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RS/MP Lesson 12: “The Atonement” (Gospel Principles Manual)

Posted by kirkcaudle on July 9, 2010

I am teaching this lesson on Sunday and noticed that nobody has posted notes for it yet. I thought I would post mine in case any one else is teaching. The manual has some potentially great discussion questions within this lesson. I will use mostly the questions from the manual and throw in one of my own as a follow-up every now and again.

The Atonement is something that is hard for me to teach (because I really do not understand it) and a subject that I approach with the utmost reverence (because of its eternal and sacred nature). Because of the length of this lesson I have only posted notes for the first three sections. I have also consciously left out the historical atonement theories. I welcome them for discussion; I simply thought they would complicate the matter for those who are just browsing the blog and are unfamiliar with them.

Here is a link to the actual lesson itself:


The Atonement is Necessary for our Salvation

-Why is the Atonement necessary for our salvation?

“For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; … yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement” (Alma 34:9). Because we know that we are not totally blinked out of existence, what does it mean to “perish?”

The manual says, :The Fall of Adam brought two kinds of death into the world: phyisical…and spiritual.” physical is separation from body and spirit, while spiritual is separation from God. However, I would like to set forth the idea that both deaths (physical and spiritual) are spiritual. I think this can be seen in Hel. 14:16, where, ” this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.” Now compare that verse with D&C 29:41,  “I, the Lord God, caused that [Adam] should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed.” The first death caused Adam to die spiritually, not just the second death.

“For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice. Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:10-12). In reference to these verses the manual states, “[Heavenly Father] planned for a Savior to come to earth to ransom (redeem) us from our sins and from death.” Do you think it is reasonable to see the terms “ransom” and “redeem” as interchangeable?

Jesus Christ was the only one who could Atone for our sins

-Why was Jesus Christ the only one who could atone for our sins?

The manual gives 2 basic reasons:

1. Heavenly Father chose Him to be the Savior
2. Jesus was qualified because He was the only person to live on earth without committing sin.

This brings up (at least) two scenarios. Chosen vs. Qualified:

1. The righteousness (and sinlessness) of Jesus Christ caused The Father to choose Him.
2. Jesus Christ was righteous (and sinless) because The Father did choose Him.

The differences are subtle, but not insignificant.

Christ suffered and Died to Atone for our sins

Imagine yourself in the Garden of Gethsemane or at the cross as a witness of the suffering of Jesus Christ.

On a personal note:

I am not partial to the idea of “separate” sections of the atonement. To many church members these sections seem to be ranked.
1. Garden
2. Resurrection
3. Cross
I think what happened on the cross is very underrated (not that the others are overrated of course) by members of the church. I have never liked the line I so often hear on Easter, and throughout the year, in reference to wearing and displaying the cross, “the cross represents Christ’s death, but we celebrate his life and resurrection.” This is a clear example of how the atonement is split apart by members. Therefore, when I imagine “the atonement” I think of it as one event.

Another popular idea on the Atonement is that is it really took two people to make it happen, Christ and the Father. Christ had to suffer, but God had to remove his Spirit from Him in order for him to die on the cross. Therefore, the atonement would not be Christ’s alone because he could not have done it without the Father. We see this love in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Again, as in Alma 34:9, we see the word “parish.” Do you think John uses “parish” in the same context as Alma?

You will notice that I began and ended my notes with the relationship between the Atonement and what it means to parish. That was purposeful. I think that in order to be truly grateful for the Atonement we must seek to understand what we would be missing without it. As I ponder this it helps me understand how the Atonement works in my life.


16 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 12: “The Atonement” (Gospel Principles Manual)”

  1. Robert C. said

    Thanks, Kirk. Turns out, I’m teaching this lesson too, and I don’t have a ton of time for preparation, so these thoughts are very helpful.

    One issue I’ve been wondering about Alma’s idea that mercy cannot rob justice (Alma 42:25), and how this idea interacts with what I see as the key scripture of the lesson, Alma 34:9-12, where Amulek talks about an infinite atonement being needed because, according to their finite human laws, one person cannot suffer the punishment for another.

    It seems there might be a tension here between Alma and Amulek. Alma teaches that mercy cannot rob justice, and yet Amulek says that mercy “overpowerth” justice (Alma 34:15). Can these two views by reconciled? Or is Alma perhaps “correcting” Amulek?

    There have been two interesting Dialogue articles written on this subject that I know of. I will give links to these articles and some thoughts in response to them in the remainder of this comment. I will try to get back to this question of understanding Amulek vis-a-vis Alma more directly in a subsequent comment.

    * “The Divine-Infusion Theory: Rethinking the Atonement” by Jacob Morgan (Spring 2006)

    * “Did Christ Pay for Our Sins?” by Dennis Potter (Winter 2009)

    Both of these articles question the penal substitution view of justice, which is basically presented in the lesson via Packer’s parable. Morgan’s article also gives a brief overview of the historical development of atonement theories in Western Christianity (viz., ransom theory, satisfaction theory, moral influence theory, and penal-substitution as a tweak on satisfaction theory). Potter’s article offers several arguments and examples as to why a satisfaction view of atonement is not philosophically satisfying.

    I’m going to reread these articles since I need to refresh my memory. But I’m going to be reading with the following amalgam of thoughts in mind.

    1. First, I think these articles do not give sufficient weight to the idea that God’s word is binding. If God gives a law and says that there must be punishment, I wonder if that’s not enough by itself to make punishment necessary in some important sense.

    2. Second, I think this idea can be coupled with a moral-influence view to provide a more satisfying understanding of atonement. I can imagine in my own family something working this way: I say that anyone who hits their sibling will have to sit in timeout for 20 minutes. Then, if my son hits my daughter, I put him in timeout. Then after 4-5 minutes (he’s turning 5 soon), I tell him that I can see he’s sorry and I believe he is truly sorry—but, since I said 20 minutes need to be served, and I cannot renege on my word without making myself a liar, I offer to serve the next 15 minutes of timeout for him while he runs off to play Legos. He sees that I am serving his timeout sentence for him, and this is moving to him because he sees I love him so much that I am willing to suffer for him.

    As Morgan’s article argues, the problem with this kind of an example is that it kind of trivializes the suffering. My serving 15 minutes of timeout for my son is one thing, but I actually enjoy timeout (esp. b/c scripture reading material is allowed in timeout in our house, which I enjoy…). If we carry this example of vicarious suffering for divinely promised punishment to the extent of suffering described in D&C 19, then the example seems somehow less apt. Or at least that, I think, would be Morgan’s (and probably Potter’s) criticism of my view.

    However, I wonder. I think suffering of one person for the sake of another can have very important effects on those who remember that suffering. When I think (phenomenologically) about my own experience during the sacrament, this is precisely what happens: I think about Christ’s love for me and it breaks/melts my heart. This, I think, is the essence and force of verses 1 and 3 of hymn 193:

    Verse 1: I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me
    Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me
    I tremble to know that for me he was crucified
    That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died

    Chorus: Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me
    Oh, it is wonderful
    Wonderful to me

    Verse 3: I think of his hands, pierced and bleeding to pay my debt
    Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
    No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat
    Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet

    Another argument Morgan makes against this kind of view is that what is important in this kind of account is that people believe that the suffering took place, not that it actually took place. So, a secret divine lie about Christ’s suffering could work. However, I think this only works if we ignore a more robust understanding of God’s integrity. Although one might make a counter-counter argument that D&C 19 gives a good example of what seems to be something like a secret divine “lie” where it talks about eternal punishment not really being eternal in the sense of infinite duration. To this I would counter that God is still faithful to the technical word of his scriptures, so it’s not a valid counter argument.

    3. In the end, when I say that remembering Christ’s suffering breaks/melts my heart, I wonder if this can’t be understand in terms of Morgan’s “divine infusion of light” idea. When I remember Christ’s suffering, my own otherwise cold and darkened/hardened heart is pierced with a warm and softening light that undoes me (cf. Isa 6:5, “Woe is me! for I am undone”). In this sense, then, what is important at the end of the day is the actual transformation of my own heart that is effected by Christ’s atonal suffering.

    This, then, leads to the topic of restoration that is so important to Alma in Alma 41, just prior to his discussion of justice and mercy in Alma 42. What seems crucial to Alma is the idea that justice entails an actual restoration of things to their actual/prior state. In this sense, the atonement isn’t really magic. It is not so much that there are some transcendent metaphysical laws of justice and mercy that are being worked out in distant heavenly courts of justice. Rather, the effects of Christ’s suffering—attested to by credible witnesses—have real, immanent and immediate effects in my own heart. This, then, is how mercy can effect a change that allows justice to be maintained. Not only is the eternal punishment that is affixed as a penalty for transgression satisfied (Alma 42:16), but my heart is changed so that I have no more desire to sin.

  2. kirkcaudle said

    Robert, I hope I did not infringe upon you posting your notes. If so, I apologize.

    I am not sure how on board I am with the Penal Theory, which is one reason I did not deal with Pres. Packers story in my original post. But to be fair, I am not sure what Atonement theory I am fully on board with! Honestly, I really like parts of the Moral theory because it focuses so much upon the individual. However, I am not sure how much of it really fits within LDS theology.

    Since you (Robert) also see the passages in Alma 34 as the main focus what are your thoughts on my question regarding how the manual uses the words redeem and random interchangeably while commentating on v10-12? I found that curious (esp. because those verses do not even use either of those words). But maybe that’s just me?

    Also, thanks for posting those articles. I will have to read them when I get the chance (hopefully before Sunday).

  3. Ryan said

    Is my ward on a different schedule than the two’s of ya’s??? We had this lesson last month. According to my ward, I’m suppose to give the lesson on Chapter 13: The Priesthood — tomorrow.

    Great! Now I’m all sorts a confused…

  4. kirkcaudle said

    Ryan, I’m sure you are fine. Although we all start out with the same lesson, many wards get all messed up because of things like Ward Conference, Stake Conference, or somebody some how skips a lesson, etc. I figured I was the one behind since lesson 13 was already posted on this site.

    • Ryan said

      “I figured I was the one behind since lesson 13 was already posted on this site.” After doing some searching… I noticed The Priesthood lesson was posted.

      Apparently I jumped the gun before I looked around.

      Good luck with your lesson, it was good last week.

    • BrianJ said

      Conferences, etc. should not mess up any ward. The churchwide instructions for the manual are to stay on the schedule of 2 per month and just skip a lesson in case of interruptions. Of course, a local leader could always decide otherwise….

      • kirkcaudle said

        I agree, but that only lets us all end on the same lesson at the end of the year. In my stake the ward conferences are spread out through the entire year. In other words, one ward will have theirs in March and one will have theirs in October. Our conferences happen either on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday. Therefore, between March and October those two wards will be off schedule from one another, but come November they will be back on track. The same thing then goes for Gospel Doctrine. Not every ward on the stake is one the same lesson the entire year.

        I would guess this would be the same for every stake? But maybe mine is just backward?

  5. NathanG said

    Thanks for the links. Definitely some food for thought (I’ve only read Morgan’s paper at this point). I like much of what is described in the divine-infusion theory. The discussion on desert justice was interesting to me.

    His arguments against other theories, particularly the penal-substitution theoray, weren’t as satisfying as his description of his own theory. I don’t know how closely people read the penal-substitution theory to Elder Packer’s parable, but it seemed similar. The part that seemed lacking in Morgan’s commentary was that of the Christ playing the rold of the mediator. So Christ pays the price of our sins to the creditor, but then turns to the debtor and states that there is a new debt that the debtor owes and that the new terms will still need to be met. Penal-substitution theory as set forth ignores this new debtor/creditor relationship.

  6. Robert C. said

    Kirk, of course no toe-stepping. I don’t have any particular thoughts on ransom vs. redeem. I didn’t pay that close of attention to the manual itself, focusing rather on scriptural wording. I’d like to study out the use and development of these terms more carefully at some point, esp. in scripture.

    “Ransom” seems to be used only in 2 places in the BOM (and not at all in D&C or POG): once a quotation of Isaiah 51 where the term ga’al is used, which is usually translated “redeem,” so I see this as a mildly interesting translation choice; and once in a war transaction in Alma 52. So, I’m not particularly interested in this idea of “ransom”—I worry that it has too many penal-substitution connotations which, although helpful in many ways, can also be a dangerous temptation to not think deeper about the atonement, beyond Packer’s parable and (non-Mormon) notions of of this theory.

    “Redeem” on the other hand is a very fascinating term to me since I’m inclined to think that the development of the term started with violent underpinnings and gradually evolved to have less violent connotations. Some of these new connotations arose intertwined with economic connotations, it seems to me, and I think this is where the idea of ransom and the creditor-debtor analogies like penal-substitution came into play (along with the change in interpretation of the ancient prohibitions on usury with Calvin et al. and the rise of capitalism…). Anyway, this is something I want to study more on, not something I’ve done more than ruminate on a bit.

  7. Robert C. said

    Turns out, actually, I prepared the wrong lesson—I was supposed to teach Lesson 13 yesterday, corroborating Brian J.’s point about the strict 2-per-month schedule….

  8. Robert C. said

    Kirk, I think Brian’s saying that the months when there is ward, stake, or general conference, then the 1st or 4th (or 5th) should be used—if needed—to make sure that 2 lessons from the RS/MP manual are taught each month.

    Note: there are 47 lessons in the Gospel Principles manual, which means that over the course of 2 years, there will be one extra week if the above schedule is followed (since 2 * 12 * 2 = 48…).

  9. kirkcaudle said

    So in short, my stake is backward. LOL

  10. BrianJ said

    Robert C: …or the lesson is just to be skipped entirely. There is no suggestion to use 1st or 4th as “make up” days. That is per SLC instructions. In fact, since the 4th Sunday is supposed to be “Teachings for our time,” (i.e., Conference talks), then it shouldn’t be used as a Gospel Principles make up.

    Kirk: yes, you are totally backward. You guys got the memo on “no more burnt sacrifice” right? ;)

  11. kirkcaudle said

    I have never heard of make up days for the manual either. We do committees on the first sunday and teachings for our time on the 4th. After reading this thread I am thinking of skipping lesson #13 and going to #14 with everyone else.

    Is there anyone out there lurking on this thread that is on the same schedule as I am? Hmmm, I think I just might have to get my ward to change.

    This thread has turned into a lesson within a lesson.

  12. NathanG said

    As it turns out, you could probably effectively combine the two lessons as both are on the priesthood. The first is more general principles, and the second is organization.

  13. kerik said

    wow! My ward must be really behind because I just taught this lesson last week! Not sure what happened to us haha. Kirk: I have never thought about John and Alma and how they use the word parish. I think they are using it in the same way but yet I am unsure now that you bring it up. Nice lesson outline. Everyone on this blog always does such a good job with these. It is good for those of us who have a hard time preparing them on our own!

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