Early last year, I read a wonderful book entitled, The God Who Weeps by Terryl and Fiona Givens. It touched my heart and strengthened my belief in Jesus Christ, and I always intended to write about it. But I found it a difficult book to write about because I didn't exactly know what it was I wanted to share about it. And then, since it was a religious book, I couldn't decide whether I should try to explain things about my religion at the same time or if I should just dive in as if everyone knew exactly what I was talking about.
And so, in the end, indecision made the decision for me. It has now been far too long since I finished it, so unless I reread it (which I very well might), I won't be writing a review of it.
As I came to the end of The Continuous Atonement, I could sense the same kind of hesitancy. I reread over all of my favorite quotes and narrowed them down, and I still had two pages of material from the book alone, not including any of my own thoughts.
Obviously, that’s too much for one post, even for me. So instead, I decided to focus on five specific topics that really touched my heart and broadened my thinking. I’ll try to keep explanations/definitions to a minimum, but if something doesn’t make sense or you’d like to discuss a point in greater depth, feel free to do so in the comments.
But first, a word about why I decided to read this book. In my Church, we have a monthly publication known as The Ensign, which includes inspirational and doctrinal messages from leaders, teachers, and other individuals. In the September issue, I read an article by Brad Wilcox entitled “His Grace is Sufficient.” I read it a couple of times before I decided I wanted more and went to the original speech from which the article was taken. I read (and then watched) the entire speech and then noticed that Brad Wilcox had actually written an entire book on the same subject. So I expanded my reading even further.
Originally, I was a bit hesitant to read anything by Brad Wilcox because he is so connected with youth conferences and EFYs from my teenage years. I almost felt like his writing would be too juvenile (this from the girl who loves to read picture books and middle grade novels). But while I did find his writing (and especially the speech itself) influenced and marked by his many years working with teenagers, I didn’t find the concepts themselves to be juvenile in any way.
The book is a commentary on the Atonement of Jesus Christ: the depth and breadth and scope of it as well as how we can use and apply it every day in order to return to Heavenly Father. But even more than that, it is about just how much the Savior loves each one of us.
First, I learned about the long-suffering nature of the Atonement. Every Sunday, we have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament. Before the bread and water is passed to the congregation, a priest says the words of the sacrament prayer. These words are recorded in the scriptures and are supposed to be said without error. If the priest makes a mistake in the words, the bishop asks him to begin again. Brad Wilcox said, "Although the sacramental prayers had to be perfect, and that expectation could not be lowered, the priest was given a second chance, and a third--as many times as it took. There was no trapdoor that opened up once he had gone too far. The bishop simply nodded and the young priesthood holder started over until he finally got the prayer right. No matter how many mistakes were made and corrected along the way, the final outcome was counted as perfect and acceptable [emphasis added]." I love this analogy. It demonstrates that the Savior does not expect us to be perfect right away, but he does expect us to keep trying and improving. It is wonderful to realize that if we continue to grow and change, all of our mediocre past efforts will be forgotten in favor of who we have become.
Second, I learned that the Atonement is a continual source of good. Sometimes Mormons are criticized for placing too much emphasis on works rather than the grace of Jesus Christ. It's not that we don't believe that we are nothing without His grace. We know that we cannot return to Heavenly Father without His help. But we also think it is important for us to demonstrate our faith in His grace through our works. This scripture is quoted often within our church: "For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25.23). This makes it sound as if Christ's power to save does not come into effect until our own efforts have been exhausted. But Brad Wilcox said (and I believe this is true), "Christ's power is not an emergency generator that turns on once our supply is exhausted. It is not a booster engine once we run out of steam. Rather, it is our constant energy source. If we think of Christ only making up the difference after we do our part, we are failing to keep the promise we make each Sunday to remember Him always."
Third, the Atonement has the immense power to change us in unexpected ways. Brad Wilcox said, “Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom, who pays the piano teacher, can require her child to practice. By so doing she is not attempting to recover the cost of the lessons, but to help the child take full advantage of this opportunity to live on a higher level. Her joy is not found in getting her investment back but in seeing it used. If the child, in his immaturity, sees Mom’s expectation to practice as unnecessary or overly burdensome, it is because he doesn’t yet share her perspective. When Christ’s expectations of faith, repentance, covenants, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endurance feel trying to us, perhaps it is because, as C.S. Lewis put it, ‘we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us' [emphasis added].” This is probably my favorite analogy in the whole book. It strikes a personal chord for sure since so much of my life has been devoted to music lessons, so it's easy for me to translate that perspective to this much more magnificent example.
Fourth, I learned about the singular nature of the Atonement. I think this was perhaps the most eye-opening part of the book for me. It made me consider things I never have before, such as, "If Jesus had not performed the Atonement, would there have been another to take His place?" If I had really thought about such a question, I think I would have known that, no, there was no one else who could take His place, but I had just never really considered such an idea before reading this book. It made me understand why one-third of Heavenly Father's children could reject the Plan and follow Satan. Brad Wilcox put it this way: "Can't you almost hear Satan saying, 'Are you really going to put all your eggs in one basket? Are you really going to put all of your faith in one person?. . . Everyone knew Lucifer's alternative plan provided no chance for eternal growth or progress. So perhaps one of the reasons he was successful in convincing so many to follow him was by instilling doubt in God's plan."
It was in this chapter that Brad Wilcox told this amazing story about his brother-in-law who, as a young 12-year-old boy, fell off a steep cliff and was literally saved by a single branch that was growing out of the cliff. He fell 60 feet before being caught by the branch, where he was then suspended over fifty more feet. Brad Wilcox likened this lone branch to the Savior, who is our One and Only Chance to return to Heavenly Father. He is the Only One who can save us.
That would be like a boy falling off a vast cliff and then expecting to be saved by one branch.'
Finally, the Atonement is about LOVE. As I read this book, I felt that message again and again, ever more strongly. Brad Wilcox said about the Savior's accomplishment of the Atonement: “Did He avoid eternal punishment? Yes. Did He receive eternal rewards? Yes. But those were not his motivation. They were simply natural consequences that followed His choice at a higher level. Did He fulfill His birthright obligation? Yes. Did He please His father? Yes. But those were natural consequences as well, not motives. What motivated Jesus was the greatest motivation of all—pure, perfect, infinite love [emphasis added].”
I will say that for all the many things I loved about this book, Brad Wilcox's style of writing was not always my favorite. I felt like he used a lot of contrived one-liners, like this one: "Christ’s requirements are not so that we can make the best of the Atonement, but so that—on His generous terms—the Atonement can make the best of us." And this one: "In that moment, we realize we do not earn the Atonement. The Atonement actually earns us." While there is not anything wrong with these statements per se, they were just overused. They probably sound great if you're speaking, and you want to end your talk with one of them, to deliver that final punch. But over and over again in the book, it just started to feel like I was reading the words of a motivational speaker (which, I guess I kind of was).
I read this book as part of my daily scripture study. I would read two or three pages and then look up all of the scriptures that were referenced during those pages. This meant that the book took me two months to read, but I felt like I got so much out of it because I turned to the scriptures to enlighten and increase my understanding, and I spent a lot of time pondering the words I read.
I know this review is much too long for anyone to have any interest in actually reading it. I really spent so much time writing it for me. I wanted to remember the things I learned and felt while reading this book. Writing helps me internalize what I read, and I wanted to internalize as much of this book as possible.