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Cover Image: I Am by Simon Dewey.
This is a companion piece to celebrate Easter to the recent article “The Lord’s Touch is a Symbol of the Atonement.”
One of the tenderest moments in scripture is the story of the prodigal son, who, having left home to pursue wild times, finally finds himself, instead, starving and degraded to eating husks with the swine. When at last he “came to himself” he turns his face home again.
What is so noteworthy here is that in that journey back, while he is “yet a great way off” his father “ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). How could there be a kinder, more tender, more meltingly forgiving embrace than this one? All the longing of a fond parent was poured into this moment with a son who hardly deserved such compassion.
This, father, of course, represents the Lord. Think of the level of rejection this parent had faced.
In requesting his inheritance the boy had essentially said, “You are as good as dead to me. I discard your teachings, your honor, your name, any life with you. “Then, in a fit of entitlement, he says, “I demand that you give me my inheritance.”
Did the father have to sell part of his business or his land to grant this inheritance? Did he impact his own security in doing this? We are not told, but certainly in every way this father’s dignity had been impinged. Add to that the years of agonizing worry he had experienced wondering how his son fared. The injury and rejection was certainly a mountain high.
We are not told how the father knew that the son had turned his face back home or where he was in his return journey when he ran to greet him. It could have been others who passed the word along. Or perhaps the father was so keyed into the boy that he ‘just knew.’ Either way, this running while the son was still a great way off speaks volumes about the depth of his love. No indignity or prior offense stopped the father from running to his repentant son. No indiscretion or riotous living had quenched the father’s love. He fell on his neck to embrace him because being the father he was, he could not do otherwise.
A Touch is a Personal Thing
It is the love of the Lord this story teaches, a God who falls upon us who are all sinners, with an embrace when we come home to him. This is a God who touches us rather than remain in some distant heaven, far away.
The Lord’s touch is individual, meant for us personally. One can hardly touch a crowd. No matter how many children He has, He is still able to touch us one at a time where we are. What’s more, though, his is a customized touch. It is meant just for us–for you–to soothe the pain and weariness that all of us carry. It is a touch of relief and knowledge.
He Lets us Touch Him
Though in an earlier article I discussed how the Lord touches us, it is just as compelling to realize that He also allows the reverse. He let’s us touch Him! This personal, connecting touch goes both directions.
We see examples of literal touching in scripture. The woman from Capernaum who had had an issue of blood 12 years decided to actually reach out and touch the hem of his garment hoping for healing. Her touch, and more, her agonizing condition, penetrated His being. He felt her touch as he perceived that virtue (or power) had gone out of Him. She was healed from that very hour.
Again, the people in the New World were invited to come and touch him one by one. This is not a small commitment or passage of time when you consider that 2500 people were present—each with a personal invitation to come and touch him. “The multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth” (3 Nephi 11:15).
More than Just a Literal Touching
That the Lord can be touched by us is not only literal. It is also meant in much larger terms that is captured in this scripture, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
He is touched by our pain, our longing, yearning hearts. He is touched by our weakness our cries in the night. He is touched by our infirmities.
As Elder David A. Bednar said, “There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first.”
This is not meant in some general way. He has traveled where you’ve traveled. In fact, in some way we don’t fully understand, since time is all present before God, he got there before you. He has felt the pain, the heartrending pangs of every separate man, woman and child.
There are those who might cry out—how can the Lord allow the pain of this world? How can He stand to send a young man to war, watch a woman be tortured or a helpless child abused? Where is He when the cancer patient cries out in desperate pain or a young wife loses her husband? Where is He when the depressed cry or the mourning grieve? How can He watch us writhe before rejection and failure or size up our entire life as a disappointment? What does he know of bipolar mood swings or mental breakdowns? Can he possibly get the anguish of the abandoned wife, the empty arms of the infertile? How can He comprehend the scarred face of a burn victim, the innocence blasted of the molested?
Oh, how we have nothing to teach Him of any of this. Every place we’ve been He went in advance. Though the atonement took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross two thousand years ago, in some way we don’t understand it is also very present. He sent Himself already into our lives and knows of every injustice we’ve endured, every weakness we’ve cried about, every sin that became addictive.
When we are in the midst of any of the many trials that rock our world, the illness that eats away our body or the sin that robs us of our wholeness, He has been there with us. He has let out entire experience already touch Him so that He in turn could reach out and touch us.
As author Shalissa Lyndsey says, “God hasn’t forgotten how much it hurts. In a sense He is still feeling it all.”
This gives new meaning to Psalm 139: “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O lord, thou knowest it altogether.”
How could He know all these things so intimately and personally? When did he search me and know me? In one way, it is because He is omniscient. He knows all things. But in a more personal way, it is actually because He has felt all things with us. He has lived our lives with us in that Garden of Gethsemane—every paltry and tedious moment and every anguish and agonizing cry, every dark or selfish thought, every time we gave in to being less than we are.
Sometimes when we are pained, we are tempted to shake our fist at the Lord and scream out, “Why don’t you just relieve me?” We are tempted to think He is stingy with his blessings. It is in these moments that we are blind. We have scales upon our eyes. He is there in the Garden, having felt it with us, so that He can perfectly heal us in the right time and in the right way. He is our only total companion in the darkness—our only companion because no one else will ever entirely know how we feel.
This mortal life with its burdens must have been necessary for us in ways we cannot now completely see because the Lord Himself allowed this collective agony to come upon Him that he might succor each individual in their times of need. What a generous God to walk with us on this path. What a kind Savior to endure all things to the point of being “sore amazed” that I never be alone. How can I say how much I love Him?
Several years ago, our oldest daughter, Melissa, died unexpectedly. Our world came crashing down and my grief felt boundless, an infinite sinkhole in my soul. When I cried on my pillow and shouted at the night, I felt something also profound.
Because we lead tours to Israel every year, I have spent many hours in Gethsemane, contemplating the Savior’s atonement. What I never knew, all that time, was that when he suffered there, He was already suffering for my aching, seemingly impenetrable grief, taking it upon Himself so that He could perfectly heal me.
My grief was not impenetrable. He penetrated it. This grief He knew for me, long before I knew it for myself. All those times I had been in Gethsemane, I didn’t know He had already felt something there for me that I could not have imagined. Yet in those hours and hours of tears, I could feel Him with me. I hungered for the words of solace that so many kind friends sent. I lapped up the love that was shed upon us from neighbors. But only Christ was entirely there with me. He had been all along.
I celebrate a Savior who reaches out and touches me. I rejoice in a Savior who also lets everything about my life and circumstances touch Him. The atonement has forever connected us. For all of us, every day is Easter.
Irene BlackMarch 24, 2023
This article really touched me as I have just experienced losing a sweetheart of 55 years to a terrible disease. The savior is the answer to our grief. Maureen your gift is in touching others with your writing. Thank you!
Irene BlackMarch 24, 2023
One of the best articles ever on the atonement. You helped me understand why my husband had to suffer so much during his battle with Parkinson’s disease . You have helped me through the grief of his passing. Our Savior is the answer to our pain. Thank you Sister Procter. You have a gift to touch others through your words.