The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a central doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is one which we learn very early on in our learning within the Gospel and yet it is one which we will never fully understand. This stood out to me whilst I was serving my mission and we were instructed by our Mission President and his wife.
We know that Christ had to suffer for our sins. It was vital in our Heavenly Father’s plan if we were to have our agency. In Alma 34:15 it says “And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” Here we learn that in order to have justice executed perfectly but in a way that we can receive mercy and forgiveness, a sacrifice of suffering – or an Atonement – had to take place (see also Alma 42:15).
Now we have learnt why the suffering had to occur, why did it go on for so long? In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, and why so severe? It has been estimated looking at timings in the Bible that Christ suffered for 6-7 hours in the Garden and about 6 hours on the cross – why so long? Surely if he had said concerning his own life “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:18) – then why did He go on for so long in so much pain?
Here is a verse which began to change my understanding:
“Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.” (Mosiah 15:9). Here, Abinadi states the Saviour is the only One standing between us and the cold clasp of justice – without Him, we’d be lost. He did it. He satisfied the demands of justice so that we could avoid the intense punishment He went through – a powerful verse but that is not all! Abinadi continues:
“…Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed…And who shall be his seed?
Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 15:10-11)
Christ saw us! As He went through our pains, afflictions and the consequences of our sins, He saw us – what we individually would go through and have done (those who have accepted Him and will accept Him). He went through and endured our deepest, darkest moments so that, when we come to Him He can give us rest. He has known exactly how we feel and knows how to remedy it.
If we are to accept the Atonement in our lives, our understanding of it needs to constantly be developing – this understanding added onto what I understood before. It brought a much deeper recognition of the personal and infinite nature of the Atonement. What if Christ had not completed the Atonement? I would be completely lost without it – I could never accomplish what I need to in this life on my own! “…there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17) – it is only through His Gospel that we can be saved!