Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

You Want Justice. You Need Justice.

August 17th, 2010 by G.

Here is a short theory of the atonement.

Acts matter when they have real consequences. An act has real consequences if it benefits or deprives another person. If the consequences of our acts can be later fixed and fully compensated for by another person, then our acts matter only to the extent that the person who does the fixing is himself burdened by the fix. God loves us. He wants our acts to matter. We love ourselves. We also want our acts to matter. Therefore it is necessary that irrevocable consequences of one kind or another be decreed for our acts, regardless of who pays those consequences. Call this justice.

Christ is merciful to us. He does not want us to suffer irrevocable consequences. But his mercy does not rob justice. He wants our choices to have consequences. Therefore he takes the consequences on himself. This is the atonement. It reconciles mercy and justice. It allows us to make meaningful choices–choices so meaningful that they affect the very God of the universe–but gives us merciful relief from our choices too.

Here are some thoughts on the theory in no particular order:

Are there other theories this conflicts with? I hope not.

One way of reading the Fall is that we chose to have meaningful choice even at the cost of doing irrevocable harm to others. This is an evil but necessary choice and explains why the Fall was both felix and peccata.

Our choices are more meaningful the more that hangs on them. That is why, perhaps, our choices affect people other than ourselves. That we might do them undeserved and unasked-for harm makes our choices more meaningful.

The first man Adam chose choice for himself at the expense of doing evil to others. The second man Adam–Christ–chose that evil be done to himself that others might have choice.

To the extent I can transfer the consequences of my acts to myself I keep the meaningfulness of my act while undoing the evil that they affect others unjustly. Redress is in the similitude of the Atonement.

To the extent that I forgive someone who has wronged me, I am also ensuring that the bad acts were not done to an unwilling victim. I now accept them, I am now willing. Forgiveness is therefore also in the similitude fo the Atonement.

I don’t like the assumption in the theory that our choices only matter depending on their consequences. Choices can be inherently bad or inherently good no matter what consequences they actually cause,. Is there a way of recasting the theory to say that our choices need to have moral freight to matter and they don’t have moral freight if the punishment for the wrong can be wiped away without cost?

Are we stones that leave no ripples?

The God We Hold Hostage.

*Cross-posted at the Old Country.

Comments (18)
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August 17th, 2010 12:56:49

Wm Morris
August 17, 2010

Choices matter not just because of their consequences (and the physicality and mortality of this mortal world is part of what makes this life so important, which I talk about on this AML blog comment), but also because of how they orient our spirits towards God. Because every choice made in the flesh inscribes something on our spirit.

August 17, 2010

It is an issue of Order vs Chaos. God created order out of the chaos of water and darkness, by bringing forth land and light. We are given commandments because they give us order in a realm of chaotic entropy.

Our choices determine where on the order-chaos scale we land. The more disobedient, the more entropy affects us. D&C 88 suggests this in telling us that we obtain the kingdom by living the laws of that kingdom. It is a sliding scale from perfect order in the Celestial, to utter chaos in Outer Darkness.
Justice comes in as establishing for each of us where we will go because of the order/chaos we’ve chosen.
Mercy comes in as establishing the point that even if we caused chaos in the past by disobedience, through repentance, Christ can infuse us with order, making us capable of the higher realms.
I blogged on order/chaos here:

August 17, 2010


This is interesting, thanks for sharing these thoughts. I do have a few questions that come to mind (is this your theory, by the way, or someone else’s?) —

First: You have focused exclusively on acts. Where does that leave Alma’s admonition that “our thoughts will also condemn us” (Alma 12:14)? In what way do our thoughts “benefit or deprive another person”? How does one measure the external costs of a thought?Do we “choose” our thoughts the same way we “choose” our acts? Does the “judged-by-thoughts” wrinkle support your gut feeling that “choices can be inherently bad or good no matter what consequences they actually cause”?

Second: Why does God want our acts to matter? Are you using “choice” and “act” interchangeably? Could I re-write your sentence as “Our ACTS are more meaningful the more that hangs on them”?

Third: This theory relies on a fundamental assumption about God’s relationship with the universe. One possible model is that because the universe is the way it is, “our acts matter” and God operates within that framework to improve us/help us/etc. Your model suggests that God has more control over the fundamentals of the universe, and has a choice as to whether our acts matter. Why is your model better for understanding the Atonement?

Adam G.
August 17, 2010

WM Morris,
the inscription on the spirit is a kind of consequence, no?

I like that model but I don’t think it explains why Christ has to suffer.

Adam G.
August 17, 2010


I do not know how to treat thoughts in this framework. Perhaps we could conceptualize thoughts themselves as acts. Or we could look at the way the authorities have glossed that text. They tend to say that a bad thought itself isn’t a sin, but dwelling on it or bidding it to stay or even not resisting it is. So we could conceptualize these responses to thoughts as acts. As far as the consequences go, the consequences of thought are to ourselves, inasmuch as they form our character, and to others, inasmuch as our character forms our acts.
I am using choice and act interchangeably.
My theory is that “acts are meaningless without consequences” is part of the way the Universe is that God can’t really change. He cannot decree that we can act meaningfully even if the consequences of our acts are sponged away at no cost to anyone. What He does have control over in some sense is whether we are allowed to make meaningful choices at all. But it actually doesn’t matter much for this theory whether God chooses to allow us to have meaningful choice or if we just do have it and God has to deal with it.
The theory is my own, so far as I know. If I read it somewhere last week, I’ve forgotten.

August 17, 2010

I tend towards the belief that Christ had to experience Chaos in its extreme, so that he could know how to rescue us from it. I also agree with Blake Ostler’s model that the atonement continues each time we truly repent and Christ embraces us. He momentarily feels our chaotic pain, but then heals us with his light and order.

August 17, 2010

Thank you for your thought-provoking report on another part of the elephant.

Adam G.
August 17, 2010

yours is a very good analogy for the Atonement and human theories about it.

Wm Morris
August 17, 2010


Yeah, I suppose so — my mind isn’t philosophical enough to think of an act without consequence, even if the act (say a thought) is simply accretive. I’m still trying to puzzle things out in detail, but obviously there must be some very good reasons for corporeality in terms of how progression operates.

Wm Morris
August 17, 2010

I wonder if thoughts can be productively thought of as acts of spiritual creation.

Eduard A. Erdtsieck
August 21, 2010

Atonement is a misunderstood concept. The idea to bring unity where a separation has occurred. What was the pre-cursor to it?

The Book of Mormon is the only place where it is found. That concept is CONDESCENSION; being obedient or compliant to the Proper Authority in the face or threats by other powers.

Not a well known concept, because we are more familiar with its negative connotation; condescending.

Yet, Joseph Smith, Jr understood the fullness of its meaning. That separation occurred before the creation of the earth and someone, a personage of spirit, who later became the Only Begotten Son of God consented to come down in the name of the Father to confront the purveyors of other powers.

He was then already worthy to be called a Son of God. We were called the “spirit” children of God.

To redeem us and to save the purveyors of these other powers for judgment by the Father; this Son of the Man of Holiness had to become subject to the ultimate punishment of these other purveyors, which was suffering and mortal death.

After His resurrection this Son of God was glorified by some in Gallillee and we know the story of His other sheep, the Nephites and Lamanites in the Book of Mormon.

He was falsely accused and His reputation greatly diminished. The Father and Jesus, Christ appeared at least 4 times to Joseph Smith, Jr.

Joseph’s first vision was the opener of His rule, when Father spoke, saying “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.”

August 27, 2010

I think it’s an excellent theory, well expressed.

Adam G.
August 27, 2010

Thank you, Agellius. Your view point is always welcome.

Adam G.
July 26, 2011

Its now clear to me that this theory isn’t really a separate theory of the Atonement. Its a way of explaining the substitutionary or ransom theories.

Adam G.
March 8, 2012

The Book of Mormon’s doctrine that we would have no agency without the atonement adds an extra dimension to the ideas in this post.
See here:
http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2012/03/exploring-mormon-thought-agency/ (Also see the comments.)
And see here:

Adam G.
August 20, 2013

Some interesting thoughts here on the incompatibility of agency with God making everything all right in the end:


Bruce Charlton
December 31, 2013

Theories of Atonement derive from the basic metaphysical set-up.

For me, the set-up includes that acts have consequences. This is a given (metaphysically prior to God, indeed – or at least constraining of God), and not something contingent that needs to be introduced along the way.

For me, the Atonement must be based on God as an always loving Father, the given fact of individual agency (not a gift or decision of God, but an immoveable fact of existence), and that Christ acted voluntarily and in full awareness of what He was doing.

So, I see the Atonement as more like the voluntary gift of Christ *absorbing* all sin – all bad acts and thoughts, and all their consequences – past, present and future.

Therefore not Christ being *in any way* punished by God the Father. Punishment has literally nothing to do with it.

Adam G.
December 31, 2013

Bruce C.,
while I’m sympathetic to your basic metaphysical set-up, I don’t think you have to share all of it it for my Atonement Theory here to make sense. You just have to accept that actions are meaningless without consequences and that are actions should be meaningful. The theory works whether you assume that God made things this way or whether its part of the base package of affairs within which God works. It also works whether you assume that the consequences of actions are inherent in them or whether they are decreed.

For what its worth, I am agnostic about whether God is prior to actions having consequences or the other way around, since I have an inarticulable instinct that neither account is quite correct, and I believe that likely some consequences are ‘natural’ while others are decreed.

I like your description of the Atonement–Christ *absorbing* all sin–very much.

Here’s a related discussion that I think would suit you:


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