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Part of what I know about the atonement I learned from Alma. He had been among “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4), but the faith and prayers of Alma and others of the church, and the visit of the angel, enabled him to see himself—what he had done and what he had become. As he explained the three days of darkness to his son Helaman, days when he was encompassed by a terrifying awareness of his sins, de described feelings like these:
- “I was struck with great fear and amazement” (Alma 36:11).
- “I was racked with eternal torment” (Alma 36:12,16,17).
- “My soul was harrowed up” (Alma 36:12,17,19).
- “I did remember all my sins” (Alma 36:13).
- “I was tormented with the pains of hell” (Alma 36:13).
- “The thought of coming into the presence of God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror” (Alma 36:13).
- ”Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body” (Alma 36:14).
- He was in “the gall of bitterness” (Alma 36:18).
- He was “encircled about with the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18).
- “There could be nothing so exquisite and bitter as were my pains” (Alma 36:21).
In the midst of this agony, as Alma searched for any kind of help, he “remembered to have heard [his] father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17).
I watched a friend slide toward the precipitous edge of a high, rocky escarpment over the ocean near San Diego, the water fifty feet below whipped into a chaos of ragged rocks and waves. He went where he should not have gone, and stepped in the wrong place. In an instant he was tumbling toward the edge of the precipice, reaching out to catch hold of something—anything—that might save him. At what seemed the last possible moment, his hands found a bush that arrested his descent.
As Alma remembered all his sins, and was racked and harrowed up and tormented with that memory, he found himself tumbling toward that “everlasting gulf of misery” (see Helaman 3:29). He also reached out desperately for something—anything—that might save him. He found it. Of that moment he told Helaman that as his mind caught hold upon the thought that Jesus would come to atone for the sins of the world (see Alma 36:17). Alma reached out and caught hold.
As he told his story in Alma 36, and as he recounted it in Mosiah 27, we discover that Alma had hardly dared to hope that he could be saved from his misery. He used words like “eternal” and “everlasting” to describe his situation.
But as Alma caught hold of his father’s teachings about the atonement, and Christ, in his “great infinite goodness” (Helaman 12:1) caught hold of Alma. Alma uses a remarkable word as he recounts his conversion. He tells us that “after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death. The Lord in his mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God” Mosiah 27:28, emphasis added).
“My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity,” he tells us. “I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched and my soul is pained no more” (Mosiah 27:29).
Ammon and his brothers, who were with Alma when the angel came, reported the same life-changing experience:
“Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state? Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church. Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?” (Alma 26:17–19, emphasis added).
The word snatched, used by both Alma and Ammon, is among my favorites in all the standard works. It is a moving confirmation of the nature of Christ and his “great infinite goodness.” His willingness to come for us, to snatch us from our “awful, sinful, and polluted state” is more a matter of his goodness and love than our worthiness. Alma “caught hold” and “cried out” for mercy, and he was snatched.
President Boyd K. Packer explained this act of snatching with these words: “You need not know everything before the power of the Atonement will work for you. Have faith in Christ. It begins to work the day you ask!” (Ensign, May 1997, p. 10).
In my study of the scriptures, I have discovered a collection of scriptural testimonies of that snatching—that great infinite goodness of the Savior and of his longing to forgive us and redeem us.
- He will cast all our sins behind his back (Isaiah 38:17).
- He will hide our sins as with a thick cloud (Isaiah 44:22).
- He will cast our sins into the depth of the sea (Micah 7:19).
- He will remove our sins a far away from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
- He will not remember our sins (Jeremiah 31:34; D&C 58:42; Hebrews 10:17).
- He will never mention our sins unto us again (Ezekiel 18:21,22; Ezekiel 33:15,16).
- He will blot out our transgressions (Psalm 51:1,9; Isaiah 43:25; Acts 3:19).
- Though our sins are like crimson, they will be white as snow (Isaiah 1:17,18).
- He will freely forgive and abundantly pardon (Mosiah 26:22; Isaiah 55:7).
- And he will do these things over and over again.
- “Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (Mosiah 26:30).
The truthfulness of the prophetic testimonies above radiates from the experience of Alma. When he caught hold of the thought of the atonement and cried out for mercy, he received it. He then bore this witness.
- “I could remember my sins no more” (Alma 36:19).
- “I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more (Alma 36:19).
- ”Oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold (Alma 36:20).
- “My soul was filled with joy as exquisite as was my pain (Alma 36:20).
- “There can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:21).
- “Yea, methought I saw . . . God sitting upon his throne, surrounded by numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there” (Alma 16:22).
Just hours before, Alma was filled with inexpressible horror at the thought of coming into the presence of God, but now, after he had been snatched, after the atonement had begun to work for him, his soul longed to be in God’s presence.
How would it be possible to measure the mercy and goodness of a being willing and able to snatch Alma and all the rest of us from the pains of hell and the gall of bitterness into exquisite joy and marvelous light; to snatch us away from that “monster death and hell” (2 Nephi 9:10), to snatch us away from the everlasting edge of disaster, and invite us onto “the rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity”? (Moses 7:53).
The reality of this goodness reaches across the age and space of all of God’s creations. Christ came into morality clothed with mercy and goodness, and that “power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth” (I Nephi 1:14).
Isaiah, who was intimately acquainted with the Savior and his mission, spoke of the calling of Christ with the voice of Christ:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Suppose that you had a close friend, one who knew you and loved you, and that he was willing and able to bring good tidings to you, to mend your broken heart, to offer you liberty from every kind of captivity, to open the gates of spiritual and physical prisons, to comfort you when you mourn, give you a crown of beauty in place of the ashes of despair and grief, replace your mourning with joy, and substitute the paralyzing weight of despair with the covering of praise. How would you convey your gratitude? How could you find the right words to praise him? What would you be willing to do to honor him?
These are the things that Jesus Christ was anointed to do. These are the things that in his great infinite goodness he will do for us.
Perhaps David was reflecting on such attributes as these when he wrote, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). Surely they follow all of us. They are close at hand. They surround us. In our extremities and our anxieties, if we, like Alma, come to him and catch hold, he will extend the arm of his mercy and snatch us. As Zenos testified in the words of the Lord, “I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long” (Jacob 5:47).