This excerpt originally ran on LDS Living in November 2017.
Protesting to God about the injustice of suffering, I had forgotten. It was His pain too.
One morning the newspaper contained an account of women who had been gang-raped and tortured during the Serbian civil war. I cried inconsolably for two hours because I knew it wasn’t just happening on other continents. That same month, two girlfriends had independently confided in me about the abuse they had suffered as children. It was too much. Again I asked how I could possibly trust in God’s love and goodness when He permitted so much evil, injustice, and suffering?
Here the Book of Mormon boldly declares an answer beyond those found in the world. Christ did not merely suffer the penalties for our sins. He also took upon Himself “the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21). This includes sicknesses, afflictions, temptations, infirmities, griefs, sorrows, and “the chastisement of our peace” (Alma 7:11–12; Mosiah 14:3–5).
Elder David A. Bednar describes it this way:
“Thus, the Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities—but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us.
There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first” (“Bear Up Their Burdens With Ease,” Ensign, May 2014).
We rightfully hate that God has sent innocent babies to abusive homes. It should awe us that Jesus essentially sent Himself into every one of those homes, too. Heavenly Father didn’t just send His Son to die for us collectively. He sent His Son to feel the daily pains and the death pangs of every separate child, woman, or man who ever lived. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus transcended time and space to somehow accompany every individual soul on his or her private journey through evil and pain. He felt it all with each one of us.
He has looked out through the tearful eyes of those struggling to understand or live with same-sex attractions. He has felt bipolar mood swings. He has undergone all our chemotherapies, the sting of divorce proceedings, our rejections and devastating failures. Jesus knows the empty parking lot or dark closet where we cry. He knows the aching knees and puffy eyes after we run out of tears but not questions. These are His pains too.
He knows what He’s asking of us. Of me. He knows it fully. Personally. Intimately.
Jesus hasn’t forgotten how much it hurts. In a sense, He is still feeling it all.
At some point, it dawned on me that I could speak of the Atonement in present rather than past tense. True, that victory is 100 percent complete, finalized, an absolute historical fact. Christ said, “It is finished.” Yet Christ also said, “time only is measured unto men” and “all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Alma 40:8; Moses 1:6).
Because Jesus remembers all things as present, He can still be in the very thick of our experiences, swallowing the pain with us, here and now, whatever we are suffering. He says,
“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:16).
In this verse, the words thee and thy are singular terms (not the plural terms, ye and your). Here the Lord is not talking collectively to a group of people. He is talking to every one of us as an individual, one at a time.
Just as easily as I call to mind a remembered melody, Jesus can and does have wholly present in His mind and heart the full import of whatever troubles I’m living through. His knowledge is not just intellectual or sympathetic, but rather graven on the cells and sinews and spiritual depths of His own soul in a permanent, ownership kind of way.
He doesn’t just watch our pain. It is continually before Him. He aches with it. He weeps with us. He bleeds with us. He reels with the fears and the confusion. He throbs with the hurt we feel. Even when we are angry at Him.
He sees, from our viewpoint, the intellectual walls that block our understanding. He sees the physical limitations that keep us from activities we desire. He sees the social and cultural walls we put up between people. He sees them from our side of the wall. He feels our pains and limited understanding. We literally cannot suffer anything alone, no matter how victimized we may try to feel in our weak moments.
When Christ asks His Saints to endure hard or painful things, He suffers the full impact Himself.
Understanding the Atonement helped me cope with tough spots in Church history and the Old Testament. I still didn’t completely understand Jehovah’s overall purposes, but I did manage to see that His voluntary acceptance of our everyday suffering undeniably showed His love.
Whenever Christ has given a commandment that demanded suffering or sacrifice (from self-denial to imprisonment to martyrdom), He has taken that painful trouble upon Himself as well. He felt the damp prison with Jeremiah. He knows the searing flame experienced by Abinadi. He suffered the destruction along with every Jew sent captive to Babylon and the punishment with every soul who died in Jericho.
Christ required the pioneers to cross the plains. Therefore, His Atonement had to include that suffering too: Christ has felt the pain of bloody footsteps, the grief of burying babies along the way, and the sting of icy river crossings.
Through the Atonement, Christ has personally experienced plural marriage from the vantage point of the fifth wife, and the first wife. He Himself has passed through every painful struggle related to this commandment.
In Gethsemane, Jesus walked in the shoes of each black child of God withheld from priesthood and temple blessings. He knows the humiliation of segregation and discrimination from the inside out, not only in these cases, but in slave galleys and gas chambers and every other case throughout human history.
He fully comprehends how lonely it can be to live the law of chastity when others are getting married or giving in to temptations. He has felt the hopeless bewilderment, loneliness, and heartache when eternal companions don’t appear or when same-sex attraction prevents someone from moving toward marriage.
I cannot begin to comprehend Jesus Christ’s reasons for asking us to pass through these types of trials. But even though I don’t understand, I can no longer claim that Christ is unfair for requiring them. He suffered them all too.
At times we want answers only the Lord can give. Often, He offers something better: tutorials in trust and peace amid unanswered questions.
When questions seem to go unanswered, it can become a burden on belief rather than a catalyst for personal progression. In Answers Will Come, readers are invited to experience one woman’s powerful journey from the depths of doubt to the rediscovery of the light of faith. Through personal narrative, sacred scripture, and the inspired words of Church leaders, readers are reminded that every believer’s path to God is paved with questions. It’s up to you where those questions take you.