In its sweep and scope, atonement takes on the aspect of one of the grand constants in nature-omnipresent, unalterable, such as gravity or the speed of light. Like them, it is always there, easily ignored, hard to explain, and hard to believe in without an explanation. Also, we are constantly exposed to its effects whether we are aware of them or not.
“The Meaning of the Atonement,” CWHN 9:603 Approaching Zion
Latter-day Saints stress that neither the unconditional nor the conditional blessings of the Atonement would be available to mankind except through the grace and goodness of Christ. Obviously the unconditional blessings of the Atonement are unearned, but the conditional ones are also not fully merited. By living faithfully and keeping the commandments of God, one can receive additional privileges; but they are still given freely, not fully earned. They are always and ever a product of God’s grace. Latter-day Saint scripture is emphatic in its declaration that “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8)
From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism
The story of Adam and Eve teaches us that the Atonement is for all of life, each day of our lives. The Savior’s gracious power not only heals and comforts but is also a source of personal growth and development, leading to an understanding of life and a fullness of joy. The Atonement is thus developmental and practical, not static and abstract.
According to Lehi, “If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden.” He and Eve “would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.” (2 Nephi 2:22-23.) This passage seems to say what many parents have long suspected-if they had no children, they would have no misery. Yet without children and without misery, they would also have no joy. But, taught Lehi, the Fall-with its misery, its sorrow, and even its sin-was not a mistake or an accident. The Fall was consciously designed, misery and all, to bring us joy and freedom: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time . . . that they . . . become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves.” (2 Nephi 2:25-26.)
The Lord taught Adam this same understanding of life. He said Adam’s children would experience the bitterness of mortality, but “they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.” (Moses 6:55.) Indeed, “If they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.” (D&C 29:39) And the role of the Atonement in that process is to compensate for-to heal us from-the effects of the bitter, after we do all we can do by ourselves: “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23.)
Thus does the grace of Christ, unlocked by his atoning sacrifice, heal us from the wounds of our sins and all our other infirmities. As we repent of our conscious sins, accept the gospel, and do all else we can do, we enter into a holy relationship with our Savior based on the two-way covenants made possible by his atonement. Through our covenant relationship with him, celebrated each week by the sacrament, he heals us in at least four distinct ways.
First, he satisfies the eternal law of justice, relieving us of the burden of paying for our sins, so long as we repent of them.
Second, his influence interacts with our righteous yearnings and our repentance to change our hearts until we desire goodness continually.
Third, he bridges any chasm that separates and estranges us from God. Many things can create this sense of alienation-unintentional mistakes or undeserved discouragement and confusion, as well as sin. Regardless of whether his sheep run away or lose their way or are stolen away, the Good Shepherd will search for them when they are lost, pick them up, and carry them home, making them “at one” with him and his Father. That is the work of the great “at-one-ment.”
And, fourth, once we have done all we can do to make restitution, the Savior will help to compensate for the harm we may have done or the harms done to us, repairing and restoring our spiritual and psychic losses, whether caused by sin or other factors.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen
“Eve Heard All These Things and Was Glad”: Grace and Learning By Experience
published in Women in the Covenant of Grace, Edited by Dawn Hall Anderson
and Susette Fletcher Green
Talks Selected from the 1993 Women’s Conference Sponsored by
Brigham Young University and the Relief Society
Deseret Book Company, 1994