Zelophehad’s Daughters

Reflections on Good Friday

Posted by Lynnette

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the stories surrounding Easter. I remember as a child listening to adults talking in solemn and hushed tones about the death of Jesus, and wondering how I was supposed to react. Should I be feeling guilty, since as a sinner I shared part of the blame for his suffering? Should I be feeling horrified? (Some of those who went into excruciating and grisly detail seemed to be hoping to provoke a bit of that reaction.) All too often, hearing the story of Good Friday left me with an image of a Jesus who quite possibly resented me for having messed up so badly that he had to pay for it, and who was now scrutinizing my every action to see if I was good enough to be worthy of his help.

I still struggle to make theological sense of the atonement. The model in which Christ dies to satisfy some kind of divine demand for justice raises, I think, a number of troubling questions. God requires us to forgive one another without first demanding satisfaction. Why, then, would he be unable to do such a thing himself? I cannot quite get my head around the notion I’ve heard so often that God wants to forgive us, but first requires that someone else suffer horribly on our behalf. What would we think of a human parent who could not forgive the trespasses of a child unless one of the other children first died a painful death? And even if some abstract notion of justice needs to be appeased, how can such appeasement come through an act which seems profoundly unjust, in that an innocent person is punished in place of the perpetrator? (I know Amulek poses this very question in Alma 34, but I am not sure I understand his answer.) I am not unsympathetic to those who, upon hearing such claims, are rather appalled by the behavior of the Christian God and raise serious questions about a faith founded on such premises.

But as much as I resist aspects of substitutionary atonement theories, I am also uneasy with theological approaches in which the suffering and death of Christ, though seen as valuable and important, is not directly redemptive, does not somehow save us from sin. I am still muddling through this, but one suggestion I like is that we should begin the story not with God’s alienation from us, but rather with our alienation from God. God has not wandered away, after all; we have. We are the ones who are lost. In this line of thought, the atonement, rather than being directed toward God and attempting to placate his wrath or justice, is instead directed toward us–it is God’s way of calling after us, of seeking to repair the relationship broken on our end. To put it another way, the suffering of Christ is not the reason that God is now willing to forgive. Rather, the causal relationship goes in the other direction: God’s willingness to forgive is the reason that Christ enters into our existence and suffers with us.

Why in this latter model would the suffering of Christ be necessary or salvific? Not because some set amount of suffering by someone is required by God (or by the general laws of the universe) to get us off the hook, but rather because only one who is willing to enter the darkness with us, to come where we are, has the power to bring us back. Christ does not keep a safe distance and shout enthusiastic encouragement. Instead he follows us into the abyss of sin and despair and grief, and in the process he is as deeply wounded as we are–and worse–by all the jagged edges of life. From this perspective, I find it easier to understand how grace not only makes up for the sins we’ve committed, but also the pain we’ve suffered for which we are not culpable–how it can transform our very nature and orientation. The atonement does not just balance some cosmic scale that’s fallen askew; it enables us to return to God from wherever we are, regardless of how we got there.

Good Friday is disturbing, dissonant. I must confess I find its violence jarring. Yet there is also something raw and real and powerful in its story. It reminds me that Christianity is not simply about warm fuzzies and happy thoughts and looking on the bright side, that it does not flinch from the darker aspects of existence. As Flannery O’Connor once observed, people “think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” The events of Good Friday profoundly challenge any notion that evil is illusory, or that the suffering of life can be overcome by the power of positive thinking. “With his stripes we are healed,” says Isaiah. We are saved through blood, through unimaginable and incomprehensible pain. It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as “costly grace”, as opposed to grace that is cheap, easy, comfortable.

I cannot answer all the theological questions I have about the atonement. And it is still challenging at times to trust that Christ is not holding it over my head, in a kind of “look how much I had to suffer for you, and you can’t even do x right?” But I have slowly come to know a God who is not shocked or horrified by even the darkest and most shameful aspects of my life–precisely because no depths of human existence are foreign to him. I find myself confronted with a salvation which is in some ways deeply unsettling, a redemption which comes packaged in some rather horrific stories, a grace which requires me to starkly confront my own brokenness and breaks down my complacent assumptions about how the world works. It is in many ways no less than terrifying. Yet in the end, how can I resist such a love, one which risks and endures all in an attempt to pierce my rebellious and hardened heart?

22 Responses to “Reflections on Good Friday”

  1. 1.

    […] Lynnette writes about the complex power of Good Friday over on Zelophehad’s Daughters. […]

  2. 2.

    Fascinating post, Lynnette. I remember feeling the same when hearing about Jesus’ suffering, not knowing whether being reminded of it was supposed to make me feel more guilty or what.

    But this is my favorite bit. I really like this image of Christ:

    Christ does not keep a safe distance and shout enthusiastic encouragement. Instead he follows us into the abyss of sin and despair and grief, and in the process he is as deeply wounded as we are–and worse–by all the jagged edges of life.

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. 3.

    When I was an atheist and headed toward conversion, I balked at just this thought. How can I agree to let someone pure and innocent and good be tortured and die on my behalf? I had at that time a kitten whom I had rescued, who had been hit by a car on a busy highway. She was flopping in and out of traffic in her agony, with only seconds left before she would be hit again and killed. I stopped the car and rescued her and nursed her back to health. She turned out to be the most amazing and wonderful animal I’ve ever had, that kitten, (whom I named Drive By) with a bright and loving personality. I remember thinking how unfair it was that she had to suffer, and thinking how could I ever agree to foist off my sins (and all the uglinesses inside me) on the innocent Christ, as though I should willingly send Drive By to be tortured in my place.

    I was stuck there, and refused to give in. That was plain wrong, and I wasn’t having any.

    Then C.S.Lewis explained to me that you don’t have to think of things always the way others do. That all our ideas are imperfect descriptions of what is really going on. You can think of it, instead, as us owing a debt that we have no money to pay, and Christ who has the money pays it for us. I use the video game analogy, sometimes, that Christ solved this level, and we all watched him do it, so now we know that it’s possible and we know how. You can think of it in any number of ways. I mostly consider it to be a profound mystery still, the central mystery of our religion. Christ did this supremely loving act, and that reconfigured the universe somehow, and turned a key, and opened up a path between God and us. I realize that a good intellectual grasp of how exactly that came about is still beyond me, and so I leave it that way, as a mystery.

  4. 4.

    Beautiful post, Lynnette. I’ve asked the same questions trying to understand the atonement, but I haven’t found a complete answer yet. I went to Good Friday services at an interdenominational chapel yesterday and found myself caught up (literally) in a live reenactment of the Stations of the Cross. While I had vague memories from art history of what the stations represented, I had never seen, much less participated in, a live reenactment.

    I didn’t know quite what to think as I followed the crowd of people walking slowly behind the actor portraying Jesus, as he fell down while carrying the cross, as he was tied to the cross, and as he was wrapped in a white sheet and laid on the steps in front of the Church. It seemed almost blasphemous for a 20 year old student at an expensive college to be dressed up as Jesus, complete with a crown of “thorns”, carrying a wooden cross weighing no more than 10 or 15 pounds around a concrete plaza in Boston, while car horns honked and passersby stared the spectacle. My experience yesterday with the Stations of the Cross represents my experience and understanding of religious practice, because my experiences never match up to the majesty and beauty of the Word. Perhaps that’s the sum and substance of the human condition (well, mine anyway).

  5. 5.

    I sometimes walk past a store that caters to Roman Catholics, and I often stop and look at the elaborate crucifixes on display in the window. The depiction of Christ’s body, contorted in agony, is always jarring, but I think it is nonetheless good for me to remember.

    Although there is much about the atonement I don’t understand, it is precisely in the contemplation of the atonement that I find the Book of Mormon to be most useful. Its explanations about the tension between the law of mercy and the law of justice make sense to me.

    I’ve never experienced Christ’s suffering as a rebuke, but rather as an example, much like Tatiana has described. He showed us how to solve the problem, now we can also, in small ways, extend forgiveness.

    Christ suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind….that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people, according to their infirmities…

    Somewhere in Alma, I think.

  6. 6.

    Mark IV, that scripture is interesting – I hadn’t looked at it that way before, but it seems to say just what Lynette said, that the reason Christ suffered was so that he will know how to succor his people – it isn’t so much related to payment for sin. Looking at this way makes me feel his love much more personally – he suffered so he could better take care of me. Wonderful post.

  7. 7.

    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole, four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months, I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away, but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16, 17].

    Peace Be With You
    Micky

  8. 8.

    Lynnette, thanks for your Good Friday thoughts. I particularly like your last two paragraphs about the price of costly grace, love, and salvation.

  9. 9.

    Lynnette,

    Great post as always. Amen to the rejection of satisfaction and substitution theories. It seems to me that even if we don’t know the full explanation of the atonement, there is plenty of room for us collectively to improve our understanding of the atonement if only by removing all the wrong ideas we have been brought up with.

    There will always be some mystery to the atonement, and for that reason, I appreciate the chance to sing “We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear / but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there.” I feel that way a lot of the time.

  10. 10.

    Lynnette,

    I love you post. I was particularly interested in your reasoning in paragraphs 2-4, which sounded remarkably like early Universalist teachings in 18-19th century New England. I found this quote from a recent historical summary. Speaking of the work of Hosea Ballou (1771-1852), Albanese wrote:

    [The atonement] was a moral and not a legal work. It reconciled humans to God, not God to humans. The reconciling, the at-one-ing work of Christ, is the bringing of man into harmony with God, a moral and spiritual result produced in the sinner, who needs changing, not a scheme or effort for changing the unchangeable God, nor for turning aside any penalty of his perfect law.

    I find it fascinating that this early universalism (which had demonstrable influence on Joseph Smith) resonates so strongly with a group of modern Mormons (myself included).

  11. 11.

    Lynette, your post reminded me of a post over at New Cool Thang(it’s old, but I found it a while ago). It’s a more academic stab at an atonement theory, and I haven’t read it all, I got lost after the first 5 or 6 paragraphs.
    But, I appreciate your post, it is always nice to remember that God is with us during our struggles. Lately, I’ve been taking exception to this, especially since my struggle has been faith. How can Christ understand what it’s like to not believe? It seems like other things he could understand, but not that one. (I’m sure others would substitute their particular struggle just like I’m doing)
    Thanks for your post, it helps me to think that God will come with me into the darkest part of my struggles and bring me back to Him.
    Absolutely miraculous.

  12. 12.

    I am one who has lost most of the faith I had only a couple of years ago. One of the reasons for this loss is that I just cannot seem to make any sense of the atonement. Your comments here are thought provoking and helpful. Thank you.

    I want to regain my faith, and I want to resolve this issue. Each week I sit in Sacrament meeting thinking about this issue, but I remain frustrated. What exactly did Christ do for me? Why was it necessary? What kind of God is it who cannot forgive me without sending his Son to suffer physical and spiritual torture on my behalf? Some are content with it being a great mystery, because they still feel the power of the atonement. I, on other hand, seem to default to the other, more terrifying conclusion. Maybe this is no God at all. Maybe it does not make sense because it is not true.

    Your approach seem to hold more promise than other competing theories of which I am aware. I am atracted to the idea of a God who comes to me where I am, who suffers with me and brings me back. But while I find the image somewhat comforting, I am still unsatisfied. I do not love other people the way I should. I am often selfish and inconsiderate. Sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I am not completely honest. Sometimes I try to justify my sins. I pray that God will help me become better. I pray that he will forgive me. But please explain to me how Christ’s suffering resolves this issue. How is that he reconciles me to God? What does it even mean to say that Christ comes to me where I am and brings me back? I understand what it might mean to rescue somebody who was lost or imprisoned or who was sick and weak. These are interesting metaphors. But I just don’t see how they apply to me as a simple sinner, and I don’t understand why Christ’s suffering makes him more able to find me and bring me back. I forgive and help people all the time whose pain I have never felt and whose circumstances are not my own. I would guess that the creator of the universe is infinitely more capable than I am of doing this without first being tortured.

    The image of Christ coming to me is nice, but is it real? As far as I can tell, he does not really come to me in any way that I can detect. So where does he really fit in all of this? These are the questions that haunt me every week.

  13. 13.

    Thanks for the kind and thought-provoking comments, everyone. Mark, I really like that BoM scripture you mentioned. When I first learned about various models of the atonement, I assumed that the LDS view was the satisfaction one because that was the one I grew up hearing. But then it occurred to me that that verse has, as you say, nothing to do with payment. Our LDS scriptures, like the Bible, make use of multiple models and metaphors–which makes sense to me, considering that none of them are really adequate to capture this. I like how Tatiana put it, that “Christ did this supremely loving act, and that reconfigured the universe somehow, and turned a key, and opened up a path between God and us.” And that’s the central mystery of our faith. (I’m thinking here of how Karl Rahner and many other Catholics use the term “mystery”: not a puzzle to be solved, but rather something to be entered into.) Jacob J, I’d never thought of the lines of that hymn in connection with this; thanks for mentioning that.

    Micky and ECS, thanks for sharing your experiences. I appreciate Easter as a time when all Christians, despite various theological differences, can celebrate our shared faith in the saving power of Christ.

  14. 14.

    aws, that’s fascinating. I don’t know much about 18th-19th century American universalism–my ideas on this are actually influenced by 20th century theological work. So I’m intrigued to see those resonances, especially since, as you point out, that’s the context from which Joseph Smith is coming.

    Jessawhy, that’s a great question about whether Christ can truly understand the situation of unbelief. I maybe see it as a bit similar to whether he can truly understand what it’s like to have sinned, given his own sinlessness. I don’t know if this is at all helpful, but I’m thinking of one of my favorite quotes from Chieko Okazaki:

    We know that on some level Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything, absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means Jesus knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer, how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student-body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked, and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism. (from Lighten Up, p. 174)

    I love that, because it suggests to me that he genuinely understands my personal experience of the world, which includes unbelief and sin and the pain of both of those.

  15. 15.

    Another atonement analogy, which I will describe in a story. Imagine A and B are dear friends who love each other very much. A becomes mired in self-loathing and desperately suicidal. B as confidante and friend hears about every step of the journey, and suffers A’s pain acutely, remembers many times of feeling the same way, and is aware of A’s great worth and goodness. Finally one night A is in such desperate agony that he determines to end it. B experiences A’s agony too, and knows she can’t stop him. Finally, in desperation, B couples her life to his, states unequivocally that it’s A’s choice, but whatever he chooses will also happen to her. (As you can see, she’s as messed up as he is.) He understands and believes her, and brings himself back from the brink of suicide for her sake. He is awed, his heart is changed, and he accepts the gift. He chooses to live. He seeks treatment for depression and 3 years later is happily married with two kids.

    Okay, it’s an imperfect analogy, but Christ finds us wandering, in agony, lost and alone. He loves us intensely and willingly couples his life to ours, dies our death for us, pierces our hard hearts, and brings us back to eternal life at his side.

  16. 16.

    Lost, I appreciate the honesty of your comment. It makes me wish I had better answers for those difficult questions. I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve deeply struggled with Christianity over similar issues, and it’s pushed me to think harder about my own beliefs, but I can’t say I’ve really come up with satisfactory resolutions to all the problems.

    So here I’m just tentatively playing with some ideas–take them for what they’re worth. Like you, I have hard time understanding how if I’m sincerely praying for forgiveness, Christ’s suffering is then needed to reconcile me to God (wouldn’t God already be willing and able to forgive and help?) But I’ve noticed that often in my own life, the problem is that I’m not even praying for forgiveness, because I’m feeling too guilty or too angry or too bitter or whatever, and I’m therefore avoiding God. And then I’ll be hit by some experience of grace, some sense that God still cares, and that experience will cause me to turn back, will soften my heart. That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about when I talk about Christ following me into the darkness. It’s that when I’m making a mess of my life (which I always am to some extent), I’m continually surprised to find that he is still there and willing to be in relation with me.

    The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich suggests that forgiveness produces repentance, rather than the other way around, and I’m quite intrigued by that idea. I’ve often found that it’s because I feel loved and forgiven (despite not deserving it) that I want to change and do better in the future. I’ve sometimes wondered whether the sense of justice satisfied by the atonement is in fact our own. When I sin, I often struggle with the temptation to somehow punish myself to make things right again. It’s really hard to let go of that. But in a way, I feel like the atonement is a call to me to let go of my sense that everyone (including myself) should get exactly what they deserve.

    And what does suffering have to do with this? I don’t think that suffering is something “extra” that God arbitrarily inflicts as punishment for sin; rather, I think suffering is intrinsically tied to the experience of sin. As part of the baptismal covenant, we are called to mourn with those that mourn; part of what it means to truly love people seems to be to a willingness to hurt with them. I know that in some of the worse periods of my life, the most helpful thing people have done has been simply to stay with me, to listen to my anguish, to be with me in the experience. I see something powerful and healing in having someone there who really understands what you’re going through, to the extent of experiencing it with you.

    Okay, I’m just throwing out some random thoughts here, and perhaps getting a bit sidetracked from your questions. And I realize I’m not really addressing your particular situation as you’ve described it, in which (if I’m understanding) you’re trying to do better, praying for forgiveness and help to do that, and unclear as to how exactly the atonement fits into that. My kind of off-the-cuff (and probably too glib) response is that it’s in fact the power of the atonement that enables us to do better, which is why it’s intrinsic to the process. Could God change our hearts and transform our vision without first having experienced our lives, including our suffering? I tend to think no, but clearly I need to think more about why I see that as a necessary element of this, you’ve raised some very good questions. I’m sorry I don’t have a more coherent response, but I appreciate your asking them and making me think about this more.

  17. 17.

    Lost,

    I totally sympathize with the questions you are asking. I have wrestled with the same questions for a long time, and although I have felt the power of the atonement and continue to believe, that has not made me content with the atonement being utterly mysterious. (My previous comment above may seem to the contrary, but what I am trying to say there is that there will probably always be some level at which we fail to understand the atonement because it is outside our experience and not fully revealed. I am absolutely not content with the atonement being described in ways that make God out to be unjust and powerless to forgive. Your comments on that are right on the money.)

    Anyway, I recently published a paper on this topic which tries to address the very questions you are asking. It is not available online, but I’d be happy to send you a copy if you are interested. I don’t think it will answer every question you have, but it may give you some ideas that would be helpful, or new avenues of thought. Specifically, I argue that God absolutely can forgive us without torturing his Son. I offer an explanation of what it means for Christ to rescue us, and I do so without resorting to a metaphor. I offer an explanation of the justice/mercy scriptures which does not rely on a satisfaction theory of atonement, and argue that those theories are not really endorsed by the scriptures people generally use to support them. If you’re interested, send me an email at steph.jacob at gmail dot com. Incidentally, I really like what Lynnette has said here; it’s very much along the lines of what I believe. Best of luck finding your faith.

  18. 18.

    My thanks for the responses to my comments. I hope I don’t sound too cynical, for that is not my intent, but I would like to follow up with a few, probably disjointed, comments.

    Sis. Okazaki’s comments quoted above serve to illustrate nicely one of my concerns with this theory of atonement. She says that Christ experienced the slave ships from Ghana and the gas chambers in Dachau. I don’t want to confuse this issue with the problem of evil, but when I read this I wanted to scream out “then why didn’t he do anything about it?”. In what sense was the fact that Jesus had experienced their pain beneficial to the slaves on the ships or the Jews in the concentration camps? He did not prevent the tragedies, he did not make their burdens lighter, and he did not comfort them in their distress. So how is anybody’s life improved by the fact that he also suffered along with them?

    I do agree with you Lynette, when you say that there is something powerful about having someone experience your pain with you. My life has been pretty smooth, but I have had church callings and family situations that have required me to counsel people seeking forgiveness or experiencing great emotional distress. I have seen a number of people suffer great pain hoping in vain for relief through him. As a result, I am having trouble believing that he can be relied upon to lift our burdens, he seems rather selective about which burdens he lifts and which he does not.

    This notion seems suspect to me for another reason. It seems like a modern, and perhaps uniquely Mormon, innovation. I am certainly no scholar, but I can’t think of any basis for this theory of atonement in the New Testament. I am not really sure what the New Testament teaches in this regard, but to the extent it teaches anything, it sure seems focused on reconciling sinful, rebellious mankind to God. I am not sure precisely how that reconciliation occurs, but I can’t see any evidence that any of the early Apostles ever taught anything like what Sis. Okazaki and others have taught.

    Jacob J: Thank you for that offer. I think I will take you up on that.

  19. 19.

    Sorry for the lateness, but I just wanted to say that I really liked the model of the Atonement you proposed in this post. :)

  20. 20.

    Hi Lost,

    I know the energy around here lately has been mostly channeled into Seraphine’s modesty thread, but I did want to get back to your thought-provoking comment.

    I hope I don’t sound too cynical, for that is not my intent, but I would like to follow up with a few, probably disjointed, comments.

    Sis. Okazaki’s comments quoted above serve to illustrate nicely one of my concerns with this theory of atonement. She says that Christ experienced the slave ships from Ghana and the gas chambers in Dachau. I don’t want to confuse this issue with the problem of evil, but when I read this I wanted to scream out “then why didn’t he do anything about it?”. In what sense was the fact that Jesus had experienced their pain beneficial to the slaves on the ships or the Jews in the concentration camps? He did not prevent the tragedies, he did not make their burdens lighter, and he did not comfort them in their distress. So how is anybody’s life improved by the fact that he also suffered along with them?

    Well, I certainly have my moments of being right there with you in the cynical camp. And I honestly don’t know how to answer the “why does God watch us suffer and not intervene question.” People can come up with all kinds of theoretical explanations as to why suffering and evil exist in the world, but I find that they’re usually unsatisfactory in the face of a human being in anguish. I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to the argument that any explanation for evil/suffering is problematic because it in some way justifies it. Though I realize that the “it’s a mystery” explanation can also be an intellectual cop-out. I’m still wrestling with that.

    I do find it reassuring to think that God suffers with me, that he’s not just running us like rats through a maze and saying, oh well, isn’t that too bad that sometimes they get hurt but that’s just part of the test. That he doesn’t condemn us to anything he’s not also willing to endure himself. But I can see what you’re saying about how an alleviation of suffering would seem like an even better solution.

    I have seen a number of people suffer great pain hoping in vain for relief through him. As a result, I am having trouble believing that he can be relied upon to lift our burdens, he seems rather selective about which burdens he lifts and which he does not.

    I don’t know how to make sense of that, either. I’ve definitely had my share of times when I’ve begged, pleaded, for divine help, and felt like it all fell on deaf ears. At the very least, I think the exhortation to bring your burdens to Christ and let him help carry them, even though it’s one I believe in, is frequently in need of more nuance than we give it. I know that for a long time I kind of bought into the idea that spiritual practice (prayer, scripture study, fasting, church attendance), if done diligently enough, could heal all emotional and spiritual pain. But there have been a number of problems in my life (even ones that you might think would fall into the “spiritual” realm) for which I’ve needed more than that, I’ve also needed other kinds of help. That’s a topic I’ve been meaning to post on for a while, actually; maybe this conversation will inspire me to get around to it.

    And I have to admit that I continue to struggle with frustration over unanswered prayers, both my own and those of others. It’s the fact that I have at times experienced what I truly believe was divine help that keeps me believing. But in some ways, that only makes it all the more confusing when God seems to be ignoring me.

    This notion seems suspect to me for another reason. It seems like a modern, and perhaps uniquely Mormon, innovation. I am certainly no scholar, but I can’t think of any basis for this theory of atonement in the New Testament. I am not really sure what the New Testament teaches in this regard, but to the extent it teaches anything, it sure seems focused on reconciling sinful, rebellious mankind to God. I am not sure precisely how that reconciliation occurs, but I can’t see any evidence that any of the early Apostles ever taught anything like what Sis. Okazaki and others have taught.

    I’m probably not the person to tackle this one, as I’m no New Testament scholar, either. I will say that it’s by no means uniquely Mormon, but I think you may have a point about its appeal to modern sensibilities. Of course, at least to some extent, I think all atonement theories are inevitably going to be reflections of their culture. When Latter-day Saints talk about a satisfaction/substitution model, I’m guessing that ultimately our ideas are coming as much from Anselm (who popularized the theory during the Middle Ages) as from the New Testament itself (though of course Alma gets stirred into the mix as well). Many early Christians interpreted the atonement in terms of a Christ’s victory over sin (singular), death, and the devil, in other words, they framed it in terms of a kind of cosmic battle in which Christ emerged triumphant. But most contemporary people don’t seem to find that model terribly resonant; at least, it’s not one you hear much about.

    I tend to see atonement theories as after-the-fact articulations of an experience of liberation. We have an experience of being rescued or saved, of something changing, because of Christ and what he did, and we try to make sense of what happened. Which is a process that I think Paul and the early Christians were as much engaged in as we are now.

    By the way, in case you didn’t notice it, Ronan at BCC recently did a post titled “God is a Psychopath”, which deals with similar questions to those that have come up here.

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