Today I want to talk about three particular aspects of the atonement. First: the atonement encompasses everyone. Second: the atonement impacts individuals. And third: the atonement is about love.
So, first: the atonement encompasses everyone. There is a scripture in Doctrine and Covenants that does a good job of encapsulating this subject. “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent…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—nevertheless, glory be to the father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:16, 18-19) I want to focus on the phrase “I, God, have suffered these things for all.” I think it can be difficult, if not impossible, to fully comprehend the magnitude of the atonement. It encompasses everyone throughout history. Everyone who ever has lived and ever will live is included in this magnificent accomplishment. From pious priest to converted criminal, from humble shepherd to exalted prince, all may reap the benefits of Christ’s actions. And I say, “may,” because it is up to each of us as individuals to choose whether or not to take advantage of this sacrifice. That is our agency. I searched through my repertoire of stories from literature and history to try to find a proper analogy for Christ’s act of heroism, a word I think in part describes the atonement. I thought of Frodo throwing the ring into Mount Doom to save Middle Earth; Harry Potter defeating Voldemort; Odysseus building the wooden horse to end the Trojan War. From history, I imagined Abraham Lincoln ending slavery in the United States, Captain Moroni preserving Nephite civilization, and Winston Churchill leading England at a time when it stood alone against the Nazi threat. All of these could be considered “saviors” in their respective spheres of influence, yet none can measure up even infinitesimally to Christ. One moment in Gethsemane was broadcast to the furthest reaches of time and space, enveloping all in Christ’s immortal embrace. This was the pivot point of history.
Second: the atonement impacts individuals. Given this realization of how vast and all-inclusive the atonement really is, it can perhaps be difficult to turn around and apply it to you as an individual. Our lives make up such a finite, miniscule segment of history. The earth has been around for millennia before we were born and odds are it will keep going for a while after we die. Given this, there are certain traps that are easy to fall into. I came across a phrase in a Peanuts comic. Linus says it to his sister Lucy—“100 years from now, who will know the difference?” It is easy for all of us to use that as a rationalization for our own sins. “100 years from now, who will know about that small sin we committed?” In fact, unless we’re an Adolf Hitler, “100 years from now, who will know about that major sin we committed?” That is absolutely the wrong way to approach things. Instead of thinking “100 years from now, who will know the difference,” we should realize that 2000 years ago, Christ felt that difference. There is a great quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “Can we, even in the depths of disease, tell him anything at all about suffering? In ways we cannot comprehend, our sicknesses and infirmities were borne by Him even before they were borne by us.” No matter what kind of trial or tribulation or sin we’re trying to overcome or repent of, Christ is able to understand it. In summation, along with being the pivot point of history, the atonement should be the pivot point of our own individual lives.
Third: the atonement is about love. I can think of no more powerful proof of God’s love than the infinite mercy of the atonement. And I can think of no better scripture that explains this than John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God loved us enough to send his son, his beloved son as he makes so clear throughout the scriptures, to suffer indescribable torment for our sakes. It also shows Christ’s love, that he would step up as our elder brother to do this so that we can live eternally with him and our Heavenly Father.
Now I would like to turn from my assigned topic to talk for a few minutes about the reason I’m giving this talk. Which, of course, is because I am going on a mission in a couple weeks. I know some of you here aren’t members of my church, and perhaps some of you who are might be wondering why I would make this choice to give up everything for two years to teach about my church and to serve God. First off, I am going because of what I love. I love my family. I love my parents, and I want to do whatever it takes for them to be proud of me. I want to be a good example for my siblings, especially my brother as he prepares for his mission. I love the Gospel. I love the joy and the happiness that it brings me--knowing where I'm going, where I came from, and why I'm here. I love the members of my church. The Nates, Brendins, and TJs who went on missions before me and were great examples for me. I love the young men and young women who I know and want to be that example for.
But that's not the primary reason I'm going. If it was, I think it would be the wrong one. I'm going because of what I know. I know that the scriptures are the word of God. They contain doctrine given to the prophets throughout history, from eons ago to recent history. They teach what we need to know to return to God. I know that because I've read them. I've studied, pondered, and prayed about them extensively. Especially in this last year in preparation for my mission, to ensure I knew what I was getting into. And I received witness from the Holy Ghost, many witnesses, that they are true. That the Book of Mormon is true.
I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today, God's mouthpiece for his people at this point in history. And he has told all young men to go on missions, so that is what I am going to do. I know that families can live together forever, because of ordinances that take place in the temple.
But above all, I know that Jesus is the Christ. And the Devil may send his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea all his hail and mighty storms may beat upon me but they shall not have power over me to drag me down to the gulf of misery and endless woe, because of the rock upon which I am built. Which is Christ, our redeemer. (Helaman 5:12) I cannot, I will not, desert to his foes. So that's why I'm going. I want others to love what I love. To feel what I have felt. To know what I know.