An Infinite Atonement and Grace

Last Thursday evening, a fellow high councilor mentioned he would be speaking on the Atonement of Christ for Easter in his ward.  He wanted to know more about it, as we generally understand the events occurring in Gethsemane and Calvary, as well as the Garden Tomb.

The discussion went beyond those events.  Several of us, including an Institute director, saw the atonement as being “infinite” or without beginning or ending of days.  We saw it as reaching back to our pre-mortal existence, touching the lives of those living on previously created worlds, and extending forever into the eternities.

While there are are theories on how the atonement works (Ransom , Compassion, Infusion, etc), we went deeply into a component of the atonement that is often overlooked: grace.

While the pinnacle of the atonement occurred 200 years ago, it is ongoing. 2 Nephi 2 teaches that without the atonement, we would have no agency, for as Jacob explained, we would not rise again, and therefore be subject to the devil, being angels to the devil.

So, the atonement allows us to choose life or death.

But we are also taught that even as Christ went from “grace to grace, receiving grace for grace” until he was perfected in all things (D&C 93), so we should also seek grace.

What is grace? It is anything and everything that God gifts to us. It is the air we breathe and the food we eat. It is saying a prayer, and immediately afterward, finding the lost car keys. It is in the inspiring moments God gives us.  It is in knowing that God stands with us through the tough times. It is the big and little miracles that occur daily around us.  It is giant revelations like Nephi and John the Revelator received, and it is the tiny whisperings of the Holy Spirit.

Grace is God reaching down to us and touching us, because the atonement has bridged the gap between fallen man and risen Lord.

11 thoughts on “An Infinite Atonement and Grace

  1. Some interesting ideas on what “infinite” means in regard to the atonement. There is a quote from Prayers of Kirkegaard that goes:

    “Lord Jesus Christ who suffered all life long, that I too might be saved, and whose suffering still knows no end: this too wilt thou endure, saving and redeeming me. This patient suffering of me, with whom thou hast to do, I who so often go astray.”

    I’m not knowledgeable on Kirkegaard’s philosophy, but it seems like Kirkegaard believed that the atonement was infinite in the sense that Christ’s suffering continues throughout eternity, “the patient suffering of me, saving and redeeming me.”

    There are some theological things I would like to know more about regarding what “infinite” means in the atonement. In LDS theology, do we believe Christ’s suffering was infinite, or only that it’s influence was infinite? Was it the compound suffering of every single individual sin, multiplied billions of times, for the billions of people? Or was it a composite suffering: one payment of limited suffering which applies to everyone?

    It seems to me that atonement theology came after Joseph Smith, wherein the atonement was stated to have happened in the Garden of Gethsemene, and was said to be “worse” than the crucifixion. Additionally, some LDS theologians have stated that the atonement pains came back during the crucifixion, but that the actual pain of the crucifixion paled in comparison to the true suffering of the atonement.

    Who is responsible for our modern theological understanding of the atonement? It doesn’t seem to be entirely supported by scripture, and I don’t recall Joseph Smith or Brigham Young really saying much about it at all.

    To me, the idea of infinite compound suffering in the Garden of Gethsemene is unconscionable. It seems more scriptural to look at the atonement as a suffering that is possible for someone like Martin Harris to experience “He must suffer even as I” from D&C 19. The Book of Mormon does say, “he shall suffer even more than man can suffer.” This also doesn’t mean it was an infinite suffering, but just that Christ suffered more than any single man could have suffered, perhaps because he kept himself alive through the ordeal, being a God, rather than submitting prematurely to death. But it still doesn’t mean that it was a collective, compounded, and infinite suffering.

    What do other Mormons think about this? Infinite suffering, or infinite influence? Collective, compounded suffering, or composite limited suffering?

  2. I would suggest that perhaps the most neglected aspect of the Atonement is that it is an at-one-ment, literally the unification of the body of Christ.

    Since that body appears to have an infinite number of potential members, the at-one-ment of that body is likewise without end.

  3. Infinite means it encompassed all suffering. He descended below all things, so that He could know how to succor His people.

    His suffering isn’t important except insofar as it allowed Him to bridge the gap between perfection and imperfection, and understand, therefore save us from the consequences of Adam and Eve’s transgression.

  4. I think his atonement goes much further than what SR notes. As with others, I agree that we do not know whether he suffered for every sin ever committed, or if he suffered deeper than any other person, therefore able to understand the suffering we go through, so as Paul noted, he is able to succor us.

    Personally, I like some concepts of Blake Ostler’s Compassion Theory, wherein when we sin and then repent, Christ spiritually embraces us. In this loving embrace, we absorb his healing love, and he absorbs and experiences our pain for a moment. Then, when we are healed through such suffering, we are able to share a healthy and bonding love between each other.

    But I think we often miss out on grace being a part of the atonement. Yes, there is an “at-one-ment” where we must all become one with the Godhead through Christ. But isn’t that a form of grace? How else do we become one with God, if it isn’t gifted to us?

    It is way to easy for humans to say that Jesus has done his work, and now “God is dead” or is not involved in our lives as he once was. But to understand the atonement as an active and continuous thing that affects us in every moment, suddenly transforms the acts of Christ into something even more amazing. Of such, I am awed.

  5. One thing that I don’t particularly understand is where the word atonement comes from. Is it strictly a made up word in English? Why do we use it? There is no word for atonement in Spanish. The closest is la expiacion, which does have an English equivalent, expiation, which I have heard Elder Maxwell actually use in a conference talk. These two word do have different meanings though. So if Spanish doesn’t use it, is there a Latin version of it? Is there a Greek version?

  6. The word atonement, as far as I know, is English, meaning to be “at one” with God’s nature or will.

    A similar term is found in Greek: εξιλέωση

    This term, though, is not exactly the concept of “at one” in specific terminology. In English, we find they used the terminology behind the meaning of the original word. We get that often in translating from one language to another. For example, When Romans and Greeks first went to Egypt, they saw an animal they’d never seen before, and called it according to what they saw: hippopotamus or literally a water horse.

    Being fluent in Spanish, I know that they have fewer word overall (250K), compared to English (over 1/2 million words). So, we have more terms for the atonement, expiation, etc. Meanwhile, as English only has one word for snow, the Inuit have dozens. So, comparing languages does explain some of this. English loves words, and adopts words from everywhere, German, Latin, French, Spanish, Hawaiian, Quechua, and dozens of other languages. As it found a good or usable word, it adopted it. Being practical, it also creates new words for new things, rather than combining old words together.

    So, we end up using a series of words, phrases, and paragraphs to explain atonement. Even with that, there is no exact consensus. There are four major theories on how the Atonement works, and several minor ones, each with their strengths and problems.

    As the Bible Dictionary explains, it helps us to be “at one” with God. As the Book of Mormon explains, it brings us back into God’s presence.

  7. Only one word for snow?!? What kind of bizzaro world do you live in? Are you one of those Utah-ites that’s only there for the religion and missing out on the fluffy stuff? Here are just a few more off the top of my head to educate you:

    Powder
    Champagne
    Corn
    Corduroy
    Hard Pack
    Mush
    Slush
    Sludge
    Yellow

    (stay away from the last one…)

  8. I’m from Montana, thank you. And I recognize we use a lot of descriptors to define “snow”. Those, however, do not by themselves put the concept of “snow” into one’s head. If I were to say, “I’m looking for some [Yellow, Corduroy, Powder, Champagne]” you would not know the context.

    Meanwhile, the Inuit not only have descriptors, but actual words for types of snow that do not need context to understand them.

  9. I agree with Rame, but I will point out that unfortunately in Colorado we have many more terms for snow. This year those words were mostly unprintable, but they included “mashed potatoes,” “crust” and “much too icey or slushy to ski.” Grrrr. To be fair, in 2010-2011 the words included “incredible powder,” “waist deep in the trees” and “sweet landing off the cornice.” So, you win some you lose some.

  10. Thanks for the discussion. As to atonement, I am glad you mentioned it similar to the Greek word. Do you have a precise definition to that word? I find that knowing the difference between the words is helpful in defining what is meant. Expiation is a slightly different word and adds context to what we routinely call the atonement. Unfortunately, we never speak about other words that express what the atonement is and does. We may never have another Elder Maxwell that knows the language so well and could use its nuances to communicate complex topics.

    I have looked at the theories of the atonement before. Quite interesting topic actually and that tells me how much I don’t understand what it really is or how it works. It is also useful to use these theories as a back drop of the reformation and why it happened. But, back to the meaning of words. I like the word, inculcate, which in Spanish is Inculcar, to teach by repetition. This is used in the Book of Mormon when Christ is teaching the people at Bountiful. This just comes out as “teaching” in the English version. Also, in Korean, one can not just state “the brother of Jared”. In that version, it is rendered younger brother of Jared. It would be great if someone would be able to create a book that did a comparison of language in translation of the Book of Mormon.

    Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>