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Why Packer's Parable Doesn't Work


Sargon

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Most of you should already be familiar with Packer's parable of the Atonement. If not, you can read it here: http://tinyurl.com/27px8qx

I'm not bound and determined to find problems with Packer's parable, but I think there might be one and I'm interested to know if others agree. I'll be happy to be persuaded that I'm wrong (really, it's no big deal). The relevant part of the parable reads:

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From the context it appears that Packer was trying to illustrate the concept of a mediator as part of the atonement rather than making a sweping explanation of the atonement itself.

In general, the atonment explanations I always received treated the process as transactional, which I think is the reason why most of those explanations fall short.

Do you have a preffered atonement theory that accounts for the multi-dimensional aspects of the atonement?

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Packer's parable is usually seen as a version of the penal substitution theory of the Atonement. What I see as problematic here is that there is no forgiveness being granted. The scriptures very clearly teach that men are forgiven of their sins, but in Packer's model there is no forgiveness going on. The creditor (God the Father) isn't forgiving anyone, because as the friend (Jesus) says, the law of justice has been paid and he can't ask for more. The contract is fulfilled, end of story.

...

In short, there is really no forgiveness of debt in this parable. The debt is paid in full.

BINGO!

To forgive a debt is precisely not to require it to be repaid--to erase it from the books. When Jesus spoke about forgiving others' debts, literal and figurative, he didn't mean to find a third-party to pay them off. He meant to not require anyone to pay them.

Imagine you borrow $1000 from me and I insist on prompt repayment, threaten to garnish your wages, and only abandon my threat during the lawsuit proceedings when a friend steps in and pays the $1000 to me on your behalf. Imagine that I then turn to you in the court room, the $1000 safely tucked in my pockets, and say, "Don't worry about it. Now that I have the money, I fully forgive your debt!"

Will you be bowled over by my mercy? I didn't "forgive" anything--I just got paid off by somebody else.

So, yes, Sargon you've hit the nail on the head.

So while Packer's parable might be useful to a point, it doesn't seem to capture one of the most important aspects of the Atonement: forgiveness.

President Packer probably (I'm guessing) sees forgiveness as enfolded into the new "terms" of the relationship with the third-party, which wouldn't really require the full payment of a debt that the debtor cannot possibly pay. But you're right that not spelling that out is a very, very substantial omission.

Hugh Nibley, in his essay "The Meaning of the Atonement," argued that the scriptures never offer a metaphysical mechanism behind the Atonement, they merely provide symbols through which it can be partly understood. I think he's right, and I think that President Packer's parable does the same: it presents a kind of symbolic transaction that shows the necessity of a savior, the need for justice and mercy, and the requirement that the saved work out a relationship with the savior. But that's all it does. It doesn't explain the metaphysical status of justice, how one can suffer for another, what forgiveness really consists of, etc.

The advantage of the parable is its simplicity, not that it demonstrates the mechanism of atonement or even gives a particularly accurate picture of what grace and forgiveness are all about.

I don't oppose the use of this parable, but would be very, very pleased to see something better used in its place, whether the new parable comes from President Packer or someone else.

Thanks for bringing this up!

Don

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From the context it appears that Packer was trying to illustrate the concept of a mediator as part of the atonement rather than making a sweping explanation of the atonement itself.

In general, the atonment explanations I always received treated the process as transactional, which I think is the reason why most of those explanations fall short.

Do you have a preffered atonement theory that accounts for the multi-dimensional aspects of the atonement?

Hi Trim. I'm just beginning what I think will be a long and complex study of the various theories of the atonement. For others interested, I've found the blog "New Cool Thang" to be helpful as a resource. I don't have a favorite theory yet, but I hope to someday.

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I understand the Hebrew word for forgive and bear/carry is the same. Christ transfers and bears the burden of the debt - he doesn't annihilate it

That is a very interesting suggestion. Thanks. We should look more into that. But I wonder how it would work in the context of "Father [bear/carry] them. For they know not what they do."

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the problem with Packer's attempt is the problem of almost all theories of atonement: they take for granted a metaphysical and unnecessary notion of sin and thus require a metaphysical and unnecessary theory of atonement to clean up the mess.

First step to addressing the atonement is addressing what sin is.

From my experience, most Mormons have some platonic conception of sin that is a metaphysical thing or status that exists as a result of certain actions/sins--something like a sin-stain that requires some special formual 401 with sin-stain removal.

I think we need to abandon the notion of sin as an effect of actions and understand it as actions which one does and the state of a person who does those things, as well as the actual (not metaphysical) consequences of sin.

When I get annoyed and cynical and say mean things to DCP, the sin isn't an affect of that action. I'm not tainted with sin because I did something. I'm sinning as I do these things. I'm in sin as I want to do these things. And DCP's crying in his room (and my further annoyance) are the real consequences of that sin.

This, of course, is petty compared to the strongest forces of sin that result in the oppression and suffering of others.

The atonement isn't about removing some sin stain from my soul. It's about changing my soul to sin no more. It's about finding a correcting the ills of the world.

Because of this, my interest in atonement (and I believe the key) is found in liberation theologies, and not in metaphysical theologies.

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the problem with Packer's attempt is the problem of almost all theories of atonement: they take for granted a metaphysical and unnecessary notion of sin and thus require a metaphysical and unnecessary theory of atonement to clean up the mess.

First step to addressing the atonement is addressing what sin is.

From my experience, most Mormons have some platonic conception of sin that is a metaphysical thing or status that exists as a result of certain actions/sins--something like a sin-stain that requires some special formual 401 with sin-stain removal.

I think we need to abandon the notion of sin as an effect of actions and understand it as actions which one does and the state of a person who does those things, as well as the actual (not metaphysical) consequences of sin.

When I get annoyed and cynical and say mean things to DCP, the sin isn't an affect of that action. I'm not tainted with sin because I did something. I'm sinning as I do these things. I'm in sin as I want to do these things. And DCP's crying in his room (and my further annoyance) are the real consequences of that sin.

This, of course, is petty compared to the strongest forces of sin that result in the oppression and suffering of others.

The atonement isn't about removing some sin stain from my soul. It's about changing my soul to sin no more. It's about finding a correcting the ills of the world.

Because of this, my interest in atonement (and I believe the key) is found in liberation theologies, and not in metaphysical theologies.

Dennis Potter?

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Dennis Potter?

If you are asking if I am Dennis, no.

Dennis started (and nearly finished) a book on a Mormon liberation theology--well a Marxist reading of the BofM--but he, unfortunately doesn't want the book to see the light of day now.

My influences are more from the writings of Ignacio Ellacurio, Jon Sobrino, Gustavo Gutierrez, and other's from Latin America.

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the problem with Packer's attempt is the problem of almost all theories of atonement: they take for granted a metaphysical and unnecessary notion of sin and thus require a metaphysical and unnecessary theory of atonement to clean up the mess.

First step to addressing the atonement is addressing what sin is.

From my experience, most Mormons have some platonic conception of sin that is a metaphysical thing or status that exists as a result of certain actions/sins--something like a sin-stain that requires some special formual 401 with sin-stain removal.

I think we need to abandon the notion of sin as an effect of actions and understand it as actions which one does and the state of a person who does those things, as well as the actual (not metaphysical) consequences of sin.

When I get annoyed and cynical and say mean things to DCP, the sin isn't an affect of that action. I'm not tainted with sin because I did something. I'm sinning as I do these things. I'm in sin as I want to do these things. And DCP's crying in his room (and my further annoyance) are the real consequences of that sin.

This, of course, is petty compared to the strongest forces of sin that result in the oppression and suffering of others.

The atonement isn't about removing some sin stain from my soul. It's about changing my soul to sin no more. It's about finding a correcting the ills of the world.

Because of this, my interest in atonement (and I believe the key) is found in liberation theologies, and not in metaphysical theologies.

Wow! I like you, Narrator. I'm impressed with the way your mind works and with these particular thoughts. I think the Atonement operates in more than one way and on more than one level, but the idea that it fixes a metaphysical warp in the universe mostly just puzzles me. Perhaps. But I think it would be more profitable to explore its pragmatic application in our lives and present world.

I'm quite convinced that "the Atonement" is connected to the processes of atonement or "at-one-ment" on an interpersonal level. Having just finished rereading the Sermon on the Mount (or rather the Sermon at the Temple in 3 Nephi), I can't help noticing how Jesus drives home over and over a message of reconciliation with one another--and how effecting this reconciliation is prerequisite to effecting one with God. Exploring this relationship seems to me a far more fruitful, not to mention doable, than identifying the Atonement's metaphysical basis.

Cheers,

Don

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Sargon - What do you not understand about the parable. The debt of sin was paid to Lucifer. The Creditor who paid was JC who paid for all debts through crucification on the cross.

John 15: 13

13 Greater alove hath no man than this, that a man lay down his blife for his cfriends.

Now the debt is owed to JC but if failed to pay is still forgiven even if the sin is repeated so long as you repent.

Matt. 6: 12, 14-15

12 And forgive us our adebts, as we bforgive our debtors.

14 For if ye aforgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye aforgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

However it is expected you must forgive the debt incurred by others from you to reciprocate. Just as Christ did on the cross for all mankind.

Luke 17: 3-4

3

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The atonement isn't about removing some sin stain from my soul. It's about changing my soul to sin no more. It's about finding a correcting the ills of the world.

Because of this, my interest in atonement (and I believe the key) is found in liberation theologies, and not in metaphysical theologies.

What purpose does the Atonement serve in liberation theology? I find much to agree with based on my limited reading of the subject (in the sense of the communal aspect of salvation), but what exactly does it do? Or is it just as mysterious as it is in metaphysical theologies?

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Sargon,

Interesting. When I, as a non-Mormon, pointed out on this forum this same implication of Packer's parable--that Jesus does not eliminate the debt but merely takes over as the new "creditor"--not one Mormon acknowledged that I had a point. Everyone claimed that I had misunderstood Packer.

The question I would ask you is what you do with the fact that this seems to be what the LDS Church is teaching these days. It is in Gospel Principles, which is being taught chapter by chapter to the LDS on a two-year study plan.

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Sargon - What do you not understand about the parable. The debt of sin was paid to Lucifer. The Creditor who paid was JC who paid for all debts through crucification on the cross.

Hi Handys. I think you have misread Packer's parable. What you've described is something much closer to the ransom theory of atonement, in which a debt is payed to Satan. Packer's atonement parable is more akin to the penal substitution theory, in which a debt is owed to God.

Rob said:

Interesting. When I, as a non-Mormon, pointed out on this forum this same implication of Packer's parable--that Jesus does not eliminate the debt but merely takes over as the new "creditor"--not one Mormon acknowledged that I had a point. Everyone claimed that I had misunderstood Packer.

The question I would ask you is what you do with the fact that this seems to be what the LDS Church is teaching these days. It is in Gospel Principles, which is being taught chapter by chapter to the LDS on a two-year study plan.

As you have seen, some of my fellow Mormons in this thread have also accused me of misunderstanding Packer's parable, so you aren't unique. But surely you can understand that when notable anti-Mormons such as yourself critique some aspect of Mormonism it is going to be approached differently than when a faithful member of the LDS Church does so.

Regarding your second comment, I feel no discomfort that the LDS Church teaches Packer's parable so widely. As other's have already pointed out, Packer's parable is useful for teaching some, but not all, of the basic principles of the atonement. I think it is appropriate for a book like Gospel Principles, which is more of a beginner's guide than an attempt to probe the depths of the gospel.

I'm fascinated by the fact that many different and conflicting theories of the atonement are found in our various hymns. I enjoy paying attention to how they teach the atonement when we sing them, and I think it is great that our Church, much like the ancient Christians, doesn't embrace or enforce any particular theory of the atonement. Instead, we simply rejoice that an atonement has happened, and invite men to come unto Christ. I'm delighted that I have the chance to probe the depths of the atonement on my own and seek out revelation.

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So while Packer's parable might be useful to a point, it doesn't seem to capture one of the most important aspects of the Atonement: forgiveness.

Your thoughts appreciated.

First thought is this, to me for a LDS to refer to the President of the Quorum of the Twelve as "Packer" instead of Elder Packer, or even President Packer, to me it is offensive. To me it shows a disrespect that is not worthy of a LDS. Next the parable is not about forgiveness, it is about a mediator being necessary for the atonement to work. The teaching that Christ wipes out the debt with no conditions is not an LDS doctrine. There are conditions to repentance, first a broken heart and a contrite spirit. In addition we must enter into a covenant relationship with Christ to take upon us His name, and to keep His commandments. I suppose it gives meaning to the phrase "ye are bought with a price." We are not our own, we may be free from sin through the atonement, but we owe our souls to Christ. If we do not endure to the end in keeping the covenant then we have no promise. To more fully understand what Elder Packer had in mind it would be wise to read the original talk from which the parable is taken: The Mediator
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First thought is this, to me for a LDS to refer to the President of the Quorum of the Twelve as "Packer" instead of Elder Packer, or even President Packer, to me it is offensive. To me it shows a disrespect that is not worthy of a LDS.

Wow.

I am thoroughly convinced now that you are an anti-Mormon pretending to be a Mormon so that you can make Mormons seem absolutely ****, cultish, self-rigtheous, pathetic, and plain nuts.

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Sargon,

Interesting. When I, as a non-Mormon, pointed out on this forum this same implication of Packer's parable--that Jesus does not eliminate the debt but merely takes over as the new "creditor"--not one Mormon acknowledged that I had a point. Everyone claimed that I had misunderstood Packer.

The question I would ask you is what you do with the fact that this seems to be what the LDS Church is teaching these days. It is in Gospel Principles, which is being taught chapter by chapter to the LDS on a two-year study plan.

That parable is based on Alma 42. What you are looking for by way of

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Wow.

I am thoroughly convinced now that you are an anti-Mormon pretending to be a Mormon so that you can make Mormons seem absolutely ****, cultish, self-rigtheous, pathetic, and plain nuts.

Just because I think the General Authorities of the Church deserve respect you accuse me of being cultish, self-righteous, pathetic, and plain nuts? Thank you, I see what spirit ye are of.
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I should be nicer. I apologize.

Lightbearer will not forgive you, narrator, but I will pay your debt to Lightbearer, after which you will be my minion and do all things whatsoever I command you, regardless of your inability to obey, and if you do not keep my commandments which you cannot keep, I will turn you over to the tormentors.

You know, I think I like this Packer parable.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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BS, consig.

after which you will be my minion and do all things whatsoever I command you, regardless of your inability to obey, and if you do not keep my commandments which you cannot keep, I will turn you over to the tormentors.

Once we enter into that Covenant relationship with Christ, he will never turn us over against our will. As long as we don't reject the Covenant (which is different than stumbling and erring), and have a desire to serve the master, he will protect us. What happens is that he doesn't restrain us if we choose to leave, and walk into the tormentor's den.

"It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way." - it's not about keeping the commandments. The parable says nothing about commandments. It's about submitting oneself and loving and trusting fully and completely to the new Master, the Mediator, and join in his own work. The most difficult thing we can do is the act of submission to the Lord. The natural man is prone to fight back and resist. Commandments are very useful as helps and personal markers along our road to understanding where we're at, and we are empowered by living them. Covenants and commandments are the helps the Lord gives us in making this submission possible - But they are just that - markers and signposts that guide us to full submission and Faith in Christ.

Mosiah 3: 19

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

President Packer's Parable could also be seen as expressing Paul's teaching on the matter:

Romans 6 (NRSV)

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,

18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.

22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.

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I'm not bound and determined to find problems with Packer's parable, . . .

Humm, Doest thou protest too much?

. . . but I think there might be one and I'm interested to know if others agree.

No analogy is perfect and therefore susceptible to misinterpretation and abuse.

There are those that only look for flaws, . . . .

and that is what they find, real or imagined.

There are those that look for understanding, . . . .

and that is what they find.

Perhaps you heard the story of the two young miscreants who wished to embarrass the wise old sage. The determined that one of them would hold a live bird in their hand behind their back. They would ask the sage if it was alive or dead. If the sage said "dead", he would produce the live bird. If the sage said "alive", he would crush the bird to death and produce the dead bird. However, much to their chagrin, the sage responded, "as you will".

This parable, as with many things in life, as YOU will.

BTW,

I second Lightbearer's complaint that you aren't showing proper respect to Elder Packer.

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