Monday Morning Theological Poll: Salvific Synonym Edition

Which of the following is the best description of what the atonement does?

Justify your answer below (see what I did there?).


  1. I remember my mission president challenging us to study up on the difference between justification and sanctification (and specifically how both work in our lives).

    I remember investigating and being annoyed, given that such a research project depends on interpretations not found in the Missionary Library.

  2. Not fair.

  3. All of the above? I don’t see any of these being exclusive to the others.

  4. David Z says:

    All of the above.

  5. Magic. Just like the disappearance of all descriptions, it does something that no one can comprehend how it’s done, why it’s done, or if it can be done.

  6. wreddyornot says:

    There is no justification but there is unity.

  7. “All of the above” isn’t an option in this poll. Pick one!

  8. I voted for justification because that’s what LDS scripture teaches, more or less, with a little sanctification tossed in. Again, you didn’t have an answer I totally agreed with.

  9. Wally, I’d say the Book of Mormon and D&C are actually pretty light on justification and much more heavy on adoption. But LDS teachings have generally been exactly as you describe.

  10. Adoption is the critical outcome but justification and sanctification are key doctrines as covered in the Book of Moses and in the temple. But each of the options has truth to it and is an operative outcome of the at-one-ment. I mean can you really say unification isn’t an outcome of the act if you use that word?

  11. I prefer to focus on the end result of atonement–reconciliation–and just leave it at that. Attempts to describe the atonement’s ‘how’ and ‘why’ often raise more questions than answers for me.

    I think we get a healthy dose of justification over the pulpit.

  12. I voted for Justification, as the closest to what I think. However, I really disagree with: “Sanctification. Through Christ’s atonement, we are endowed with the ability to change to become more like him.”
    Because: We aren’t endowed with Agency (the ability to change–“repent”–and determine our own level of righteousness). Agency is inherent in our existence, it is not a “gift” by any meaning. While we needed “knowledge of good and evil” to actually enable our understanding, we are otherwise completely accountable for our own state of righteousness. We are fully “agents unto ourselves.”

    As an ancillary comment. This understanding of Agency eliminates the oft claimed concept that Christ suffered for our sins. *We* must personally change our nature and repent of our failures to be “perfect.” That is the suffering for our “sins” that must occur as we work out those changes in ourselves. Christ surely suffered, but not for our individual “sins.” IMO

  13. None of the answers are satisfactory, because all of them are stories we tell that capture some facet of the Atonement. But the Atonement is too big to be captured by a single story. It is, in fact, the single biggest thing that ever happened, and our finite mortal minds do not yet have the capacity to compass it.

    So, I just went with voting for which way of looking at the Atonement is most personally meaningful to me at this point in my life.

  14. None of the answers is complete, and all f your answers leave off the aspect of restorative justice. Christ takes over the restitution where our human capabilities to undo the damage done ends. As the victim of a pretty big sin, this was the only aspect I was not taught adequately. I almost rejected the atonement because to let my abuser off the hook while I was left with my life all screwed up just was not justice. It was mercy for him robbing justice for me. It is not just about the sinner and them getting out of the consequences of their sin, while the sinned against is left with all the consequences to their life. Nope, Christ takes care of the consequences of sin where they impact the life of the innocent. To me, this is the most important part of the atonement, and the most often neglected. Christ doesn’t just pay the debt of sin to Heavenly Father, but pays the debt of sin to the sinned against. Otherwise there is no justice.

  15. Bro. B. says:

    Anna, that is a very hopeful and liberating point of view. That’s where my mind was going with this question and you elucidated it well. On the other side of that issue, it’s a huge relief that the Atonement makes up for my utter inability in some cases to make full restitution to the people I’ve harmed.

  16. None of the options cover it all, so I can’t vote. Anna’s beautiful response is a large part of that, but it goes even further, because the atonement doesn’t stop with addressing sin, whether by the sinner or to an innocent party victimized by another’s sin. The atonement will make right everything that went wrong, righting all the consequences of mortality. Sin, yes, but also illness, and the pain of separation from loved ones, and disappointments, and lost opportunities, loneliness, the inability to understand each other, anything and everything. I have no idea how that works — suffering can end, but how can past suffering be taken away? through removing the memory? through understanding that past suffering has no further power to injure? I have no idea — but I’m confident that that is just what the atonement promises: the righting of all wrongs.

  17. Ardis, I like your response. The atonement is so much more and in church we tend to focus only on the escaping punishment we deserve because of our sin. That always struck me as like a four year old telling his brother that if you look at Mom with big sad eyes and say, “sorry” that she won’t spank you. Just very selfish and immature.

    I learned from a Catholic friend that the Catholic definition of sin is “anything that keeps us away from God.” And because no unclean thing can be in the presence of God, even illness qualifies as something that separates us from God. The effects of child abuse on the child will keep that person separated from God until all those effects are healed, thus the atonement applies to that child.

    And to your question of how can past suffering be taken away, it can be forgotten. Do you have kids? If so, you know that all the pain of childbirth disappears when you first hold that child. It is just so worth it, that the pain fades and is forgotten.

    My brother was brain injured in a horrible hunting accident. It left permanent disability, but he told me once that it was so worth it because it taught him compassion. This is the atonement at work. So much good can come out of our suffering if we just turn it over to Christ. We drop our burden at his feet, whether that burden is guilt from sin or pain from an accident. And He takes care of it.

  18. Christ descends below all things that he might comprehend and then ascend above, in and through all things; and in so doing becomes the governor, bearer, and offerer of light, which light if we choose to embrace and follow enables us to rise above the darkness to one day become even as He is.

  19. fbisti,
    I think I disagree with your statement that “Agency is inherent in our existence.” I don’t think Satan’s plan would have been a possibility if that were the case.

    I see your point. All wrongs will be righted in the eternities. But I really, really, really don’t think we know what that means and I’m deeply skeptical that it will correspond with earthly notions of justice. Every injustice and victim will be recompensed, but vengeance is God’s and it ain’t built to our specs.

  20. None are mutually exclusive.

  21. fbisti, I deeply disagree with the idea that we can change our own nature through repentance. In my experience and opinion, all repentance is is throwing ourselves on God’s mercy. It is recieving the Holy Ghost and being born again that changes our nature. I can’t accept the idea that Jesus is just a cheerleader to encourage us to do what we have the power to do, rather than our savior who does what we literally cannot do redeeming our fallen human nature.

    But that’s just me.

  22. John C, who said anything about vengeance? Only you. I never wanted vengeance. I did not want that kind of justice. I wanted MY life fixed. Justice for me, which has NOTHING to do with who hurt me. It is FIXING things in my life. Huge difference between wanting justice for myself and justice for the sinner. Punishment for my father would not help me. Do you even get that? It isn’t about punishment or causing the sinner any more suffering. I didn’t want my father’s life messed up any more than it was. I did not report my abuser to protect him from earthly punishment, why then would I turn around and want God to punish him? I didn’t want him hurt. I wanted him to learn. Huge difference. Your version of the atonement is all about punishment. No! Just no.

    Think of what you would want for your child if your child screwed up. You would want him to learn a lesson with the minimum amount of pain. Why do people think then that God wants his children to suffer for eternity? Or, God provides a way if we just jump through the right hoops. No, not the God I worship. My God doesn’t need us to jump through hoops, but just learn. That is what repentance is supposed to be. Learn. Change your mind about your behavior. That was all I wanted my abuser to do, was change his mind about his behavior.

    And I wanted the damage to my life fixed. I could explain how that happened, so, yeah, I know *how* the atonement works. At least in part. But Christ did fix the damage to my life. And my father has yet to change his mind about his behavior.

  23. John C said: “I think I disagree with your statement that “Agency is inherent in our existence.” I don’t think Satan’s plan would have been a possibility if that were the case.”

    John, I was specifically referring to the nearly universal teaching that Agency is a “gift.” It is not. It is a natural state of sufficiently mature and mentally able humans. All that is required to eliminate Agency (or the redundant “Free Agency”) is to eliminate knowledge/opposition (as in “knowledge of good and evil”). That is why the concept that children come to an “age of accountability.” In the (I think mythical) scenario where Satan said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.”, he only had to keep us ignorant and (therefore) not accountable.


  24. I love your comment, Anna. I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’ve been thinking about the Atonement wrong all my life — that it’s not so much “He took my lickin’ for me” as it is that he gave away his own lunch so the victim of the stolen lunch wouldn’t be hungry. True justice should be more about compensation, restitution, and healing than punishment. “By his stripes we are healed.”

    I can relate to your comment about just wanting the abuser to admit fault. My sister and I were talking about our parents’ denial of what happened in our childhood and their accusations that we fabricated the experiences. My sister, who is further along the empathy scale than most, said she wouldn’t really want our parents to understand the magnitude of what they did to us, because it would be too painful for them. I agreed with her on a level. But I wonder if maybe that’s the “eternal damnation” some will experience — to have their eyes opened to the full extent of the suffering they caused (a la The Five People You Meet in Heaven), to be “awakened to a lively sense of their own guilt,” the pain of which King Benjamin compares to hellfire in Mosiah 2:3. I think everyone will fill this pain to some extent, and then realize with eternal gratitude that Christ healed the hurt we caused.

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