This Sunday, in their Gospel Doctrine classes, LDS members will be studying 2 Nephi 6-10, especially chapter 9 and its description of Christ’s atonement. It’s interesting that Mormonism uses the word, atonement, as the most common way to refer to Jesus’ sacrifice for us, although it is rarely used in the Bible. (The only New Testament reference is Romans 5:11. Most Old Testament references are from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and refers to the Old Testament sacrificial system.)
Because it is a common word in Mormonism, it is one that deserves close scrutiny. The LDS source that has been most helpful in explaining it is chapter 12 in the basic manual, Gospel Principles. The whole chapter is on the Atonement. A large portion of that chapter is taken up by a parable told by President Boyd K. Packer. It’s quite lengthy so I will summarize much of it here. Heavenly Father is the creditor. We are the debtors. After a while we realize that we can’t pay back the debt. After a discussion about justice and mercy, Jesus, the mediator, steps in. He asks the creditor if he will free the debtor from the contract, if he, the mediator, pays the entire debt. The creditor agrees. Let me pick it up there by quoting a few sentences.
“The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’
“‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.’ “‘Then’ said the benefactor, ‘you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.’”
Those sentences clearly illustrate that Mormonism views Jesus’ atonement in a vastly different light than biblical Christians do. Many Christians are genuinely horrified to hear Jesus being described as a creditor and their having to pay the debt to him. This goes against every grain of their being.
This horror on the part of Christians is mystifying to many Mormons. They don’t see the problem. They wonder what the big deal is. To them seeing Jesus as their creditor is no big deal – it’s even natural.
For me, not only the parable itself, but then also the two differing and drastic reactions to it clearly illustrate the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. The parable illustrates the different teaching; the differing reactions illustrate the different mindsets. As Christians talk with their LDS friends, they need to not only remember that many times words will be defined differently between the two, but also that their mindsets will be different from that of their LDS friends.
That might not lessen much of the frustration experienced by both, but it does help explain it. Not only are we talking different languages, but we are on different wavelengths. Thank God that the Holy Spirit has overcome that with many Mormons so that now they are rejoicing not in Jesus, their creditor, but in Jesus, the one who paid the debt and remembers it no more. May the Holy Spirit open the eyes of many more to this wonderful truth.