Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the symbol of the atonement

Alma 5:33 - Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
3 Ne. 9:14 - Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.
Isaiah 40:11 - He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
It kinda bothers me to think of how many times I read verses like the ones above without fully comprehending the image presented, of open arms extended to take us in.

As I have been learning more about the Savior and His Atonement by reading The Infinite Atonement, as well as through attending an institute class and through my own personal study, I have begun to realize that the enabling power of His grace is love... and that, as Tad Callister states in The Infinite Atonement, the "reconciliation between God and man is figuratively and literally symbolized by an embrace."

It makes sense... The very explanation of what the Atonement does for men is: "mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption" (Alma 34:16). The Lord has also said "Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love" (D&C 6:20).

All very powerful imagery for the same idea.

In an article on the Atonement, Hugh Nibley explains that the Semitic origins of the word atonement, one in specific being the aramaic word "kafata" which actually means "a close embrace." In his book Approaching Zion Hugh Nibley again spoke of this embrace saying:
"It should be clear what kind of oneness is meant by the Atonement -- it is being recieved in a close embrace of the prodigal son, expressing not only forgiveness but oneness of heart and mind that mounts to identity..." 
That At-ONE-ment, to become one with God, is to be embraced in His arms. Through that embrace we are transformed - our identity is changed. When we are truly "spiritually been born of God" we receive "his image" and we experience a "mighty change" of our heart (Alma 5:14). The embrace become part of who we are, we live day to day in the arms of his love and can say as Lehi did, that "the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love (2 Ne. 1:15). This is love. This is grace. This is the Atonement.

Neal A. Maxwell illustrated the poignant embrace of the Lord in another way in an address he gave:

"If there is any imagery upon which I would focus as I close, it is two scriptures from the Book of Mormon. The one in which we are reminded that Jesus himself is the gatekeeper and that “he employeth no servant there.” (2 Nephi 9:41.) Once I assumed, with partial correctness, that that scripture was a clear indication that Jesus would be there to certify, because he knows perfectly well who could enter and who could not. And I am sure that is one of the reasons he stands at that gate and “employeth no servant there.” But I will tell you . . . out of the conviction of my soul . . . what I think the major reason is, as contained in another Book of Mormon scripture which says he waits for you “with open arms.” (Mormon 6:17.) That’s why he’s there! He waits for you “with open arms.” That imagery is too powerful to brush aside.... It is imagery that should work itself into the very center core of one’s mind—a rendezvous impending, a moment in time and space, the likes of which there is none other. And that rendezvous is a reality. I certify that to you. He does wait for us with open arms, because his love of us is perfect. And when he entreats us to become like him, it is that we might have his joy, the fulness of which we presently can only guess at."
Symbols have power in the image itself as well as the understanding we can obtain from the inherent metaphor in their representation. The symbol of the Atonement is a beautiful and intimate image and one we can each, individually, find meaning in and faith through if we take the time to explore and accept it. 

***This all seems especially heartbreaking in the context of 3 Nephi 10:5 And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. To refuse to turn from sin, to refuse turn to repentance and the gospel is in fact turning away from the loving arms of the Savior, to brush them aside/ignore them, withdrawing from His embrace.

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