This is a talk given in my Sacrament Meeting about two weeks ago by my friend Sam Tomlinson. Sam is a young man I used to teach when he was in Priest Quorum and we used to be hometeaching companions. I hope you enjoy his talk as much as I did. – Mike Barker, rationalfaiths.com
The Expansiveness of the Atonement
The Atonement of Jesus – this is a subject that we all know about. It is the foundation of our faith. It is the greatest message we’ve got for people who are just discovering the Mormon Church, and it is the most important message I’m going to be sharing with the inhabitants of Sao Paulo, hopefully in a few weeks. I think we all know – and I can safely say that Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane (or what he’s done for us, in general) is easily the most important moment or act in all of human history…Although I’ve always understood the basic workings of the Atonement, I think that at this stage in my life, I’m just barely beginning to grasp or understand the true importance of it. I’m just beginning to understand just how necessary it is for common people like me to progress in this life, and perhaps in the one hereafter. So what I’m going to be talking about is incredibly basic, but no less important.
As I’ve gotten older and worked at just a few jobs I’ve experienced the world for what it is – being away from church and parents and friends – and I think everyone goes through this transitional period in their life too, which is when they experience the world, without outside influences but just the “immediate, working, breathing world” outside of their home. I think the more time one spends out in the world, with an honest eye, the more they will realize or remember how fundamentally flawed a place it really is.
At the end of a long shift at work maybe you’ve had that anxious feeling that you just can’t wait to clock out and go home, eat something, take a shower, get in bed where it’s warm and safe and you’re with the people that love you; to escape the world and cleanse yourself from it; to shake off the rules and the uniforms, judgments, and labels, and biases; to go back into a more simple place in your mind – into your private life where you can really be the person you want to be, and escape. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Earth. I love the people in the Earth and it is a very beautiful and complex world we’ve been gifted. But, if you really think about it, it’s not an easy place. Sometimes I feel that all we can do in this life is build our way into comfortable homes to escape it. The fact is, we are born of the world, we’re here, and the world has innate flaws.
For example, I’ve always wondered why we, as humans, eat meat – it’s a productive way to survive – but it causes pain, death, and suffering of animals. Or when our instincts tell us it’s time to procreate, why don’t we immediately get the inclination to make ourselves better fathers and mothers before looking for a partner, rather than just being drawn to the act of procreation itself? Or, why is being aggressive and commanding such an effective way to lead people, when a loud voice in no way measures intelligence or true leadership ability? Sometimes it seems only the strongest and meanest survive, while the weaker toil and labor for success underneath their reign. There are innate problems in our collective nature, like those primal instincts that give us aggression, fear, and other things; they can cause harm in others and ourselves. Our simple, natural flaws always seem to be there, inside us, and have a tendency to get the better of us at critical moments in our lives. This is the way it’s been, as far as I know, since the world began – since Adam and Eve left the garden – and while we’ve gone through many developments, humanity hasn’t changed fundamentally. Rather, the world, in general, is a dark place. It is a flawed place, and horrible and inhumane things happen every day somewhere. It really isn’t pretty, and that is an absolute fact in my mind. We are fundamentally flawed creatures. From the moment we were born, we’re bound to sin. We’re not just tempted to sin, we are born to sin.
Perfection is an abstract concept that I think mostly only exists in our imaginations, and the only true model of perfection in all the world is the life of Jesus Christ. This is why the Atonement makes sense to me. It is because we, in our world, are so imperfect that we require the healing agent of perfection to lead us to salvation. It is like washing ourselves, figuratively in Christ’s blood, (a metaphor I’ve always liked) to be free of the sins of the world. It’s the only way we can overcome what we are and perhaps be more like what or who we may have been before. Christ is the only faithful constant we really have to be free of our nature.
To me, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to think that they somehow are unworthy of starting the repentance process through the Atonement, as it is the most enabling resource for development at our disposal. Stephen E Robinson says in the first Chapter of his Book “Believing Christ”:
I am particularly fond of the way the Lord says this in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.” I would like to expand upon this scripture just a little bit to make sure that the significance of it doesn’t get past us. What the Lord is saying here is this: “It doesn’t matter what you did. Whatever it was, no matter how horrible or vile, is not the issue. The issue here is that whatever your sin was or is, I can erase it, I can clean you up and make you innocent, pure, and worthy, and I can do it today: I can do it now.
Unfortunately, there are many members of the Church who simply do not believe this. Though they claim to have testimonies of Christ and of His gospel, they reject the witness of the scriptures and of the prophets about the good news of Christ’s Atonement. Often these people naively hold on to mutually contradictory propositions without even realizing the nature of the contradiction. For example, they may believe that the Church is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, while at the same time refusing to accept the possibility of their own complete forgiveness and eventual exaltation in the kingdom of God. They believe in Christ, but they do not believe Christ. He says, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. I can make you pure and worthy and celestial,” and they answer back, “No, you can’t. The gospel only works for other people, it won’t work for me.
Yet the “good news” of the gospel is good news to me not because it promises that other people who are better than I am can be saved, but because it promises that I can be saved – wretched, inadequate, and imperfect me. And until I accept that possibility, until I believe Christ when he says he can bring me into His kingdom and set me on a throne, I have not really accepted the good news of the gospel – I have only accepted the messenger while rejecting his wonderful message.
I’m standing here to tell you today, that the Atonement is not only for those who have sinned greatly, but for everyone, everywhere. It is for all of us to figuratively wash ourselves clean from the world around us and from the flawed beings that we are, and it is meant to be a continual process. The Atonement will help us leave the world, and take the first steps back towards home, our heavenly home, away from the ways of men, and towards a higher order of thinking without aggression, fear, injustice or sadness. I know that the more I try to humble myself before God and ask for forgiveness in the name of Christ, the more empowered I feel to face the temptations of the world; I feel revelations come more easily, and life is generally more clear. When I engage the Atonement I feel myself becoming the person I want to be instead of being complacent with who I am.
I would like to close with a final statement that struck me as true the moment I read it. It is a quote from Elder David A. Bednar, who actually quoted David O McKay, who may have actually been quoting Brigham Young saying: “The purpose of the gospel is to make bad men good, and good men better, and to change human nature…” I firmly believe this statement and with that I bear to you my testimony of Jesus Christ’s Atonement, and say these things in His holy name, amen.
This is the fourth talk from my Ward Sacrament Meeting that we have posted on this blog. If you would like to read the others, click on the following links:
My bishop’s talk about faith and the need for all to be welcome in our congregations: click here
A talk I gave about the First Vision and its links to the Endowment Ceremony: click here
A talk given by one of our High Councilmen and fellow ward member the week before our most recent General Conference this month: click here
I miss Sam!
Bravo, Elder Tomlinson. Beautiful talk, and I loved your examples of how “the world” really means our own worst inclinations, that “natural man” we are supposed to fight against. I hope your mission is a beautiful chance for you to serve your brothers & sisters.
When we talk about the Savior, I believe that we should talk in terms of “is” not “was” and “living” not “lived”. Elder Bednar speaks of the Saints “not getting” the enabling power of the Atonement–that we talk often of the forgiving properties of the greatest of all gifts, but that the we don’t talk so much about the enabling power of His supreme sacrifice. Because of the Atonement of Christ, everything that was ever broken can and will be fixed. That includes each of us because by God’s definition, we are broken when we enter mortality for we came to this condition through broken law. How grateful I am for His eternal and infinite Atonement.