Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jacob Morgan's Divine Infusion Theory of the Atonement

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.


JandS Morgan said...

Hi rameumptom,

Thanks for making me feel famous. I enjoyed reading your review of my paper and it sounds like we have a lot of overlap in our views.

Your main complaint seems to be that I have left out the atonement's role in paying for our sins. I'm interested to know what you mean when you say that Christ paid for our sins. Usually people mean something like penal-substitution, but you sound like you don't accept that theory. So, in what sense do sins "cost" something and how does Christ "pay" for them?

rameumptom said...

My view of Christ's atonement is that it literally has paid entirely for everything - a free gift. The scriptures show us time and again, whether we read Paul or the Book of Mormon, etc., that Christ has fully paid for all sins and pains, etc. The only thing at issue is whether we accept his free offering or not. Better stated: whether we are ABLE to fully accept his free offering or not.

Alma 11-12, Mormon 9, Helaman 14, D&C 19, and other sections are clear in discussing that the atonement is freely given, and that our only need (which resonates with your article, btw), is that we BECOME able to receive it. Those that cannot withstand the light of God's presence will wish the rocks and mountains fall upon them, instead.

So, there is no penal substitution, or double jeopardy, per se. We don't owe anything to Justice. We just have to turn to Christ and become like Him, in order to capitalize fully on the atonement.

For the thief on the cross, it only took a word of belief to be promised Paradise that very day. He didn't have any repentance period, burning in Spirit Prison, according to scripture. And Alma the Younger only burned in Spirit Prison during his NDE until he repented and believed. After that, some level of salvation was received.

Of course, viewing salvation in these terms tends to open a door that I've heard few discuss before. Are the three levels of the celestial glory (D&C 130): the telestial, terrestrial and celestial? It would more easily explain why all these would return to God's presence.

I can see where others would think we are talking semantics, since in the end, we are discussing why/how someone obtains exaltation or any level of salvation. But I believe the closer we get to actually understanding God's processes, the better we begin to understand and approach God. I think the Lectures on Faith describe it as correctly understanding God's attributes.

So, sins do not "cost" anything, except that they are paid fully by Christ. Our only issue is accepting Christ's atonement. The suffering in this life and in the Spirit World are only used as an inducement for believing in God and repenting. Once Alma called upon God, his pains were gone - not a punishment, but an inducement to change. You wrote that the Light of Christ is an inducement that balances Satan's temptations. I agree. They both seek to induce us toward a certain belief system and lifestyle.
The Old Testament becomes more understandable to me in these terms. Punishments are not really meted out to a wicked Israel, rather inducements to repent. Sometimes the wickedness of the people is so intent, that it requires major inducement - Flood, Diaspora, etc., to end the evil and encourage change, even if it occurs in the Spirit World. One of our best known missionary scriptures for preaching to the dead is in Peter, where he suggests those that died in the Flood still have a chance to be preached to. The Flood, therefore, becomes part of the inducement to get them to repent.

Those that refuse to look at the bronze serpent and live, will continue under the darkness that refusing the light of Christ causes, until they do choose to repent. The longer it takes an individual to repent, the less time they have in this life and the next to grow towards Christ and be filled with his Light. Those that completely reject such light become sons of Perdition. They refuse to repent.

IOW, your divine infusion steps in when a person chooses to change towards the light of Christ. As in D&C 93, we receive grace for grace by moving from grace to grace.

JandS Morgan said...


Thanks for that response. You make many good points. I agree with your approach to suffering as a motivation to repent, and I agree that the atonement is a gift freely given. I also liked your suggestion that the three degrees in D&C 131:1 are actually refering to telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. That is an interesting idea, which I have never heard suggested.

Now, I am a bit confused on one point still. You said:

"So, sins do not 'cost' anything, except that they are paid fully by Christ."

If sins do not cost anything, then what was Christ fully 'paying' for? You are saying Christ "paid" for sins, but I don't know what that means. Who/what was he paying?

rameumptom said...

There was a cost to pay for sin. But Christ already paid for it. For us, there is no cost. It is like your Dad buying you a candy bar at the store when you were a kid. He carries it out of the store, and may ask you to do something to receive it (like say, "thanks"). But regardless of whether you do it or not, the candy bar has already been paid for. The issue then becomes one of the Dad gives the candy bar to the child, the child takes a bite and sees if he likes it or not. If it is something he likes, he enjoys the entire thing.
If the candy is too rich, he may only take a part of it, or none of it at all.
Still, the candy has been offered completely without any real strings. It has been completely paid for, and the only remaining question is whether we like it and are able to eat it all.
With heaven, it is already completely offered to all. We just have to determine if we like all of it, it is too rich for us, if we only want a nibble, or none at all.

Erin M said...

Rameumpton and Jacob,

Do you really believe you have captured "the brethern's" understanding of the atonement? I think you would be very hard pressed to find a single living general authority who would accept the box you have put them in, i.e. ...

“He (Jacob) notes that the early and most current Church Authorities have adopted the penal-substitution theory."

“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.”

It makes more sense to look for gold not holes.

I have a lot more comments, but they all have the same flavor which is: I see a lot more harmony between ideas than others do. I think the use of the word "but" in this post is over used. I realize that the purpose of a critique is to disagree, but your arguments don't seem to preclude what you are arguing against. Just my take.

Am I wrong in saying that many in these blog forums use the challenge of poking holes in others' ideas as a way to arrive at truth? The premise seems to be: the harder a theory is to disprove through reason, the more likely it is to be true. I can see how this process is intellectually interesting, and can produce satisfying results. I also see how it can be detrimental in a number of ways.

Trying to make all the differing theories fit together as much as possible feels safer. This harmony approach has a lot of built in checks and balances, and makes me more open to everybody's ideas. It also works on the assumption that everybody is bringing truth to the table. So instead of making the challenge about finding holes, the challenge becomes finding nuggets of truth. The filter's I try to use are the spirit, "the nature of God" and God's objectives.

Looking for gold instead of holes is similar to the mindset you're taught to have in a Toyota Production System - which is to produce 100% good parts instead of achieving 0% defects.

My question is: If no holes can be poked into a theory or idea, does that make it truth; or can a theory or idea be truth in spite of men being able to poke a seeming host of holes in to it?

In summary, 1) I think you have misrepresented the brethren. And 2) I wonder if the approach you are taking to arrive at truth led you to misrepresent the brethren.

Thank you for your post and for getting me thinking.I'm here because I think these blog forums are both valuable and fun.

rameumptom said...

Erin, Our comments are not denigrating the GAs. We revere them as prophets and men of God. However, as with all of us, much of their thinking is based upon their perceptions and way of thinking. Most GAs are not trained in philosophy or critical thinking. That is not their job. Their job is to teach us how to return to God's presence, and they do a great job of it. They use their best understanding of the gospel as they have in their day. Elder Packer's descriptions of the atonement, for example, are in line with the penal-substitution. It is accepted by many Christians, as it explains Jesus' atonement in a simple way, even though it leaves open many questions and problems. This theory was used by most GAs in past decades, although some (such as Elder Holland) seem to take a different approach today. A strength of the Church is we embrace truth, as we get it line upon line, whether from revelation, science, or elsewhere. The new headings in the 2013 Scriptures for Official Declarations 1 and 2 show major departures from teachings of previous GAs, for example. So, we are not denigrating GAs, we are just saying that many of them grew up believing or being taught the penal substitution theory, and didn't see a need to learn or focus on other theories.

rameumptom said...

Oh, Erin, your method works for many things. However, without poking for holes, one can have part of the truth, but miss a big portion of it. This is why so many people have the Bible, but not the Book of Mormon: because they see good in the Bible, and are not willing to question what others have taught them. They are satisfied with what they have. D&C 88 commands us to "seek out of the best books" the learning of the earth. Because of the scientific method, we have the knowledge and technology today. For centuries, they used the same type of plow, because it worked, and no one thought to consider how they could do it better. It didn't make the first plow wrong, just that there are better things out there. Even Moroni 19:3-5 tells us to question: ask if it is NOT true. Clearly, the Lord wants us to use logic and reasoning in finding greater truths. Yes, he wants us to use the Spirit as well. But as with Oliver Cowdery trying to translate the Book of Mormon, we need to do more than just ask. We have to work it out in our own mind, and THEN ask if it is right (D&C 9). Had Joseph not questioned what was told him by the ministers of his day, he may not have received a revelation from God.
I hope you can see from this that learning with reason goes hand in hand with inspiration and the guidance of God.