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How do you even apply the atonement in your life?

October 16, 2014

The other day, John C had what I believe is a really great, heartfelt post at By Common Consent: Lord, it is I. I think what I like most about it is its visceral personal nature — it’s not an intellectual post but words from John’s soul. From the post:

Actually, if God won’t save me in my sins, what is the point? I’ll never not sin. Sometimes I experience the remission of sin, where I genuinely don’t want to sin anymore, but then I get tired, my family won’t listen, a co-worker irritates me, and Amen to that remission. I’m right back off the wagon, wishing ill and hardening my heart.

Which is, of course, the worst bit. Even if I manage to somehow, via willpower and a higher power, quit my bad habits and to not start new bad habits, I am as prone as anyone to pride and judgment. I might hold my tongue, but in my heart I am likely to think ill of the broken and the straying. Charity for those who offend me, who are not my enemy but whom I would not have as a friend, requires effort and I am frequently lazy.

So, I’m familiar with my sins. Being kind of lame, I take a bit of pride in this as well. I may not be perfect, but at least I know I’m not perfect (unlike some people I could name, but won’t). I’m probably better for admitting my sins (vaguely, with no specifics) than all those sanctimonious people out there. Moral superiority through sinning; who knew?

It is nice to hear, as President Uchtdorf told us in Priesthood session, “Brethren, we must put aside our pride, see beyond our vanity, and in humility ask, “Lord, is it I?”,” but I know it is I. I am the cause of most of my own problems, without a doubt. The question is, what do I do about it?

I could change I suppose, but I don’t know how. I’m relatively old now and I am almost certainly who I am going to be. That I disappoint myself doesn’t really reveal anything; who doesn’t? As if to demonstrate what a cliché I am, the scripture is replete with prophetic self-recrimination. Isaiah says, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Nephi says, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.”Alma says, “I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” If even the prophets aren’t satisfied with their effort, how am I ever to be with mine?

Part of me was thinking that what John C was coming against is Mormonism’s tendency toward works righteousness…but the big question is whether or not we can actually ever work hard enough to be righteous.

John himself seems skeptical of this. Even when he tries, he knows he will fall back into old ways.

So, what is there to do?

The answer at this point is supposed to be Jesus. As John continues:

So we experience the miracle of love. Love for me, broken idiot that I am. And, because we were loved, we often love in return. It doesn’t take much to inspire loyalty, just love unfeigned. And that, the Lord provides. Why? I don’t really know. But he does.

This seems to be a big part of the Christian narrative, whether Mormon or not. Realize you’re totally depraved and utterly powerless to do anything about it. Realize that this depravity means you are totally screwed. But then ??? and then realize that Jesus loves you and therefore…Salvation?

I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me.

There was a great comment to the discussion on this:

I have been studying tring to understand how to allow Christ to change us. My state and list of sins looks much like yours. I have been praying for Christ to change my heart, make weak things strong, but I don’t see a difference and can’t figure out how to access the enabling power. What key am I missing?

Where not even John C has an answer. So, that’s not very helpful.

I don’t see the big deal with Jesus, because I don’t see any change of heart. (Then again, I’m stuck at point 2 — I’m not sure that human depravity means that we are totally screwed.) Eh, atheist problems, I guess.

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  1. I don’t have an answer because the atonement has always been such an abstract concept for me that even as a believer I figured I was “doing it wrong.”

    I do think there is something really attractive about the idea of a savior figure. Someone to save me from my problems, mistakes and suffering? Sign me up! It’s this subtle way of abdicating personal responsibility. Sure– I might paint myself into a corner but Jesus is always there to bail me out.

    Except that it didn’t work for me. I found that Jesus couldn’t fix me or my problems. Only I could do that. My logical conclusion after this realization was that there is no Jesus, but I understand that’s only my perspective.

    Still, I believe that those who have felt some sort of enabling power have felt it because they expected to– a sort of confirmation bias if you will. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

  2. JL,

    Thanks for sharing. The thing that gets me is that even for believers who seem to believe that they themselves are “doing it right,” I don’t notice any practical difference in them. Most of these folks seem just as petty, prideful, hurtful, selfish, etc etc as anyone else.

    I only know a handful of people who seem to me to be really transformed by their religion into something I would consider particularly admirable. Every where else, I see average people doing average things

  3. I am certainly not going to try to explain the relatively small changes I see in myself. I don’t know if they are confirmation bias, although most of the real changes have come in the ways I didn’t see or understand until after the real changes have been made in me.

    For me, the larger irony is the Mormon obsession with having other people confirm the “mighty change of heart,” before it is accepted as real. In my case, several of my siblings cut off contact while I was going through a messy divorce. Other than sending my nieces and nephews birthday cards, I have almost no direct contact with them. Several have told mutual friends that until they see major changes in me, they are unwilling to “subject their kids to me.” Since they only see my kids when they are with my ex, and have yelled at my kids for mentioning something that they did with me, in a cousins talking with cousins context, my kids now choose to talk to those aunts and uncles, with no influence from me. (I think cousins shouldn’t have to deal with dysfunctions of their parents. It is another area I am obviously wrong about.)

    It bothered me for quite a while, and now it doesn’t. I just don’t care to carry on that particular abusive dynamic, because it is both unChristlike and emotionally unhealthy. So, I stopped caring or worrying, and it has made a huge difference to my internal self, but it isn’t something obvious, or that I would usually talk about with anyone besides my husband and occasionally my mother. I am not sure if I could have let it go without a belief in the Atonement, but I couldn’t have changed it without focusing on that very specifically. Generally praying to be a better person wouldn’t have been enough, I don’t think.

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  1. Is the LDS Church even the body of Christ? | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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