*Previously published on 08/28/2016 – updated/edited today.
I should say: I do not believe in the Atonement, capital-A, as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints™.
I do not believe in an Atonement where Jesus, God’s favorite and perfect son, is sent to earth to pay for a debt he did not accrue. Not only will he pay a debt, but he will also pay for it pound for pound in the currency of flesh: suffering, bleeding, and dying.
I used to think this was wonderful.
Look! God loves us so much that he sent his Only Begotten Son to suffer, bleed, and die for us. Isn’t that true love? Isn’t that amazing of God? Moreover, praise Jesus for volunteering for this.
And then I started thinking. I started reading more. I realized that this does not make sense. Supposedly, Jesus is paying a debt, but to whom? The Father? Satan? Justice?
If the debt is to the Father, couldn’t the Father waive the debt? Why does the Father require suffering and death to forgive the debt, to forgive our sins? Mere mortals forgive debt without requiring someone to bleed or die, why is the Father not capable of such a feat?
If the debt is to Satan, why? Why does humanity or God owe Satan anything? Even in the capital-A Atonement, the Devil still claims those that are his, those who chose not to repent and die in their sins. Was not Jesus’ suffering enough to cover their debt? Or was the debt too much?
Does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense to me.
I do not believe in an at-one-ment that requires the suffering of Jesus for the payment of sins (such a definition in and of itself is faulty; the at-one-ing of men to the Father by way of Jesus is a three-party structure, but Atonement is the one-ing of two people or groups of people).
I refuse to believe in the penal substitution atonement. That idea primarily comes from the Bible, which, according to the Book of Mormon, is corrupt. The Bible is also the reason for the stumbling of the Gentiles.
The entire notion of Jesus suffering for the sins of the world because he was perfect, thus the only Being capable of buying up our debts, is nowhere to be found in scripture. It is the philosophies of men (economy) mingled with corrupt-Bible-metatext.
What do I believe?
I believe that Jesus condescended to become a man. He is God. He did not need to take upon flesh and blood to progress to become God. His condescension was that he might be one with humanity. He suffered temptations, the pains of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than a man can suffer, not in some garden, but throughout his entire life. The blood that came from every pore was not because a mountain of sins thrust upon him, pressing him like an olive press smashes an olive; it was because of the anguish he suffered while beholding and experiencing the wickedness of his people throughout his life. Alternatively, I’m willing to grant that Jesus experienced oneness with humanity through Open Heart Awareness, and it caused him to bleed.
The Book of Mormon does not make the Atonement a singular experience in a garden or on a cross; rather, it describes the love of God shown through condescending to experience mortality altogether.
Jesus did not experience a toothache on every tooth that every human suffered ever. He did not experience vicariously through some-metaphysical-something each form of cancer, big and small, in every possible variation and location, for every possible cancer patient. He suffered the “pains and sicknesses of his people” by becoming mortal. He suffered as you suffer, not precisely as you suffer, but is at one with you because he has been human. He can succor, he can empathize, and he can heal.
My views align, in a way, to the Eastern Christianity view:
The Biblical Greek word, which is translated both as “propitiation” and “expiation” is hilasmos, which means “to make acceptable and enable one to draw close to God”. Thus the Orthodox emphasis would be that Christ died, not to appease an angry and vindictive Father or to avert the wrath of God upon sinners, but to defeat and secure the destruction of sin and death, so that those who are fallen and in spiritual bondage may become divinely transfigured, and therefore fully human, as their Creator intended; that is to say, human creatures become God in his energies or operations but not in his essence or identity, conforming to the image of Christ and reacquiring the divine likeness.
For those interested in a more in-depth look at “at one ing,” I highly recommend reading the fifth essay in Volume 4b: a cultural history of the book of mormon: Bodies of Word.