Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I've always been intrigued at the Jewish idea of Atonement: once a year, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is opened, and Jewish people draw inward to determine where their life does not fit into the Book of Life, and then, identifying behaviors that aren't consistent with what is expected by God, they place their 'sins' on what was a 'scapegoat' -- a type of sacrificial lamb, and make a determination to live in tune with the better life.  The scapegoat, no longer sacrificed or sent afield as in ancient days, is symbolic of where we set aside our sins.  What is fascinating is that "Atonement", to the observant Jew, involves deep personal responsibility.

As the Jewish Christian community evolved, and the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the community came to associated Jesus Christ as the "suffering servant", the "scapegoat", in a symbolic sense, that would take upon himself our sins.  It was clear to the Jewish Christians that Jesus Christ as the "Atonement" symbol was deeply symbolic.

On the other hand, Paul proclaimed the Corinthians that he had taught them that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:3)  To the Greek converts, who became the majority of Christians by the end of the first century, the idea of "Atonement" had departed from the association with Yom Kippur.  Paul had seen in Christ a relief from his personal feelings of depravity, that the unredeemed man was condemned to death.  Later, Augustine would magnify the concept of original sin and guilt, leading to the Calvinist concepts of total depravity of mankind.

Along with the evolving idea that mankind was inherently evil were an evolving set of ideas around Atonement.  Whether these were "Moral Influence" -- that God needed to send Christ to put mankind back on track, or "Ransom" theory -- that God needed to pay Satan a ransom for the sins of mankind from Adam, to the Penal Substitutionary Model -- where mankind was so inherently evil that someone had to satisfy God's justice by paying the penalty for our sins in order to redeem mankind to the justice of God.

But here is the deal: all the Christian concepts of Atonement, including those taught in the Book of Mormon and in the LDS Church, are based upon man being completely estranged from God: the natural man is an enemy of God.  And while there might be some aspect of our personality that is worldly and evil, LDS beliefs are more that we have divine nature, an uncreated intelligence, co-eternal with God, that is better reflected that we are truly, literally, in ways we cannot fully embrace, children of God.  All of us. 

Given all this history of Atonement and the our true, divine nature, I do not believe the standard definition of Atonement: the concept that God is so hung up on justice that Jesus had to be tortured and killed in order to satisfy his thirst for vengeance for our sins. All the stories told in the church to try to explain this concept simply have failed to convince me that this makes any sense.

As well, I'm also reject the idea that original sin has any relevance to us today.  LDS Doctrine is that Christ's atonement has saved us (past tense) from the fall and therefore man is free. Since all this has already happened, the concept of original sin and fallen man is now moot: we are free agents, and I believe this deeply. The symbolism, however, of fallen man and redemption is very important.

As humans, we seemed to be easily estranged from ourselves, from each other, and from whatever God may be defined as being. The Atonement is an amazing principle: we are forgiven already, so stop feeling guilty and get on with living. Oh, and be One with your self, with god, and with each other. At-one-ment means just that.

If we accept that because of the Atonement of Christ, then the original Jewish principle of the Yom Kippur scapegoat symbolism is deeply meaningful.  Let us cast aside our sins and move on to the enlightened life, each day (yom) can thus be the day of atonement (literally, what "yom kippur" means, when we recognize our deficiencies, cast them onto the symbolic atonement sacrifice, and embrace the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

To me, atonement is best explained in the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. When Jesus asked where her accusers were, she didn't see any. Then he said, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more." He forgave her, releasing her from the bondage of her sexual addiction, then charged her to live her life in harmony with the gospel (as it were).

It's important to note that he had already forgiven her before any act on her part. The idea that the atonement is conditional places conditions and limits on God's love, with is both infinite and unconditional. He has forgiven us from the foundation of this world -- we need only accept this atonement: he stands at the door and knocks, we need but to open up the door. We do not earn atonement, we embrace it -- we become one with it.

My testimony of the Atonement is a personal one. I was once addicted to alcohol, mainly because of the guilt I felt when I took a drink. I could never drink moderately, because I felt that I had already sinned, so I might as well enjoy it. It became an obsession -- i simply could not stop. I went into AA, because frankly, all church repentence processes, including going to bishop after bishop, failed to work. At the point that I 'turned my will and my life over' to a higher power, whom I felt was 'christ', I had a complete removal of even the desire to drink at all. ever. I did not have to go through a period of "repentance" and proving myself worthy, although when I did go to the bishop after this release from addiction through the atonement, I had to go through church discipline hell. (given the power of my atonement experience, I have an un-testimony of CD as a result of this). I came to the deep realization that atonement is absolutely real and tangible. I attribute this personal miracle to Christ. While this release from addiction could have been a result of releasing myself from church-imposed guilt, I don't know, nor do I care. The personal, spiritual experience I had from this release was very tangible to me.

Now I really don't know whether Jesus Christ will serve as my judge someday in the eternities as part of an entrance examination in the the "heaven" per the 'standard definition' -- to me, he already has judged me and found me to be acceptable to him. Completely and totally. The arms of his love completely encircled me and he has stood by my side since. So to me, Jesus atoned for me, and is my personal Savior and Redeemer.

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