The Psychology of a Two-Lobed Atonement

July 31, 2007 | 82 comments

Mormons are distinct in the emphasis we put on Gethsemane. We see Christ’s Atonement as having two primary lobes at Gethsemane in the garden and at Calvary on the cross.

As I understand it, a strain in Mormon thought says that the suffering for sins Christ did at Gethsemane came back to him again on the cross. True or not, this concept shows an disturbing grasp of the psychology of human misery.

You and I can bear a lot if we only have to bear it now, once and for all. We console ourselves that it will be over soon. In this concept, Christ was denied that consolation. He had to struggle to endure in the garden knowing that he could not say ‘It is finished’ at the end. He had to go with the soldiers viscerally knowing what was to come because he had just experienced it.


82 Responses to The Psychology of a Two-Lobed Atonement

  1. Non-Winter Meat Eater on July 31, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Good observation, Adam. We might even say it was a “Three-Lobed Atonement” when one considers the period when Christ was flogged and carried the cross on his blood-torn back on that long walk to Calvary.

    In the past I have always viewed the Atonement as “two-lobed” by focusing on Christ’s suffering at Gethsemane and on the Cross. But when I studied Catholicism I noticed the heavy emphasis they place on that intermediate period–the long walk to Calvary, carrying the instrument of His own execution on a back that had just been torn to shreds. Mel Gibson, a Catholic, placed heavy emphasis on this walk to Calvary in his movie “The Passion.” I went away from that movie realizing that I had overlooked that tortuous walk to Calvary for too long.

  2. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Two things making that walk harder: Christ bore not only the sins but the suffering of all mankind, including the suffering of all the slaves the Romans ever crucified. You and I would dread crucifixion but we couldn’t dread it the way Christ did. Second, if Christ was going to experience again on the cross all the suffering he experienced at Gethsemane, every step was bringing him to something far worse than a simple crucifixion.

  3. Morris on July 31, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Mormon emphasis on Gethsemane is a good thing, but it seems like if often limits a complete understanding of the atonement. Perhaps because of that emphasis, Mormons often only think of the atonement as the suffering of Christ, and exclude the resurrection. Atonement and resurrection are not two separate things. The resurrection is the glorifying completion of the atonement. Without it, there would be no atonement. However many lobes we want to think about, the resurrection has to be included. Otherwise, it\’s like talking about eternal life without resurrection (see 2 Nephi 9:8-9).

  4. Ardis Parshall on July 31, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    I don’t understand — don’t believe it is widespread in Mormonism — the notion that the suffering on the cross was a replay of the suffering in the garden. We usually discuss the garden as his victory over sin, and the cross as his victory over death. These are two different things in Mormonism — spiritual death, and physical death.

    Although the suffering on the cross must have been painful beyond anything I can imagine, I see no reason to think that Christ suffered for sin again there, bore again the same exquisite mental/spiritual/emotional torture he suffered in the garden — a replay of the first suffering, adding to the second.

    What is the theology behind the notion that his atonement for sin wasn’t enough the first time, that he had to go through it again a second time, in addition to the physical suffering he was undergoing in giving up his life? Or is that not what you mean by “came back to him again”?

  5. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    What is the theology behind the notion that his atonement for sin wasn’t enough the first time, that he had to go through it again a second time, in addition to the physical suffering he was undergoing in giving up his life?

    I don’t know what the theology is. I would guess its largely an attempt to not downplay the cross, since its hard to explain the relative importance the Gospels give to the cross and the garden if the garden was the place where our sins were atoned.

  6. Ken Yan on July 31, 2007 at 1:46 pm


    Bart Ehrman, a biblical textual critic, in his book \”Misquoting Jesus\” claims that most textual critics believe that Luke 22:44 was probably added by a later scribe and was probably not written by Luke. In part, this is because the verse is found in later manuscripts of the bible but not some of the earlier and better manuscripts. Luke 22:44 you may recall says of the Savior: \”his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground\”. I am not in a position to take a view one way or the other on this, but if the textual critics are right, does that not suggest that no \”lobe\” of the atonement took place at Gethsamane? I am curious as to what others with a greater knowledge of New Testament the scholarship think.

  7. Matt W. on July 31, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    From what I’ve read, Talmage and others saw it as significant as in Gethsemane, the Father was with Christ and angels were sent to minister to him, while on the Cross, Christ was alone in his suffering.

  8. Darrell on July 31, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Stephen R. Robinson explains in \”Believing Christ\” that the suffering came back on the cross because it was at that point that He trod the winepress alone (like what Matt W. said). It was at that point that he assumed the full weight of guilt — and that guilt made him unworthy of the presence of the Father. Does that make sense?

  9. Ardis Parshall on July 31, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Doesn’t make sense to me, because that makes the suffering in Gethsemane a preliminary, half-way, not efficacious event. But I don’t pretend to speak for anyone but myself; I’ll keep listening to the discussion.

  10. Nathan on July 31, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    I believe Elder McConkie taught that Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane returned on the cross. Among other places – if I recall correctly – he taught this in his (stunning) final general conference talk.

  11. Jacob J on July 31, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Well, I think the reason we focus on Gethsemane more than others is that we have D&C 19 and they don’t. From what I can tell, this is the genesis of our emphasis on Gethsemane. The notion that the sins of the world were again placed on Jesus while on the Cross seems to be an ad hoc explanation added as a later attempt to avoid downplaying the Cross after we had been emphasizing Gethsemane for so long. Same thing with Gethsemane/sin, Cross/death linkage. I don’t see any support for it other than someone’s speculative theological musings.

    Adam, I would like to know what support you have for the assertion that “Christ bore not only the sins but the suffering of all mankind” (#2). I don’t think it says that anywhere in the scriptures. Not in Hebrews and not in Alma 7.

  12. DavidH on July 31, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    I do not see the Atonement as a narrowly defined particular act or lobes but as much broader.

    My personal view is that the Atonement includes the entirety of the “condescension of God.” 1 Ne. 11:16. I believe part of Jesus’ becoming “one” with us (and allowing us to become “one” with Him) included not just His taking upon Himself the burdens or guilt or shame or harm of our sins, but His experiencing the range of human experiences directly. I believe His being a “man of sorrows, … rejected of men, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) was not restricted to His time in the garden, on the cross, or even on the long walk, but included His other experiences of mortality.

    As WW Phelps wrote, and we often sing:

    “How infinite that wisdom, The plan of holiness,
    That made salvation perfect And veiled the Lord in flesh,
    To walk upon his footstool And be like man, almost,
    In his exalted station, And die, or all was lost.”

    Hymn 175

  13. JKC on July 31, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    This verse from alma seems to imply that no matter what kind of metaphysical, spiritual anguish the Savior suffered in Gethsemane, it was still necessary to have his body physically and literally tested to the limits, “even more than man can suffer except it be unto death.” In addition, I think the publicity and the humiliation, and the mocking of the road to Calvary and the cross itself, combined with the physical and spiritual anguish add a dimension that was not there in Gethsemane. Loneliness in suffering is hard in private. But in some ways, the loneliness of public humiliation can be even worse.

    I don’t think we need to speculate that the cross was a replay to rationalize why it was necessary. In some ways, the brutal physicality of it is a very Mormon concept. Mormonism is all about the marriage of the spiritual and the physical. A religion that lives only in spiritual and metaphysical abstractions was not good enough for Joseph Smith. Hence the insistence on the physical resurrection, the literal physicality of baptism, the sacrament, temple ordinances, etc.

    Another idea is that because we can’t understand the anguish of Gethsemane, perhaps one purpose of the road to Calvary and the cross was to put his suffering in real human terms so that we could approach understanding it. We don’t know what it feels like to go through Gethsemane because we have nothing to compare it to; it’s too metaphysical, too abstract. But we can vividly (thanks in part to Mel Gibson) picture the scourging, we can imagine the fatigue of carrying the cross, and we have something tangible to pin it to. Thus, we can feel a piece of what he felt. I think it’s harder to do that with Gethsemane because we can’t understand completely the idea that one person is taking on the infinite guilt of all others.

  14. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Ardis Parshall,

    I don’t have a position staked out. You’re right that with a two-lobed atonement, it looks like it makes more sense to divide up the suffering. Your #4 suggests one way of doing it. Another way of dividing it that would better explain the prominence of the cross is to assign the empathetic suffering for our pains that Alma mentions to the garden and the suffering for our guilt to the cross.

    But if you don’t divide up the suffering, then you get some interesting implications. One is what I’ve outlined here, that in some ways the Savior’s suffering would have been worse, psychologically, because he couldn’t have told himself that if he hung on just a little more it would be over. The other, probably more interesting implication, is that he chose to go willingly to the cross fully informed of what the choice entailed (it is possible that Christ’s mortal limitations were close enough to ours that prior to the garden he lacked the experiential knowledge of what suffering our sins and our pains would be like, but after the garden this would no longer be the case). Both of these implications require, of course, that Christ knew that the suffering of the garden would be recapitulated on the cross.

  15. Kevin Barney on July 31, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Ehrman and a colleague (Mark Plunkett) wrote an article on the subject of the textual issues relating to Luke 22:43-44, which appeared in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly; presumably that is the basis for the Misquoting Jesus discussion. He also discusses this in a lecture that I found online, here (scroll down):

    It’s a complicated textual problem. Apparently, a significant part of their argument that the verses are not original has to do with chiasmus. They see a clear chiastic structure to the pericope (with Jesus’ prayer being at the central position, thus emphasizing it), which is destroyed by the inclusion of the disputed verses.

  16. Kathryn Lynard Soper on July 31, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    I’m with Morris (#3). Here’s one reason why:

    “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children who belongeth to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.” (2 Ne. 9:21-22)

  17. Kathryn Lynard Soper on July 31, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    The BD takes an inclusive view of the atonement:

    Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God and the only sinless person to live on this earth, was the only one capable of making an atonement for mankind. By his selection and foreordination in the Grand Council before the world was formed, his divine Sonship, his sinless life, the shedding of his blood in the garden of Gethsemane, his death on the cross and subsequent bodily resurrection from the grave, he made a perfect atonement for all mankind.

  18. christopher johnson on July 31, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Last week I was wondering how essential it was to the atonement (overcoming spiritual and physical death) that Jesus be murdered violently vs. dying of natural causes. I couldn’t think of any essential elements except that the intensely dramatic narrative would be easier to remember and teach to the entire human family. Not that He had the most violent, shocking death ever, but I don’t know anyone who was murdered worse in my neighborhood. Maybe the suffering (whipping, thorns, vinegar, crucifying) was not that bad for Christ compared with Gethsemane; maybe it was like getting hypodermically pricked after a 12-hour-labored child birth.

    I’d never heard the theory that Jesus suffered equally on the cross as He did in the garden until today.

  19. Rob Osborn on July 31, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    What i have always wondered is just what pain and suffering Christ actually felt. For a man who knew no sin, he certainly could not of felt the pain and anguish of a sinner although he could of felt the pain associated with a sinner like a father feels for a wayward son. Christ was put to death as a sinner although he knew no sin. This reminds me of the anguish of the holocaust victims who did no wrong yet were brutally tortured and killed. The law of heaven states that sinners should be destroyed (killed) in the flesh.

    So the logicofit is this- if he really did become the sinner then he died spiritually. This would of no doubt delivered him over to the devil upon death. He would of actually descended into hell. But the scriptures do not say this. There would also be the problem of how Christ overcame his own spiritual death. Christ didn’t have that problem as he never died spiritually. Spiritual death in defining terms states that when one is dead spiritually it literally means that he has become unresponsive to the spirit or spiritual things. Christ overcame spiritual death by never dying spiritually. This is why Christ had power within himself- life within himself always.

    So did the Father forsake Christ on the cross? Did Christ doubt the Father in his most darkest hour? I hardly believe so. If Christ had doubts over the Father on the cross you could say that this was a form of sin because Christ lacked the faith and whatsoever is not done in faith is sin. Christ was actually making a statement upon the cross when he cried out. Some biblical scholars have stated that he was paraphrasing David from Psalms as a passage rite to death as any jew would have done. Others have claimed that a deeper translation of his plea was actually a statement made vocally for all to hear that “for this cause was i allowed to remain (alive throughout the ordeal )”.

    What i wonder about is that Christ paid for our sins through the shedding of his blood. For those who do not repent, they will have to suffer just like Christ. This to me means that a future physical suffering awaits the unrepentant. How can it mean anything different?

  20. Robert C. on July 31, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Ken #6, apart from the NT scholarship and Talmage and McConkie’s views, Mosiah 3:7 says “for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abomination of his people” (D&C 19:18 also says “bleed at every pore”). So in answering the question for Mormons, I think there’s more than just Luke 22 to reckon with (i.e. one might still argue that Joseph was relying on Luke 22 in “translating” these passages…).

  21. Jacob on July 31, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Along with Morris and Kathryn, I think we tend to think of the atonement as one specific event. It seems to me that the atonement was a process that started in the garden, continued through Christ’s death, and was finished by His resurrection.

    Kevin and Ken – Biblical scholars are great, but not as great as revelation. (see D&C 19, also the JST of Luke 22)

    Adam, this post reinforces how great Jesus was, willingly walking to an even greater pain. How does someone make that kind of choice? How does He motivate Himself to move forward? Is it simply because He knows it’s the right thing? Is it simply because He loves all of us? Does His coming crown of glory motivate Him onward? What is it that helps Him put one foot in front of the next?

  22. Kathryn Lynard Soper on July 31, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    One aspect of the atonement that hits me hard is that Jesus could have spared himself–at any given moment.

    Childbirth is a type of the atonement (in a very limited sense of course)–suffering to bring to pass the life of another. But a woman signs up for the whole deal with one choice. Once you’re pregnant there’s no way out, no escape from the bitter end.

    Similarly, there are other trials we bear for the good of others. I believe we agreed to many of these premortally, just as Christ agreed to his suffering. But oh, how eager we are to release ourselves from those trials during our time of despair! God, being wise, does not give us that option. He reserved it only for himself.

    Jesus had to keep saying “yes” through the entire ordeal. That tension–that agony, coupled with willingness to prolong the torture, even in the very moment–renders me speechless.

    As for motive: Heb. 12:2 states that Jesus willingly endured “for the joy that was set before him.”

  23. DKL on July 31, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    I really don’t get the atonement. There are two kinds of suffering that people talk about him going through:

    1. The suffering caused by the suffering that one’s sins brings upon themselves. In this sense, Christ would have been born down by guilt.

    2. The suffering inflicted or allowed by Heavenly Father, as he’s required to inflict by virtue of some requirement of (for lack of a better term) cosmic justice. In this sense, Jesus didn’t suffer the way that mortals suffer over their sins, but he would suffer the way that we would suffer over time when we’re all done with mortality. This is something altogether outside the realm of human experience.

    I won’t go into it here, but neither of these makes a bit of sense in terms of someone else “paying the price” for our sins. Best I can tell, Christ did something that bears on our ability to progress in spite of our missteps, and it was very unpleasant. But as far as what exactly it was that he did, nobody knows.

    As far Christ experiencing everything twice, I can understand why you’d consider that psychologically horrifying. It’s like realizing that you have to sit through Disney on Ice again, only exponentially worse. But I don’t understand why you posit a discontinuity in his experience. He starts suffering in Gethsemane and continues until he gives up the ghost on the cross. Of course, I don’t get why he ended up on the cross anyway, and I wrote a post a while back at Mormon Mentality about why the entire story just makes no sense at all.

  24. Matt W. on July 31, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Didn’t Christ know he would have to suffer this pain from the very beginning? Did not his pain begin before he ever uttered the words “Here am I, send me.” ?

  25. Jacob on July 31, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Matt W.

    He knew that He would have to suffer, but as we all know, there is a big difference between knowing and feeling. The scriptures mention that Jesus was astonished, sore amazed, etc., so obviously while he knew what he was getting into, parts of it were so horrible that he evidently was surprised by them. Elder Neal A. Maxwell talks about this a little in his great talk which I think was titled “Willing to Submit”. As to what that says about Christ’s omniscience, I don’t know, but it does seem that the task was greater than even He had imagined. And that’s what really makes it so amazing.

  26. Ray on July 31, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    I’m not going to go into full detail, and I’m going to try to phrase this comment very carefully.

    I am uncomfortable with limiting the Atonement to a very small amount of time – even if it is defined as a process starting at Jesus’ birth and ending on the cross. That discomfort comes from looking at the word “atonement” and “redeemer” – and trying to see the big picture.

    Both terms emphasize taking someone from one situation or condition and placing that person into a situation or condition of perfection – meaning being whole and complete. All of us came into this world with issues associated with mortality that keep us from becoming whole and complete – from “filling the measure of our creation.” The Atonement, therefore, for us, consists of everything that was/is done to overcome those issues and allow us to become whole and complete. I don’t like to speak of beginnings and endings, since I think “atonement” is an eternal concept.

    When you look at it that way, Jesus played the central role in the Atonement, but HF was its “source”. For us as individuals, it started in the pre-existence, when we were formed as spirit children of God; it continued when we were allowed to choose to accept the Atonement by choosing the Father’s plan; it continued in the Garden of Eden, when They reiterated the promise to provide a Savior and Redeemer “as we counseled in the beginning;” it continued each time Jehovah spoke to a prophet and established a covenant with a people; it continued at the birth of that Savior and Redeemer; it continued throughout Jesus’ life – as He lived and taught in such a way that we have a model for our own lives; it continued in Gethsemane as He suffered the private emotional and spiritual guilt of sin inflicted by God; it continued in the trial and torture and walk to Golgotha as He suffered unwarranted public rejection, humiliation and physical pain inflicted by His own people; it continued on the cross as he suffered the depths of human depravity and degradation inflicted by “the world”; it continued as He rose from the dead and re-entered His Godly role; it continues still as He continues to speak to prophets and establish covenants; it will continue “until the great Jehovah shall say, ‘the work is done,’” which I interpret as being when our role changes from receiver to provider in the eternal process.

    I have focused here on Jehovah’s/Jesus’ role in the Atonement, but the summary is that I view the Atonement as the eternal covenant that forms the foundation of our eternal existence. I think it encompasses “all truth”, and I think catching that vision is part of why we have the temple endowment – to frame it within a narrative that will allow us to begin to understand the eternal nature of the great whole and complete picture, without beginning or end.

  27. Ray on July 31, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    One very quick addition: I think the beauty of the “amazed” and “line-upon-line” teaching is that it emphasizes that mortality is a learning process, even for a God. He REALLY did become as one of us.

  28. Blain on July 31, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    25 — This is very similar from my position. I don’t get any sense of lobe-iness in the Atonement — I think it started when Jesus was born, and was essentially done when he was resurrected, and I see it as a smooth and continuous motion. Chopping it up into pieces might help us understand some of the complexities going on in it a bit, but I don’t have a lot of faith in our ability to comprehend what it was or how it worked in any significant detail.

    I think it’s a good thing to try to understand it to the degree we can so we can have a greater respect for it, but I think the important part is that it was done for our benefit, and that we should do what we need to do to receive that benefit. Breaking it down to which portion was done in Gethsemane, what was done on the Via Dolorosa, and what was done at Golgotha is irrelevant to that greater importance — making the Atonement alive and meaningful through our acceptance of it.

    But I’m big on theological reductionism — details and controversy only to add nuance and humility to our growing understandings, with great emphasis on the basics and how to apply them in life. That means that the theological bickerers don’t like me for oversimplifying things, and the theologically sheltered don’t like me for shaking up their oversimplified understandings.

    Guess I’ll go eat theological worms.

  29. Keith on July 31, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    One way to deal with the suffering in the Garden and the return to the cross might be to see the Garden as the place where Christ takes on our sins, suffers for them, and so on, but he also has to die for our sins — and die as one whose taken on our guilt and so knows what it is to die in sin, to die separated from God. So I take it, in contrast to #19 that Christ was left to himself — that he tread the wine-press alone — and so, as a necessary aspect of the atonement, was abandoned by the Father.

  30. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Plausible, Keith.

  31. JKC on July 31, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    I wonder if a large part of the reason why place so much emphasis on Gethsemane is due as much to denominational politics than to any specific doctrines. Since we didn’t adopt the cross as a symbol, it’s like we have to justify our non-use of the symbol with some doctrinal apologia. Isn’t it just as likely that our non-use of the cross is more to make an us/them distinction? And that the emphasis on Gethsemane is the result, not the source, of our declining to adopt the cross? The Book of Mormon talks more about the cross than you would be likely to hear an average sacrament meeting in my ward, so there doesn’t seem to be any doctrinal reason to shy away from it.

  32. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    JKC, Mormon scripture talks about Gethsemane–see ## 21-22 above–so its not just a reaction to the cross. In the same way I don’t think the talk about Christ’s suffering for sin coming back to him on the cross is just a modern move to placate creedal Christians. Like you point out, the Book of Mormon and the New Testament are full of cross talk, which I believe the move is an attempt to make sense of.

  33. Mike on July 31, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    In regards to the (textual) issue of Luke 22, it seems important to distinguish between the issue of textuality and historacity. For instance, the tradition could have been imported into Luke’s account without compromising its fundamental historacity (perhaps a plain and precious truth preserved instead of being excised from early Christianity?); i.e., it could potentially be an addition to Luke’s gospel without it being a “made-up story;” it could stem from authentic early Christian tradition without having been incorporated into Luke’s gospel until later (for whatever reason–reason(s) which Ehrman and others try to historically reconstruct). However, modern revelation, as found in D&C 19 and Mosiah 3, clearly states the LDS position, regardless of Luke 22′s textual provinence. (However, I agree that D&C 19 is probably refering to this passage–but I don’t think that really affects the issue of textuality; rather it only asserts historacity.) In any event, I think it doesn’t affect the LDS position even if that part of Luke 22 wasn’t a part of Luke’s gospel until later; perhaps, even one minor reason modern revelation has been disclosed (twice) to support the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane is because of this textual issue which the Lord knew about. However, this comment has deviated enough from the post I think and this issue can, perhaps, be put to another post.

  34. Ray on July 31, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    JKC, that’s what I’ve always believed, just as with the argument over faith vs. works. We believe in both (garden and cross, faith and works), but in order to address the extreme over-emphasis of one over the other, we tend to emphasize the one being ignored – frankly, IMHO, sometimes going too far and almost becoming the tunnel-visioned opposite of what we are supposed to be denying.

  35. Ray on July 31, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    To clarify: I am talking about how we as modern Mormons explain the atonement, NOT about how our scriptures talk about it.

  36. Jacob on July 31, 2007 at 5:42 pm


    I’ve never heard of Gethsemane ever mentioned without also mentioning the cross, so I don’t think “the emphasis on Gethsemane is a result of our declining to adopt the cross”. I do think that when whoever it was who decided we don’t use the cross probably had some of that “us/them distinction” that you’re talking about. Joseph’s revelations, whether Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, or his Inspired Translation of the Bible seem to place more emphasis on the garden than traditional Christianity. I think that Christianity’s ignorance to the importance of the garden would be why we place such an emphasis on it, too.

    Threadjack alert: The Book of Mormon doesn’t contain “average sacrament meeting[s]“. It contains highlights of remarkable spiritual events, with a decided emphasis on remarkable! As in, not average! Who knows how much the cross figured in the “average” weekly meetings the Nephites had?

  37. danithew on July 31, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    “Two-lobed atonement” – that’s just a weird phrase. I understand there’s a concept behind it – but this phraseology is a little bit strange. I think I’d rather see “two-tiered” or some other word choice.

    But that’s just my take on the whole thing.

  38. Boise on July 31, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    I think I’d like to hear more discussion about the cross and its significance in our doctrine. It seems to me that much of the discussion above has focused on Gethsemane and has actually played-down the role of Christ’s crucifixion for our sins on the cross. (Is that a fair reading of the above comments?)

    I just did a quick search of the electronic scriptures on the Church’s website and there are at least a dozen references in the scriptures to Christ and the cross; that it was on the cross where Christ overcame the sins of the world. Moreover, I’ve always thought the phrase “the shedding of blood” meant “death,” and not just bleeding. (And besides, the Old Testament type of Christ as a lamb is of a lamb that doesn’t just bleed, but actually is sacrificed and dies, right? And what about the reference to Christ being “lifted up”?)

    I guess my conclusion from all of this is that while Gethsemane clearly played an important part in Jesus Christ’s passion and atonement, Gethsemane was not the only aspect. Discussion that somehow makes Christ’s suffereing in Gethsemane more vital to Christ’s mission than his crucifixion seems inconsistent with both ancient scripture and modern revelation. It was the apostle Paul who referred to only teaching Christ “and him crucified.” And every modern-day prophet has reaffirmed that Christ was “crucified for the sins of the world.”

  39. Jacob on July 31, 2007 at 6:36 pm


    The cross plays an ever important place in our doctrine. The reference to Christ being lifted up in the Book of Mormon is most notable in 3 Nephi 27, which is when Christ’s speaking to the 12 disciples. It is a vital part of the atonement. However, I don’t think we place more emphasis on the garden than we do the cross. And as I love to repeat myself, “I’ve never heard of Gethsemane ever mentioned without also mentioning the cross.” With the phrase “shedding of blood”, your right, it usually does mean death, but when it also mentions that Christ “bled from every pore” (D&C 19: don’t remember the exact verse), it is specifically talking about Gethsemane (with a cross reference to Luke 22, with the footnote of the Joseph Smith Translation).

  40. Boise on July 31, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jacob. I’m heartened that someone out there thinks that “the cross plays an ever important place in our doctrine.” I certainly hope so! Problem is, I’m just not hearing it in Fast & Testimony meetings, or in Elder’s Quorum, yet.

  41. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    I usually just hear talk about the Atonement. I don’t think folks have to specifically mention the cross to do that.

  42. Robert C. on July 31, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    (Boise #38, notice this post by Kevin Barney about the phrase “sheddeth itself abroad” regarding God’s love. I’m not sure any conclusions were reached or that the post really helps answer your question here, but an interesting post I noticed that seems loosely related. My sense is that “shedding blood” or “bloodshed” is sort of like “spilling blood” in that death is not necessarily implied. And my sense in the Church is that most members think of the Atonement “event” occurring primarily in the Garden….)

  43. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Wow, great post. Thanks, Robert C.

  44. anon451 on July 31, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    I\’m putting this forth as a thought experiment.

    Jesus said that he only said and did what he heard his father say or saw his father do. Apparently everything he knew he learned from Heavenly Father. He apparently learned how to be the Savior from Heavenly Father. Some have said that that means Heavenly Father was the savior of his generation. Not all exalted beings have to be the Savior of their generation. But, if we extrapolate what we know about how the spirit children of exalted beings go on to become exalted beings themselves, then: exalted beings will have a first-born son who will be the savior of his generation of spirit brothers and sisters. Such a first-born spirit son will learn how to be a savior/atoner from his spirit father (or parents). One may then deduce that exalted beings will have to fully comprehend how one atones for the sins of their spirit brothers and sisters in order to teach that to their first-born spirit son. Or consider the question: How does an exalted being \”place\” the burden of or payment for the sins of all his other spirit children upon his first-born spirit son? Or, if the savior does the \”taking\” of the burden of sins (as opposed to the father doing the \”placing\”), he still needs to learn that from his father or parents.

    If we hope to become exalted beings, I think we\’ll need to learn how to be \”a Christ\” or \”an Atoner\”, because that\’s what the first-born spirit of exalted beings needs to be.

    The above gives me great pause to consider what it really means to take upon us the name of Christ, and to become one with him. I think that at some time in the future we will have to fully comprehend the Atonement even as Jesus and Heavenly Father comprehend it.

  45. OneWhoServes on July 31, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    I\’ve discussed this in some detail on another LDS discussion site. If you\’d like to read the specific thread, please see here:

    Skip down to post #73 (I\’m CrimsonKairos on that site) for the start of the discussion. I don\’t think Gethsemane had anything to do with making remission of sin possible. In fact, I don\’t think the atonement works in a penal-substitution fashion at all. I don\’t think Christ suffered the punishment for our sins so God could be satisfied that someone was punished even if it wasn\’t us. If you\’d like to know why, feel free to follow the above link.

  46. Jim F. on August 1, 2007 at 12:21 am

    OneWhoServes: Very nice post at ldstalk. Thanks for providing the link. I’ve always felt that Christ’s response to Peter showed that he did not drink of the cup in Gethsemane–or at least not fully. It is nice to find someone else who thinks the same.

  47. annegb on August 1, 2007 at 12:22 am

    I don’t think He suffered FOR the soldiers twice. I think He experienced their regret and pain at what they’d done, first, along with the pain others suffered at His death. Then He suffered physically.

    It isn’t entirely unimaginable to me. I hurt for other people. Nowhere near Jesus’ experience, but I truly empathize sometimes in a way that hurts, physically. My heart aches when I recognize the pain, I feel it again, because I’ve experienced it.

    And when that happens, I don’t understand how Jesus stood it, I can barely live with that pain when it happens. It actually affects my life sometimes in terrible ways. I know that it might come as a surprise that I have a sensitive side, but I will literally grieve terribly for people I don’t even know. If I know them, I can be devastated for quite awhile.

    I would have passed out and died in the first second of Gethsemane.

    An aside: I like us. . .that’s what Rex Lee told his wife as she was caring for him when he was dying from cancer. I like us, the Bloggernacle. So many all over the blog are dear friends, including almost all of you here. A few of you, I don’t know well, some I only admire and strive to emulate from afar. I hate it when we fight.

  48. OneWhoServes on August 1, 2007 at 1:06 am

    I just finished my follow-up post at, harmonizing the contents of D&C 19:15-19 with my belief that Gethsemane had nothing to do with making remission of sins possible. Feel free to read and share your thoughts here or there:


  49. Rob Osborn on August 1, 2007 at 1:14 am


    Wow, I just read that other post you linked and it immediately reminded me of a similar stance on the subject that i have studied for several years. It comes from a somewhat controversial paper written almost a 100 years ago by an American back east who fasted and prayed to know God’s will. His answer from God he claims comes as revelation to the world where the parralells to mormonism are strikingly similar if not outright supportive. That paper is recorded in the church records at BYU but is not well known due to the lack of support from members not wholly in agreement with others besides LDS prophets receiving revelations for entire peoples.

    Anyway, the revelation has Christ telling the world why he suffered for the sins of the world. It isn’t that he is taking the penalty himself, it is that he suffered so that he could know us and our awful states and in turn allows us to love him dearly. Christ goes on to say that anyone who saw the love Christ has for us by his suffering and then not accept that love he has for us is an unredeemable person (son of perdition) because they are basically completely against everything good that Christ is.

    The revelation has been published by a fairly radical offshoot mormon group at I believe it is the 2nd revelation. The whole revelation is astonishingly true to the inner soul!

  50. Kyle R on August 1, 2007 at 7:00 am

    #44 “I think that at some time in the future we will have to fully comprehend the Atonement even as Jesus and Heavenly Father comprehend it.”

    You’re entire thought experiment is well put. This is something I’ve also been pondering over. There’s a strange – and vast and mind-boggling – gap between passing the ‘test’ of this life as most of us very comfortable people experience it, and the point at which one would have the knowledge required to be an exalted being administering the tests, challenges and atonement to billions of incarnated spirit children on a similar world.

    A loosely analogous dilemma is that of people who manage to graduate from secondary school and go directly to undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business Management – and then the high-powered, flow-chart producing management of a large company – without ever comprehending what it’s like to slave away in the soul-destroying front-line of a McJob. They can often wind up administering callous or impractical business practices.

    How could one ever be an exalted God without understanding through personal experience every possible form of human darkness and suffering?

  51. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 7:54 am

    When Peter strikes off the ear of Malchus, here is what Jesus says to Peter as found in John 18:10-12

    Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
    Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
    Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,

    Christ says that if Peter were to fight off the guards and officers, then Peter would be stopping Christ from drinking from the cup God had given him to drink. After saying this, Christ allows himself to be taken and bound. I believe this shows that it was not Gethsemane where Christ drank from the bitter cup and atoned for our sins . . .

    Putting to one side your theories about what the Atonement entailed (thanks for just asking people to follow the link if they’re interested), this scripture does indicate that Gethsemane was not the complete Atonement. The scripture is compatible, however, with Gethsemane being part of the Atonement. Christ could have said what he said to Peter if he’d started drinking the cup at Gethsemane but hadn’t finished it. Quite a few modern Apostles and Prophets have taught that Gethsemane was a key part of the Atonement for our sins and that’s the assumption this thread is operating on:

    But you are quite right that both the scriptures and modern Prophets teach that the crucifixion was not just concerned with overcoming physical death. Here’s the recent proclamation on the Living Christ:

    He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind.,4945,163-1-10-1,FF.html

  52. OneWhoServes on August 1, 2007 at 8:41 am

    My only problem with the idea that Christ started drinking the bitter cup in Gethsemane is two-fold: First, Christ was not alone (and I take Luke’s account of the strengthening angel in Luke 22:43 literally and not as some uninspired addition since D&C 19 and Mosiah 3 among others confirm the bleeding from every pore phenomenon); second, it strikes me as odd that Christ would ask the Father three times to take away the bitter cup while in the middle of drinking from it. I believe that once Christ began drinking that bitter brew, he proceeded without wavering or back-pedaling. To believe that Christ would ask the Father to take it away while his lips are on the cup seems just off to me. But that’s just me.

    Now on to the articles you linked to on They do mention Gethsemane in connection with the atonement. There is one way in which I’d be willing to believe that Gethsemane helped bring about our remission of sins. Keep in mind, I believe Christ has efficacy as our Advocate because his unjust suffering arouses pity in God’s heart. I don’t believe God transferred our punishments to Christ so that Justice could be happy that it got to whip someone, anyone, even if not us. I believe we will all suffer for our sins; wickedness never was happiness. What Christ offers us is the remission of sin, not the remission of the punishment for sin (unless we’re talking separation from God). We will always pay a price when we sin.

    So how do I believe Gethsemane could tie in to bringing remission of sins? I think Christ could point to his descending below all things in Gethsemane (speaking of our pains, infirmities and temptations) as evidence of his great love for and committment to us. Even though an angel strengthened him, and even though he wasn’t alone, I can still see God taking into account that capillary-bursting agony Christ voluntarily tasted because of his love for us.

    However, I adamantly refuse to accept the penal-substitution in Gethsemane view of the atonement. I find no scriptures to support the idea except for D&C 19, which I believe has a double-meaning as explained in the second link I provided above. Anyway, it’s surely a fascinating thing to discuss, but an important one too, I feel. I now have a different relationship with Christ since I have a different understanding of the atonement being about Christ’s blood being shed for us on the cross.

    I no longer go about thinking, “I better repent so that Christ’s suffering the punishment for my sins was not in vain. I don’t have to suffer the punishment for my sins (meaning misery and guilt and forfeited blessings) if I repent, since Christ did that for me already.”

    Now I think, “I better repent and deny myself of all ungodliness to demonstrate to Christ that I’m serious about becoming perfect. I better do all I can to qualify to experience the mighty change of heart which will leave me with no more desire to sin, and which Christ alone can bestow. I better become perfect in Christ–literally cease to desire or commit sin–so that when Christ asks the Father to blot out my past sins on account of my now being perfect and in no danger of relapsing, the Father can say, “For your sake, my Beloved Son Jesus, I will remember his sins no more, that he might dwell with us forever in celestial glory as one who has obeyed perfectly from the beginning even as thou hast.”

    For me, it’s a complete paradigm shift and I feel energized to live the gospel more fully now because of it. Before I felt like I was just racking up debt on my spiritual credit card through occasional sins, having Christ pay it off when I repented, and hoping I died without being in the red. Now I know I literally have to stop sinning, period, and living the gospel is my way of opening my heart enough for Christ to reach inside, rip out the natural man by the hairs of its head, nail it to a cross within me, and change my heart into one resembling God’s.

    I’m no longer consumed with thoughts of spiritual debt and getting Christ to pay them. I’m consumed with thoughts of attaining a permanent spiritual rebirth into a newness of life, and living the commandments now is a quest I eagerly pursue for that purpose.

    In short, I no longer feel like an accountant surrounded by spiritual abacuses. Instead, I feel like a blacksmith who is hammering and shaping my soul into a perfect sword through Christ’s grace and quickening influence. And that’s an incredibly positive feeling.

  53. OneWhoServes on August 1, 2007 at 8:54 am

    One more thing I wanted to add. I don’t believe in Gethsemane that Christ added up all our individual pains, and then suffered each of them sequentially. I believe he had to know what it feels like to break your leg, for example, since many of us break our legs in mortality. However, I don’t think Christ had to feel the pain of every broken leg rolled up into one numbing sensation. Instead, I believe he had to experience a fulness of the pain connected with breaking your leg, but only once, and not one time for each of us who breaks our leg. Does that distinction make sense?

    In other words, I see it as Christ sampling each misery, temptation and agony once, instead of the sum of all our pains rolled into one. I don’t think it was necessary to suffer the same pain more than once, as this would be redundant and I don’t think it would deepen his empathy for the guy on crutches to feel the pain of a broken leg a zillion times. But, this is just my opinion. Even so, that would still total a sensory overload capable of bursting his capillaries in a dermal display that breaks my heart to contemplate.

  54. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 8:57 am

    All right. I’ve found some spiritual value and some doctrinal justification for nearly every atonement theory I’ve seen. If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that Gethsemane isn’t really part of the Atonement where the Atonement is defined as atoning for sins. I think most LDS see empathetic suffering for our pains as part of the Atonement, which it appears you accept happened at Gethsemane.

    However, I chose the links I did because they state not just that Gethsemane was part of the Atonement but that it was part of the Atonement for our sins.

    Obviously deciding what it means to say that Gethsemane was part of the Atonement for our sins requires deciding what atoning for our sins means. I’m not comfortable making the latter decision absent some revelation saying this theory is right and the others are wrong, but I know of no revelation given to the church which explicitly does that and I have not received private revelation on the subject either.

  55. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 8:58 am

    #53, that may be. I don’t think we have any basis to say.

  56. Kyle R on August 1, 2007 at 9:13 am

    #53 No, it wouldn’t have made sense to necessarily repeat each pain. Even one ‘sample’ of each kind of human agony would be nightmarish. But I wonder how this works in actual practice and when the less expressly physical varieties of human agony are considered. After all, in Gethsemane Christ took on the pain of humanity’s fallen state, and although the broken leg example you give is well described, does this example work for the the mental, spiritual and emotional agonies more associated with our sins, which the atonement pays for?

    Here the ‘feeling once and not repeatedly’ idea may not apply. Mental, emotional and spiritual anguish is qualitatively different at the level of the one-off or short-lived than when experienced ongoingly (for example over years or half a lifetime) or repeatedly experienced at length, as is quite often the case with the worst kinds of human suffering. For this kind of human agony, feeling it repeatedly, over and over, would indeed be required to geniunely feel it.

  57. OneWhoServes on August 1, 2007 at 9:15 am

    For me, atoning for sin entails doing with our sins what is necessary to allow us to be “at one” with God and Christ in celestial glory.

    God doesn’t ask us, “Hey, has someone been whipped for your sins? Becuase if not, you can’t be exalted.”

    God asks, “Have you a record of perfect obedience? That is the standard: a perfect reward for perfect obedience such as Christ’s.”

    Usually only a perfect being will not ever have sinned. However, in our case, Christ takes imperfect beings who have sinned, and turns them into perfect beings who have sinned. Then, Christ asks God to blot out the record of our past sins in light of the fact that we are now perfectly obedient (the mighty change of heart thing). For Christ’s sake, mercy overpowers justice’s demand that we be denied a celestial reward since we have sinned before, and the Father redacts our spiritual record to reflect perfect obedience from day one…just like Christ has obeyed perfectly from day one…and in that state of perfection and renewed innocence, we can inherit celestial glory.

    So I don’t see how Christ suffering the punishment for our sins helps make us perfect and worthy of having our sins remitted or blotted out. All it would do is put us back in the black, so to speak, and make us guilty but forgiven. That is not enough. Serving a sentence in jail does not automatically erase the criminal record of the ex-con.

    That is why I don’t think the atonement is about someone having to suffer the punishment for our sins in our place, because payment doesn’t reform the debtor or suddenly give him a perfect credit rating. That’s why I think the atonement is about suffering an injustice awesome enough that it can cause God to send our past sins away into a place with no memory, like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, for Christ’s sake.

    Thus, the atonement is about a supreme injustice (the murder of a God on account of his righteousness) overpowering justice.

    Just as an immortal virgin (Eve) helped bring sin and death into the world by taking fruit from a tree, so also a mortal virgin (Mary) helped bring remission of sin and immortality into the world by bringing forth fruit (Jesus) that would be placed on a tree (the cross).

    The symmetry of salvation is marvelous.

  58. Kyle R on August 1, 2007 at 9:28 am

    #57 A cogent and plausable explanation.

  59. Rob Osborn on August 1, 2007 at 10:25 am

    We must also remember that the atonement was a sacrafice. Up until the atonement, animals without blemish were offered up to God on the alter in similtude of what was to come with Christ. With Christ it is not about him becoming us- the sinner, it’s about us becoming him- the perfect person without blemish.

  60. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Thanks, Rob, for saying so concisely what I tried to say in #26.

  61. Keith on August 1, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Onewhoserves (#57,53,52, 48, 46, etc.): It seems to me that one loses too much in saying Gethsemane had nothing to do with a suffering for sin and receiving a remission of sins. Some make the mistake of forgetting the number of times the scriptures refer to the cross as key to the atonement and salvation (as if it’s a mere after-thought to Gethsemane), but it seems to me you go to the other extreme and simply throw Gethsemane out. (I’m curious to know what place you see the suffering there playing in the scheme of things.)

    Similarly, I’m not willing to completely throw out, as you seem to do, the notion of some sort of penal substitution. It isn’t the only way the atonement works, but it seems to me a necessary aspect. The idea of vicarious suffering or a vicarious gift doesn’t make sense to me without that. (I’m sorry I don’t have time to lay out the argument here.)

    It seems to me that prophets and apostles have fairly consistently taught both the idea the Gethsemane has something to do with the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and they have also fairly consistently taught something of a penal substitution idea of atonement. For that reason alone, I’m not willing to completely toss the ideas.

  62. Steve Jones on August 1, 2007 at 4:17 pm

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    The Purifying Power of Gethsemane
    Elder Bruce R. McConkie
    Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
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  63. annegb on August 1, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I was thinking today about how the prophets and apostles teach that if we sin and repent, but continue to beat ourselves, we are denying Christ’s sacrifice.

    But I can’t just make that feeling go way, that guilt and regret, just because I know it’s covered.

  64. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    Dunno, AnneGB. I find it hard to make myself do anything. I pray and I talk to people and I do service and sometimes it happens

  65. OneWhoServes on August 1, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    #61, will get back to you soon. Gotta’ finish some work.

  66. OneWhoServes on August 1, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    #61, you said you were curious about my views on what Gethsemane’s suffering was about. If you go here: and skip down to post #73, you will find my views about Gethsemane’s place in this discussion.

    If you want to know why I don’t think D&C 19 supports the penal-substitution in Gethsemane model of atonement, go here:

    One last thing that has occurred to me through my recent discussions with various people. I have always been impressed by the scripture that says that we love God because He first loved us. Gethsemane might not have just been about Christ gaining a perfect knowledge through suffering what we experience. It might also have been the capstone of Christ’s evidence that he is one of us, approachable, and loves us.

    It’s one thing to be in awe that Christ allowed himself to be slain for us, since that was required to remit sins. But it is another type of awe and gratitude that springs from viewing the unrequired suffering he underwent in Gethsemane, just because he loves us. How can I consider my blood-soaked Lord in Gethsemane without having my heart melted and moved towards repentance? So for me:

    1.) On Calvary, Christ suffered an unjust death in order to arouse pity in God’s heart sufficient to overpower justice for the repentant.

    2.) In Gethsemane, Christ suffered above and beyond the required sacrifice in order to arouse pity in our heart sufficient to move us to repentance.

    Now #61, I’m not saying Christ didn’t pay “a price” for sin. Being murdered is surely a price. I’m just saying I don’t believe Christ had to suffer “the price” for our sins. In fact, the scriptures teach fairly clearly that even when we repent we must pay the penalty for our sins before we can receive salvation. See D&C 138, the great vision of the gospel work in the spirit world. Particularly, notice what verses 58-59 say of those who died without knowledge of the gospel but who receive it in the spirit world and repent (emphasis mine):

    “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,”
    “AND AFTER THEY HAVE PAID THE PENALTY OF THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS, AND ARE WASHED CLEAN, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.”

    See how that works?

    1.) They repent.
    2.) They pay the penalty of their transgressions; Christ doesn’t pay just because they repent
    3.) They are washed clean, i.e. their sins are remitted or blotted out, their garments are made white.
    4.) They are judged and assigned a degree of glory.

    Christ didn’t come to “sit in prison” for us.
    Christ came to convince God to forget we ever had to “sit in prison” so that we can dwell with Him if we repent.

    One more example. I was always taught growing up that I had to repent so my sins could be paid for so that I could have my sins remitted and then become perfect. But not so! Moroni 10:32-33 explains the process by which we are redeemed, and remission of sins comes AFTER we are made perfect:

    “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”
    “And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”

    Note the chronology of cleansing Moroni explains:

    1.) Come to Christ.
    2.) Deny yourself of all ungodliness.
    3.) Acquire and share God’s love.
    4.) Become perfect in Christ and by God’s grace (the mighty change of heart, no longer a sinner thing).
    5.) Become sanctified through Christ’s death wherein his blood was shed, which death brings remission of our sins.
    6.) Become holy, without spot (no record of disobedience, perfectly clean like Jesus is due to his perfect obedience).

    See how that flows? Our sins aren’t remitted until we become perfect! There is no other way! Otherwise, if Christ asked God to remit or forget our past sins before we became perfect and lost all desire to sin, we’d likely sin again and render invalid God’s mercy. It’d be like a lawyer asking a judge:

    “Your Honor, I move that you seal my client’s criminal record and erase all trace of his felony conviction. True, he ruined his car’s alignment by driving offroad illegally, and true, this bad alignment caused him to later cross lanes and hit a kid on a bicycle which was a felony. But he’s served his sentence in jail and is really sorry.”

    The wise judge would ask, “Has he fixed his car’s alignment? If not, he will probably cause another accident and incur another prison sentence. I can in no way pardon someone for a crime they are inenvitably going to repeat.”

    Ah, but if the lawyer has helped the man permanently fix his car’s alignment (the mighty change of heart Christ works in us), and if the judge knows that the man will never, ever cause another accident (us not sinning anymore), and if the lawyer can arouse mercy in the judge’s heart due to an injustice the lawyer suffered for his client (Christ’s being killed because he was righteous), THEN the judge might order the former convict’s criminal record to be destroyed and all the rights of an innocent citizen restored to him, but for the lawyer’s sake, not the convict’s.

    No judge in the world would grant this request: “Your Honor, my brother robbed a bank. I never have. Will you please send me to prison in his place so he doesn’t have to? He’s really sorry and promises to try not to rob ever again. Oh and uh, would you also erase all traces that he ever committed the robbery? After all, I’ll have served his prison sentence for him and he’s really sorry.”

    Alma 34 shows clearly that justice will not allow the consequences of one person’s crime to be given to an innocent substitute. That would be robbing justice. Such are my beliefs about Christ’s sacrifice for sin.

  67. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Well said, OWS.

    I still don’t feel comfortable going into greater detail (#26), but your scriptural outline is very close to how I have formed my view of the Atonement as an eternal process – not as an event or two or three in Jesus’ earthly existence.

  68. Keith on August 2, 2007 at 3:33 am

    OWS, You’ve written lots here, and on the other site that explains your view. I wish I had more time to respond in full.

    Here are two points (among others) where I disagree with you. (There are some where I agree with you, including the idea that the Cross is a necessary aspect of the atoning sacrifice.) You say Christ had to die an unjust death to move the Father to forgive us. But if the Father could be moved to pity on us for something unjust done to another (Christ), I’m not sure I see the connection between his death and our being the recipients of mercy because of that. And why the need for a Son who dies to move him to compassion? Shouldn’t the Father be compassionate already if he is perfect? The problem I have with the “move to compassion” theory (both for humans and as it applies to the Father) is that, ultimately, I don’t see that it requires an actual Savior — couldn’t the mythology, the story, of a suffering savior move one to compassion equally well? (I believe there actually is something to this theory, by the way, but it can’t be the only aspect to an atonement).

    I also disagree that forgiveness of sins only comes much later in the whole process. The idea of Justification (of being forgiven and of being set right before the Father) is early on in the path and may need re-newel. Sanctification (being made holy) seems rather to follow being forgiven. The way you seem to have it set up is hard to square with people who are told there sins are forgiven in this life (and there are a number of examples), still have a life ahead of them — a life on the path, no doubt, but where sins are still committed and need forgiving.

    In your other blog you mention that you’ve never heard your notion of the atonement taught in Church. That would at least give me pause — not that one can’t learn something others have missed, but because there is a whole tradition of apostles and prophets (Adam points to some of the more recent cases) who teach consistently something opposite to some of the things you’re arguing. What I’m urging is that you work to find a way to reconcile what you interpret from the scripture with the tradition, rather than throwing the tradition out completely.

    Anyway, I’ll give you the last word on this.

  69. OneWhoServes on August 2, 2007 at 7:21 am

    Keith, thanks for your comments. I’ll do my best to satisfactorily address your points. I’ll rephrase them to see whether I’m understanding your questions correctly. Your points seem to me to be:

    1.) How does Christ’s unjust death translate into us receiving mercy?
    I believe that justice’s demands are firm and formidable. However, I believe that pity for another can overpower or cancel justice’s demands. We usually feel pity for someone who goes through an unlawful ordeal or who suffers something they didn’t deserve to suffer. Agreed? This is the heart of my belief:

    When enforcing justice causes an injustice to an innocent person, I believe divine pity arises and removes our appetite for seeing the guilty “get what they deserve.” In other words, when faced with two injustices, pity dictates that we avoid causing the greater injustice. Let me illustrate with a few examples:

    According to the book “The Infinite Atonement” by Tad R. Callister, many widows asked Pres. Lincoln to pardon their sons for crimes committed during the Civil War. Allegedly many pardons were granted. Why? Not for the sons’ sakes, but for the innocent, suffering mothers’ sakes. Perhaps Lincoln thought, “Those boys do not deserve mercy…but if I punish them by hanging as they deserve, it will cause their innocent mothers unjust suffering. For the mother’s sakes, I will give the boys another chance.”

    Suppose you are a cop trying to pull over a speeding car. It refuses to pull over. You are about to shoot its tires out when you notice a pregnant woman in the back seat crying and straining. You realize you are on the road to the local hospital, and correctly guess that the husband is speeding so he can get his wife medical attention. You can either force the speeding car over as is lawful for you to do, or you can forget you ever saw it speeding in order to allow the mother and unborn baby to receive medical aid at the hospital up ahead.

    You can punish the guilty driver but in so doing, you would be inflicting undeserved suffering on innocents…you would be causing an injustice. Yet if you forget about the speeding for the sake of the mother and child, technically that is an injustice in that the guilty is not treated as though they are guilty of a crime. Faced with these two injustices…one involving punishing the innocent, and one involving showing mercy to the guilty…pity demands that we spare the innocent and show mercy to the guilty. You’d have to be one heartless jerk to pull over the husband just to enforce the law at any cost even though your actions might lead to a failed pregnancy or the death of the mother.

    Now this is just an analogy and they all break down at a certain level of scrutiny. I’m merely trying to give an accessible example to illustrate this phenomenon of mercy overpowering justice, when fulfilling justice requires forcing an injustice on an innocent person.

    To say you don’t deserve a punishment is to say you are innocent, and the only truly innocent person…I mean innocent of any sin from “day one,” is Jesus Christ. Hence, he is the only one who can truly suffer a perfect injustice…he is the only one who can truly say, “I didn’t deserve for anything bad to happen to me.”

    Now as I said earlier, we don’t just have to be perfectly obedient to receive a celestial reward…we have to always have been perfectly obedient. So even if in this life we deny ourselves of ungodliness, partake of the divine nature with Christ’s help and become perfectly obedient from a certain point forward, our past would still bear the marks of sin and hence disqualify us from inheriting celestial rest.

    That is where the unjust death of Christ comes into play. Christ is essentially asking the Father to take white-out and go to work on the Book of Life as it were, for his sake. If we have repented, ceased to sin and loved those around us as God loves, then Christ feels justified in asking for our past sins to be remitted or forgotten.

    Well why can’t the Father just look at us, and say, “I see you’ve changed your ways, will never sin again, and have paid the penalty for your transgressions. I suppose since I love you so much that I can forget your past errors and let you live with me.” But that would be robbing justice, or committing an injustice. We wouldn’t deserve that reward, even though at that point we would have become perfect. As perfect but guilty beings, we would be unable to produce a compelling reason for God to forget our past sins. Even His love for us would not cause Him to rob justice in letting us sidestep the law that says no unclean thing can dwell with God, and guilty beings are not wholly clean.

    What Christ’s unjust death does is give God a worse injustice to contemplate than the injustice of letting perfect but guilty souls be considered innocent of ever sinning. If God were to reject Christ’s plea that our sins be remitted, it would be tantamount to spitting on Christ’s sacrifice, rendering it meaningless, and saying, “Too bad, Son, you died for nothing since I won’t be swayed…you died in vain.” That is a worse injustice than blotting out the sins of perfect but guilty people.

    That’s how I think Christ’s unjust death has power and potency to remit sins. We can never claim that God’s denying us a celestial inheritance would cause us unjust suffering because we literally do not deserve celestial glory. Ah, but Christ can claim an injustice would be committed against him if the Father refuses to remit the sins of the changed, converted, perfect-in-Christ souls who seek at-one-ment with God eternally. Does that make more sense? Not that I’m trying to convince you I’m right. I just want to make sure you understand what I’m advocating.

    2.) Couldn’t the story of a perfect injustice sway God or us to mercy?
    Do you think it could? That’d be like God saying, “What if I had a perfectly innocent Son who was murdered because he was righteous. And what if that Son asked me to forgive these now-perfect but guilty children of mine, for his sake? Would that make me feel bad enough to let them live with me even though the law technically forbids this? Would I be willing to make his suffering meaningless for the sake of enforcing every jot and tittle of the law? Which would be a worse injustice: pardoning the guilty, or causing my only innocent Son to have suffered in vain?”

    I think that’s a fruitless line of thought. The point is that God would not overturn His own law just for the sake of a hypothetical injustice. It had to be a real, horrible, and really horrible injustice in order for God to withdraw His just demands against us for the sake of His Son’s suffering and death.

    3.) Sins can be forgiven in this life, prior to our becoming perfect, regardless of how I read Moroni 10:32-33.
    This is a trivial matter to me and doesn’t really have anything to do with whether Christ’s atonement involved penal-substitution in Gethsemane or simply an unjust execution on Calvary. I do believe that our sins are conditionally forgiven as we repent of them, provided we don’t repeat them. But I think the final, no kidding, forever blotting out of our spiritual record occurs only at the point where we have ceased to sin, learned to love as God loves, and become perfect in Christ. Then, and only then, are we fit for a permanent remission of our sins and entrance into the celestial kingdom.

    4.) I’ve never heard this atonement theory taught in Church. That should be a clue that it’s probably incorrect or off.
    I actually misspoke earlier. I have heard in Church this theory of the atonement for sin being about unjust death on Calvary. In fact, we’ve all heard it every week, in sacrament meeting. Just tonight I read through every sacrament hymn and guess what? There was only one hymn I can remember that mentioned Gethsemane. Every single other hymn says Christ paid the debt for sin while bleeding on the cross. Seriously.

    It’s like I realized I’ve never read the hymns, just sang them. Go through your hymnal, and read every sacrament hymn. It even says we partake of the emblems of his death. The water doesn’t symbolize the blood he sweat in Gethsemane. It just amazes me how persistent this penal-substitution in Gethsemane theory is in spite of there being only one hymn that refers to Gethsemane, and only one scripture that tenuously connects Gethsemane with suffering for sin.


    Now there’s one last question you may have, or that I asked myself at one point. Even if God feels worse about making Christ’s suffering meaningless by refusing to remit our sins, than He does about forgiving guilty beings, how can He ignore His own laws? Isn’t that robbing justice, regardless of the language used? I think not, and here’s why.

    I believe it is about the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. The letter of the law is the specific wording of the law, whereas the spirit of the law is the intended goal of enforcing the letter of the law.

    The law that prevents us from being at-one with God is that no unclean thing can inherit celestial glory. God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. Unless you have been perfectly obedient in ALL things, you have sinned and cannot eternally reside where He is. That is the letter of the law.

    I submit that the spirit of that law, the reason for its existence, is to keep imperfect beings from receiving something only a perfect being deserves. Normally, only an imperfect being would sin. So it seems safe to say that if you’ve sinned, even once, you’re not perfect and therefore cannot be exalted.

    However, with Christ’s grace crowning our repentance with spiritual rebirth, newness of heart and no more desire to sin, we literally can become perfect beings who happen to have sinned in the past. So the letter of the law looks at us and says, “You’ve sinned, you cannot inheirt celestial glory.” But the spirit of the law looks at us and says, “Well, you are perfect beings and the law is there to keep imperfect beings out of God’s glory so…there’s no reason you can’t enter despite your past errors. You’re perfect now and that’s what matters.”

    So essentially I believe that Christ’s appeal for mercy on our behalf is really a call for God to enforce the spirit of the law over the letter of the law. In fact, that’s consistent with Christ’s whole message during mortality. Forget the specifics of the Law of Moses; focus on its intent. Just because you don’t commit adultery, doesn’t mean it’s okay to have adulterous thoughts. Just because you don’t murder someone doesn’t mean you can have angry desires. Just because you check off all the boxes, doesn’t mean you’re the kind of person that the Father and I want you to become. The spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law.

    I’m not sure if that distinction makes sense. You don’t have to agree with it, but I hope you understand what I’m saying at least. I have one question to ask of you:

    If you sincerely believe Christ suffered the punishment for our sins in Gethsemane so that God can remit our sins, please explain how you think that would work? Specifically, what are the punishments for sin? Loss of the Spirit in some degree; distance from God; forfeited blessings. How does Christ lose the Spirit in our place? How does Christ shut himself out from the Father’s presence in our place? How does Christ forfeit blessings in our place? It makes no sense, and there are no scriptural evidences supporting this notion other than D&C 19 which is an ambiguous section to begin with. I don’t see how this theory of atonement has gained such a footing in our Church, especially in light of what the sacrament hymns teach. It’s numbing when I consider the scope and depth of the misinformation that is dispensed in our Sunday schools and elsewhere.

    The only explanation I can fathom is that our Church has used the cross as a means to set ourselves apart from the rest of apostate Christianity. It’s like the discussion was: “Non-LDS Christians focus solely on the cross as the means of atonement. So let’s not focus on it at all: no crosses on our buildings, no traditional chapel shapes, no cross jewelry, no talking of the cross in Church. Let’s focus on latter-day scripture and Gethsemane to highlight the difference between us and them.”

    The reasoning is understandable, but the application in terms of doctrine is ridiculous. Yeah, let’s inculcate false paradigms about the atonement in order to show how much truth we have. But, we’ll leave all the Calvary-centric hymns in our songbooks…no one will notice that.

  70. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 8:36 am

    In the future, make your arguments shorter, or post them elsewhere and put up a link.

  71. annegb on August 2, 2007 at 9:53 am

    LOL, I was going to say, “lighten up, Adam, you’re sounding like a censor” then I looked at the post. Actually I’m still trying to get to the start of it.

    I think he’s channeling Dan.

    But, Adam, what if he’s Elder Oaks?

  72. OneWhoServes on August 2, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Does it cost more to host the site the longer the responses are? Sorry, didn’t know.

  73. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    No. In fact, comments like yours make us millions. But we’d rather be penurious.

  74. Steve Evans on August 2, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    One Who Serves…. it’s a COOKBOOK! YOU MONSTERS!!!!

  75. OneWhoServes on August 2, 2007 at 8:43 pm


  76. Ray on August 2, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    OWS, Now that I have read your loooooooooooooooooong explanation, I would like to rescind the first sentence of #67.

    Your ultimate conclusions are radically different than mine, even though the scriptural outline is similar and some of the intermediate conclusions also are similar. Suffice it to say that I believe firmly that Gethsemane played a vital and unique and indispensable role in the Atonement – that if you remove the significance of Gethsemane, you dilute the power of the symbolism so much that you render the entire eternal process meaningless.

  77. OneWhoServes on August 3, 2007 at 3:00 am

    To each their own.

  78. OneWhoServes on August 3, 2007 at 3:15 am

    The curiosity is killing me, though. How does Christ’s experience in Gethsemane get God to remit our sins? And what symbolism of the eternal process am I diluting by going with what the scriptures and hymns say about Calvary being the seat of Christ’s offering? I look forward to your elucidation. I’m always open to learning.

  79. OneWhoServes on August 3, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    I posted on another site what I found in the LDS hymnbook concerning the atonement. You can read it here:

    It was a bigger post than y’all would want clogging the board here, so I took Adam’s request to heart. Just follow the link.

  80. Adam Greenwood on August 4, 2007 at 8:51 am

    That’s a good fellow.

  81. OneWhoServes on August 5, 2007 at 3:54 am

    Hey, once I know what’s kosher and what’s not, I’m cool. ;)

  82. GVB on August 6, 2007 at 10:18 pm


    It sounds almost like you grew up with an idea or conception of Christ\’s suffering in the garden almost as if it were like the pre-purchase of unlimited indulgences. That is, Christ paid the price of all our sins, so now we have an unlimited blank check, as it were, to do whatever then repent later–just make sure to repent so that his suffereing was not in vain.

    Such a view of the atonement certainly seems dangerous. But I am not sure why you have to exclude Christ\’s suffering in the Garden from the totality of his sacrifice in order or refute or to reject such a view. In my experience in 12 or 13 different wards or branches, the atonement has always been taught as beginning at the garden but completed only through the subsequent events, including Christ\’s suffering on the cross. I have always heard it taught that the full weight of the sins of the world was borne by Christ on the cross, although it was also borne, or it began to be borne by him, in the Garden. Sometimes I have also heard it emphasized that the atonement was not complete until the resurrection. Why exclude any part? (I guess because you view the suffering in the garden as tied in LDS teaching specifically to vicarious suffering for our sins, which you see as associated with something like the dangerous view I describe above?)

    Two quick comments on citations you give in support:

    1. I understand \”the dead who repent\” referred to in D&C 138 as those who had some opportunity to repent in life but did not. Their situation appears to be different from situation of \”the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality,\” described earlier in the section.

    2. As someone who has attempted to write hymn texts, I have one idea why Gethsemane may not appear too often–just try rhyming it, or fitting a four-syllable word into limited metrical space with everything else you want to convey. Although the Hymns do emphasize Christ\’s suffering and death on the cross, some at least also seem to teach something like penal substitution: \”There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin . . . .\”

    I agree we should not view the atonement as the ultimate purchase of indulgences, but I am not sure that all significance of the suffering in the garden and every vestige of \”penal substitution\” ideas must be eliminated in order to avoid this.


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