argue. I simply choose to try to define the word more narrowly - to fit what I think is its true meaning.

In the end, we agree as the spiritual condition of the victim.

kuri said...

"In the end, we agree as the spiritual condition of the victim."

I think that's the most important point. Thanks for the clarification.