The Compassionate Empathy Model of the Atonement


I recently read a blog article entitled, Theories on the Atonement of Christ – An Overview and didn’t see my particular theory among the list. (What a surprise!) So, I thought maybe it was time to publish an article explaining my understanding of how the atonement of Jesus Christ actually works to get us sinners off the hook, despite the justice of God which requires that the sinner be punished for his own sins.

On the 22nd of October, 2007, on another blog, I posted a comment which explained a little about this theory. The article I responded to was titled, BH Roberts: Atonement in Harmony with Inexorable Law and I wasn’t completely in agreement with Roberts’ views of the atonement, and more especially of his idea of “inexorable law,” so I felt inspired to post a comment. Here is what I said:

It seems to me that the obstacle that people seem to be having with this topic is the definition of eternal law. Roberts calls it “inexorable.” From the comments, it almost seems like certain people think that eternal law is some written text in heaven, like we have here on earth. D&C 88: 7-13 pretty clearly shows what the eternal law is and also shows that that law is alive. It’s a living thing. Living things are capable of compassion and mercy and this is why the atonement of Christ works, despite the fact that one man cannot justifiably pay the penalty of another. When we repent, Christ shows his suffering and death, and makes his plea to the Father and the entire created Universe, which are demanding that the law be executed. As soon as the tremendous suffering of Christ is manifested to the ensemble, discerned by the Spirit, all creation’s bowels are filled with compassion and they change their minds. The sin of the person is then forgiven. Christ illustrated this principle in 3 Ne. 17: 4-7 when he was about to leave but looked around and saw that they desired that he stay. His bowels were filled with compassion and he stayed instead of leaving. This is what happens on a Universal scale concerning sin and forgiveness. The magnitude of suffering of the Christ had to be such that not a single living thing in the Universe would not be moved to compassion and change its mind concerning the inflicted penalty.

Another illustration is this: John 8: 10-11. There must be someone who accuses someone else of wrongdoing, otherwise, the law’s penalty cannot be executed. Christ’s atonement effectively takes away every accuser (for the penitent,) leaving the sinner free to go.

After my comment, the blog owner (Eric Nielson) responded with the following question:

If I understand right, you are forwarding an empathy model, that satisfies the law from the persepective of all possible accusers?

I answered his question with this:

I guess you can call it that. In any court, there must be a judge, the accused and the accuser(s). There may also be lawyers present, representing the accused and/or the accusers. In our heavenly “court case,” those who repent get a lawyer, Jesus, who essentially says, “Hey, look at me. I did no wrong, yet I suffered severely in this manner. [Shows his suffering and death.] Do not accuse this man (or woman.) Let my suffering suffice for the penalty required by the law.” The accusers, upon gazing upon his suffering and discerning the intensity of it by the Spirit, are moved to compassion. The Father (the judge) calls forth the accusers and no one shows. No one makes an accusation. There is no case. The Father then releases the [un-]accused into the custody of Jesus, who then passes a judgment on us (he becomes our Judge) and assigns us one of the three degrees of glory.

On the other hand, the unrepentant show up for their case and Jesus doesn’t own them, he doesn’t represent them. They are on their own. The Father calls for the accusations against them and the Universe accuses and shows the evidence, which the accused cannot deny. The penalty is inflicted: expulsion from the kingdoms of glory (inner light) into outer darkness. (There is only one penalty for disobeying the laws of the Universe, the second death.)

In this way, the Father gets to show both justice and mercy by using the death and suffering of his Son to manifest the mercy.

Unfortunately, of the two people who responded to these comments, one said he needed time to digest this model and come to any conclusion and the other flatly said he didn’t buy it.

Also on the 22nd of October (same blog, different article), I posted another comment about this model. The article I responded to was entitled, The Efficacy of Vicarious Atonement. Here is what I wrote:

J. Stapley asked, “What about the atonement gave Christ the ability to heal the penitent?”

My understanding is that the laws of the Universe demand the second death as the penalty for the breaking of any of those laws. It was the suffering (and death and resurrection) of Christ that allows everything to happen. When we are penitent, Christ’s suffering is, essentially, shown to the created Universe and the Father, along with Christ’s plea, “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”

The greatness of the suffering of the innocent Christ was of such magnitude that all creation, the whole Universe, cannot help but say, “Okay. It is enough. Do not apply the rule of justice. Allow mercy to be extended to the individual in question. Christ hath suffered and paid the penalty for him.” The penitent then can receive forgiveness from Christ, which is merely a communication of the knowledge that the Father and all the Universe no longer holds that individual guilty. In other words, he is justified. Once he realizes he is forgiven and justified, the burden of sin is lifted, as the penalty will not be applied to him.

We came into this created Universe (2 Ne. 2: 14) from outer darkness (the uncreated Universe, i.e. the “compound in one” – 2 Ne. 2: 11) and we remain here by obedience to the laws of this Universe. The breaking of any of the laws requires expulsion from the Universe back to where we were brought from. Christ’s suffering allows us to overcome the breaking of any of these laws through our repentance and the forgiveness of our sins, allowing us to remain in the Universe in a resurrected body as inheritors of one of the three kingdoms of glory. The only ones who will “return again to their own place” (D&C 88: 32) from whence we all came will be the filthy still, which are those who refuse to repent, even after a thousand years of anguish and suffering, which suffering and anguish is to merely help these people to repent, so that they can remain in the Universe, and not to punish them.

The Resurrection also plays into this, but that is a topic for another discussion.

There was no response to this comment. Taken altogether, either people didn’t read these comments, or they read them and either didn’t care about them (or thought they were too preposterous to comment and correct my erroneous conclusions) or they didn’t understand them. I’m thinking a combination of all three scenarios is probable. So, I am left to wonder, are the above three comments sufficient to explain this model?

Also, I suppose I ought to name this “theory,” right? I think Eric hit the nail on the head when he said it was an empathy model. The dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.” So, empathy fits as a description, but there is also the element of compassion. When the suffering of Jesus is observed and experienced vicariously, it generates compassion in those who view it. Therefore, I have labeled this “theory” the Compassionate Empathy Model of the Atonement.

Some of the key scriptures to this model are Alma 34: 15 (“to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice”) and Alma 42: 15 (“to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice.”) The term “bowels of mercy” refers to compassion. First it is Jesus that has compassion towards us, insomuch that he both goes through the Atonement for us and then becomes our Mediator at the day of judgment (for those who repent.) Secondly, it is the Father (and all the Universe) who is filled with compassion towards Jesus when Jesus shows him his suffering and pleads our cause before him. (See D&C 45: 3-5.) He then grants Jesus’ request that we be spared.

Just as Amulek explained, the atonement of Jesus Christ “overpowers” justice. It doesn’t rob it (Alma 42: 25) or destroy it (Alma 42: 13), it “overpowers” it and “appeases” its demands. What this means, in even plainer language than the scriptures themselves, is that justice stops making its demands when the atonement is presented. The accusers who are making the demands of justice are suddenly, upon seeing the suffering of Christ, presented with such an intense scene of suffering (even infinite suffering that is perceived by the power of the Spirit) that they are overcome with compassion towards Jesus and in this state of compassion and mercy, when Jesus requests that the sinners be spared, they can’t help but consent to Jesus’ demands of mercy!

The key to the mystery of the atonement, therefore, is that it is able to stop justice from making demands, long enough for Christ to make his own demands of mercy. You will find the word “demands” almost always linked to justice and whenever justice is spoken of alone, it is always with the assumption of it making demands.

The other atonement theories miss the mark, so to speak, in that they try to complicate the matter more than it really is. The Ransom Theory (purporting that the atonement of Christ was a ransom paid by God to the devil) doesn’t work because the devil isn’t owed anything. The Satisfaction or Commerical Theory (that the atonement of Christ was a debt paid to God on behalf of sinners) doesn’t work because King Benjamin (in Mosiah 2: 23-24) busts it wide open with his statement that we will forever be in God’s debt, even with the atonement. The Penal-Substitution Theory (that Christ paid the penalty for our sins by suffering and dying) doesn’t work because justice demands that we sinners be expelled from the kingdom (meaning that we suffer the second death, or are cast into outer darkness) and it is impossible to substitute the demands of justice for something else and still remain just. Amulek shattered this theory with these words:

Amulek said, “And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it. For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made. For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice. Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world. (Alma 34: 8-12)

Amulek makes it very plain that a) one man can’t atone for the sins of another, b) penal-substitution is unjust, c) that just laws demand (or as he puts it, “require”) that the one who breaks the law must suffer the penalty. Those who buy into the Penal-Substitution Theory are doing so by saying that infinite and eternal suffering, like Christ’s, can make penal-substitution just, or, in other words, that infinite and eternal penal-substitution works, whereas finite penal substitution doesn’t. This is akin to saying that the laws of physics only work here on this planet, but “over there” the same laws don’t apply. The Penal-Substitution Theory, then, relies on magic and the thought that “we don’t understand how it works, but somehow it works on an infinite level.” But Amulek emphatically and purposely explains that penal-substitution is unjust, so that we understand that the atonement of Jesus Christ doesn’t work according to penal-substitution! Those who espouse this theory, miss this point entirely.

The Moral Example Theory (that Christ’s death was merely to motivate us to greater righteousness) doesn’t work because even with greater righteousness, we still have our sins that must be paid (by us) when justice gets around to demanding that the penalty be inflicted (the second death.) The Government Theory doesn’t work because God does indeed exact strict judgment (the second death) to all those who do not repent, so the atonement was not just a token or demonstration of God’s displeasure at man’s sin, as this theory holds.

There is one other theory mentioned on the theory list: Blake Ostler’s Compassion Theory of the Atonement. Unfortunately, this theory is not explained so I do not know how it explains the atonement. In fact, I don’t even know who Blake Ostler is. If there is anyone out there who is familiar with him and his model, you can tell me how it compares with my own Compassionate Empathy Model of the Atonement.

Now, I think I’ve sufficiently explained the model. What are your thoughts?

Next Jesus Christ article: How the atonement of Jesus Christ solves the “victim” problem

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

About these ads

28 Comments

  1. Okay, I found a blog post that talks about Ostler’s “Compassion Theory of Atonement” and it is apparent that Ostler and I view the atonement a bit differently. Also, he goes into much more depth than what I wrote in my post, trying to address every aspect of the atonement that he can think of. Because of the complexity of his theory, it is hard to state just one reason why it doesn’t work. I can see many reasons, but I’ll state just a couple. The following originally came with the quotes so I’m assuming it is a direct quote from Ostler’s book:

    “A key concept of the Compassion Theory of the Atonement is that Christ’s suffering is not a necessary condition of God’s being able to forgive us; rather Christ feels pain as a consequence of entering into a union with us because such a union entails feeling the pain of the energy of sin we release when we repent… Christ feels pain in the atonement because it is painful to be in a relationship with us… In so doing, the pain of our sins is transferred to him”

    Ostler then goes on to state in a comment to that post: “Gethesemane and the cross are essential because it is in the moment in Gethsemane when the pain of the flesh is fully comprehended by God and it is united with a full comprehension of all human pain in a single moment because God’s complete knowledge is united with human pain and suffering.”

    So, first he states the suffering is not necessary for God to forgive us, but then he states that it is essential, but only in the sense of God obtaining a full comprehension of the human condition. These statements appear to conflict with, for example, Alma 7: 13 (“Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me”) which explains that God already comprehended all things, even before the atonement of Christ, and with Alma 21: 9 (“Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.”), which explains that we couldn’t be redeemed without the suffering of Christ.

    I’m not picking on you Blake. I’m just analyzing your theory like I did the others. Based upon what I’ve read about it, it doesn’t seem to hold up to scriptural scrutiny.

    Now, there is another atonement theory I’ve heard of, by one Mark Butler, I believe. I’ll try to track it down, too, unless someone already knows about it and can explain it here.

    Finally, if some of what I wrote concerning inner light/outer darkness or the uncreated state, etc., is confusing to you, check out the Deep Waters section posts (see here, here and here) for in-depth treatments of these topics.

  2. Nice writeup and review. Thanks for the links. I hope you did not feel ignored. At many levels I am in agreement with you, on others I am not sure. I might throw out a few questions:

    When Amulek says one man can not atone for the sins of another, does this include Christ (who was more than just a man)? Was he not arguing that it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice, therefore it must be made by God and not man? I don’t think his explanation throws out penal-substitution on it’s own.

    Also, does this not spill over into empathy models also?

    Again, I hope you did not feel ignored, I always appreciate your comments. I sincerely feel that I need to think this stuff through more. I thought your comments were good and stood on their own.

    Later dude.

  3. As an addition, what do you think of Mosiah 3:10 (if I remember right – the part that says something like ‘all this was done that a righteous judgement might come upon the children of men’.) This seems to support the idea that Christ needed to go through this so that he could have a perfect compassion on all. But perhaps I am reading it wrong.

  4. Thanks for the visit, Eric. Concerning your first question, my understanding is that Christ’s atonement works for us, but not because of penal-substitution. Here is part of that scripture I quoted above, made by Amulek:

    “Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered;”

    The law that Amulek was referring to was the law of Moses, which was given by the Lord himself. You can’t satisfy a murder by killing the brother of the murderer. It simply isn’t just, or justice can’t be served that way. This is why killing Christ on the cross isn’t enough to atone for the sins of the world. Although the law of Christ is more excellent than the law of Moses, it is still just as just, or it still manifests all the justice that the law of Moses does. (One of the reasons it is more excellent is not that it does away with justice, but that it incorporates mercy into it.)

    There are four key ingredients to why the atonement works: 1) Christ was the sacrifice, 2) he suffered infinitely, making the reach of the atonement eternal, 3) he layed down his life and 4) he took it again.

    The first point is all important because there couldn’t be a more innocent sacrifce that that of Christ, nor a sacrifice more beloved by the entire Universe. As the Creator of the Universe, or the Lord Omnipotent, only Christ was uniquely positioned in the hearts of all creation as the object of their adoration. All things love him. So, any amount of suffering that he endures is instantly going to generate empathy in the beholders.

    The second point is that the suffering be infinitely great, or sufficiently intense that whoever witnesses it, discerning it by the power of the Spirit, will instantly have his bowels filled with compassion toward Jesus, so that afterward, when Christ says, in effect, “Let’s stop the suffering. Spare these my brethren,” all creation replies, “Okay, Jesus. Anything you say.” Their hearts melt with compassion and the justice they had been ready to demand no longer manifests itself.

    I won’t talk of the other two points, as that is not the topic of this post. I’m not sure what you mean in your second question. Thanks for the comments.

  5. The angel said, “And he shall arise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” (Mosiah 3: 10)

    My understanding of the scripture is that the angel is referring to the fact that the atonement and resurrection of Jesus allows us to be judged on our own actions, thoughts, words and intents, there being no one forcing us to do good or evil. The atonement allows us to retain free agency in mortality and beyond so that whatever we receive in the day of judgment will be because of our own choices. We won’t be able to blame anyone else for the reward we receive. Had the atonement not been made, we all would have become angels to the devil and the inevitable judgment of outer darkness upon us would have been unrighteous, since we would have been forced. (See 2 Nephi 9: 8-9.)

    This is pretty deep doctrine, Eric, and I’m not sure if what I have briefly written here sufficiently expounds it. See the Deep Doctrine sections (see here and here) for more info on this topic or just wait until I publish the Free Agency article I’m writing.

  6. I’ll watch for it.

  7. Very interesting. It totally makes sense to me though. You have once again given me much to ponder. I can’t wait to read your article on free agency.

  8. I just came across and read the following article tonight and wanted to link to it so that I’d have a permanent reference. It proposes an empathy model similar to the one I wrote above. The article is Did Christ Pay for Our Sins? by R. Dennis Potter, published in the Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 1999 edition of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. It was a refreshing read as it is nice to know that I’m not the only one who reads these scriptures this way. Potter discussed the weaknesses in both the penal-substitution and debt-substitution atonement theories, as well as giving his views on an empathy model. Also, I liked the fact that Potter referenced part of 2 Nephi 2 and wet his feet in that doctrinally deep chapter. (Reading Deep Waters: Lehi’s model of the universe may throw additional views on his comments concerning Lehi’s words.) I recommend Potter’s article to anyone interested in atonement theories.

  9. Anarchist,

    For your reference, here is the entire atonement and soteriology category of posts at New Cool Thang. Also, here is the link to my theory current of atonement which I am calling Empathy-Exemplar Theory. I’ll comment more on your post later.

  10. I know this article was posted a while ago, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

    Your theory on the atonement sounds incredibly similar to mine. On my mission I read an incredible paper about the atonement, unfortunately I do not remember who wrote or when, but I will give you the extremely condensed version.

    Everything in the universe is made of an intelligence, this includes things as intelligent as us humans down to animals and objects such as mountains, rocks, and trees. God is the most intelligent of all these (see Abraham). We, humans, God’s Children are some of the most intelligent, under God, and have the capabilities to learn and increase in our intelligence until we become like him and share in his intelligence.

    God gives all intelligence (meaning the life forms they take) rules and commandments to live by. For example, trees are given the commandments to bear fruit, create seeds and multiply, create oxygen, etc. Additionally, all intelligence is given free agency. We as humans, with our free agency and “superior” intelligence, rebel often. All intelligence has the capability to rebel against the commandments God has given them, and sometimes do. This is what would cause illness or sickness in the body for example, when intelligences rebel against the commandments God gave them of how to run in the body. The Intelligences are also capable of making decisions and feeling emotions such as sorrow, empathy, mercy, sympathy, and love, to whatever degree they may be capable.

    This brings up the point, why is God all powerful? It’s because the intelligences TRUST him, because he never lies. Trust + a healthy dose of smarts is the key to Godliness. The intelligences not only trust God, but they adore him and do whatever he asks. This is how Jesus can turn water to wine, or how prophets can move mountains. When we as individuals have progressed to a point of righteousness where we would choose the same thing God would choose, God can tell these intelligences, “Listen up, my servent Moses won’t choose anything I myself won’t do, so if he commands you to part, Red Sea, you do it”.

    So, can God fall? Yes he can. Remember in the scriptures where it God does X he would cease to be God? Well, if God LIES, he would cease to be God, not by some mysterious force, but simply because the intelligences that he commands and that have so much respect for him would suddenly not trust in him any longer, and would no longer do as he commands. This is as simple as the phrase “It takes 40 years to build a reputation, and 5 minutes to lose it”.

    This brings us to the Atonement. God has said that no unclean thing can dwell with him. Every single person on this planet is unclean. If God lets even one unclean person to dwell with him, he will have gone against his word, and thus would cease to be God, because the intelligences will see that he did not follow his word. The solution? The Intelligences have so much love, respect, and trust for Jesus, that they all witnessed and cried out as he suffered. Having witnessed Christ go through such a thing, he is then capable of saying, “Listen intelligences, I know that God is just. Justice must always be served, as God hath said it. But John Doe here is my brother, and I descended below all and know what he went through. It wasn’t easy for him, and it wasn’t easy for me. But please, for my sake, let my atonement serve as Johns justice, and let him dwell with God and myself.”

    The Intelligences, having so much love and respect for Christ, allow this to take place. Thus, justice has been served alongside with mercy. God has kept his word, so he continues being God, and John embarks on the journey to gain the trust of the intelligences to the same degree that God has.

    This is a condensed and basic version of it. Sorry for not having any of the scriptures on hand, but give Doctrine and Covenants and the PGP a good read, thinking about this while you do.

  11. Doug, thanks for the comment and visit. You and I apparently see eye to eye on this thing. You might want to check out the Deep Waters and Free Agency sections of the blog, as there are articles that delve into this a bit deeper.

    This is as simple as the phrase “It takes 40 years to build a reputation, and 5 minutes to lose it”.

    The scriptures refer to this reputation as honor. (See D&C 29: 36 and Moses 4: 1.)

    This brings up the point, why is God all powerful? It’s because the intelligences TRUST him, because he never lies. Trust + a healthy dose of smarts is the key to Godliness. The intelligences not only trust God, but they adore him and do whatever he asks.

    All you write here is very true, but there is another, prime reason that precedes these other reasons as to why all things trust and obey God. I’m currently writing another article on this other reason. I’ll link this comment to that future post (if I remember to do so.)

    All intelligence has the capability to rebel against the commandments God has given them, and sometimes do. This is what would cause illness or sickness in the body for example, when intelligences rebel against the commandments God gave them of how to run in the body.

    Note to self: take up this topic in-depth. Doug, thanks for bringing this up, as it gives me something else to address on this blog.

  12. Would you tell me the other prime reason you mention? I am very curious.

    Also, I haven’t seen any of your thoughts regarding the planet Nibiru, the year 2012, the end of the world, or the Fallen Angels who begat Giants in Genesis 6. Have you researched any of this? This also coincides with the hollow earth and many other things I have seen you speak about.

    I have, what I believe, to be a doctrinally sound theory of how all this fits together and will soon effect us with the second coming. It seems to be right up your ally, and frankly I’m surprised I haven’t read any of it on your blog.

    It’s weird for me to read my words. I’m afraid I come across as a conspiracy theorist nutjob, but I know there is much more going on in the scriptures and in our world than most people (members and non-members likewise) know.

    E-mail me if you are interested.

  13. Doug, I’ll publish the article soon. I want my thoughts organized first. Sorry to make you wait.

    Nope, I haven’t gotten to any of those other topics on this blog. Yes, I’d be interested to read what you have to say. I’ll drop you an email. Thanks again for stopping by.

  14. I think another scriptural example of the model you propose here is the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8.
    The Messiah makes His case in her behalf, and then asks where are her accusers. She responds that she doesn’t have any.

    I was reminded of that scripture when I read the part you wrote that says, “The Father then releases the [un-]accused into the custody of Jesus, who then passes a judgment on us…”

    My own mind developed a model like the “Court Room scene” you mention about a year and half ago — after speaking with my Bishop about a sin I had committed. It is reassuring when I find conclusions I’ve made in personal study time on this website.

  15. I appreciate the in-depth explanation of your theory. I agree. The way I use it in my day to day life is to realize that it is not just “all the universe” who has compassion on the Christ, nor even me as a potential accuser, but it is me in the role of accused where I find the most power to grab hold of the atonement. When I imagine myself standing in the “courtroom” as the accuser, and realize that I am also an accused hoping for mercy, I not only am acquiescing to Christ’s plea for mercy, I’m begging for that supernal grant to be given. The Golden Rule really is the answer – who am I to ask for Justice?

    I remember a time before I really understood (not that I do yet, but this was a while ago and I think I understand more now than I did then), when I was the prosecutor, and during my closing I “lost it.” Before I realized what I was doing, I was convincing the jury that this young man had obviously made a mistake, but his actions had demonstrated penitence and that a nominal sentence would be enough to accomplish the purposes of the court! The defense attorney was left speechless, the jury took my recommendation, the judge was flabbergasted, and my boss was angry. It was quite a week! What it has taught me though, as I look back on that experience, is that seemingly simplistic, trite and overused phrases (the Golden Rule, “there but for the Grace of God go I,” etc.) really have power to change people’s lives.

    I haven’t followed up on this man’s life, I don’t know if he ever backtracked – for purposes of this subject it doesn’t matter to me and I don’t care. What I took from this experience is the look in his eyes as he realized that compassion was being granted – more than relief, an inexpressible gratitude. It was a look I recognized because I have had that look on my own face as I have felt forgiveness – and more importantly, a lack of any judgment at all – from others.

    Forgive me for sharing something personal, but it is that experience that has led me away from the other theories of the atonement such as penal substitution and debtor paradigms – they just don’t have enough power in them to cut through the mess of mortality and help us embrace the passion of faith. Empathy does, for me at least.

    ‘m left to wonder how different society would be.

    The accusers who are making the demands of justice are suddenly, upon seeing the suffering of Christ, presented with such an intense scene of suffering (even infinite suffering that is perceived by the power of the Spirit) that they are overcome with compassion towards Jesus and in this state of compassion and mercy, when Jesus requests that the sinners be spared, they can’t help but consent to Jesus’ demands of mercy!

  16. Sorry for leaving the last two paragraphs on that last post – my netbook has a small screen and I wasn’t being careful.

  17. The theory that Doug referred to – the one he read on his mission – is Cleon W Skousen’s talk “The meaning of atonement”.
    It seems like LDSA and Skousen are on the same page here. So am I.
    The only moot point is this scripture:
    “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”
    I submit that the Father does need to be brought to have mercy upon us, because He is full of mercy as it is, he possesses it to the fullest.
    This plea should be addressed to the intelligences of the Universe, rather than the Father.
    So I wonder why the ambiguity of this verse? Does the Father need to be appeased or is there some other principle at work here?

  18. Sorry,didnt proofread my previous post.
    The paragraph should read

    I submit that the Father does NOT need to be brought to have mercy upon us….

  19. Thinking of Jesus as the defense attorney who can present His evidence to the court that will grant our acquittal [As in D&C 45:3-5] — I thought about the other role in a court-room setting, the prosecution.

    The book of Job presents Satan as the Court’s district attorney. His job is to “accuse our brethren before our God day and night.” The DA may not be an immensely popular person in a community — but he still works for the state. We pay his salary, etc.

    Is Satan’s “badness” really just a function of our perspective> Of coarse from the side of someone the defense — and defense attorney [Jesus] is our righteous savior and the prosecution seems “bad” — but accusing is their purpose, it is their job to bring charges and present evidence. We say Satan was “cast down” but D&C 121 says unrighteousness causes the powers of heaven to “withdraw” themselves — again a matter of perspective.

  20. If I recall correctly, in early Jewish belief Lucifer/Satan was one of God’s angels whose purpose it was to tempt and try mankind. But then again I may not be recalling correctly.

  21. Yes zomarah, that is essentially correct. But not just Jewish — the general concept of a personification of evil is more recent. Prior to that — the Satan figures were like Prometheus, the bringer of forbidden fire [which was beneficial to humans].

    Taken to its furthest point — this is the doctrine of Luciferianism.

    There is nothing inherintly “evil” about trying mankind is there? As I wondered above — Is Satan’s “badness” really just a function of our perspective? When we are the one being accused, the DA seems like such a “bad” character doesn’t he?

  22. Sitting in church yesterday (topic = Repentance), all of the talks emphasized how Satan was the one responsible for everything (and anything) bad that happened. That Satan causes bad thoughts, temptations, etc.

    In listening to the talks, I began wondering to what extent Satan is the boogeyman we create when our lives are full of dissonance – i.e. we can’t seem to reconcile our weakness with our strength and in an effort to justify the disconnect we have to blame someone or something, and in this case Satan becomes the source of our blame. The youth speakers were masterful at laying all blame for anything on Satan, which then segued perfectly to the older speakers.

    We’re classic blame-shifters and becoming quite adept at it.

  23. Sorry, abirvalg, that it took me so long to respond to your comment:

    The only moot point is this scripture:
    “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”
    I submit that the Father does need to be brought to have mercy upon us, because He is full of mercy as it is, he possesses it to the fullest.
    This plea should be addressed to the intelligences of the Universe, rather than the Father.
    So I wonder why the ambiguity of this verse? Does the Father need to be appeased or is there some other principle at work here?

    I hope you’ll accept a response now (over a year late, I know)…

    I wrote in another post: The Consent of the Governed means “that nothing the leader/ruler (king, pope, prophet, etc.) does is legitimate unless the people consent to it.” In the case of God, though, the entire Universe consents to all things He does, says and decides, because they look to Him as the embodiment of Justice. So, the only one who needs to be swayed is the Father. This is why Jesus directs His plea to God alone, for if God spares them, then the Universe will follow suit, or consent to it, for they will have the same feelings He does. He cannot, and does not, spare anyone against the consent of the Universe.

  24. As I read over the previous comment, I am reminded of my children, who will often look at me when we are all watching a movie together as a family, to see what my reaction will be. Usually they do this for movies that they don’t fully understand. If I laugh, they see the visual cue that something funny has occurred and will begin laughing. If they see something shocking they’ll look at me to see if I am also shocked, too. This constant checking to see how I react to movies so that they themselves can make a correct judgment of the movie, based upon my cues, is perhaps the same thing that happens with the Universe, as it looks to the Father for His reaction, whether He will exercise justice or mercy.

  25. abirvalg mentioned above the similarities between this atonement theory and the one espoused by W. Cleon Skousen. Recently I came across the following comment on someone else’s blog:

    And I have wondered who else might be quietly asking the same question, especially at those times when well-intentioned friends refer me to C. Skousen’s “meaning of the atonement” to make sense of it; that slightly modified version where blame for the need for God’s sacrifice-as-payment is shifted from God to “the elements,” those heartless intelligences who only obey Him out of their deep respect for his justice (as opposed to his love and mercy, say). The image this invokes is sadly hilarious…the Supreme Being, throws his hands up, shrugs his shoulders and asks, “What’s a God to do? You gotta ‘give respect to get respect,’ right?”

    This made me think of the sense of justice that all things have apparently been endowed with. For example, I remember hearing (I was listening to the radio at the time) of a study with dogs that clearly showed that dogs have a sense of justice. (See Dogs refuse to play ball if they have been treated unfairly.) I remember hearing that and extrapolating it to everything else, thinking, “Yes, all created things in the Universe have been endowed with a sense of justice by their Creator.” It just seemed to be a self-evident fact to me, one that, should all other animals and even plants be tested, would bear out every time.

    So, tonight I asked my wife is she thought that everything had a sense of justice and she answered in the affirmative. I then asked her, “Have all things been endowed with a sense of mercy?” She quickly blurted out, “Yes,” then her face contorted into confusion as she thought upon the merciless animal kingdom. “Well, no,” she said. (I won’t go into the rest of that very interesting conversation…)

    If common everyday experience indicates that justice is apparent in nature, while mercy is largely absent, why would it be “sadly hilarious” to think that if the rocks could speak they would cry out that justice always be done and not mercy? Just because God is merciful does not negate the sense of fair play that everything has been given. What parent does not constantly hear the complaint, “That’s not fair!” from his children?

  26. I know too that they’ve observed whales in captivity responding to one receiving more fish during daily feedings than the others — suggesting that a concept like “fairness” is a common instinct shared by all animals — and that humans are just unique because an advanced cerebral function that’s aided us in turning such common instincts into a larger moral system built to improve the flourishing of our species.

    Also, I wrote in the comments of a Wheat & Tares post that:

    I don’t much understand the concept of “Justice” as some Inexorable, Eternal Law — as though the eternal law is some text written in heaven, like we have laws written here on earth.

    Because either God wrote the book […] or else God just inherited this eternally existing book of Law and is bound to it [just like us].

    D&C 88:7–13 describes the law as an enlivening principle. It’s a living thing. Living things are capable of compassion and mercy and this is why the atonement of Christ works, despite the fact that one man cannot justifiably pay the penalty of another.

    [The] concept of “justice” is our concept of justice. When we feel wronged, even by family, there is an almost insatiable desire for retribution that starts burning in the mind of the offended party.

    […] The atonement [is what] gets the mind of an offended party into the kind of mental state that can get over offenses committed by others, and into the kind of mental state that is filled with compassion.

    The suffering of Christ was immense — not because that’s what God needs to be pleased or what Satan needs to be payed — but because that’s what we need [when we’re feeling offended] to get our minds out of that state and into a state of compassion.

    When the tremendous suffering of Christ is manifested, all things in the creation universe will have their bowels filled with compassion and they change their minds.

    The magnitude of suffering of the Christ had to be such that not a single living thing in the universe would not be moved to compassion and change its mind concerning the inflicted penalty.

  27. In a comment above, Justin wrote (on 15 April 2011) :

    Thinking of Jesus as the defense attorney who can present His evidence to the court that will grant our acquittal [As in D&C 45:3-5] — I thought about the other role in a court-room setting, the prosecution.

    The book of Job presents Satan as the Court’s district attorney. His job is to “accuse our brethren before our God day and night.” The DA may not be an immensely popular person in a community — but he still works for the state. We pay his salary, etc.

    Is Satan’s “badness” really just a function of our perspective> Of coarse from the side of someone the defense — and defense attorney [Jesus] is our righteous savior and the prosecution seems “bad” — but accusing is their purpose, it is their job to bring charges and present evidence. We say Satan was “cast down” but D&C 121 says unrighteousness causes the powers of heaven to “withdraw” themselves — again a matter of perspective.

    My understanding is that In the church (and kingdom of God) only the just (sinless) can make valid accusations. So, we find saints making accusations in Mosiah 26:11 and we find the holy prophets Alma and Amulek making accusations in Alma 10:12 and we find that bishops can only judge by the testimony of the just (in D&C 58:18) and also that no word can be established by an enemy witness (in D&C 42:80.) So, although the devil is an accuser, his accusation would be considered an enemy witness, and thus inadmissible or useless by which to make any judgments. (That doesn’t mean he won’t try to accuse anyway.)

    As far as evidence goes, in the day of judgment, it may be that the very color of our souls (Jacob 3:8) will be all the evidence presented. Those that are filthy still, will be dark and will be without an Advocate. Those that glow with telestial, terrestrial or celestial glory will have an Advocate. It may be plainly manifest to all those that are present who has repented of their sins and who has not, and which kingdom of God each person pertains to. The only accusations, then, may be ones laid upon the filthy still, in which case the devil may, indeed, become one of the admissible accusers, since he will be as dark as they are, and since he is considered their father, perhaps his words will be valid for their cases. In fact, perhaps Revelation 12:10, in one sense, is speaking of these very sons of perdition (and all the future sons of perdition), when it speaks of Satan accusing “our brethren.” It was always Satan’s plan to become our father, replacing Heavenly Father as our sire.

    The verses in Job, though, are indeed curious. I wonder whether the time frame of those verses isn’t something along the lines of the book of Abraham creation story, which reads as an account of something occurring, but then turns out to be but a plan of some future acts…


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 160 other followers