These notes are made while reading this with a Mormon theological background, so I skip noting some of the basic Mormon doctrines about the Atonement that he teaches.
The Atonement is the central doctrine of Christianity. All scripture should be at least partially focused on it, and we’re invited to “speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him” (Jacob 4:12).
What is the significance of the Atonement?
Here are some of the ways that we come to understand the Atonement:
- Refining our “cultural sensitivities” allows us to approach the Atonement with a more heart-felt empathy for the tenderness and compassion it represents.
- Sacrificing our lives in service allows us to stand in awe of His eternal sacrifice.
- Perfecting our powers of reason will get a greater understanding of the “‘whys’ and ‘hows’” of the Atonement.
- Living a pure and clean life will give us greater kinship with Jesus, who we are emulating in a small way.
Leaving it up to just one of these doesn’t do it justice. There is no singular pattern for understanding the Atonement.
The Atonement is the single event that provides meaning for all other events. Without it, any invention, discovery, movement, or decision is just particles interacting in a fallen universe.
Nothing else Jesus did in his life is as important, and no other aspect of the gospel is interesting without the fact of the Atonement. “The Atonement is our singular hope for a meaningful life.”
Why study the Atonement?
BH Roberts noted that after studying the Atonement he felt an “intellectual conversion” to it. The topic of the Atonement has not been approached directly in other Christian faiths like it has by the Book of Mormon and this church. Understanding the Atonement motivates us to appreciate it’s blessings.
Can we fully comprehend the Atonement?
We make attempts to understand all the whys and hows, but we won’t be able to grasp it all. But that’s not good enough reason to deny the effects of the Atonement. (We may not be able to conceptualize particle-wave duality but we can describe its effects.) We have to ask God for help to understand it, and not harden our hearts in disbelief.
What are the purposes of the atonement?
- make us one with God in location
- make us one with God in quality and identity
Just as we are to become one with God in state and likeness, he became like us in state and likeness (mortality) “without ever abandoning his godlike character”. The Atonement can be symbolized by an embrace, and the promise is that there will be an actual embrace at the gate to heaven. Elder Maxwell thinks the reason Christ “employs no servant there” (2 Nephi 9:41) is because he wants to personally welcome us. (I don’t think that’s what Nephi was getting at, but it could still be true.)
the Fall of Adam
To really grasp the Atonement we need to believe that all need to be saved from personal sin.
My question: why does the Fall imply that we will all sin?
To attempt a mastery of the Atonement without first comprehending the Fall would be tantamount to confronting geometry without a grasp of basic algebraic principles. (This is funny because studying geometry doesn’t require algebra, but I get his point.)
My question: was it really a choice to eat the apple if they were in a state of “spiritual sterility” without temptations or obstacles?
Callister thinks maybe the conflict of commandments in the garden was necessary so that man could not claim God forced him to accept the responsibility of mortality. But wasn’t that the point of choosing to accept the plan in heaven? What about the feelings of everyone else besides Adam and Eve on the matter? It had to be a choice to fall into mortality, “in apparent opposition to God’s command”. I don’t think this makes a ton of sense. It feels like a formality at no one’s request.
the relationship between the Fall and the Atonement
The Atonement overcomes the first spiritual death by returning us to God to be judged, and also overcomes the second spiritual death (for those who repent) by cleansing us of our sins. This distinction is important because the Atonement must have saved us from all the consequences of the Fall.
In Mormon theology there are four kinds of “saved”:
- We are all saved from physical death because we will all be resurrected.
- All but the sons of perdition are saved from the “power and dominion of Satan” because we will end up in one of the three kingdoms of glory.
- Those who inherit the celestial kingdom are “saved in the sense that they are not banished from the Father’s presence.
- Those who are exalted are saved from “every form of damnation” because they are entitled to eternal increase and become like God himself. Elder McConkie taught that most scriptural references to salvation actually refer to exaltation.
the consequences if there had been no Atonement
Brigham Young taught that the Atonement was necessary in order for us to reach any kingdom of glory. Without the Atonement, the plan of coming to Earth and then returning to God in any sense would have failed. Here Callister tries to threaten us with the thought that if life ends then it has no meaning.
the infinite nature of the Atonement
The Atonement is infinite because it was performed by a God who is infinite, but B H Roberts also thought that the word “infinite” was used “to express the idea of the sufficiency of [the Atonement]; its completeness; the universality and power of it,” (p. 59).
infinite in power
In the scriptures we hear about Christ receiving “all power … in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Callister believes that Christ’s life and atonement were a chance for his divine attributes to act in such a benevolent way that he gained the power necessary to save us (in all the forms of salvation discussed above). He did not have that power before performing these acts.
infinite in time
The scriptures promise that the Atonement applies retroactively (Ether 3:13; Mosiah 3:13). Callister explains that this is possible because God (and all of humanity) trusted Jesus’ credibility when he promised to perform the Atonement. “This is why the laws of justice could recognize the benefits of the Atonement before the purchase price was ever paid, because his promise, his pledge, his credit was ‘good for it,’ and everone who honored their first estate knew it,” (p. 74). And we know full well that Jehovah/Christ does not break his covenants (D&C 58:31; Numbers 23:19; 1 Kings 7:56; Abraham 3:17; Nehemiah 9:32).
Callister suggests that the Atonement covers even the sins we committed in our premortal life. The statement that “no unclean thing can dwell with God” appears to be true only in the context of post-judgment life, and we’re also told that people were more or less valiant in the premortal life (see Alma 13), which implies that people were not perfect then. (If this is true, my question is this: if Adam and Eve had been sinning since their spirits were created, what’s so special about their first mortal transgression that caused them to fall from the presence of God at that point?) D&C 93:38 seems to confirm that, for those of us who “kept our first estate” and were born into this world, the Atonement has redeemed us from the sins of that first estate as a part of redeeming us from the Fall.
While the Atonement is infinite in time, Callister is clear to point out that “the time for repentance is not,” (p. 81).
infinite in coverage
The Atonement saves all plants, animals, and even this planet from physical death (no salvation from spiritual death necessary). The Atonement saves all the people in the whole universe, in all the worlds God created. It was performed here on this planet, possibly because this planet was the most wicked (Moses 7:36), because Israel was a nation that would crucify their God (2 Nephi 10:3), or because here God could find the full range of people from best to worst to witness and reject/accept the Atonement.
infinite in depth
The Atonement involved taking on all forms of human suffering:
- suffering caused by sin, even for those who do not repent
- Here Callister explains that those who deny the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven because they have chosen to reject the Atonement. But why does that leave them with no chance for repentance afterward? It does seem like this action is not covered.
- I think Callister succinctly explained an important component of how Mormons solve the problem of evil: “true omnipotence is being able to do anything, anytime, anyplace within the confines of the inexorable laws of justice,” (p. 100).
- Here’s a great example of circular reasoning: “The Atonement of the Savior covers every repentable sin known to man,” (p. 101). Of course “the Atonement cannot … exalt anyone who has … irreversibly closed the doors of repentance” (p. 102) because the Atonement defines the terms of repentance! The only reasons denying the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven are that either the person never repented afterward or the Atonement doesn’t cover it.
- suffering from innocent transgression
- suffering due to trials that have nothing to do with transgression
- suffering due to confronting temptation
- suffering due to the exercise of faith
- Callister argues that because Jesus did not have full omnipotence while on Earth (see Luke 2:52), there were times when he had to trust the Father against his reason (see for example Matthew 26:39). Because of this, Jesus understands what it’s like to have to exercise faith in God without a sure knowledge.
infinite in suffering
Jesus suffered the Atonement as a man, not as a God. “He took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham,” (Hebrews 2:16-17). Callister thinks that Jesus only used his godlike powers to keep from going unconscious or dying.
There is no good explanation for why Jesus’ blood had to be shed in addition to suffering the pain of the Atonement. There’s a lot of symbolic metaphor that can be taught with it, but no real reason for it.
Callister, McConkie, and others believe that the strengthening angel might have been Adam, mostly for symbolic reasons.
Callister thinks there were more cataclysmic signs of Christ’s death in the New World to compensate for not being able to witness the actual event. “Those lands where the Savior’s physical presence was absent no doubt responded with more powerful elemental reactions as a compensating witness,” (p. 126). Nice symbolism, but the potency of the events in the Lehite lands around the Savior’s death is not matched by anything else in recorded history in any other land far from Jerusalem.
The Savior’s experience of the effects of sin would have been more difficult for him because he had never sinned or felt guilt in his life up until that point, and because he could feel that his people (the world) loved darkness rather than light. The fact that he knew more and cared more meant that he suffered more. And the scriptures and prophets point out that this wasn’t a passive suffering; he actively “broke the bands of death” and had to contend with Satan.
Next Callister discusses the concept of a personal atonement, where Christ suffered for the sins and death of each of us individually. There’s actually less canonized scriptural backing for this idea than I thought; the idea is drawn through analogy from Isaiah 53:10, 3 Nephi 11:15, and 3 Nephi 17:21. But several modern writers (including President Heber Grant) have described the individualness of the Atonement, and it seems to make sense in light of other prophets’ visions of all the souls of humanity (Moses 1:28; Ether 3:25).
Christ suffered the withdrawal of the Father’s presence in order to fully experience what we experience when we sin (see Mosiah 2:36) and to pay the price of sin completely by his own power (see Isaiah 63:3, 5). Callister points out that Joseph Smith experienced a small degree of the withdrawal of the Spirit when the 116 pages were lost, and that day was terrible for everyone in the house. Callister draws a comparison with that story to illustrate the intensity of Jesus’ experiencing the full measure of separation from God.
Callister offers four possible explanations for why Jesus’ suffering could fit into so finite a period:
- God doesn’t experience time the way we do (D&C 38:2).
- Jesus could squeeze more suffering into a moment of time than anyone else can.
- Jesus suffered the pain of anticipation ever since he promised to perform the Atonement.
- Jesus suffers for the sins of the world any time he observes them, into the future. “Giving life costs God something as it costs us something,” as BH Roberts said (p. 150).
Callister points out that Jesus knew exactly what was in store for him before performing the Atonement. If he had submitted without full recognition, it would not have been an agentic action. Still, despite his perfect intellectual understanding of the event, he could not have fully comprehended the experience of the Atonement, just as we don’t really understand falling in love until it happens to us.
infinite in love
Jesus’ motivation to perform the Atonement was love, not any desire for glory or reward (see Romans 5:7-8; 1 Nephi 19:9). The Father also had the difficult task of letting his son suffer and die, when he had the power to save him. This is well illustrated by comparing the Atonement to the commandment for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.
the blessing of the Resurrection
Callister paints a picture of the Resurrection as a power that counteracts the chaotic, entropic power of the devil to bring death and decay to things in the world. It doesn’t just revert the effects of entropy; it also permanently stops the effects of entropy on the body.
Everyone will be saved from physical death because it was brought upon us by the Fall through no action of our own (see 1 Corinthians 15:22).
the blessing of repentance
Just as Jesus saves us from the physical entropy of mortality, he saves us from the spiritual entropy of sin. But this benefit is conditional upon our repentance, because we are responsible for our own sins.
True repentance “is a melting, softening, refining process that brings about a mighty change of heart,” (p. 178). It requires “an honest, unqualified recognition, not a rationalization, of our sins,” (p. 180). This life is a probationary state that tests our willingness to repent and follow Christ. That’s why it’s possible for the unrepentant to become “ripe for destruction” (Helaman 13:14).
True repentance requires true sorrow for the sins we’ve committed. This sorrow means regretting the action itself, not the consequences.
True repentance also requires forsaking the sin. The way to measure this is not in terms of time without sin, but by whether “there is a mighty change of heart and … an unequivocal resolve to put behind us our former ways,” (p. 186). “We have forsaken when we have mastered the habit under any set of circumstances that may be thrown at us,” (p. 187).
True repentance also requires restitution of whatever is in our power to restore.
Finally, true repentance requires confession. When he was 15 Gandhi once stole from his brother, and then feeling guilty restored it to him, forsook stealing, and asked his forgiveness. He also felt he needed to confess to his father, which he did. “A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance,” (p. 192). I think this is true. When we cleanly confess to those who we have wronged or who have been responsible for us, we increase our bonds of trust and affection with them. In addition, Callister sees confession as a means to humble ourselves and demonstrate that we are willing to surface our sins and not hide them.
When we truly repent, we become as clean as if the sin had never been committed (see Psalm 51:2, 7; Isaiah 1:18).
the blessing of peace of mind
Sometimes people feel that the Savior must not have forgiven them for their sins even though they’ve repented. We often feel that way because we continue to feel guilty for our sins even though we’ve felt true sorrow, forsaken the sin, done restitution, and confessed appropriately. One of the blessings of the Atonement is consolation. (See Alma 33:16; John 14:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:16.) It sounds like Callister is saying that sometimes we reject this blessing by not forgiving ourselves, but that we should seek that blessing by having faith in the infinite power of the Atonement to cleanse and heal us, even of those sins we find most difficult to forgive ourselves for.
In the scriptures there are plenty of examples of times when the truly repentant were blessed with peace and hope where before they were immobilized by despair. (A good example of this is Alma 24:10.) The Savior is the only source of this peace. One good example is when the woman with the issue of blood touched Jesus’ garment (Luke 8:43-48). Callister argues that the woman may have felt guilty that her deed had been done in secret, and so the Savior lovingly recognized her need for spiritual healing as well and spoke to her directly, telling her that her faith had made her whole and to “go in peace” (Luke 8:48). He offered her peace of mind in addition to physical healing.
the blessing of succor
Jesus not only understands the suffering of all things, but he actually suffered them himself. This makes him a perfectly empathetic, wounded God who can succor us in all things.
the blessing of motivation
The Atonement acts on those with open hearts to invite them to do good and come unto him before any sins are committed. Suffering has an intense “moral appeal”, like when Gandhi fasted or when Lamanites were converted after killing Anti-Nephi-Lehites without resistance.
Suffering in behalf of another seems to have it’s major impact for good when at least four elements are present. First, the sufferer is pure and worthy. In this sense there was only one completely without blemish, one worthy of suffering spiritually for all others. Second, the cause for which he suffers is just. There is no worthier cause than that for which the Savior suffered, namely, bringing to pass ’the immortality and eternal life of man’. Third, the recipient knows and loves the sufferer. And fourth, the recipient appreciates the cause for which the suffering occurs. When these four elements simultaneously exist, the chemistry for human behavioral change is explosive, (p. 217).
It is to accomplish the third and fourth components of that recipe that we spend so much time in the church talking and thinking about Jesus’ atonement.
the blessing of exaltation
The Atonement does not just pay for our committed sins, but perfects us and develops our “saintly nature” (p. 223) to eventually become like God. There’s a great quote from Bruce Hafen on page 223:
The Savior’s victory can compensate not only for our sins but also for our inadequacies; not only for our deliberate mistakes but also for our sins committed in ignorance, our errors of judgment, and our unavoidable imperfections.
One important point to make is that in Mormon theology we do not eternally suffer for our unrepented sins (see D&C 19:3, 10-12). But Callister makes it clear that the penance paid by the unrepentant does not cleanse them or perfect them (see D&C 88:35). Repentance is what makes us “malleable … in the hands of the Great Physician,” (p. 225). Those who pay what justice requires for their sins have not been prepared for godhood and so cannot enter the celestial kingdom.
The promise of Ether 12:26-27 is that Christ will not only strengthen us to combat our sins and misdeeds but also our weaknesses. Callister compares the parallel stories of Moses and Enoch to demonstrate how God gives us the chance to overcome our weaknesses if we trust in him, but he will not force us.
Callister then cites a multitude of scriptures to demonstrate that God’s goal is for us to eventually become like him. One that stood out to me in particular was Philippians 2:5-6 (emphasis added by Callister):
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.
Callister’s “logical” argument to support the doctrine of deification is that “like begets like”, and that deification of the offspring really does no harm to the glory of the parent. It’s really an appeal to metaphor, rather than a logical argument.
Here’s a nice quote from C S Lewis: “The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.”
Here’s another true statement, this time from Callister: “One man may respond to the seemingly disastrous events of life with vengeance and venom; another may respond with hummble submissiveness to God’s will, an appreciation for life as it is, and a firm resolve to be better.”
Finally, in a sort of reverse theodicy, Callister argues that an omnipotent, perfectly-loving, fathering God could not destine us for anything less than Godhood.
the blessing of freedom
To be free is to be like God. (p. 251)
A god is completely agentic. They act and are not acted upon. The Atonement places us in a similar state by making us free to live according to our will and pleasure by postponing the eternal consequences of our actions, while giving us the knowledge necessary to inform and empower our actions.
Callister points out that commandments do not restrict our freedom, but rather inform us and give us power to achieve the consequences we desire:
Commandments are no more restrictive to the spiritual man than street signs are to the motorist. Neither prohibits our progress; to the contrary, they enhance it by serving as guideposts or directional signs to help us find and reach our destination.
Callister then argues that obedience to God increases our freedom. I disagree. Obedience to God certainly frees us from the devil, but any time we make a choice (whether toward Satan or God) we lose a bit of freedom because of the consequences of that action. Callister is including in the definition of freedom the increase of power that God promises us when we choose him. (You can see this when Callister says, “Obedience is one of the prime keys that unlock the power of godhood, bringing freedom in its fullest and grandest measure” (p. 260, emphasis added).)
It does seem to me that God’s choice to reveal commandments can increase our freedom by increasing our knowledge of the results of our actions. If commandments are totally reflective of the actions and consequences that made us more powerful and godlike, then they would be only useful and not restrictive. But when commandments are given without increasing our knowledge, blind obedience to them cannot produce godlike virtue or an increase of power, because we are blind to the possible consequences of obedience and disobedience.
Unfortunately, we are only promised that we will understand once we’ve already obeyed. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). As we obey we will be taught “precept upon precept; line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10), which doesn’t really give us the chance to knowingly decide at the outset.
the blessing of grace
Callister argues that grace is necessary not only to forgive us of our sins but also to perfect us and exalt us.
The Bible Dictionary entry for grace says that grace allows us “to do good works that [men] otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means.” That’s confusing to me because some of the greatest workers of good have not been Christian (e.g. Gandhi), and I wouldn’t say Christians on average are any better than non-Christians in terms of doing good works.
A baby has the potential to grow to become like their adult parents, but will die or not develop correctly if not cared for by their parents. Similarly, we require external help from God in order to become like Him. That gift is the gift of grace, according to Callister.
Here’s a good quote:
Innocence is the entrance to the straight and narrow path; perfection is the destination. (p. 266)
According to Callister, the Atonement cleanses us of sin and makes us innocent, and also perfects us eventually by allowing us to do good works we otherwise could not do. Callister seems to imply that perfection is equivalent to exaltation. All of the perfected qualities we seek, whether qualities of character or skill, are acquired by grace through gifts of the Spirit. Here Callister expands the definition of gifts of the Spirit to include characteristics and skills that make us partakers of the divine nature, closer to the perfection that God possesses. To get these gifts of the Spirit we need to be obedient to the commandments and then ask for them sincerely and fervently. Hugh Nibley thought that we observe the gift of healing in our church because we ask for it, but the other scriptural spiritual gifts don’t appear as often now because we’ve stopped asking for them (see p. 275).
How do the ordinances relate to the Atonement?
The ordinances of the Gospel have virtue in them by reason of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and without it there would be no virtue in them for salvation. (George Richards; p. 279)
Animal sacrifices, the ordinances of the pre-Christ law, were symbolic of the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They were only purposeful and acceptable before the Lord when they focused the mind and heart on the Savior (see Isaiah 1:11). There are lots of scriptures that point out that most of the Israelites were unaware of this symbolism, and Callister thinks that’s because “spiritual events can be discerned only by spiritual senses,” (p. 281). “These ancient offerings were frequent, and their symbolism profound. They were stirring and passionate reminders that the cost of salvation could be paid only in the sacrifice of a God,” (p. 283).
I don’t think these ancient animal sacrifices would have pointed people to Christ as obviously as Callister thinks. Animal sacrifices were a part of other local religions that the Israelites were aware of, and those of the Israelite religion likely stemmed from the same theology as the surrounding practices. Certainly in these neighboring theologies, animal sacrifices were meant to appease gods, not to teach about a future appeasement for all mankind.
Each of the ordinances we have in the church are symbolic of the Atonement. Baptism is symbolic of the Savior’s sacrifice in that we are buried and resurrected like he was, now as cleansed people dedicated to following Him. The sacrament is a memorial of Christ’s suffering and death, to remind us of the source of the grace we receive. The sacrament also provides a place for us to ponder and perform introspection. Finally, the ordinances of the temple are full of symbols and references to the Atonement.
How do justice and mercy relate to the Atonement?
Callister begins by stating that there are eternal laws that not even God created or breaks. Among those, there are laws that cannot be broken (like gravity) and those that can be broken with agency. These “spiritual laws” are laws that increase our power when kept and decrease our power when broken. This is why some scriptures talk about how if God were not just he would cease to be God, because he would lose power.
Here’s something interesting:
The Savior observed every spiritual law with undeviating exactness. Apparently because of his compliance with each one, he received power upon power until he acquired the attributes of God, even in premortal times. (p. 301)
If he attained the attributes of God without a mortal experience, that must mean that we needed to come to Earth because we were imperfect in the pre-mortal existence. Otherwise, a mortal life would not have been necessary, since it wasn’t necessary for Jesus to become like God.
Elder Callister says that asking why eternal laws exist is like asking why matter exists or why the sky is endless: there’s no answer to that question. Nothing was there to create or cause these laws. Callister differentiates between these eternal laws and God’s laws (“God’s justice”). God defines laws to supplement the eternal system and help us progress.
Joseph Smith is quoted as saying that we were all present and participants in the grand council that determined these laws in the pre-mortal existence. For Joseph and other early church members, the concept of common consent was an extremely important doctrine. According to Mormon theology, we all consented to be subject to God’s supplementary laws so that we could eventually gain exaltation like God. Those who did not consent were cast out, because the eternal laws of justice could not allow them to progress.
Callister gives a solid discussion of the classic grace vs. works topic. My favorite part was where he quoted C S Lewis: “while discussing the superiority of faith or works, C. S. Lewis responded in his characteristically pragmatic fashion, ‘It does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary,’” (p. 312).
Justice does not allow mercy to apply to the unrepentant, according to Callister. The unrepentant are “exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice,” (Alma 34:16). The Doctrine and Covenants teach that the “eternal punishment” of the unrepentant will actually be of a finite duration (D&C 19:4-12), and Brigham Young backs that up:
Those who do not repent will suffer everything, Brigham Young said, that “justice can require of them; and when they have suffered the wrath of God till the utmost farthing is paid, they will be brought out of prison.” (p. 314)
The repentant still have a price to pay (that of repentance), but the cost is possible to pay.
Christ is our advocate before the Father. Callister points out that this could be seen to “change the nature of an already perfect God” (p. 318), but reconciles this by arguing that there must be some eternal law that requires advocacy in order to receive divine pardon and still satisfy the demands of justice. “It may be that the ardor of the Savior’s request for mercy—coupled with his infinite sacrifice—permits the God of heaven, under the laws of justice, to respond in like fashion. … Faith precedes miracles, asking precipitates revelation, and pleading prompts pardons,” (p. 319).
Was the Atonement necessary or was there another way?
Man, having sinned, cannot pull himself up into salvation. “Since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself” (Alma 22:14). And as has been discussed before, God cannot save us simply because He wants to. Callister then explores possible reasons for why this is the case:
Eternal law: There is some eternal law (as discussed above) that requires an infinite sacrifice in order to save someone who has sinned.
God’s nature: Something about God’s nature requires this to be the method of salvation. If there had been any other method, the Father would have chosen one that required less suffering on the part of Jesus.
Common sense of fairness: The spirits who became part of God’s kingdom felt the need for an atoning act. By common consent, they agreed to a plan that would require this great sacrifice. “This concept suggests that the shared sense of fairness or equity held by the members of God’s kingdom may help give support to the laws of justice in the universe,” (p. 325). Later in the chapter Callister paints another image to back up this reasoning:
The magnitude of suffering was so intense, so deep, so overwhelming and unrelenting that perhaps all of the spirits of the universe, even the most hardened, may have cried out in universal accord, “It is enough.” The collective spirits of God’s handiwork may have been so touched, so moved by the awesome intensity of Christ’s suffering that they would yield to his request to save the repentant, not because any mortal earned the right, but solely because Christ had earned the right for them. (p. 328)
Motivation: “God may have chosen the Atonement because it was the most persuasive power in the universe to bring us back home,” (p. 325).
Instinctual fairness: “[The Atonement] may have been the only event that could sufficiently appeal on a universal basis to the instinctual sense of fairness in God’s children, who might otherwise complain under the laws of justice that some had come to exaltation without ’earning’ their thrones,” (p. 325).
Regardless of the reason, the Atonement had to be a sacrifice (rather than some other form of payment), and there was no other person or way by which our debts could be paid.
appreciation for the Atonement
This penultimate paragraph was awesome:
I have been trained by career to be a skeptic; it is inherent in the legal experience. But when it comes to the Savior, I am like a little child. I believe every written and spoken word of which he is the author. I accept every miracle “as is.” I believe in every aspect of his divinity and rejoice in every drop of his mercy. I thank him again adn again for his atoning sacrifice, but it is never enough—nor will it ever be. His redeeming act shall be remembered and savored “forever and ever” (D&C 133:52). (p. 334-335)
As I read this, I truly wanted it for myself. Believing in the Atonement and being grateful for it brings such peace, because you know you can be free from your imperfections and it is all thanks to him.
But I can’t have those things. I can’t turn my skeptical eye from “every written and spoken word of which he is the author” (p. 335). If I really want to believe in and follow Jesus Christ, I have to try my best to find out what he really is and what he really said, because there are a lot of people who claim to know those things (and they contradict each other). God wants us to be as children not in our willingness to blindly believe everything said about him but in being “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us]” (Mosiah 3:19).