And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement—
This verse continues a lot of the topics that we’ve been discussing. Lots of good (and confusing!) stuff here!
And because of the intercession for all
We’re working here, then, with a universal aspect of the atonement. The passage continues an emphasis on “all”—as we saw last week in v. 9, “he shall make intercession for all the children of men,” and here the “all” is repeated. It’s interesting to note that it’s used in three different constructions in v. 9-10: “all the children of men,” “all,” and “all men”—a repetition which I think emphasizes that Lehi’s not kidding around when he says “all”; it really is everyone. And while in v. 9, this was followed by a conditional requirement that humans act in a certain way—”they that believe in him shall be saved”—v. 10 focuses on what happens to everyone, regardless of what they have or haven’t done.
What exactly is meant by “intercession”? It’s not a word used often in the BoM; the only other passages where I can find it come in Abinadi’s discourse in Mosiah: first when he’s quoting Isaiah: “and he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (14:12, channeling Isaiah 53) and then in the following chapter, in his own words: “And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained victory over death, giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—” (15:8).
If you’re going to intercede, you need to have two parties that need to be reconciled, but it’s not always clear to me what those are. Humans and the law? Humans and justice? Humans and God? Here it’s possibly the third of those options, since the result is that everyone comes to God. But how is this connected to the law (which comes up later in the verse)?
all men come unto God; wherefore they stand in the presence of him
And thus the Fall is reversed: humans were cut off from the presence of God, and are now brought back into it. But how exactly does the intercession of Christ bring everyone to stand in the presence of God? And since we’re showing up to be judged (to be discussed shortly), wouldn’t you think that the intercession of Christ would take place at the judgment? But here it seems that the intercession actually enables the judgment. That’s interesting. What if salvation isn’t about escaping judgment, but about being brought to it?
to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him
So. Judgment. It’s a term that often has negative connotations; in looking it up in the Topical Guide, for example, I noted that it refers you to both “condemnation” and “excommunication” – but strikingly not really to anything positive.
In looking at various scriptural passages on judgment, I was particularly interested in some aspects of Alma’s sermon to Corianton. He talks about it going both ways—when you’re judged, if your works and the desires of your hearts are good, then you’ll be restored to good, and if evil, to evil. (Alma 41:3-4) Sounds straightforward enough. Except that we know that the atonement has to play some role somewhere, because in our natural state, our works and the desires of our hearts are pretty messed up. But in this particular narrative, there isn’t a redeemer jumping in at the last minute to rescue you just as the jaws of hell are about to gobble you up. I’m thinking it would make more sense to read passages like this (about being judged for our works) in the context of the atonement as something that’s been at work all along (if we’ve allowed it), transforming our desires, rather than something that only kicks in at the end to balance the books. Because notably, everyone (righteous or wicked) gets judged; as I said earlier, far from getting you out of the judgment, the atonement sends you there.
There’s a parallel, of course, in which Christ was judged by us—”the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world” (1 Nephi 11:32)—and now we’re judged by God. But while the world’s judgment of Christ was unrighteous, God’s judgment is a righteous one. It’s “according to the truth and holiness which is in him.” I find this phrase fascinating, though I’m not entirely sure what it means. I notice that I’m prone to think of judgment in terms of courtrooms and law—and because of that, it’s easy to impose a legalistic framework on such passages. But while the law comes up in this verse, it’s not stated that the law is the means by which God judges, only that the ends of the law are answered. And strikingly, it doesn’t describe judgment as an evaluation of whether you followed a particular moral code. Rather, it’s grounded in holiness and truth. And not in any potential holiness and truth in us, but the truth and holiness in God.
Why both truth and holiness? And what exactly do those terms mean? I’m thinking that holiness is likely related to the assertion that no unclean thing can dwell with God. Perhaps similarly, un-truth can’t be in the presence of God. From this angle, judgment seems more implicit than explicit—in the presence of perfect truth and holiness, our own self-deceptions are stripped away, and we cannot hide from our sin. But I don’t want to lose track of the possibility that this judgment can be a saving judgment, and not only a damning one. If we let it, an encounter with truth can be not a condemnation, but a call to something better. Is it possible that judgment isn’t so much God’s final verdict on us, but an encounter in which we see things as they really are: who God really is, and who we really are—and the judgment comes in how we respond to this, according to the desires of our hearts?
Does it mean anything significant that we judged not “by” him, but “of” him?
A couple more thoughts on judgment. We have, of course, Matthew 7:1, “judge not, that ye be not judged,” and the JST which adds the qualification, “judge not unrighteously.” (Though it’s interesting that in 3 Nephi 14:1, the “unrighteously” qualification isn’t there.) But regardless, we know that we can get into trouble with judgment, because “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2) The mote/beam imagery which follows also suggests that we should be very careful in judging because of our inability to see clearly, our own blind spots.
So should we ever judge? Is there such a thing as (human) righteous judgment? That’s a minefield that’s probably worth its own seminar. But I did want to mention a couple of brief thoughts. If God’s judgment is grounded in holiness and truth, that would be the model for us to follow in our dealings with one another. Not as in, judging whether people are sufficiently holy and true (however fun that might be), but if we are in a position that we have to judge, to think in those terms instead of legalistic ones.
I have to admit that I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. But going back to Alma’s sermon to Corianton, he says “see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually.” (Alma 41:14) Mercy, justice, righteousness, and doing good are all linked here. And, continuing Alma’s restoration theme in this chapter, if you exercise them, you get them restored to you. What’s really interesting, given that Alma is about to launch into an extended, quite complex, discourse on the relationship between justice and mercy, here they are mentioned as part of the same general orientation: in your dealings with others, be merciful, deal justly, judge righteously. That might tell us something about the nature of God’s judgment.
I’m getting pretty far afield from 2 Nephi 2. So getting back to verse 10,
Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement—
I’m having a hard time following the syntax here:
the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given
So we have a law, given by the Holy One, for some particular ends.
unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed
The (ends of the law?) lead to punishment; this punishment is affixed (by the law? to the law?).
which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed
This punishment is the opposite of happiness, which is also affixed (by the law? by the atonement?).
to answer the ends of the atonement
It sounds like happiness, then, is affixed by (or to) the atonement. (?)
And then we go on to the much-anticipated “opposition in all things” discussion. So the most basic point I can see here is that the law is tied to punishment, and the atonement is tied to happiness. It’s interesting that it doesn’t sound like an inherent relationship; rather, it’s something that’s been “affixed”—presumably by God? Significantly, the law here is something that God has given (not something self-existent to which God is subject).
The statement begins with a “wherefore,” which I think refers back to everyone coming into the presence of God and being judged. The confusing thing (or one of them!) is that the subject “the ends of the law” doesn’t ever get a verb; we just have “wherefore, the ends of the law . . .” and then all the clauses about punishment and things being affixed. But we can say that the “ends of the law” have something to do with God’s judgment (though as I mentioned earlier, I’m interested that it doesn’t actually say that God uses the law to judge).
We’ve already had a lot of good discussion about what the law might be, and what the ends of the law might be. Does this verse contribute anything to that? Just to review, we know from v. 5 that no flesh is justified by the law, that it cuts us off both spiritually and temporally, and from v. 7 that Christ’s self-sacrifice is to answer the ends of the law. Then here we have the statement that God gives the law, and the law has to do with punishment being affixed. The verse does not clarify, however, to what exactly the punishment has been affixed, which adds to my confusion. Affixed to sin? Or is it affixed to the law itself (or to the ends of the law)?
The “ends of the atonement” phrase always strikes me as a little out of the blue, maybe because the term “atonement” hasn’t been used yet. But what are the ends of the atonement, and are they different from the ends of the law? It looks to me like the law and the atonement are being set up as opposites (especially considering the next verse). That would make sense in terms of the law causing us to be cut off, and the atonement allowing for reconciliation. But in the end, aren’t they working for the same thing? (Presumably God gave the law for salvific purposes.)
I’m starting to think in circles, so I’m going to end there and await your insights.