Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Atonement

The very most important thing we can possibly learn during our sojourn on planet Earth is that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, came to Earth as a Man and died for the sins of all Mankind. This is the one truth that can set us free. Believe and be saved!

But how does killing a man like Jesus, the Lamb of God, change anything for anyone anywhere at any time in history? When has physical punishment ever righted any wrong at any point in history?

Does spanking a child undo the goose egg on his little brother's head? Does washing your mouth out with soap undo the bad words you said? Does chopping off a thief's hand unsteal what's been stolen? Does whipping a disobedient person undo previous insubordination? Does killing a murderer bring a victim back to life? How does physical punishment improve the situation rather than merely add more pain to what already been suffered?

Is it possible that the physical punishment and death required by the Atonement have nothing to do with undoing past offenses and more to do with "paying" for them as though God has some kind of price index for offensive behavior? What's the cost in beads of blood for a sip of prohibited coffee? What's the cost for treating your car like an idol? What's the cost for loving your faithful dog more than your dishonorable father? What's the cost of sleeping through 20 minutes of sacrament meeting? What's the cost of neglecting to tell your children you love them? What's the cost of not sharing the Gospel with your asshole neighbors? What's the cost of calling someone an asshole? And why does the law requiring the Atonement seem to be based on earthly laws of economics?

It seems like we should maybe have some answers for these questions. We often pose the rhetorical question "how much blood was shed for me?" but we've never been given the formula to calculate our contribution to Jesus' suffering.

What if our misbehavior actually contributed to something good? Does it still count against us? What if our calling someone an asshole caused that person to reconsider his assholeishness and eventually repent of his ways? What if our obvious boredom in church encourages the teacher to actually put some effort into preparing his next lesson? What if our neglect to show affection teaches someone to be more affectionate? What if our act of murder saves an entire nation from dwindling in unbelief? Do we get bonus points?

Should we even consider the cost in blood of shortcomings? Jesus suffered for our shortcomings, right? How much does being a bad speller cost? How much does knowing nothing about coding cost? How much does being a slow runner cost? How much does being a horrible lover cost? How much does not capturing even one Pokemon cost?

Why do we have to kill someone over any of this? I struggled a lot with this question. Why a blood sacrifice of a perfect god-human? How does this make sense to anyone?

How does an hour in the Garden of Gethsemane and a few hours on the cross by one person cover the sins of billions of people who lived over the course of thousands of years? How is an "infinite" atonement made in finite time? Why do we even need an "infinite" atonement to cover a finite number of sins performed by a finite number of people? How many sins per minute did Jesus suffer? Did he take on the big ones first and save all the little sins for last so he could manage his time more wisely, kind of like in the object lesson of the jar of rocks and sand?

The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous the Atonement became. (On the topic of the ridiculousness of the Atonement, I also recommend reading this essay by Robert Price.) I realized that I do not believe causing one person to suffer makes someone else better. I do not believe that anyone's blood can spiritually cleanse anything. I do not believe physical punishment has the power to repair or repay. I do not subscribe to such out-dated concepts of justice.

So what does Christianity have left to offer me? What is Mormonism without "the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice"? What was I without a belief in Jesus' atoning role?

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