Recently, I wrote a four part mini-series about my faith and my conclusions after struggling with a particularly disturbing doctrinal problem. I have felt the need to further explain some of the basic ideas I believe concerning the Atonement and how they formulate the blueprints for my current theological mindset.
We often act like the Atonement is our fault. Because of this, we also treat accessing the Atonement as a form of weakness. We cluck our tongues and shake our heads when people walk mournfully into the bishop’s office to confess some grave sin and thank God that He doesn’t allow us to sin like the other weaker people around us (compare with Alma 31:17). But rather, life is the other way around – tapping into the infinite healing power of the Atonement exhibits strength of character; hiding in the shadows, our tails tucked between our legs, avoiding as much life as possible so that we can avoid sin as much as possible and thus avoid the Atonement as much as possible shows cowardice and a lack of faith in God’s promise. “I have overcome the world,” Jesus tells His followers right before their darkest moments (John 16:33). He reminds them that they need not live the same fearful, suffocating life as the Pharisees – He is about to set them free.
God planned the Atonement from the very beginning. The Atonement didn’t come about as a consequence of the Fall of Adam; rather, the Fall of Adam was an unfortunate reality, an inevitable occurrence derived from the basic fact of the Atonement’s necessity. When Eve ate the fruit and convinced Adam to as well, heaven’s courts calmly came down to the Garden to remind Adam and Eve the consequences as well as reassure them of the future Atonement. They did not freak out and scramble about for a contingency plan, pulling out blueprints and waking up Jesus from His nap to tell Him that the Worst Thing That Could Happen actually happened and now, He needed to experience the most horrific of experiences – taking upon Himself the crushing weight of humanity’s sinful nature and mortal pain – because of us and, gosh darn it, we really screwed things up.
As mentioned before, people associate repentance and accessing the Atonement with guilt – mostly because we as members impose that guilt upon others. We treat the church as a monastery for pious saints rather than a hospital for sick sinners. We forget after the years of membership within the church that we go to church every Sunday not to fulfill our calling or attend Sunday School or bear our testimonies but to partake within the priesthood ordinance of communion in order to re-baptize ourselves and cleanse ourselves from sin. We go to church because a necessary priesthood ordinance occurs every Sunday that allows us to personally tap into the Atonement and its cleansing power. We forget, sometimes, that we rely on Christ completely.
Christianity has the potential to liberate people, especially from guilt, especially from pain, especially from sorrow, especially from regret; instead, we strap people to a liturgy of commandments that we must strictly follow in all points, no exceptions. No coffee, no tea, no alcohol, no smoking. No R-rated movies, no video games on Sunday, no family brunches before church at the local buffet for grandpa’s birthday. We define church membership and our sense of belonging to the beverages we drink or the discrepancies in doctrine. We allow people to voice the idea that black people are the result of disobedience in a past life, but we refuse to give any say to people who say that perhaps homosexuality results from nature and not choice. We parcel out the monikers and categories, placing people in safe boxes labeled Good Mormons, Jack Mormons, Unorthodox Mormons, Coffee Drinking Mormons, Ex-Mormons, Disfellowshipped Mormons, Dry Mormons, and the ubiquitous Non-Member.
The Atonement, however, makes no distinctions. Christ will not turn anyone away from the Atonement. In the eyes of God, all of us sin and thus, all of us stand in need of mercy. When we begin to make distinctions we lose sight of the important fact that nobody can achieve any kind of better salvation than the other; no other categories exist. There’s good news and bad news, however. The good news is we can stop worrying about what people think and it becomes easier to forgive each other and ourselves when we realize that mistakes, slights, offensives and even really big screw-ups are inevitable. The bad news is we can never feel better than someone else based upon our adherence to the commandments alone. The one major tenant of Christianity all Christians can agree on regardless of denomination is that we all are sinners in need of some serious mercy. Even the prophet, the Pope, Rick Warren, or Billy Graham.