The Unauthorized Investigator's Guide to
The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints

Lesson 2

Earning God's Forgiveness

The verb "forgive" has two denotations. The first is to cease feeling resentment when you are wronged. The second is to grant relief from payment. When God talks of forgiving us, in which sense does he use the word "forgive"? Letís consider the second sense: to grant relief from payment. They say that Jesus already paid the price of sin. If the price has been paid, then there is nothing to forgive. For example, if a mysterious benefactor paid the price of my mortgage, the mortgage company couldnít forgive me of the mortgage. After the price is paid, regardless of by whom, there is nothing left to forgive. So clearly, being forgiven for sin isnít about being granted relief from payment.

On the other hand, the concept of God resenting us for sinning and holding that resentment until we meet his demands isnít very appealing either.

I think I figured out the Mormonsí best answer to this paradox of forgiveness. Perhaps you could say, Jesus didnít really pay the price of sin, but rather transferred the debt, like one bank buying my mortgage from another. I still need to pay the mortgage, just to a different person. So now we owe Jesus the price of sin rather than whomever we otherwise would have owed it to. To whom would have we otherwise owed it? To an impersonal, inflexible law that was decreed before the first God was bornóthe law of Justice. Justice is incapable of forgiving us of sinóthe price must be paidóit cannot be forgiven. Jesus satisfied Justice by paying the price of sin. We still owe the debt, we just owe it to Jesus rather than to Justice. Unlike Justice, Jesus is capable of forgiving us of our sinsóof writing the debt off and taking the hit. But he is only willing to do that if we jump through certain hoops.

Thatís the best answer I can come up with. But it still leaves some uncomfortable issues. Joseph Smith reported that Jesus told him,

Therefore I command you to repent--repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore--how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink. (D&C 19:15-18)

The first part of this that talks about Jesus smiting us with his wrath and anger makes me wonder if God really does hold resentment against us for our human follies, and that being forgiven is nothing other than getting God to stop resenting us.

Be that as it may, the quote goes on to say that if we donít repent we must suffer, even as Jesus did. Now, Jesus being tortured somehow "paid" the "price" of sin. For the record, that makes zero sense to me. I donít see how torture pays the price of anything. But perhaps thatís just my own limited perspective, and torture really does pay the price of sin. Letís say I donít repent of my apostate ways. Then I can look forward to some seriously exquisite torture after Iím dead. By going through that, I will have paid the price of my own sins. Then either one of two things will have happened. Either my sins will have been paid for twiceóonce by Jesus and again by me (would the law of Justice allow double payment like that?). Or, I will have actually paid the price to Jesus, making his torture less by suffering my share of it personally (Does not repenting and suffering for our own sins marginally ease the pain that Jesus suffered?).

The image of a God being tortured in the name of love to "to pay the price of sin" doesnít make sense. It is a brilliant way to manipulate people through guilt. But it doesnít make sense.

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