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
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