At some point, it may occur to Christians (and potential Christians) that the whole deal might be a bit easier if we could just pay for our own sins. Come judgement day, we are told all the bad stuff we did, and told how much we have to suffer in order to gain exaltation. We suffer until the price is paid, and then go on to exaltation (or whichever kingdom we’re interested in).
If you discuss this with any Christian, the simple answer must be “No, we can’t pay for our own sins, because if we could, we wouldn’t need Jesus and the whole gospel is pointless.” Since the whole selling point of Christianity is the idea that “You need Jesus”, considering other options is just bad salesmanship.
But since I’m not on my mission anymore, I’m not worried so much about salesmanship. So let’s think about this.
What if, theoretically, it might be possible for someone to “pay” for their “sins”? And what in the universe makes us think it isn’t possible?
First, the Plan of Salvation requires that there be some universal “entity” that is more powerful than God, and keeping God from just forgiving us of our sins outright. One of the fundamental ideas of the Plan of Salvation is that God would love for us to return to live with Him, but there’s something more powerful than Him that keeps Him from forgiving us our sins.
For some reason, this entity (I’ll call it “Justyce”) determines whether or not someone is allowed to become God-like (and receive Celestial Glory). Justyce has a set of universally applied rules for humans that want to progress and become more god-like. If a humanoid spirit breaks any of these rules, Justyce will not allow God to exalt them.
Justyce has communicated these rules to God somehow, so God is able to communicate the rules to humans living on Earth. Presumably, if any human were able to live their entire lives without breaking a single rule, they would be allowed by Justyce to receive exaltation, and everything would be great.
But for some reason, Justyce’s rules happen to include a few things that are common in the human experience. Even without knowing them, everyone, everywhere is able to figure out how to break the rules and make themselves unworthy for exaltation. The only exception appears to be young children and the mentally disabled; Justyce understands that some people break the rules but don’t understand what they’re doing, so it’s OK. But people who break the rules as adults are still held accountable, even if they were never told the rules.
So, with Justyce’s rules, we would have a 0% success rate for exaltation for eligible persons.
Luckily, there is a loophole that allows people to have broken Justyce’s rules, but still achieve exaltation. And luckily, Justyce has told God about this loophole. For some reason, people are allowed to become exalted, even if they have broken Justyce’s rules, if a perfectly sinless human can be found, and he undergoes a terrific amount of suffering. If that can happen, Justyce will allow people who have sinned to be exalted by God.
Another part of the deal is that God then gets to make up his own set of rules for the people who have sinned but want to become exalted. Once the sinless human has “suffered” for all the sinners, then the sinners only get to be exalted if they follow these new rules set forth by God. As instituted by the God of Earth, these rules involve things such as baptism and Temple Ordinances. I’m not sure if Justyce cares about these things.
Which brings us to the point of the thread:
Why can’t sinners “pay” for their own sins, so Justyce will allow them to be directly exalted without needing someone else to suffer for them?
Based on our knowledge of the atonement, “paying for sins” seems to involve two factors: the degree of suffering, and the period of time.
Presumably, there is a universal algorithm such that some degree of total suffering is sufficient to pay for a certain degree of sins. And once the sins have been “paid” for, the suffering stops (were this not the case, Jesus would be suffering for an infinite amount of time). Based on my knowledge of pain and suffering, I suspect the algorithm looks like this:
Total suffering = (degree of pain)*(length of pain)
We understand that Christ was able to complete the suffering for every sin ever committed by every human by suffering a severe degree of pain (say, on a scale of 1-10, a “9.5”), for a few hours of Earth time (say, 600 minutes of Earth time). Thus, Christ’s suffering would be the equivalent of “5700 degrees” of pain.
Considering that these 5700 degrees was sufficient for the billions and billions of people who ever lived on Earth, we can guess that the individual penalty for every person would be a small fraction of the pain suffered by Jesus.
Thus, we might ask why Justyce can’t let us suffer [i]that[/i] degree of pain. At the end of our life (and judgement day), we are given an accounting of every one of Justyce’s rules that we broke, and we are told what degree of suffering is necessary to pay the price for these infractions if we want to be exalted.
Additionally, we could even be given the choice to vary the degree of pain and the length of suffering, so that we could take our medicine all at once, or stretch out lesser pain (say, a mild toothache) over millions of Earth years. As infinite beings, there is no limit to the length of suffering we could endure in the afterlife.
(Additional note: Some may argue that there is no super-god entity that is calling the shots, and that God learned about the plan of salvation and the “Atonement” option some other way. But how? Unless something told him about it, the only other way to figure out that the suffering of a sinless human would make it possible for sinful humans to get exalted would be trial and error. Thus, there would be infinite cycles of creation-human experience-death-judgment where they would try different things to figure out what it takes for sinful humans to be able to somehow get around their sinful nature.)