As narrated in holy writ, Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane and death in Golgotha are traumatic to read; these are moments fraught with a perturbing welter of emotions: poignant grief, calming peace, fearful anxiety, quivering joy, suffocating guilt, and tearful gratitude. The “awful arithmetic of the atonement” is an incomprehensible calculus for humans1. Truly, “how sore,” “how exquisite,” and “how hard to bear,” “[we] know not” (D&C 19:15). As unfathomable as it is to contemplate Jesus’ atoning experience, it may also lay beyond our capacities to empathize with the Father during these moments.
In the case of Christ, modern revelation has given us a first-person account from the Savior about his torment in D&C 19; however, there isn’t very much in scripture, modern or ancient, to describe the Father’s experience observing the death of his “only begotten Son” (John 3:16). There is at least one scripture that describes a sentiment that contradicts the natural response that a human reader may imagine for the Father. In Isaiah’s poetic prophecy of Christ’s atoning anguish, the emotion attributed to the Father during His son’s suffering was pleasure and satisfaction: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him”2 and “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied”3 (Isaiah 53:10 and 11). What Isaiah’s prophecy seems to suggest is that Heavenly Father was proud of his Son; He was pleased with Jesus’ choice to sacrifice for humanity, and satisfied with Christ’s salvific suffering. This sentiment is also shared at Christ’s baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Although it is often assumed that Heavenly Father suffered4 as He witnessed Christ “[pour] out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12), I feel it is instructive to hypothesize this alternative view suggested by Isaiah. If the Father felt proud of Jesus during His terrifying travails, the feeling exuded by the Father was likely a confidence in his son, who was proving that he “[was] mighty to save” (Alma 7:14). Perhaps, it might be helpful at times to imagine a God who is confident in me as well, when I go through my human-sized sufferings or face my seemingly Goliath-sized temptations. I think part of understanding God’s confidence in us comes through discovering that although we don’t “know the meaning of all things,” we can know that “[God] loveth his children” (1 Nephi 11: 15). The discovery of God’s love for us can improve our confidence in him and in ourselves.
It is easy to become bitter during an especially long series of trials and think, “haven’t I done enough?” “Why is God still testing me?” It may be comforting at those times to avoid thinking of God as someone trying to “prove [us],” and instead imagining a Father who is watching us, confident that we can handle our current trials or temptations (Abraham 3:25). The goal of our tests, ultimately, is not for him to learn what we will do, he already “know[s] the end from the beginning” (Abraham 2:8), but for us to “prove ourselves”5 and find faith in Him. In a sense, we are actually proving God through our ordeals, to learn that “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 10:13) even when we are not faithful to Him. It is also through our trials that we can feel God’s confidence in us and therefore gain confidence in Him, His processes, His plan, and even in His “presence” (D&C 121:45).
Our life is less about us performing perfectly in our trials and more about us relying on Christ’s atoning power to help us overcome our trials. As we humbly “apply the atoning blood of Christ” we will find “[his] grace is sufficient for [us]” (Mosiah 4:2 and Ether 12:27). Although our life may lead us into situations where the “elements combine to hedge up the way” (D&C 122:7), we can find comfort in knowing that the Lord is with us cheering us on, much like he did for Jesus.
- Neal A. Maxwell, “Willing to Submit,” April 1985.
- In Hebrew, the verb חפץ means to “delight in” or “have pleasure in.” Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2003), 342-343.
- In Hebrew, the verb שבע means to “be sated, satisfied, surfeited.” The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 959-960.
- https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/1976/01/classic-discourses-from-the-general-authorities-the-sacramental-covenant?lang=eng “In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son.”
- “Now is the time to prepare and prove ourselves willing and able to do all things whatsoever the Lord our God shall command us.” (Elder David A. Bednar, “We Will Prove Them Herewith (Abraham 3:25),” October, 2020.