The Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart and core and center of revealed religion.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie Christ and the Creation

A re-post of a classic explanation of the Atonement:

A father once scolded his son a few days before Christmas because the little boy was terrorizing the house and creating a constant mess. The father said, “If you aren’t good, Santa won’t bring you anything.” Soon the father wondered where his boy had gone-things were too quiet. He found the little guy lying very still on his back, looking stonily at the ceiling. “What are you doing?” the father asked. “I’m being good,” said the boy. He was avoiding evil by avoiding movement. That is not what it means to prize the good. We seek more than neutrality, more than avoidance. We seek to be good, as the character of God himself is good in its very nature. And that state of being is, like charity, ultimately a gift of Christ’s Atonement, bestowed upon the humble and obedient followers of Christ, after they learn from experience all they can discover by themselves about prizing the good.

So, does the Atonement work in our lives as an event or as a process? If it is an event, life is a simple test that we either pass or fail. We compile a certain number of black marks and white marks. At life’s end, we add up the marks, compute our repentance points, and check the score. Above some fixed level of repentance, the Atonement applies, our sins are paid for, and we go back to square one. With this approach, repentance is essentially another white mark-something we do to earn forgiveness. But something is missing here. For one thing, if the Atonement simply returns Adam and Eve to Eden, theirs is a story with no plot, no character development. Nothing happens to them, because the Atonement seems to erase what has happened to them. There is nothing here about what it means to have learned to recognize evil and to prize the good.

Moreover, this view sees our repentance as mechanically earning enough grace to offset our black marks. If that is how we think the Atonement works, we are unlikely ever to feel the full freedom and meaning of forgiveness and belonging to Christ. As long as we believe that we totally earn forgiveness, we will still feel guilty, because we will sense intuitively that we do not have the power to make ourselves completely whole. The Lord’s forgiveness is ultimately an act of grace-it comes as his gift, not as something we have a “right” to, even though we must repent as a condition of receiving it.

Consider, however, the Atonement in our lives as a process rather than an event. The process of Atonement applies not just once but, potentially, throughout our lives. Along this path of life, Adam and Eve did not simply return to Eden; rather, they moved onward from Eden through the telestial world. Because they accepted the gospel, then learned to cast Satan’s influence from their lives, they kept moving with the blessings of the priesthood into the terrestrial world, and finally into the celestial presence of God.

During this arduous journey, our first parents learned from their own experience to distinguish good from evil. By the sorrow and sweat of earthly life, they learned the taste and, ultimately, the very meaning of the sweet and the good. They did not come to this understanding merely by partaking of the forbidden fruit. Their first taste of the tree of knowledge was but the beginning of a lifelong quest for meaning-not an event but an extended process, marked by having children and discovering misery, sin, goodness, joy, and the very meaning of eternal life.

Elder Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen,

The Belonging Heart: The Atonement and Relationships with God and Family, Deseret Books, 1994

Republished by Blog Post Promoter


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