Every man for himself!
In this Church, we take seriously God’s command to watch out for each other “both temporally and spiritually.” We contribute fast offerings. We clean yards. We
home and visit teach, ahem, minister to each other. We know that it is our duty to be our brother’s keeper and that we must work together as wards, stakes, quorums, classes, and families to assist in the work of salvation. “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.”
Given that doctrine and strong tradition of community support and brotherly concern, I was surprised the other day when I opened the Book of Mormon and found the phrase “every man for himself.” And it was used to describe, of all people, the righteous Nephites at the time of Christ’s first visit.
Why in the world would that phrase ever be attributed to the most blessed generation in all the Book of Mormon? After all, “they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” What were they possibly doing that could ever be described in such selfish, fatalistic terms as “every man for himself?” Mormon records:
And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself.
Salvation is an individual matter
You see what I’m getting at here. Christ didn’t invite the Twelve to come see Him and then go tell everyone else. Each person got the opportunity to come and witness Him for themselves. It was an individual invitation, and an individual responsibility. They each came to Christ “one by one.”
Like the Nephites, we come to the Savior as individuals. Our conversion is 100% up to us– “every man for himself.” That’s not to say we don’t have copious help, of course. But to re-arrange, President Nelson’s catchphrase, “Exaltation is a family matter; salvation is an individual matter.” Parents, Bishops, youth leaders, and quorum/auxiliary presidents can pray for us and fast and pray some more, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones calling the shots. Again from Pres. Nelson:
Only as an individual can one be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. Each of us is born individually; likewise, each of us is “born again” individually. Salvation is an individual matter.
I admit that seems kind of daunting at times. It’s all up to us, individually. Our parents can’t work out our salvation. We can’t let our spouses take the wheel for a while. “Remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself.” Looking at my own flaws and realizing it’s all on me if I mess it up, it maybe makes me understand a bit of the emotional draw of Satan’s fake proposal for universal salvation.
But here’s the cool thing about a personal salvation: it also means you develop an individual relationship with the Savior. I bet it took a long time for each of the 2,500 Nephites to thrust their hands into Christ’s side, and to feel the nail prints in His hands. And for Christ to heal the sick. And then bless the children. And to do it all individually. But He did it. And He blessed them “one by one.”
The Temple of Gethsemane
Does it make sense, then, that Christ would visit His people one by one, bless them one by one, and always minister one by one, but work out all our salvation for three hours in the Garden of Gethsemane in a giant batch? I don’t think so. I listened to a talk by Dr. John Lund that changed the way I viewed the Atonement of Christ in relation to me. He pointed out that we never perform Priesthood ordinances in groups. We are baptized individually. We partake of the Sacrament individually. We are blessed, set apart, ordained, endowed, and sealed as individuals– never as groups. He then said:
Let me suggest that when we talk about the Atonement of the Savior, that we’re talking about a Priesthood ordinance. And that Priesthood ordinance was performed for us “one by one…” How is that possible? … When the Savior entered in Gethsemane, He took upon Himself in that moment the divine power that He had that you and I don’t have and time stopped. Time, as we know it, stopped for Him. Maybe the rest of the world went on, maybe it was three hours [to the world], but time stopped [for Him]…
So what we have here is the Savior entering Gethsemane, and all of the sudden, where time is no longer a factor, He takes your name through Gethsemane– the Temple of Gethsemane… Your sins, by your name. He takes them through the Temple of Gethsemane. He doesn’t just suffer for all sins, for all liars, and for “all this,” and for “all that.” No, this is a plan of salvation that is very personal…
I believe He took my sins not just on the cross, as traditional Christianity believes, but through the Temple of Gethsemane. And He suffered for me because I was important to Him by name. And the day will come when the veil is parted and you will look into the eyes of the Savior and He will say, “Yes, I remember[ed] your sins. And [now], I remember them no more now. They’re gone. But I remember your name. I took it through the Temple. I remember it well.”
A relationship with our personal Savior
I can’t sanction the doctrinal correctness of the “time-stopping” part of his message. But ever since I heard that talk, I have seen the Atonement of Christ in that new light of Christ saving us “one by one.” I no longer try to imagine Him suffering from the sins of the whole world on His shoulders for three hours. Instead, I try to picture Him kneeling down just for me. Bleeding from every pore just for me. In my mind, I picture Christ stopping time and spending as many minutes or hours or days or years is necessary to work out my salvation. Pres. Faust’s beautiful song, This is the Christ asks “How many drops of blood were spilled for me?” In my mind, the answer is “all of them.” And when I take someone’s name through the Temple, I think of Christ escorting me personally past all my sins, all my foibles– my Savior and bringing me home to my Heavenly Father.
Sure, this individual responsibility for salvation that means there’s a lot of work for me to do. A lot of accountability, and really high stakes. Sure, it means I can still royally mess up. But I’m OK with that. It will be worth it. Because even though it’s “every man for himself,” each one of us has the opportunity to receive the help of the Son of Man for himself.