7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit—and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. 8a Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth! That they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God save it be through the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah
The idea of Christ answering the law is significant—he is responding to a question, a demand
“unto none else can the ends of the law be answered”—the preposition “unto” is strange here: why not use the word “by”? What does it mean to say the law is answered unto Christ, rather than by Christ?
“save it be” a beautiful wordplay, nothing can take place regarding the salvation of human persons except through the Savior, save it be through the Savior
a) TG Jesus Christ, Atonement through; Sacrifice, self-sacrifice
It is significant that the Topical Guide uses “Jesus Christ, Atonement through” as a topic heading rather than, for example, “Jesus Christ, Atonement of” highlighting that Christ makes reconciliation between human beings and God possible, but not inevitable or in a way that does not require the appropriate, agentic response of human beings
b) 1 Samuel 2:2 (1-10) Hannah praises Lord after giving Samuel to the Lord; “There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God”
It is notable that Hannah speaks of Christ in the context of sacrificing her own son
c) Romans 10:4 “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”
Again here the preposition “to” strikes me as odd, why not “for”?—what is significant about “to/unto” instead of “for”? “To/unto” implies to me setting something at its limit, on a boundary, so that it is not given by reaching over that boundary but offered and must be received. It impresses me as establishing a meeting place, a point at which two distinct entities come together, they do not cross over, but come together both bringing their own offering
8) a) 2 Nephi 25:20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.
2 Nephi 31:21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
Mosiah 4:8 And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you
Mosiah 5:8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
In light of my discussion above about the preposition “to” and the idea of a boundary and a meeting point, I want to highlight here the verb “take”—it is something we choose to receive, it is not bestowed against our will. It is not merely given; rather, it is offered and is something we actively take up should we choose to do so.
Alma 21:9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood
Alma 38:9 And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness.
Again, here, it is only through Christ that we are not saved—not by Christ, but through.
Jacob 2:10 is not referenced, but bears comparison here: When Jacob decries men who are erroneously living in polygynous relationships, he expresses regret that he has to rebuke them in front of their wives and children, but feels impelled to do so anyway. He states, “notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God.”
Other scriptures that bear comparison:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, yourselves to the of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the of God that ye are .
Wherefore, may God you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the , that ye may be received into the kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen.
Note that we must be reconciled unto God—bring ourselves to the meeting point by our own acts of willing repentance, by our own broken hearts and contrite spirits and then it is through grace, the atonement of Christ, that we are saved
Returning to 2 Nephi 2:7, the use of the preposition “unto” instead of “by” in verse 7: “and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” First we read that Christ answers the end of the law, but now it seems that the law is answered unto Christ. Why is not answered by Christ? For Christ to answer the law would connote something that is complete, but if the law is answered unto Christ, just as in the cross-reference Romans 10:4 where “to” is used instead of “for”: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”—these prepositions strike me as significant in two ways—they imply something that is temporally incomplete, that cannot be merely unidirectional; moreover, they seem to imply spatially the establishment of a boundary, a borderline—the law is answered unto Christ, and the end of the law is Christ to every one that believeth; the Atonement is not merely something given, but is something that is offered—it is set before us, but it must be received, it must be appropriated by the believer. Free agents must receive it, appropriate it, make it efficacious; the individual must meet the Atonement where it lies—must make personal effort, must traverse the distance between herself and the Atonement, it is not merely bestowed, it must be taken up by each individual
This idea is illuminated by the use of the preposition “through” which Jacob himself uses to depict the relationship between the Atonement of Christ and individual agents: “Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection” (Jacob 4:10)—we are not reconciled by the Atonement, but through the Atonement, this implies that the atonement is not something efficacious prior to our active response and reception of it
The preposition “for” in connection with the atonement recurs in Helaman 5:9, where Helaman implores his sons to remember the words of Benjamin that “man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come” and in Moroni 10:33, where Moroni states “if ye by the grace of God are prefect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye may become holy, without spot”
Perusing “Jesus Christ, Atonement through” in the Topical Guide, I found some representative examples of the preposition “for” versus the preposition “unto”
1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit
What is the significance of this?
McConkie and Millet write, “Salvation is not promised to those glib of tongue but rather to those with a back bent by the burdens of the kingdom (see Matthew 24:46-51). As there is no salvation without truth, so there is no salvation without obedience—without a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit.’” (1:193).
Nibley highlights that keeping the law is not enough, but a broken heart and contrite spirit are necessary on tops of this (Nibley, 1:264)
Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard pseudonymously writes about the unhappiest person: this person is the one who is furthest from herself (EO1, 222). One who is absent to herself is the most unhappy—employing the language of 2 Nephi 2, she is “miserable” like the devil. We are estranged from ourselves through sin and our own fundamental brokenness. It is through the Atonement, through making it efficacious by bringing forth a broken heart and contrite spirit that we can know the joy of realizing God’s intention for our individual lives.
As we humble ourselves, and repent of our brokenness we can be reconciled through the Atonement. What motivates us to do this? What motivates us to actualize the healing effects, the unifying effects of the Atonement in our lives? Perhaps it is the Atonement itself; perhaps it is the picture, the image of Christ’s literal, physical brokenness (the abject) that highlights our own spiritual brokenness. We are motivated by Christ’s suffering to be willing to break our own hearts. As Christ breaks himself to fulfill the law, fulfill his destiny and provide the atonement for humanity, each individual Christian must break themselves to receive and make the atonement efficacious and be enable to fulfill our own divinely appointed destinies.
For Kierkegaard, the most common form of despair—the sin we are guilty of when we fail to be the self God created us to be—in the world is ignorance of it (SUDP, 75). I suggest that it is not our own state of sin, but beholding the broken and suffering Christ that can help us wake up to the reality of our own fundamental brokenness. In Christ’s abjection we recognize our own. Theologian Anne Joh develops Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject: “As a compromise between ‘condemnation and yearning,’ the abject marks the boundaries and the borders of the self. Transgressing borders, the abject is a witness to society’s precarious hold over the fluid and disorderly aspects of individual and collective psyche. As Kristeva brilliantly observes, ‘abjection is above all ambiguity.’ Thus, the abject haunts the subject at its inner boundary, which unwillingly gets transgressed so that the abject is ‘something rejected from which one does not part.’ The return of the abject is thus a constant reminder that we are fragmented and furthermore that our problem of the abject is not the Other but within ourselves” (The Heart of the Cross, 90)
It is through the vision of the abject, the horror of the suffering Christ, that awakens us to our own sinful state, that moves us to compassion with his suffering, gratitude for his suffering, and renders our own hearts broken, knowing his suffering is intended only to alleviate ours.
As theologian Wendy Farley puts it, “Compassion…begins where the sufferer is, in the grief, the shame, the hopelessness. It sees the despair as the most real thing. Compassion is with the sufferer, turned toward or submerged in her experience, seeing it with her eyes. This communion with the sufferer in her pain, as she experiences it, is the presence of love that is a balm to the wounded spirit. This relationship of shared, sympathetic suffering mediates consolation and respect that can empower the sufferer to bear the pain, to resist the humiliation, to overcome the guilt” (Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy, 81; quoted on p.88)
As we behold the suffering Christ, knowing that the suffering of the Atonement is intended for us, we experience compassion. His brokenness motivates our broken hearts.
Returning to Kierkegaard, it is through Atonement that one becomes a unified self. As the prototype, Christ is a promise: by continually coming to resemble the prototype by holding fast to God, the Christian moves beyond self-effacement to become herself more and more (CD, 40-42).
On this trajectory, the Atonement works as we submit to God. As we imitate Christ in submission and humility, we become willing to be ourselves, reconciled to ourselves, and realize ourselves. For Kierkegaard, this means that we rest transparently, faithfully in Christ (SUD, 82). As Anti-Climacus defines it, “the formula for faith: in relating to itself and in wanting to be itself, the self is grounded transparently in the power that established it” (SUDP, 79). Such faith requires utter submission of the will to God, just as the act of the Atonement did for Christ: “In the relationship to God…it is the case both for the man and for the woman that self-abandonment is the self, and that the self is acquired through self-abandonment” (SUDP, 81, footnote). It is a willing submission: “Faith is: that the self in being itself and in wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God” (SUDP, 114)
Anti-Climacus quotes Romans 14:23 “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” and underscores that “the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith” (SUDP, 115).
What is true for Christ is true for each individual, that utter obedience and utter willingness are necessary for fulfillment of the divine intention in our lives: A writes in EO: “The identity of an absolute action and an absolute suffering is beyond the powers of aesthetics and belongs to metaphysics. This identity is exemplified in the life of Christ, for His suffering is absolute because the action is absolutely free, and His action is absolute suffering because it is absolute obedience” (EOP, 149). Here, Kierkegaard highlights agency and that is where I want to go next.
Connecting 2 Nephi 2:7-8 to 2 Nephi 2:3 and 2:10
In verse 3, Lehi says he knows that Jacob is redeemed because of the righteousness of his Redeemer—there is a causal relationship and temporal relationship being expressed: Christ’s righteousness and obedient atonement precede ours. In verse 10, we read that because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God—Christ’s intercession enables our reconciliation to God. Arguably, both 3 and 10 imply a degree of passivity in the relation of human individuals to Christ and God vis-à-vis the Atonement.
This language is helpful in illuminating the way in which the Atonement is a gift that is offered to us as human agents. That Christ gives the gift of death is enough to humble us and break our hearts.
2 thoughts on Atonement as gift:
Kierkegaard characterizes the atonement as sheer gift. He reflects, “The suffering and death of Christ has been made pure gift; by letting all obligations and commitment be removed, all Notabenes have been disposed of, and thus Christianity has become utterly and outrightly an outright gift, a present” (Journals and Papers 3:224 entry 1855 (Pap XI3 B 115 n.d., 1855).
Jacques Derrida further illuminates how the infinite gift presents us with our own finitude. Asking what makes one tremble in the mysterium tremendum and answers that it is “the gift of infinite love, the dissymmetry that exists between the divine regard that sees me, and myself, who doesn’t see what is looking at me; it is the gift and endurance of death that exists in the irreplaceable, the disproportion between the infinite gift and my finitude, responsibility as culpability, sin, salvation, repentance, and sacrifice” (The Gift of Death, 2nd ed., 2008, 56-57). In the face of Christ’s suffering, we see the paltriness of our offerings, this helps us to become even more broken and contrite.
Returning to the text of 2 Nephi, we find that by contrast, verse 7 highlights our agency in accepting and utilizing the Atonement: Christ’s offering being made efficacious is contingent on our action, our free choice to make our own offering of a broken hear and a contrite spirit—as we offer our hearts, our souls, then His offering for sin facilitates and enables our reconciliation
The Atonement is contingent on us and this stands out in verse 7; in verse 10 we read that Christ acts so as to “to answer the ends of the atonement.” Human agency reflects Christ whose Atonement answers the law; as Christ is confronted with the law and answers to it, we are confronted by the crucifixion and must answer to it.
Human agency and its parallel to Christ’s action is illuminated when we read this verse in light of Doctrine and Covenants 59:8, “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord they God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Christ’s sacrifice is the Atonement, ours is our own broken heart and contrite spirit. We have to meet each other. Both Christ and each individual must offer their offering. They meet at the boundary line. And one cannot cross the other—one cannot do Christ’s part in Christ’s stead and Christ cannot wrest from us a broken heart and contrite spirit. They are demarcated from one another, distinct in their inability to do the other’s task, yet the tasks and the agents who perform them are able to reach each other and meet one another. According to Martin Heidegger, the boundary “becomes the place from which something begins its presencing” (Poetry, Language, Thought, 141-60). As individuals we become present to the Savior and the Savior becomes present to us as we offer our distinct, yet equally necessary, sacrifices to one another.
As we become present to one another, we enter into real relationship with one another which entails unpredictability, doubt and risk. Muslim Feminist Fatima Mernissi in her semi-autobiographical novel, Dreams of Trespass writes about the frontier, the liminal or ambiguous realm outside her control. She observes, “Anxiety eats at me whenever I cannot situation the geometric line organizing my powerlessness” (3). The dynamic relation between Atoner and the one Atoned for is rife with risk but neither is able to control the other. It requires trust in the unknown on both sides, not just the human side. In fact, arguably, the relation is much more risky for Christ than for us (Helaman 12:7-8). Out of deference to human freedom, Christ risks the Atonement being made inefficacious. He further risks the damnation of the beloved if they choose to respond to it by rejecting it. Yet there is the possibility that we will meet Him. That when confronted with the horror of the crucifixion, when we realize that Christ gave everything, gave himself on our behalf, that we will meet him, we will come unto Him, meet his offering with our own offering. We give ourselves by bringing forth broken hearts and contrite spirits and meet Christ at the boundary line. There we find that although divine love asks for everything, it does so only for our own salvation, only to empty ourselves sufficiently to receive the gift of Atonement, the gift of Christ, the gift of salvation.