I’m still learning about the miracle of the Atonement. How about you?

I’ve counted myself as one of Jesus’ followers for a long, long time. Yet, sometimes I feel like I am still in the early phases of what the Lord meant when He said, “I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little…” (2 Nephi 28:30)

This is especially true when it comes to grasping both the vastness and the nuance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I’m still learning about the miracle of the Atonement, and I hope I can always say that. This Easter, I’ll share with you something that I understand better than I used to.

But first, a story. (Of Course!)

A while back, I met up for lunch with a friend. It was a fast-casual place where you place your order and pay at the end of the counter. (Costa Vida) My food took a bit longer than his to prepare, so he went ahead and found seats. I got the to register, paid my bill and sat down across from him.

“What’s that?” he said, pointing to my receipt.

“My receipt.”

“But I paid for you,” he said.

“That’s dumb.” I said, “Be right back.” I returned to the register and got my refund and then went back and thanked him for treating me and ate my free lunch.

Why would anybody want to double pay? Right?

And that is the very thought I had in my head for most of my life when I would hear people teach the concept that not only did Christ pay for our sins, but that He did “take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.” (Alma 7:11)

“That’s dumb,” I thought. Why would He suffer for what His people suffer? That’s double-suffering. For example, if I break my arm, and it hurts like crazy, the fact that Christ suffered for my affliction doesn’t make my arm hurt any less. It’s just double pain for one arm. There is so much suffering in the world, and if Christ suffered all of those pains, sicknesses and afflictions for all of us, then there was double-suffering for all of it.

Now, I’m not talking about our sins. I understand the glory and beauty of Christ’s suffering for our sins so that we don’t have to. But, the double-suffering for our sicknesses and pain didn’t click, because the vast majority of the time, we still experience our own pain and suffering, regardless of what Christ endured.

Sometimes I would bring this up in discussion with some of my closer spirit-buddies to get their take. More often than not, they wouldn’t know what to say for one of two reasons: 1) They thought that I was an idiot for not understanding what (to them) was such rudimentary doctrine, or 2) They didn’t have an answer.

Do you know who told me the answer? Alma.

Reading Alma’s discourse to the people of Gideon (Alma 7) helped me understand that my confusion was the result of me not realizing a distinction: Christ’s suffering for sin and His suffering for our afflictions are two different things, with two different purposes, bound together in one incomprehensible series of events.

Alma lays it out nicely:

The suffering for our sins: “nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance…) (Alma 7:13)

This is referring to the Atonement for our sins, giving us a chance for redemption.

As for the suffering for our pains, afflictions and sicknesses, he said, “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 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.” (Alma 7:12)

This verse was the key, for me. Christ needed to suffer our physical ills for a different reason: He needed to experience them to attain what Elder Neal A. Maxwell singled out when he described the effects of the Atonement this way, “Thereby Jesus’ personal triumph was complete and His empathy perfected. Having “descended below all things,” He comprehends, perfectly and personally, the full range of human suffering!” (link)

Perfect Empathy.

My understanding of empathy grows as I experience more things in my life. The harder the things, the more empathy granted. Christ also needed to experience the worst of life and suffering so that He could have that perfect empathy “that He may know – in the flesh – how to succor His people.”

It was necessary for Jesus to experience and endure the realities of the mortal existence to achieve the perfect empathy He now embodies. (The Jehovah of the Old Testament had not yet gained this level of empathy – you can draw your own conclusions.)

There is no doubt that the subject and manner of Christ’s suffering to obtain that level of empathy is beyond our comprehension, but it happened, and it was brutal. As He sharply reminded Joseph Smith, who was mired in great affliction, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 128:8)

As all of us know, pain and suffering is part of the deal we signed up for when we opted for the mortal experience. Christ’s suffering does not normally take that away. I can testify that on some occasions, it can, but we will usually feel the pain, the sickness and the affliction. We need to experience some degree of suffering to become more like Christ and share in a greater sense of empathy. It is a painful gift.

Through Christ and his perfect empathy we can turn to Him for help in different ways as we experience our pain.

President James E. Faust taught, “Since the Savior has suffered anything and everything that we could ever feel or experience, He can help the weak to become stronger.” (link)

Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

President Dallin H. Oaks taught that, “Because of His Atonement, the Savior has the power to succor—to help—every mortal pain and affliction. Sometimes His power heals an infirmity, but the scriptures and our experiences teach that sometimes He succors or helps by giving us the strength or patience to endure our infirmities.”

“He therefore knows our struggles, our heartaches, our temptations, and our suffering, for He willingly experienced them all as an essential part of His Atonement.” (link)

Easter is a time we rejoice in the hope of resurrection and salvation from sin. This year I’m adding my gratitude for the Savior’s perfect empathy: He does understand. I don’t understand how, but I do understand that He is in a better position to empathize with what I might be going through than anyone else. Period.

I find myself still learning about the miracle of the Atonement, and I hope I can always say that.


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  1. This was profound. I’m glad I waited to catch up on this post until today because it fit so well with General Conference. I need to study this more. Thank you so much for sharing.

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