Pondering the Atonement, Understanding Grief


Let me start by saying I am not a therapist, and I haven’t studied this topic scientifically at all. That said, I have a bit of anecdotal evidence and I think what I have is worth sharing.

One of the things that I used to believe about Christ is that he took sin and he threw it away. I believed that Christ could wiggle his nose and all my sins would disappear and I could live as a perfect man on the earth. And if I ever committed a sin again, it must be because I wasn’t believing enough or I didn’t have enough faith.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize the childishness of my beliefs.

This is what I believe now.

We live in a universe of opposites. It is the fact that there is an opposition that makes a thing exist at all. After all, if there were no evil, and all were good, we wouldn’t call anything good anymore. It would just be. A trivial example: “Yum, that’s good spaghetti” would become “Yum, that’s spaghetti.”

You really need to ponder this for a long time and understand that things are defined not by what they are, but what they are not. When you say “square”, for instance, we think we are saying “all shapes with four sides that are parallel and equal length” but really, you are saying “all those shapes but those without four sides or that are not parallel or that are not equal length.”

Logically speaking, the statements “A” and “not not A” are equivalent. When two statements are equivalent, we often think of the one side and think we understand it all, but really, we need to understand the other side before we truly grasp what is being said.

In this universe of opposites, one of the opposites is good and evil. Good exists because of evil. If it were not for evil, good couldn’t exist. We simply cannot be good unless we are evil, or have evil. Or, put another way “Good Jonathan” and “Evil Jonathan” exist. “Jonathan” is the superposition of both of them. If you take away “Evil Jonathan”, then the thing called “Jonathan” is a subset of what it was. (This is a reference to quantum mechanics that I’m afraid only physicists will get.)

The next step in my understanding came as I pondered what Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. I summarize this as he took upon him all the sins of the world, and he descended below all things. Keep in mind, when I’m talking about “sin” in this context, I’m talking about all the opposite things we don’t like and don’t want but are stuck with. When I’m talking about “below”, I’m saying he went the opposite direction we all want to go.

This is a key point now. Christ didn’t throw away sins. He didn’t destroy sin. He didn’t eliminate it. He conquered it. He was like Julius Caesar, marching into the land that sin controlled. He did battle with it, but he didn’t kill it. Then he tied a chain around its neck and made it part of his domain.

We often picture hell as that underworld where Satan reigns supreme. If we think of the atonement in this way, that’s not at all what hell looks like now. What I imagine happened is Christ drove himself straight down into hell, then fought hordes of demons and devils until he came to the big man himself. Then, having defeated (not killed) them, he makes them sign a treaty whereby they get to continue to exist but they have to report to him.

Please keep things in perspective here. I am trying to use metaphor to get a very complicated idea across. I am not trying to trivialize the atonement or how it worked, but understand it. The way Christ would do battle, if he fought at all, is different than how we would do battle. The end result is the same, however: Hell now reports to Christ.

I see now Christ as not the guy who destroyed sin but the guy who took sin and made it part of himself but put it under control. Christ the being is composed of Good Christ and Evil Christ, and the Good Christ defeated and conquered and enslaved, but not killed, the Evil Christ.

This has a lot of hope for me. Whether I am Good Jonathan or Evil Jonathan, it kind of doesn’t matter. I belong to Christ. And if I want to embrace Good Jonathan, then I must focus on defeating, not destroying, Bad Jonathan.

Now, Bad Jonathan is not just the part of me that wants to do bad things, but the part of me that feels grief and pain and that has a sore back and that complains loudly when he has to eat broccoli. Bad Jonathan are all those aspects of my nature that I wish I didn’t have. It’s those things we want to run away from.

But what did Christ do? He ran toward it. He embraced it. He conquered it. Then, together, he rose above everything else, bringing it along with him.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of grief recently. I think bad thoughts about what might happen to my parents and their physical condition. I prematurely mourn their deaths now that it seems so much closer today than last week. But I am not trying to run from my grief anymore. I set a place for it at the table. I give it room in my bed. I take a shower with it. I take it with me to work and I let it sit in my office chair and type on my keyboard.

Grief isn’t bad. He’s not trying to kill me. He’s there to remind me that everything is not happiness all the time. When I try to run from him, that’s when he catches up to me and does really bad things. But if I embrace him, even love him, then I find it is tolerable.

I think a large part of this life is to teach us that these bad things aren’t as bad as we think they are. We are to learn that we can conquer them, control them, incorporate them safely into our essence and our being. It’s ok to see yourselves as fundamentally flawed and bad people, because when you embrace that, you also embrace the good and the perfect.

I used to hope one day Christ would wiggle his nose and get rid of all the things I don’t want in my life. But now that I see this world is full of colors unimaginable emotionally, I don’t mind anymore. I welcome the bad things into my life with the good. I have room for them. I let them stay, even when I wish they would go home.

Sometimes I lay down at night, tired and worn out and too sad to speak. I water my pillow as David did. But when the sun comes up and my strength returns, and I bite into that morning breakfast, something else comes into me: happiness.

In short, happiness is not the absence of sadness. Good is not the absence of evil. These things are opposite sides of the same coin. If we want happiness, we must also embrace sadness. And if we want good, we must accept evil as well.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about going out and trying to do bad things or getting yourself worked up about things that aren’t really a danger. No one should ever eat poison! I am saying that we find ourselves with poison in our system, and the way to fix that is to digest the poison and learn to live with it.


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