In his talk in the Saturday Morning Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard asked a question that strikes me as particularly important. Elder Ballard noted, “Every time I hold a newborn child, I find myself wondering: ‘Who are you, little one? What will you become through the Atonement of Christ?’” The thought was reflected in both Elder Uchtdorf’s and Elder Mayne’s talks as well. The Atonement is supposed to change us; shouldn’t we wonder how well that is working out?
Elder Ballard’s talk is built around an old quote of Brigham Youngs, indicating that the church is the good old ship Zion and that God is at its helm. He notes that the destination of our ship is important to remember, for it is exaltation with God. The purpose of all of this seems to be to get us back to God and to make us more like him. Again, is church doing that for you?
I’m not asking the question because I think the church is failing at its mission. I ask because it seems to me that we, the members of the church, often fail to allow the Atonement to change us. We like the community church provides, the rituals (formal and informal), the soothing repetition of Sunday after Sunday assuring us that we are doing the necessary things to pass God’s final exam. But do we ever change? Do we allow it?
Elder Uchtdorf discussed all the little things that we add onto discipleship to make it easier to do. If discipleship was a matter of sitting still for three hours weekly or regularly visiting the homes of our friends amongst the ninety and nine, I’m certain we’d all be examples of the faith. But that doesn’t really seem like what discipleship should be. Discipleship should be striving to actually live in a manner pleasing to God, or at least to Christ, the best example of Godly behavior we have. And Christ didn’t particularly care about Sabbath prohibitions or the integrity of the family. Christ, seemingly, cared about helping the poor and downtrodden.
Luckily, the Church is excellent at that as well. I’m proud of all the charitable work that the Church does around the world to provide relief after natural disasters and other catastrophes. It is overwhelming as well. I’ve never really had the opportunity to help in a disaster directly and, God willing, I hope to never be in that position. The most charitable thing I’ve ever done, I think, was probably giving food to someone I thought needed it more.
In the Brothers Karamazov, Grushenka, the sometime love interest of several of the brothers, tells the story of a miserly, mean old woman who dies and goes to hell. Her guardian angel argues with God that she should be saved and God agrees that if she did one good thing, she shouldn’t go to hell. The angel points out that she once gave an onion to a poor beggar and God tells the angel to extend the onion to her in hell to pull her up and out into heaven. She gratefully takes the onion and starts to rise, but those around her notice and hop on, hoping to rise along with her to heaven. Frightened that her onion will break, she starts to kick and fight the others, refusing to let them come along. And the onion does break, but as a result of her struggling. She falls to hell, because she refused to bring others with her to heaven.
Facing the possibility that I might have to fly to freedom by clinging to a casserole of enchiladas should be sufficient reminder that I need to allow the Atonement into my own life. All matters of faith, commandment, commitment, and discipleship seemingly come down to this other implied question asked in every General Conference talk: Do you trust God enough to let him change you? Are you willing to become something, someone new?
Lord, help thou mine unbelief.