I can’t compete with polyamory and uncontrollable sexual impulses! But perhaps I can use our fabulous LDS guilt system to cause you to read and comment on a post about the Atonement.
Joseph Smith declared that “things which pertain to our religion are only appendages” to the Atonement, and yet it seems to me that we understand the appendages a great deal more than we understand the Atonement itself. By this I mean that we have no real notion of what the Atonement entailed, how Christ did whatever he did for us, and how it is able to work in our lives. John Taylor expressed what I’m getting at: “In a manner to us incomprehensible and inexplicable, He bore the weight of the sins of the whole world…” In other words, we have no idea what happened in Gethsemane and on the cross.
We can only approach the Atonement through analogy, and flawed analogy at that. Dennis Potter’s now-famous paper has already made the rounds; ideas of substitution vs. compassion have circulated on LDS-Phil and elsewhere; and inside the Church and out, people have looked to the scriptures to try and isolate the mechanisms by which our sins are forgiven. Ultimately, I don’t believe that these analogies are truly fruitful, in the sense that none are definitive. Worse, some are maudlin and lead to cruel conclusions about the nature of God (anyone remember the story, “The Bridge”?).
What is the effect on the believer, then, that cannot understand in full her belief? When you repent of your sins, what are you doing? What is Christ doing? You approach your repentance through analogy and story. You may think of Christ’s last days, or of some of the parables, or of Old Testament stories of sacrifices, to help you visualize some painting of the Atonement. Is that enough?
My question is, if we are only able to approach the Atonement through symbol and analogy, what does that mean about our faith and our ability to apply the Atonement in our lives? If our symbols are flawed, how does that affect our “at-one-ment”?
Perhaps I’m on the wrong track. Clearly we don’t need to understand the Atonement perfectly in order to apply it in our lives (let’s hope so!). If you think I’m off-base and see our symbolic approaches to the Atonement as irrelevant, as an alternative to my question I suggest posting the analogies you find most helpful in understanding what Christ has done for us.