Learning about the Atonement is a lifelong pursuit

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  • The Scientist Provo, UT
    March 6, 2013 4:03 p.m.

    I have asked Tyler D's question to LDS leaders and members for many years, and none have been able to give even a remotely adequate answer.

    Not only does the doctrine of "vicarious redemption" violate every ethical principle of personal responsibility known to mankind, but it is based on some view of god and the devil that can only be problematic. If god requires "blood" to "pay" for sin, then he is rightly described as a "bloodthirsty god" - a creature we would be wise not to worship. Put another way, it begs the question of how blood-letting and murder "pay" for sin.

    And if the devil is the one being "paid" for sin, it begs the question as to why such an outcast being has any standing in the universe whatsoever - that is, upon what basis does the devil have any claim on anyone or anything in the universe? Why does he deserve any "payment" at all?

    Without being able to answer such fundamental questions about "the atonement", nobody who believes in such things can hope to have any more substance to their "faith" than a child has in the inexplicable trust in Santa Claus.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 5, 2013 5:55 p.m.

    Tyler D & Craig Clark,

    Though I agree that the Gospel of John has some distinctions from the synoptic gospels, I don’t see at all that the Christ portrayed therein is essentially different. The Christ of the Book of Mormon is resurrected and there is only limited coverage of the resurrected Christ in any of the gospels. But the person (personality) described does not strike me as different.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 5, 2013 11:28 a.m.

    Tyler D,

    ".....Although the Jesus in the Gospel of John and the Book of Mormon seems like a very different person than the guy in the synoptic gospels… is it just me?....."

    It’s not just you. John stands apart from the synoptic gospels as a harbinger of a developing Christian theology. I should double check but I believe it’s the only gospel that refers to Jesus as the lamb of God. Interestingly, it’s the only gospel with an introduction that is pure theology.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 5, 2013 10:44 a.m.

    @Craig Clark – “the most important aspect of his life's work are his moral and ethical teachings which came from Judaism”

    Yeah, I agree, however as even modern scholars like Jung and Campbell have pointed out, there’s something very powerful about archetypes (e.g., lamb of God) as they can move people far more than just ethical examples. Whether a “myth” is actually true or not is another issue, but it’s not my place to denigrate those beliefs as long as they “bare good fruit.”

    Organized religion, with all its pretensions, hypocrisy and totalitarian tendencies is another matter. To me, it is fair game and I attack it where justified regularly.

    Jesus though strikes me as a big improvement on Judaism. Next to much of the OT and the prophets of old, he seems like a particularly enlightened Jew. Although the Jesus in the Gospel of John and the Book of Mormon seems like a very different person than the guy in the synoptic gospels… is it just me?

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 5, 2013 10:33 a.m.

    Tyler D & Craig Clark,

    I believe Christ changes the essential math. Without him it is a closed system of consequences each circling endlessly back into our lives and the world generally. He provides a way to offload the consequence and take it out of rotation. Only a part of that is visible now. I believe in the eternal worlds we will recognize this as being far more extensive than we do/can now.

    Then there is the person whom we grow to love. When we become adults we recognize that our parents have (do) suffer for us – take upon them our burdens to the extent they can and (hopefully) our hearts open to them. We do not wish to burden them further but rather to ease their burdens where possible.

    With Christ, we begin the trek toward sanctification – to seek to commit no sin, to add no further to his burden. And to repay what we can by reaching out to the others he is trying to help (which would be all the human family).

    I am sorry if this is inadequate. But I feel I am reaching the boundaries of what I can reasonably explain.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 5, 2013 9:40 a.m.

    Tyler D,

    ".....I still don’t know how one person could change this reality in any grand metaphysical way, but I think the example of Jesus and the effects he obviously has on people’s hearts, is wonderful....."

    I wholeheartedly agree. For me, the most important aspect of his life's work are his moral and ethical teachings which came from Judaism. It's how we treat other people that matters in this world. That's salvation enough.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 5, 2013 9:24 a.m.

    @Twin Lights and Bill in Nebraska

    Thank you both for your thoughtful comments.

    I think there’s something to what you said as most religions seem to recognize the reality of cause & effect. The eastern religions especially talk a lot about karma and how our actions resonate into the world for good or ill.

    I still don’t know how one person could change this reality in any grand metaphysical way, but I think the example of Jesus and the effects he obviously has on people’s hearts, is wonderful.

    It is interesting though who this dilemma (grace vs. effort) tends to swing back and forth throughout history, even within the same religions. There seems to be something universal in our makeup that these two sides (of the same coin) address.

    Thanks again… best.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    March 5, 2013 9:25 a.m.

    The blood of a sacrificed paschal lamb on the door of the Israelites of the first Passover in Egypt was a signal to God who would pass by the home on the night that the firstborn of the households of Egypt were struck dead. It became a perennial observance of the Israelites symbolizing their deliverance from bondage.

    The Gospel of John written toward the end of the first century CE called Jesus the lamb of God, suggesting elements of Passover being adapted into a new religion centered around Jesus being killed by priestly and Roman authorities in consequence of his activities. As the new religion evolved, Jesus emerged as the new paschal lamb who had knowingly gone to his death to atone for the sins of all mankind. To skeptics and rationalists, the salvation meaning that came to define Jesus’ life and death seems like a labored stretch.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    March 4, 2013 6:57 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    I am not sure “Justice doesn’t care who pays”. I think we use a lot of mental shortcuts and metaphors that are ultimately too simplistic to comprehend such complex doctrines.

    I have never felt that there was a war between justice and mercy. Rather that they represent different sides of a larger construct. True justice comprehends mercy. True mercy comprehends justice. Even in our limited human view, we often see the withholding of mercy as unjust or the application of wise justice as merciful.

    I believe there is a debt created when we harm ourselves or others (the essential nature of sin is harm). The consequence for the harm does not just disappear into the ether. Perhaps we can only understand the full nature of the harm if we understand this too.

    I find utility in Christ as Savior. I receive his forgiveness and owe him my allegiance. I find him worthy to follow in every way. As a parent I understand just a bit of his willingness to suffer to allow a loved one’s progress.

    Just my own thoughts.

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    March 4, 2013 5:39 p.m.

    TylerD: You asked a very compelling question. The atonement and my understanding of it has allowed me to know that even if I make a mistake that through repentance that I may still be forgiven. It means that for me that I can make mistakes, that I can error and that as a human being who isn't perfect but subject to all the temptations that the Lord Jesus Christ will take my sins upon him. He died for all mankind. In the Garden of Gethsemne he bled great gobs of blood from every pore. He suffered so that I wouldn't have to suffer.

    I think that is what it means to me. The other is that by Grace we are saved. However, faith without works is dead as stated by Peter. I feel that we must be willing to obey the Lord's commandments. To be loving and caring to all of Gods Spirit Children. This is why I find the Church of Jesus Christ teachings so wonderful because it gives all of a chance to enter into his presence, not just a few. It reminds me that we are all brothers and sisters.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 4, 2013 3:16 p.m.

    @ OnlytheCross

    Thanks… so bottom line, it has given you solace. Specifically, Paul’s notion articulated in Romans that faith alone saves us. Let me know if I misunderstood…

    The whole faith vs. works (or grace vs. effort) debate has been historically interesting and I can see the appeal of both sides. The “faith” side seems to provide great relief to those who are overly anxious about whether they are “good enough” and allows them to just relax a bit – sort of a “Jesus take the wheel” approach.

    It has merit, but it seems to me the big downside of this approach is that people (once they are “saved”) can stop doing the work necessary to grow and become Christ-like. C.S. Lewis articulates this quite well in Screwtape Letters.

    Further, the “works” approach appears to find support in Matthew 25:31 and James 2:14.


    You completely missed the point of my question because your doctrinal answers presuppose your beliefs (which do nothing to convince a non-believer).

    I asked how this doctrine impacted you personally.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    March 4, 2013 1:38 p.m.

    Re; Tyler D, if you want to provide an answer, do not quote scripture. OK, but I may have to go to scripture to answer your objections.

    Necessity, God cannot overlook man’s sin, nor can he just forgive man without requiring that payment be made for sin. In the sense, the atonement is necessary for man to be made right with his creator.

    Substitution, It simply means that the atonement is a sacrifice offered in placer of the sinner. The sacrifice bears the sinner’s guilt.

    Propitiation, To regain favor, Man’s sin does not just make God sad, it makes him angry. His anger or wrath can be only satisfied by the execution of his justice. His judicial system cannot be short-circuited.

    Imputation has to do with the positive aspect of the atonement, what God has given believers. God has taken away the guilt of believers, but he has also imputed to them the righteousness of Christ.

  • OnlytheCross Bakersfield, CA
    March 4, 2013 10:47 a.m.

    Great question, Tyler. It affected me dramatically, spiritually and permanently. My experience was not unique, but I had to go outside my cozy cocoon to discover another reality, a real truth that I had never accepted or personally believed in.

    When I simply had a "chosen" belief based on my family heritage and tradition, it was an intellectual exercise for me. I was taught from my holy books and leaders, I prayed as a child and believed in what I was told. I felt warm and cuddly, protected and nurtured in my religious community.

    But many years later, the adult world brought pain and separation into my life. Although I still believed and remained true to my heritage, I was curious if I had missed something. This led me into a deep study of pure, Biblical theology to see if I had missed a crucial point. Exclusive study showed me that my religious tradition had altered the Biblical atonement message. It added requirements, changed the location, and watered down Christ's miraculous effect on those who simply accept/believe that His shed blood covers AND cleanses the repentent sinner.

    A new birth says it all.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    March 4, 2013 9:25 a.m.

    “Justice doesn’t care who pays, as long as the payment is made, as long as each action has a commensurate consequence suffered for or enjoyed by someone.”

    Vicarious redemption is a doctrine I have never been able to grasp – this quote above seems to violate every ethical principle of personal responsibility I can think of.

    That said, I’m curious how believers find this doctrine useful. How does the doctrine of Atonement help you try to be a better person? Or, how would you feel worse off if you didn’t believe in it? Would you feel despair without it?

    Perhaps in a country founded on religious freedom, people will self select the beliefs and teachings that work for them, so assuming that, this must be a doctrine many people find useful and beneficial. As a non-believer, I’m just genuinely curious why… respectfully.

    But please, if you want to provide an answer, do not quote scripture. Not only is that never convincing (to non-believers), I think it actually hurts your case. We typically don’t care what a “sacred book” says about it… how does it impact YOU?

  • george of the jungle goshen, UT
    March 4, 2013 6:23 a.m.

    I am only hear for a short time. There is a cause and the effect, ease and dis-ease. I think that there are supernatural beings. I believe Jesus has the touch that can effect any thing. I accept life, the way to wisdom and the truth, I will protect my liberty and I will pursue happiness. But by the Grace of God go I.