I am grateful for the atonement. Why? Because of what I have come to learn through my own experience with the atonement. The thoughts for this post grew out of discussions my wife and I have had about the atonement as she prepared a talk for this past weekend’s stake conference on the same subject. (Her talk was outstanding, by the way!)
Perhaps the first blessing of the atonement (though maybe not the first one I realized in my own life) is the free gift of resurrection. Through the Savior’s resurrection, we all overcome the physical death that comes to us because of the fall.
The first blessing I realized from the atonement, however, is the gift of repentance – the opportunity to right a wrong. I can think of times when my parents taught me this principle when I was a small child, before I really needed repentance (though we didn’t know that at the time; we didn’t leave our protestant congregation for the LDS church until I was nearly nine). I learned as small child the power of apologizing and trying to correct a mistake. As my wife points out in her talk, the value of repentance is that it helps us get in a place to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost.
And for many years, I believed repentance was the key to the blessings of the atonement in our lives. As a bishop some years ago I watched the atonement come alive for more than one person who sought to return to the Lord’s path. And as a father, I’ve enjoyed the healing balm of the atonement as I’ve recognized and corrected errors in my own parenting.
But in the last five years or so, I’ve come to understand another benefit of the atonement, namely that I can forgive someone else. I had always assumed the atonement was so I could seek the Lord’s forgiveness. But now I believe it is just as important for me to forgive. And I can only do that effectively because of the atonement.
In Alma 7 we read of the power of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.Because the Lord has taken upon himself the pains and afflictions and infirmities of every kind (including mine!), I can freely forgive. I can do so without expectation of retribution or recompense. I can allow societal and legal consequences to fall where they may, but I do not need to exact my pound of flesh from one who hurts me because the Savior has made me whole. The atonement has offered me the healing balm I need.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities (v. 11-12).
One of the key products of forgiveness for me is peace, because when I forgive, I can leave behind the anger and resentment that I otherwise carry around with me. The act of “letting it go” lightens my burden (by laying it at the Savior’s feet).
My wife concluded her talk with this verse from John. It is, for me, the gift of the atonement most available to me in this life:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27).
That's a peace I'd like to give a chance.