Easter Address 20 April 2014 River Oaks 1st Ward, Utah River Oaks Stake
The Everyday Effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ
by Eileen C. Sorenson
In my study of the Old Testament, I came across a scripture in second Samuel that described the fall and the atonement in a way that truly enlightened my understanding.
2 Samuel 14:14: For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.
The image of water spilled on the ground, slowly seeping into the dust of the earth, never to return to its former state caused me to stop and ponder its implications. Realizing that we are that water which, once fallen, could not be “gathered up again” conveyed to me the magnitude of the desperate circumstances of fallen man in a way I had never before comprehended. As Alma 22:14 teaches us, “And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself.”(Italics added.) Truly, in our fallen condition we have no hope unless we obtain help from a higher power.
Mercifully, however, the scripture tells us that God “doth . . . devise means, that his banished—us—be not expelled from him.” That description of fallen man—as the banished of God—also has important implications for us. Webster’s dictionary defines banish as “to expel from or relegate to a country or place by official decree; condemn to exile.” That’s exactly what happened to Adam and Eve; they were expelled from a terrestrial state in the Garden of Eden and relegated to the telestial state of the lone and dreary world because they had disobeyed an official decree from God that they were not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Although I’ve heard, read, and spoken about Adam’s and Eve’s being cast out of the Garden of Eden hundreds, if not thousands, of times, to me there is a sense of finality to the word “banish” that I never experienced with the words “cast out.” The awful consequences of that banishment are not only that we are cut off from God, but also that he is cut off from us. Were we to remain in that cast off and banished state, the Lord could not act in our lives to bless and help us. We would be completely on our own.
However, even though the law of justice requires the banished to be expelled, the scripture asserts God’s mercy by stating that he has devised means that his banished not be expelled from him. This means is described in 2 Nephi 9:5-7, 10-12:
It behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him. For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. Wherefore, it must needs be an infiniteatonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more. O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captivespirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.(Italics added)
Is there any greater, any more comforting realization than knowing that we, banished and expelled by law from God’s presence and utterly cut off from his blessings, can receive his love and help in mortality, be redeemed, and return to His presence through the great and infinite atonement wrought by Jesus Christ? How fitting is the image of spilled water that cannot be gathered when we consider that our fallen state is overcome by the spilling of Christ’s blood upon that same earth.
When we speak of the atonement, we most often focus on its promises of future resurrection and redemption. However, by definition, to be infinite is to be without ending or beginning. Accordingly, the effects of an infinite atonement cannot be limited to a single point in time or to a select few of God’s children; they must be available for all beings at all times. Consequently, that means the power of the atonement blesses each of us every day of our lives. It is these everyday blessings of the atonement I would like us to consider today.
In Moroni 7:21-24 we read:
I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing. For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing. And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come. And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.(Italics added.)
“All things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen and there could no good thing come unto them.” What does that statement mean for us in our day to day living? It means that all the good things in our lives exist only because of Christ’s atonement.
What are some of these good things? Let’s look at 1 Nephi 17. Nephi and his family had been living in the land of Bountiful by the seashore “for the space of many days” when the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship to transport him and his family across the great waters to the promised land. The Lord declares to Nephi, “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.” (1 Nephi 17: 13)
I count at least three “good things” in this passage of scripture which are made possible by Christ’s atonement.
- Because of his atoning sacrifice, Christ will be our light in the wilderness. Is there anyone among us who hasn’t traveled and travailed in the wilderness of mortality? Have you ever felt like you were blazing a trail through an unknown land without a map or a compass? I know I have—many, many times. Perhaps the darkest of my earthly wildernesses has been my struggle with depression and anxiety. Although I have often felt like I was on my own as I hacked my way through a seemingly impenetrable jungle, when I look back I can see how the Lord has led me to doctors and treatments that have given me strength to continue the journey.
- Because of his atoning sacrifice, Christ prepares the way before us. I think we sometimes limit the implications of D&C 38:30, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” Certainly, the Lord expects us to do all we can to be prepared in all things. However, preparation isn’t a one-man show. As an example of this principle, let’s look at the Lord’s counsel to the brother of Jared. After the Lord instructed him to build a ship, he explained to the brother of Jared some of the things he could expect on his journey across the great waters.
For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth. And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. (Ether 2:24-25)
My family has had personal experience with the Lord’s preparing his children for a difficult journey. As some of you know, almost four years ago my father fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He made progress in his recovery for about 18 months, and then things started going downhill both cognitively and physically. Eventually he was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia. Mom continued her devoted care for him at home as long as she could, but it became clear a few months after his diagnosis that his medical and physical requirements were beyond her capacity to provide. Because of his type of dementia, Dad needed more specialized care than most Alzheimer’s facilities are prepared to deliver. Of course, as you might imagine, the care facility that was best equipped to meet Dad’s special needs was also the most expensive. In fact, under normal circumstances, it would have been cost prohibitive to place him in that facility. However, ten years earlier my mother had been prompted to purchase a long-term care insurance policy, including a rider for cost-of-living increases. The monthly amount the insurance paid out was almost exactly the same as the facility’s monthly charge. Knowing what was to come, the Lord had lovingly prepared Mom and Dad for their long, dark journey through very rough seas by making it possible for my father to have the very best care possible for the last year of his long goodbye.
- Because of his atoning sacrifice, Christ will lead us toward the promised land. The promised land isn’t always a place. It can be any situation or circumstance to which the Lord leads us so he can bless us. When we moved from southern Indiana in 1985, the Lord specifically led us to the house in which we now live. This ward and neighborhood have truly been a promised land where we have been able to raise our children surrounded by good friends and neighbors. In our darkest hours of need, our wonderful neighbors and friends have watched over our children and prayed in our behalf. We owe a great deal of the success of our children and the healing that has come into our lives to so many of you here today. Truly, this ward has been a promised land to us.
What other good things come to us every day because of the atonement of Christ? In Alma 33:11, Alma quotes the following from the prophet Zenos, “And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.”(Italics added)
Note that Zenos doesn’t say that God will be merciful because of His son, but rather that God has already been merciful. Thus the mercy of God is an effect of the atonement that we can experience in our daily lives.
We see an example of this mercy in the story of Alma and his followers. In chapter 24 of Mosiah, Alma and his followers have become subject to Amulon, who begins to afflict them greatly and place great burdens upon them. In these trying circumstances, Alma and his people petition the Lord for divine help. “And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage.” (Mosiah 24: 13-14)
After God miraculously delivers them from bondage, Alma and his people “poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 24: 21)
How many of us have been recipients of this kind of mercy? Have you been, as I have, delivered out of physical, emotional, temporal, or spiritual bondage? How often has the Lord eased our burdens, burdens that would have crushed us were it not for his merciful help?
By worthily partaking of the Sacrament today we availed ourselves of one of the most important “good things” that comes to us because of the atonement. That good thing is a remission of our sins. Helaman 14:13 tells us, “And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits” or, in other words, through his atoning sacrifice. (Italics added.) Yes, we must repent, but our repentance doesn’t bring about the remission of our sins; it simply puts us in a condition to have our sins remitted. The remission of our sins comes only through the merits of Christ and his great atoning sacrifice.
I’m sure there are many more examples of everyday blessings we receive through the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, but I want to speak of just one more, an everyday effect of the atonement that influences our eternal welfare more than any other.
In 2 Nephi 2:26-27, we read:
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
As this passage states, it is the redemption from the fall brought about by the great atonement of our Savior that gives us the power to choose our eternal circumstances and conditions. Without the atonement, we would have no opportunity to choose eternal life. In fact, we would have no choice at all. “For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself.”(2 Nephi 9:8-9)
Hence, because of the atonement, we have the great blessing and privilege every day to choose eternal life. It is not a one-time act. Each time we choose to repent, we are choosing eternal life. Each time we choose to be obedient to God’s commandments, we are choosing eternal life. Each time we choose to emulate Christ, we are choosing eternal life. Each time we make the sacramental covenant to be willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, we are choosing eternal life. But each of these choices have efficacy only because of our Savior’s infinite atoning sacrifice.
My hope, brothers and sisters, is that we will each come to recognize the many ways we are blessed in our everyday lives because of the supernal act we commemorate on this Easter Sunday, the infinite and eternal atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In his holy name,