In part 1 of “Musings on the Atonement”, we discussed a series of contrasts:
- Fear vs. Love
- Good vs. Evil
- Oneness vs. Separation
- Death vs. Life
- Judgment vs. Empathy
In part 2, I hope to explore the idea that the Atonement somehow enables the healing of this illusion of duality / separation / fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Toward that end, I begin by exploring some familiar concepts in a different light:
Death is indeed the wages of sin, but not in the way we think. It is not a punishment for unrepentant sin, but rather the outcome of unrepentant sin; the karma, if you will, of acting in the absence of love. Death is not eternal. Love, though, is eternal. As I pointed out earlier, when we judge others; when we assign them their punishment for their sin, we separate ourselves. Separation simply cannot yield eternal life. It’s just not logical. With separation comes boundaries, and these boundaries are perpetuated by the ego. Death, then, is the unfailing product of judgment, which itself is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Note that I am not differentiating between physical and spiritual death). Death is NOT eternal life. How’s that for logic?
I don’t intend to present a treatise on duality. Much greater minds than mine have tried and perpetually fail to fully explain the duality of duality vs. non-duality. But religion, scriptures, and culture are replete with – no, they totally rely on – duality being the bedrock of our very existence – or at least the perception of our existence.
One of my favorite illustrations of this comes from Lehi’s sermon to His family in 2 Nephi, chapter 2, verse 11 in the Book of Mormon, where He declares:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one;wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
In other words, Lehi is saying that existence can only be defined by opposites. Nothing can exist except it be contrasted against it opposite. Otherwise, all things would “needs be a compound in one”. This is very similar to Lucifer’s tempting of Eve in the garden:
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:4-5
And it’s even more reminiscent of Satan’s soliloquy in the LDS Temple endowment, (which I used to have memorized, but have since forgotten, but which I would not detail here anyway out of respect for the sensitivities and beliefs of many dear friends of mine) where He expounds to Eve the pallet of duality that awaited her understanding and experience once she had partaken of the forbidden fruit.
So, duality seems to be a bulwark of our perception of existence: good and evil, pleasure and pain, life and death, sin and righteousness, love and hate, fear and love; it’s practically impossible to describe, even to imagine, life without expressing it in terms of duality. And duality implies separation, does it not?…as in “you and me”, or “me and everyone else”. This is existence that results from the fall.
But it seems to me that there is a problem here.
Where do I even begin? As I’ve pondered truth over the years, this simple phrase / name / concept / declaration has gradually gained greater and greater weight in my understanding of truth and reality.
When Moses stood before God at the burning bush, and received his commission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he asked, seeking some sort of authority or power outside of himself (there’s a clue right there),
“…Behold,when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” Exodus 3:13
Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
Now, to be fair, both before and after this declaration, God went to great lengths to make sure that Moses knew that He was the God of Moses’ father; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the God of the Israelites. So, even though He was describing Himself to Moses in terms of duality, distinguished from the other “gods”, the “I AM” communicates exactly the opposite.
What does “I AM” say about God? To me, it belies “duality”, and indicates no limits. It totally summons ideas of omnipotence (no limit to power), omnipresence (no limit to presence), and omniscience (no limit to knowledge). It implies eternity, which is itself implied by the three “omnis”. It implies all things in one; it implies oneness; it implies infinity. In its simplest form, it suggests, “I just AM”. No name. No boundaries. No description. Just simple, complete, perfect, infinite existence.
One thing that is perfectly clear to me about “I AM” is that it leaves no room for duality. It has no tolerance for separation. There is no “pushing away”. It is truly, to belay Lehi’s sermon, a “compound in one”. So, God, in the sense of “I AM”, is not duality. God is not defined by opposition in all things. God does not entertain the concept of duality.
“I AM” is God’s way of saying, “Duality is a lie; an illusion! Don’t believe it!”
Of course, if we are to exist in oneness with God, we, likewise cannot exist in duality. I believe we are each our own “I AM”. There is a core of our creation that simply is. No opposition, no good or evil, no sin vs righteousness, no love vs. fear. We simply are, and we are as created by God in His (their) image. This “being”, this existence, is unaffected by perception. Like truth, it just is what it is. Our life experience as a whole may be the result of our perception, which is limited, distorted, duality-based, the subject of a constantly evolving array of desires, hopes, dreams, fears, preferences, understanding and misunderstanding, etc. But our I AM is perfect and is totally unaffected by any of this. It is (we are, I AM) ONE with God, as it was initially created.
So, what really happened through the atonement? What did Christ do in the Garden? What did He accomplish?
As I was discussing this topic with a friend, he pointed me toward the following podcast / transcript by Denver Snuffer.
As I read the transcript, not for the first time, but certainly with an enhanced context, I was impressed with the following:
- I think that Denver actually experienced this vision of Christ in Gethsemane, and that there is great, great merit in what he was shown. My respect for this man and his insights continues to grow.
- The vision describes wave after wave of suffering, experienced in some incomprehensible (to us) manner; delivered in pairs – the suffering first of the perpetrator, followed by the suffering of the victim. This seems to represent first repentance, followed by forgiveness – the suffering relieved by forgiveness being greater than the suffering relieved by repentance; repentance being easier to summon within oneself than forgiveness. But there was relief. And Christ experienced it – albeit in between three successive waves of greater and greater suffering
- There is a fine line between the idea that Christ, by His suffering, relieves us of the requirement to suffer; that he relieves us of the requirement for punishment – the demands of justice; and the idea that Christ, by His suffering, demonstrated the key to how we can avoid the suffering in the first place. The two concepts are easily confused, but in my mind the difference is highly important.
- There are scriptures in both the Bible and in the extended canon associated with Mormonism that indicate that we are, or can be, healed through this suffering in Gethsemane. Actually, Isaiah wrote:
…But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
- “…by his stripes we are healed”. Not can be healed. Not will be healed. Are healed. This does not even sound conditional, except that we need to stop punishing ourselves by doing what it is we do.
- And – by his stripes we are healed from what?
I do not believe that Christ’s cosmic, mystical suffering in the Garden relieves us of a demand for punishment, because I don’t think there is any punishment externally imposed upon us other than the natural suffering associated with the experience of denying our inherent oneness with God and with each other. Acting out of ego is like slicing our true self – the very fabric of our eternal life – with a serrated blade – and it hurts. Living in ego is like walking around with a huge, heavy, bulky pack on your back. It makes everything we do more difficult, and tends to rob us of the joy for which we were created.
I do believe that Christ showed us the way whereby we can both repent, and forgive, and thus be relieved of the suffering that we bring upon ourselves. I do believe that if we follow Him, the way, the truth, and the life, we can discover why His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.
But why did He have to suffer? And other than showing us the way, what did He do? What did He accomplish?
This is a supremely difficult question for me (for anyone) to answer, but I may have some insights to share. The hard part, of course, is not just comprehending it, but putting it into comprehensible words. But here goes…
Imagine being Jesus, having overcome, during His mortality, the suffering associated with the separation in the context of His personal duality – His ego – only to experience the separation, with its inherent pain and suffering, associated with the duality (the fall) of the whole earth and all of its inhabitants; and being asked to heal that suffering within Himself.
Imagine yourself in His shoes. You’ve recognized the fallacy of the fall. You’ve recognized that relying on your knowledge of good and evil only results in judgment, in separation, and is an unwieldy burden, at best, to carry around. You’ve worked hard to overcome this illusion, seeking to recognize and release the great glory and joy that is your true inheritance as a child of God’s creation – even the only begotten Son of God (whatever that means). You’ve cleared your own soul, found redemption, salvation, peace, even the fullness of the gospel, all without the aid of a savior or redeemer.
Only now, you’re being asked to accomplish this same thing in behalf of every soul who ever walked the path of the fallen. Here’s where it gets crazy…you’ve been asked, for some unknown (to me, anyway) reason, to accept every other sin, with its associated suffering, of every person who ever lived, as your own, sharing it with them, because that’s the only way we can truly establish oneness with each other. Even though you may have healed your own separation from God, as long as you continue to see the sins and suffering of others as theirs, the separation is perpetuated, and the healing required for complete oneness is incomplete.
Yes, imagine yourself as Christ. Imagine yourself experiencing this great, ultimate act of cosmic empathy.
Now, let’s settle a bit. Take a deep breath. Prepare yourself for the realization that, while we may not be asked, individually, to endure this cosmic, universal/infinite/eternal experience in the same way as Christ was asked (by whom?) and did, we do need to be prepared to perceive this atonement experience as our own in relation to every one-on-one relationship that we encounter during our own mortal experiences. While Jesus / Yeshua / Jehoshua ben Joseph, in preparation for the salvation of all mankind from the experience of (not punishment for) the fall, may have experienced it for all, we are only asked to be willing to accept this same, eternally empathetic, non-judgmental, separation healing experience for ourselves, and for one other individual at a time, not the whole world at once. We are asked only to heal ourselves, by extending perfect empathy to others, first within ourselves and then to others.
If we (all of us) are to be healed by His stripes, and thus avoid the suffering that results from separation, we must be willing to surrender judgment, stop pushing others, with their sins, away, and accept them (as we do ourselves) and their sins, with complete grace, as they are now – warts and all.
Jesus the Christ did this with all of us, in one great act of eternal, infinite empathy. Are we able to do this for each other, one relationship at a time, and in doing so, eventually heal the entire planet.
If we can do this, we can be healed from the fall – the fall that we each chose for ourselves. (Eve had nothing to do with it except in metaphor.) We are each Eve in that we choose to fall. And we are each Adam when we choose not to push Eve away. Each relationship, even with ourselves, (that between the ego and the true self) becomes an Adam and Eve relationship – accepting each other with perfect grace, wisdom, forgiveness, mercy; redeemed with perfect love, with perfect…
And empathy cannot coexist with fear.
In order to set aside fear, we must trust. We must have faith. We must have faith that we are not judged, but are loved – unconditionally – by God. We must have faith that, even if we share the sins of separation with all that we meet, we can never do anything to negate the perfect benevolence that is the essence of creation, the essence of divinity – even our own essence.
So, this is what I think Jesus – the Christ – did in the garden.
- I think He experienced, through perfect empathy, the suffering associated with the sins that perpetuate separation and death.
- I think He taught, and then showed, what it is that we must do, or be, if we wish to be full participants is the continuing creation of eternal life, which eternal life can only exist in the context of unconditional benevolence, love, charity.
- I do not think He relieved us of the consequences of our own sins, but…
- I do think He did something quite amazing. He started a nuclear reaction, a network, a web, of…empathy. He volunteered Himself as an anchor so that every person has at least that one perfect, non-judgmental, empathetic, understanding relationship that they can mirror, if they will simply copy that prototype for their other relationships. By creating that initial, perfectly empathetic relationship with every individual on earth, He established that if we will honor that relationship with Him (draw all men unto Him), and then turn around and perpetuate that – perpetuate it one relationship at a time – the whole world can eventually exist in unity, in oneness, in perfect grace. The network that was 2 dimensional with Christ (yes – not Jesus any more) at the center, becomes infinite, eternal, self-perpetuating, with no center, no hierarchy; with only love.
As a result of the drama in the Garden of Gethsemane:
- The pain and suffering of the sins of separation disappear because there is no more separation.
- The very cause of death is eliminated from our reality, and nothing remains to hinder the free flow of eternal life.
- The duality, with its requisite judgment, of the fall is resolved into a universal “I AM”.
Jesus started it. Jesus, with perfect faith in the will of the father (which is simply that we love with perfect empathy), surrendered His own will (judgment and duality), and submitted to this great act of cosmic empathy and love.
In short, Jesus became the Christ.
And because of this – because He lifted Himself up as the great magnet of empathy – extending the perfect empathy, that perfect forgiveness, if you will, to all, He created the opportunity for each of us to:
- Reject the ego, duality, the fall, judgment as a self-indulgent illusion born of fear.
- Exercise faith unto action in the perfect benevolence / love / charity that is creation.
- Extend perfect grace and empathy to each other, sharing each others burdens, sins, pain, suffering – even if it is self-created.
- Release and glorify that perfect Christ that is the fulfillment of the measure of our creation.
He did His part, and He has invited us to do ours.