In the Spring 2006 Dialogue (vol 39, No1, pp57-87), Jacob Morgan invites us to consider his Divine Infusion theory of the atonement of Christ. I thought I'd give some personal thoughts on it, and how I would possibly adjust it to better fit how I see the atonement.
Morgan begins by discussing other theories on the atonement and the weaknesses in these theories. He notes that the early and most current Church Authorities have adopted the penal-substitution theory. In a nutshell, this theory is that we must accept Jesus' atonement and repent, or we will pay for our own sins. He gives some good reasons why this theory is not truly sound, such as: if Jesus has already paid for our sins, why must he then insist on us repaying him? How is it that Justice demands not only payment, but also that we stay fully obedient to Christ? It also is contradicted by certain scriptural events: when Alma falls into an angel-induced coma and has a near-death experience, he starts out suffering for his own sins, but upon calling on Jesus' name for deliverance, he is immediately delivered from his sufferings. Why did God not require Alma to suffer for his sins until they were paid for first, and then free him, if the penal-substitution theory was in force? The penal-substitution theory requires payment to Justice prior to forgiveness, but Alma seemed to receive it immediately - clearly there are holes in this theory.
Using D&C 93 and 88 as his primary scriptures, Morgan explains that the universe is filled with the Light of Christ. This light infuses all things with existence, and the more light an individual receives the more like God one becomes. Essentially, in the Divine Infusion theory, Christ's atonement lifts the universe out of total spiritual (and possibly also physical) darkness, allowing us to be able to become celestial.
Morgan writes, "The atonement was not a matter of satisfying justice's relentless thirst for suffering. Instead, it was a matter of pulling the universe far enough out of the darkness to make repentance and growth possible. The atonement 'bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance" (Alma 34:15). Thus, the atonement satisfies the demands of justice by making it possible for us to become celestial. A dual emphasis on grace and works follows naturally. Our works make us who we are and determine our final destiny, but every good work we do is enabled and influenced by the light of Christ in us."
This goes to explain how Intelligence, or "light of truth/light and truth" is so important in the scriptures to us. It places the light of Christ and the very power that caused us to exist individually to also be the source of our exaltation. I agree wholeheartedly with these thoughts by Morgan.
I'd like to add a few thoughts to Morgan's. First off, I believe that Christ's atonement does infuse us with the light of Christ, but it also does more. First off, it does pay the penalty for spiritual and physical death for each and every individual. While some Church authorities have used the penal-substitution theory to explain how works fit into our responsibility to turn to God and "earn" our exaltation, this differs from what the Book of Mormon teaches. The concept is, we have fallen both spiritually and physically from God's presence, and we need something beyond our own ability to bring us back into His presence. This is the atonement. Jesus' atonement is total and complete for every single individual born on earth, including Cain and Hitler. Let's see what the scriptures tell us on this.
Alma 11-12, Mormon 9 and other scriptures teach us that ALL are resurrected, something all Church leaders and members agree with. However, reading further into these sections and other related ones show us that ALL are also brought back into God's presence. Does this, or does this not qualify as Jesus' atonement bringing us physically and spiritually back into God's full presence? As I've shown this to some, they've argued that it is for the judgment that we are brought into God's presence, which is true. But Alma 12 tells us that the wicked would prefer rocks to fall upon them than to stand in God's presence, while Mormon 9 explains that the wicked are more comfortable in hell. Morgan's teaching that infusion of the light of Christ to determine what we have become, becomes essential here. According to the penal-substitution theory, when we come before God at judgment, ALL sins are completely paid for, either by Jesus (atonement and repentance) or us (spirit prison). If they are all paid for, what does Justice have to require of us anymore? Should we not all then be ready for the celestial kingdom?
However, if we believe that Jesus has fully paid for all spiritual and physical loss, then the Judgment becomes an event based upon who we have become. D&C 93 explains that Jesus did not receive a fulness of grace at first, but progressed from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace until he received the fulness. We are then told to let that thought be with us, to progress in the light of Christ until it fills us fully. In this manner, when we stand before God, we are like Him, and feel comfortable in His presence. Those who are not prepared, will beg for a lesser kingdom, rather than stand in God's powerful presence.
This also explains why the telestial glory is wonderful for its inhabitants, and not a punishment, as many LDS believe. Consider D&C 76:88-89:
88 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.
89 And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding
The telestial receive salvation and a kingdom which surpasses our current understanding. This does not sound like hell to me. Rather hell is described as two locations in the scriptures: Outer Darkness and Spirit Prison. Outer Darkness becomes a good place for sons of perdition, who have rejected so much of the light of Christ that they cannot bear being in the presence of any member of the Godhead. It is not a place of punishment for them, but a tolerable place for the truly wicked.
Spirit Prison is a place to "encourage" us to repent. Alma's experience in his near death shows us that the Spirit Prison is not for paying for sins. Otherwise, his punishment would have continued for more than three days. Instead, once he had turned to Christ, his pains of remorse were instantly removed and replaced with light - the light of Christ. Alma is also brought physically back into God's presence, as he sees Father Lehi sitting at the right hand of God. Clearly, we need to revise our understanding of punishment in the Spirit Prison.
Why would someone have to spend thousands of years in Spirit Prison suffering and paying for sins that Jesus has already paid for? What if after a few years or even days, Hitler turns to the Lord and asks for His mercy. Should God leave him suffering for another thousand years, simply because Justice demands a second payment? Does God believe in double jeopardy, since we are talking about two punishments for one sin? Or should we expect Alma's experience, where once he is ready to receive God's light, it is given to him, and he is released from the suffering. In this instance, the suffering is not as a payment for sin, but as an inducement for repentance and change. Once the repentance begins, the suffering ends.
Be assured, Alma still had work to do. On his return to mortal life, he had to diligently seek the light of Christ through his life, until the angel returned and told him he was righteous enough to be acceptable to God (Alma 8:14-15). This is what the Spirit World is about: preparing for the judgment and standing in God's presence, ready to fully receive and be received. Sons of Perdition are perhaps the only ones that may not accept Christ's suffering, and remain in suffering in the Spirit Prison until their judgment. All others are worthy of a level of a glorious salvation, and receive it. D&C 138 tells us that the gospel is preached to everyone there, including the saints. Obviously, it is a place of preparation for that final judgment, to determine what we have become.
Morgan focuses almost exclusively on how the atonement rescues us from a "super-fallen" state of the Fall, lifting us out of total darkness via the light of Christ. I suggest that this is a key component of the atonement, but that there is also the saving from sins component. Christ suffered that he may know how to succor us:
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me. (Alma 7:11-13)
We know from this that Christ DID pay for our sins, something that Morgan deemphasizes or rejects in his divine infusion theory. I believe that Jesus not only lifted the universe out of darkness, but he also lifted each individual, as well. Without suffering, he could not have succored us - something that Morgan was uncertain about in his article.
But the evidence of the scriptures show that Jesus totally paid for all sins and for a free resurrection. All of us will resurrect and return to God's presence, thanks to the atonement. Our part in it is to receive as much light of Christ into our lives so that we are able and willing to receive God's presence. Otherwise, we will find ourselves miserable in God's presence, and desire a lesser kingdom.