I have been reading a book lately that I'm pretty sure is going to be established as one of my long-term favorites, good for reading and good for referencing. It is "The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life's Experiences" by Bruce C. Hafen, who is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is one of my favorite church authors because his writing style is so good to read. And, as a verse that I never noticed before in the Book of Mormon, in Jacob 4:12 puts is, "why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of Him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?" Why not, indeed? Why not speak of the most glorious event to take place in the history of God's creation, which is a much larger time frame than I can think in.
I used to have a rather unfortunate view of the atonement, which was essentially that God was going to call me out on my sins and make me repent, which was a word I recoiled from in fear. However, one of the most beautiful things that has taken place in my life is the beginning of an understanding that this is completely not the case. Repenting means changing anything in our natures that is contrary to God's will. It means opening our hearts wide open and letting the Savior in to purify the gold he finds there. This is a scary thing to do. But it is very worthwhile.
With this opening of our hearts to God, many blessings on top of repentance become available. Elder Hafen quotes a scripture from Isaiah in the introduction of his book, found in chapter 61:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel unto the poor, he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised. To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
The emphases are Elder Hafen's addition. He is trying to emphasize the fact that the atonement of Jesus Christ does so much more for us than purifying us of our sins, although if that were its only purpose, it would still be a great and significant thing. The atonement can not only cleanse us of the stains of the world, but it can heal us from the pains of the world. It can heal our broken hearts and it can give us peace when we have none and it can fill our hearts with love that spills out until we cannot help but give that love to others.
However, such a precious gift does not come free. It requires work, hard work at that. It is not easy to communicate with God in a world full of distractions. But it can be done. My hero Nephi sums it up well towards the end of his scriptural writings, found in 2 Nephi 31:19-20:
"Behold, ye have not come this far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in Him, relying wholly on the merits of Him who is mighty to save [ie, the atonement of Christ]. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the words of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus sayeth the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."
What I see when I read this is that Nephi brilliantly gave us a concise game plan for how to use the atonement to make it back to God's presence. We must have unshaken faith in Him and His ability to save us, or change us, through His atonement. We must be steadfast, not easily swayed by every wind and opinion that comes our way. We must have a hope in the power of salvation. We must develop charity, which is the pure love of Christ, or as Nephi puts is, a love of God and of all mankind. We must press forward. No standing still allowed in the Kingdom of God!
And, we must keep doing this, even when we cannot feel God's presence near and we are lonely and tired and depressed. This is called enduring to the end. It is knowing that God is watching over us and helping us even when we cannot tell immediately. It is closely linked to faith. And the prize? Eternal life. That is a prize worth enduring to the end for.