Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Two Atonements

Posted by BrianJ on April 11, 2014

Primary General President Rosemary Wixom, in her recent General Conference address (Keeping Covenants Protects Us, Prepares Us, and Empowers Us), said,

“Temple ordinances lead to the greatest blessings available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe it was the context of those words—she had just finished discussing baptism and the sacrament—but I balked. You see, when I hear “atonement,” I think about Jesus’ sacrifices in Gethsemane and on the cross, but I don’t think about how those directly relate to temple blessings.
I understand that many people will respond with, “But the atonement makes everything possible! Nothing would even matter without it.” While I agree with the sentiment, I think it blurs the lines between what the atonement directly accomplishes and what it indirectly allows.

I should clarify a bit what I said about “Jesus’ sacrifices in Gethsemane and on the cross.” You see, I don’t believe that he is done suffering. I believe that he continues to suffer with us as we struggle through sin—not only its unpleasant consequences, but also the sorrow of being with us as we sin (even though we may be “having fun” at the time); we drag him along during our “riotous living.” Thus, even though Christ is not still on the cross, the type of suffering he endures for our sins is of the same type.

Enter: repentance, baptism, sacrament, etc. All of these non-temple principles and ordinances are clearly intricately, directly—even symbolically—connected to the atonement.

President Wixom got me thinking about how the atonement could also directly relate to the temple ordinances. To illustrate my thinking, I’ll have you imagine a line graph with “time” on the x-axis and “glory/godliness” on the y-axis. Now imagine that premortally we had reached some degree of glory but had plateaued. Not because godhood expressly requires a physical body (e.g., premortal Jehovah), just as sin does not require a physical body (e.g., Lucifer). Nevertheless, gaining a physical body is part of God’s plan to breathe life into that stagnation.

The problem: at some point—or thousands of points—during our lives we do things that take us further and further from God (i.e. our line drops lower on the y-axis over time). Yet, even though we drop away, Christ “drops down” to reach us.

The effects of the repentance, baptism, etc. are justification: i.e., making things right, “washing” away sin, etc. So where does that leave us on that graph? Well, pretty much right where we started before we committed all those sins. In other words, not much better off than where we started. (Surely there is meaningful advancement—a body, knowledge, etc.—but that’s pretty minor compared to where we want to be, which is at the top of that graph.)

How do we reach higher? Well, the word for that, of course, is exaltation. The word just means “the state of being elevated,” as in, “Every valley shall be exalted….” But what it means in relation to us is “becoming one with God.”

Clearly, the resolution to our fallen state is forgiveness—washing the slate clean. This is what the ordinances outside the temple focus on. Importantly, if we somehow managed to simply never sin, then we still wouldn’t be perfect. We’d just be “non-fallen.”

The resolution to our non-exalted state is oneness—exactly what all the “sealing” taking place in the temple is meant to accomplish: one with parents, one with children, one with spouse, which all ultimately leads to one with God.

Thus, I’m starting to see two at-one-ments:

1) When God becomes at one with us in our fallen state (condescension), which Christ demonstrated on the cross (and continues to this day)

2) When we become at one with God in his lofty state (exaltation), which depends upon the sealing ordinances of the temple

26 Responses to “Two Atonements”

  1. Chris G said

    Mind blown. In a good way.

  2. […] There are two atonements. Christ becomes one with us (salvation). Then we become one with Christ (exaltation). […]

  3. Steve Warren said

    Good article, but it included a couple of comments relating to concepts that concern me.

    First, the thing about Christ still suffering. Sometimes we also hear that Heavenly Father feels sadness whenever we commit a sin. When you consider all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children for whom Christ has atoned, it’s pretty clear that the Father and Son would have to be the saddest creatures in the universe if our sins affect them that way. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of spirit children out there, and the atonement may actually be infinite, although the Church tends to talk of it only in terms that limit it to the “universe” of the Father and Son.

    Second, it seems that we English speakers are God’s favorites, because at-one-ment doesn’t work in other languages. For example, it’s expiacion in Spanish, which is five syllables, not three, and they seem to be meaningless when separated. Next thing you know, someone will come up with something clever for Redemption that might claim the “dem” refers to Democrats and that “tion” means shun.

    • BrianJ said

      Steve Warren:

      1) I don’t believe that, in this context, suffering = sadness. When I labor with my children to help them through their weakness, it is tedious, hard, emotionally painful, etc., but it’s also my joy. I love being with them to support them, even though it exposes me to sorrow.

      2) I share your concern about manipulating words like “at-one-ment.” For a long time, I refused to accept or use this three-syllabled breakdown. But then I realized: regardless of the fact that it doesn’t translate into other languages, it is nevertheless doctrinally correct. Becoming one is the essence of Jesus’ intercessory prayer, the definition of Zion, the mystery of the Godhead, etc. So English has a great word that other languages lack; that’s not a reason for me to shun (or “tion”) the word. Granted, we have to remember that the scripture authors likely did not have “at one ment” in mind when they wrote about expiation, so we should take care to think about what “expiation” means.

      • Steve Warren said

        Yes, I agree that at-one-ment is a good word for English speakers because it reflects a hope for a future with Christ. Of course, the scriptures suggest that most won’t reach this at-one-ment.

        I also agree that suffering doesn’t equal sadness, but I believe Christ does not suffer when we sin. Every sin being committed now and in the future has already been paid for/suffered for by Christ. To say he suffers anew suggests that the original Atonement was insufficient. In terms of a doctrinal concept, perhaps it would be best to place it in the same discard bin as the nail in the board theory of repentance.

      • BrianJ said

        “To say he suffers anew suggests that the original Atonement was insufficient.”

        I can understand why many would reject my thoughts on this point. My best response to this worry is to point you to the works of Blake Ostler that Robert C mentions below.

        A simplified response would be: “the original Atonement was insufficient” only if the “original atonement” is over and done with or if the “original atonement” failed to accomplish some things that it was meant to. I’ll also note that I’m comfortable suggesting that the 3-day span of time we often call The Atonement was not everything Christ had to do. (I know Calvin would faint hearing me say that!) I view those 3 days as crucial events in an ongoing atonement—analogous to The Restoration of the gospel or The Gathering of Israel: ongoing processes that nevertheless are marked by certain major saltatory events.

        As a side note: I found it difficult to accept Ostler’s theory until, in an unrelated study, I came to reject the idea that God can “see” (i.e., know) the future. When I re-approached Ostler’s ideas with that framework, they clarified and resolved many mysteries and paradoxes. I say this is a side-note because, once again, I am not the best source for presenting Ostler’s thoughts, so I won’t try and muddle it up.

      • Matthew said

        Brian, re your response to (1). Fine, but then wouldn’t you say that this the suffering Christ does today is not of the same type? Above you say: “Thus, even though Christ is not still on the cross, the type of suffering he endures for our sins is of the same type.” Not trying to nit-pick words, just trying to make sure I understand what you are saying here.

      • BrianJ said

        Matthew: good catch. My words are a bit fuzzy here, so I apologize for that. I have in mind three types of suffering that Christ endured on the cross:

        1) physical: intense (though not different from what other crucified mortals suffered*)

        2) separation: he had been one with Heavenly Father, but had to experience separation. Inasmuch as exalting us to godhood requires a radical change in our nature, wouldn’t Christ condescending from godhood require an equally radical abuse of his nature? (I like to think of this like fission/fusion reactions in nuclear physics.)

        3) sorrow of sin: remorse, embarrassment, guilt, frustration, etc. Not unlike the vicarious suffering you or I experience when we choose to help our children through their sins. (Christ just does it more faithfully and completely than you or I—and he does it for everyone, whether or not they repent.) Instead of saying to the struggling sinner, “My door is always open, and I’ll have a hot bowl of soup and warm fire ready when you arrive,” Christ goes out and slogs through the mire and muck right alongside (even those who don’t take his offered hand).

        I don’t believe that Christ suffers #1 or #2 any longer. Only #3.

        _______________
        * Full disclosure: many people say that Christ experienced every emotion and pain that any person could ever experience; i.e., the pain of cancer or childbirth, the sorrow of losing a loved one or a job, etc. While I see how such a belief could be comforting, I don’t see a need for it or a scriptural basis for it (other than a too-literal interpretation of Alma 7:11).

    • Samuel said

      The word atonement is actually a construct of the syllables at-one-ment, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and is perhaps derived from the phrase at onement. The original meaning signified, literally, a state of being at one with others, with a heavy connotation of reconciliation.

      • Steve Warren said

        Good point. I’m glad to learn that the word was not manipulated in the way I thought.

        On a related topic, tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and Elder Howard W. Hunter gave a conference talk on Palm Sunday 20 years ago titled “Jesus the Very Thought of Thee” that I would heartily recommend to anyone reading this comment.

  4. Robert C. said

    I like this, Brian. FYI, Blake Ostler lays out a view of atonement in his 2nd volume of Exploring Mormon Thought that has many similarities to what you’ve laid out here–you (or others) might be interested in checking it out.

    • BrianJ said

      There might be a reason for the similarity: my views on the atonement are heavily influenced by Ostler’s—not from reading his books, but rather from online conversations.

  5. Matt W. said

    I like it. Where do you put the Easter event, where Christ’s breaking the bands of death and allowing us to live on enables both atonement #1 and atonement #2?

    • BrianJ said

      Matt W: I’m not sure. See here (http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2010/06/24/death-died/) where I question what it means to say that Jesus conquered death. That post is almost 4 years old, but I am no closer to an answer.

      But I guess I would place resurrection itself in neither atonement #1 nor #2. Resurrection is a miracle, a blessing, and a necessity, but it can and will happen separately and aside from any reconciliation between God and the resurrected—a uniquely Mormon view, I believe. Which is not to say that resurrection’s association with the atonement (i.e., the spiritual death part) is accidental. To state the obvious for completeness’ sake, resurrection and reconciliation are connected because:

      1) As part of Jesus’ suffering for sin, he had to die—perhaps for multiple reasons, but one was to erase all doubt that he would not be willing to go as far as necessary for us.

      2) Jesus’ resurrection proves that he is God. And I expect that when each of us experiences resurrection we will again be convinced of God’s power. Without that proof, could we trust him?

      In some ways, the distinctions I’m trying to make could be analogized to a wedding and a honeymoon. The two are connected, in time and topic, but are not one-and-the-same: two could wed without honeymooning (though this might raise doubts about the marriage). Likewise, two could honeymoon long after wedding—or do the same things as honeymooners even though not wed to each other. (Okay, that last point probably overstretches the analogy.)

      Caveat: As noted in that 4-year old post, I don’t understand the meaning of “the pains of death,” nor do I know whether there is some sort of lost-ness due to death that required Christ to “find his way back” first hand in order to make resurrection possible. The answers to those questions might convince me to give up on this separation between reconciliation and resurrection.

      • JKC said

        Don’t the sealing ordinances directly depend on the resurrection? I mean, the whole point of doing sealing ordinances is that everything in this world is subject to death. It is inescapable and we have no power over it. So if we have no power over death, how can we possibly claim to have the power to perform an ordinance that transcends death? We can’t. The idea that we can create bonds that are NOT subject to death must depend on the resurrection, because it is the resurrection that gives Christ power over death (or maybe it is merely evidence of his pre-existing power over death, but in any event, it is Christ’s power over death that provides the basis for the sealing ordinances). And it is Christ, the holder of all priesthood keys, that gives the sealing power to those authorized to exercise it in the temples. The same goes not just for the sealing power, but for any kind of work for the dead, and of course, Jesus’ visit to the spirit world right before his resurrection is a big part of the work for the dead, and is, arguably, part of the whole Easter narrative anyway.

      • BrianJ said

        JKC: “Don’t the sealing ordinances directly depend on the resurrection?”

        I don’t know. The pre-mortal Jesus didn’t have any trouble being one with Heavenly Father, so it seems that having a resurrected body is not essential for sealing. The Holy Ghost is another example. Then again, maybe the sealing ordinances are more about sealing bodies and not spirits.

        At any rate, I’m not trying to say that resurrection and sealing ordinances are not connected in any way. Every part of the Gospel is connected to every other part in some way. I could, for example, argue that the sealing ordinances directly depend on childbirth, because if none of us were born then we couldn’t be sealed.

        The parenthetical point you touch upon is important: “it is the resurrection that gives Christ power over death (or maybe it is merely evidence of his pre-existing power over death….)” Exactly: Christ already demonstrated power over death before he died—in fact, before he was even born (e.g., Moses).

      • JKC said

        Brian, this is a fascinating topic and I’ve benefited from thinking on it. Thanks for starting the conversation. I’m not sure I understand your comment about a resurrected body being necessary for sealing, with the examples of Jesus and the Holy Ghost being “one with the father” despite not having resurrected bodies. The first issue is that I’m not sure about your equating the sealing ordinances to the relationship that exists between the members of the Godhead. Sure, the Godhead is perfect oneness, and sealing, at least between married couples, is also supposed to bring about a kind of oneness, but I’m not sure that they are equivalent. In my understanding, sealing is much more about creating a family link that overcomes the separation created by mortality (think Joseph Smith’s “welding link” metaphor. I know he was discussion viarious baptism, but the concept applies just as well, if not better, to sealing). I don’t know whether this is the same kind of oneness that exists in the Godhead. Certainly it is different in that death does not separate the members of the Godhead the way that death separates us from our families. If I am right that sealings are primarily about overcoming the separation caused by death, then this is a major difference between the unity of the Godhead and the sealing ordinances.

        The second issue is related to that last point: that neither the pre-mortal Jesus nor the Holy Ghost were mortal—that is, neither one of them were (or were yet, in Jesus’ case) subject to death. In other words, death had no power over them because they had not yet become mortal. In our case, we are mortal and death has power over us. That is a major difference.

        I would say that a resurrected body is plainly not necessary for sealing, because we are sealed before we are resurrected, not after. (I understand that according to one view, sealing ordinances are merely a prefigurement of the real sealing that will take place in the resurrection, but I tend to take a more literal view: the ordinance performed in the temple is an actual binding on earth and in heaven, not just some fancy foreshadowing. Sure, it may be broken by failure to keep faith with the covenant associated with it, and the Holy Spirit of Promise might withdraw its approval, but I don’t think that makes the sealing ordinances only symbolic of a later event.) I wonder if you misunderstood the point I was making. I was not saying that our own resurrection is a pre-requisite for sealing. I was saying that Christ’s resurrection is a necessary pre-requisite to the sealing power even existing at all—that power must depend on the resurrection because it is a power that purports to overcome death. It can’t do so unless it derives from a source stronger than death. And that’s what the resurrection is: it is the proof of Jesus’ power over death.

        I’m not sure I understand your last point. How did Christ demonstrate his power over death with Moses? My parenthetical was just a recognition of the fact I am not entirely clear over whether Jesus actually had power over death before the resurrection and the resurrection merely proves that power, or whether he did not actually have such power until he defeated death. But I’m not sure that that distinction really makes that big of a difference though, because even if he had power over death (real power, not just to delay death, e.g. Lazarus or the widow’s son raised by Elijah–both of whom were raised from the dead, but who presumably actually died–at least that’s how I understand the teaching that Christ was the “first fruits”, but to actually overcome it) until he exercised that power, it was, in one sense, an unproven claim. So any claim that we make through the sealing power to create a relationship that endures beyond death would likewise be an unproven claim without Jesus’ resurrection. That’s the sense I meant when I said that the sealing ordinances directly depend on the resurrection. Because the resurrection (the resurrection of Christ), whether it is the source or the proof of Christ’s power over death, is either the source, or the proof of the legitimacy, of the sealing power.

      • BrianJ said

        JKC: sorry, I have been away.

        Sealing vs oneness: you’re right to question whether or not these are the same or different. I see them as essentially the same—or rather, that one (sealing) is the process of bringing about the other (oneness). As you point out, sealing unites a married couple…hopefully as one. I equate that oneness to the oneness Jesus prayed that the Father would bless his disciples with, which Jesus equated with the oneness shared by him and the Father. Inasmuch as oneness with God and the eternal permanence of sealing depend upon attaining Celestial glory, I see further synonymity between the two. I could be wrong.

        At any rate, let me pose a hypothetical based on sealing and oneness being different. Suppose that I am not sealed to anyone, yet I still become one with God. What more would sealing have to offer? I would answer “nothing,” because oneness with God is our ultimate goal. The reason I bring up this impossible hypothetical is because Jesus and the Holy Ghost enjoy(ed) this very state of oneness without—well, I don’t want to say “without sealing,” because I don’t know what kinds of ordinances they may have experienced, but certainly without being resurrected or having a body. Because Jesus and the Holy Ghost are not fundamentally different species from you and I (a belief held by mainstream Christianity but rejected by Mormonism—which is the main reason Mormons are rejected as Christians), I conclude that a body and resurrection are not by definition prerequisite for our godhood. (Much like repentance, if we never sinned, would not be prerequisite.)

        If sealing is “primarily about overcoming the separation caused by death,” wouldn’t resurrection achieve whatever sealing is meant to achieve? In other words, to overcome the separation caused by death, I just need to be resurrected (along with my whole family). Because everyone will be resurrected, everyone will overcome death…and with it the separation caused by death. There may still be separation caused by other things, but not by death. Even those who reject sealing will be resurrected, so doesn’t that create a problem for viewing sealing as primarily about overcoming death?

        You asked, “I wonder if you misunderstood the point I was making. I was not saying that our own resurrection is a pre-requisite for sealing. I was saying that Christ’s resurrection is a necessary pre-requisite to the sealing power even existing at all—that power must depend on the resurrection because it is a power that purports to overcome death.”

        I understood your point in the way you just described. I agree that in some way physical death creates a barrier to enjoying the blessings of sealings—why or how it creates a barrier is not clear to me. Of course, we still disagree on the meaning of sealing, as I just discussed in the preceding paragraphs.

        “How did Christ demonstrate his power over death with Moses?” Moses was translated. My understanding is that he, and several others in the scriptures, will never “taste of death.” That, to me, illustrates Christ undeniable power over death. Still, there remains some kind of difference between a “translated” body and a “resurrected” body, so it could be argued that while the pre-mortal Christ held the power of translation (i.e., staving off death), only the post-mortal Christ wields the power of resurrection (i.e., overcoming death).

        Thanks for engaging in this helpful discussion.

      • JKC said

        Brian, Sorry, I haven’t checked back and read you most recent comments until now. I don’t think I understand your hypothetical. I agree that sealing is to bring about oneness, but the difference between that oneness and the oneness that we hopefully will have with God is that the oneness that the sealing ordinances bring about is a oneness that sanctifies a relationship created here in mortality among mortals who are all subject to death. The godhead is composed entirely of non-mortal beings, either pre-mortal, in the case of the Holy Ghost (though this is a little speculative and something we know little about), or resurrected in the case of the Father and the Son.

        I think you hit the point when you say “that a body and resurrection are not by definition prerequisite for our godhood. (Much like repentance, if we never sinned, would not be prerequisite.)” I agree that it is theoretically possible for a non-mortal spirit to have godhood, e.g. the Holy Ghost. But once you become mortal, you are subject to death and you need Christ’s resurrection to overcome it. Just like how repentance is not necessary for a sinless being, overcoming death is not necessary for a deathless being.

        This is a really good question: If sealing is “primarily about overcoming the separation caused by death,” wouldn’t resurrection achieve whatever sealing is meant to achieve? In other words, to overcome the separation caused by death, I just need to be resurrected (along with my whole family). Because everyone will be resurrected, everyone will overcome death…and with it the separation caused by death. There may still be separation caused by other things, but not by death. Even those who reject sealing will be resurrected, so doesn’t that create a problem for viewing sealing as primarily about overcoming death?

        That view assumes that without the sealing ordinances, our relationships will be “resurrected” along with our bodies. I think the point is that in this life we create relationships, some by blood, some by covenant, but the problem is that those relationships can’t survive death. When we are resurrected, our bodies will resurrect, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the relationships that we created will also resurrect. The sealing ordinances, as I see it, sanctify those relationships and make them deathless.

  6. Matt W. said

    1) When God becomes at one with us in our fallen state (condescension), which Christ demonstrated on the cross (and continues to this day). I would argue Christ could not do this if he were dead.

    2) When we become at one with God in his lofty state (exaltation), which depends upon the sealing ordinances of the temple. I would argue we could not do this if we were dead.

    • BrianJ said

      Matt W: sorry, I have been away. You say, “I would argue….” Could you please? Argue, that is. Could you please expound on why a spirit-only Jesus would not be able to condescend to us and why a spirit-only BrianJ could not become one with God?

  7. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, I haven’t been following the discussion too closely, and I’ve sort of forgotten the parts of this discussion I have read, but I have some thoughts in response to you most recent reply to comment #5.

    The Book of Mormon seems to focus particularly on the resurrection, and it seems to me that there is a tight link between atonement and resurrection in the Book of Mormon. But I think it’s wrong to think of the resurrection as merely being about overcoming physical death. That is, I’m inclined to think that resurrection, esp. as discussed in the Book of Mormon, includes the implications that follow from Christ having overcome death–and I think the meaning and significance of sealing has a lot to do with these implications.

    I know I’m not answering several of the questions you are raising here (both explicitly and implicitly), but I think some of them (esp. some of the hypotheticals) are perhaps more distracting than helpful when it comes to understanding the what sealing is about. For me, the practical significance of sealing is very directly related to my relationship with my wife and, simultaneously, with my relationship to God. For those who are sealed but not married, there is nevertheless someone to whom I’m sealed. And I only experience sealing as a mortal, embodied person. So, I’m inclined to think that the significance of the sealing ordinance is very closely linked to the way that we experience our embodied lives, and our relationship with specific other people–and that my relationship to God is intimately connected to my relationship with my own body and my relationship with specific other people.

    Thus, I think the sealing ordinance has significant symbolic power with regard to the way I am committed to live out these relationships (to my body and to others). And so I’m inclined to think that questions about the sealing ordinance that can’t be brought to bear (in some sort of relatively easy way) or getting something significantly wrong about the ordinance.

    (What exactly the significance of the sealing ordinance is with respect to my “relationship” with my own body–I know this is a strange expression, but I can’t think of anything better–is a huge topic, of course. In a word, though, I’d say it is deeply related to the most significant desires and meanings that I experience in life and, so, my sealing acts as a kind of compass by which I orient and evaluate everything I do in my life. Or something….)

    • BrianJ said

      Robert C: thanks for your thoughts. I think you are right that I’ve thrown in a lot of distracting comments—that’s the risk when thinking out loud. I wonder if you could expand/clarify a few comments you made:

      “I think it’s wrong to think of the resurrection as merely being about overcoming physical death.” Agreed, especially in light of Alma’s restoration doctrine (which, frankly, I think stands in contrast to much of the talk of salvation/exaltation/degrees of glory/etc. found elsewhere in the scriptures). The problem for me is that it’s not clear why a body is needed (in heaven) other than the fact that we’re told it is. In contrast, it’s quite obvious why we need a body in this life. Thus, contemplating the role of resurrection, other than overcoming physical death, is rather difficult.

      “I’m inclined to think that resurrection includes the implications that follow from Christ having overcome death.” Could you at least list those implications so I can understand what you think I am overlooking?

      “the practical significance of sealing is very directly related to my relationship with my wife and, simultaneously, with my relationship to God. For those who are sealed but not married, there is nevertheless someone to whom I’m sealed.” Do you see a difference between my sealing to my wife, my sealing to God (if that’s part of the sealing), and my sealing to my parents/children? Do you see a difference between my immediate sealing to my parents and my distant sealing to my great-great-great grandparents? to my cousins? to you (which I’m sure we could eventually trace)?

      “And I only experience sealing as a mortal, embodied person.” I definitely don’t understand what you mean here. It sounds like you mean that a) sealing pertains to this mortal life only and b) deceased but not yet resurrected persons do not experience sealing even though their temple work has been done.

      “I’m inclined to think that the significance of the sealing ordinance is very closely linked to the way that we experience our embodied lives, and our relationship with specific other people–and that my relationship to God is intimately connected to my relationship with my own body and my relationship with specific other people.” I agree. By focusing on the post-mortal role of sealing, I did not mean to ignore or discount its role in our mortal lives. But I will say that I don’t believe that the effects of sealing are ever fully experienced in this life; i.e., I think a large part of it is preparatory, and the blessings of sealing in this life may largely derive from the direction that preparation points us in rather than some immediate “sealing” that takes place—perhaps exactly what you meant by, “my sealing acts as a kind of compass by which I orient and evaluate everything.”

      “And so I’m inclined to think that questions about the sealing ordinance that can’t be brought to bear (in some sort of relatively easy way) or getting something significantly wrong about the ordinance.” First, I think you have a typo in that sentence that is making it difficult for me to understand. Second, could you please list what you think I am getting wrong about the ordinance (keeping in mind how I agreed above)?

  8. Robert C. said

    Brian, in response to your #7, I think most of your questions have to do with my poor articulation of relatively recent shift in my thinking focusing more on the immanent effects of our doctrines and ordinances and less on what things might be like in the hereafter. Everything below is basically an attempt to clarify this single point.

    (I’m replying to your comments in-line, but in a different order, thiugh I’ve numbered your comments in the order you wrote them.)

    2. “I’m inclined to think that resurrection includes the implications that follow from Christ having overcome death.” Could you at least list those implications so I can understand what you think I am overlooking?

    One implication is that Christ’s overcoming of death makes death have no sting. That is, rather than worrying about death in a way that distracts me from living a meaningful life, I live my life more cheerfully and meaningfully in the present because my hope in Christ’s overcoming of death frees me from fears of death that distract me from living a significant and meaningful life. (I have in mind here a kind of analogy about the way fear of missing a really important foul shot can be self-fulfilling–resurrection has the effect of blocking out these kind of distracting fears.)

    6. “And so I’m inclined to think that questions about the sealing ordinance that can’t be brought to bear (in some sort of relatively easy way) or getting something significantly wrong about the ordinance.” First, I think you have a typo in that sentence that is making it difficult for me to understand. Second, could you please list what you think I am getting wrong about the ordinance (keeping in mind how I agreed above)?

    Similar to my above clarification, I meant to say something to the effect “that questions about the sealing ordinance that can’t be brought to bear (in some sort of easy way on my current life) are distracting from more important and present matters of my life in the here and now. . . .”)

    3. Do you see a difference between my sealing to my wife, my sealing to God (if that’s part of the sealing), and my sealing to my parents/children? Do you see a difference between my immediate sealing to my parents and my distant sealing to my great-great-great grandparents? to my cousins? to you (which I’m sure we could eventually trace)?

    The difference I see simply reflects the specific nature and holy potential of my relationships to my wife, parents, children and God, and I think the immediate vs. distant sealing question simply reflects the immediate and distant aspects of my existing relationships.

    The significance of the sealing ordinance is that is forces me to think seriously about the holy aspects and “oneness”(/shalom) I experience (or should experience) in each of these kind of relationships. In my various relationships, I have various levels of investment and commitment, but the sealing ordinance encourages(/forces) me to think about how to stay true to eternal principles (of peace and love) in each of these particular relationships. (It probably sounds like I’m not really saying anything of substance here, but I think it’s because this is simply a subtle and difficult to articulate point–and I too am mostly just thinking aloud….)

    5. But I will say that I don’t believe that the effects of sealing are ever fully experienced in this life; i.e., I think a large part of it is preparatory, and the blessings of sealing in this life may largely derive from the direction that preparation points us in rather than some immediate “sealing” that takes place—perhaps exactly what you meant by, “my sealing acts as a kind of compass by which I orient and evaluate everything.”

    If we disagree here, it’s that although I’m happy to agree that “the effects of sealing are never fully experienced in this this,” I do think that what is most important for us to focus on is the way that the sealing ordinance changes the way we live our lives in the here and now. So, whereas you contrast the “immediate ‘sealing’ that takes place” with the way that sealing prepares us for the future, I’m more inclined to collapse the distinction here: the preparation we experience is the immediate sealing that takes place (or, rather, it’s the most significant aspect of the sealing that takes place presently).

    4. I definitely don’t understand what you mean here. It sounds like you mean that a) sealing pertains to this mortal life only and b) deceased but not yet resurrected persons do not experience sealing even though their temple work has been done.

    Not that sealing only pertains to the mortal life, but that the most significant and meaningful aspects of it–at least for me to understand in the here and now–pertain to how sealing affects the way I live, value, understand, and orient my current mortal life.

    1. The problem for me is that it’s not clear why a body is needed (in heaven) other than the fact that we’re told it is. In contrast, it’s quite obvious why we need a body in this life. Thus, contemplating the role of resurrection, other than overcoming physical death, is rather difficult.

    I’m not sure if I understand you here, but my thought in this vein was(/is) that the resurrection implies that our embodiment is a very significant aspect of our existence. So, we don’t really need to worry (i.e., we shouldn’t worry) very much about disembodied life. Rather, the significance of the resurrection is how it reinforces Alma’s doctrine of restoration and gives a kind of eternal/spiritual/holy significance to my embodiment. Like my interpersonal relations with various relatives (near or far), my relationship with my body and the physical world takes on a significance and meaning that differs from the way that the body is viewed by doctrines that frame the body as something less holy and that should be transcended.

    FWIW…. (I’ve enjoyed trying to think through and articulate my thoughts here, even if I’m not making any sense to you or anyone else!)

    • BrianJ said

      Robert, this is all very helpful. Thank you. I think I’m seeing your thoughts clearly now and I must say that I don’t see anything to disagree with. If anything I say below looks like a disagreement, it is because certain things still don’t make sense to me—I see through a glass, darkly—so it is not possible for me to “agree” with you in that I can’t quite see what I am agreeing to. I will use the numbering you used.

      Re you larger point about focusing on the here and now. Yes! I do not want to advocate “dreaming of mansions above” when I say that sealing (and other doctrines) is not fully enjoyed until after resurrection. What I mean to say is that knowing that there is more—very, very much more—to our existence than only this life should orient our minds and hearts to the importance of the here and now. Today matters precisely because there is a tomorrow (and a next week, and a next year…). That should have two effects (both of which you separately bring up in points 2 and 4): first, that we should be terrified of annihilation upon death, and second, that we should be planning and preparing for a very long future. Thus, I agree with all of your point 5; any perceived contrast between what we are saying on this point I think is purely stylistic.

      The fact that our manner of thinking about eternity influences our actions here and now is exactly why I feel compelled to analyze, debate, and study these topics. I don’t wonder about the purpose of a body in heaven just for the novelty of the question, but because I think that the answer will benefit me today. I think you agree on this. I also recognize, as you do in point 6, that some mysteries can be distractions. How do you know when you’re pondering an unponderable distraction versus when your persistent pondering will lead to bursting through the veil?

      3. Do you see the immediate/distant aspects persisting after death? Other than the specific nature of a husband/wife bond, I cannot see how any other relationship maintains its earthly structure. In part because my children are, after all, my spirit siblings, just as you and my ancestors are my siblings. Also in part because it feels like earthly structures in heaven seem like a distinction without a difference.

      I have some additional thoughts on body/death which I moved to a new post because it’s the cloudiest issue for me.

  9. […] BrianJ on Two Atonements […]

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