False Understanding of the Atonement

JesusInGardenI have some special feelings in my heart about the Savior. I have been taught all my life about Jesus Christ and have come to look to Him as one who will save me. From what, you ask? Well, the answers are obvious for those raised in the church – from death and hell. Those are Book of Mormon phrases. I have had some experience with both and frankly, I find them frightening.

I have documented my experience with death in several previous essays, but most clearly in my post on Dealing with Evil and Unclean Spirits written 6 Aug 2012. I suppose that is also the post that most clearly documents my experiences with evil as well. Since that time, I have had more recent experiences that caused me to feel the closeness of death and hell in my life once more.

My point is, like most men as they age, I think more and more about what the next life will be like and if I will enjoy it. My encounters with evil and feelings of death in this life convince me that there are parts of the next life – the spirit world – of which I do not want to be associated. In other words, I am a prime candidate for one of the purposes of religion – to prepare to meet God.

Spiritual Counsel from My Youth

In a recent post here on my blog, I wrote about some advice I was given by my Bishop as a youth nearly thirty-seven years ago as I prepared for my mission. I confessed sins common to many young men and hinted that perhaps the advice given by my bishop may have been unsound, or at least less than perfect. I shared that any mention of this particular sin continues to bother me.

In other words, I was expressing that I was perhaps not yet fully healed from youthful mistakes and wondered if any of my readers might have some advice for me to bring me greater peace. In particular, I discussed the process of being born of the spirit, of a book I had read on the subject that greatly influenced me and then included some troubling quotes from Miracle of Forgiveness.

Frankly, I was both delighted and surprised by the number and type of answers I received, both public and private. Some brethren expressed their gratitude that I had said something publically that they also felt – the ongoing sense of guilt when priesthood leaders mention the need to be free from this common indiscretion of youth, confess the sin to get counsel on how to proceed.

Duty to Call Others to Repent

I’ve never been a Bishop or Stake President, but I know I would say the same thing were I in their position. I’ve worked closely with such men over the past twenty-five years and sat in many disciplinary councils where I have seen the results of sin, especially sexual sin, in the lives of our members. Many of the brethren, and one sister, noted their problems began with pornography.

My point is I’m not finding fault with the over-the-pulpit call from the Stake President to the brethren of the priesthood to free themselves from these sins (pornography and masturbation). The point of my essay was how to deal with the twinge of guilt that one feels if one has been a past participant in such sins but has now repented and should feel clean and forgiven by God.

I’d like to offer some additional thoughts on the subject that I hope will be more uplifting and helpful to those who find themselves in a similar situation. I think I was under the mistaken impression that I was supposed to be perfect in regards to this particular sin once I had taken care of it with the Bishop of my youth. This was confirmed by many of you in the advice you offered.

Best advice – Lighten up

The most common advice I received was “Lighten up. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nobody’s perfect.” Right next to that was the point made that even after being born of the spirit or for that matter, having one’s calling and election sure, man is going to sin, just because he is mortal. I guess I knew that intellectually but I think it has now sunk much deeper into my hard heart.

By hard heart – I mean towards myself. I was being overly tough on myself. I’ve related on this blog how I’ve had some wonderful spiritual experiences. I have felt like Nephi, “Oh wretched man that I am. When I want to rejoice, I remember my sins. (I’m paraphrasing).” The idea that a man can reach spiritual heights then fall back into weakness was a difficult one for me to accept.

Let’s be clear. I’m not advocating that one go indulging in all kinds of lasciviousness, but if one, in a moment of melancholy or loneliness, engages in this sin, the idea is to not beat yourself up about it to the point of becoming discouraged and losing hope. That’s what Satan wants. The idea is to pick yourself up (repent), ask for forgiveness, take the sacrament and try, try again.

Still Seeking Baptism of Fire

I know this is common sense and something I should understand and have dealt with long time ago. After all, I’ve been a member of this church for most of my 56 years, but for some reason, I have been laboring under the impression that one must be perfectly clean and pure in order to feel the spirit of the Lord. No so. One must simply be humble and willing to make greater effort.

Yes, I mean make a greater effort. We grow line upon line. Each time we pick ourselves up from some sin – and we all have sin – we must commit ourselves to dig a little deeper into the gospel, to understand it better. We must be willing to pray with more intensity and heartfelt sincerity, and find the strength the Lord has promised to those who turn unto him in spite of a sinful nature.

I am still on a quest. This blog will continue to document that journey. I intend to either receive the baptism of fire – perhaps I already have and don’t know it – or receive an audience with the Lord. I intend to receive angels, be taught what I must do to prepare for this interview and then to go and do. I readily confess I am deeply influenced by the writings of Denver Snuffer here.

Scholarly Approach to the Gospel

Now I’d like to move on the real point of this post. One good brother who responded to my previous post invited me to engage in a private dialog on the doctrine of the atonement. He indicated that I do not really understand the atonement and because of that, I am laboring under a false impression about the nature of sin, how repentance works and what the atonement is all about.

In order to educate me, he has proposed that I read a private document on the subject authored by Daymon M. Smith. You may be familiar with the man. He self-published a humorous book a few years back about working in the Church Office Building called The Book of Mammon. I thought about purchasing and reading it but reviews indicated my conservative side might not enjoy it.

I’ve read some of Daymon’s blog and frankly, he is way over my head. I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy, but I’m no PhD. Put me in a room full of Microsoft networking equipment and I’m right at home. Ask me to write a scholarly paper that contributes a greater understanding to the commonly accepted literature on a subject like the atonement and I’m out of my league.

False Understanding of Atonement

However, I promised I would accept his challenge so I have committed to read this 45-page paper and write my response. My point is that the Book of Mormon teaches that God offered His Son as a sacrifice for sin. We call that the atonement. He contends that this is a false teaching called penal substitution that comes from Sidney Rigdon, Alexander Campbell and Calvinites.

He says it is a teaching of the Great and Abominable Church and that it binds men down and brings them into captivity with a yoke of iron. He indicates that this false teaching needs to be purged in order to see clearly and understand the mission of Jesus Christ. I told him I could offer quite a few Book of Mormon scriptures that teach Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son for us.

Perhaps I can share a few of them here as a start to my gospel study this week but it just seems a little ludicrous. I’ve been teaching the doctrine of the Atonement since I was seventeen years old and was first called to teach a Sunday school class. So I’ve been teaching false doctrine for the past forty years? Maybe you can join in and tell me what you think of a few of these scriptures.

A Few Scriptures on Sacrifice

2 Ne 2:7 – “Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” OK, this doesn’t say the Father offered the Son. It says the Son offered Himself. Score one for Daymon and my unnamed friend. This is only the first scripture that came to mine.

Jacob 4:5 – “…it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.” OK, this one to me seems pretty clear. It says Abraham offering Isaac is a similitude of God offering his Son. I believe the point should go to me on that one. What say ye?

Alma 34:10 – “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.” Score two for Daymon. This scripture does not specifically say that the Father shall offer the son as a sacrifice for sin as I thought.

Alma 34:14 – “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” This one is debatable. It refers to the Son of God being the great and last sacrifice, but doesn’t specifically say that it is the Father that sacrifices the son. So I’ll call this one a draw.

Melvin J Ballard on Father’s sacrifice

In the case of our Father, the knife was not stayed, but it fell, and the life’s blood of his Beloved Son went out. His Father looked on with great grief and agony over his Beloved Son, until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son.

Oh, in that moment when he might have saved his Son, I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us. I rejoice that he did not interfere, and that his love for us made it possible for him to endure to look upon the sufferings of his Son and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer.

Without him, without his sacrifice, we would have remained, and we would never have come glorified into his presence. And so this is what it cost, in part, for our Father in Heaven to give the gift of his Son unto men.

Source: New Era Jan 76 Classic Discourses, Sacramental Covenant

Penal Substitution is the Difficulty

I’m not quite sure what my friend is trying to teach me or why he wanted to point out that my / our understanding of the atonement is wrong or false doctrine. I will read Daymon’s essay on the atonement and see what points I can derive that will help draw me closer to my Savior. I desire a true understanding of what He has done for me and what exactly it is that He requires of me.

From our email dialog I think he is trying to say that the Atonement has nothing to do with paying a debt, but that did not enter into the dialog from my side. I wanted to focus on the idea of the Atonement being a sacrifice – both on the part of the Son and from the Father. That’s why I included Elder Ballard’s classic talk on the feelings of the Father as he watched His son’s death.

The paper seems to focus on the idea of penal substitution. Yes, I get that. It seems to be part of our doctrine that Christ paid for our sins. In other words he suffered things such as guilt and shame so we would not have to. For some reason, if I understand the paper correctly from a quick review, this is supposedly a false doctrine. I’ll write my summary when I complete it.

By the way, I’ve been asked if this 45-page PDF draft paper is available for sharing. My source has indicated that it will be published later this year but asked that I not share it for now. Sorry about that..

11 thoughts on “False Understanding of the Atonement”

  1. Reading this Psalm of David meant a lot to me today….

    Psalm 40

    1 I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.

    2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

    3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.

    4 Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.

    5 Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.

    6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.

    7 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,

    8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

    9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest.

    10 I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation.

    11 Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.

    12 For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.

    13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make haste to help me.

    14 Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it; let them be driven backward and put to shame that wish me evil.

    15 Let them be desolate for a reward of their shame that say unto me, Aha, aha.

    16 Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified.

    17 But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.

  2. btw, thank you for your blog. 🙂

    Any way you look at it….to me the atonement is a wonderful and a marvelous gift.

    It is a gift that feels like He has ….” brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings”

  3. I don’t know if it has so much to do with paying a price as it has to do with how our sins and weaknesses pain him as he allows us to join with him — he who has an infinite supply of virtue. But even so, the atonement can be viewed as a sacrifice of the Father in the sense that it was his will that his Son should be willing to carry our burdens and as a result suffer in the extreme.

  4. The atonement is not “rocket science” or so deep intellectually that one needs a phd to understand it. It is a simple concept, we sin, and if we have been baptized and repent properly, fully, Christ has already paid the price for that sin. Call it penal substitution, or whatever else one may.

    The LDS teachings on the atonement are just as simple and direct.


  5. My understanding has always been that there are laws irrevocably decreed in the universe that maintains its balance. When we sin, we aren’t just disappointing a parent’s expectations. We are breaking an actual law of the universe. This breaking of this law, puts us in Satan’s realm of habitation–away from Kolob, spiritually. Christ “ransomed” us. Paid the neccessary price to claim us back into his spiritual fold to negate satan’s claim over us. I don’t have scripture references for all of this. Forgive me for that and perhaps others can help me out. I know that some of this knowledge comes from spiritual experiences of mine and others that have had NDE’s.
    I think that considering that Father may or may not have offered his son as a sacrifice is moot in the scheme of our purpose here. That Christ paid the neccesary requirement of the broken law and that we accept this gift is what matters to our salvation.
    Joseph Smith was acquainted with the Masons. The fact that some of our temple ordinances are similar to rites performed by masons does not negate the fact that temple ordinances are provided to us by Christ and our Heavenly Father, or that some of these ordinances may have been handed down anciently by other groups which have a remembrance of going through the motions while having lost the authority. Just an example of how mankind attempts to argue against the fact of the restoration of the gospel by the medium of Joseph Smith. I have always felt that we need to be wary of intellectual pitfalls that sidestep from the journey that our Father intends for us. Some knowledge brings us closer to God. Some knowledge moves us away–especially if it is partial knowledge. The confirmation of the Spirit keeps our feet planted accurately. That is why as we learn deeper doctrine, we need constant confirmation by the Spirit so that we aren’t misguided by our intellectual graspings that are unconfirmed.
    Thank you for your posts that are fastenating to follow. For you personally, I know of times when Christ has healed addiction instantly. I know that it is possible. Yet he answers in his own time. Have faith that you are loved and that you can be perfectly healed and it will come when the time is right between you and Him. My sense is that the strength of your shame trumps the full acceptance of His gift and that He can wash ANY sinner perfectly clean. He has the power to do it all–with no risidual aftereffects. My advice from a personal standpoint, is to not give our sins life by constantly ressurecting them in our minds–by that I mean our shame in that sin. When it tweaks the mind, banish that shame instantly and give it no place in your conscious meanderings. Don’t give it life anymore. As Christ banished the sin when he accepted your broken heart, you need to banish the shame of it in your memory. Despite your desire to help others, the Spirit whispers to me that your constant discussion of it gives the sin new life–for you.
    God bless you and forgive the typos–I am typing from a touchpad and many of you know how much of a challenge that can be!

    1. Hi Betty,

      Thanks for your comments. I like what you wrote. Perhaps how we phrase it is a moot point. In my dialog with this reader, he wrote that the church’s teaching that Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son for us was a false teaching not found in the Book of Mormon. I was a little taken aback by such a claim which is what prompted this post. My point is that it was indeed a sacrifice, and that the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, have always taught this. The Law of Moses teaches that there must be sacrifice in the eternal scheme of things. What Christ did was indeed a sacrifice. He gave up his life for us. We must also sacrifice. It is important for us to understand this concept. We cannot become like God without participating in sacrifice. We must be willing to give up whatever it is that God asks of us in order to qualify for the blessings of exaltation.

      I especially like your comment, “as we learn deeper doctrine, we need constant confirmation by the Spirit so that we aren’t misguided by our intellectual graspings that are unconfirmed.” Oh how I wish some of our members understood this concept. I see so many get lost on intellectual journeys that take them nowhere. Some get lost on trying to understand some of the problematic areas of our history and why they did not know about these problem areas growing up. Others get lost in dealing with the increasing complexity of the church at the higher levels, especially when it comes to finances, operations, bureaucracy, marketing, public relations – all the ways in which the church is more like a corporation than a church. It destroys their faith and testimony.

      I admit the two examples I just used are not doctrinal, or are they? In any event, your point is well taken. We do need to remain firmly planted, spiritually speaking, on the simplicity of the gospel – faith in Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism of the Spirit and enduring to the end. I also like what you said about Christ healing instantly. I believe that but it hasn’t happened to me. I know I am loved and that I can and will be healed when the time is right. Perhaps I have given this old sin too much energy. Perhaps I am keeping the guilt or shame alive by continuing to bring it up. It’s funny, but I have always felt that I have not been open enough about it over the years. In other words, I have felt that I have not said enough to warn others what this particular sin can do to a man. Perhaps I can best illustrate this with a related story from my past:

      In early 1992, Carol and I were asked by our Bishop to take an LDS Social Services parenting class from the stake with the intention of becoming certified and teaching it in our ward. We did so and enjoyed it very much while the program lasted, or at least I did. Carol did not enjoy the class, and did not want to help teach our ward members. She said it made her feel like a bad parent. I had the opposite reaction. I enjoyed the class, learned that I was indeed a bad parent – way too permissive – and then had some wonderful spiritual experiences teaching the class to our ward members. The bishop would ask certain people in the ward to attend every few months each time we started a new class. There were ten lessons. I still have the manuals and enjoy reviewing them every so often even though our son – only child – is now almost thirty years old.

      LDS Social Services is now called LDS Family Services. One of the primary programs of LDS Family Services is the Addiction Recovery Program. In our stake, we have divided it up into two groups – those struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol and those addicted to pornography. We have two couples in our stake teaching each class. At one time the classes were taught by members of the High Council. It seems to be more effective when taught by a couple. If they were to call me to teach the class – either one – I would rejoice and put all my heart and soul into making sure the classes are spiritual feasts for those who attend. Would you like to know why? It is because the percentage of men – priesthood holders in the church – who suffer from addiction to pornography is so high. Teaching men how to overcome this addiction would be a joy to me.

      It is an area where I could make a difference. Far from ceasing to speak / write about this, I have felt the opposite when I have prayed about this with the Lord. I wish I could tell you Betty how many people have written to me privately with words of thanks and encouragement that I have been willing to be open and honest about this. What’s a little shame or twinge of guilt that I suffer when the Stake President reminds the brethren that we need to be free and clean of this problem? It is a serious problem and is not going to go away. We can’t ignore it. The problem is affecting the men of this church in greater numbers than we can imagine. Some estimate that up to 50% of the men in a ward – including young men – have difficulties with this issue. I think the number is a little high, others with whom I have conversed say it is too low. Perhaps it depends in what part of the county you live. It seems to be the highest in the Salt Lake / Provo areas.

      I appreciate that your comments are motivated by love and concern for my mental and spiritual well-being. You don’t know how many times I have prayed and asked the Lord to take this away from me – to just drop it and forget about it. No matter how many times I have pled with the Lord to do this for me, I have always heard the same answer in reply – you must work this out yourself. I have attended so many self-help seminars, read so many books, consulted with so many people that I have become an expert in the subject, at least an expert on how it affects me. I know it makes some people uncomfortable when I write about it. I know there are those who feel the church is talking about it way too much already and that it would just go away if we would stop. I don’t feel that way. As I have prayed about it, it has been clear in my mind that it is only going to get worse. Obviously I have strong feelings about this so I’ll just stop at this point.

      Thanks again Betty for reading my blog and thanks for your constructive and helpful comments.

      1. I would like to know more about “muscle-testing” that you mentioned in earlier blogs. Also, what have Church leaders had to say about spiritual mediums–many with strong Christian faith that are born without a veil? Are we cautioned not to seek them out? My sister has gone to several at different times. None of them have cost a lot of money so don’t think they do this for monetary gain. All have been Christians. Is this dangerous for us?

      2. Tim, I like your point of view. Far too many LDS want everything such as repentance to be precise, checklist style. God doesn’t want the checklist; He wants the Heart. Yielding to God brings the spirit. The Spirit teaches the specific things you must do.

      3. Even Nephi called himself “wretched.” I’m convinced there’s a part of us that’s not quite free of the Natural man until we leave our fallen state. I think it’s crucial that we are on the path and pressing forward, but the speed and tempo is very individually tailored.

  6. Here is a bit of what I understand about the atonement. These thoughts aren’t meant to exclude any other interpretation. The Savior experienced pain and suffering to the degree that includes my personal pain and suffering, as well as that of any other person. More than just experiencing it, He learned how to heal himself of the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of both commiting sin or being the victim of sin, as well as the sinless but painful results of living in a fallen world.

    Occasionally, when I I call upon the Savior’s help, I experience a simple “washing away” of guilt or pain. I love it when it is that simple. But more often than not, He engages me in my own healing work. He has led me to tools or to life experiences that teach me how to release my pain. And I don’t mean to say that I am left alone to do this. He stands by my side while I work things through. It is still His work and His glory. But it requires my interest, attention and willingness to do what He is asking me to do. This then expands my understanding and increases my capacity to succor others. In other words, the Savior trains us in His craft of healing. But the knowledge and power to heal is His genius. He lets His knowledge and power flow through us to heal us, and as a natural consequence this expands our capacity to spread his healing work to others.

    This is repentance. It is the work of me personally overcoming the world (or my fall). And I can do it because He overcame the world. He knows how to guide fallen people to higher ground.

    One of the best tools I have been led to is the book, He Did Deliver Me from Bondage. Used by LDS Family Services for their addiction recovery programs, this book can be off-putting to someone who doesn’t consider themselves “addicted” to anything. However, the Christ-centered concepts and exercises can be universally applied.

  7. Pingback: Overcoming the Label of Addict | Latter-day Commentary

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