Imagine standing at the bottom of a great canyon looking up at the cliff above. The cliff is so high that you cannot even see the top. Imagine that the people you love the most (your parents, grandparents, spouse, children...) are at the top of this cliff, and the only way that you will ever see them again is if you climb this cliff. In fact, your very life depends upon getting to the top of the cliff. At the bottom is a swiftly moving, muddy river, full of treacherous rapids, ready to sweep you away if you step away from the narrow bank, or if you fall from your climb.
On the other hand, you know that at the top of the cliff is not only the great joy of the reunion with your loved ones, but the most beautiful view imaginable, and the most glorious and happy existence.
Unfortunately, you are no climber. You have never tackled even a small hill before, but now there is this huge rock face before you, and no way out but up. You wonder how you ever got in such a predicament. As you look around, however, you see that there are steps, fingerholds and toeholds, cut into the rock in a stairway as steep as a ladder going straight up.
So you put your hand in one crack, and you wedge your toes in another, and you start to push yourself up. You climb and climb with all your might. The rocks are slippery, though, and your hands get scraped and sore from the rocks, sometimes you can't see the next handhold, and then you start to slip. Suddenly you realize that you are falling down, down, down, scraping all along the cliff side as you tumble down, and soon you will be in a bloody heap at the bottom.
OUR TERRIFYING FALLEN EXISTENCE
(Draw the following diagram and add to it as the lesson progresses.)
Here is the top of the cliff. Here is where you started. Here is the raging river. Here is the climbing path.
What is this diagram? It is the plan of salvation.
"The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam" (Mosiah 3:19). Ever since we entered this mortal existence, we have found ourselves at the bottom of this cliff, inches away from the raging river.
As the scene stands, there is absolutely no way to succeed. Every person who tries to climb this pathway is going to slip, or get tired, or suffer an injury, or be pulled down by someone else who is falling, or run out of handholds partway up, and they will all, every one, land in a broken heap at the bottom and be swept away to their deaths by the muddy, ferocious river.
That's not a very nice story, is it? Fortunately, there is something missing from this picture. And this brings us to the scriptures.
SOMEONE IS THERE TO SAVE US
"And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane, which was a garden; and the disciples began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy, and to complain in their hearts, wondering if this be the Messiah. And Jesus knowing their hearts, said to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him, Peter, and James, and John, and rebuked them, and said unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch" (Mark 14:36-38 JST, p. 805 in the LDS Bible Appendix).
"And he went forward a little and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him" (Mark 14:35). In the original language "prayed" here implies a repeated action; he begged several times (KBYU, "Our Savior in the Gospels" televised scripture discussions with BYU religion professors).
"And he said, Abba, Father..." "Abba (Aramaic), a child's intimate address to its Father" (Harper-Collins Study Bible). In the U.S., the equivalent would be "Daddy."
"...all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me; nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36).
"If...the Messiah and God the Father are one, how could their wills ever differ? ...As a human being [Jesus] was in every respect...tempted just as we are, the only difference being that he did not sin. 'Even though he was the Son, he learned obedience through his sufferings.' It was as a human being, not as God, that he experienced the process of learning to conform his will to his Father's will, since as God, who is omniscient, he did not need to 'learn.'" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 145-146)
Luke's version validates the idea that Jesus prayed repeatedly to have this trial removed from him. "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:42-44).
But Christ completed the trial, he conquered the foe! "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men" (D&C 19:16-19).
BACK TO THE FALL
So back to our cliff and our fall down, down, down, and our bloody hands and kness, and our bumps and bruises, and the certain death below. What could save us from this fate?
Suppose when you started the climb, you strapped on a harness.
And then suppose you clipped it with a carabiner onto a sturdy rope which was being held most securely by someone incredibly strong at the top of the cliff who was watching your every move. Then what would happen when your fingers slipped, or if the climb took more energy than you had, or if you had received an injury down by the river before you even started that made it impossible for you to climb well, or if you reached a point where you couldn't find a handhold? Would you fall to certain death? Never! Not a chance! As long as you kept your harness on and clipped to that rope, you could get right back on the rock. That person at the top of the cliff could even pull you up a little higher to a good resting spot that you couldn't have reached yourself, and then you could get more strength to keep going.
Who is that person at the top? Jesus Christ, our Savior, of course! He is the only one who made it to the top of the hill. It was unbelievably hard for him. He was bruised and bloody and broken and exhausted and filled with terrible grief and loneliness as he made this awful climb all by himself in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross of Calvary. It was a terrible task, more terrible than we can ever imagine, and he had no rope. But he did it, and who did he do it for? You and me.
(Add to the diagram, but leave the scripture off until it comes up a little bit later in the lesson.)
SAVED BY GRACE, OR SAVED BY WORKS?
When I was at a weeklong piano institute once, I was lined up with a born-again Christian roommate. She came to me late one night and said, "You are a Mormon, aren't you?" I said yes. She said that her grandmother was a Mormon. Her grandmother was the best person she knew in the whole world, the kindest, and the most Christ-like, yet once when she asked her grandmother whether she thought she was going to heaven, her grandmother said, "I don't know." She just couldn't believe that her grandma, being so good, did not know whether she qualified to go to heaven! She asked me why our religion would cause her grandmother to be uncertain about her salvation.
I understood the grandmother completely--I had felt exactly that way my whole life! Fortunately, I had just recently read Stephen E. Robinson's Ensign article, "Believing Christ," which has since been expanded into a book. The article had straightened out my understanding of the plan of salvation, and I was able to explain it to her. I only wished I could have explained it to her grandmother.
The problem was that her grandmother (along with many of us) thought she had to climb that cliff all by herself. She thought she had to do everything right, and never make a mistake, and then she might barely crawl up over the top. But every time she came across an inadequacy or a mistake, the possibility seemed less likely. She didn't understand what it meant to have faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
My roommate, however, had the opposite problem. She thought that all you had to do was grab onto that rope, declare Christ as your Savior, and he would pull you all the way with no other effort of your own.
Each of them was halfway right. It is "by grace we are saved after all we can do" (2 Ne. 25:23). (Add the scripture to the diagram.)
A MAGNIFICENT COMBINATION
Question #1--What would be wrong with a plan in which we just climb and be good and do our best without the rope?
We'll never make it!
"And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent [or all-powerful]" (Mosiah 3:17).
The steps do not go all the way to the top for us. No matter how strong we are, no matter how righteous we are, no matter how hard we try, we can never get to the top on our own merits.
Question #2--What would be wrong with a plan in which we just accept Christ as our Savior, grab onto the rope, and let him pull us all the way to the top?
What happens to your legs when you climb? They get stronger.
What happens to your heart when you try your very hardest? It expands.
What happens when you hike instead of ride? You have all kinds of wonderful experiences and you see all kinds of wonderful things.
What happens when you try every day to climb like Christ climbed and live like he lived and love like he loved? You become more like him.
If you were just "beamed up," like on the old TV series "Star Trek," there would not be much point in the journey, would there?
To get to know Christ through prayer and scripture study and repentance and belief and trust and the testimony of the Holy Ghost while you obey the commandments and keep your covenants and serve your neighbors--That is how you use the rope and the stair.
So, to validate these concepts, let's turn to the scriptures and remind ourselves of the definition of Eternal Life. "...to believe in [Jesus Christ]..." (take hold of the rope) "...and to endure to the end..." (keep climbing the ladder) "...which is Eternal Life" (2 Ne. 33:4).
THE SCOPE OF THE ATONEMENT
How far does the power of the Atonement extend?
Some people have been hurt by someone at the bottom of the cliff who should have been helping them. Maybe even their parents mistreated them. Now they are so damaged that they can hardly climb at all, and none of it is really their fault. Is there any hope for them?
Some people are trying their best, but they just keep slipping up. Each day they think they will be kind and loving and patient and exercise self-control, and every day they mess up again and blow up at their family members, or gossip about their neighbors, or treat their coworkers meanly, or return to their addiction. Is there any hope for them?
Some people have gotten sick or injured partway up the stair, or maybe they were born with a defect. Maybe they got cancer or they were hurt in a terrible car wreck or they have been afflicted by a mental illness, and now they are so sad and discouraged and overwhelmed, they cannot even see the next step. Is there any hope for them?
Some people had good, kind parents, and family home evening, and scripture study every day, and partway up the path, they just got distracted by something down below and decided they would rather go swimming in the river or play on the beach than climb the cliff. Is there any hope for them?
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
"Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth..." (2 Ne. 26:25).
OTHER KINDS OF SORROWS
"Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5).
There are many types of sorrow. It is wonderful that, through the Atonement, we can be forgiven of the stupid sins we commit, but the Atonement wipes away other types of tears, too. Elder Bruce C. Hafen in his marvelous article, "Beauty For Ashes," in the April 1990 Ensign, wrote that "the degree of our personal fault for bad things that happen in our lives [is on] a continuum ranging from sin to adversity; the degree of our fault dropping from high at one end of the spectrum to zero at the other."
Elder Hafen writes, "Bitterness may taste the same, whatever its source, and it can destroy our peace, break our hearts, and separate us from God."
The purpose of the Atonement is to reunite us with God. So which of these sorrows can the Atonement compensate for? Every one of them! (Circle the whole chart.) Elder Hafen continues, "[The Atonement] is the healing power not only for sin, but also for carelessness, inadequacy, and all mortal bitterness. The Atonement is not just for sinners."
WE ALL CAN REACH THE TOP
Jesus Christ can and will save anyone who will leave the world at the bottom of the cliff, get baptized, and begin the climb of obedience and covenant-keeping the best they can, and repent and pray and love with all their hearts and conform their will to his and rely on the rope of the Atonement to help them and lift them each and every step of the way.
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip. 4:13).
"Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:28-31).
You may want to close the lesson with a soloist or the class singing "I Stand All Amazed" or "Come Unto Jesus."