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Jesus: Savior or Symbol?

Jesus: Savior or Symbol?

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Published by Jared Anderson

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Published by: Jared Anderson on Sep 20, 2011
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© Jared Anderson 2011
 This essay will reconcile three seemingly paradoxical points:I love the doctrine of Atonement.I have difficulty believing in it literally.My (dis)belief does not remove the power of the Atonement from my life. What Atonement Means to MeI love the idea of Jesus as Atoning Savior. I love the idea of an actualized perfected,loving God Brother who chose of his own will to take upon himself everything in usshort of perfection. I love the idea of One Being who gives us all strength and who, after working an Atonement out of time, lives all of our lives and deaths. I love the idea of thisDying and Rising God who binds us all together through blood, love, and covenants. Ilove the idea that our strength is both ours and his. We are all one Being, and he unitesus. I love the idea of a perfectly compassionate Savior, someone who literally understandseverything anyone has ever gone through.I love the idea of allowing our old selves to die and our new selves to live. I am gratefulfor peace and transformation that can come from pondering these ideas. And I love the man Jesus. I love his courage to "live as if the Kingdom has already come".I admire him for restructuring society into a new Family, for teaching that the best way tolive a life of holiness is to love God and care for each other. The interpretation of the Atonement that makes most sense to me is that in Gethsemaneand on the cross Jesus, out of time,
lived all of our lives and deaths. He IS us. Thepowerful aspect of this is that *we are still in Gethsemane*. It is like this < whereGethsemane is the point on the left and all of time is the space on the right. Because weare living through the Grace of the Savior (he is "lending us breath", Mosiah 2:21), when we sin we make him sin, as Paul explains. So through this process Jesus makes all of us
Taking the scriptures about the Atonement literally requires that Jesus’ sacrifice transcend time. If He sufferedthe pains of every man, woman, and child as 2 Ne. 9:21 teaches, obviously the time spent in Gethsemane and onthe cross would be inadequate. Elder Tad Callister explores this issue in
 Infinite Atonement 
, pp. 147-150,drawing on the idea that time exists only for humans (D&C 38:2; D&C 130:7; Alma 40:8). I believe that theconcept of Jesus “lending us breath” (Mosiah 2:21) and the Participationist model of us living in Christ meshwell with the idea I have put forth of Jesus experiencing all of our lives and deaths.
One, or perhaps we are already one, but just estranged (Quantum Physics and otherscience backs up this idea that we are all connected).So as part of the Organism that is all of us, Jesus takes into himself Death and Hell,digests everything short of perfection, metabolizes it. He becomes all of us and in saving,purifying, and perfecting himself, he saves and perfects all of us, to the degree that weaccess his Atonement.In the Mormon view of progression toward Godhood, I can also see how an Atonement would provide a crucial step in becoming an all-knowing, all-loving God. If you had topick between a God who had empathy for all things in the universe and one without, which would you choose?I would like to take the time to share some of my favorite descriptions of the Atonementfrom the scriptures and other sources:“I am come that they may have life, and have it in overflowing abundance” (John 10:10)I love this passage. Humanism and Christianity intersect with this verse; the quest for an“overflowing” life is one we all share.“Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassiontowards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bandsof death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemedthem, and satisfied the demands of justice.” (Mosiah 15:9). This imagery of this verse is so powerful. It is easy to imagine all the penalties of sin,death and hell hurtling toward us, and then Jesus stands in the way, taking upon himself everything short of perfection, suffering all consequences so that for us thoseconsequences need not be permanent. I have also imagined Jesus standing before Godthe Father and claiming responsibility for all of the greatest sins of humanity: “I abusedthat child” “I killed those people” “I take all responsibility, all the penalties”. I imaginedhis sensitive, perfect soul feeling torment more than any of us ever could bear, so that wecould achieve peace.“And he shall go forth, suffering pains andafflictionsandtemptationsof every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he willtakeupon him the pains and thesicknesses of his people. And he will take upon himdeath, that he may loosethe bands of  death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowelsmay be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the fleshhow tosuccorhis people according to their infirmities. Now the Spiritknowethall things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to thefleshthat he mighttakeupon him
the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the powerof his deliverance.” (Alma 7:12-13)Empathy is one of the most precious resources in life, in large part because the cost is sohigh. We cannot genuinely say “I know how you feel” unless we have experiencedsomething similar, otherwise our words prove counterfeit. Thus how appealing to have aperfection of empathy in one being? I resonate with the idea that even though the Spirit isomniscient, there needs to be another step, the acquisition of visceral empathy that cancome only from experiencing what all living beings have experienced. I am sensitive toand grateful for the countless individuals who have been comforted by the thought thateven if no one can understand what they are going through, Jesus can.“And thus he shall bring salvationto all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowerethjustice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.“And thusmercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of  safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of thedemands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is broughtabout the great and eternalplanof redemption.” (Alma 34:15-16) I love the imagery of mercy “encircling us in the arms of safety”, contrasted by being “exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice”. I am big on hugs, so the cosmichugs of mercy sound very nice. And of course, we need to appeal to C. S. Lewis, his descriptions of Jesus’ mission bothprofound and powerful:"One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air,then gone with a splash, vanishing rushing down through green and warm water intoblack and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of oozeand slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almostbursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping,precious thing he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they havecome up into the light: down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his colortoo" ( 
, chap. 14). This allegory struck me as soon as I read it. I love the idea of God stripping away hisdivinity, leaving his realm and status of warmth and light and glory and diving down,down, down into mortality and weakness, farther down into sin and depravity, death andhell, to scoop up from the midst of that septic morass a precious human soul, to lift it up with him and returning home to love, light, and perfection.I also deeply resonate with his reflections on human transformation and actualization:

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Servant Of Truth added this note|
Jesus didn't come to sacrifice Himself & die upon the cross, to give us a bedtime story or a good philosophy. He didn't die because He thought it "might" work, but because He knew His death was the only thing that would work. God is the Source of Truth, & He wants His words to be taken as such. To disbelieve or to lack faith in, does not put you in a position to receive salvation, because it is by
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