The theme for the month of April is the Atonement. The Atonement is such a fascinating, powerful and peaceful part of pure religion; it is only in the Atonement that we are made whole. But the topic of being made whole is rife with problems, especially when dealing with trials. I think most of us have hear any number of well-intended ideas such as “God won’t give you a problem you couldn’t handle,” “God gave you this trial to make you grow,” and “You chose this trial in the pre-existence.” All of these statements are intended to offer peace, but it truth, they echo an idea of blaming the victim. I recommend avoiding these types of statements all together.
The suggested scriptures and talks associated with this lesson are good and might be relevant to your class (the link to the church resource is here). Many are focused on the act of service as a distraction or remedy to trials. I agree with this point; being engrossed in service is a way in which we can cope with trials. But whilst service is a coping mechanism, I do not think it really directs to an understanding of the healing power of the Atonement. It is in this thought that I have framed my lesson: the healing power of the Atonement.
To start, I suggest playing or reading the lyrics Handel’s Messiah, but only the aria portion that he wrote regarding Job 19: 25-26, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” (sheet music here and audio here.)
This music was written about the verses in Job, specifically Job 19: 25-26. Ask a Young Woman to briefly summarize the story of Job. Read the noted verses and discuss them- what are some of the “worms” that mortal bodies might be subject to?
Teach that the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that our trials are a result of being subject to the fall of Adam and Eve; that it is to say that we are mortal, so are subject to all of the pains and trials associated with mortality. Some of these trials are a result of poor choices, such dealing with as drug addiction. Some of these trials are a result of random mortality, such as acne, diabetes, leukemia, or similar. Some of these trials are a result of the poor or wicked choices of others, such as being a victim of sexual assault, robbery, bullying, online harassment or similar.
When I was a Young Single Adult, I became aware that a beloved family member had been the victim of sexual assault. I was incensed at her perpetrator and let my anger at him begin to cloud my mind. In this, in addition to be infuriated, I began to feel hopeless. Though I was not the victim, my overwhelming love for this family member (who was much younger than me) made me feel as though I were also a victim. I finally confessed my dark thoughts and frustrations to a friend. “But what about the Atonement?” He asked me. At the time, my understanding of the Atonement is that it only healed the sinner. After all, I reasoned, I was told nearly every hour at church at least once that I needed to repent, and that the Atonement heals us from our sins. In this thought, the idea of the Atonement enraged me—in my mind at that time, only the rapist, as sinner, was able to have his sin wiped clean; I did not see it as something that could help or heal my beloved family member. I had disturbing images in my mind of seeing her rapist in heaven—and because of the Atonement—he had been forgiven. But yet that she was still the victim– and forced to be in his company. For eternity. I could not conceptualize this perceived injustice and began to have very dark thoughts about fairness and whether the gospel suited me anymore.
A trusted friend stopped that train of thought. “NOT SO. Her pain is also absorbed into the Atonement,” he said. “There cannot be victims in heaven because being a victim is a reminder of a past sin against the victim. It must be wiped clean. She must be healed completely.” In considering this long and hard– I understood that the Atonement isn’t all about forgiveness; it is about being healed and being made whole. The position is often taught that we are un-whole as a result of our SINS. But—the Atonement heals for ALL of our mortal imperfections- as well as the injustices committed against us. The holes left from our frustrations we have as a result of imperfect bodies (acne, diabetes, asthma, allergies, etc.) and the holes left upon us as a result of another’s transgression against us (being neglected, being assaulted, being robbed, etc.) are equally healed.
The Atonement, because it is the epitome of perfection, absorbs the pain associated with being a victim of sexual assault, the frustration of asthma, the bitterness of infertility and every single atrocity known to humankind. Because of the overt association and teaching of the Atonement as a remedy for sin, I had failed to understand that the Atonement heals ME from the sins of those who have hurt me—and my beloved family member. Heaven could never be a place where a victim and offender are forced to coincide– because that would be hell. This idea liberated me—the concept of our slates being “wiped clean” as in, the pain and memory of pain being removed—was freeing. The phrase “slate wiped clean” is commonly used in teaching about the rebirth that is baptism, but we can also apply it to the eternities with the benevolence of the pure Atonement—all of our pains will be wiped clean, all of our trials will be erased, and we will be perfected in the absolute love and protection of Christ through the Atonement.
In this, I began and still believe that Christ sweat blood in healing the victim from the pain of sin committed against them– for the longing heart who yearns to be married, to the child who finds them self an orphan, to the applicant who missed out on a scholarship/job/academic placement, to the child who survives rape, to the teen who survives political unrest and genocide. ( i.e. Luke 22:44 “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”) Personally, having sinned, I have felt deeply remorseful and begged for forgiveness. But the darkness of that feeling of having committed a sin in no way compares to the way my heart raged, my spirit suffered, and my relationships became volatile as I fought a war with infertility. I do not say this to negate my sins, I say this in deepest appreciation of the depths of the Atonement– and because I fully believe we can be healed in and from our trials- in placing our trust in Christ to wipe the slate of our lives clean from pain. He will not forsake us. This I know.
There will be people who hurt us in this life. There will be trials of health, loss and despair that shake you –perhaps- to your core. And the Atonement will remove that pain. It will remove the frustration, isolation and agony that gnaws holes into our spirits—and we will be whole again.
What does it mean to you to read that Christ was in agony so he prayed more earnestly? Do we pray more earnestly when we are in “agony”? How can this bring peace in times of trial?
Flipping back to Job: When I hear of the story of Job, I used to think of only all that he had and lost—then how he had everything replaced and then some. Now, I think of the period in-between his feasts, how when in all isolation- in spiritual, fiscal,and emotional famine– he refused to deny the Christ. This is the part that Handel’s aria celebrates: in the midst of trial, Job did not forsake his testimony, he knew the Redeemer lived.
Ask the Young Women about their thoughts on the healing aspect of the Atonement. Ask them to try to conceptualise a world without pain or hurt. How can we apply this understanding of the Atonement to our lives today to help carry our burdens? How are we strengthened in our knowledge of Christ, our Redeemer, lives and can heal us?
Have one of the Young Women read this quote:
“Sometimes you may feel that you stand on the threshold of adversity and that the door before you is so thick and heavy that no one on the other side is listening. Sometimes you may feel your knuckles are bloody from knocking. Sometimes you feel lonely, left out, shut out. Please believe me when I tell you that you are not standing at that threshold alone. The Savior is standing beside you. His arm is around your shoulders, offering his support. His hand is lifted up to knock at the same time as yours. You are not alone. You are not forsaken eve in your hardest moments.” – Chieko Okazaki, Sanctuary, 1997, p 37-38.
What does it mean to you to know that you are not forsaken, even in your “hardest moments?” How can our understanding that Christ is with us- even at the darkest of times, bring us peace and a sense of Atonement?
Close with singing the LDS version of I Know My Redeemer Lives. It might be interesting to note that this hymn was in the first hymnal in 1835, and stands as a testament of the Atonement as a core and defining characteristic of church doctrine.