A Physical Symbol of the Atonement

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(This is an excerpt from the book The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister.)

This reconciliation between God and man is figuratively and literally symbolized by an embrace. Lehi alluded to this in his dying sermon to his sons: “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).

The Doctrine and Covenants suggests the same imagery: “Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love” (D&C 6:20).

Amulek preached in like fashion: “Mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety” (Alma 34:16). What a beautiful metaphor. What child does not feel safety in the arms of his kind and loving father? What peace, what warmth, what reassurance, to know that in his arms he is safe from crime, anger, rejection, loneliness, and all the ills of this world.

Isaiah spoke of those tender moments when the Lord would “gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom” (Isaiah 40:11).

Elder Orson F. Whitney experienced such a glorious moment when he saw a marvelous manifestation of the Savior. In his dream, he said, “I ran [to meet Him] . . . , fell at his feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with him. I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped, raised me up, and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real. I felt the very warmth of his body, as He held me in his arms.” Who would not long for that warmth, that embrace?

Who among us will be safely encircled in those arms of love? Are there a chosen few reserved for this honor? Alma lets it be known there is no exclusionary policy: “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them” (Alma 5:33; see also 2 Nephi 26:25–33). That is what the Savior told the Nephites at the time of his appearance: “Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive” (3 Nephi 9:14). Such an invitation was not for a brief moment alone, but for our entire probationary period. Nephi understood: “I [the Lord] will be merciful unto them, . . . for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long” (2 Nephi 28:32; see also 3 Nephi 10:6). Even in God’s moments of anger, his arms are stretched out still, anxiously enticing the repentant soul.

The Savior spoke to Enoch of that glorious day of reconciliation for the righteous when He said, “We will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other” (Moses 7:63). It is hard to visualize a more glorious reunion than that.

In retrospect, Mormon agonized over the inevitable fate of the fast-decaying Nephite civilization: “O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!” (Mormon 6:17). It was almost more than he could bear. If they had only repented “they might have been clasped in the arms of Jesus” (Mormon 5:11); they might have been “encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love” (Alma 26:15).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell suggests that the prime reason the Savior personally acts as the gatekeeper of the celestial kingdom is not to exclude people, but to personally welcome and embrace those who have made it back home. It is a touching, intimate thought, expressed as follows:

“If there is any imagery upon which I would focus as I close, it is two scriptures from the Book of Mormon. The one in which we are reminded that Jesus himself is the gatekeeper and that ‘he employeth no servant there.’ (2 Nephi 9:41.) . . . I will tell you . . . out of the conviction of my soul . . . what I think the major reason is [why he ‘employeth no servant there’], as contained in another Book of Mormon scripture which says he waits for you ‘with open arms.’ (Mormon 6:17.) That’s why he’s there! He waits for you ‘with open arms.’ That imagery is too powerful to brush aside. . . . It is imagery that should work itself into the very center core of one’s mind— a rendezvous impending, a moment in time and space, the likes of which there is none other. And that rendezvous is a reality. I certify that to you. He does wait for us with open arms, because his love of us is perfect.”

Contemplate for a moment the magnetic pull when a little child sees her father on bended knee with arms extended. The invitation is irresistible. The reaction to return is automatic. There is no intellectual analysis. It is like reaching for a blanket in cold weather, turning on the light in a dark room. Some things are not mind- driven, but heart- prompted.

These are natural yearnings of the soul— the need for warmth, light, and love. Likewise, our Father in Heaven is extending his arms with the intent to entice us home. How irresistible those arms are to those who seek his warmth, his light, and his love. He invites us to the day of reconciliation, the return to our true home, the day of reunification with our primeval family; he invites us to run to his arms and bask in his embrace. This was the Lord’s promise to the children of Israel: “I will redeem you with a stretched out arm. . . . And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exodus 6:6–7).

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