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Atonement


inquiringmind

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Was the atonement an act of penal substitution?

Was it primarily concerned with Adam's sin?

And what does the blood of martyrs accomplish?

For a good survey of Atonement theories, including penal substitution, and the distinctiveness of the Book of Mormon description of at-onement, see Loren Hansen, The Moral Atonement as Mormon Interpretation.

https://dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V27N01_207.pdf

Also see Margaret Barker, "Atonement, the rite of Healing"

http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/Atonement.pdf

And Nibley, The Meaning of the Atonement

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=75&chapid=1222

And I'm personally very fond of Eugene England's essay, "Shakespeare and the At-onement of Christ." Though I don't think it is one the web.

I'm not particularly impressed by the penal substition theory of at-onement.

Kevin Christensen

Bethel Park, PA

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Was the atonement an act of penal substitution?

Subject to the condition of repentance, yes.

Was it primarily concerned with Adam's sin?

No.

And what does the blood of martyrs accomplish?

The blood of martyrs serve as witnesses to the truths for which they died.

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I concur with Kevin's recommendations. I am not a fan of penal substitution theory either.

I suppose that depends on how it is defined. I am not interested in the "theory" of anything; but taken in its literal meaning (i.e. without endorsing any Protestant overtones it might have), "penal substitution" is not a "theory," but a scriptural teaching. The following verses have just come to my mind; but there are more which I can't recall right now:

1 Peter 3
:

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit

2 Nephi 9
:

21 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 all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.

Alma 34
:

11 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.

12 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.

* * *

15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.

16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.

D&C 18
:

11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

D&C 19
:

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

If by "penal substitution" is meant that Jesus paid the "penalty" of our sins (subject to our repentance) so that we would not have to pay for (suffer) them ourselves; then it is 100% scriptural.

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My goodness, Kevin. Can you explain that?

What is the purpose of the Atonement, then? I mean, for LDS?

Different people will understand it in different ways. The papers I've cited I've found particularly thought provoking.

Have you read them? And there is this, that I wrote:

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/papers/?paperID=6&chapterID=52

Particularly the section on "Bridging the Gulf between the Sacrifice of Animals and the Sacrifice of a God."

I read somewhere that the New Testament does not contain an integrated theory of the atonement, but just a collection of metaphors. There is a passage in the D&C where the Lord says, "To what shall I liken this that ye may understand?" We all have to start somewhere. Some of the metaphors work better for me than others, and fit better with the First Temple background of the New Testament. I heard Hansen deliver his paper at Sunstone long before I ran across it in Dialogue. I was very impressed. And have been by Barker, Nibley, Ostler, and others.

I look towards the original sense of Tyndal's word, At-one-ment in the deepest, most personal sense, coming into our distance from God, rather than some kind of payment, or in the case of the parable of the bicycle, a subsidy. Eugene England talks about the "condescension of God," where the original sense of condesenscion" it to "descend with."

Kevin Christensen

Bethel Park, PA

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Different people will understand it in different ways. The papers I've cited I've found particularly thought provoking.

Have you read them?

I have.

But, I'm asking a more direct question: What did the Atonement of Jesus Christ accomplish for you personally?

Christ did not receive in his body the punishment due your sins, on your view, as I take it, since you are not impressed with penal substitution. As a corollary, then, I take it that, on your view, there just is no metaphysical need for Christ to receive in his body the punishment due your sins. You do not need a substitute sacrificial victim.

The essays you cited are, of course, interesting. I would affirm some statements and reject others, and not know quite what to make of still others, while attempting due diligence in understanding all. But, on a personal level, what did Christ's death on the cross accomplish for you, personally.

What difference does it make?

That's what I'm trying to understand.

I admit I'm up against something of a theological wall here. But, I'm trying to grok.

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Christ did not receive in his body the punishment due your sins, . . .

This is kind of Evangelical speak. I know you are referring to 1 Peter 2:24, which is verbally accurate enough. But we believe that Jesus' sufferings were not confined to His "body," but was experienced equally as much, and even more so, in His spirit. His crucifixion was a physical manifestation of His suffering; but not the totally of it. "His body" is a metaphor for His total person (i.e. spirit and flesh) with which He suffered for our sins. But in general you are correct. Jesus' suffering was a "substitute" for our suffering, so that we might not have to endure the same sufferings provided that we repent.

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To take literally the penal substitution metaphor, I think, is borderline blasphemous, because that would be so senseless and unjust. If God were to be unjust, He would cease to be God. The BoMormon seems to suggest that it is unjust to penalize an innocent for the sins of a guilty person:

...Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
Honestly, for me, that alone is enough to reject taking that metaphor so far, because it would suggest God is unjust.

This verse is telling, with regard to how the Atonement works:

And he will take upon him death, that he may bloose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
emphasis added.

The "payment" God requires in His Justice system is that we go through the refiner's fire to be cleansed of our sins, which is the only possible way to enter God's kingdom in Heaven. One way to do that is via mortals experiencing immense suffering in hell, as Christ suffered. Of course, we can't do it the same way He did or at least to the same degree, so we must also depend on Christ to finish the job, so people can at least receive the "the glory of the stars." But through Jesus Christ, we can avoid suffering as He did, and through Christ's power to heal us, we can have our sins cleansed, which is the only way we can enter God's kingdom.

It's not a justice system like ours but a justice system based on Eternal principles. God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. It's not a choice. Christ asked in Gethsemene about another way but there was none. But God's grace is sufficient to save us, if we have faith in Christ and accept Him as our Savior and Lord. Because of His experience in the garden, He knows how to nurture and heal us back to spiritual health. That, out of necessity and not out of a man-made law nor even a law God made. It's the nature of man, God and God's kingdom that requires a sacrifice or a refining in order for us to be cleansed of sin. It's not a punishment at all. Christ wasn't punished for God. He suffered to be able to understand our suffering only and to "draw all men unto Him."

14And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the ccross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—//15And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
He suffered what was necessary as a means to save us, because that was the only way, and He also was allowed to be judged by men, so that He might be given power to judge us. Again, He was not being punished but being given power. The idea that Jesus was punished based merely on artificial laws is based on taking a metaphor too far, in my view.
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I have.

But, I'm asking a more direct question: What did the Atonement of Jesus Christ accomplish for you personally?

Christ did not receive in his body the punishment due your sins, on your view, as I take it, since you are not impressed with penal substitution. As a corollary, then, I take it that, on your view, there just is no metaphysical need for Christ to receive in his body the punishment due your sins. You do not need a substitute sacrificial victim.

The essays you cited are, of course, interesting. I would affirm some statements and reject others, and not know quite what to make of still others, while attempting due diligence in understanding all. But, on a personal level, what did Christ's death on the cross accomplish for you, personally.

What difference does it make?

That's what I'm trying to understand.

I admit I'm up against something of a theological wall here. But, I'm trying to grok.

My thinking is in line with Mordecai's post. I very much like many implications of his expression that "Again, He was not being punished but being given power."

Though even here, I think "being given power" may be too passive an expression. He was actively engaged in obtaining power. Barker's essay talks about the imagery of the High Priest absorbing the effects of sin, and taking action to repair damage, to heal, to restore covenant bonds in nature, in communities, in individuals.

Personally, I think that because of the atonement, Jesus knows me, knows all that I have done, knows my potential, knows my sins, and knows how to heal me, how to give me power to change and repent, how to forgive me, and how to help me forgive myself, how to reconcile me to those affected by my sins, how to resurrect me, and how to help me become clean and whole and how to enter his Kingdom.

Moses 1 talks about how Moses "beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.

And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore." Moroni talks about the light of Christ lighting every person, teaching all to distinguish good an evil. I think that the way that the light of Christ enters every person is because Jesus entered into every individual life and became at-one with each one. And that just as in particle physics, the act of observation changes the thing observed. I think the existence of our conscience is a direct result of Jesus quite literally becoming at-one with us, including his suffering the pain of intimately knowing all that in us is utterly contrary to his will and nature. He endured the very things that estrange us from God. When people who have NDEs report having a Life Review, they talk about how they see and feel how their actions directly affected other people, and how the effects of each good and bad action casts influence like ripples on a pond. In the presence of Jesus, in his light, the report being fully known, with nothing hidden, no secrets, and are shown how their actions not only define them, but affect the lives and the world beyond themselves, seeing it all as one, with everything affecting and affected by everything else.

Metaphors are organizing images. We look at the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, or Jesus in Gethsemane, and try to understand. Hansen's presentation, and his excellent essay, opened my eyes to the range of atonement theories, neatly organizing them into subjective theories in which the atonement is supposed affect us in some way (to inspire, or to terrify), but does not have any cosmic necessity. Others offer objective theories, in which Jesus has to die for some objective reason that operates independently of our personal response. Before Hansen many commentators on the Book of Mormon often tried to align the Book of Mormon with some notable theory, supporting via a few proof texts, but ignoring the overall context. Hansen's essay pointed out that the Book of Mormon uniquely offered a description of atonement that is distinctive in several ways, emerging as both objectively necessary, and subjectively essential. Ostler's view is quite similar, though expressed in more technical language. Such explorations help me see and appreciate more than I did before.

And that is because such essays bring out aspects of the Atonement that do not emerge via the common debt relief and substitute punishment metaphors. Nor in the "offended honor" or "trick the devil via a slippery substitute ransom" metaphors. The richly symbolic Temple background, is, I think far more telling, as Barker and Nibley explore at-onement and the role of the High Priests. The cultural background in Madsen's brilliant essay, The Olive Press, reaches further for me, unfolding the unfamilar the symbolism of the press and oil, than does the parable of the bicycle however more familiar I am with bicycles and piggy banks than the symbolism of the various fabrics of High Priests clothing and rituals. But we all have to start with things we understand to move towards things that we don't understand. If we don't know about First Temple, or High Priests, or rites of healing, or the cosmic covenant, we have to start somewhere. And if that is with a sentimental story like "He took my licking for me," that is a start. But such things don't have to be the end.

With DH, I have also been impressed with Rene Girard's theories of atonement, and have noticed how they cast unexpected light on the Book of Mormon in interesting ways. He takes an anthropological perspective that is striking and valuable, showing unexpected things about the uniqueness of Christianity, and how it changes the world. But it is not the only approach that is helpful.

Any metaphor, and approach, has limits in what it leads us to notice and value. Susan Black counts 100 names for Jesus in the Book of Mormon. Why not just one? Something simple and easy to remember? Would the Book of Mormon teach us more about God by just using a familiar, comfortable, easily remembered name? Or do titles like Shepherd, Omnipotent, Servant, King, Father, Son, Everlasting, Alpha, Omega, Creator, Lord of Hosts, Lord of the Harvest, and others, each convey information that is not easily conveyed by the others?

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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Personally, I think that because of the atonement, Jesus knows me, knows all that I have done, knows my potential, knows my sins, and knows how to heal me, how to give me power to change and repent, how to forgive me, and how to help me forgive myself, how to reconcile me to those affected by my sins, how to resurrect me, and how to help me become clean and whole and how to enter his Kingdom.

But if God once was as man now is, wouldn't The Father have already known all this (and didn't Elohim say, way back in the garden, "behold, the man has become as one of us, knowing good and evil")?

Why would The Son need to do this (particularly if the Father had already done it for some other world, or universe)?

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But if God once was as man now is, wouldn't The Father have already known all this (and didn't Elohim say, way back in the garden, "behold, the man has become as one of us, knowing good and evil")?

Why would The Son need to do this (particularly if the Father had already done it for some other world, or universe)?

Who knows.

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But if God once was as man now is, wouldn't The Father have already known all this (and didn't Elohim say, way back in the garden, "behold, the man has become as one of us, knowing good and evil")?

Why would The Son need to do this (particularly if the Father had already done it for some other world, or universe)?

Assuming the King Follet discourse represents correct doctrine, if it didn't happen in our universe, how would we have faith in it? We would have no real connection with it, no witnesses and Jesus Christ would never receive glory for it. This is His kingdom or at least He inherits it in the end.

Joseph Smith taught that all angels that ever visit earth are of this earth; perhaps there is a common cause for an alternate-universe atonement to not apply to us, just as other-earth angels don't visit us.

Just some thoughts. I don't know.

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My thinking is in line with Mordecai's post. I very much like many implications of his expression that "Again, He was not being punished but being given power."

I don't like it. Of course, I agree that Christ was vindicated in his righteousness on the cross and that, indeed, he has been assigned ultimate power in this universe to deliver both justice and grace, precisely in light of his sacrificial death.

Mordecai writes:

To take literally the penal substitution metaphor, I think, is borderline blasphemous, because that would be so senseless and unjust. If God were to be unjust, He would cease to be God. The BoMormon seems to suggest that it is unjust to penalize an innocent for the sins of a guilty person...

There are tons of presuppositions in play here, of course. But, the primary presupposition is that " it is unjust to penalize an innocent for the sins of a guilty person."

That just is the penal substitution theory of the Atonement, in a nutshell. So, Moredecai is suggesting that my belief is quite possibly blasphemous because penalizing an innocent person is "so senseless and unjust."

Of course, in actual Trinitarian theology, informed by Protestant faith, God is sacrificing himself to himself, the perfectly innocent for the perfectly holy, so that the answer to the question "Who killed Jesus (God)?," is, unequivocally, God. And he did so for some specific end.

What do you make of Isaiah 53?

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. (Isa 53:1 KJV)

Do you agree that this passage refers to Jesus?

If so, how do you reconcile the view that the Father was not punishing Jesus in light of the clear teaching that this person had laid on him the iniquity of us all, and that for the transgression of my people he was stricken? That he was wounded for our transgressions? That he was bruised for our iniquities? That the chastisement of our peace was upon him? That with his stripes we are healed? That he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter? Are these acts not acts of punishment for the sins of others?

"Christians" (rightly, IMO) draw from this passage that Christ is the sacrificial lamb of an eternal and eternally consequential sacrifice (see Hebrews), the innocent for the guilty. The divine scapegoat. Such that all further ritual sacrifices are, indeed, and not just possibly, blasphemous.

By the bye, what do you make of Smith's purported desire to reinstitute animal sacrifice in a renewed Temple context? Is it true, by your lights? If so, what does it mean in this particular discussion?

Best,

cks

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There are tons of presuppositions in play here, of course. But, the primary presupposition is that " it is unjust to penalize an innocent for the sins of a guilty person."
I don't think there are any presuppositions. The justice of God in the OT is, "You reap what you sow." Did Jesus sow His own suffering? How so? What works did He do or not do that would logically indicate he should reap suffering? None.
So, Moredecai is suggesting that my belief is quite possibly blasphemous because penalizing an innocent person is "so senseless and unjust."
If Jesus is the same person as the Father, I suppose it's not blasphemous. But the idea that the Father commanded His only Son to suffer in such a way, simply to obey a law that He invented sounds really insane. Insane like saying that babies go to hell for not being baptized.
What do you make of Isaiah 53?
I don't see anything in there that contradicts what I'm saying. He took upon Him our sins? I am in total agreement. That the Father punished Him simply to keep the law that the Father invented? No.
That with his stripes we are healed?
What does this have to do with punishment? This is exactly what I'm asserting.
The divine scapegoat.
The scapegoat was metaphor. Jesus suffering, superficially, is a complete contradiction, where the innocent suffers in place of the wicked. That's the opposite of what we'd expect from a just God. But once you see the underlying reason for this, which was love and healing, you see that God is truly doing what is necessary. There is nothing unjust about doing what is necessary. It's utilitarian, which isn't about justice but nature or Nature.
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I don't think there are any presuppositions.

That's, frankly, ridiculous, M.

The justice of God in the OT is, "You reap what you sew." Did Jesus sew His own suffering? How so? What works did He do or not do that would logically indicate he should reap suffering? None.

Yeah, I totally get that you're not a Trinitarian Christian, Mordecai. I grant that what I'm arguing for, as an actual Trinitarian Christian, may not make much sense to you.

Indeed, Jesus did not sew his own suffering. He did no works that would logically indicate that he should reap such suffering.

Next question.

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That's, frankly, ridiculous, M.
If my position is based solely on the Bible and BoMormon, it's not presupposition on my part. Those came before I was even born :). Now if you're saying there are presuppositions in the Bible and/or BoMormon, I suppose you can make a case for that. Or perhaps you think I presupposed the BoMormon and Bible to be true; I would have to disagree. I've studied them and thought about them a lot!
Indeed, Jesus did not sew his own suffering. He did no works that would logically indicate that he should reap such suffering.
Right, so in that sense, it was an injustice... that is, unless it was a necessary means to an end where Jesus is to gain power over death and sin. As a side note, I spelled sow wrong. I used the spelling that implies the use of a needle and thread. ha ha
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Dare I throw my 2 cents into this? Yeah, I guess I will.

I was first wondering what on earth was meant by "penal substitution', and that being explained as Christ taking upon himself the punishment of my particular sins, well, then I reject it. As picturesque and as romantic as it sounds, I believe that it has nothing to do with it. Because if you add up all the punishment/suffering for every sin ever committed, and every sin ever to be committed, well, then you find that the cumulative suffering is Finite. It is said that Christ's atonement was an Infinite atonement, so a cumulative penal substitution isn't at all what it was. Up the wrong rabbit trail entirely.

I wrote an essay about this some time ago. I posted it on my personal website as a kind of testimony of my understanding of the Atonement. Rather than giving the link to it here, which no-one will follow, I will copy it in my post here, which no-one will read, because it's too long. Or because I am possibly seen as insufficiently authoritative. Whatever.

Here goes.

I have not seen Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of Christ." However, I have read a number of reports about it, and have heard others describing it. One LDS film director, Kieth Merrill, who has seen it, commented upon the emphasis on Christ's physical punishment at the hands of the Romans. It is clear that Gibson's Catholic background is responsible for that emphasis, and that background is clearly fixated on the image of "Christ Crucified" - as graphically portrayed in the crucifixes that adorn their churches and homes.

But Gibson's vision of Jesus' suffering, and the vision of Christ crucified as seen in many Christian portrayals of that suffering, certainly pales in insignificance to the "real thing."

While I am certain that the abhorrent violence inherent in the process of crucifixion was chosen as the means of Christ's suffering for a very good reason, that is, to enable us mortals who see only the flesh to appreciate what had been done for us, Christ's real battle, his real suffering was done where we could not see it, and it was massively worse than that what we did see.

The process of crucifixion is horrendous enough, but Jesus was not at it for particularly long. On the day of his death, it took some hours for the crucifiers to begin their work, involved as Jesus was with the sham trial by the Sanhedrin and in Pilate's failed attempt to brush off the dirty work onto King Herod Antipus. We can say approximately that this shuffling around took at least until mid-morning, and by the time Pilate's executioners began the torture it may have been as late as 10 or 11 o'clock, possibly even later. How long he was scourged is impossible to say, but it is clear that he would have been in very weakened condition at its conclusion, so the walk to Golgotha carrying his cross may have consumed a fair amount of time. So, by the time he reached Golgotha and was put on the cross, it may very well have been mid-afternoon, possibly around 2 pm. Since he died before sundown, which during that time of year would have been around 6 pm, he would have been on the cross less than 4 hours. Total time for the entire ordeal of crucifixion: approximately 8 hours.

Piece of cake.

Now, I don't want to minimize his suffering. It was truly horrible. But was it unique? Not at all. Christ survived about 4 hours on the cross; but others the Romans crucified survived much longer, sometimes even days. So he suffered far less than hundreds and perhaps thousands of others who were subjected to the same method of execution. Remember that the slave revolt led by Spartacus ended with the crucifixion of nearly all those slaves who had revolted; the Via Appia in Italy was lined for miles with crosses. So, in terms of degree of suffering, Christ suffered less from crucifixion than practically anyone else in the same predicament.

But what was the crucifixion to Christ? Merely the outward physical symbol of his real suffering, which was the passion of the Atonement. Christ did not need to die on the cross to achieve the Atonement. He didn't need to be scourged, either. In fact, if Jesus had not had the slightest externally imposed physical discomfort, he could have carried out the Atonement, and it would have been 100% effective. The suffering of the crucifixion had nothing whatsoever to do with the suffering of the Atonement, except that they overlapped somewhat.

The suffering of the crucifixion was to the suffering of the Atonement as a mosquito bite was to the suffering of the crucifixion. And then some. Before Jesus had even met his cross, we read that he was already suffering:

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

(New Testament | Luke 22:44)

Now, some point to this as evidence that Jesus was really dreading the experience to come, so much so that he was sweating profusely. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read however that he was sweating actual blood as a result of the agony he was already bearing, because the suffering of the atonement had already started:

18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit ...

(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 19:18)

In fine, late on the evening of the Passover meal, apparently after he and the Twelve minus one had arrived at Gethsemane, he began to suffer the pains of the Atonement, and those pains were so bad that he considered ending the process:

...and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink...

(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 19:18)

It is interesting, that when Christ himself describes the suffering he had to endure because of the Atonement, he doesn't mention the cross at all. And as I indicated above, the qualifications to suffer crucifixion on a cross during Roman times were set quite low. In fact, anyone could do it. But who could succeed at atonement?

The short answer is, anyone could do it. In fact, according to these words:

15 Therefore I command you to repent--repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore--how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

(Doctrine and Covenants | Section 19:15 - 17)

Everyone who does not repent will suffer it.

At this point someone will inevitably object. They will say that Jesus suffered the punishment of all sinners, or at least of all sinners who would repent; meaning that the suffering of Jesus was somehow additive, according to the numbers and severity of the sins the sinners committed. So, if there were a hundred sinners who committed a total of two hundred sins, then Jesus suffered the pains associated with atoning for those two hundred sins. And if there were a million sinners with two million sins, then he suffered for those two million sins. And so on. This is what Mel Gibson understands about it. That's why Gibson's hands are the hands that appear in "The Passion of the Christ" putting the nails into Jesus's hand. Gibson considers that it is his sins (along with everyone else's) that Jesus is suffering for; that Jesus is being punished with Mel Gibson's punishment, in the place of Mel Gibson. This is a very romantic and very picturesque notion.

It is also very wrong.

For if the suffering of Jesus through the atonement were additive as I have described above, then Jesus would have to bear the suffering that every single repentant sinner would otherwise have to suffer. That seems like a lot of punishment, but it turns out that this is completely inadequate for the task. It assumes that sin is like making a purchase at a store. Say milk costs $2.00 per gallon. If you have $4.00 you can get 2 gallons of milk. Likewise, if you committed some quantity of sins, you have to suffer some equivalent suffering in return. In other words,

More sins = more suffering.

The reason why I say that an additive punishment, or an additive atonement, or this much suffering for this much sin, is completely inadequate to fulfill the requirements of justice, is simply because it is merely huge. In fact, no amount of suffering done under this regime of punishment is adequate to fulfill the requirements of justice, and allow mercy to kick in. That requires an infinite atonement.

10 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.

(Book of Mormon | Alma 34:10)

As modern mathematicians are aware, infinity is a very slippery concept. Most people, when talking of something that is infinite, have the notion that it is simply something that is overwhelmingly large. It is not. It is quite literally beyond imagining. Adjectives like "large," "huge," or "enormous" completely fail to get a handle on it. In fact, infinity is not a number. It is utterly impossible to count to infinity, for example, because infinity cannot be reached. However, adding punishment to punishment in order to count up to enough punishment to fit the crime, can be reached, no matter how much punishment must be added, because it is finite. Therefore, like the animal sacrifices under the Law of Moses, it has no power to free us from our sins.

In Alma 34:11 we read:

11 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.

In other words, no man or woman can atone for the sins of another. A man or woman can atone only for his or her own sins. But as Alma 34:10 makes clear, the Great Atonement "...shall not be a human sacrifice..." but "...an infinite and eternal sacrifice...," in other words, the sacrifice of a God. In further words, the sacrifice of the unblemished and sinless Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Because there is no sin in him, his sacrifice can only be voluntary; it is not forced upon him. In contrast to the unrepentant soul, who must suffer.

I said that an additive sacrifice is insufficient to save anyone from their sins, because it is finite. And this is because all sins are equal, and the punishment for all sins is the same. Like atonement, sin is not additive. A person who has committed only one sin is in the same place with the person who has committed a million. Both are sinners, both fall short of the glory of God, and both can only atone for their own sin. There is only one way out of the predicament for either of them. And what will happen to both if they don't accept Christ's atonement? Let's read DC 19:15-19 once more:

15 Therefore I command you to repent--repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore--how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

You do not know how hard to bear this suffering will be -- Christ, however, does know, because he experienced it.

16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

When he says "suffer even as I" he clearly does not mean that his suffering was worse than yours will be if you do not repent; he means that you get to experience precisely what he experienced, in full measure. And what was the quality of suffering that he suffered and that you would have to suffer?

18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--

At no time in this passage of scripture is it even remotely suggested that Christ had to suffer more than any other. What makes Christ's sacrifice, his suffering, into the Great Atonement is simply expressed by this verse:

19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

Because there is no sin in him, his sacrifice is infinite. And no matter how large the number of those who have sinned may be, his single, infinite sacrifice is enough for all who have faith in him, repent, and sin no more.

Mathematically, this might be expressed in this fashion:

Because any amount of sin, whether one single act or a lifetime of wickedness, puts you irretrievably into the status of sinner, the number 1 may be used to quantify your sin. Because the suffering that you must endure to atone for yourself is the same for all quantities of sin, the number 1 may be used to quantify your suffering.

When you divide your suffering into your sin, as in the mathematical operation of division, the formula looks like:

1 ÷ 1 = 1

In other words, your suffering covers your sin, and you are "at one". Therefore, your personal atonement covers you and no-one else.

On the other hand, the amount of sin that is imputed to the Christ during his mortal lifetime was 0. But the suffering that the Christ endured in the act of atonement has the value of 1.

When you divide the Christ's suffering into the Christ's sin, the mathematical formula looks like:

1 ÷ 0 = Infinity

In arithmetic, dividing any quantity by 0 yields a result typically called "undefined", because there is no way for nothing to divide into anything. But if one were to try to divide progressively smaller and smaller values into 1, the result gets mathematically larger and larger. Since one can never progressively reach the point of zero by making the divisor smaller and smaller, you will never reach the end of the attempt. But logically, one may infer that if we could take it far enough, to zero, then the result would be infinity. Since this is mathematically meaningless, our example breaks down under close scrutiny.

But because we not dealing with mathematics, strictly speaking, the example suffices to show what it means to have an infinite atonement. It means that Christ's atonement is sufficient to cover ALL sinners who will repent, regardless of how many that is.

And because the Christ's suffering was something he could have ended at any time he wished to, without personal impact upon his own status, he demonstrated love beyond measure, both for the Father's plan and for his brothers and sisters. For that he deserves all glory for ever and ever.

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The short answer is, anyone could do it. In fact, according to these words...
They couldn't do it and live.
Let's read DC 19:15-19 once more:...
D&C 19:19 doesn't say it was an infinite Atonement, because Jesus was sinless (You appear to have misquoted). I think it was an infinite Atonement, because the suffering was spiritual (unlike the finite physical) and the One who suffered is an Eternal being with power beyond our understanding.
When he says "suffer even as I" he clearly does not mean that his suffering was worse than yours will be if you do not repent; he means that you get to experience precisely what he experienced, in full measure.
I don't know that this is true. It doesn't say you'll suffer the same as He did. If there were no atonement, there would be no end to your punishment, as you'd be stuck in perdition forever and ever. But Christ's atonement let's the sinner out of prison, even the most serious of sinners, at some point. So Christ's mercy applies to them. I don't think it's necessary to have them suffer to the same degree as Christ... although it might be. Still, I don't know, and I don't think the scriptures specifically say that people will suffer to the same degree.
At no time in this passage of scripture is it even remotely suggested that Christ had to suffer more than any other.
True. Nor does it say that anyone else would suffer as much as He did (although people might).
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They couldn't do it and live.

Well, that's part of the point. When Jesus says that you will suffer "even as I", he isn't speaking of the past when you had a mortal body. At least part of the reason why Jesus was born of the Father, because through the Father he had to power to retain his life until he knew it was "finished", meaning the atonement was complete. If he did not have this power, the crushing load of the atonement would have killed him before it was done. On the other hand, those of us who do not repent and must suffer what Jesus suffered will do so in our resurrected bodies, which cannot die, thus ensuring that we have to drink the cup to its dregs, no escape. And in the end will only have paid for our sins without the ability to come up to the Father, because it is Jesus who calls us up. Without that call, we are unable to come up.

D&C 19:19 doesn't say it was an infinite Atonement, because Jesus was sinless (You appear to have misquoted). I think it was an infinite Atonement, because the suffering was spiritual (unlike the finite physical) and the One who suffered is an Eternal being with power beyond our understanding.

No misquote. Infinite atonement is from the Book of Mormon. You appear to have misread what I wrote. I'm pleased however that you read it! I've been trying to get someone to read it and comment on it for years! We cannot understand -- now -- because we have not partook. I knew that I would get an argument about this. Everyone is entrenched in the idea that the suffering Christ endured was somehow greater than the suffering anyone else would endure. I ask why? Christ's suffering IS in one sense the greater because he could have ended it early or not undergone it at all, had he chose. How much harder is it to endure a terrible loss if you know all the while that one act of will is all it will take to get out of it?

I don't know that this is true. It doesn't say you'll suffer the same as He did.

If this were some passage coming out of a convoluted transmittal, as much of the New Testament is, going through the hands of hundreds of scribes, each one perhaps "correcting" this, or tweaking that, possibly because each one thought that the previous copyist had goofed up, or here we are at the end of thing 2,000 years ago trying to get into the head of someone from a totally different culture, well, then I would allow you some slack here. But this isn't that. This is a revelation directly from Jesus, directly to his prophet, in the language of that prophet, which we share. So when he says "must suffer even as I", then I take it that he meant it exactly as it sounds. If you have earned a bachelors degree in Chemistry, and your daughter wants one too, you say to her, "you must study even as I". She's got to get X number of credits, consisting of a number of required courses and some electives, before she can get it. She can't just show up for one semester and apply for graduation at the end of it, she's got to put in the whole effort, or she doesn't get the prize.

So when Jesus says "even as I", I don't try to devalue my potential for suffering by saying "well, at least it won't be anywhere near what He had to put up with," because the word "even" means "equal". No quibbling possible here, sorry about that.

If there were no atonement, there would be no end to your punishment, as you'd be stuck in perdition forever and ever. But Christ's atonement let's the sinner out of prison, even the most serious of sinners, at some point. So Christ's mercy applies to them. I don't think it's necessary to have them suffer to the same degree as Christ... although it might be. Still, I don't know, and I don't think the scriptures specifically say that people will suffer to the same degree.

You're missing an essential piece, Mordecai. I didn't include it, as it fell a little above the part where it says "suffer even as I". D&C 19:4-12

4 And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.

5 Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.

6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name's glory.

8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.

9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.

10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—

11 Eternal punishment is God's punishment.

12 Endless punishment is God's punishment.

God's punishment is the punishment that God i.e. Jesus endured during the atonement. Those who do not accept the Lord and repent will suffer God's punishment. The punishment that he metes out. And the punishment that he suffered.

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