This the second part of a series in which my friend ajbc gives her personal, long-winded, and rambling answers to each LDS temple question, since the actual interviews do not allow for elaborate discussion. The first post is here.
It’s taken me a while to get to this second post, in part because I didn’t like part of my answer to the last one. I wrote that I was most comfortable praying to a male or joint-gender god due to my upbringing, and I’m happy to report that I am now equally comfortable praying to Heavenly Mother as I am to Heavenly Father. I’ve even had one of my Teyve-style (out loud, casual) prayers to/with her in the celestial room, which, by the way, is my all-time favorite part of serving in the temple–getting the room completely to yourself.
The other reason I’ve been putting this off is because I wrote an answer to the second question a while ago, and was thoroughly unsatisfied with it. It wasn’t that I was inarticulate (nothing can help me there, save an editor), but that I didn’t like what I had to say. I’ve been so focused on God in general and also with particular issues with the LDS Church that I had neglected the more middle-ground of Christianity. Thus, I did some soul-searching, found some peace, and am now ready to answer #2.
Question 2: Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?
When I was a little girl, at some point my dad mentioned how to cast out demons in the name of Jesus Christ, and that really stuck with me. I used it to dispel the scary monsters of my imagination: skeletons reaching out from under the bed, creatures in the mirror, and the like. (One of the Poltergeist films played a role in some of this.) To this day I still think of Christ’s name as something I can use in a practical, physical way.
I also attempt to use the ordinance of the Sacrament in a practical way; I have never prayed directly about the Atonement, but I have prayed to use the Atonement. I try to identify the things I might have done hurt people accidentally–these are the things that you can’t really apologize for because too much time has passed, it’s too trivial, or they might not have been offended at all, in which case you certainly don’t want to point out how what you said could have been offensive. I mull these over, apologize to God, and think of how I could be better. I also meditate during the Sacrament, trying to focus on God’s love for us. When I’m being good, that is. Sometimes I just make faces at kids from the back row.
One thing that I know I can do, but don’t engage as often as I should, is using the Atonement to help with negative emotions not necessarily associated with sin. Guilt and anger can be caused by something you’ve done wrong, but they can also be associated with other things. One might feel guilty for not doing something good because they chose to do something better. One might feel angry because they were wronged. Fear, sorrow, stress, doubt, and jealousy are other emotions we might want to rid from ourselves. I view praying for relief from any of these as engaging Christ’s Atonement to lift our burdens. The few times I’ve prayed in this way, I felt gentle, subtle comfort.
The problem with using the Atonement like this is that we have to be very self-aware, and when we are sufficiently self-aware to use the Atonement, we’re also usually aware enough to use other mechanisms, like talking with friends or therapists, or simply doing something about our emotion, like working to relive stress.
I am by no means perfect, and I don’t really know how I would behave in the presence of God. I might fall to the floor, cover my head, and cry for mercy. I might try to argue the reasons for my decisions, claiming I did the best I could. I might arrogantly assume that I’ve passed whatever test and I should be rewarded without any more thought. I might stand tall, but bow my head, take responsibility for my misdeeds, and submit to God’s will.
All of these possible scenarios reveal different attitudes I have toward the Atonement. Sometimes I know I’ve messed up and I know that I would need some kind of saving grace to return to God. Sometimes I think my imperfect actions are justified. Sometimes I think that imperfection is just part of mortality and that as long is we make it to a certain point we should be fine. Sometimes I feel like I want to take the full responsibility for my actions.
For I while I wondered if the Atonement of Christ is strictly necessary in order to repent from sins. The definition of sin isn’t always clear to me either–I usually define actions as sinful or not retroactively based on the guilt, etc. I feel about taking them. For things I haven’t done yet, I imagine how I would feel. With this in mind, I’ve come to define sin as something that keeps me away from God such that I need the Atonement in order to be worthy to re-enter God’s presence. It’s kind of tautological, I know, but the point is that there are some actions that are sinful in this sense, making the Atonement necessary.
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a good man and with inspiring teachings. I believe it is possible that he acted as a Christ in performing some kind of atoning sacrifice for each individual who has ever and will ever live. I believe it is possible that I personally need to use an atonement of this kind in order to be with God, therefore saving and redeeming me. I believe that the concept of Christ is powerful; it is humbling to think that I must depend on another in order to become better or even perfected.
I am comfortable sharing my experiences and feelings with others, but again, I prefer to share with those who are anxious to hear. The only real knowledge I have is that utilizing the concept of Christ’s Atonement has made me a better person, and that I have felt peace in doing so.
So is that a yes to the original question? I think so. Do I still have a hard time being dependent on a third party for my salvation? Yes; I want to be able to do it myself, but I’m becoming more okay with it, since it restores much needed mercy while maintaining justice. I take comfort in the fact that Christ will teach us to be perfect, to eventually be able to stand on our own, but that we can’t get there instantaneously and we can’t get there alone. Even still, I can’t help but think: perhaps the goal isn’t to stand alone, but to stand among the Gods, all leaning on each other. If that’s the case, my independent self would just have to get over it.