Questions re the atonement from Alma 39


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I wrote these notes a few minutes ago while reading Alma 39. Any thoughts and responses are welcome.

Christ's atonement is retroactive in that it provides a way to pay for the sins of all those who sinned prior to the atonement being undertaken. My question is whether or not there was a debt owed to justice for all those sins that had been committed prior to the atonement. By who or what or how was the weight of these sins being carried prior to the atonement? If a person before the atonement truly repented of their sins, did the penalty or the weight of those sins go unpaid until the atonement was performed, because it was only the atonement that produced the currency required to pay for those sins? Sin has a price which must be paid, hence the need for the atonement, but what happened to that payment which justice demands before the atonement took place? Did the demands of justice go unmet for thousands of years? Is there some acceptable method of delayed payment? Was justice content to wait for thousands of years until the atonement happened?

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2 hours ago, askandanswer said:

Christ's atonement is retroactive in that it provides a way to pay for the sins of all those who sinned prior to the atonement being undertaken. My question is whether or not there was a debt owed to justice for all those sins that had been committed prior to the atonement. By who or what or how was the weight of these sins being carried prior to the atonement? If a person before the atonement truly repented of their sins, did the penalty or the weight of those sins go unpaid until the atonement was performed, because it was only the atonement that produced the currency required to pay for those sins? Sin has a price which must be paid, hence the need for the atonement, but what happened to that payment which justice demands before the atonement took place? Did the demands of justice go unmet for thousands of years? Is there some acceptable method of delayed payment? Was justice content to wait for thousands of years until the atonement happened?

I'm not sure how often we have to keep saying this.  But MANY on this forum have explained that the Atonement was not some sort of cosmic balance sheet of sin vs punishment.  The GAs have repeatedly said that the precise mechanism of the Atonement is incomprehensible to man.  But we have faith that Christ's actions provided a path forward.

Think of it in these terms:

  • Each man sins. 
  • As such, hell has a claim upon us. 
  • The Atonement was not about paying for our sins. 
  • It was about unlocking the door that allows us to choose to leave hell.
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1 hour ago, Carborendum said:

The GAs have repeatedly said that the precise mechanism of the Atonement is incomprehensible to man.

The mechanism of Jesus Christ's atonement is incomprehensible to us because we do not and cannot (in this life) understand its nature.

We have no real grasp of fundamental truth. It exists, but we can't (or at least don't) sense it directly, except in certain moments of spiritual insight that, for most of us, are all too rare. Our input from the universe comes via our senses. Using that input, our miraculous brains construct mental models of reality. But that's all we have. Our understanding of anything is based on our mental models, which means our understanding is always wrong to some extent. Reality is overwhelmingly huge and complex beyond our ability even to imagine; our mental models are small enough to fit between our ears, and provide only a rough guide to reality. If our mental models are flawed—and they are always flawed—then our perception of reality is skewed. If our mental models are incomplete—which obviously they always are—then we are unable to understand things. Some thinks are magic, as far as we can tell. They just are, for reasons we can't fathom because we can't even frame meaningful questions about them, much less understand any answers to those questions.

Christ's atonement serves to balance some sort of need that "divine justice" requires. I believe "divine justice" in this context is another way of saying "naked reality as it applies to human souls". Since we have something less than a kindergarten-level understanding of even the foundational basics of divine justice, how can we hope to comprehend the mechanism of Christ's atonement? I believe we have no such hope, except as the Spirit might inform us. That sort of revealed knowledge, which we call a testimony, does not come from understanding first principles and building on them. It comes from God telling us, at which point it becomes one of our foundational principles.

How does all this apply to the present discussion? I think A&A's questions, legitimate and even insightful though they may be, cannot be addressed because we have no foundational framework to build answers on. His questions may well not even make sense in the context we would need. I suspect such questions can be answered only through direct divine intervention.

Einstein is supposed to have said, "An explanation should be as simple as possible, but no simpler." The reason is clear; when an explanation is oversimplified, it no longer models the external reality. It becomes nothing but words, words that don't explain the thing they are supposed to be addressing. If you ask me about the nature of gravity and I tell you it comes from gravity fairies, that oversimplified model brings you no closer to understanding the actual underlying phenomenon. I believe this is the case with the atonement of Jesus Christ.

I realize this sounds suspiciously like the Catholic tradition of answering any hard question by saying, "It's a mystery." But I think this case is different from such a non-answer. I do believe that God can and does reveal to us all truth that we sincerely seek and can understand. As McConkie clarified, such things are not incomprehensible to the human mind, but rather to the carnal mind. Ultimately, our only hope to understand and possess truth in its purest form is to humble ourselves before God.

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In D&C 88:6-13 we learn that the Light of Christ is the power by which the Stars, the Sun, and the Earth were made.  That the light that both enlightens our eyes and quickens our understanding was available and functioning during the physical creation.

Jehovah not only made the Sun.  But the He produced the Light of Christ.  We may have assisted Jehovah in the construction of this Earth, but it is unlikely that we assisted in the creation of the Sun, Galaxy, or known Universe.  We don’t know how much of the physical Universe was created by Jehovah, but we do know that He created worlds without number.  The Light of Christ, and the redeeming power of the Atonement appear to be interrelated.  The Light of Christ is a power that required Jehovah to be in all and through all things, and through the Atonement Jesus was able to both ascend on high and descend below all things.  It is of significant note that the redeeming power of the Atonement functioned proactively.

This Light of Christ is a power that is poorly understood and rarely gets the recognition that it deserves.  It works hand in hand with the testimony of the Holy Ghost, but it is its own entity and comes from its own source.  The Light of Christ endows mankind with a conscience and allows us to judge good from evil. (Moroni 7:16-19)

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I’m usually not a sticker about single words but the difference between proactive and retroactive is significant in Alma 39.

The chapter heading does use the word retroactive (but the chapter headings are not scripture).  The text of the chapter is clearly describing a proactive power.

Alma 39: 15 And now, my son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ. Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people.

The saints that repented prior to the Atonement were able to receive forgiveness for their sins. They did not have to wait.

Edited by mikbone
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15 hours ago, Carborendum said:

I'm not sure how often we have to keep saying this.  But MANY on this forum have explained that the Atonement was not some sort of cosmic balance sheet of sin vs punishment.  The GAs have repeatedly said that the precise mechanism of the Atonement is incomprehensible to man.  But we have faith that Christ's actions provided a path forward.

Think of it in these terms:

  • Each man sins. 
  • As such, hell has a claim upon us. 
  • The Atonement was not about paying for our sins. 
  • It was about unlocking the door that allows us to choose to leave hell.

I suspect that an atonement was not necessary to unlock the doors of hell. God coud have far more easily simply decreed that those doors be unlocked, while of course leaving it up to us to choose whether or not to leave. 

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10 hours ago, DMGNUT said:

Short answer... God is Light, pure energy. He exists outside of time (as we know it).

The Atonement only happened at a specific time in history, from our perspective.

Not so for God.

I'm not sure what you mean by saying God is light, pure energy. I tend to think of Him as having a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man's. 

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39 minutes ago, askandanswer said:

I suspect that an atonement was not necessary to unlock the doors of hell. God coud have far more easily simply decreed that those doors be unlocked, while of course leaving it up to us to choose whether or not to leave. 

And you'd suspect incorrectly.

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18 hours ago, askandanswer said:

I wrote these notes a few minutes ago while reading Alma 39. Any thoughts and responses are welcome.

Christ's atonement is retroactive in that it provides a way to pay for the sins of all those who sinned prior to the atonement being undertaken. My question is whether or not there was a debt owed to justice for all those sins that had been committed prior to the atonement. By who or what or how was the weight of these sins being carried prior to the atonement? If a person before the atonement truly repented of their sins, did the penalty or the weight of those sins go unpaid until the atonement was performed, because it was only the atonement that produced the currency required to pay for those sins? Sin has a price which must be paid, hence the need for the atonement, but what happened to that payment which justice demands before the atonement took place? Did the demands of justice go unmet for thousands of years? Is there some acceptable method of delayed payment? Was justice content to wait for thousands of years until the atonement happened?

Yes, there was a debt.

Until Christ rose from the dead, no one else did. Until He ascended to the Father, no one else was exalted. The post-mortal spirts bore that weight (D&C 45:17), and pre-mortal spirits bore it with them if Moses 7:28 is any indication.

However, those who understood Alma 13 and those who understood the meaning of the Law of Moses knew that the Lord’s atonement would be as effective as though it had been performed in the flesh (Jacob 4:4, Mosiah 4).

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18 hours ago, askandanswer said:

I wrote these notes a few minutes ago while reading Alma 39. Any thoughts and responses are welcome.

Christ's atonement is retroactive in that it provides a way to pay for the sins of all those who sinned prior to the atonement being undertaken. My question is whether or not there was a debt owed to justice for all those sins that had been committed prior to the atonement. By who or what or how was the weight of these sins being carried prior to the atonement? If a person before the atonement truly repented of their sins, did the penalty or the weight of those sins go unpaid until the atonement was performed, because it was only the atonement that produced the currency required to pay for those sins? Sin has a price which must be paid, hence the need for the atonement, but what happened to that payment which justice demands before the atonement took place? Did the demands of justice go unmet for thousands of years? Is there some acceptable method of delayed payment? Was justice content to wait for thousands of years until the atonement happened?

By who or what or how was the weight of these sins being carried prior to the atonement?

By who: Christ. A statement in the Book of Mormon (paraphrased), that I love, is that the Lord spoke as though his "work" had already been accomplished. We also have the doctrine of "proxy." From the time of Adam to Jesus Christ sacrifices were made in proxy of the atonement. Justice was owed and justice received his due through animal sacrifice. This correlates with the doctrine of the great and last sacrifice.

The concept of "translation" gives credence that the atonement was working and satisfying the demands of justice the whole time. The city of Enoch is another example of how the atonement was satisfying the demands of justice and mercy, otherwise this city could not have been taken up to God.

Yet, the concept of a "Spirit World" where the saints were even held before Christ was resurrected gives evidence to justice holding its dues -- so to speak. The door was not yet opened, and yet even in the Spirit World we are informed of the different states (two states) that exist. Those who know they are damned and those who know they are "alive" in Christ.

If a person before the atonement truly repented of their sins, did the penalty or the weight of those sins go unpaid until the atonement was performed, because it was only the atonement that produced the currency required to pay for those sins? (rest of the question fall within this question)

It was paid, the atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite. In the eyes of God, it was already performed. All things are present before him: past, present, future -- might correlate to the Buddhist thought: there is no past, present, or future. There is only present past, present present, and present future. A different way to say all things are "present" to God.

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On 8/16/2022 at 7:36 AM, askandanswer said:

I'm not sure what you mean by saying God is light, pure energy. I tend to think of Him as having a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man's. 

I agree that God has a body. I'm guessing you might agree that God's knowledge far surpasses ours (meaning humans). A lot has been written and theorized, comparing God's state of being to the nature of light... As something approaches the speed of light, time (and even a specific location) cease to exist (at least as we understand it). My point is that when speaking of "when" the Atonement happened, the "when" of it's occurrence, only applies to humans (and only while we are experiencing the mortal part of our existence). Time (as we perceive it) isn't relevant for God.

As I mentioned, a lot has been said (written) about the nature of God and light, and our ability to perceive (or understand) it. Parley P. Pratt, David O. McKay, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Robert D. Hales, Doctrine and Covenants, Daniel K. Judd (lesser known, but the Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU), and others have had meaningful things to say about "Light". Perhaps I took a bit of "creative license" when referring to light as energy (but I believe it is, in a manner of speaking, a definite form of energy). Light has even been referred to as, "... the law by which all things are governed" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:13).

I apologize if I've upset the apple cart. I didn't really intend to be drawn into this discussion. I only meant to point out that in my mind... the "when" of something happening is less important then the fact that it "did" happen. God, (again... in my mind) is more interested in my repenting for a given sin, then when I repented. I believe the same can be said for the Atonement. That it happened, is likely much more important then when it happened. From God's perspective, there is no "how were things before", because right now... the Atonement "is", and it applies to everyone.

Edited by DMGNUT
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9 hours ago, DMGNUT said:

I agree that God has a body. I'm guessing you might agree that God's knowledge far surpasses ours (meaning humans).

Here is the test that I'd submit to you.  It is the same test that I submit to Trinitarians.

  • If you were to HYPOTHETICALLY surprise God by opening up the windows of heaven.
  • If you were not subject to the whithering exposure to the glory of God.
  • If you were to gaze into heaven and behold God.

What would you see?

According to D&C 130 and by a MULTITUDE of testimonies and declarations by EVERY prophet and apostle of this dispensation, He has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's.

It's fine to expand your imagination to understand things that are incomprehensible to man.  But when such an intellectual exercise results in a conclusion that is a direct contradiction to the revealed word of God, you may want to take a few steps back, because you're going far out on a limb.

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I don't think I'm out on a limb... I'm not presuming to know something that others don't, but you're presuming that since most every time God interacts with us mortals, He is flesh and blood... at least once He was a burning bush.

I'm curious why you think our "all" powerful, "all" knowing God, must limit himself to flesh and blood? But hey, lets say that you are correct and there are things that God can not do (like become a form of energy... or light, simply by willing it to be so), and just His mind is everywhere at once (while His flesh and blood body stays put somewhere)... it doesn't change my point... He exists outside of time... He can literally be anywhere and at anytime (again... that's our perspective of time... not His).

At this point (in our time-line) the Atonement "has" happened, and it is available to all... equally.

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On 8/16/2022 at 10:56 AM, Anddenex said:

It was paid, the atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite. In the eyes of God, it was already performed. All things are present before him: past, present, future -- might correlate to the Buddhist thought: there is no past, present, or future. There is only present past, present present, and present future. A different way to say all things are "present" to God.

There a section in Gospel Principles chapter 12 which mentions the Atonement Parable. I think
the original source is a past sermon in General Conference.

According to the principles taught by Boyd Packer, what would be the fate of a devout Buddhist
(the debtor) in this parable who has heard the gospel but rejected Christ as their mediator/creditor?

Edited by romans8
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1 hour ago, romans8 said:

According to the principles taught by Boyd Packer, what would be the fate of a devout Buddhist
(the debtor) in this parable who has heard the gospel but rejected Christ as their mediator/creditor?

 Rejecting Christ means much more than hearing a story told by missionaries and deciding that you don't believe it.

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On 8/19/2022 at 11:02 PM, DMGNUT said:

I don't think I'm out on a limb... I'm not presuming to know something that others don't, but you're presuming that since most every time God interacts with us mortals, He is flesh and blood... at least once He was a burning bush.

I'm curious why you think our "all" powerful, "all" knowing God, must limit himself to flesh and blood? But hey, lets say that you are correct and there are things that God can not do (like become a form of energy... or light, simply by willing it to be so), and just His mind is everywhere at once (while His flesh and blood body stays put somewhere)... it doesn't change my point... He exists outside of time... He can literally be anywhere and at anytime (again... that's our perspective of time... not His).

At this point (in our time-line) the Atonement "has" happened, and it is available to all... equally.

Nice straw man.

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My final point, the original question is cool and thought provoking.

But in the end, we don't need to understand the how or why of everyone being covered by the Atonement. They just are. God's got it covered, regardless of whether we can make heads or tails of it. 🙂

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On 8/20/2022 at 12:00 PM, Vort said:

 Rejecting Christ means much more than hearing a story told by missionaries and deciding that you don't believe it.

What does rejecting Christ as mediator in that parable mean to you?

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On 8/15/2022 at 2:21 PM, askandanswer said:

I wrote these notes a few minutes ago while reading Alma 39. Any thoughts and responses are welcome.

Christ's atonement is retroactive in that it provides a way to pay for the sins of all those who sinned prior to the atonement being undertaken. My question is whether or not there was a debt owed to justice for all those sins that had been committed prior to the atonement. By who or what or how was the weight of these sins being carried prior to the atonement? If a person before the atonement truly repented of their sins, did the penalty or the weight of those sins go unpaid until the atonement was performed, because it was only the atonement that produced the currency required to pay for those sins? Sin has a price which must be paid, hence the need for the atonement, but what happened to that payment which justice demands before the atonement took place? Did the demands of justice go unmet for thousands of years? Is there some acceptable method of delayed payment? Was justice content to wait for thousands of years until the atonement happened?

 

My thought after reading the post...

When you are married for all eternity, it is not from the moment in time that you are married or sealed.  You are sealed for all eternity.  This can be hard to explain.

Imagine that something is.  That's it, it just is.  It has always existed, does exist, and will ALWAYS exist.  It has no beginning and no end.  It is not retroactive, because it always existed.  This is eternity.

It has no beginning and has no end. 

Eternal items are unchanging, they cannot change, at least in the eternal perspective of things.  They exist.  They just are.  They have always been there with no beginning and no end.

This is ONE reason for mortality, because things CAN change.  Thus something that was not eternal can become eternal.

In eternity, time as we understand it really doesn't exist.  We understand time and can see how it operates, but in many ways it does not apply. 

This also can explain the atonement's reach in a way.  The atonement is eternal.  It has no beginning and no end.  It had to be done within our mortal sphere, but once done in our sphere and applied it became an eternal ordinance with no beginning and no end.  It has always existed and will always exist. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 8/28/2022 at 2:37 PM, Vort said:

I'll gladly answer, but first, tell me what you think Elder Packer's parable meant by rejecting Christ.

“The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’

“ ‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You save me from prison and show mercy to me.’

Our sins are our spiritual debts. Without Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and Mediator, we would
all pay for our sins by suffering spiritual death. But because of Him, if we will keep His terms,
which are to repent and keep His commandments, we may return to live with our Heavenly Father.

Initially the debtor accepted the creditor (Jesus). But if they did not keep His terms, they would
not return to live with Heavenly Father. I believe this separation is referred to as spiritual death (also
the second death - Jacob 3:11; Alma 12:16; Alma 13:30; Helaman 14:18-19; Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 20:14).

The prison in this sense may refer to a time after mortal death (a separation of spirit from body) or
a life in mortality where a person is living without accepting Christ as Savior. Jesus paying the debt
seems to be the resurrection of the person to stand before God for judgment or being free from God's
wrath by accepting the atonement while living. 

I view the parable as having two destinations - salvation or damnation. To supplement that view, I
add the following:

Helaman 12:23,25-26
Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their 
       God; for these are they that shall be saved.
And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there 
       are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;
Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: 
       They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall 
       have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.

3 Nephi 11:33-34
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who 
   shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, 
   shall be damned.

John 10:27-28
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and
 they shall never perish.

Edited by romans8
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