Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Why Would a God Have to Suffer for Us?

I started the Sunday School lesson last week with three questions on the chalkboard:

"Why do pain and suffering exist in this life?"

"What part do we play in pain and suffering - in receiving and causing pain and suffering?"

"Why would a God have to suffer for us?"

Before talking about those questions, we read Alma 7: 11-12, Isaiah 53: 4-6 and Matthew 8:7. We listed all of the things for which the first two passages say Jesus suffered: pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, death, infirmities, griefs, sorrows, transgressions, iniquities and, interestingly, "the chastisement of (punishment associated with) our peace". We read that Jesus suffered in order to know how to "succor (nurture, support, feed, etc.) his people" "according to the flesh" (not at just a theoretical or intellectual level). We talked about things we can understand "according to the mind" without really understanding "according to the flesh".

The first answers from the students to each question tended to be doctrinal ("to teach us lessons" / "to help us learn and improve" / etc.), but we drilled down to the practical answer ("because pain and suffering are unavoidable aspects of mortal life and central to the Plan of Salvation"). In other words, because God approved and decreed we would suffer. He "authored" it, since it was a central (perhaps the central) aspect of his plan.

I then asked everyone to think about the second question and consider that we almost always talk about how the Atonement pays for what we suffer (what is done to us), but we seldom talk about the suffering we cause (what we do to others) and how forgiving us is just as much a part of the Atonement as suffering for others is - since both are aspects of healing.

We talked about why, within our legal system, the person who commits the crime must do the time - and why a judge won't sentence me for what someone else does. We talked about if God could be any different - if there were different rules for God than for us.

We discussed the 2nd Article of Faith and that God couldn't hold us accountable for all of the bad things that happened as a result of the Fall (that we won't be punished for Adam's transgression) - that God had to be willing to take responsibility for what he set in motion and be accountable for it - to walk the walk that he required us to walk - to suffer everything his plan demanded we suffer. He had to be an example we can choose to follow, not a sadistic dictator who causes others to suffer while watching from the sidelines.

We finished by revisiting the meaning of the word "repent" - how it means, at the most basic level, to change in a way that improves or makes better. We re-read Matthew 8: 7 - where Jesus says his central mission is to "heal". I mentioned that the Old Testament says in more than one place that God "repented" of what he had done - and how we change that wording because of how we associate repentance only with sin. I told them that changing the word "repent" to mean nothing more than changing in a way that improves or makes better ("to heal; repair") frees God to "repent" the natural results of the Plan of Salvation (the unavoidable pain and suffering of mortality) by healing us and fixing the otherwise broken link between us and Him.

Thus, God becomes, in a very powerful way, both the author AND the finisher of our faith. I explained that we talk almost exclusively about Jesus' role as the finisher of our faith (the one who pays the price to tie it all together in the end) but that we generally ignore completely the implications of God being the author of our faith (the one who broke the link in the first place, asked us to suffer out of trust, caused the debt to be incurred and promised things we would have to believe without seeing).

The Atonement of pure Mormonism is SO incredibly expansive, deep and profound that we generally craft a Reader's Digest version and forget that the abridged version isn't the author's complete works. I hope I opened the library door for my students today and gave them the encouragement and/or inspiration to walk inside, "feast on the word" and discover something delicious that will nourish their souls - even if it is different in some way that what others have found to feed their souls. I hope I uncovered (and they recognize and taste) what I consider to be the main course of our theology and not get so focused on the condiments, the appetizers, the beverages and the desserts that they forget to enjoy the main course - or never catch sight of it in the first place.

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