The atonement has been on my mind a lot lately. Last week in Sunday school our lesson was about the atonement, and this week the girls and I have spent some time reading about it in the scriptures to fulfill a personal progress requirement. With Easter coming up later this month, I thought now would be a good time to share an experience that I had several years ago, that helped me to understand the atonement a little better.
For most of my life I struggled with understanding why the atonement had to take place. If God was all powerful, then why couldn't he just pardon us himself? Why couldn't he just look at us on judgement day and say "Well, you tried, and you messed up sometimes, but Because I love you so much, I'm willing to forgive your mistakes and let you enjoy all the blessings I have for you."?
Wouldn't that have been so much easier for him than to have his only begotten, most beloved son suffer as he did for our mistakes? I just couldn't understand why it was necessary.
Then, I had the following experience...
The trio were around six years old and I had been trying to teach them to do some simple chores and to take more responsibility for themselves. One Saturday, I gave each of them a small list of chores. They had to clean their room, make their beds, and each of them had a small load of laundry to fold (easy items like towels, and their own shirts and pants). If they would get all of their chores done, we would all get to go to the park together.
The kids LOVED going to the park, so they got started on their chores right away. The bedrooms and beds were the first to get taken care of. With only the laundry left to do, Sarah and Caleb got right to work on each of their loads and were finished with all of their chores early in the day. However, Eliza was tired of doing chores and kept putting off her remaining responsibility, her load of laundry.
I tried every tactic I could think of to get her to fold her load. I continually reminded her that a trip to the park was at stake, that it was her responsibility, that it wasn't a hard job, etc... It seemed that the more I pushed, the more stubbornly Eliza refused to fold the laundry. By mid-afternoon it became obvious that she wasn't going to meet the requirements I gave her in order for her to qualify to get to go to the park.
The thought of telling her she couldn't go was heartbreaking to me. I love all of my children and wanted all of them to have a fun afternoon at the park together. I didn't want to keep her from going, I knew how sad she would be to have to stay home but I couldn't see any way around it. What kind of parent would I be, if I set a requirement for my children, then dismissed it when they didn't fulfill it. How fair would it be to the two children who fulfilled the requirements, to allow the one who didn't to enjoy the same reward.
There was just no way around it. Eliza would have to stay home, while I took Caleb and Sarah to the park.
As expected, when I told Eliza that because her load of laundry didn't get folded, she couldn't go the park, she was very upset. She cried and ran to her room. I was upset too. We would miss her at the park.
Just then, Caleb came to me and lovingly asked:
"Mom, if I fold Eliza's load, can she still go to the park? Because, the park just isn't as much fun without Eliza."
My heart leapt with joy! Yes. This was the way! This was the only way. Her loving brother was willing to take upon himself her "load" so the requirement could be met. Her laundry would be folded (meeting my demands) and she could receive mercy and go to the park.
That's when I knew why the atonement had to happen. Just as I had given my children requirements in order to go to the park, our loving Heavenly Father has given us laws. Laws to teach and protect us, to help us grow. However, he knew that we would fall short and sometimes those laws would be broken, so he sent a loving Brother to take upon himself our "load" and make it possible for us to enjoy all the blessing our Father has for us.
In 2nd Nephi chapter 9:25 we read "Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him."
The story doesn't end there. You see, Eliza overheard what Caleb had asked me. It was then, that she understood just how much her brother loved her. He loved her enough to willingly fold her load of laundry and in that moment she was filled with love for him, and to show her love for him, she immediately came out of her room and began helping Caleb fold the load and together, they got it done. What motivated her to complete the task when all my attempts had failed? It was LOVE! It was the love her brother had for her, and love she had for her brother.
It is so important for us to try and understand the atonement because, when we understand how much our Savior loves us, we come to love him in return and it motivates us to meet the requirements that our father in Heaven has sent forth for us to do and with His help, we can accomplish all that is required of us.