Analogies of the Atonement

Today at church, something was said that sort of bothered me. Truth be told, I’ve been bothered by this before: numerous analogies of the nature of the Atonement have been put forth, and I often find them to be flawed in a way that just grates my spiritual nerves. Understanding that no analogy is perfect, I think this particular aspect should be remedied.

Today’s analogy was about us being stuck in a pit. There were wood and nails all about, and we were told that we could get out of the pit if we used our supplies to build a ladder and get out. After exhausting our supplies, we find that we still come short of the top of the pit. But at the top, Christ lowers a rope to allow us to complete our climb. Now nice as that may sound, I believe it holds an inherent flaw. It appears that we can make significant progress without the help of Christ. Some other analogies I’ve heard have actually even tied precentages to how much someone may have done (i.e. a man does 60% and Christ makes up 40%). I believe that I can come up with a better parable, actually taken from true, scriptural events.

One evening, as the Savior’s apostles were sailing upon the Sea of Galilee, they saw the Savior walking upon water. He invites his chief apostle, Peter, to come and join him. Peter climbs out of the boat, and perhaps takes a couple of steps, but begins to sink into the depths. He knows that Christ can save him, and so he calls to his Master, while offering his arms to grab hold. Jesus takes hold of him, and pulls him back up to safety.

Comparing this with the original story(Matt. 14:24-31), one will notice I took a few minor liberties. However, I believe this relates the story very well, and it illustrates how I feel the Atonement really takes places.

Christ is above all sin, much like walking on water. He beckons us to follow in his paths, but we will always fall short. Even one sin separates us from God with an infinite gulf. We begin to sink, and are unable to get out of the waters. No amount of treading will put our feet again on the surface, and we are surely doomed. But Christ stands, waiting for us to call out his name in faith, and do all we can, by merely stretching forth our arms to the best of our ability. He then will lift us up, and we are saved.

Now, my analogy may not be perfect either, but it at least illustrates the one point I feel so many lack. We can cry for the Lord and have all the faith that we want. We can reach and grope and struggle for salvation until our lives are exhausted. Yet, we still sink. But our reaching isn’t futile. As long as we accept Christ’s Atonement, our outstretched hands and his are clasped, and we find salvation through Christ. Otherwise, our efforts are meaningless.

I think a large part of the confusion arises from 2 Nephi 25:23, which reads that “it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” This is true, but it is not a one-two process; we do our part, then he does his, and we meet somewhere in the middle. It is a completely collaborative process, with every minute of our lives we give all we can and Christ gives it meaning, and compensates for our shortcomings.

Ultimately, there is no percentage we can tie to the amount we can do. Our breath, our capacity to choose, the privilege of repentance, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and virtually everything else are dependant upon the grace of Christ. All we can do is nothing. Nothing without Christ. But with Christ, all we can do is everything. He closes all gaps, and makes meaningless works meaingful.

These are my feelings on the matter. I know there are other interpretations. What do my readers think?

By the way, I recommend reading Believing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson. It holds some wonderful insights on the Atonement.

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