So how does one qualify for the Atonement? This is the obvious question people ask when they realize the awesome power the Atonement holds. Here lies the battlefield of a hundred denominations, and the crux of the issue for many, many Christians. At this very doctrinal issue we argue and gnash our teeth and condemn and hate and deride and bully. How exactly does one qualify for God’s redeeming grace?
At the extreme end we find utilitarianism, the idea that anyone can qualify for God without even necessarily believing in God. At the other extreme end we find those who believe that strict obedience and perfection is the only road to heaven. Most people remain in the grey middle, drawing up lines denying access to the Atonement for some while allowing others into their hearts.
However, vengeance is mine, thus saith the Lord, and He also remains the sole arbiter for the fate of mankind. Only He can look into our hearts and read our intent. A common turn of phrase in our Church says we’ll all be surprised who ends up in the Celestial Kingdom – and who doesn’t. However, few people believe this. I’ve met many a Mormon who feels that those who drink coffee won’t make it. This is, albeit, definitely one of the more extreme and ridiculous notions, but it isn’t indicative of just our denomination. I’ve also met Evangelicals who believe that people who love Harry Potter won’t make the cut. I hope that all good, loving, thinking Christians realize this is rubbish.
When God tells us not to judge, He means to tell us not to judge who will make it and who won’t. Many a breath has been spent, many an inkwell spilled, about whether or not Emma Smith will make it to the Celestial Kingdom or not. If we spent just as much time continually asking ourselves if we feel we qualify and how we could improve ourselves and help others, our Church would grow in stature and maturity. Such speculative thinking damages us on a twofold basis. First of all, the entire exercise wastes a monumental amount of time. Only God knows, and we won’t know everything until the end. Wondering who will make it and who won’t based on limited knowledge is like trying to game the stock market with a limited understanding of economics – even those who obtained a vast understanding and corpus of knowledge about the stock market will never beat it. Those who try simply because they read one investment book or watched Mad Money will get burned, simple as that. Secondly, we begin to gossip of others and worry more about how others act than ourselves. Gossip is dangerously corrosive; Satan wants us to deflect attention from ourselves towards others. This way, we lose focus of why we’re here in the first place and begin to look down on others – a dangerous trend, the scriptures teach us.
The relationship with God should be an intensely personal one – for a case study, look no further than Alma 5. Alma 5 has the reputation as the “interview chapter.” Alma desires the reader to ask him or herself a series of questions concerning his or her relationship with God. He asks them, among other things:
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
Notice Alma doesn’t ask a lot of questions about various specific commandments. He doesn’t ask if you keep the law of chastity, or if your sleeves cover your shoulders and midriff. He doesn’t ask about our specific media consumption. Alma asks about intent, he asks about feeling, he asks about change. He wants to know if we’ve changed our hearts and our intentions, if we’ve experienced God’s mercy and the power of His Atonement, and (very importantly) if we remember it. Then, and only then, does he ask if we continue to do good works, because Alma understands that a desire to do good is a symptom of God’s good infection. How does he detail disobedience to God? As defiance and pride. Defiance because they refuse to hearken to God’s call, despite it being open to everyone, and pride because they feel better than others. We are “too good” to accept the Atonement – we simply cannot accept or come to grips with the fact that we – we in all of our worldly glory! – make mistakes all the time and cannot save ourselves. We cannot bring ourselves to understand that we need God everyday. This thought process contributes directly to the idea that tapping into the healing, forgiving power of the Atonement is shameful and weak, and that those who make mistakes should be shunned. The world constructed from these premises is not only delusional; it is cruel.
But most importantly, notice that Alma only asks about you. He doesn’t ask you to ask your neighbor. He doesn’t say, “Want to know if you’re gonna make it? Ask your bishop and pastor. He’ll know.” Only you can know the answer, because ultimately, salvation comes from God, not man.
So how do you know if you qualify for the Atonement? Ask God – read, pray, listen, talk to others who claim to have had similar experiences of God’s cleansing power. But ultimately, no one can tell you whether or not you qualify except for you (and God). You will know in your heart what you need to do. He’ll let you know – and only you. Are there general basic principles to help us develop a closer relationship with God? Absolutely. But can we use these basic principles to gauge where a person stands in the eyes of God? Absolutely not. Does this make it messy? Yes, it does. Does it make religion a little hectic, possibly even subjective? Maybe. But just as how Christ visited the Nephites in the Book of Mormon one by one, the Atonement is a one on one process (2 Nephi 11:15). Hierarchy, bureaucracy, theocracy – neither of these can package up and parcel out salvation. We utilize the priesthood to administer saving ordinances, but there’s a reason why we also administer saving ordinances to the dead – God understood that by leaving a portion of His work in our hands and our initiative, we would make mistakes (we are human, after all). But He didn’t plan on leaving anyone behind on account of our own mortal pettiness; we can see so little of the plan in our current position and with our current scope. God’s cosmic plan encapsulates more than this mortal life, and He made sure the Atonement was more broad, eternal, and timeless than our own temporary, human mistakes.