Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why Not Believe the Atonement?

My favorite person in the Book of Mormon is known as Alma son of Alma, often called by Latter-day Saints "Alma the Younger." In my opinion he is the perfect model of how repentance and the atonement work and how we as a people have lost sight of that.

I am sure most people know his story, but lets review it to make the point clear. He is first mentioned in Mosiah 27 along with the sons of Mosiah, where he is described in verse 8 "he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities." Considering that this man was the son of a prophet, these are not at flattering words and show that his temperament left much to be desired.

However, one day all of that changed. While going with his friends the sons of Mosiah to "overthrow the church of God", Alma and his associates were visited by an unnamed angel. The instruction given to Alma was brief as he recounted to his son Helaman years later "If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God." This was all Alma was able to hear, as he then fainted as was in a coma for three days. After awakening Alma testified "I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit."

Even greater than this is the last words spoken about Alma after he disappeared in Alma 45 ".Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man." Quite a contrast from the idolater of his youth. Because of the transforming power of the atonement (and this was before Jesus of Nazareth even went into the Garden of Gethsemane) Alma was transformed and reborn, becoming one of the greatest missionaries in scripture, as well as a loving father, an area often not addressed.

This shows the Atonement at its finest. All people are sinners, but few people in the world would live up to the title of "Wicked and Idolatrous Man" or "Vilest of Sinners" as the sons of Mosiah are called. Yet in a mere three days, its power forever changed the course of these young men.

Here is the problem I have. I often hear in church as well as in General Conference that we need to "use the Atonement" in our lives. I have a much better idea : Lets actually believe the Atonement, which we do not currently do.

Wait Mr. LaCour, are you saying that members and priesthood leaders do not believe in the Atonement, when that is basically all they talk about? Oh, they may believe in the Atonement, meaning they believe it was an actually even that took place or that it is a process that works. But they do not believe the Atonement, meaning that they misrepresent it and apply it in a way that is man-made rather than Heaven made.

Don't believe me? Let me prove it you. In Section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them." This is very identical to many of the repentance stories in the Book of Mormon : People acknowledge that they have sinned, they confess their sins to the Lord, and he promptly forgives. Thats it, that is what repentance is. It is turning from one course of action to another and when that is done the Lord forgives.

However, this seems to not be enough for man-made religion. One of the effects of the Fall of Adam is that it made men "carnal and devilish". And what is the Devil like? He is vengeful, unforgiving, sadistic, narcissistic, nihilistic, and wanting to do things his own way which led to his fall.

Our current mode of repentance is in that same vain because it denies that the Lord completely forgives. For certain sins, such as fornication or adultery, we are told a person cannot be instantly forgiven and must wait at least one year before the person is forgiven, which a very different view than the one presented in the Book of Mormon.

It is true that in the ancient church and in the early modern church that punishment was given out for sins, but it was nothing like this. It is mentioned in the Book of Mormon that Alma is to hear the confession of sinners, but if there confession was sincere he was to forgive as the Lord did, immediately. After that he was to move on. (Mosiah 26: 29-31) It is mentioned that Alma must judge "according to their sins" but given that Alma and the sons of Mosiah were the equivalent of full-time missionaries days after repenting, I think we can safely assume that the repentance process was much simpler and less torturous than we have today.

In the early days of the modern church people were excommunicated as they are today, but they were also brought back into fellowship much quicker than they are today. And since the early church believed the Atonement, once people were brought back they were brought back exactly where they were before. An good example is Orson Pratt, who was excommunicated after differing with the Prophet Joseph on plural marriage. He later repented, and was put back in full fellowship and reinstated in the Council of the Twelve.

Sadly, this no longer happens. If a young man makes an egregious error, he is told he cannot serve a mission at least one year. Apparently, God has become more vengeful over the years. Oh wait, God doesn't change. So it is not him, it is his supposed representatives who want to inflict pain. How they came up with this weird system where they can exactly measure when a person has fully repented I have no idea. But there could be no Alma or Sons of Mosiah in the modern church.

The thing these people seem to misunderstand is that their is no reason for men to punish for sin, because the sin punished the person. I will give a personal example. I struggled with pornography for years, but I never told anyone until I went to the mission field and told my mission president. I was forgiven in the eyes of the church and I felt the Lord forgave me also, but I still had the images in my head and it took me a long time to see women as more than objects. That was the punishment itself, I was impaired from being truly human. No need for man to punish me, my brain did that (and still does from time to time).

I hope that this article has shown what the Atonement and forgiveness is and what it is not. I hope that we can believe the Atonement moving forward rather than just believing in it. I hope that leaders will come to remember that they are merely representatives and cannot in any form forgive sins, and will be like the Son of Man when dealing with these issues.

I believe the Atonement. I know that it is beyond my mortal comprehension to fully understand, but I have felt its power. I hope all can at some point in there lives. As I said at the beginning "Why Not Believe the Atonement?"


  1. Tarik, I think there are two reasons for the year's time frame that you mention:
    - it has nothing to do with forgiveness, but with repentance. You said yourself that it took you years to get over the pornography. I can confirm that from my own experience, and would wager that your battle is not completely over - that those images still raise their ugly head from time to time. To allow an individual to accept covenants with God if they are not prepared - especially after having already demonstrated that they struggle with keeping them - would be irresponsible

    - the second reason is just the sheer size of the church. Orson Pratt was re-admitted to the Church by Joseph himself. The church was much smaller then. Now, there need to be "guidelines" that were unnecessary at that time in Church history. Failing to recognize this fact can, I think, cause many who compare then with now to detect failings and shortcomings that are not real, and potentially to fall away from the Church.

  2. Interesting. I have never heard those stories of the early church before.

  3. I like your summary of Alma the Younger. I don't like your phrase "believe the Atonement," but mostly for grammatical reasons because believe can function as both a transitive and intransitive verb but it changes meaning slightly. I also agree that the timing issue you have with the repentance process is a necessary adaption for a church of 15 million saints.