Atonement and Predestination

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The topic of predestination/foreordination has been discussed throughout the Bloggernacle (most notably at New Cool Thang, but here as well).

While listening to the most recent episode of the Mormon Archipelago podcast, some thoughts came to my mind.

There seems to be two camps regarding agency and predestination/foreknowledge. One camp states that God does not have knowledge of the future because this would mean the future is fixed and we do not have true agency. The other camp states that God does have knowledge of the future; despite this the future is not fixed and we still have agency.

While commuting home this afternoon, I began contemplating these ideas regarding the atonement, and two questions came to mind.

For camp one, if the future is not fixed and God does not know in advance every decision we will make (or more specifically, every sin we will commit), then does Jesus suffer for every possible sin that we may commit?

For camp two, if Jesus suffered for specific sins of ours, then does that predestine us to commit those sins?

25 thoughts on “Atonement and Predestination

  1. ah, but I’ve never bought this idea that the sins throughout the universe throughout time were weighed in anise and cumin and then precisely matching suffering was measured out to our Lord.

    I know this makes others feel closer to God, that the consequences of their wrongs are directly inflicted on Him, but it doesn’t work that way for me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s sadistic fried froth.

    An infinite atonement made by a perfect God isn’t measured quantitatively.

    Oh, and I’m an Open View Mormon. I believe in a real future and real choices that matter.

  2. I think a major issue in this topic is understanding infinity.

    If every sin could be counted and totaled, that number would be

  3. less than infinity.

    I guess I’m in the camp where the future is not fixed, and the amount that Jesus suffered does not changed based on how much we sin because infinity or – anything is still infinity.

  4. New Cool Thang should be renamed “extrapolated LDS speculation derived from uncanonized sources”. It’s only a matter of time before Geoff is promoting Adam-God. Or has he already crossed that line?

    With Nibley gone, I sure hope much of the obviously nonsensical dogma we carry will pass away like the McConkie crap is being forgotten. But with Geoff promoting it, who knows?

  5. There are so many (I might say older) members who still cleave unto the McConkie/Nibley arguments that it’ll take the death of a generation for these thought processes to be gone.

    When you speak to a certain generation about Nibley, you’d think *he* was the prophet at some time…

  6. rick, I call them Nibley groupies, and they extend into today’s young adult generation too. It’s embarrassing.

  7. If any of you all, have an argument relative to the topics under discussion at New Cool Thang, come and contribute. The Church contrary to popular belief does not have a narrow Protestant creed defined by the opinions of Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Most of us are certainly not “neo-orthodox”, but we are definitely not any more heterodox than Brigham Young or the Pratt brothers. I do not believe in Adam-God, but understand the problem it is trying to address.

    On the other hand, if you would prefer to be saved in ignorance, or learn principles at the last possible moment, or do the bare minimum amount of scripture study so you can recite the standard Sunday School answers, go ahead.

    We will likely never be leaders in the Church, but the promise of understanding of the “mysteries” is unto all who diligently seek them. (cf. D&C 76:7-10). And who has ever had such inspiration without serious pondering first? Do you think revelation is a process of mystical brain download?

    Many LDS have this ridiculous non-scriptural understanding of revelation, one that directly contradicts the scripture I just quoted as well as a 1978 FP statement on the subject. Sure our opinions are not authoritative for anyone, but that does not mean the Lord is not trying to lead us in the direction of truth, with a process of both faith and reason.

    I never cease to be amazed at how dramatically different the Church is today from the way it was in Joseph Smith’s time. When did we go all Lutheran on the subject?

  8. One more thing, the Church sponsors the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) which in practice is very much a bunch of “Nibley groupies” focusing on the same apologetic issues Nibley did. If you want McConkie groupies, you have to go to CES. The two groups do not always get along.

  9. Kim,

    Excellent topic, although I think we have to differentiate between predestination and foreordination.
    My understanding of predestination is that there is no pre-earth exististence, whereas with foreordination there is.
    As a “Nibley groupie”, those who pretend to think they know what he knew and taught, and are embarassed by it, are in for a rude awakening. He was not able to put in layman’s language what he really knew and understood, but if one took the time and effort to research his “stuff” one might be a little embarassed at their own herd mentality in criticizing what they know nothing about. Just a thought.

  10. Mark,
    Thanks for the invite but, for the record, I occasionally comment at New Thang. Most of the time, Geoff deletes my stuff because he can’t handle open debate.

    Larry,
    I had a class from Nibley circa 1980. The guy was a babbling moron. He must have been on pain meds or something. I quickly labeled him a naked emperor, and never understood his groupies after that. I got an A, but that class was one of the most painful I took at BYU.

  11. Steve,

    I’ve listened to his lectures. It must have been an endurance test. However, that does not disqualify his knowledge, or his research. Does listening to Elder Scott in General Conference lead us to conclude that he is not an apostle because he is often difficult to listen to?
    I stand by my comment with respect to following up on what Nibley wrote.

  12. As a side note, some of us are a little presumptuous in condemning leaders of the past.
    May the judgements you pass on them be accorded you with all the wisdom that you seemingly possess and the comments you make.
    You may think that you are enlightened, and of a higher class, but it’s only what you think – not the Lord.
    Read Boyd K. Packer’s comments on Bruce R. at his funeral.
    Mistatements have been made by them, but I doubt that they stood in fear of hell fire when they went to the other side. Where do we stand?

  13. My classes from Hugh Nibley showed him to be exactly what I expected—an extraordinary scholar and not a great teacher. I went just to witness his mind at work, and it was a good experience.

    You already know I’m among those who believe that God’s very real foreknowledge of things to come doesn’t compromise in any way our freedom of choice.

    The atonement is infinite. The number and type of sins doesn’t matter, as Gary pointed out, because infinite is infinite.

    I am mightily tired, as Larry seems to be as well, of watching SteveEM, Rick and several others seize on virtually every subject to proclaim their superiority to certain Apostles and Prophets. It’s too bad this thread has turned into yet another anti-McConkie, anti-Packer tea party.

  14. When did someone dump on Packer on this thread? All I know is if there are true prophets, then there must also be false prophets. I choose to watch out for the latter, but respect those who are more trusting at the same time.

    On this topic I’ll say G-d is independent of space and time because it’s all part of His creation. Nibley restricts his god to time and being the reorganizer of preexisting matter. I believe that is a sub-contractor god and I choose to worship his boss, the Almighty G-d, the Creator of space-time, matter and everything else.

  15. Steve,

    Where did you get this idea of a sub-contractor Being in Nibley’s work?
    His Egyptian studies defy that interpretation.

  16. I just finished reading a lot of the comments on the Pre-mortal Works blog.
    The arguments were very interesting on both sides.

    Philosophically, though, I don’t see how one’s foreknowledge of a result in any particular event, or series of events, impedes the decision making ability of independent people participating in that event.

    We draw conclusions beforehand all the time on activities of others, or on particular events such as sports or politics and are right.

    We don’t, however, have the capacity to know what God knows with certainty, so we can’t know past, present, and future in the here and now as God can and does know.

    Section 88:41 makes it clear, in my mind, what He knows. Facsimile #2 does as well, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    If God did not know, then how and why could He provide a Redeemer from before the foundation of the world. How did He show Adam, Enoch, Moses, and Abraham all the inhabitants of the world, from beginning to end, and all the events that would occur?

    I understand why we wrestle with this problem and the complexities we run into with it, because it can cause a lot of anxiety for some by virtue of the arguments of Libertarianism, with which I obviously take issue. I hate Determinism. Fortunately, these are not the only two options. There is a third option that allows for foreknowledge (see 84:45 and 93:24,30) and the exercise of agency. 2Ne.2 also offers some great insight into the third argument, in my mind.

    In the end, though, I don’t think that there is anyone on this blog that has anything to fear with respect to His foreknowledge (or perhaps even yours prior to coming here).

  17. Larry,
    Nibley attempts to be a clarifier, but his rigid version of LDS dogma sinks him. I will say Nibley was instrumental in my rejection of all rigid belief systems as a hindrance to intellectual progress. Nibley completely rejects creation ex nihilo by misinterpreting LDS scriptures and, thus restricts his god to our space-time. Granted, our earth wasn’t created out of nothing, as our solar system is probably a third generation one, ~4 billion years old, the descendent of recycled matter from earlier supernova explosions and condensations in a 13 billion year old universe. But our universe did have a beginning, before which there was no space-time and no energy/matter. It was created ex nihilo, which is a fancy way of saying only G-d could have done it in a manner that can’t be explained in earthy terms. If you want, I’m referring to a creation before creation. In other words the Almighty is greater than this mortal realm we call the Universe and the “Universe” isn’t the Universe. This concept also addresses related questions such as “why is most of existence (time) “wasted”, or why is most real estate in the universe “wasted”? Since G-d is independent of these issues, they are irrelevancies to him.

  18. Steve,

    Unfortunately, I have to go for a few hours and can’t respond in detail to your blog.

    I will try later. have a good day.

  19. “If God did not know, then how and why could He provide a Redeemer from before the foundation of the world.”

    First, as discussed in the Pre-Mortal Works thread, God’s knowledge is not our, and as such may not be limited by a finite and linear way of thinking as we humans are. So when you say “God did not know”, does “know” refer to how we know (linear and finite) or something greater, which we do not understand and cannot comprehend?

    Second, as others have said in previous comments above, if Christ’s atonement was infinite in every way, then it is possible he atoned for every sin any of us could commit given the scenarios of every decision we would ever make. That would certainly be possible if the atonement is truly infinite and if the atonement is tied to God’s knowledge.

    “How did He show Adam, Enoch, Moses, and Abraham all the inhabitants of the world, from beginning to end, and all the events that would occur?”

    All events? Even me eating my sandwich as I type this? Even every single action of all 6 billion of us on the earth today and everyone else for the last 2.2 million days? I am doubtful that they indeed did see every event that has transpired, is transpiring and will transpire in the lives of every individual every second. That’s 200 trillion seconds just up until today, for a single person. It would take them thousands of years just to watch the events that transpired for one individual (or one individual at a time) if they watched it second for second. If they did not watch it second for second and all the billions of persons simultaneously, then it is doubtful they saw everything.

    BTW, it’s good to see you back, Larry.

  20. Kim, Steve, et al,

    Back for a moment and then I’m off to Raymond for the weekend.
    If we understand the concept of light,as well as the cubit – as mentioned time wise in Facsimile #2, then how this is accomplished is not difficult to understand. I recommend Allan Fletcher’s book titled “Light” that you can pick up at the Church bookstore as a superb read on the principles.

    Enjoy, and I will be back on Monday.

  21. Steve EM, I can certainly see that you are truly an “Evangelical Mormon” – the irony is that along the LDS theological spectrum Elder McConkie is closer to your apparent conservative Evangelical position than any other LDS Apostle who ever lived. He is regarded “Neo-orthodox” for a reason – inclined to interpret LDS scriptures much more like evangelical Protestants than anyone else, including his father-in-law, who had a much longer lasting behind the scenes influence in that direction.

    The thing about ex nihilo creation is that Joseph Smith taught that it was wrong on multiple occasions, and the rejection of it has become an official doctrine of the Church, constraining even those (e.g. Stephen E. Robinson, a definite evangelical Mormon) who do not like it. (cf. How Wide the Divide)

    The best extra-liturgical reference is D&C 93:29,33:

    “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.”

    “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;”

    So I can hardly fault Br. Nibley for teaching the long standing doctrine of the Church.

    The LDS doctrine of God has always had him embedded in space-time, until certain neo-orthodox folks tried to turn him back into a Greek statue. So take comfort, you are not alone, just part of the neo-Hellenization of the Church, that is all.

  22. Mark and Larry,
    Very good points, but please understand, I keep my distance from rigid belief systems. I find they kill faith rather than promote it. Saturday morning, some So. Baptist missionaries knocked on my door, and I was just as frustrated with their dogma as anyone else’s (They insisted I was wrong about enduring to the end and a person couldn’t voluntarily walk from grace.). Why can’t they be like the Catholics in NY who used to just invite me to church and never discussed doctrine? To be fair, the So. Baptists didn’t condemn me for being a Mormon and I suspect their church doesn’t teach what they said and they were confused.

    I’m a bit perplexed regarding Mark’s comment on JFSII; he couldn’t even grasp the point of the parable of the labors. I wrote him off decades ago.

    Regarding the JS quote Mark cites, “For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;”, Isn’t that referring to the reality of the resurrection (continuation of the union of sprit and body)? To use it as a physics lesson or the basis of creation doctrine, seems like a big stretch. I know your interpretation is the party line, but I’m a free thinker and can’t help but question all this stuff. Hence my impatience with the likes of Nibley.

    BTW, Nibley’s soft headed socialism was a major turn off to my irreverent iconoclastic soul. Lefty profs like that are dime a dozen at any university, and I was expecting someone of more weight and substance.

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