A Modest Exercise in Soteriology
Thank you for this educational and insightful article! I, too, am one who seeks to understand the “why” of everything, and this has long been a topic of great wonderment to me. I am not a scholar this field but have a few of my own thoughts.
Regarding the objective model, my understanding of “God” is that he/they are not original and that the nature of the universe/multiverse requires that God(s) operate in harmony with “laws” that God did not create, but that exist independently and naturally. I am certain that many of these laws are far beyond our current mortal comprehension. The atonement must be Gods’ (including Jesus Christ) way of using their divine power and knowledge to “let us in” without making us pay. In other words, thinking about the objective model, the atonement is not God adhering inflexibly to his own arbitrary rules, it is Gods giving us an incredibly loving and merciful pass through their own sacrifice and suffering to circumvent some natural, universal requirement.
I also wonder “Just what exactly did Jesus do?!” My favorite theory: during those moments in Gethsemane and on the cross, he entered some sort of time warp and actually experienced (lived with us) each one of our lives in its entirety. He is with me now and always has been. That is how he understands me completely. This obviously would have taken a long, long time - billions upon billions of years. This could explain such hesitation and fear expressed by a diety at the onset of the atonement.
For now, I have to ask myself - Is it enough for me to know that some sort of “law(s)” exist and that there must be an atonement to satisfy the law in order for the Great Plan to work? Can I still feel Christ’s redemption working for me without understanding why it is necessary? Just as a child doesn’t understand the why’s of cellular respiration and metabolic oxygen debt, but can feel the need to breath after a long underwater dive, and knows the relief of heavy breath after surfacing? This definitely requires faith and often feels unsatisfying. But I have hope that someday I will understand better.
Thank you! Better understanding these different theories really helps to focus on the Why. I don’t find it surprising at all that there are different or even conflicting explanations of something as incomprehensible as Christ’s atoning sacrifice. As Paul wrote, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” I have another theory that I will call the Relationship theory. This understands agapic love as the pattern of reality, where agape is defined as a fore-giving love (unearned, non-transactional). In this theory God desires more than anything to be in agapic relationship with his children (hesed, eternal life) and the only way this is possible is to make us equal to Them (D&C 84:33-39, Romans 8:17). This required God to descend to our level so They can raise us to Theirs. The power of Godliness (agapic love) was completely manifest in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. We had to see it completely embodied and only through his grace can we become transformed and capable of receiving the gift of his agape (Moroni 7:48). And when we do, “…we shall be like him…” and we will be “one” (John 17:11).
Thanks for this thoughtful article, Benjamin. I've been pondering this since Elder Corbitt invited children to ask their parents why Jesus had to die. I have wondered what a soteriology based on Alma 7:11-13 and our Gethsemane-focused Atonement might look like. I think the Givenses approach it with their "soter as healer" emphasis, and Adam Miller adds to it with his emphasis on justice giving us what we need to become whole and healed rather than what we deserve based on past actions (see especially Original Grace).
This was such a helpful and well-written explanation. Thank you!