Service and the Atonement

If you ask an LDS church member to name a scripture related to serving others, one of the ones you’ll likely here the most is from the Book of Mormon, specifically Mosiah 2:17, which states:

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

In some ways this parallels the Savior’s teaching in the New Testament, in Matthew 25:31-46 (specifically verse 40), which in the KJV states:

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

I think it’s easy for us to take these verses metaphorically. That serving our fellow beings is furthering God’s goals. Or that doing something (good or ill) unto “the least of these our brethren” is like we’re doing it unto Christ. But what if these verses are less metaphorical than we think?

Isaiah, when he testified of the Messiah in Isaiah 53:4 (repeated by the prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 14:4) stated:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.

And the Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, testified about Christ (in Alma 7:11-12), saying:

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…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.

Basically, a lot of times we forget that in addition to the paying “for our sins”, and the “dieing and being resurrected so that we can live again” parts of the Atonement, Christ also somehow willingly experienced all of our pains, sorrows, frustrations, loneliness, guilt, shame, feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and in short all of the injustices and challenges we face in life. Not just those brought upon ourselves by our own poor decisions, but those that come as a result of living in mortality with imperfect bodies, and those caused by the carelessness or willful malice of others. Christ is able to understand us and empathize with us, not because he also had a rough life and bore griefs that were somewhat analogous to our own, but because he experienced the whole of human suffering as part of his Atoning sacrifice.

On the flip side, did he also experience all the small acts of kindness, and service, where people went out of their way to “lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees”? Did he experience the joy that the lonely feel when one reaches out to them to let them know they matter and are cared about? Did he feel the hope restored when we visit someone who is sick or in prison and cheered their hearts? Did he feel the relief of the overwhelmed when someone paused to share their burden with them? Did he feel the relief we feel when someone forgives us of our screwups and mistakes, or when someone shows us undeserved mercy?

I’m not sure how profound this really is, but it was an insight I had this morning that I felt was worth sharing. It definitely put the concept of service in a new light for me.

3 Comments

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3 Responses to Service and the Atonement

  1. Pingback: Taong Boondocks Post on Service | Selenian Boondocks

  2. Adam G.

    Thanks! This is one of my favorite Mormon insights/speculations.

    http://www.jrganymede.com/2011/04/22/royal-largesse-theory-of-the-atonement/

    Matthew 25 is especially interesting when you apply it to parents:
    http://www.jrganymede.com/2010/12/22/helpless-as-a-baby/

  3. Pingback: Service and the Atonement | Junior Ganymede

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