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Friday, October 26, 2018

The Atonement Doesn't Do Anything?

Before the reader calls me out for being the biggest blasphemer of all time, just hear me out. I thought that title would catch your attention and there's a good reason I used it. It has to do with a recent talk by our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, from April 2017 titled "Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives."

The foundation of my thoughts here come from the following section of his talk, but also draw upon other ideas found therein.

"There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him."

The atonement was an action performed by Jesus Christ, our Savior, not a formless thing or power that can just be used ad libitum based solely on personal preference. One folly of modern English is that many of the common phrases we use, although universally understood by those fluent in it, are fundamentally flawed. Such is the case with the ideas that some pivotal moment changed our lives or that one fight back in elementary or high school branded us as permanent enemies with a peer. The reason this is completely inaccurate is because events aren't things. They are memories of the collective choices of any number of people and the effect those people allow those choices to have on them.

It's one thing for me to say "that was my worst camping experience ever" and quite another to say "that camping trip ruined that summer for me." The first one is merely a statement of my experience and perception of what happened. The second one is just stupid. The experience itself did not grow a head, arms, a torso, legs and feet, it's own will and then choose to make life difficult for me for the remainder of the summer. I chose to let my negative experience and the memory of it stay in my mind and therefore distract me from better things for that period of time.

The sad but true idea that "we learn from history that we do not learn from history" proves true when we consider our misguided human attachment to events themselves and how good or bad they are. In the vast majority of people, not events, who changed the world, those who have the power to do something about it focus so much on what happened that they either forget or willfully neglect any thought about why it happened. What choices were made by those responsible and what motives lead those responsible to such actions?

This needs to be the focus of our attention in regards to Christ's Atonement (see what I did there?). I once heard a woman who was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make an observation about our church meetings that proves this point further. Sometimes when she heard us speak or sing about Christ's Atonement, she would whine about how depressing it was and that it was a bad idea to focus so much on someone's death. In one respect, she was correct. Focusing on death is a bad thing to do. But what she didn't realize was the reason we speak of what Jesus did for us. It's not out of sadness for His suffering, as sad as suffering is to be sure, but in reverence, respect and love for who He is and what His choice makes possible for us.

Really, that should be the premise of every discussion about His holy sacrifice for us, what His choice made possible.

  • Because Jesus chose to pay for our sins by His own blood and suffering, we may receive His forgiveness for them if we repent.
  • Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, He has the power to (and has promised us that we will) resurrect each and every mortal who ever lived.
  • Because Jesus took upon Him the pain of every abuse, mistake, injury, heartache, illness, etc. that we experience through no fault of our own overcame them Himself, He can and does show us how do to the same when we are humble and in tune enough with the Holy Ghost to let Him.
  • Because Jesus spent His life showing a perfect example of how to be happy with constant opposition, we now have the Holy Ghost and the scriptures to show us how He did that so we can do it, too.
  • Because Jesus atoned for us and purchased our souls with His own, He can now exercise mercy and stand between us and justice, satisfying both of those laws. 
  • Because He rose above all things and is one in love, power and purpose with the Father, He is now in a position to grant us power to overcome and make our own choices that will one day elevate us to His stature.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of course, but notice how each point lists the effects of His choices and the power that flows from Him because of those choices. 

The atonement didn't pay for our sins. He did because He performed it. 
The atonement doesn't save us from death. He does.
The atonement doesn't strengthen us in trial. He does.
The atonement doesn't console us in affliction, raise us from the dead, put efficacy into ordinances and covenants, give us the blessings of obedience, empower us to do better, inspire us, change our hearts or protect us from spiritual dangers.

Jesus Christ does all of that. He can because of what He did, who He is and always was, but that's the key. It's reason why we worship Him as our ever living, all loving Savior and Lord, our Advocate with the Father. It's because of what He did and who He is. Under the direction of the Father, He is the why behind all that is good in life and eternity.