Ep35 -The Compassion Theory of Atonement - The Problems of Theism & The Love of God Ch 6

Topics Discussed:

• God’s Compassion in Atonement
 Reconciling Humans to God
•  Reconciling God to Humans
• Christ’s Suffering as a Result of Our Sins

Show Notes:


It seems to me that a theory of atonement ought to answer – or at least cast some light upon – at least
the following questions:
1. How is Christ’s life, death and resurrection either necessary or uniquely beneficial to expiate or
eradicate the effects of sin in our lives so that we are reconciled to God here and now?
2. Why can’t we just be forgiven without someone suffering?
3. Why does Christ’s suffering and experience atone for our sins in a way that the Father and the Holy
Ghost do not?
4. How could Christ “bear our sins” or “take our sins upon him” that we commit in the here and now
in a way that caused him to suffer?.
5. How do the ordinances of sacrament and baptism (among others) signify what occurs in atonement?
In addition, a theory of atonement ought to meet Abelard’s Constraintto develop a model of atonement
that is “neither unintelligible, arbitrary, illogical, nor immoral.” Afer all, who wouldn’t prefer a theory which
is intelligible, non-arbitrary, logically coherent and morally acceptable?

God’s Compassion in Atonement

Talk about 'Compassion' etymology

“The compassion theory can be summarized as follows: The purpose of the atonement in LDS scripture is to “bring about the bowels of mercy” so that God is moved with compassion for us and we are moved with gratitude to trust him by opening our hearts to him. The result of the Atonement is that we are free to choose to turn back to God, and he is free to accept us into a relationship of shared life. Atonement removes, casts out, and releases the guilt that alienates us; and it also brings us together into shared life. When we let go of our past and release the painful energy of alienation, Christ experiences that release and receives into himself the pain that we have experienced to be transformed by the light of his love. If we refuse to let go of our past histories and the pain that arises from our sins, we will continue to experience that pain. If we let go of that pain; however, then Christ experiences the very pain that we release, but we no longer have to. In his Passion we find compassion. He literally feels our pains and is thereby filled with compassion for us. In this sense, Christ suffers for our sins and bears our iniquities.”

“by looking again at Doctrine & Covenants 19 regarding the pain that Christ suffers in Gethsemane (at least I assume it refers to suffering primarily in Gethsemane because it refers to Luke 22:24 which refers to Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane):
For behold, I God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. (D&C 19:16–19)

At least the following claims seem to be made in this scripture: (1) Christ suffers pain for our sins; (2) We do not have to suffer what he suffers for our sins if we repent; (3) If we don’t repent, we will suffer for our sins just the way that Christ suffers for them if we do repent; (4) by suffering as a result of our sins, Christ fulfills the will of the Father with respect to his mortal life; and (5) Christ had a choice about whether he would accept this suffering into his life.”.........“It is also important to note that, in this scripture, what Christ suffers is not vicarious guilt or punishment; rather, he suffers the pain of our sins that we will feel if we don’t repent.”

“Distinctive Claims of the Compassion Theory of Atonement”

Describe the importance in of Gethsemane distinctive to LDS thought

“The compassion theory sees atonement as a reciprocal reconciliation of our alienation That is, the Atonement not only reconciles us to God, but also reconciles God to us. It not only results from our choice to be in relation to God, but also from his prior choice to be in relation with us. The suffering that Christ experienced not only moves us with compassion for him, but it also moves him with compassion for us. In the Atonement he not only becomes what we are, but he also brings us to be what he is. Atonement thus unites us and reconciles our alienation that we have freely chosen.”

Reconciling Humans to God

“The starting point for Alma’s exposition of atonement is that we all, like Adam, freely chose to leave God’s presence. It is noteworthy that Alma’s discussion of atonement presupposes human preexistence in the sense that all humankind has chosen to be cut off from God’s presence by becoming mortal.”

“we have all transgressed the law of love. We have all engaged in self-deception to hide our failure to love from ourselves. However, rather than immediately execute judgment that banishes us from God’s presence forever, God has mercifully chosen to grant to us a period of time in which we can repent. ”

“Having seen ourselves in the mirror of his love, we are moved with compassion to repent by ceasing to do what alienates us, to let go of whatever keeps us from being with him, and to do all within our power to show our love out of sheer gratitude to him. Thus, repentance entails not only turning to God, but doing whatever we can to repair the harm that we have done to our relationships with him and those we have injured by our failure to love. ”

Reconciling God to Humans

“ By becoming human, Christ learns something that enables him to move forward and to further reconciliation.”

“the radical step of becoming mortal and walking among us to show us how a life of loving reconciliation is lived. Yet Christ learned something by becoming mortal that he did not previously know experientially. He learned how to succor his people:”

“God is moved with compassion for us because he directly experiences our alienation and suffers the bodily pains and temptations that we suffer. To be mortal is to be heir to alienation and bodily suffering. They cannot be escaped.”

“One of the key purposes of the compassion theory of atonement is to explain how it is that Christ suffers for our sins in a way that is faithful to scripture but which does not involve the non-scriptural idea that the Father punished Christ as a substitute for the punishment that we deserve as a means of satisfying (or propitiating) his anger against us.”

Christ’s Suffering as a Result of Our Sins

“The life-energy or zoe that we receive in the Atonement is the divine life that glorifies and exalts. The “energies” of God are the flow of the divine energy of life, the movement of the Spirit, and the light that proceeds from God to fill the immensity of space.”

“Another key concept of the compassion theory of atonement is that the painful energy of sin that we release through repentance causes real pain when Christ’s receives it into his life through the union of his life with our life in us.”

“The compassion theory of atonement holds that Christ does not suffer as a substitute for us or as one who becomes guilty and receives deserved punishment in our place.”
“What is transferred to him is not guilt or culpability but the pain for sin that we would otherwise suffer. ”

“A key concept of the compassion theory of the Atonement is that Christ’s suffering is not a necessary condition of God’s being able to forgive us; rather, Christ feels pain as a consequence of entering into union with us because such union entails feeling the pain of the energy of sin that we release when we repent”

....why can't we just release the energy and no one feels pain? Or just repent...not sure I am buying the whole energy thing...

“ I want to simply point out that this view of the Atonement has at least one overriding virtue: It answers the most difficult question regarding atonement. Why can’t God just forgive me without requiring Christ to suffer? After all, I have the power to forgive without requiring that someone else must suffer. Why can’t God forgive us without requiring a pound of flesh—literally? The answer is that God can forgive us without requiring that Christ must innocently suffer as our substitute as the condition to propitiate his anger.5 However, the nature of loving forgiveness is such that, by entering into a renewed relationship with us, the pain caused by our sins is given to him. ”

“Traditionally, theories of atonement answer the question about how we are forgiven of our sins by Christ’s suffering as a substitute in our place, but there really does not seem to be a problem here because we can forgive others without a third party’s enduring pain and suffering as a necessary condition.”

“Christ suffers in atonement, not so that he can satisfy the Father’s demands or so that he can pay a debt that we owe to personified justice, as the LDS scriptures are often interpreted. Rather, Christ feels pain in atonement because it is painful to be in relationship with us.”

“I also want to address briefly an objection to this view of atonement because it discloses an important dimension of Christ’s atonement in LDS thought. How does my repentance and consequent release of my pain in the here-and-now cause pain to Christ in Gethsemane in the past?”

“There is no backward causation because atonement is more than a one-time event that occurred in Gethsemane and the path to the cross. Rather, atonement becomes God’s very way of being in the world.”

“the Atonement is God’s act of granting his light to us as a sheer gift in every moment.”

“The pain that Christ suffered as a mortal is precisely the pain that is the most poignant experience of atonement – though it is only one experience of atoning pain among others that Christ experienced.”

“The high-priestly prayer of John 17 makes at least the following claims:
(1) Before the world, Christ enjoyed a fulness of glory with the Father (John 17:5);
(2) As a mortal, Christ did not possess a fulness of the divine glory and thus he asks the Father to restore it to him (John 17:4–5);
(3) The purpose of such glory is that his disciples might be one in him as he is one in the Father (John 17:11, 21); and
(4) Christ had received a fulness of divine glory again during his great intercessory prayer (John 17:21–23).”

“As Paul Fiddes observed:
To speak of [Christ’s own journey of forgiveness through life and death] as “new experience” in God’s triune life does not deny that God has always been offering forgiveness to created persons. If the divine nature is love, then throughout human history God has been sharing in the darkness of human experience, and through continuous participation has been creating change in human hearts and human society. God is always moving on the journey of forgiveness and so absorbing painful new experience; the Hebrew Bible, with its story of the God who goes into slavery and exile with his people, tells us no less. But the Christian story is that is that the cross of Jesus was the deepest point of descent for God into the alienation of human life, that nowhere else has God journeyed as far into the despair and nihilism of his creation. At the cross was a new situation for the forgiving God; there was a unique experience of human hostility—expressed towards Christ—and a unique human response—expressed by Christ. Thus here, to a degree which has happened nowhere else, God is drawn into human flesh and stands where humankind stands.”

“Thus, the purpose of the Atonement is to make it possible for us to freely choose to return to God’s loving embrace by reciprocating his love with our own freely chosen love.”

“A final key concept of the compassion theory of atonement is thus that Christ became what we are so that we might become what he is. By becoming mortal so that he could know how to succor us, Christ has opened the way for us to be what he is by sharing the complete unity and oneness that he shares with the Father.”


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