A passage of scripture that I have always had trouble understanding is found in Alma. In Alma 34, Amulek is teaching about the Atonement. In verses 10 through 12 we read
10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.
Verses 11 and 12 in particular have always been very confusing to me. Amulek essentially says that the one that commits the sin must be the one punished for it. Justice won’t allow another to take the law-breaker’s place. Yet, he explains Christ’s role in the Atonement with the opaque phrase “therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.” To that I say
I mean, seriously. Given how we oftentimes teach the Atonement, this passage of scripture doesn’t make sense. How can Christ pay our debt if “the law requireth the life of him who hath [sinned]?” WE have to be the ones who pay the debt according to justice; Christ cannot. If we interpret the Atonement in the traditional, “paying-our-debt-for-us” way, Amulek is basically saying we are wrong and the Atonement cannot and does not work that way. Now, some will say to me, “That’s why Amulek says it’s infinite. How the Atonement works is just so doggone infinite we can’t understand how it works.” That explanation has always struck me as being…how do I say this kindly…simple? Others might say that we are still required to pay the price of our sins, we just pay it to Christ now because He has become our Sin Creditor of some sort by paying our “debt.” This seems to fly in the face of what He said Himself about our role. I want an explanation that actually reconciles things in my mind.
So, I’ve spent years trying to come up with an interpretation of that scripture that makes sense to me. This past conference weekend I feel like I finally had a “moment of clarity” on the subject. I thought of two explanations that I think both work (for the second one I am indebted to my dad and a conversation we had).
Interpretation 1: Paul teaches us that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” 2 Cor. 5:17. Elsewhere in the scriptures Moroni tells us to “be perfected in [Christ].” Moroni 10:32-33. We read in dozens of places in the scriptures that we are to “born again” through our covenant with Christ. What if that is to be taken a little more literally than we usually do? What if when we covenant with Him we, in a more literal sense, become a new creature in Him, essentially becoming one with Him? Because then the one who committed the sin has received the punishment. Christ suffering for our sins is us suffering for our sins because we have become one with Him so long as we covenant with Him and live up to our part of the covenant. If we do not live our part of the covenant, we alone will suffer for our sins (D&C 19).
Interpretation 2: Elsewhere in the scriptures we read that Christ will “take upon him the sins of his people.” Alma 7:13. What if we need to take that a little more literally as well? Perhaps when that time comes for us to stand before God to be judged, Christ will say something along the lines of “This is So-and-So. He was a good man, lived an honorable life, and should therefore be admitted to the Celestial Kingdom.” To this God will say, “No. So-and-So did Sin X, Y, Z, and a whole host of other sins. He cannot be admitted to the Celestial Kingdom.” To this Christ will reply, “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare [this] my [brother] that believe[d] on my name, that [he] may come unto me and have everlasting life.” D&C 45:4-5. Christ will point to His sufferings for sins He took upon himself. By taking our sins upon Himself, they no longer are our sins; they are His sins. In a way that I don’t quite understand (infinite you might say), Christ literally took my sins and made them His and He paid the price for them. Justice has been served because the one “who hath [sinned]” has paid the price. He having been the perfect, sinless Son of God was somehow able to literally “take upon” Him our sins and then pay the price for them. But the only way that suffering will count is if we “[l]isten to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading [our] cause before him” and abide by the covenant He proposes. Otherwise, He does not take upon Him our sins but rather they remain with us and we must suffer for them.
So, I finally feel like I can read Amulek and not get confused. At the very least, I have found an answer that satisfies me.