“We cannot of ourselves,
no matter how we may try,
rid ourselves of the stain which is upon us
as a result of our own transgressions.”
(Marion G. Romney)
This is kind of an intimidating post to write – and part II of this lesson (the Crucifixion) will be next week. The atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is so sacred, so important, and so meaningful that I feel like I cannot do justice writing about it. I don’t even feel like I completely understand His atonement, but I am learning more about it each time I study the scriptures, study the account of His atonement, and listen to the words and testimonies of our living prophets – and of my friends and acquaintances in the gospel.
There are three important blessings that we receive because of the atonement of the savior. They are peace, forgiveness, and eternal life. Sometimes I forget that the atonement can give me all three things. I think most of us agree that the atonement can give us eternal life in the physical sense. We usually have no doubt in our minds that we will all be resurrected. It’s a pretty straightforward concept, and a blessing that we all receive unconditionally, due to the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. And I think that maybe most of us are pretty solid in our testimony that through the atonement we can be forgiven for our sins (although sometimes we have serious misconceptions about that, too – which I’ll get to later). The concept I struggle with the most is remembering that the atonement can give us peace – even, and especially, when we are suffering due to either this natural world, or the sins of others.
There were a few things that stuck out to me as I read the three accounts of the Savior’s atonement in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew and Mark, the Savior is recorded as saying “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” In Luke’s gospel, he leaves that part out, but includes an account of an angel with Christ “strengthening him.” Another thing that Luke included in his account was the Christ was “wont” to visit the garden of Gethsemane. (wont = accustomed). It makes me wonder if the Savior was on the look out for the perfect place to atone for the sins of the world. Like Joseph, who prayed in the private grove of trees, I wonder if the Savior had noticed that this particular garden was relatively quiet and few people ever went there. Maybe a disciple owned the garden, and had told the Savior that if He ever needed a quiet place to go and pray, He was welcome to use His friend’s garden. The fact that the Savior was accustomed to being in Gethsemane makes the atonement seem very thoughtful. He didn’t just stop one day and take upon Himself the sins of the world. He had been thinking about it, probably since He was a child and was “about [His] father’s business.” I wonder how many times He had prayed previously in Gethsemane, perhaps asking the Father to give Him strength, so that when the time came, He could do what was necessary to save the world.
The Savior Took Upon Himself The Sins of the World
I think that it is especially important to remember that the Savior voluntarily took upon himself “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind;” (Alma 7:11). No one made Him do it. No one took the Savior’s life. And no one put the sins of the world on His shoulders. The scriptures usually say that He “took upon himself” the sins, afflictions, and infirmities of the world. He took all the suffering and put it on himself.
And it was painful. Very painful. “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18) The pain and suffering the Savior endured in the garden was so painful that even He, the Son of God asked God the Father to remove the cup from Him. But even as He said it, He knew it had to be done, and so He said “Not my will, but thine, be done.”
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:19)
We Need the Atonement
As soon as Adam and Eve fell from the garden, we needed the atonement. Our bodies and this world are in a fallen state, and the only thing that can return them to their perfect state is the sacrifice of the Savior. When we sin, we move ourselves even farther from Heavenly Father, and nothing can return us except the Savior’s atonement.
My favorite talk ever is The Mediator, which was given in a Conference address many years ago by Elder Boyd K. Packer. I have included the video on this post so you can watch it. I can never get through it without bawling my eyes out – especially when Elder Packer starts talking about mercy and justice.
Mercy and justice are the two main reason we need the Savior’s atonement. Because I think that Alma says it best, I will include mostly what he says in Alma chapter 42. When Adam and Even fell from the garden, they became mortal so that “there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.” If Adam and Eve and been allowed to stay in the Garden of Eden after they had transgressed and partaken of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would not have been able to repent for their transgression and they would have lived forever in their sin, which means that they would not have been able to live in the presence of God. “But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man. And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.” Because our souls do not die (not in the same sense as our bodies die – our souls never end), the fall of Adam and Eve brought a kind of death to our souls – the inability to be in the presence of our Father. When we talk about spiritual death, that is what we mean – not being in the presence of the Father – because our spirit don’t actually die.
So now we have mortal men, who are in a state of spiritual death, and who will eventually experience a physical death. If the world had been left that way, God would have lost everything – His children and His world. And there would have been no way for His children to come back to Him again.
“Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God. And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.” It is important to note that it was the justice of God which cut us off from His presence. God follows laws – He has to adhere to justice. He cannot make His own arbitrary rules about justice. And so, in order to adhere to justice and save His children, “God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.”
And now, for my favorite verses of scripture of almost all time (this combined with Mosiah 4 would probably do it for me):
“But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
“But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
“For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.
“What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit.” (Alma 42:22-25)
Before you watch this video, I want you to read what Elder Packer said before he began his talk (from which this video was made). Read the words carefully, and take this video seriously.
“What I shall say I could say much better if we were alone, just the two of us. It would be easier also if we had come to know one another, and had that kind of trust which makes it possible to talk of serious, even sacred things.
“If we were that close, because of the nature of what I shall say, I would study you carefully as I spoke. If there should be the slightest disinterest or distraction, the subject would quickly be changed to more ordinary things.”
I have a testimony of the Savior’s atonement. I am amazed at how intricate and thought out and thorough the whole plan of salvation is. I am grateful for a perfect, just God who also found a way to be a merciful God. I know that the Savior took upon himself the sins and suffering of the world, and I know that through the atonement we can find peace, forgiveness, and eternal life.
Please share your thoughts and testimony about the Savior’s atonement with me.