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June 2008

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God Dragged Before Another Earthly Tribunal


A study in Nature magazine reported that the number of scientists who believe in a personal God has diminished over recent decades. In a new book, Duke University philosophy professor Owen Flanagan (2002) has stated the atheistic conclusion rather expansively: “There simply are no good arguments—theological, philosophical, humanistic or scientific—for beliefs in divine beings, miracles or heavenly afterlives.”

Those of us who have been around for some decades are dismayed to find God dragged before another earthly tribunal. Each generation poses the question of God afresh and each answers it according to its own sensibilities and assumptions. Some day it will be clear how presumptuous our provincial questions and minimizing pronouncements have been.

In the meantime, it seems fair to observe that our standard scientific processes for taking God’s measure are limited and biased. When we set up the rules of inquiry, we also foreordain the outcome. The dullest attorney knows the importance of controlling what evidence is entered in a court of law. Control the evidence and you control the conclusion. Likewise in the philosophical court of theology. When we decide what we will accept as evidence, we decide what our conclusion will be.

There is an interesting assumption in skepticism, an assumption that God, if He existed and wanted to be acknowledged, would want to be discovered by scientific methods. Let’s reflect on that assumption. Is it likely that our Heavenly Father wants to be approached through the scientific method? The assumption has merit if we believe that God’s primary concern is cultivating systematic inquiry—if we believe that God’s highest priority is rewarding cognitive complexity.

If, however, God’s primary interest is in cultivating compassion, humility, and faith, the trail of clues that lead to God are likely to be found on a very different path. If God is real, He will choose to be found on His own terms, which terms will be based on the qualities He wants to cultivate.

Rather than see the lack of scientific evidence about God’s existence as supporting a contention that He does not exist, I see any dearth of clues on the mortal crime scene as evidence of His profound regard for agency. The God who created the world chooses not to leave obvious evidence lying around in a manner that cannot be ignored. He wants us to be able to choose to believe or disbelieve without any intimidation or heavy-handedness.

In contrast, consider Saddam Hussein. I have not been to Iraq but, judging from media images, it appears that (before the invasion of Iraq in 2003), a picture could not be taken of the landscape anywhere in the country without getting a billboard, poster, statue, or bust of Saddam Hussein in it. His commanding image was ubiquitous. He retained armies and police to assure social order—as he defined it. And, when free and open elections were held, he was the only candidate.

The One who reigns over eternity is very different from Saddam. His divine imprint is subtly displayed in the visages of friends and family who are being transformed by Him. God employs no police but He has always provided an inner voice and official inviters—priesthood messengers—who beckon us to enjoy the blessings of obedience. In the elections of daily life, our ballots are littered with options, from secular humanism to atheism, from Buddhism to Shintoism, from Catholicism to Christian Science, from indifference to extremism.
God is not an insecure and demanding autocrat who insists on being obeyed. He is a Father who deigns to bless, teach, and enlarge us (see D&C 38:18 and 124:42). He knows that He honors our agency and ministers to our growth when He invites us to use our own agency and discernment.

Glenn Tinder has stated the case for human intellectual modesty much more eloquently than I can:

Perhaps discussions of religion would be more fruitful if we could rid ourselves of the assumption, common among Christians and practically universal among non-Christians, that God (if God exists) is simple-minded. We readily grant that a great writer such as Joyce or Proust is infinitely subtle and resourceful in fashioning a novel; but we assume that in fashioning human history God will be heavy-handed and obvious. Accordingly, some believers conclude that they know exactly what God has in mind and, vested with high office, could provide him with some much needed help. . . . In a parallel way unbelievers conclude that they know what God would do if he existed, and that since those things are not being done, he does not exist (The Atlantic, 265(3), March 1990, p.12).

Many of us find intriguing hints and harmonies in areas of science that suggest that the force behind the world is wise, good, and effective. When I took an astronomy class as a physics student, I felt that I saw the face of God on the elegant universe He created. More recently I have been amazed that, as our science in the realm of human relationships has improved, the conclusions have gotten closer and closer to the observations and recommendations of scripture. But it is not in the realms of science that I seek assurance of His reality.

For those of us who have chosen to seek him primarily on non-scientific paths and who feel that we have discovered encouraging signs of His existence and well being, the productive question is, “What can I do that will make my seeking more productive?” I think the first principles and ordinances of the gospel provide the guides. Those first principles seem also to be the second, third, and fourth principles of progress. They guide us from childhood to the end of mortality.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ comes first. It is the gift from our souls to him that testifies that we yearn for a relationship with the divine. God will not come and club us into submission. He will not compel us with a mountain of scientific data. He invites us. Ultimately we decide to try the personal experiment of trust or to resist it. If we are too proud or too independent to want a relationship with Him, we will not have one. He honors our choice while continuing to reach for us. His hand is stretched out still.

William James, the famous Harvard psychologist, observed that, “just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn—so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all, might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods’ acquaintance” (Fosdick, 1918, p. 9).

God asks that we enter into the spiritual experiment by trusting him—by showing faith. Even in that fundamental requirement He accepts baby steps, even good intentions—even a desire to believe—as an authentic first step in the journey of faith (Alma 32:27).

The fruits of faith are repentance. Having taken steps toward His way of thinking, we agree to test His way of living. We must do His will if we want to know the truth of the doctrine (John 7:17). Progressively we give His will and His purposes greater place in our lives. Having offered our minds to Him, we next bring our acts. Repentance is the evidence that we are serious about our spiritual investigations.

In our standard list of the principles and ordinances of the gospel, baptism and confirmation come next. Those washing and cleansing functions are marks of the transformation, the indescribable change that replaces the worldly in us with the divine. That spiritual process that makes us gentler and kinder may be mistaken for the effects of aging to those who are uninformed or uninitiated. For those who have felt that distinctive (and welcome!) change, it is much more than aging. It is the most serene of God’s miracles. It is a process that is repeated thousands of times as we progressively rid ourselves of the natural man to make room within us for the disciple.

As part of the vision of the tree of life, Nephi was quizzed by an angel: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi gave a wise and inspired reply: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:16–17). Even in our finest, most inspired moments we cannot comprehend God’s incalculable condescension. But we may sense that it is sure testimony of His love for us. He descended below all things that He might lift us above all things. The evidence of His good will contract is the subtle expanding of our souls. That subtle change of heart is hard to weigh in an earthly balance. It cannot be used to compel belief in others. Yet it is a welcome whisper of eternal hope for any who have felt it.

Joseph Smith, that remarkable messenger of heaven, observed that “good doctrine . . . tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; . . . You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 355).

Science rightly holds an honored place in this world. It helps us discover the regularities that are woven into natural law. It helps us live more comfortable lives. Yet a scientific orientation might reduce any statement about the sweetness of honey to a chemical and biological formula. Science cannot adequately describe (or create) the subtle growing process of the soul that God directs. That process is as subtle as a breeze and as elusive as a neutrino.

In the laboratory of life, those who have followed His lab instructions and have tasted His love know that it is sweet beyond any description. They know He is real and, more important, He is good.

References:

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1918). The meaning of faith. NY: Association Press. [Recommended]

Owen Flanagan (2002). The problem of the soul: Two visions of mind and how to reconcile them. New York: Basic Books. [Not necessarily recommended.]

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Three Principles that Change Everything*


It is human nature to look for the Magic Formula. Most of us are on the prowl for something that will change everything, making us slimmer, happier, richer, and more effective.

God has given us three keys. They change everything.

Vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ changes our understanding of everything.

Sister Francine Bennion tells a story that continues to bless my life:

For the Dominion Day celebration in July, my parents and some friends arranged to meet in the afternoon for a picnic at Park Lake. My family and two others arrived first. Camp kitchens were filling fast, and we needed a stove for hamburgers and hotdogs. The men stayed at the entrance of the park to meet our other friends, and under a darkening sky the mothers and children walked some distance round the lake to a three-walled rectangular shelter complete with roof, two wooden tables, and a metal-covered cement stove for wood fires. A violent thunderstorm came up, splits and rumbles shaking the universe and us with light, sound, and finally a deluge. Under the sheltering roof we huddled in wonder, till an astonishing clap of brilliance, tingle, shaking, and smell came all together: lightning down the chimney and exploded our stove. Pieces of cement flew into bare arms, children were thrown against walls, purple-brown lines streaked down necks to ankles, and I ran out into rain and tall wet weeds screaming my question: “I thought Heavenly Father would take care of us?”

Let me interrupt Sister Bennion’s story. Often we humans ask ourselves “Why doesn’t He fix this or prevent that?” We face disappointments and pain. Anger grows, bitterness rules, faith wilts. Satan encourages our growing despair.

Continuing with her story:

No one was dead or permanently damaged, and my mother came into the rain answering me, “What do you think He did?” (p.108 in Bennion, Francine (1986). A large and reasonable context. In P. L. Barlow (Ed.), A thoughtful faith: Essays on belief by Mormon scholars, pp.103-116, Centerville, UT: Canon Press.)

I love the mother’s question! It suggests that, even in difficulties, God is protecting us from disaster. He is only allowing enough trials through to remind us of our desperate need for Him. Through the eyes of faith we see that God is providing exactly the challenges and blessings needed to perfect me.

We may shake our fists at heaven or we may thank Father for protecting us, blessing us, and teaching us!

In thousands of ways, Life blesses AND challenges us. Nancy and I have suffered unnumbered miscarriages. Some struggle with involuntary singleness. Some wrestle with same-sex attraction. Some are plagued by too much sexual attraction. Some are feeling the effects of poor parenting, dyslexia, chemical imbalance . . . we cannot number all the challenges that face the occupants of earth. What is certain is that each of us has different and customized challenges.

The faith that will help us turn the challenges into blessings is not thin, flavorless gruel. Faith is sterner stuff. It is the stubborn resolve to see God’s goodness in everything that happens. When God invites us to “receive all things with thankfulness” (D&C 78:19), I’m sure He is inviting us to welcome even the difficulties of life. They are designed to bless us—which we will only comprehend as we see them through the eyes of faith.

Repentance changes our relationships with God and His children . . . and prepares us for the great change!

I’m embarrassed to remember all the unkind things I did as a child. I teased my sister and tormented my brother. I snuck candy and Jell-O powder from the pantry. Of course I worked very hard to avoid detection of my misdeeds. If caught, Mom might put me in timeout. When she caught me saying something smart-alecky, she applied cayenne pepper to my tongue. (An unintended side-effect is that I love Mexican food!)

I thought of repentance as nasty and embarrassing business. The mark of success was to get what you wanted without being caught. I wish I had understood repentance as taught by a reactivated and re-energized Amulek:

And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. (Alma 34:15)

“Faith unto repentance.” The phrase used to bother me. I did not understand it. Now I love it! I think it means that we trust God enough to bring our messed-up lives to Him. Rather than hide from Him, we run to Him asking for cleansing and renewal.

Continuing with Amulek:

And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you. (Alma 34:16-17)

Alma was a great model of repenting (See Mosiah 27 and Alma 36). He shows us that repentance is not a dreary, miserable business; it is liberating!

God has gone so far as to institutionalize repentance. He invites us to a weekly rendezvous with Him at the sacrament table. In partaking of the sacrament we enter into covenant. We renew the sacred pledge made at baptism.

God invites us to come boldly to the throne of grace so that we can find mercy and grace to help in time of need (See Hebrews 4:16). The 20 minutes during which we sing His praises and renew our covenants may be the most important minutes of our lives! That is when we repent and are renewed by Him. What a glorious invitation! Our weeks should revolve around that sacred opportunity to be renewed. We should run to His open arms weekly.

The Holy Ghost teaches us truth, burns out sin, and facilitates the great change: making us new creatures in Christ.

I have a letter from 1892 that my great-grandfather Ben wrote to his son while serving a 3 ½ year mission to the Maori people of New Zealand. In the letter Ben writes words of love and counsel to his 12-year-old son. I cherish that yellowed and brittle letter among my most prized possessions. It hangs in a shadowbox on the wall of my office.

I have wondered whether I cherish messages from heaven as faithfully as I do the aged letter between my ancestors. When God sends a message to me by way of His Holy Spirit, do I pay careful attention to it? Do I record it? Do I reflect on its meaning? Do I make my decisions and guide my life by it?

Pres Eyring in his great General Conference talk “O Remember, Remember” offered a challenging invitation:

Tonight, and tomorrow night, you might pray and ponder, asking the questions: Did God send a message that was just for me? Did I see His hand in my life or the lives of my [friends and family]? I will do that. And then I will find a way to preserve that memory for the day that I, and those that I love, will need to remember how much God loves us and how much we need Him. I testify that He loves us and blesses us, more than most of us have yet recognized. I know that is true, and it brings me joy to remember Him. (Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 66–69)

I keep a little journal with me all the time in which I make a note of heavenly whisperings. I don’t record routine doings. This journal is reserved for the things of my soul.

I find that God teaches me more and more as I better use what He has already given me. “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30)

One of the great tributes to God’s redemptiveness is the reality that, when the Holy Ghost visits us, He not only teaches us, He comforts us, and He cleanses us! Just as we might have expected of a messenger from God: He magnifies His calling to bless us in every way imaginable!

The three “simple” principles that we learned in Primary can change us in adulthood. The first principles are also the last principles. And the everywhere-in-between principles. They are principles with the power to help us deal with any challenge in mortality. We trust his never-failing goodness. We allow His peace to fill us. We turn our pains, failings, and disappointments over to Him. We welcome His counsel. We embrace His purposes.

God has given us the magic formula that changes everything.

* This article is a revision of a talk given to a YSA gathering in American Fork on June 7, 2008.

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Enduring to the End of Garbage


“And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (D&C 20:29).

While I was serving as a branch president some years ago, a young returned missionary in the branch made an appointment to see me. He wanted to renew his temple recommend but confessed a bothersome sin. He had done everything he could think of to overcome it. With youthful optimism, I joined him in support of his effort to overcome the sin. We made a plan to strengthen him spiritually. We fasted together. We considered and changed those circumstances that made him vulnerable. We arranged for him to get a father’s blessing. We did everything we could think of—but the troublesome behavior persisted. I was fully convinced that he was earnest—even intense—in his effort. But we seemed to be making no progress.

I assumed I could not issue a recommend as long as he had any problems with that behavior. He was discouraged. I was discouraged. The story was not following the standard script. Spiritual exertions are supposed to be rewarded with steady progress. What could we do?

A new way of thinking

I think I would handle the situation differently today. I would do all of the things that I described. But, with permission of the Spirit, I would not wait until the behavior was fully conquered to move forward. I would turn our focus away from the problems to the positives in his spiritual life. I would ask the young man about his experiences with the Spirit. Is he feeling the Spirit in his life? Is he being taught from on high? Is he feeling the goodness of God?

In spite of our most determined efforts to root them out, some thorns in the flesh may last a long time–maybe a lifetime. That failure to conquer may not be a failure at all. Maybe resisting evil, without fully overcoming it, is a part of what enduring to the end is about.

Many of us who hope for steady improvement in ourselves get discouraged, self-blaming, and despairing as a result of our lack of progress. When habits and weaknesses persist, we give up on ourselves spiritually. Yet maybe enduring to the end does not mean that the last vestige of fallenness will be removed in mortality. Maybe it means that we continue to resist evil. If that is true, those who have ever felt discouraged by the tenacious hold of a bad habit or weakness can take hope.

Surely it is true that we should draw on good sense, determination, faith, and priesthood power. But some of us may have thorns in the flesh that persist despite our spiritual exertions. Paul grieved: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me” (2 Cor. 12:8). Yet the trouble persisted. But wise Paul turned it to his spiritual benefit. He transformed his dismay with his own limitations into rejoicing in the Lord’s power.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I do not presume that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a moral weakness. But I believe that the God who gives us weakness in order to make us humble (Ether 12:27), may continue to administer His unique humility medicine for a lifetime. Our persistent weaknesses and failings can be a continuing reminder of our dependence upon God. They can energize our humility.

Enduring is resisting evil

Telestiality is a stubborn malady. Maybe that young man’s valiant struggle, together with the clear activity of the Spirit in his life, are indicators that he should have had a temple recommend. Clearly I am in no position to set policy for the Church. Yet I believe that I may too often take overt behavior as the primary indicator of spiritual progress when the activity of the Spirit may be a surer indicator. Stephen Robinson observes that “if we experience the gifts of the Spirit or the influence of the Holy Ghost, we can know that we are in the covenant relationship, for the gifts and companionship of the Holy Ghost are given to none else” (Robinson, 1992, p. 94).

If I were that young man’s bishop today, I would ask the Lord for permission to grant him a recommend, not because he had overcome all weakness but because he was humble—because he was seeking the Lord and His goodness with all his heart—as manifest by the young man’s experiences with the Spirit.

President David O. McKay observed that “not a few of us have a thorn in the flesh as did Paul. Perhaps to some of us a dead leaf of some past act is clinging. It may be that there is a little dirt in our character, but each one has also a rose in his life, a hawthorn twig, or a lily. And it is a glorious lesson for us to learn: to see the rose and be blind to the thorn; to see the hawthorn twig and he blind to the dead leaf; to see the lily and not the dirt in our fellow’s character” (Conference Report, October 1967, p.8).

Down in the dumps

To use a metaphor rather more vulgar than President McKay’s, mortality is somewhat like a lifespan at the garbage dump. Disorder and stench are everywhere. We are wise not to believe that the odors are the indicators of character; those foul smells remind us that we inhabit a place where we are all bedeviled by our weakness and burdened by fetid shortcomings. The smell around mortals is not a measure of character but a reminder that this world is not our true home. Maybe it is a person’s noblest moments, those times when character shines through all that garbage, that give us the truest measure of character.

Let us not be discouraged by the persistent and bothersome odor of mortality. As Harry Emerson Fosdick reminds us, “What a King stoops to pick up from the mire cannot be a brass farthing, but must be a pearl of great price.”

He has stooped down to this mortal garbage dump for you and me. He intends to rescue and cleanse us if we will keep reaching for him to the end.

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Coming Home in a Pine Box


At various times and in various places I have heard it said that it would be better for a person to come home in a pine box than to come home unclean.

Marion G. Romney reported that his father said the following to him just as he was boarding the train to go on a mission: “My son, you are going a long way from home. Your mother and I, and your brothers and sisters, will be with you constantly in our thoughts and prayers; we shall rejoice with you in your successes, and we shall sorrow with you in your disappointments. When you are released and return, we shall be glad to greet you and welcome you back into the family circle. But remember this, my son: we would rather come to this station and take your body off the train in a casket than to have you come home unclean, having lost your virtue.”

This is one of those statements that can be inspiring or evil–depending on how one understands it.

One way to understand the statement

If, by the statement, we mean that sin is worse than death, then it is in defiance of everything Jesus said and did. He was the One who cherished the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee. He was the One who left the 99 to reclaim the one. He was and is the friend of publicans and sinners. He is the One who paid an infinite and eternal price so that He could reclaim all of us from our sins.

A different way of understanding the statement

If, by the statement, we mean that choosing a life of sin is more miserable than suffering death, then we are right. Wickedness never was happiness. It is always ugly and miserable. Satan glamorizes sin. But he is a liar from the beginning. Sin is always a downer. That is a timely and timeless message.

But let’s return to the first interpretation, the troubling one. If God believed that sinning was the ultimate awfulness, He would not have sent us to this place where sin is inevitable. The fact is that learning and growth are more important than cleanliness. So God sent us to a dirty place where all sin and come short of the glory of God. But He didn’t do it because He was indifferent to sin. He sent us here in order to facilitate our growth. And, knowing that we would become soiled by our mortality, He provided a Savior for us so that we can return to be with Him.

The ugliness of sin

None of this recommends a careless attitude toward sin. Most of us hate it, resist it, and cry out for mercy. We do all we can to avoid it. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1918) expressed the disciple’s attitude toward sin better than I can:

[Man] wallows in vice, wins by cruelty, violates love, is treacherous to trust.  His sins clothe the world in lamentation.  Yet in him is a protest…He hates his sin even while he commits it.  He repents, tries again, falls, rises, stumbles on–and in all his best hours cries out for saviorhood.  (The Meaning of Faith, pp.19-20).

In spite of our hatred of sin, only One in the long history of this world and its billions of inhabitants has been entirely successful in avoiding it. The rest of us have been tainted. We have only one way to be clean. We throw ourselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save.

While Satan would like us to feel that our sins and mistakes make life worse than death, Jesus invites us learn from our experience and be made holy by His redemptiveness. Without hope in Christ “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Can I ever be worthy?

A friend of mine shared a vital experience.A youth at the detention center really impressed me.  He helped the other kids with finding verses in the scriptures.  He volunteered to play the piano and was very familiar with the hymns.  Every indication was that he was a fine well-trained Latter-day Saint.  All the while, though, he was glum and downhearted and refused to participate in discussions.  Finally, I was able, after several tries, to persuade him to have a one-on-one visit. I felt prompted to tell him my story [of addiction and recovery].  He wept and wept and wept.  When he finally regained his composure he told me of his very similar story.  Only his was worse.  Worse, in that his adoptive parents, who had loved and trained and kept him from the time he was three years old, had rejected him for his sin and refused to allow him back into their home.  The poor young man was laboring under the impression that he’d never serve a mission, be married in the Temple or be worthy of anyone’s love ever again–things he had longed for all of his life.  I guess his parents would rather he came home in a pine box too.   I bore testimony to him that he could be clean and whole and utterly acceptable to the Lord and His church.  He went on his way rejoicing to a foster home [elsewhere in the state]. I pray his new family will help him along his way.  I’m confident he’ll make it now that he knows of the power of the Redeemer.

The bright hope of Jesus

The testimony of scripture and the chorus of brethren must not be swamped by a misunderstanding. The price in pain and hopelessness would be an insult to the Redeemer.

“Is it possible to reclaim a life that through reckless abandon has become so strewn with garbage that it appears that the person is unforgivable? Or what about the one who is making an honest effort but has fallen back into sin so many times that he feels that there is no possible way to break the seemingly endless pattern? Or what about the person who has changed his life but just can’t forgive himself? . . .”The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to each of us. His Atonement is infinite. It applies to everyone, even you. It can clean, reclaim, and sanctify even you. That is what infinite means–total, complete, all, forever.” (Shayne M. Bowen, “The Atonement Can Clean, Reclaim, and Sanctify Our Lives,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 33-3)

When we habitually understate the meaning of the Atonement, we take more serious risks than simply leaving one another without comforting reassurances—for some may simply drop out of the race, worn out and beaten down with the harsh and untrue belief that they are just not celestial material. (pp. 5-6 Bruce C. Hafen, 1989, The broken heart. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book)

There is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the Atonement of Christ. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 19)

We must not succumb to the false doctrine that our ability to sin exceeds His ability to redeem. We must not tell ourselves that we have fallen so badly that He can’t pick us up—or doesn’t want to pick us up. And we must not communicate that hopeless message to any of His children.

He descended below all things so that He can lift us above all things. He bore every sin and indignity so that He can lift us out of them. He is not surprised to find that we, like children who were all washed and dressed for church, have wandered off and found the mud. Time and again, He washes us off and points us toward the sacred.
It is clear that we must cheerfully do all we are able to do as we go through our earthly experience–but it will not be enough. We all must turn to Christ for cleansing, healing, and sacralizing. Only He can make us what He is.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:20)