In favour of substitutionary atonement, sort of (2/2)

lamb_thumb

The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (but only for first century Jews).

If someone were to volunteer to die in place of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we would not think that justice, nor even mercy, had been served. Show justice — if the death penalty is your thing — by killing him. Show mercy by not killing him. But kill someone else to satisfy the demands of justice? Ridiculous.

That is the problem with the substitutionary atonement model. We moderns don’t believe in it in principle. This is why the various parables out there that try to explain the atonement are so poor. There’s the whipping of the school boy to save his friend, which only leaves you wondering why the sadistic teacher should be whipping anyoneOr there’s the drawbridge keeper who sacrifices his son to save the train but which reduces Jesus to an unfortunate little boy caught on the tracks.

I imagine most Christians hold to some kind of vicarious sacrifice model of atonement. It is, after all, a view mandated in scripture (Hebrews 9). Alarms should be ringing, however: our unsatisfactory attempts to make it comprehensible are indicative of its shortcomings and serve only to make God a monster who whips innocent boys. Typically this incomprehensibility is justified by means of the mysteries of godliness, but this is to make a mistake. The fact is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross would have been easily comprehensible to an ancient audience, where ideas around blood atonement, the kinsmen redeemer, and blood payments were part of their world view. For such people, Jesus’ death was indeed a vicarious sacrifice. For us? Perhaps not.

The atonement, at least in the way it is experienced by humans, was a trick. It’s a good trick so don’t freak out, but a trick nonetheless. Once again, the key here is the Jewish temple.

As I wrote in my first post, it is Jesus’ rejection of the temple (representing the old way) that is foremost in the narrative and rituals of Holy Week (which represent the new way). I believe that Jesus wants his disciples to strike a new path away from the temple and the pious emptiness it represented. To do this he offers a new body and new blood: the bread and wine of the communal meal, stripped of the elite commensality that was religious feasting in the first century. This meal was to be the centre of a new religion without regard for Jew or Greek, male or female — a kingdom for the outcasts.

But this was not enough. How can one abandon the temple when its sacrifices bring atonement for sin? Jesus had already done this when he bypassed the priestly channel of God’s mercy and went around offering forgiveness with nary a whiff of incense or the spilling of blood. But old habits die hard. In order to wrench his people away from temple he would need to engage in the biggest performance of prophetic enactment the world had ever seen: he would be their “high priest of the good things” — no more goats or bulls but the flesh of the Holy One of Israel, a new High Priest.

Prophetic enactment is a strategy by some religious figures who use symbolic (often eccentric) actions to highlight the will of God. One thinks of Simeon the Stylite who lived on a pillar for 36 years, or Isaiah’s naked stroll through Jerusalem. The Jewish followers of Jesus, if they were to accept Jesus’ new body and new blood as substitutes for the temple, would need an epic act of religious drama if he was going to crush the pious habits of a lifetime.

So here’s the crux: with their Passover minds washed with the blood of a salvific lamb, Jesus offered himself as an atoning sacrifice, not because God demanded it but because his disciples needed it. The veil of the temple — and the seat of atonement it was so obsessively hiding — was ripped in two for his disciples’ sake, not God’s. You do not need Herod’s temple any more (if you ever did)!

Thus Jesus was indeed a substitutionary sacrifice but not to fulfil some cosmic law that thinks justice is served when children are whipped for their friends. Instead, he enacted in his own body a culturally-bound ritual in order to found a new Judaism. The atonement has power because it is eternal, meaning it satisfies our spiritual needs and turns us to God in all times and cultures. Some of us recoil from the notion of substitutionary sacrifice in the way it is typically presented in Christianity, but that is fine, as the atonement was only ever that for people who needed it to be that.

One is then left asking what the atonement means to us today, if it isn’t to satisfy God’s (or the devil’s, or The Law’s) need for blood (but rather the first century disciples’ belief that it was to satisfy God’s need for blood). Because Christianity is true, I have no doubt that Jesus’ suffering and death can have multiple meanings. I am also sure it will have other meanings in centuries hence.

Comments

  1. Jason K. says:

    “not because God demanded it but because his disciples needed it.”

    I love this, Ronan. I think I’ll be chewing on it for a while.

  2. Yes. I am left asking that question as well. I do not believe that God desires blood. I tend to favor atonement as the only act capable of drawing us all together and uniting us. We are so distant, so petty and so cruel to each other, that Christ could only become our common denominator by a special act of deepest kindness to each of us.

  3. Leonard R says:

    Great one, two punch. Along with Jason, will be chewing on this for a while. Really good all around, but the phrasing of your connection of Jesus’ body and blood to the sacrificial lamb made it clearer than I had seen it before.

  4. Steve G. says:

    So why the blood sacrifice in the first place? If we believe that the sacrifices began with Adam and were a type of the final sacrifice of the Lamb of God, then we are just circling the reasoning back on itself. It seems we are missing something fundamental here.

    The only thing that makes sense to me is centered on the idea of forgiveness. It need not be complicated by strange made up stories , like that of the switchman, that tug on our emotions. (I loathe hearing that story, and I have a friend who uses it in every talk.) The atonement can be distilled down to this:

    We need to be clean to be with God. To be clean requires forgiveness. The way Christ received power to forgive was to suffer for our sake.

  5. I think the truth lies in reasoned historical analysis. The historical Adam seems to have not existed at all or at least as the Christian myth in genesis relates. So the fall as the myth claims did not happen more than likely. Couple this with the assumption that if God exists then surely he has the power to forgive independently of the atonement. Added to this, the historical evidence shows a Jesus very different from the Christian myth that sprang up centuries later. Even the gospels themselves get more fantastical as they go along culminating with the gospel of john in claiming that Jesus was God from the beginning.

    So, it seems that answer to the puzzle of the atonement is that it is simply myth.

  6. Clark Goble says:

    I’m not sure we can say it’s a myth. However I think the metaphors that served it simply don’t work for us today with our more modern conceptions of ethics, law and justice.

    However let’s be clear – Mormons have long shifted the meaning of the atonement with the emphasis place in the garden rather than the cross. Perhaps that’s too more metaphor than explanation. However typically it’s taken to mean that at that moment Christ experienced something that meant he understands us in such a way that he can reconcile us with God. Which ultimately is the fundamental point of the atonement.

    The theological problem then becomes Christ becoming like the father. But take a step back and why need Christ at all? Doesn’t God the father already have omnipotence? Why was it needed? So what seems like a great explanation in some ways has as many problems.

  7. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you. (Typo at “You need not [fear?] Herod’s temple anymore.”)

  8. Jesus offered himself as an atoning sacrifice, not because God demanded it but because his disciples needed it….The atonement has power because it is eternal, meaning it satisfies our spiritual needs and turns us to God in all times and cultures….Because Christianity is true, I have no doubt that Jesus’ suffering and death can have multiple meanings. I am also sure it will have other meanings in centuries hence.

    Important thoughts here, Ronan, and I want to agree with much of what you say, but I need to think carefully about how to do so, or else I’ll walk right into the very reasonable questions which Steven G. and Damian raise. Meanings are surely going to be products of time and culture-bound subjective interpretations, but the historical acts themselves, at least in their essentials, can’t be, or else we’re knee-deep in the profoundest sort of relativism. So if Jesus’s disciples needed (whether they realized it or not initially) the Messiah to be a slain lamb, and yet if that act–which responded to and made use of its particular historical moment–is nonetheless to be understood as something eternal, which may satisfy all spiritual needs whatever our particular moment may be, then perhaps it is our first responsibility as Christians to continually make real in our lives why we, however contrary it may be to modern individualism, actually also need some kind of sacrifice, some kind of suffering and death, some kind of victory over death and hell, if we are to be capable of receiving God’s grace, and loving as He loved. In other words, it can’t just be an open-ended “and this is what the atonement means to me!”; it has to be, I think, a reading of ourselves and our struggles that reminds us of that which we cannot fix ourselves, that which needs He who descended below all–who went lower than any human being could ever go–if we are to ever get over our self-pity and self-aggrandizement and self in general, and be one with others.

  9. I agree that substitutionary theory has a lot of holes in it. This alternative explanation just didn’t connect for me, though. It has holes too, some of which have been pointed out by other commenters. What I find odd is that Jesus himself never really explained why his crucifixion was necessary. All the theories came later. Why would he not make explicit why his sacrifice was necessary? Seems a pretty massive oversight.

  10. I’ve got to admit that my first reaction to this post is to cry blasphemy, and I’m surprised no one beat me to it. There’s a big difference between a Savior and an exemplar. I suppose if we’re kind of tossing out the idea that we need a Savior to pay for our sins, we can also toss out the idea that Christ was actually Jehovah, and then it doesn’t seem so strange to suggest that Christ spent his whole life trying to overthrow not the just perversions and misunderstandings of the Mosaic law, but the underlying symbolism as well. The idea that it makes no sense to think that a person can pay for the sins of another is recognized in scripture (Alma 34), and yet the concept is still maintained and defended. In fact, it’s the core concept of Christianity and is found widely throughout the scriptures. To reduce it to philosophical metaphor with a meaning intended to shift with the times is turn it into just another mythology declaring peace, love, and understanding.

    I’ll come back to this piece later and see if I’m just missing the point because of my current mindset, but it does strike me as a gentle rejection of THE fundamental core of Christianity.

  11. I’m simple-minded. I am satisfied to give thanks and to try to live the life that Jesus wants me to live. Attempts at theory are interesting and thought-provoking and all that, and I appreciate them for those reasons, and in my own mind I see that my own thoughts on questions of why tend to change over time based on my needs at the time, so I make it a practice not to endorse speculative theories. But thanks for the food for thought.

  12. I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the place you ultimately end up in with this, Ronan, but I completely agree with your critique of the substitutionary theory.

    I find it interesting that as latter-day saints we actually have at least a portion of that critique canonized as scripture in Amulke’s teachings in Alma 34: “Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.”

    When I was younger, I thought this was nothing more than a comment on the fact that Jesus’ blood can pay for these that our blood can’t, so it was nothing more than “you and I can’t be a substitute sacrifice, but since Jesus is perfect/immortal, he can do it. But as I get older I wonder if Amulek is really commenting on the nature of justice itself, that it is simply not just to accept the punishment of an innocent party as substitution. So when he says “therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world,” I wonder if maybe he is saying that when we talk about the “infinite atonement” we are talking about something much bigger and transcendent than mere substitution.

    And, if you’re going to take the old testament sacrifices as types and shadows of Jesus’s sacrifice, add to that the fact that when you have the scapegoat and the sacrificial victim, the sins of the people are placed not onto the sacrificial victim, which is killed, but onto the scapegoat, which is set free. If the victim is the substitute for the people, then wouldn’t it make more sense to put the sins onto the victim? That suggests to me that the sacrifice is not about substituting the victim (Jesus) for our own selves to take the punishment, and that in fact it is not about punishment at all, but rather about accepting grace by making an offering of the best that we have.

    For the reasons Russel explains, I don’t think that Jesus’s suffering ought to be reduced to just appeasing the culture of first century jews. The explanation that makes the most sense to me is this: It all goes back to grace. Grace is a free gift, but it is a conditional gift, and if you accept it, you accept the conditions that God sets, and the conditions really boil down to this: if you accept grace, you agree to offer your whole souls as an offering to God (an idea that is expressed in numerous ways, including obedience, sacrifice, consecration, repentance). So Jesus offered his whole soul, body and spirit to the Father, to show us the way to be reconciled with God through his grace. It wasn’t so much to accept punishment on our behalf as it was to (1) become fully human, “descending below all,” and experiencing death, thus finishing what the incarnation began, thus reconciling God and man in the same being, and (2) to demonstrate his love and submission to the Father’s will, the will of the son being swallowed up in the will of the Father, as Abinadi says, thus becoming what he always was from the beginning:one with the Father. So the atonement, the becoming at one, is Jesus becoming completely and fully human while at the same time becoming completely and fully one with the Father (or really, not so much becoming one with the Father, but fully enacting the fact that he always was one with the Father, since he was one with the Father from the beginning). And because he is completely and fully one with the Father, while also being completely and fully one with us, he is able to offer us grace.

    It’s not a perfect theory, but it’s the best I can do that this point in my life of making sense of the atonement.

  13. I see Martin beat me to the Alma 34 reference. But I obviously understand Alma’s teachings a little differently from the way Martin appears to understand them.

  14. The Other Clark says:

    Hmm… This post has much to ponder. For years, John 3:16 has bothered me. To paraphrase, “God shows his love for us by sending his favorite son to earth to suffer unspeakably cruel torture and eventual death.” When Mormon theology layers on the facts that we are also children of God, and he loves us, too, I fail to find that comforting.

    I know the atonement is real, and have felt the power of foregiveness and strength that come from it. But it’s still a vast mystery to me, both how it works and why it was necessary. Maybe stewing on this two-part post will enable me to get some enlightenment on this topic.

  15. M Miles says:

    “Thus Jesus was indeed a substitutionary sacrifice but not to fulfil some cosmic law that thinks justice is served when children are whipped for their friends. Instead, he enacted in his own body a culturally-bound ritual in order to found a new Judaism. Tc”

    Ronan,
    I really like this. I feel God uses the structure of religion (or we use it), to grow closer to him, learn, grow, and return. I’m convinced most of it isn’t necessary except in the sense that we need it for our own understanding because we’re human. But I want to push back a little.

    “he atonement has power because it is eternal, meaning it satisfies our spiritual needs and turns us to God in all times and cultures”

    I’m not convince it satisfies he spiritual needs of all people–all times and cultures. How can this possibly be true? If it was, the whole world would be Christian. It seems people find great spiritual satisfaction and turn to God in other, non-Christian faiths.

  16. Yes, the atonement has the power to unite us and draw us to Christ, but we can’t ignore it’s other, bigger purpose as stated by Jesus himself. He suffered in our place:

    “16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

    17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

    18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

    19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” -Doctrine and Covenants 19

    The Messianic foreshadowing found in Isaiah 53 should also be taken into account:

    4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

    5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

    8 … for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

    10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

    11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

    12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

  17. Steve S says:

    It appears that you may have just intellectualized yourself out of believing the fundamental truth of Christianity and the basis of existence. I have no problem allowing any person his or her sincere belief, but for me my personal witness from the Spirit of God tells me, as well as the many witnesses from the mouth of God’s holy prophets, that the sacrifice of Jesus was and is necessary for the redemption of mankind, and without it all mankind would be eternally lost.

  18. “…that the sacrifice of Jesus was and is necessary for the redemption of mankind, and without it all mankind would be eternally lost.”

    Steve S, nothing Ronan proposes is contrary to your view at all. Your personal witness from the Spirit of God happens to confirm Ronan’s post. So, way to go!

  19. I completely agree that the sacrifice of Jesus was and is necessary for the redemption of mankind.

  20. Great comment, JKC (9:47 am) — that tracks some of my own thoughts about the issue very closely.

  21. “I completely agree that the sacrifice of Jesus was and is necessary for the redemption of mankind.”

    Why? I think this would clear up some confusion.

  22. I think you’ll find that Ronan’s answer lies in a robust conception of Christ’s Incarnation and Grace, as it should for all of us as Christians.

  23. Obviously Ronan can speak for himself, but I think there’s a difference between (1) believing that Jesus’s sacrifice was necessary, but not necessarily to satisfy a cosmic law of justice that demands blood as payment for sin (what Ronan says) and (2) not believing that Jesus’s sacrifice was necessary (what Ronan is being accused of). As for whether a legalistic substititionary understanding of the atonement is the foundation of Christianity, it’s my understanding that such an understanding of the atonement did not appear until the fourth century, and did not really get fully developed until the late middle ages (though I could be wrong and am happy to be corrected). If so, then other understandings of the atonement (like the moral influence theory, for example) are just as valid. I think we can disagree with such theories without accusing them of being un-Christian.

    I think a legalistic understanding of the atonement can help us understand certain aspects of the atonement, depending on our cultural background, but at the same time, I think overemphasis on that kind of an understanding can lead us to misunderstand what the law of justice really requires. Is it really the case that justice requires punishment of an innocent victim? Amulek seems to say no—it isn’t just a one for one substitution, it is more than that:an infinite atonement. I think justice as it is used in such discussions has more to do with the “law of the harvest” or the “restoration” as Alma discusses it. When we sin, justice requires that we are cut off from God. I’m not sure why it would require additional punishment of an innocent victim. Justice makes more sense to me in terms of restoring good for good and evil for evil. Not so much an eye for an eye, as putting things where they naturally belong. And, because of the fall, we sin and are evil, so for that reason, Justice cuts us off from God. And the atonement reconciles justice with mercy not necessarily by paying some metaphysical debt, but by making it possible to accept grace, which leads to sanctification, so God in his mercy can permit us into his presence and because grace cleanses and sanctifies us from the effects of sin, he can do so without offending the law of justice, which would keep us out of his presence not so much as punishment, but as the natural consequence of the fact that sin makes us evil and therefore unable to endure his presence.

    (And at the same time–and this is Ronan’s point, as I understand it–Jesus’ suffering also conveniently satisfies our own concept of eye-for-an-eye justice, which does seem to require or at least accept punishment of an innocent victim in the sinner’s place).

  24. Steve S says:

    RJH,

    Perhaps I’m understanding what you wrote differently than you intended. So for for clarification sake – in your view could sin be overcome if Christ did not perform the sacrifice He did? (i.e. sins could be forgiven anyway like in Damien asserted assumption above “if God exists then surely he has the power to forgive independently of the atonement.) If sin could not be overcome without Christ’s sacrifice in your view, then in what way was His sacrifice absolutely necessary in the process of each individual escaping/overcoming sin?

    “not because God demanded it but because his disciples needed it” and “not to fulfil some cosmic law…Instead…a culturally-bound ritual”

    When I read that, to me it seems that you are suggesting that the atonement did not fulfill any particular necessary law of nature for the sake of mankind, but rather at best it was necessary symbol for that particular time and culture to unite them.

    If it is merely a cultural symbol, and not an eternal and unavoidable law of existence, then it is not necessary in the full sense of the word.

    To be clear, I am not suggesting that the common substitutionary model is correct, or that any particular model is, only that in my opinion any viable model must first begin with the premise of necessity by eternal law.

  25. There are several scriptures that seem to indicate that Jesus’ blood sacrifice was a critical part of redemption.

    Ephesians 1: 6-7 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.
    Hebrews 9: 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
    12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
    13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
    14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
    15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

    1 Peter 1: 18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
    19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
    20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
    21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.

    Helaman 5: 9 O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.

    Hebrews 9:14 – How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

    Hebrews 9:22 – And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

    Elder James J. Hamula in October, 2014, General Conference said: “With a small cup of water, we signify that we remember the blood Jesus spilled and the spiritual suffering He endured for all mankind. We remember the agony that caused great drops of blood to fall in Gethsemane. We remember the bruising and scourging He endured at the hands of His captors. We remember the blood He spilled from His hands, feet, and side while at Calvary. And we remember His personal reflection on His suffering: “How sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.”In taking the water to ourselves, we acknowledge that His blood and suffering atoned for our sins and that He will remit our sins as we embrace and accept the principles and ordinances of His gospel.”

    Thanks for your post. It has challenged me to reviews scriptures and gospel teachings that relate to the Atonement. President Uchtdorf’s talk in the last General Conference, in my opinion, contradicted some teachings that the Atonement from past prophets and current apostles, including Elder Boyd K. Packer. I like President Uchtdorf’s theological direction and hope that more apostles can be called who view the gospel through an international, non-traditional lens.

  26. BHodges says:

    Thanks for this post, Ronan. I like the idea of Jesus exercising prophetic enactment. I push back a little on the anti-Temple elements of the post, and not simply because temples form a core part of current LDS worship but because many scholars (especially Jewish ones) see early Christianity as not so easily separable from temple worship. We have to be careful to not fall into the trap of thinking Judaism was all about obeying an onerous law given by a vindictive God. It could become that for some, I think, just as Christianity can for some Christians, but that is not a necessary reading of the intent or experience of Judaism in Christ’s day.

    JKC’s posts have been especially interesting, too. I like the direction JKC is taking in this interpretation.

    As for the people who are calling out Ronan’s post as some sort of blasphemy or denial of Christ, I’d like to encourage a little more epistemic humility all around. If we’re talking about an infinite atonement here it’s probable that we can only catch glimpses of it. It’s likely that we know less about it than we think. And yes, it’s likely that, like Jesus’s original disciples, we understand it according to our own cultural background, “after the manner of our language and understanding” so to speak. Such is the nature of revelation itself. Knowing less does not necessarily render the atonement inoperable. Believing incorrect things about it also needn’t render it impotent.

    Suppose I believe that when I put gas in my car it is for the purpose of feeding little green moonmen who run on little hamster wheels under the hood, thereby propelling my engine. I can be completely wrong about the mechanics of the car, but if I put gas in the tank my car will keep running.

    I have to live in hope that a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of the atonement is less important than finding ways to experience the atonement and make it operable in my life.

  27. Steve S says:

    True, but suppose someone instead was teaching that putting gas in your tank isn’t actually a necessary step for the car to function, that is if you were to stop filling it, it would still work anyway.

    My concern was/is that this theory is reducing the atonement to something akin to that. But I’m open to clarification in how I might be interpreting this post wrong. RJH said, “I completely agree that the sacrifice of Jesus was and is necessary for the redemption of mankind.” and so I’ll take him at his word, but the post as I understood it seemed to say otherwise.

  28. BHodges says:

    Your supposition simply over-rides the essence of my example’s meaning which is this: I believe we can have mistaken ideas about the atonement and it can nevertheless be efficacious in our lives unto salvation and exaltation.

    *That* the atonement works (putting us at one with God) is more important pragmatically than *how* it works.

    D&C clearly suggests that God is willing, even in revelation, to adjust things according to our understanding in order to fulfill his purposes (see the discussion on “eternal” damnation for instance).

  29. I like J. Golden Kimball’s comparing the atonement to a peach tree—that he had no idea how the processes work that take sub and water and earth and turn it into a peach, but that didn’t prevent him from knowing that the tree products peaches, and that they are delicious. In the same way, he had no idea how the atonement worked, but he knew from experience that it did work.

  30. Steve S says:

    I suppose I still take issue with saying the atonement works, but the sacrifice of Jesus is not a functionally necessary part of the atonement. (i.e. the car works, but putting in the gas is just a symbolic gesture to appease cultural expectation aiding as something akin to a placebo as a symbol).

    To each his or her own, but that goes too far for me. I agree with what Martin said above, “To reduce it to philosophical metaphor… turn[s] it into just another mythology declaring peace, love, and understanding.” I prefer the car works and the gas [Christ’s sacrifice] is necessary, even if I don’t fully get how the mechanics of that work.

  31. Steve S says:

    To finish up that thought…how much would people pay for gas if it didn’t actually have functional necessity? I guess my issue is that I feel in the same way this type of thinking might drastically reduce the value one places on the Savior’s (and God’s) sacrifice for us. And for me the real sacrifice of all things, descending below all things and truly experiencing all my pains and sorrows, for my sake, is integral in aiding me to understand God’s love for me. I would consider losing that knowledge to be a great personal loss. If it were not necessary, then suddenly it becomes a tale of a masochist.

  32. BHodges says:

    Steve S. Your response again simply misses the essence of my example’s meaning which is this: I believe we can have mistaken ideas about the atonement and it can nevertheless be efficacious in our lives unto salvation and exaltation.

    *That* the atonement works (putting us at one with God) is more important pragmatically than *how* it works.

  33. Steve S says:

    I think we may be talking past each other. I acknowledge the essence of your example, and agree with your 2 statements in your most recent comment.

    On perhaps a more positive note I am happy that RJH’s theory has nothing to do with emotionally appeasing tiny intelligences :) .

  34. “And for me the real sacrifice of all things, descending below all things and truly experiencing all my pains and sorrows, for my sake, is integral in aiding me to understand God’s love for me.”

    For what it’s worth, I don’t read Ronan’s post as being at all inconsistent with this statement.

  35. Also, AZ, for what it’s worth, I don’t see either of the scriptures you cited as inconsistent with the ideas being discussed. Both passages say that Jesus took upon himself the griefs, sorrows, and suffering of his people. Neither says that he did so to satisfy a law of justice that demands (or even accepts) punishment of an innocent party. I know that’s the assumption that we read into them, because we assume that that’s what justice means, but I’m not so sure that we should accept that assumption so readily.

  36. BHodges says:

    For what it’s worth, I don’t read Ronan’s post as being at all inconsistent with this statement.

    Ditto!

    JKC, do I know you? Because I like what you’re putting down here.

  37. Steve S says:

    Thanks JKC for your thoughts, it may be that I’m missing something in all this. I really liked what you had to say in the large 2nd paragraph in your 1:40pm comment.

    For what it’s worth, I also don’t believe punishment of an innocent victim can or does satisfy the demands of justice.

  38. I appreciate what JKC wrote, thought I’m not on board. Take Alma 42:15, for example:

    And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.

  39. Martin, you are assuming that “the demands of justice” require or accept the sacrifice of an innocent victim. I’m not sure that is true. Maybe the demands of justice demand no more than that no unclean thing can enter into God’s presence, so by offering us grace, and sanctification by the reception of the Holy Ghost, through his atonement Jesus does indeed satisfy the demands of justice.

  40. Bhodges, I don’t think we know each other in real life, but maybe?

    (My name is Jared Cook. Graduated from BYU with a B.A. in English in 06 and from Minnesota with a J.D. in 09. I don’t use my initials to be secretive, but just because that’s how I’ve been commenting for years on bloggernacle sites. I usually don’t comment much, but I like Ronan’s theological posts so I tend to comment a lot.)

  41. Alma 42:15 is a very important example of the “trinitarianism” in The Book of Mormon: “God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” — I love this, and certainly believe it wholeheartedly. This is talking about Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten Son of the Father and as God incarnate in the man of Jesus Christ.

    This Incarnation, and Christ’s Grace, are what Ronan is talking about. This series of posts seems to sideline a mystical divine power inherent in the Atonement that supplies Grace, thus forgiving sins and allowing us to be resurrected. At least that is how some commenters are taking it. But I really don’t think that is Ronan’s intention or meaning. He is talking about the other side of the equation — what this sacrifice means to us, as Christian disciples, through the ages.

    I believe that nothing in this series constitutes Ronan saying that anyone but God himself could perform this Atonement through the Incarnation and then Passion. The discussion about a third person being punished for someone’s sins is a red herring because, as Alma 34 points out, it would be ineffective for any other person to perform this atoning sacrifice. Only Jesus Christ, that is “God himself” (Alma 42:15), could do this.

  42. BHodges says:

    Cool, JKC.

    Ronan, nice work. You’ve generated a robust comment discussion here that I’ve benefited from as much as from the post itself. That’s not easy to do.

  43. Sounds like Lymanism to me.