Discovering the Atonement Behind the Razor Wire
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The following names and character descriptions are fictional aggregates:
The jagged razor wire caught my attention this time, as I once again entered its shrouded confines. It reminded me of our previous home in Africa, only the wire was there to keep “bad guys” out while this was to keep them in. I mused at the contrast. As the group of inmates assembled in the “institute room” of the prison chapel, I took notice of the tattoos, facial hair, and white “uniforms” while I shook hands, greeted and felt such a kinship as I had never expected in all the years of my teaching. I loved these men and yearned for the Spirit to hallow our experience together in the scriptures.
We had spent a couple of hours the week before within Alma 32 and the faith seed. I asked, “If our Father, who you love and are learning to trust, were to come in His glory and embrace you today, what would it be like for you? I suggested that we use DC 5:19 as a reference”
…the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.
Breaking the stunned silence, a tall burly fellow remarked, “Wow that would be a dangerous hug…crispy critter!!” Then guiding him to Alma 33, his clear FM voice resounded as he read verse eleven:
And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.
He paused to wipe a tear and I stopped him from reading further. I had never been moved by that verse in all my years teaching. As he paused, I heard myself ask, “Have any of you been judged before?” They looked at me incredulously. They were all there because they had been found guilty, by a judge. “Have any of you ever judged each other?” Now I could see the knowing looks pass between them. “Yet, our very creator, our Father, turns away judgment. He who knows us best withholds judgment for now! Why? Careful…it would be easy to say, ‘Well, because the Son will be the judge, so Father doesn’t judge us.’ Read carefully. He knows our imperfections and rebellions. He knows our crimes and private whoredoms. He looks on sin with NO allowance. So why withhold judgment?”
The room was sacredly silent, eyes scanned the verses with hope. “Your Father in Heaven, who knows you intimately, loves you and does not pronounce judgment upon you! He does not look or listen to you through some lens of guarded judgment…He does not judge you.” I felt the truth of those words ripple up my spine and could see that they felt it too. I added, “Not only does He turn away judgement but notice what He calls it and how He feels about how we respond to it, in verse 16
For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.
Then I asked, “What did the Son do through His atonement that He calls, “His mercies” that allows Father to turn away those deserved condemnations?”
“Alma 42”…They raced to turn the pages. They knew instinctively that the Atonement of Christ would redeem them SOMEDAY but what was it that activated it even at the very time they were committing sin? As they paused, hoping for clarity, I said, “verse 4.” They read silently…
And thus, we see that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.
Now I had discussed probation with students many times but somehow it seemed strange to ask these inmates, “What can you tell me about probation?” One, with huge tattooed biceps explained, “Ya get a chance to be good without havin’ to come here.”
I asked, “So is it a good thing or a bad thing to find out you are on probation?”
One in a wheelchair quietly said, “Depends on where you are.” “What do you mean,” I asked. “If you are out there and find out, it could be either good news or bad news depending on if you know what being in here is like. If you know, then it is good news, ‘cause you don’t want to be in here!”
“Ah, so what was our state when Christ created this world and made certain that it would be a probationary state? I asked a younger Latino man to read verse 5 and the first part of 10.
For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.
Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature…
An older, kindly gentleman asked, “So God knew we would sin?”
“Indeed, but since this is probation, what does that mean?”
This wizened grandfather smiled and said, “It means that though we are accountable, we aren’t judged yet!”
“Please notice the end of verse 10, why are we on the earth then?”
…this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state.
Another portly gentleman, quipped, “It means we get a do over!” Then he got serious, “It means that I tried some things that didn’t feel right but I tried them anyway and got caught and put in here. It means that I can learn from it and still become all I have been pleading for, but, really thought I had just gone too far for any hope! But, this is a time to prepare, to discover, to repent and change before being judged!! We can become better before judgement!!!” His smile mixed with tears didn’t go unnoticed as the grandfather laid a hand upon his arm.
Moses 6:55 came into my mind…we turned and read:
And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.
“As children born to appetite-driven, natural-man parents, it is only logical that the children would be the same, since those tendencies come from the natural appetites of the body. So naturally, those appetites lead to temptation which leads to sin. But what does sin then naturally cause and why?”
An exuberant balding middle-aged man suddenly let out an “Ahhhhhh!” “The natural result is the taste of bitterness. Sin never is happiness!!! There certainly isn’t much happiness in here! Our Father gives us time to learn to choose the good, after tasting the alternative or watching someone else suffer from it!”
I challenged his thinking, “Look closely, it doesn’t say “That they may CHOOSE the good.” Why does He use the word “PRIZE?”
He was so excited he almost stumbled over his words, “So if we are awake, this preparatory state is a protective covering, it is what the Savior’s Atonement did for us. Not only can we repent and change, we receive no permanent judgements until the day of judgement. Secondly, He is on our side, cheering for us and helping us rather than just waiting to catch us sinning. The natural consequence of sin is like a bitter taste, our desire for the sin changes, so once we have tasted the sweetness of the fruit, we prize it for all eternity!” He paused, thought deeply then exclaimed, ”We need to help everyone taste that sweet fruit, so they know that there is another choice besides bitterness!”
I added, “Would you be interested to know that the ancient Hebrew for “atonement” is kapharwhich literally means, “to cover.”
It seemed right to take them to DC 88:5, 6, 13, 34
Jesus Christ, his Son …ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
…that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
So, our merciful Father’s directed the Son to create a sort of protective probationary covering whereby judgment and the destructive forces of consequence are temporarily “turned aside” so that, with time and understanding, we can repent and change sufficiently to live in the glorious presence of the Father that would otherwise consume us (DC 5:19). Then, His work, glory, and light, if we choose, can perfect us, “in Christ.” (see DC 88:34; Moses 1:39, Moroni 10:32)
As we closed, and I walked out past the razor wire, I knew they would be safe, enveloped in His wise, loving mercy, until delivered to His perfecting law.