I’ve been pondering the Atonement lately and I recently had some inspiration that I’d like to share. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me but I am interested in discovering what people think of my idea and how they view different aspects of the Atonement. Part of my thoughts concerned the nature of Jesus’ suffering and so I think I’ll start with that.
There are a number of scriptures which deal with Jesus’ suffering during the Atonement. We know that he suffered at Gethsemane. Luke is the one who first teaches us that bled there (Luke 24:44). And while the meaning of this verse has been debated, D&C 19:18 gives us as close to a firsthand account as we could hope for. Apparently what occurred there was Christ suffered a most terrible pain which caused him to bleed at every pore and wish he didn’t have to suffer any more. That is some big time suffering if God wants it to end.
The verses that precede 18 speak about how unrepentant individuals will have to suffer in like manner. Doesn’t this offer us a clue as to how severe the suffering that Jesus bore was? And prior to <i>those</i> verses Christ reveals that endless torment and eternal punishment are finite, meaning that they will always have an end. This seems revelatory too.
So Jesus suffered and that suffering was so severe that he had to fight not to shrink from it. But it wasn’t so unbearable that we can’t undergo it ourselves <u>for a period</u> if we don’t repent. Just how much did he suffer and for how long?
These two questions are at the heart of my inquiry. The atonement’s power is such that it crosses the bounds of space and time, applying backwards and forwards. We could say that it fills time and space in every direction. That’s pretty impressive. And it’s infinite (Alma 34:14). It endures forever and there is nothing that doesn’t fall under its purview. But what makes the Atonement have this infinite endurance? What gives it its lasting power?
We know Jesus had to die and we know that he had to suffer. We know that he had to be resurrected. What other elements <i>had</i> to be present to make the Atonement a reality? And which of these elements gave the atonement its enduring power?
I don’t know all the answers to those questions but I’d always understood that it was the suffering that gave the Atonement its eternal quality. Or at least that it was one of the qualities that did so. I’m not alone in this either, I’ve found, and so the question is one that bears asking.
But, working on the assumption that it was <i>the</i> factor that made the Atonement apply eternally, as I was, I always asked myself the question “how could an infinite Atonement occur when Jesus only suffered for a finite amount of time?” It bothered me. I’ve since thought of or been introduced to several possible answers.
It seems to me that there are four possibilities that exist concerning the nature of Jesus’ suffering: either it was infinite in its intensity, it was infinite in its length or endurance somehow, it was neither and that my assumption that the suffering need be infinite in some way was fallacious, or it is some combination of length and intensity. I actually favor this last idea of these options which involves eternal time (in-spite of my concerns above). But I want to know how everyone else feels about this and which side they take. Or if there are other possibilities that I haven’t heard before.
In the first idea Jesus suffered an infinitely painful feeling. This infinite intensity fulfills the requirement to make it infinite in some manner. The strength of the argument is that it fits the bill for the saying that only Jesus could have done it in mortality and not died. It is weakened by the fact that Jesus seemingly suffered for a notable length of time. He made several prayers, came back and admonished Peter, James, and John a couple times, and seemingly suffered for what may have been hours. Why draw it out? If the suffering only need reach that infinite intensity to fulfill the requirement