Have you ever watched a loved one suffer while you were powerless to alleviate the pain? As a physician, I have often seen parents in this situation—unable to help, but wanting to do something to relieve their child’s suffering.
Jessica, a three-year-old, was brought into the hospital emergency room at three o’clock one morning needing intravenous antibiotics, hospitalization, and possibly an operation. It took more than an hour to get the I.V. started because her veins were small and thin; nurses had to stick her repeatedly with needles in an attempt to find a “good” vein.
Tommy, an eight-year-old, was in an automobile accident and suffered a broken cheekbone and some serious eye injuries; he has had two operations and will need two more before his eye returns to some semblance of normal.
Frankie, thirteen years old, started a fight with another boy; unfortunately he ended up with a broken jaw that had to be wired shut for six weeks.
In each of these cases—and in countless others—parents would gladly take their child’s physical pain upon themselves if it were possible. It doesn’t matter whether the child’s pain is the result of carelessness or disobedience or circumstances beyond the child’s control. The parents are powerless to do anything, and in some cases, they have to leave the room because it is so difficult to see their child go through such pain.
There is another kind of suffering that is even worse than physical pain. Spiritual pain can be permanent and eternal, and it can lead to spiritual death.
Fortunately, we have another parent—our Father in Heaven—who can and does take away both physical and spiritual pain. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we will be resurrected from physical death; and if we repent, we will also be redeemed from spiritual pain and death.
The Father himself witnessed the intense physical and spiritual agony of his Only Begotten Son in Gethsemane and on the cross. And, just as he can remove our pain, he could have spared his Son that agony; indeed, he had the power to remove the bitter cup from the Savior, but the consequences were unacceptable.
Because of his love for us, he allowed his Son to carry out that greatest of all sacrifices. In the words of Elder Melvin J. Ballard, “In that moment when he might have saved his Son, I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us. I rejoice that he did not interfere, and that his love for us made it possible for him to endure to look upon the sufferings of his Son and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer. Without him, without his sacrifice, we would have remained, and we would never have come glorified into his presence. And so this is what it cost, in part, for our Father in Heaven to give the gift of his Son unto men.” (As quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, ed., Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1949, pp. 154–55.)
As a bishop I find great joy in counseling members who recognize their transgressions and are beginning the process of repentance. To be able to share their sadness for sin and their tears for transgression—and then to consider the forgiveness made possible through the Atonement—is one of a bishop’s greatest experiences.
To watch the healing effect of the Atonement is to witness the essence of the gospel. The Atonement applies to us all: we all have need of repentance, and it is only through the Savior that we can be rid of our sins and our suffering and become like our Father in Heaven.
What wonderful hope the Atonement gives to us all. How blessed we are to have a Savior who could—and did—take upon himself our burdens. And how grateful we are for a Father who allowed his Son to heal us!