My situation as a Christian is (and please don’t ask me to explain or justify this!) that I fully believe in the truth of the CJCLDS and all of its claims – but I attend a conservative evangelical Anglican church.
The best thing about this church, for me personally, are the twenty-minute teaching sermons – at present these are going-through the ‘Thirty Nine Articles’ of the Church of England explaining and justifying them. This week we had a very good, clear sermon on the subject of number fifteen (XV) concerning the sinlessness of Jesus Christ:
The focus was to explain the workings of what Mormons call The Atonement – and I found myself in full agreement until the last five minutes of the sermon which was about the reason why Christ had to be sacrificed – in a fashion analogous with the Passover Lamb (which, aside, could apparently also be a goat-lamb – i.e. a kid – instead of a sheep) – because the sacrifice of a sinless Man was necessary to fulfil God’s demand for justice for the sins of the world, and to enable forgiveness of all sins.
Reference was made to the objection to this explanation and justification of God’s demand for a human sacrifice (and this sacrifice being his son) *not* being easy to square with God being our loving Father (because this demand for a sacrifice of an innocent human is not the kind of demand an earthly loving Father would be likely to make) – and it was specifically stated that the description of God as loving Father was true – but not completely true, and should not be taken to apply fully.
The argument was also mentioned that surely God could have achieved forgiveness without such an extreme demand.
Instead – implicitly – the preacher argued that God’s demand for justice for sins was put *above* (more important than) our understanding of the description of God as being a loving Heavenly Father.
The preacher did not state that justice was actually more important than love – rather he said that God’s love was beyond human-type love, and in this way not explicable in terms of human-type love.
But it was hard to avoid the simple inference that, in reality, Justice was being put above the lovingness of God – at least in this crucially and centrally-important instance of the crucifixion.
This matter of Justice-above-Love seems to be a very hazardous doctrine, which threatens the core truth of God as Love – but it seemed to me that Protestants (and indeed most other mainstream Christians) are more-or-less forced into this extreme argument by their conceptual understanding of the nature of God.
Because God is being conceptualized as total in power, and therefore apparently capable of achieving forgiveness of all sin *without* the extremity of blood-sacrificing his sinless son; the fact that he did not do this seems to compel the assumption that ‘therefore’ justice (ie. commensurate punishment for all sins as a condition of forgiveness) is so absolutely important to God that it – in effect – ‘trumps’ God’s status as loving Heavenly Father.
This led me to reflect how crucially important was Joseph Smith’s insight into the nature of God as being unconditionally a loving Father – and that the traditional philosophical definition of God’s omnipotence must ultimately yield to the primacy of love.
(As I understand matters) Mormon theology does not see it as a condition of the atonement that Christ’s death must be of the nature of a human sacrifice – Rather it was necessary that Jesus take to himself the sins of the world so that they may be taken-away, and Jesus must die (in order to be resurrected) — but Christ’s agonizing lamb-like sacrificial death was not a ‘theologically’-necessary part of the forgiveness of sins – instead these are understood as a consequence of the sinfulness of Men and a fulfilment of prophecies.
I have noticed that there are few sermons which go past without mention of the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice as a condition of forgiveness – for serious Protestants this is clearly a deeply uncomfortable truth, because otherwise they would not feel the need to keep justifying it.
But I wonder how many of Protestants realize that it is ‘merely’ a downstream consequence of their philosophical (and not necessarily Christian) understanding of the nature of God — and that when the nature of God is understood in a more common sense, matter of fact, and simple way; then this rather horrible, and ultimately dissonant, way of interpreting the working of the Atonement becomes no longer necessary.