Thursday, March 29, 2012

Godly sorrow, the atonement and perceptions of time

My thoughts turn more and more to the atonement in recent weeks. That tends to happen when we're hurting. Though I realize also that we should probably consider it whenever we hurt others—and we're all guilty of that from time to time.

LDS Doctrine teaches that the key part of Christ's sacrifice for us wasn't His death on the cross but His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that He not only pleaded with His Father to find another way to bring about the immortality and redemption of mankind—and then immediately submitted to the will of the Father—He also experienced all of man's suffering. It was there that He paid the price for every sin ever committed, not just up until that point but into the future as well. He also experienced all of the physical, emotional and psychological pain of mankind. Again, not just up until that point in time, but into the future.

But how is that possible?

As beings who exist in a linear universe where time always moves forward, it's difficult for us to grasp just how God perceives us and time. Being omniscient, God knows all that has happened, is happening and will happen. From time to time God reveals truths about events—past, present and future—to His prophets. As Latter-day Saints, we're privileged to be in possession of more information about the future than any other faith. We often don't know what to do with it, but it does create in us a certain sense of urgency that motivates us to magnify our callings and be more diligent in our work for the Kingdom.

Christ's mortal existence in our universe was largely linear. He did not come to the earth with a complete understanding of who He was and what His mission consisted of. It was something that He grew to understand. As His ministry progressed, He became more aware of His relationship with Heavenly Father, not just as the first Son of God but as a god himself. "Before Abraham was, I AM."

There is a great deal of confusion—even within the LDS community—about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. We often get into arguments—even with each other—about the "Oneness" of God and Christ. We know that they are separate and distinct individuals and yet they are "One." A lot of Mormons like to say, "They are one in purpose," which one may suppose is true but is an incomplete answer to what their oneness actually means.

If both God and Christ are omniscient then they are both fully aware of each other's thoughts, actions and will. Their oneness suggests that they are not just one in purpose but one in thought and still remain physically individual and distinct.

God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, exist eternally. This doesn't just mean that they are immortal—suggesting an endless existence in linear time—they exist outside of time. They perceive all that there is not because of any clairvoyance but because they are able to observe everything, everyone and every when as part of an eternal "Now."

I bring up this characteristic of the Father and Son as a means of trying to understand how Christ was able to perceive and endure all of mankind's suffering—past and present—while on this earth in a mortal and linear state. I believe it is through His oneness with God the Father that—even though Christ lived in the meridian of human time—He was able to perceive and experience all pain and suffering. In other words, He existed physically in this universe—perceiving time, events and people linearly—but during his time in the Garden, through his connection with the Father, we was able to have an eternal—nonlinear—perception of the universe. He was able to see and experience all of the suffering that ever was and ever will be because through His spiritual Oneness with God, He was able to perceive it all in the eternal Now, existing both within and outside of time.

Consider what that means.

Christ not only suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane nearly 2000 years ago; in a sense, He is suffering there "Now." When we feel pain—whether its the Godly sorrow we feel when we have sinned, the pain of physical illness or the hurt when someone else has inflicted their anger upon us—Christ didn't just feel it ahead of time for us all those years ago, He feels it concurrently. Consider the choices that we make: to sin, to inflict physical and emotional pain on others; now consider the fact that those conscious decisions are affecting the Son of Man in a garden and we have the capacity within us to choose not to do those things and by making those choices, we can—in a sense—alleviate Christ's suffering just a little bit.

While we're at it, let us consider the last time that we hurt someone. Perhaps it was an unkind word, a passive aggressive statement or action, and think about the way it made that person feel. Now consider that the pain that they are enduring is also being endured by the Redeemer. If you can, seek them out, look them in the eyes and see not just them but the Savior and consider saying, "I'm sorry for having caused you this pain. Please forgive me."