Touched With Our Infirmities

September 9, 2005 | 49 comments
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Do we humans in part choose what forms of worship God will require of us?

Maimonides, a medieval Jewish philosopher and rabbi, compares various aspects of the Law of Moses with the worship practices of other peoples in the region where the Hebrews lived. This is one of many strategies he deploys in his book, The Guide of the Perplexed, attempting to understand the Law of Moses better. For example, he points out how prohibitions that otherwise seem entirely random to an observer centuries later, like the prohibition against sowing certain seeds together (Leviticus 19:19), make sense when one realizes that similar practices formed part of the ritual practices of Gentile religions. Though these actions might be innocent in themselves, God may have prohibited them to avoid any infiltration of false religion.

The Hebrews had come from Egypt and were familiar with Egyptian religious practices. The rituals and laws recorded in Leviticus seem amazingly elaborate to me; it is hard to imagine why God would require them. Yet perhaps they were necessary to displace a similarly elaborate accumulation of practices picked up in Egypt, with ties to false religions. For our part, Christians today might do well to shed, or at least reconsider, some ideas of non-Christian origin that we have acquired over the centuries, like the Easter Bunny, or the over-commercialization of Christmas gift-giving. If Mormons had a more elaborate procedure for celebrating Easter, something like the Passover Seder for example, it might be easier for us to celebrate Easter in a way that remains centered on Christ.

We know that God has revealed his gospel in more than one way. It took somewhat different forms for Adam, Abraham, and Moses, and aspects of each of these were brought to a close at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. Thereafter worship has taken quite different forms, though with some relation to the older forms. We also know that the descendants of Jared knew of Christ, and presumably their practices were yet different again, though they are not described in great detail.

When Saul became king, it was because Israel wanted to be like the nations around them, who had kings. God argued with them vehemently, through Samuel, but finally gave in, and had Samuel, as prophet, anoint Saul, sanctifying the institution the people had chosen against his advice. It is conceivable that even the elaboration of different kinds of sacrifice in the Law of Moses, as contrasted with the apparently simpler patriarchal practice of sacrifice, was partly designed to fill an impulse to sacrificial ritual which might otherwised find other, inappropriate expressions. Certainly they taught Israel about its relationship to God and the need for a Christ. Yet they might have served a dual purpose: the stories of false sacrificial practices in our scriptures are blood-curdling, and it would be worth taking some trouble to crowd these out!

Is it possible that even the form of Christ’s own sacrifice was determined partly by our expectations and predispositions? Is it possible that it is partly a response to God’s justice, but partly a response to ours? Could it be that Christ had to die in the particular way he did, not only because without his sacrifice God could not forgive us of our sins, but because without it we could not forgive each other, or could not forgive ourselves?

If so, this would only be another manifestation of the patient love that brought Christ to come down from his heavenly mansions to live among us, to speak our language, eat our humble food, and bite his tongue at countless displays of our pettiness, ignorance and malice, so that he could teach us according to our ability to receive–to allow some of us even to do his work, acting in his name, and to forgive those who brutally killed him. “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16).

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49 Responses to Touched With Our Infirmities

  1. Justin H on September 10, 2005 at 12:31 am

    Great post, Ben. Don’t have much to add or comment, except that it reminds me–especially the paragraph about the particular means of Christ’s death–of somewhat similar thoughts over on Splendid Sun.

    I too wonder how much responsibility we bear, or how involved we are, in the shapes that the spiritual history of God’s creation takes. It certainly makes it easier for me to read particularly violent passages in the OT and BOM and still believe in a loving God if I think that some of these events are (even if/when divinely sanctioned) “determined by our expectations and predispositions.”

    And perhaps it renders, as you point out, even more powerful and urgent the need we natural people have for Christ’s infinite atonement.

  2. annegb on September 10, 2005 at 10:29 am

    Wow, this is something to ponder.

    I read something last night while I was up insomnia-ing about Mormon meetings being dull and lacking in emotion. I thought it was funny, then I thought maybe that’s what bothers me.

    I’m going to study this, Ben, good thinking.

  3. Katie on September 10, 2005 at 10:41 am

    Great post Ben. Do you think your theory could also apply to different religions? I have been thinking a lot lately about how the varying faiths somehow fit into Ultimate Truth. I really believe that God reveals his truth to different peoples according to their predispositions and expectations. I like these two quotes:

    Elder Orson F. Whitney observed that God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.”

    Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy also spoke on this doctrine:

    “While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth, yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.

  4. annegb on September 10, 2005 at 11:05 am

    Katie, I think you’re on to something. Really, and it is wonderful to contemplate.

    Why wouldn’t God be the ultimate broad-minded person?

  5. Jack on September 10, 2005 at 11:25 am

    Nice thoughts Ben. Your approach makes all the sense in the world as it relates to the tweeks and adjustments that we see from time to time in our more sacred rituals.

  6. TexasViolinist on September 10, 2005 at 11:38 am

    Its kind of how the Catholics fell into Mary-worship don’t ya think? And try on the Catholic Church in Mexico while yer at it.

    We’re all still at it what with Christmas during the winter solstice and fooling around with that heath’n Halloween in Primary parties an’ all that other rot..

    G’me that ol’ time religion, g’me that old time religion….

  7. LisaB on September 10, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Help me out here, Ben. I REALLY like this idea. It fits nicely with some of my resolutions about the clearly mediated nature of revelation, and could be potentially wonderful in terms of making me feel valued by God. But it’s also really scarey in terms of individual culpability. I know, a deeper sense of individual culpability is usually a good thing, but if our culpability extends so much further than we can possibly understand, how can we be choosing of our own free will and choice? Does this place limits on traditional ideas about God’s power? Also, how do we maintain any sense of moral absolutes if even the law God gives is relative? What does it do to the idea of universally available salvation? And of one path?

  8. GeorgeG on September 10, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Aaah, I get it… you want… liturgy…!!!

  9. Jim F on September 10, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    Numbers 6 and 8: I’m trying to understand how your comments are a response to what Ben posted, and I can’t do it. I don’t see anything in what he posted that suggests that we change our liturgy in some way.

  10. Jeremy on September 10, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    Could it be that Christ had to die in the particular way he did, not only because without his sacrifice God could not forgive us of our sins, but because without it we could not forgive each other, or could not forgive ourselves?

    Ben,

    You’ve articulated this idea quite insightfully. I’ve considered something similar to this, in somewhat different terms. I’ve never been fully satisfied with the “debt” metaphorical language associated with the atonement — it works to a certain extent, but frays at the edges. After all, a “transactional” metaphor for the atonement ultimately falls short when combined with the idea of infinity: debts, no matter how large, are still ultimately quantifiable. The thing that separates us from God us qualitative, not (just) quantitative; it’s not just a matter of going down the checklist until you stop coveting and no longer eat fruit out of season, etc., then asking Christ to pick up the balance. The combined balances of all of humanity would be large, to be sure, but not strictly “infinite.” And I personally don’t think “infinite” in the scriptures is just strong language to convey “really large,” I think it suggests something more ineffable.

    If the atonement took the shape it did in order to convey something to us, rather than just paying off a debt in a transactional kind of way, and if that thing it is meant to convey is ineffable, it amounts to a kind of art, really. There seems to me to be only a vague, and perhaps simply contextual, qualitative distinction between the kind of reflection that symbolism in art is meant to foster and the kind of reflection that God seeks to convey to us through religious concepts and acts — the atonement, the sacrament, the temple ordinances.

    Now, I can’t quite wrap my brain around how exactly the atonement, as a work of art designed to inspire us in a certain direction, carries out its transformative work–that is, how it enacts the qualitative change (which we so often describe as a quantitative one–the little girl buying the bicycle, etc.). I picture hell as being in the celestial kingdom and being keenly aware of how out of place you are, then taking the elevator down floor by floor until you find the shlubs you belong with; it wouldn’t matter if someone had paid your way for you at the door: you’d still feel out of place once you got it. Somehow, through the atonement, those who attain the celestial kingdom have the joy of knowing they belong there–their confidence, literally, “waxes strong in the presence of God.”

  11. Jeremy on September 10, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    I meant to type “You’d still feel out of place once you got in.”

  12. CEF on September 10, 2005 at 8:52 pm

    Hi Jeremy,

    Please do not take my comments here as judgmental, because they are not meant in that way. And of course this is only my opinion, not a set standard of truth.

    The one thing that makes the atonement work is grace. Without Christ accepting our sins as his own, which are then covered by His righteousness, no matter how sorry we are or how much we repent, or even how much we suffer ourselves, they are still our sins, forever. We would still be imperfect people, which disqualifies us from being in the presence of God.

    So what makes us comfortable in God’s presence, is not our good works, which would be insufficient to get us there, but knowing what God and Christ did to get us there, and then accepting that gift.

    It is the acceptance of the gift that literal changes ones heart thereby creating a new creature. The new creature is so thankful for the gift, that he would do anything to dwell in the presence of the giver of the gift. This transformation only takes place through the gift of grace.

    It has been my experience that too many members of the Church fail to accept the gift of grace. Why, because they believe that they have to do all they can before the gift becomes efficacious in their lives. By doing this, it is no longer grace, but something they have earned, and if you do not feel you have earned it, then you may not be comfortable in the presence of God. That does not sound like good news to me.

    So by grace we are forgiven, we are able to forgive others, and we are able to forgive ourselves. All because by our accepting the gift of grace, we are changed, to walk in a “newness of life.” That sounds good news to me.

  13. Jeremy on September 10, 2005 at 9:12 pm

    I don’t know why you’re worried about sounding judgemental, because I don’t see anything in your comment that either I or my previous comment would disagree with. I don’t think my comment in any way tried to discount grace, it simply expressed curiosity about how grace actually functions. I mean, it does something that we couldn’t do.

    Your comment about “knowing what God and Christ did” being a central part of the atonement speaks precisely, but perhaps not deliberatively, to what Ben is speculating about: that perhaps the specific actions comprising the atonement were did not in and of themselves transformational, but that God knew that our perception and interpretation of them and reaction to them could be transformative for us.

  14. CEF on September 10, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    Jeremy,

    Thank you for not seeing what I said as condescending. I was afraid that you might take it that way.

    I believe that God and Christ started the ball rolling by setting-up a plan to interact with us, creating a relationship if you will. By our learning that Christ loved us first, then we are able to respond in kind. I believe it is called grace for grace.

    Yes, the atonement and God’s grace does not “in and of themselves” create a transformation, but they do create the opportunity for such a transformation.

    By choosing to participate in the relationship, (our free will) God then gives us this gift that he knows will change our nature. Not that we are free of sins, but that we are no longer comfortable with the way we were, and strive to become more like Him.

    I think this is where the works that we hear so much about in the Church come in to their proper context. We now work, not trying to become saved, but because we “are” saved. I think that makes all the difference in the world in our being happy or constantly worrying if we have done enough.

    Just my two cents worth.

  15. annegb on September 10, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    I think that was a wonderful discussion about grace. I wish we talked about it more.

  16. Ben H on September 11, 2005 at 1:17 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    Katie, yes, I think this principle could apply to different religions. Alma 29:8 suggests it does. If groups who each have more or less the fulness of the gospel can still have somewhat different worship practices, then I would expect groups who have lesser portions to differ much more, even in those things they have received under the influence of the Spirit.

    TexasViolinist, I want to resist the parallel you draw, in part. Partly it is an apt parallel–I take it many customs adopted into Catholicism (some of which we Mormons have carried on) were adopted because the missionaries working in this or that area felt it would help those people accept Christianity if some adaptations were made. The crucial difference is the difference between human judgment and divine judgment as to what worship practices etc. are appropriate. God is in charge, and he knows what can vary from one nation and time to another, while leading everyone truly to him. I want to resist your parallel with Mary worship because I think Mary worship is an error, but I don’t think variation necessarily implies error. The original apostles drank wine. Today’s apostles don’t. That doesn’t mean one of them is in error, but God knows why that variation is right and appropriate, whereas other variations that this or that person might want to introduce would not be right.

    Yes, Jeremy, I think a key part of what Christ did was to show us his love in an especially vivid way, and to show us the love we should emulate if we want to follow him. I think he did many things in an intricately deliberate way, to show us that he was the Savior foretold by the prophets, that he was fulfilling the Law of Moses, etc. The Gospel of John seems particularly oriented to bring this out, but the Book of Mormon talks about it, too, and there are little asides sprinkled all through the NT about how Christ fulfilled this and that prophecy. All this symbolism and prophecy was set up over the centuries prior, including in the Law of Moses, and then Christ presented himself in a way that engaged with all that prelude, holding up the other end, so to speak. We usually talk about this purely in a prospective way, emphasizing that these things had to be set up that way because Christ would come in such a way and do X and Y. But of course, Christ hadn’t done these things yet, when it was all being set up, so then he had to come and carry out his part, and clearly some of it was symbolic, though presumably some of it just plain had to be the way it was. I don’t think it was just the demands of divine justice considered in the abstract that determined everything he did. It was also a matter of showing us something. We love him because he loved us first.

    As for the payment models for the atonement, I agree they are only so helpful. If we look in the NT, there are many other analogies Christ suggests for what he is doing, and I think we need to make what use we can of all of them, rather than fixating on just one (and we often present it in a way that is not clearly tied to scripture, in fact), as though it expressed the complete story. The flip side of this point is that interpreting grace on a payment model is not wholly adequate, either.

    For now, about grace, I’ll just say that the mere forgiveness of sins is not enough to explain our feeling at home in God’s presence. Suppose I’m the sort of person who commits sin, and then all the particular sins I have committed in the past are wiped away . . . that will only help for about five minutes, until I sin again, and if I’m in heaven, sinning does not go over well from anyone’s standpoint. Grace has to do much, much more than wipe away particular past sins. Our gratitude at the forgiveness of sins is also a powerful transformative force of course. It may do a lot to stop us from sinning again. But I don’t think it’s just gratitude, either. If we start seriously going into a discussion of grace, I will never get my dissertation finished! But I’ll just say that I think the typical American Protestant discussions of grace are not any improvement at all over typical Mormon discussions of how we are saved, though there is some truth to them. I am disappointed when I hear Mormons talking as though we need to learn about grace from the Protestants! Yeah, there are some ideas there that don’t show up in Mormon discourse, but that doesn’t mean those ideas are an improvement. I think Mormons who talk like that often just have not been paying attention to what Mormon scripture and devotional discourse has to offer, and so they are looking beyond the mark. I hope readers will excuse my bluntness on this. I think to really understand grace you have to read the Book of Mormon, for example, Mosiah 5.

  17. Ben H on September 11, 2005 at 1:38 am

    LisaB, I want to respond, but I’m not sure if I understood your comment.

    if our culpability extends so much further than we can possibly understand, how can we be choosing of our own free will and choice?

    Do you mean, how can we be choosing freely when we sin? Or do you mean perhaps, how can we be freely choosing in what way God will reach out to us? Or, how can we be choosing what forms of worship God ordains for us?

    If you mean something like the latter two questions, well, in some cases we freely choose (like having a king, or like receiving the lesser law because Israel was worshipping the golden calf!); in others God is just responding to our predispositions, which may not be something we have chosen, though our predispositions may themselves affect our choices.
    : )

    Does this place limits on traditional ideas about God’s power?

    Well, I thought Mormons already believed something non-traditional about God’s power. But so far as God’s work has to do with us, yeah, in a way that could be construed as implying limits to his power, because that implies what sort of beings we are has an impact on what will and will not work to bring about his goal–our immortality and eternal life. But the point is, God can do what it takes, so he has the power he needs.

    Also, how do we maintain any sense of moral absolutes if even the law God gives is relative?

    Well, for something to be relative doesn’t mean that there is nothing fixed or constant about it. That I say kamsa hamnida in one town and gracias in another doesn’t change the fact that I am saying thank you, either way. Both the patriarchal and Mosaic sacrificial practices foreshadowed Christ, though in somewhat different ways. In the end, Christ is the way, truth, and life, and no man cometh . . . etc., which seems to be what matters here.

  18. LisaB on September 11, 2005 at 9:14 am

    Well, I still don’t know that I’ve crystalized my objection yet, so no wonder it wasn’t clear to you, either. Let me muddle a bit more here and see if I can come up with anything more solid. Yes, agree about relativity. Yes, agree about Mormons already having somewhat different ideas about God’s power, particularly given our beliefs about agency and about the differences between Satanic and Godly power paradigms. And I like the discussions of Grace and hope I don’t distract you from your dissertation too much but talking a little more about it here because I think it really is at the heart of my bit of discomfort about the end of your original post.

    I think my question has something to do with your extrapolation of the “speaking in our own language” concept to the Atonement. Your last two paragraphs seem to imply that we also Judge (in an ultimate, not just proximate sense). If our judgments play into the Atonement in the manner you suggest, then we also (the hosts of heaven, the children of God) make the Atonement efficacious rather than Christ, or the Holy Spirit of Promise, or in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost jointly. Maybe my vision is limited, but that seems a pretty audacious claim. The whole reason I am willing to leave judgment to Christ is because I acknowledge how limited and “tarnished” if you will my view is, and how unworthy, how fruitless my own offering is. Not to mention the fact that I do not have the power to clean the slate, restore my own spirit to wholeness nor to endow myself with godly attributes–even line upon line or grace for grace–not to mention the entirety of humanity! I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at in bringing up the limited view, limited capabilies, and very limited agency of people.

    What you are suggesting seems to me to imply an impossible human accountability–a responsibility that is God’s, not ours–the responsibility of setting the parameters/the entry requirements of heaven. I think the parable of the workers demanding equal pay for equal work merely highlights that our human sense of justice may be way off since we cannot possibly comprehend all the variables that make “payment”/judgment/rewards/joint heirship for all in spite of different “workloads” in life possible. God’s purpose is to bring us to Godly justice–not to answer our (very limited view) demands for justice. I don’t believe that Christ “answers” selfish desires except to correct them.

  19. LisaB on September 11, 2005 at 9:38 am

    Hmm… Nope. Still muddy. Okay, let me try again. Back to my original “if our culpability extends so much further than we can possibly understand, how can we be choosing of our own free will and choice?” This was an attempt to state why I think people cannot set the parameters for the Atonement. If we did (beyond the kind of “consent” we give–even in partial ignorance–for the Plan that is already set in place by our participation in it), that would imply that we are accountable for judging. My understanding of why I cannot judge my neighbor even if I think I’m right and they’re wrong is because I cannot possibly understand that individual enough to judge them in an absolute sense. (Elder Oaks)

    I see it as a mercy for God to NOT give us that responsibility. So for you to express that it seems merciful to you for God to consider and even acquiece in a way to our judgements, that’s what seems impossible to me. We would be made accountable for that which we cannot possibly be capable of doing–judging righteously. Now I don’t think it is wrong for us to want to be righteous, and to want to be among righteous people. But I do think it is wrong for us to pretend that we can determine or acquire righteousness on our own. I believe the scriptures call us being drunken with our own blood when Christ has offered to take that cup from us. (1 Nephi 21:26, 22:13, 2 Nephi 10:16; 8:21-22)

    Okay, now I’ve probably been too redundant.

  20. sam b on September 11, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    NB: May be somewhat inflammatory but is not intended as a flame.

    Re: this idea of removing pagan influences from religion and the use of particular ecclesiastical laws or practices to maintain the integrity of the Lord’s people.

    I wholeheartedly agree that a major thrust of much religious law is to help maintain clarity about religion, to avoid its corruption by outside influences.

    But I worry that we may be missing something very very big here by talking about pagan influences on our religious holidays. True, commercial Christmas and lapine Easter are informed by pagan holidays. Indeed, much of the liturgical calender for eg Catholics bear the mark of pagan holidays that were Christianized.

    But seriously, how many children are going to be proselytized to paganism on the basis of the Easter egg hunt?

    I think the major religious threat right now, the one we ought to be on our guard against, is the cult of the free market. This is the new religious force that is informing our relationships, our beliefs, our methods of caring for our communities. The marketization of so much of our lives is to me the more germaine threat to our religious community.

    We already have one small nod in that direction, with the rejection of economic intercourse on the Sabbath. On that one day we refuse to participate in the getting and spending, the use of the market to mediate the value of our lives and those things we invest our lives in (note how even that word, or endowment for that matter, has been taken over by economic forces).

    But we could do more. We could refuse business dress, the lexicon, we could carefully disambiguate moral conservatism from economic concerns, we could speak more clearly about the role of corporations in our lives.

    It’s not just keeping advertisers and Hollywood out, it’s about reclaiming our personal and social lives from the valuation (another stolen word) of the cult of the free market. I’m not arguing for a frankly communalistic society (I’ll leave the to Joseph Smith), but I am arguing that we should recognize that there is a force on the religious scene that is infiltrating every corner of our minds and lives. And it’s my perception that just as God worried about early Hebrews straying to Canaanite fertility cults, God worries a great deal about his children now straying into the cult of Mammon and its many habits of much-touted efficiency (or is that effectiveness?)

  21. Adam Greenwood on September 11, 2005 at 1:58 pm

    “But we could do more. We could refuse business dress, the lexicon, we could carefully disambiguate moral conservatism from economic concerns, we could speak more clearly about the role of corporations in our lives.”

    I hear you, sir. With regards to “business dress,” however, I don’t think thats an option really available to us. The Kingdom has long ago adopted suits and ties and dresses as what one wears to worship, so probably the best way of disentangling here is to stop thinking of it as ‘business dress’ and start thinking of it as ‘formal dress’–what one wears to church and weddings and running for office and the boardroom.

  22. Ben H on September 11, 2005 at 11:10 pm

    sam b, I agree nobody is going to be proselyted to paganism by hunting for Easter eggs. The main problem is not that there is something attached to Easter that has nothing to do with Christ. The problem is that there is not enough attached to Easter that does have something to do with Christ. In my experience, most Mormons just don’t do enough for Easter. The Catholics and Orthodox do a lot more, and I think it is great, though I wouldn’t just adopt their traditions wholesale.

    I agree that commercialism and material culture are serious spiritual dangers. I think there is more of a connection than you might think, though, between that and the Easter bunny. Let’s just say, colored Easter “grass” and egg-painting kits and egg-shaped chocolate that tastes like wax are a lot more straightforward to sell in a store than some other things we could be doing to celebrate Easter. So we need to not just let the seasonal aisle in the supermarket set our conception of how to celebrate Easter, even if the money we spend under the commercial influence on Easter is much less than Christmas.

    I like Easter grass and I love to eat about two of those marshmallow peeps each year. But I would like to sing more hymns, etc.

    LisaB, I’m still thinking what to say to you.

  23. annegb on September 12, 2005 at 11:16 am

    Ben #16–I think the protestant explanation of grace is better than the one most Mormons internalize. I hear the apostles preaching grace, but we still focus on works.

    For instance, those who don’t finish the Book of Mormon by December 31 are screwed?

  24. CEF on September 12, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    I apologize for continuing a conversation about grace in this post, I would be glad if someone started a different thread about grace in another post. I will try and make this as short as I can.

    I believe that grace is the one thing that under-girds ever aspect of the gospel. Without it, there is no “good news.” We would have just another religion like other religions of the world, at least, according to C. S. Lewis.

    I have spent the last six years of my life learning everything I can about grace. I have been deeply saddened that most everything I have learned has come from outside of the Church. I spent the last five years trying to figure out how I was wrong, I finally decided I am not wrong, but only need to be careful in how I speak to other Mormons. Mormons in general just do not get grace. They hardly ever even use the word. They use other words in it’s place, like atonement. They are not synonyms.

    Grace is not complicated, but it is a very hard concept. Why, because we as humans are more comfortable with justice or fairness. Someone pointed out the parable of the labors in the field wanting equal pay for equal work. Christ was trying to teach, what has been called “the atrocious mathematics” of grace. There is nothing fair about grace, that is what makes it good news, we do not get what we deserve, thank goodness!

    To me, those that understand grace, talk about it, write about it, and sing about it.

  25. Ben H on September 12, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    CEF, I absolutely agree that grace “under-girds ever aspect of the gospel”. I completely encourage you to continue seeking to understand and appreciate and welcome God’s grace more fully into your life. But don’t get hung up on the word! Look at what the Book of Mormon teaches about the redemption for example.The fact that Mormons don’t use the word “grace” very often says nothing about whether they believe in it. Yes, Mormons talk about the atonement, about forgiveness of sins, the change of heart, the gift of the Holy Ghost. These are gifts from God that cleanse and purify us, and allow us to return to be with him. “Grace”, as I understand it, is essentially a synonym for generosity or a gift. Well, what are the gifts? In what specific ways has God shown his boundless love? By sending his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life! And so forth . . .

    Using one word instead of many does not necessarily clarify anything, and to the extent that that one word becomes disconnected from the others, from the many specific *gifts* of the Spirit, for example, it obscures the truth. The Book of Mormon is not missing any of the truth that appears in Protestant discussions of grace, but has a much fuller understanding to offer.

    So, CEF, I encourage you to read the Book of Mormon more, and see what it teaches us about how we are redeemed, how it becomes possible for us to bear God’s presence and withstand his judgment, how we can be filled with Christ-like love, and so on. That is its teaching about grace.

  26. LisaB on September 12, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    Hmm… so have I jumped to fabulous conclusions yet again? I’ll check back.

  27. Ben H on September 12, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    Ah, so LisaB, perhaps you mean that if God allows our disposition to judge to affect the design of his plan of salvation, or the particular way he calls us to participate in it, then he seems to be endorsing it? I see your worry, but what if one of God’s major goals in redeeming us is to overwhelm and dissolve our inclination to judge? Then he can tailor his plan to it, precisely because he does not endorse it, just like you would select the best fire extinguisher to use, based on the type of fire.

  28. LisaB on September 12, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    No, I’m not worried about that. Maybe I just don’t have the vocabulary. I’ll try to get back to this. For now, FHE time.

  29. LisaB on September 13, 2005 at 8:11 am

    Perhaps this is an issue of form-vs-content? You said “Is it possible that even the form of Christ’s own sacrifice was determined partly by our expectations and predispositions?” and “Could it be that Christ had to die in the particular way he did, not only because without his sacrifice God could not forgive us of our sins, but because without it we could not forgive each other, or could not forgive ourselves?”

    So when you say “the form of Christ’s own sacrifice”–what do you include in “the form”? I can agree that the form may be mutable. Christ was crucified because that was the form of execution common to Romans at the time. And the Book of Mormon states that the nation to which Christ was born was essential for that to occur–though I don’t know that crucifixion itself was essential. But when you say that “Christ had to die in the particular way he did”–”had” implies necessity and therefore content of the sacrifice. So then I have to ask what do you include in the particulars of the content, and can the content be humanly mediated? DID Jesus have to die in the particular way he did (did form follow content, or something else as you suggest above)? (And how did he actually die?) If so, what necessitates that form. Our requirements? God’s requirements? Or some higher divine law that even God is subject to? Is God the law giver in a creative sense or merely a transmissional sense? Clearly Christ made his sacrifice for our benefit. Clearly God gave the Only Begotten Son for our benefit. Clearly our needs are taken into account in the giving of that gift. That’s different than saying that our sense of justice necessitates the form of the atonement (which is what you implied). I tend to think of Justice as a much more set, determined, eternal, and immutable thing, not a mere reflection of our own imperfect jealousies and self-aggrandizement.

  30. Ben H on September 13, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    LisaB, you ask deep questions. There was an interesting discussion about the role of pain and human agency (i.e. humans killing him) in Christ’s death on BCC or T&S shortly after “The Passion of the Christ” came out, as I recall. Couldn’t find it just now on Google . . . I’m afraid that you are pressing exactly the sort of questions I meant to raise with this post, but I am not prepared with answers right now! I’m sure I’m not the only one who would enjoy your meditations on this if you care to develop them, though!

  31. LisaB on September 14, 2005 at 9:48 am

    As if I have the answers!

  32. LisaB on September 14, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    Okay, one last stab at this to see if you’re right in guessing that others might be interested in this discussion, too. I remember the pain discussion if it’s the one you pointed me to during the sacrament discussion. We don’t need to rehash that here. We can assume that the atonement, as it was worked out (and is, being infinite), was essential–form and content. We can break apart its various aspects and discuss why each part seems necessary–he bore our griefs so he could succor his people, he did so sinlessly so he could answer the demands of justice (this one I don’t get–and might point to what you are saying above), etc. Uh–rocket launch time with the kids–back soon.

  33. LisaB on September 14, 2005 at 9:08 pm

    … but I don’t really know how to approach the question of whether it is divine justice or our sense of justice that makes certain aspects of the atonement necessary in any way other than to question that we could do that as I have above. I’m not a philosopher.

    In a way, you could say there is no part of the atonement that we do NOT make necessary because it is our imperfections and human nature that the atonement seeks to ameliorate. But to conclude from that that we in any way set the bounds… I don’t know how to even begin to address this.

  34. Ben Huff on September 17, 2005 at 5:01 am

    : )
    Thanks for your persistence, LisaB! I just finished driving to Utah. I have the beginnings of some thoughts on this, but I don’t know when they will take a definite enough form to put into a blog post. I hope you’ll be around if I manage to do one though! One cool thing about blogging is it keeps a record of a bunch of issues that I ought to revisit when I go to take another swipe at this . . .

  35. LisaB on September 17, 2005 at 7:54 am

    Jesse’s been working at this one, too and might post on it later as well.

  36. Mike on September 17, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    Slow day at work, lots of thought provoking material on the T. & S. page. Thanks to everyone.

    I have an honest question about the justice of the atonement and I do not think it is the sort of question I want to ask of anyone whom I actually know. Maybe it is a stupid question and people will just slap me down. No shortage of that here. But it has bothered me for several years and mostly I just push it into the darker recesses of my mind. Maybe some one will help me get it straightened out.

    The question is similar to that of Corianton son of Alma (Alma 39-42). Christ, the best person to ever live suffers the most. Yes he willingly chooses to suffer and I am amazed and confused and glad that he does, but it does not escape me that it is not fair for him. Not fair in the least.

    Christ suffers for all of the sins that I commit (and that I might have but don’t commit? not sure on this point) before I am born. Yet I am told that I will also have to suffer for them myself (DC 19) if I do not repent. And it seems that few people are repenting, narrow is the way. So presume that over the entire course of human history 10% of all sins are repented of, (as if we ever could quantify it, but for illustrative purposes) then that means that 1.9 times the actual price of sin is paid; 1.0 by Christ (maybe more if you include the sins we might have done) and 0.9 times by all the sinners suffering for their own sins. I realize that you can not just add sins up and that I have equated 1 with infinity, which is about like dividing by zero mathematically. But you get the idea.

    Plus we must not forget that the reason that most sin is evil is because it causes pain and suffering in other people. It is just not between me and God. For example, if I cheat on my wife, Christ suffered for that, and if I don’t repent I will suffer for it and my wife suffers for it either way (to some degree) even if she had nothing to do with it. It seems the price suffered for sin is closer to 3 or 4 times the initial cost, for lack of a better word. I am also under the impression that much suffering seems entirely pointless.

    It is as if a father has ten sons. The first son is perfect in every way. Like David when he was young and filled with courage and faith as he fought Goliath. Even better. The other nine sons? They are a bunch of bastards, worse than the sons of Father Israel. The kind of sons who would sell their little brother into slavery because they thought it was a fate worse than death, and would sleep with their father’s other wife (Reuben), and rape their own sister (Amnon and Tamar- different family), and use their daughter-in-law as a whore without even recognizing her (Judah), and add in a few other atrocities like child abuse and cannabalism and genocide and drinking coca cola.

    So the kind and just father punishes the perfect oldest son; nails him to a tree and whips his a– and allows his nastiest brothers to humiliate him in every way possible and thereby makes him pay the price for all of the wickedness of his nine other sons in some horribly miraculous way we can not even understand. And he tells the nine wicked sons to repent and get their act together and follow the example of the perfect oldest son. But not in a way that most of them will really hear and believe him. Maybe one or two of them listen to their father and maybe a couple more are just weak and victims of circumstances, only petty little sinners and deserve some slack. But most of them just ignore it and go on their merry way.

    So the wise father lets them party for a time, but ultimately the unrepentant sons force their father to beat the hell out of them in the end as was promised. And all the time they have been fighting and abusing each other, with empty coke bottles and other things worse, much worse. So that by the end, the price of each and every sin has been suffered by someone several times over.

    This is the history of our human family and it just does not make sense to me. Plenty of iniquity; even more suffering. Seems to me justice is robbing mercy many times over.

    One more thing; I have spent about 3 times as many years in the nursery as in college so keep it as simple as possible.

  37. Ben H on September 17, 2005 at 11:32 pm

    Yow, Mike! Well put. You just said pretty vividly why there has to be (IMO) a lot more going on with the atonement than just a vicarious suffering of punishment on behalf of sinners. If what you just recounted is pretty much the extent of the story then it is one extremely weird and kind of senseless story.

    Clearly suffering so that we need not suffer so, and making it possible for a just God to admit us into his presence despite our having fallen into sin are important aspects of the atonement. The scriptures are express on these points. But we have a tendency to emphasize those aspects as though they were the whole story, and they just can’t be. There is a lot more about the atonement in the scriptures than that, a lot of other images, analogies, models, and I think we need to dig in and find a lot more to understand than that one thread of the story.

    For now, let me just say that one aspect of it is Christ’s example for us. We are all to bear our own crosses, fitted to us, or else we are not true disciples. His cross was a place where he was cruelly tortured and killed, and yet he forgave those doing it (at least the soldiers. I don’t know about the ones really responsible! Likely it would be better for them if they had never been born). When another servant of God was griping a while later, God could say, “Is what you’re suffering as bad as what Christ suffered? Let his example be a lesson for you, as to what you should be willing to undergo in the service of my kingdom, and of your fellow beings.” For example. We are to love our enemies, and forgive.

    He came to show a perfect example of love.
    He came to know how to succor his people.
    He came to mark the path and lead the way to eternal life.
    He came to be as one of us, and yet to receive a fulness of the glory of the Father.
    He came to conquer death, and rise the firstfruits of them that sleep.
    One could go on.

    I think all of these are part of the atonement. All of them are vital for us to find our way back into a harmonious relationship with God.

  38. LisaB on September 18, 2005 at 10:26 am

    Mike–Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that it seems in some ways like evil and suffering are winning in this world. But I don’t think that’s really the case. “They that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16) I also don’t believe that violence, force, punishment, or suffering are God’s will, desire, or way even. Yes, I know, it sure looks like that in the OT sometimes. I believe God’s way is nurturing, agency-creating, goodness-inspiring, and peace-instilling. When we think that God is other than good, we are making the mistake of thinking God is “such a one as ourselves.” (Psalms 50:21) Remember that compulsion is Satan’s modus operandi, and God’s is “like the dews distilled from the heavens.”

    To me, justice is simply a recognition of pre-existent, “natural” spiritual law if you will. That like attracts like. That darkness and light are antithetical. That the glory of an exalted being is like the sun and that impure matter is consumed when heated. None of that is God’s “fault”/ doing/ creation. But making it possible for us to be reconciled to natural spiritual law is.

    If the account you outline above is correct, it would be better for us to refuse to make Christ suffer by NOT accepting the gift of the atonement. But it doesn’t work that way. That’s why I dislike the classroom whipping type of analogies. God is not like a schoolmaster who would meet out whippings if that’s what the whole class had agreed to. If you look at what the world agrees to, it is far from godlike. God would cease to be God if God participated in such behavior, even if in the name of “justice,” because God would cease to operate in harmony with natural spiritual law (i.e. be perfect/ be celestial/ be whole/ be One).

    The payment/suffering models for the atonement are limited. There’s a story about a group of blind mice encountering something in the courtyard near where they live. In turn they go out and explore this thing, and come back and make their report. One says it’s a rope. One says it’s a spear. One says it’s a pillar. One says it’s a wall. One says it’s a fan. Turns out it’s an elephant, and the individual mice have “experienced” different parts (the tail, the tusk, a foot, its side, an ear respectively). They are all “right” about what their individual experience with the whole has been like, but their extrapolations are wrong. It takes a combination of views to even get close.

  39. annegb on September 18, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Mike, I have found that it is never simple on Times and Seasons. I use my dictionary a lot and still don’t know what they’re talking about half the time.

  40. annegb on September 18, 2005 at 11:18 am

    Although this is a very good topic, Ben, I enjoyed your initial post and printed it.

  41. Jesse on September 19, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    I have puzzled a lot about exactly what justice is and what it means to have a divine law that requires it. There is a certain framework for understanding justice that has helped me and it may be useful for others. It’s almost certainly wrong in specifics, if not in general, but for what it’s worth…

    The concept of justice presupposes the existence of some sort of standard, some law, upon which judgements can be made. It’s more than that, though, the law lays out real consequences. Alma’s discussion of justice in Alma 42 (specifically verses 15-22) lays out the ideas that there is a law “affixed” and that this law establishes punishments and is in opposition to the plan of happiness. Lehis, in 2 Nephi 2 (IMHO the most important chapter in all of the standard works), also gets at this idea, but he elaborates. Looking specifically at verse 13, he lays out the idea that the opposites established by the law allow for progression. There is happiness and misery, and it is this law, somehow that dictates that righteousness (we’ll call that following the law) results in one, and sin (breaking the law) results in the latter. The key point that Lehi adds is that it is this situation that makes progress possible. In verses 11 and 12, he outlines how opposition, or choice, and the real consequences for choice, result in movement, in growth and that absent those forces, absent this situation, there is no progression or regression and that there is no point in such an existence. Law, therefore, is something that establishes a framework for growth, for life and increase as we understand them, and, hopefully, as we desire. Look also at D&C 93:30 that says that without the ability to choose within the sphere (or kingdom) into which we are placed, then there is no existence.

    The Doctrine and Covenants also say some interesting things about law. Section 130:20-21 makes the statement that blessings result from law, and that this law is irrevocably established in heaven before the foundation of the earth. It’s as if, prior to this life, there was, for this kingdom, a law established, or perhaps simply recognized as a brute fact, that progress within this fallen kingdom would be possible because certain opposites, with set consequences would be established and when we follow those laws, they are efficacious for our growth (or our diminution).

    Now look carefully at the first 41 verses of Doctrine and Covenants Section 88. There is a discussion of law there that is very interesting. There are, apparently, infinite kingdoms (there is no kingdom in which there is no space and no space in which there is no kingdom), and each of those kingdoms has a law given to it and continued residence or presence in a kingdom requires, demands, even, obedience to the law pertaining to that kingdom. Note particularly verse 35. If we break and reject the law of a given kingdom and seek to establish ourselves as a law, we cannot be “sanctified” by the law of that kingdom. Sanctification in Mormon parlance is the reception of all that the Father has and refers to celestialization of our souls. The law of that kingdom, if followed, seems to result in that condition. Looking at verses 38-40, they seem to imply that our growth, our accretion of intelligence, light and glory in the celestial kingdom (or, to the extent we can accrete them in any other kingdom where we land) are dependent on obedience to the law of that particular kingdom.

    When we refer to a kingdom’s law, therefore, it seems that we’re discussing a sort of “theory of everything” for the spiritual possibilities of that kingdom. It is the spiritual ground from which particular emerge. Now go back to Lehi and Alma’s discussion of the importance of having opposites, as established by law. What if the law could be broken without any consequences whatsoever? As Alma points out, there would be no law, and as Lehi says, there would be no point in the creation of such a state of affairs, indeed, as D&C 88 clearly implies, a lawless kingdom is an oxymoron, it saying that such a state of affairs can be is logically impossible. That’s why Alma concludes his discussion of how important law is by saying that without law, “the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.”

    This point, the idea that it is law, the law that establishes these opposites and makes life and progression and meaningful existence and choice possible, within the bounds of a given kingdom, is critical, I think, to understanding why Paul can get up and argue that if you’ve broken the law in one point, then you’re guilty of the whole. It is why God says that He cannot abide sin in the least degree. I used to think that this was pretty darn harsh. I mean, I’m a fairly accomplished sinner and my wife hasn’t refused to associate with me and hasn’t kicked me out of our “kingdom.” Why can’t God just get along? The answer is that we’re not talking about an attitude of mercy and compassion, we’re talking about the existence of a kingdom, a celestial kingdom. The law of that kingdom is what makes it possible for that kingdom to exist. If we can, with impunity, break that law, even in small points, then there is no law and consequently no kingdom. D&C 88:34 says that it is a law that “preserves” a kingdom. That’s why the demands of justice must be met.

    But what exactly IS this law and where does it come from?

    This is where the scriptures get a bit weird. Look at D&C 88 and 93. All of the following are equated: intelligence, light, knowledge, spirit, glory, truth, the light of Christ, the Power of God, and, wouldn’t you know, the law by which all things are governed. Look particularly at Section 88:3-13 and how it is laid out that this light/law/intelligence comes from God through Christ and is the basis (law) upon which all things are governed. And verse 41 talks about how this light, this presence of God is in and around and shot through the entire universe. The Mormon concept of God, based on the first vision and our own idiosyncratic reading of theophanies experienced by other prophets, and our doctrine that God has a physical body tends, I think, to take us away from this more awe inspiring concept of God, this idea that He pervades literally everything. But there it is. Perhaps this is why, when he was finally shown a good sized chunk of creation, Moses sorta fell of his chair and said that man was nothing, which thing he never had supposed (Moses 1:10).

    And it gets stranger. D&C 131 tells us that spirit (this same stuff that is equated with light/intelligence/truth/law) is actually some sort of matter. And section 88 and 93 and lots of other places in scripture talk about light increasing within us, about our spirits aggregating this stuff to ourselves as we obey law, about our actual, literal change as a result of obeying that law. And as our obedience to law increases, our unity with that pervasive light/intelligence/spirit/intelligence/law does too.

    There is a concept of law that I think should not ever be confused with this scriptural explanation. It is the idea that law is somehow an arbitrary set of rules that God tossed out. We fall victim to that conception because of how we set laws. We should remember that God’s ways are not ours. I had wondered why, if God was the lawgiver and (in our human conception of lawgiving) could decide what the law for the celestial kingdom was, He couldn’t just say, “There will be only one sin. If you commit it, you’re out. That sin will be chewing grape flavored Bubblicious, while standing on your hands on the 50 yard line of Lavell Edwards Stadium at midnight on any fifth Friday that occurs during 2003.” Everyone would be in, right? But this concept of God-as-lawgiver is wrongheaded. When God tells us about law, and how our spirits respond/grow/change in response to obedience to that law, I think He is making statements about our fundamental, uncreate, brute fact nature.

    Keep in mind that intelligence was not and cannot be created. It always has existed, always will. If a thing exists, it must have some sort of characteristics. God’s statements to us, about the kinds of activities we ought to be engaged in, I take it, our really descriptions about what will result in our spirits enlarging, increasing and drawing into unity with Him and with all others who make such a similar choice. He is not setting arbitrary conditions. And those laws cannot be broken because they are, indeed, part and parcel of what we, as intelligences, are.

    A lot of the sort of day to day things, i.e., don’t work on Sunday, don’t drink coffee, are, I think along the lines of me telling my children not to put slices of baloney into the DVD player. There are fundamental physics behind why slices of baloney in the DVD player do not result in the joy of seeing Cinderella. But trying to convey that to my children would be just plain impossible. Particularly given their lack of knowledge of lasers and microchips and all the other whats-its inside the black box. But simply because I instruct them as to the proper interaction (i.e., NONE) between the DVD player and baloney does not mean that I am being arbitrary and capricious. I am instructing them based on realities that are deeper than their current ability to understand (heck, they’re beyond my ability to understand too, given that I probably can’t say much about the guts of a DVD player).

    So, that’s how I understand why Justice is required.

    How I conceive of how the atonement plays into this is another long discussion.

    And again, I could be entirely off-base here, but what is T&S for, but to engage in wild doctrinal speculation :-)

  42. LisaB on September 19, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s like a “to be continued…” that never airs part 2!!! You HAVE to explain your view of how the atonement plays into this! That’s the whole launching point of this discussion! Yeah, we’ve hit Justice and law in the perifory (sp?), but come on, dear! Give us the rest!

  43. Mike on September 20, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for your comments concerning post #36. I must have been in a rather dark mood when I wrote that. It sounds pretty outrageous today reading it again. I admit that I might be guilty of some rhetorical distortion and exaggeration. I do not have a chance to get on this site every day so please do not think of it as rudeness if I do not respond quickly. I find it comforting at some subconscious level if these issues are even addressed in any fashion. Your comments have gone far beyond this and have been nutritious, for want of a better word.

    For me the simple parts of the story do not always make sense (and so why do I also love to wallow around in the difficulties I don’ even have a clue about and make wise cracks?) Mostly I try to stumble along dragging my cross and hoping for a Simon (was that his name? ) to help me carry it. Not Simon Peter, but Simon the guy who got roped into carrying Christ’s cross part of the way, and some believe he was from a place populated by people with dark skin so our African -American brothers really like him. So do I.

    I heard the story of the 5 blind mice, end of #38, in Japan on my mission; only it was five blind monks but all the other details were the same and I heard it from one of my native Japanese companions and he even had a laminated picture of these five blind monks looking like they were gropping this docile elephant, which I acquired a copy. I never really understood what he was saying for a long time after my mission, but it seemed to be an effective story for him. I think I like the mice version better.

    I think we are all exploring various part of an elephant. Looking through a glass darkly. The Just shall live by faith, and not much else? When I was about 5 years old I remember going to Hogle zoo and getting sprayed of or sneezed on by one of the elephants, sometimes that happens too.

    You know what would really be nice is if I heard comments like those on this site in Sacrament meeting. Like, Ben and Lisa and the rest of the gang, could y’all just call my Bishop up and volunteer to speak? Delta still flys to Atlanta several times a day from almost everywhere. Even Jesse, but you might go over the time limit. (Just kidding, I wouldn’t mind but the children..)

    If the bloggernacle can lift the level of the content of material at church like a rising lake lifts all the boats floating on it, then these discussions will be more important than we think. I generally view them as discussions out in the foyer after church, sort of a pick up basketball game in the ‘hood where you demonstrate your abilities. Maybe not.

  44. Jesse on September 20, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Lisa, since you asked…. (please keep in mind that all proper answers start with “In the beginning”)

    My ideas about how the atonement answers the demands of justice are not that clear and I don’t know that I have quite as much to say on that topic or that I’m satisfied with my thinking (and ignorance, really), but for what it’s worth…

    It seems to me that the next question to ask is why we even need an atonement. What puts us in a position such that we are incapable of answering the demands of justice? The brief answer, of course, is sin. Well then, what’s sin and why’s it such a problem?

    A lot of scriptural passages define or discuss sin as knowingly rejecting a commandment of God, or taking actions that diminish the light/intelligence/glory that we cleave to. Keep in mind, that commandments of God are (in my conception, at least, which you should be careful to take with a grain of salt) instructions for our day-to-day life that are based on the underlying, uncreate reality of our own intelligences. They are not simply hoop jumping based on God’s arbitrary whims. (Remember the baloney and the DVD player in the previous post). Sin is the course that takes us away from God, from that unity with all light/intelligence/knowledge/glory/truth. Sin shrinks our very souls, not in the abstract, not metaphorically, but literally. Light, intelligence, glory, truth, that which is defined as more refined matter, the real stuff of which our spirits are actually made leaves us as we are disobedient to the law of the kingdom in which we live. Sinning in some sense is a self-rejection, a self-limitation, even a self-destruction. The ultimate sinners, sons of perdition, are those who fully reject anything coming from God and completely refuse to be part of the unity, the oneness into which He invites all of his children. Whether they shrink into nothingness is a good question, and perhaps that is the reason why only those who partake of that “kingdom,” where it seems that no law exists, and where there is expressly no glory/light/truth/intelligence, come to know what lies at the depth of that experience (D&C 76:48 and 88:24).

    Our potential, and our goal within the gospel of Jesus Christ and in His church, is to go back to our Heavenly Parents and fully participate with them in the exaltation, the full unity with, as many other intelligences as will choose to do so. But for some odd reason, that requires a body. In fact, that body is, as Joseph Smith said, the great prize of this life and its lack is the punishment of the third of the hosts of heaven who rejected God’s plan (TPJS p. 181 and p. 297). Reaching our potential also requires a lot more spiritual smarts and real life experience than we seem to have had access to without a body, prior to this existence. (I have some ideas on why we need a body, but that is a digression. Look at D&C 88 and the story about the swine who run into the sea and look at what TPJS has about the importance of bodies and then look at what Moroni does with his resurrected body and the glory of his spirit when he comes and visits Joseph Smith – have you ever seen a light bulb “gather” up its light? And think also about how we believe that the universe consists of that which acts and that which is acted upon and that a resurrected being necessarily combines both of those elements of the universe into her/his very being. Then there are passages about how our bodies are the temple/tabernacle of the spirit. Yeah, yeah, I’m digressing, but it’s an interesting topic really).

    So the plan of happiness is established and our Heavenly Parents send us down here to get bodies and to have a chance to really mess up, so that, as Eve figured out, we can taste the bitter and thus come to know to prize the good. Insightful, gutsy woman. And Adam had the good sense to recognize the truth of her realizations. So here we are, kicking each other in the shins and poking each other in the eyes (and drinking coca cola too, Mike). And those sins we commit, they have real consequences for the condition of our souls. And as I laid out in my previous post, celestial law, that which supports, which underpins and makes possible the existence of that state, requires that we, who break that law, leave (possibly not leaving so much in terms of temporal/spatial relationship, but leave in the sense that law breakers, those who seek to become a law unto themselves, are cut off completely from the oneness of being with God – D&C 88:35). Remember, as Alma explains, if we can flaunt the law with impunity, then there is no law and without the law, there is no kingdom.

    The odd thing about our mortal existence is that ultimate justice seems to have been suspended for us. We get this space in which we can really mess up, and really discover what we want, in a state that seems to be completely independent of God’s direct intervention and presence. At least, our fallen, egotistical, sometimes sinful eyes have a pretty tough time seeing His hand, so we enjoy a feeling of relative freedom and can truly feel that we are exercising agency in a generally unrestrained way – and some of us choose to hit each other with our empty coke bottles. (See particularly Alma 12:24, but also Alma 34:32-35, 42:4 and then note D&C 88:29-32, which I take to mean that we are judged, in a final sense, at the resurrection and not during this life. Lots of other scriptures talk about the judgment as being after this life, so it seems like judgment and therefore justice, are not, in their full sense, immediate during this life.)

    I bring this up because I have sometimes had the sense that, “Ok, I messed up, but you know, that was last week, and now, I’m doing pretty good and I feel decent about myself, and my neighbor has forgiven me and we’re getting along just fine now, so why should there be any problem with God? I mean, we’ve worked it out, so let’s just take it easy with all this talk about me being carnal, sensual and devilish!” That sense, though, I think results from the fact that we most definitely do not feel the full weight of justice, the full implication of our separation from God during this life. We’ve got a breather here, but the scriptures make it very plain that the real, eternal consequences of sin, the complete separation from God that results from our failure to abide by celestial law (or any of the lower laws, if such is the case) are much more serious than we generally experience during mortality. What is that full weight like? Alma the Younger told his son that, when he was given a good look at his real condition, he wished that he could become extinct, both body and soul (Alma 36:15). Look at what Christ said in D&C 19:15-18, particularly note that he said that those who do not accept His atonement would have to experience something akin to what He went through, which experience was “…how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.”

    It is interesting to me that section 19 came in response to the fact that Joseph had just lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript. With regard to Joseph’s disobedience and the darkness of soul that he felt, Christ said the following: “Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.” Now look at what Joseph’s mother Lucy Mack Smith said about those days.

    “I well remember that day of darkness, both within and without. To us, at least, the heavens seemed clothed with blackness, and the earth shrouded with gloom. I have often said within myself, that if a continual punishment, as severe as that which we experienced on that occasion, were to be inflicted upon the most wicked characters who ever stood upon the footstool of the Almighty–if even their punishment were no greater than that, I should feel to pity their condition.”

    And that was “the least degree” of suffering that resulted from Joseph’s sin.

    And why don’t we know what that feels like right now, even though we’re all sinners here today? Because we’re sitting in our probationary state and are not yet subject to the full demands of justice, are not yet experiencing the complete separation from God that results from departing from celestial law. It seems to me that the fact that we’re all getting a pass right now warps our perspective about what the full weight of Justice really is. We typically only get glimpses of what it will be when we are allowed to feel legitimate guilt for sins we have committed.

    I’ve wondered about statements that all of us would unavoidably perish and become carnal, sensual and devilish, on a par with Lucifer. How is that, really? I mean, yeah, I mess up, but I’m not Satan, and neither are most of my neighbors. So why is it that the scriptures insist that we’re all going to end up in the same condition as him, absent the atonement of Christ? (See Mosiah 13:28, Alma 34:9, Alma 42:9-10, and Moses 6:49). I think the answer is because Lucifer’s condition is to be cut off, completely, from God and that is the condition in which we will find ourselves too, once the full weight of justice comes into play (look again at Alma 42:9-10 and Moses 6:49). I think one of the reasons that Christ called out “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” while on the cross, was that part of His atonement was to experience the full weight of justice, which, in its essence, is an absolute separation from God.

    So what was it that Christ did, what was the atonement? As has been pointed out by Ben, it seems that the atonement, what Christ did in His final days, was a multi-faceted thing.

    First, he suffered the pains of every human being. (See 2 Nephi 9:21 and D&C 18:11). I don’t think this is simply a metaphorical, allegorical or sympathetic suffering. I believe that in some way Christ stepped out of time and actually experienced with us, individually, the full extent of all of our trials. In my thinking, the specific, and very important reason for that, was so that He could be a just judge. 2 Nephi 9:22, explains that the reason he suffered the pains of all was specifically so that all could stand before Him to be judged. He KNOWS us and he knows the totality of our lives even better than we do because he experienced it all. And as a result, we go to Him, the only just judge and when He judges us we will say “Thy judgments are just” and go away perfectly satisfied (see 2 Nephi 9:46, Mosiah 27:31 and 29:12).

    A second result of Christ’s having suffered the pains of every human being was that He knows how to succor us. (See Alma 7:12 and D&C 62:1). Not in the Hallmark way, sending us sympathy because He’s had to live a human life too, but because He really knows precisely what we’re experiencing, having lived it with us. It is my personal experience that He knows far better than I do, what I really need to grow and progress and be happy. I have seen things happen in my own life that have tremendous meaning to me that would be totally incomprehensible to anyone else, or simply meaningless, or taken as a random event. Things that have meaning only within the context of an intimate understanding of my life, that no other human being could possibly understand or be aware of.

    And finally, to the point of this whole discussion, clearly, he suffered the full weight of justice, a full separation from God (D&C 19 makes this completely plain, as does His statement on the cross), in order that we would not have to do so ourselves.

    And that last aspect of the atonement, I must admit, is the hardest for me to get my hands around (at least intellectually and in a discussion that turns on reasoned arguments, as opposed to descriptions of very real personal spiritual experiences, which are different things). It’s important, though, that our lack of understanding of how this aspect of the atonement works never becomes a justification for saying that, well, since we don’t get it, and it doesn’t make intellectual sense to us, it really isn’t important. Christ’s overcoming justice with mercy is the very core of what He did. It is the sole means of our salvation. The scriptures, and particularly the Book of Mormon our so express and explicit on this point that there is no way we can ignore this fact. And we should, of course, always keep in mind our very impressive ignorance about how things really work.

    I think it very interesting that this core part of the atonement, this act that keeps us all from becoming miserable forever, from experiencing what Alma said made him want to become extinct both body and soul, is the very part of Christ’s life and mission that is sometimes ignored and downplayed, in favor of a weakened Christianity that simply emphasizes Christ as a moral teacher or sort of anti-establishment philosopher. What a great way to mislead people about Him and our utter dependence on His atonement and the necessity of our repentance. If this is what Christ was referring to when he visited Joseph during that spring day in 1820, then it truly was accurate to call such teachings an abomination that have only a form of godliness, but deny the real power thereof (JSH 1:19).

    In my own head, I tend to think of the expiatory aspect of the atonement in terms of physics, specifically Newton’s idea about there necessarily being an equal and opposite reaction in response to any action. Our sins necessitate a separation from God, a spiritual death. Misery, affixed in opposition to happiness (2 Nephi 2:10). For Christ, though, He initiated such a reaction, but in reverse. And for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And in his case, this infinite happiness, this infinite joy that is possible from His knowing the depths of pain is somehow applicable, by Him, to us, on condition of our repentance. I know that sounds weird (and it’s probably completely off base) but that’s how I think of it.

    I know I’ve rambled on here WAY too long, but if anything is worth rambling on about, it is the atonement. As Lehi said, “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah…”

    A key thing for me, personally, (and I suspect for many others as well) is that though I do not understand, intellectually, the mechanism for how the misery of our sins is taken away in Christ, I have experienced it personally and it is real. And that experience abides with me and overpowers any sort of intellectual doubt or ignorance. It’s also interesting to me that these very powerful ideas, these very clear explanations of Christ, His mission and atonement, are drawn almost entirely from the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Truly, plain and very precious things.

  45. LisaB on September 20, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Mike–Hello again. Glad that you feel some of this spewing has been helpful. ROFL about the time thing and Jesse. When we both speak in sacrament mtg or when we team teach, I insist on speaking first (or trading off lesson days), or he leaves me NO time. :-) He got this starting from scratch thing from his dad. So then he goes and marries someone with a short attention span :-) (that would be me).

    Jesse–thanks for posting that. Is it fair to summarize the gist of the difference in your approach and Ben’s speculation about the necessity of certain aspects of the atonement in the original post as a possible difference in interpretation of how the perameters are set and how justice is satisfied? (Ben, do you think that’s a fair summary?) Or are you simply discussing different facets of atonement?

  46. Jesse on September 20, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Mike:

    I see the gospel as we try to teach it in church meetings and materials as the sort of steel superstructure of life. The carvings on the frieze, the color of the stone and the thickness of the front windows are the things we work out in our individual lives and in places like the bloggernacle. Each ads to the beauty and completeness and variety of the whole city, but I don’t know about trying to interchange them. I wouldn’t for example, engage in such musings as I have on T&S during a talk in sacrament meeting because in that place I would feel more comfortable and proper being sure that what I convey there amounts to tending to the integrity of the steel structure as well as I am able. I think it is important that there be a place where the integrity of the superstructure is maintained and tended.

    Lisa:

    The thrust of Ben’s original post, as I take it, was to ask whether or not God varies the form of worship over time and in response to societal/cultural conditions. I think that such a conclusion is inescapably correct. The giving of the law of Moses, which we call a lesser law, in response to a group of people not being ready for something different being the quintessential example. However, underlying that law, I think, is content that cannot fundamentally change and that is that a covenant relationship with God is required, along with a dependence on Christ, in order for us to experience salvation and exaltation.

    Ben does ask some other questions, namely:

    Is it possible that even the form of Christ’s own sacrifice was determined partly by our expectations and predispositions? Is it possible that it is partly a response to God’s justice, but partly a response to ours? Could it be that Christ had to die in the particular way he did, not only because without his sacrifice God could not forgive us of our sins, but because without it we could not forgive each other, or could not forgive ourselves?

    I do think that Christ had to die. It is a physical corollary to His spiritual atonement, which was to fully experience spiritual death. I don’t think He necessarily had to be crucified. And, though they don’t seem to explain it (or at least, I just don’t get it yet) the scriptures are pretty clear that He had to die in order to rise again and overcome physical death. Whether or not it is God, the Law, or our expectations and predispositions that requires this, I don’t know. I am, though, highly suspect of any argument that says that God must somehow bow to our desires, as you are as well. That seems to be putting the cart before the horse in a monumental fashion.

    Was the form of Christ’s sacrifice partly in response to God’s justice, and partly in response to our justice? I tried to describe my concept of justice in my first lengthy post. I do think that God’s justice, that law which undergirds existence, does require a sacrifice for sin and that Christ’s atonement met those requirements in some way that is totally unfathomable to me personally (even though I feel certain that I have known its internal, spiritual effects in my life). I do not think the atonement was in response to our inadequate sense of justice, though I do believe that when we receive Justice from Christ, we really will all be satisfied with it. If our current, extremely limited mortal sense of justice was what mattered, and people like Mike and I were in charge, we would be extremely busy beating all of you wicked people with your empty coke bottles.

    Did Christ have to die in the way that He did because without that sacrifice God could not forgive us, and because we could not forgive each other, or ourselves? I do think that Christ had to experience the full weight of justice to put in motion that infinite joy, that infinite happiness that He can, because He needs it not for Himself, somehow make available to us, somehow use to heal the rifts in the law that we create within ourselves through sin. Law undergirds the existence of a kingdom. That kingdom cannot exist, as Alma and Lehi argue, absent the law, so yes, God could not forgive us, without Christ’s gift of grace. Justice cannot be robbed. How it is that mercy overpowers the demands of justice (Alma 34:15), I do not pretend to understand.

    I think our forgiveness is different than God’s. Our form of forgiveness is to admit that we cannot judge justly, in an ultimate sense, that only Christ can and that we have to turn final judgments over to Him. At the same time, I don’t think this means we ignore, gloss over, or say it’s ok when someone else sins. D&C 64:10-11 gets read a lot: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.” But we don’t read verses 12-13 enough, where we’re told to take people into church courts and hold them accountable and see that they really see the full consequences of their sins, because if we don’t do this, we’re offending God. I don’t think this means we get to kick the crap out of people who do bad things, but that we recognize the fact that there is a standard and that we are required to respect and uphold it as best we, in our human capacity, are able to. It’s a seemingly contradictory passage and I’m glad I’m not a bishop or member of a high council who has to be in the position of balancing those two demands. I might be a little to handy with my empty coke bottle at this point in my life (or perhaps would offend those who had been sinned against by not wielding it enthusiastically enough).

  47. LisaB on September 20, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Jess–You remind me of the coke bottle falling from the airplane in The Gods Must Be Crazy. Probably too light a comment for such a heavy topic. Okay, getting offline now.

  48. LisaB on September 27, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    I know this topic is long gone, but I finally had time to print out Jesse’s last couple posts and read through them with a pen for underlining. So maybe we can resurrect it again.

    A couple quotes of Jesse’s for discussion. He said “justice seems to have been sustpended for us” and “we’ve got a breather here, but the scriptures make it very plain that the real, eternal consequences of sin, the complete separation from God that results from our failure to abide by celestial law… are much more serious than we generally experience during mortality.” and “How it is that mercy overpowers the demands of justice (Alma 34:15), I do not pretend to understand.”

    Okay–first of all, we all have at least a partial separation from God during mortality save those who have received the second comforter perhaps. That in itself is a “taste” of what eternal separation would be, and (I believe) creates a longing for reunion. Right now I’m thinking that maybe justice and mercy are actually the same thing–compounded in one by Grace/ the power of God/ the Love of God/ the strength of God/ the Priesthood of God (borrowing from Ben’s other post). Perhaps it’s not so much that justice is suspended (particularly given your definition, Jesse) except in that the presence of God is veiled/ no longer immediate, but rather that mercy overpowers justice (mitigates natural–ie just–consequences in various ways)as we are being refined/ to give God time to work in us and perfect us.

    I think the difference between the forgiveness we offer and the forgiveness of God is that we do not have the power to make someone else godlike. Both justice and mercy require faith in God’s power to change all of those willing to be refined. If I had to leave judgment to a God who could not change us, well forget it. We have the assurance that all of us will find ourselves in like company (we will see and be seen face to face) on the other side.

    As for the pain and agony and complete separation necessary for a full joy to be possible, all I can say is I’ll really have to think about that one.

    Ben, what do you think of Jesse’s response to your idea about the role our sense of justice may play in Christ’s sacrifice?

  49. Jesse on September 27, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    Lisa:

    It seems that what you’re saying is that mercy is in operation right now, protecting us from the full consequences of justice, i.e., being fully and completely separated from God, while simultaneously allowing us to feel enough discomfort to want to repent when we need to, to strive for something better, and seek the grace of Christ that we may be fully covered by mercy when we see exactly how badly we need its full coverage. I suppose I was sort of unconsciously thinking of mercy coming into play only once we face judgment after this life and not during it, and what you’re saying, if I have interpreted it correctly, makes a lot more sense. It even fits better with my conception of justice as an underpinning law for a given kingdom. You couldn’t really “suspend” it without somehow eliminating that kingdom (speaking in very “physics” terms here). So, Lisa, your point seems a very correct one (assuming, of course that all of my ramblings are actually on point, which they may not be).

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.