Wednesday, March 28, 2018

On the Atonement as Love

Today is the midpoint of Holy Week.

Yet here we LDS are in our community, troubled by so many revelations of impropriety, of anticipation of announcements of Conference, that I feel we are losing the deep significance of what Christians celebrate this week.


Our third article of faith says: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

I think this really says what we Mormons think of the atonement: it is the eventual forgiveness of our sins, the redemption of our fallen state, conditioned upon our obedience.

Our Book of Mormon explicitly defines atonement as being necessary to satisfy the demands of justice, for if mercy robbed justice and removed the punishment for our sins, god would cease to be god.

I wonder.

I really, really wonder about this concept that justice demands punishment else god would cease to be god.

And I doubt it.

It makes no sense to me, not any more.

I recognize that in rejecting our LDS and Christian definition of atonement, I probably offend some and put myself outside of Mormon and Christian orthodoxy.  To the self-appointed defenders of our religion, my questioning and doubting of the atonement as defined in our scripture and articles of faith makes me “antichrist”.

So be it.

I have come to realize that the atonement, as taught by Christ himself, has nothing to do with penal substitution or the satisfaction of a justice bound god.

It is entirely about Love.  And only about Love.

Last year on Wayfaring Fool we did a contemplation of the atonement as taught by Christ in John chapters 11 through 17.   We discovered that during the Atonement discourse and events, Christ taught nothing about the fall and the necessity to satisfy god’s justice.

Midpoint in the week, we explored the Atonement in the context of Judas’ betrayal and the separation we feel from god and each other.  All the symbolism of the Garden of Eden narrative, the betrayal, the very crucifixion — these all demonstrate a pattern of separation.

To reconcile this separation, to atone, is not by virtue of some payment that gets us out of hell —be it “free” in evangelical Christian thought, or “after all we do” in Mormon scripture—atonement is the call to BE ONE.  Present tense.  Something we are called to DO in order to be One.  The atonement is the opposite of separation: it is that which connects us.

And what is that Commandment?  What is the connecting power of the Atonement?

Love.   God’s Love.  Unconditional Love.  A new Commandment, that we love one another. 

But much more.  That we abide in love.

True, Jesus said, “if ye love me, [ye will] keep my commandments.”  And then he said, “and this is my Commandment: that ye love one another as I have loved you.”

But what does this mean to love someone?

1.  Love is unconditional: it does not judge.

Our Mormon definition of love often includes judgment and reproach.  We love our children, and thus demand that they stay on the Lds path without deviation—if they stray, then they are cut off from our presence.  This is he pattern stated by god in the the Book of Mormon: if ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.  If ye keep not my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of god.

Our current prophet spoke of how god’s love is not unconditional.  Our church defines Jesus as Judge, and patterns all church officers as being “common judges”, discerning the Worthiness of members.

Judgment of others is deeply engrained in our culture.  And we judge those who judge.

Yet Jesus said: “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world”
(John 12:47)

So, when we embrace the atonement as Love, we too must cease to judge others.  Love does not judge.

2.  Love is not hierarchal, but equal.

Deeply embedded into LDS doctrine is the idea that there is a hierarchy of intelligence, that whenever two people exist, one is more intelligent than the other.  The Lord is more intelligent than all others, and our priesthood leaders are the noble and great ones, chosen before they were born.  (Abraham 3)

Accordingly, we revere our leaders, we put upon them honorific titles of bishop, President, elder...  we consider them the lord’s anointed and any evil speaking of the lords anointed is cause for church discipline,

We even have a temple ordinance, the second anointing, that declares that these elect are *separate* and holy from the rest of us.  In deep irony, the ordinance includes the washing of feet, pronouncing that the recipient is clean from the blood and sins of this generation.

Yet when Jesus did this very act, he was demonstrating the exact opposite: the washing of feet was a demonstration that the person called to lead is to set himself beneath those he is called to serve.

And Jesus called us to be friends: the only kind of relationship that is truly equal.

3.  Love is about now, not the future.

When our narrative about the atonement focuses upon being “saved” in the future, I believe it takes us out of the present, and puts us into a mode of self preservation and self exaltation.

Yet Jesus did the opposite.

Somehow, we equate this with how by his death and resurrection we too will be resurrected into eternal life if we are “worthy”.

This focus on future personal salvation and exaltation is the opposite of what I believe Jesus called us to do in his atonement.

He called us to Be One through Love.

To *Be* is eternal present tense, not about becoming something in the future.  Jesus quoted Psalm. 82 in declaring “Ye ARE gods” even if we will die like men.  To be is the very Name of God: Yahweh—I AM.

To be One is to be unified in our diversity.  It does not mean that we are singular and separately saved.  To be One is to be fully connected in our diversity.

And what is that connecting power?  How can we BE ONE?  Jesus answers, through Love.

Love is present tense.
Love never judges or separates us.
Love does not seek her own, it is never hierarchal.
Love abides forever.

Love is the First Commandment.
Love is the Second Commandment.
Love is the Greatest Commandment.
Love is the Commandment upon which all else depends.
Love is the New Commandment.
Love is the Last Commandment.
Love is the Atonement.

Love is something we do.

Here.  Now.  Together.