Atonement Theory - Parable of a Perfect Judge

My father got me started on looking at the atonement as something that provides a perfect judgment based on Mosiah Chapter 3. I thought I might take a stab at expressing an atonement theory based on this. Other theories I have read express the perspective of the one seeking eternal life. I decided to write this from the perspective of one who is offering eternal life. Feel free to let me know what you think.

There once was a wealthy, wise, powerful and perfect man, who desired to help others to become as he is. He knew that with his help they could progress farther and faster than they could on their own. He also knew that he could not just give away what he had to someone who could not be trusted with that kind of freedom and power. So he decided to place those who desired to become like him under a period of probation, after which they would be judged by a perfect judge. The perfect judge would determine the quality of the inheritance.

This perfect judge would have to know everyone's circumstances perfectly. He would also have to know exactly what he would do in the same situation. This ability could not come easily. He would not only have to experience directly what many others experienced, he would also have to undergo an intense simulation that would cover every possible contingency.

After this perfect judge completed this experience, he would inherit everything that the wealthy, wise, powerful and perfect man had. Through this perfect judge, all who desired to be like him could potentially gain the same inheritance. Any who were untrustworthy, would receive a lesser inheritance.

Jacob over at New Cool Thang wrote a post about atonement theories here. He gave a list of questions that a theory ought to address. These questions (with answers) are:

Why was the atonement necessary?

To have a perfect judgment, and determine who has proven themselves to be trusted with a full inheritance.

Why was Christ the only one who could perform the atonement?

He was the only one who could endure the intense simulation.

Why would we have been hopelessly lost without the atonement?

We could not receive any inheritance without proving ourselves to the perfect judge, and we could not achieve it on our own.

What caused Christ to suffer?

The intense simulation caused him to suffer all of the pains, sorrows, effects of sin, limitations, etc. of all people. This was necessary for him to be able to apply a perfect judgment.

What did Christ suffer?

All things that everyone else may suffer during this probation.

What did Christ's suffering accomplish?

A perfect judge emerged from this suffering.

What is the meaning of justice and mercy?

All will be able to stand before a perfect judge.

What is the nature of sin and sinfulness?

To knowingly sin is to show that we can not be trusted. To continue in sin will result in a lesser inheritance.

How does the atonement satisfy justice?

All will be able to be judged by a prefect judge.

How did the atonement bring about the resurrection?

The inheritance is the quality of the resurrection.

How is the atonement related to forgiveness?

The perfect judge will determine if we have repented, or returned to a state of trust. This trust can be communicated through the spirit. Ultimately the final judgment will be a result of the level of forgiveness.

How is the atonement related to repentance?

An individual must show the Lord that he has truly changed, and can now be trusted.

How was the atonement efficacious before it was performed?

Repentance is changing to a state of trust with God. The acceptance of this change could still be communicated. The ends of the atonement will not be completed until after the final judgment.

How is the atonement related to the fall?

The fall initiated the probationary period, the atonement will ultimately be the judgment of that period.

How did the atonement make us free?
The atonement allows us to regain the trust of God, and provides an eternal inheritance for us. These things would not even be available to us without an atonement.

Well, I rushed through this pretty fast. Let me know what holes are left in this theory.


At 10/16/2006, Blogger sean p. said...

This is pretty good. My only problem is with the word “simulation”. Looking it up in the dictionary, that particular word seems to miss the essence of the whole mission of the Savior. If you look it up, I’m sure you’ll see right away what I mean. If anything, it’s the other way around, and our experiences and suffering is but a shadow compared to the very real and far-reaching depth of experience that our Perfect Judge not only went through, but devoted his life to.

I think you have hit it right on the head in matters of trust. I have a regular fatherly-advice talk with my children that goes something like this: “Son/Daughter, I want to give you all the freedom and permission in the world to do anything you want. And you will earn that permission based on how much I can trust you. That trust can only be earned by obeying Mom and Dad.” And then I proceed to tell them how they are obeying or disobeying and how much I trust or do not trust them as a result. The older they get, the better they seem to understand this principle. But it doesn’t work very well yet on my 6-yr old daughters.

At 10/16/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Thanks Sean.

Simulation may very well be the wrong word here. You are right, that I wanted something that was beyond typical experience - not something that was fake. I'm not sure what word to replace it with.

At 10/17/2006, Blogger Jacob said...

Nice post Eric. I definitely see some scriptural support for the view you've expressed here (especially Alma 7), and you've done a nice job explaining this view. My hat is off.

If this theory is used as the primary explanation for the purpose of the atonement, I do worry that it implies that the problem we would have faced without the atonement would have been a deficiency in Christ as an imperfect judge. For example, if you do a thought experiment to imagine how things would have been without the atonement, this theory implies that everything would have been basically the same except at the end the plan would have collapsed because there would have been no one able to judge us. I think the scriptures consistently teach that the problem solved by the atonement had to do with a deficiency in fallen man.

At 10/17/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...


Thanks for your comment. Are you the same Jacob as the one who posts at the Thang, or are you another Jacob?

You bring up a good point. How does this theory allow us to change? I think this might strike at what repentance really is. But I think personally that repentance is less of a mystery than most people. Is it not returning to the trust of God? Some think it is more than this.

Does this problem not potetially come up in parables like the debtor/creditor, and the parable of the bicycle as well? What if Christ had failed in those? The girl would not get her bicycle for a long time? The debtor would loose his posetions? Otherwise all is well?

I think this is only a problem if one thinks there is some 'magical' change that comes with repentance. My view is that it is returning into a state of trust with God.

At 10/17/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric: Learning to Trust God can be pretty magical.

Having read Jacob's Dialogue article, I pretty much predicted he was going to say that. What you are descrbing is what Jacob would call the "Empathy Theory" and I believe, from your last comment, that you are coupling it with what he would call "The Moral influence theory". I'd actually love to hear Jacob's thoughts on this coupling myself. It seems to help resolve the concerns which both theories have seperately.

My Question for this theory is why Christ had to do this, when Heavenly Father, being omniscient and able to perceive our thoughts should be able to judge us righteously.

Perhaps in the atonement, Christ took a step for us in becoming like our Father in Heaven? Does that mean we will have to know all the pain and suffering of infinity to be exalted?

thanks for the opportunity to learn with you.

Matt W.

At 10/17/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Wow Matt, thanks for your comment. I need to get up to speed on how these theories are grouped.

You make a great question about why Christ. In general I might guess that having Christ, who actually lived here, become the judge makes him more....authentic?

I also have wondered about the first of all the Gods. I am sympathetic to folks like Widtsoe who taught that the first God became God on his own. He then set up this plan or pattern for lesser intelligences to follow. This plan included the need for a perfect judge, and the pattern continues.

I do not know about your question of having to do everything Christ did in order to be fully exalted ourselves. I guess one could say the King Follet Discourse implies that. I don't quite buy that absolute interpretation though.

At 10/18/2006, Blogger Jacob said...


Yep, I am the same Jacob as the one at the Thang. I keep wondering if I need to add another initial or something so it is more clear. What do you think, should I start going by Jacob M? Or maybe Jacob J in solidarity with my Thang associates.

I think the problem I raised does, in fact, come up with other theories just as you mentioned. For instance, the fact that the little girl could eventually get the bike on her own after a very long time demonstrates a way in which the parable of the bicycle breaks down when applied directly as a theory of atonement (although it seems clear to me that was not Robinson's intention). But really, I don't think I am asking anything especially profound. The Book of Mormon says point blank that without the atonement every one of us would have been lost. It seems important to me that a theory of atonement explain why that would have been. Given all else the Book of Mormon has to say about the atonement helping us overcome our fallen condition, it seems to me it must be more than God's inability to judge us fairly without Christ going through a simulation of our experiences.

At 10/18/2006, Blogger Jacob said...

Oh, and I should have said: Although I think there must be something more to the atonement, I don't think necessarily goes against what you have said in the post. I am only suggesting that it seems incomplete to me, not that it is incorrect.

At 10/18/2006, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Thanks Jacob.

I guess what I would say is that if there would have been no plan, we probably would have remained as intelligences forever - without a plan. Lost. And if Christ would not have gone through with the important steps in bringing about that plan then there would have been a need for a plan B or something. I think again this would happen to any theory.

I also believe that any attempt to describe what the atonement really is will be incomplete at some level. A hopeless quest.


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