Sometimes I think we don’t talk about our Father in Heaven enough. Do we really understand Him and all He’s done for us? Do we comprehend the price He’s paid for us to be where we are? While Christ’s Atonement was the key sacrifice in our salvation, we need to remember that our Father has sacrificed for us as well.
God’s Love for Us
Our Father in Heaven is the Father of our spirits. He loves us infinitely, overwhelmingly. Now, love in our God is not what we mortals often perceive love as. We see love as a feeling, as something that fluctuates and is pleasant. It’s treating everyone with niceness and sweetness. Though love certainly can be present in those things, it does not always express itself as such.
The love of God is much more expanded and true than the love we generally promote. It is not simply feeling pleasant and nice toward everyone. His love involves a deep desire to help us become more, to reach our fullest potential. And we can’t do that without difficulty and trials. We can’t progress and grow without opposition and agency.
God Himself has experienced all of these things. Those things have allowed Him to progress to perfection and power that we aren’t yet capable of. When He asks us to experience these things, it’s because He’s been through them and knows the worth and necessity of them.
And so God’s love, while beautiful and sweet and pleasant, also contains elements of what we might call “tough love,” though I’m not sure that’s really the best term to explain it. Nevertheless, this element of “tough love” means that God loves us enough to challenge us. He gives us laws to follow. He gives us correction and chastisement. He teaches truth and stands by that truth because He knows that it is the most beneficial thing for us to know in our eternal progression. God teaches and gives us these things regardless of how we react to them because He loves us, not because He wants to torture us or abuse us. He does everything in His absolute power to make sure that we can learn what we need most, overcome our weakness, grow stronger and smarter, and progress to become like Him in time.
It’s never an easy process. It challenges us in ways we could never expect and forces us to rise more than we ever could on our own.
But despite our own struggles and challenges in our process of growth, we should never assume that our pains are greater than God’s. We should never assume that we know better than Him. And never should we assume that His persistence in pushing us toward perfection is a sign that He does not love us.
God’s Choice to Sacrifice
Our Father created a plan for us – for our progression, salvation, exaltation, and joy – and central to that plan was sacrifice. He created this plan knowing the cost it would require Him to pay. He knew the cost His Son must pay. And still, He chose to implement this plan because He loved us so much, He was willing to make that sacrifice. And when called upon, His Son, Jesus Christ, the great Jehovah, was willing to make the sacrifice as well.
You notice that I used the phrase “He chose to implement the plan.” Our God has complete agency (free will) and He uses it in every moment. He is as familiar – more familiar – with agency than any of us could claim to be. He knows firsthand that it is difficult to manage and that it involves a lot of loss and fallout.
But He chose a plan that blessed us with that same agency that He has, knowing full well that it would lead to many of His children choosing against Him and His plan. Knowing that it meant many of His children would suffer significantly because of their own choices and the choices of others.
Often in Sunday School classes, we say that God gave us agency to test us and see if we would choose to follow Him or not. This is certainly a reason that God gave us agency. Never will He force us to follow Him because force is not love. So the test of agency is one of God’s myriad proofs of love for us.
However, this is not the only reason God gave us agency. He also chose a plan of agency and to give us agency because agency is essential for sacrifice to be made.
Even though agency leads to pain, even though it allows God’s children to turn away from Him, He knew that without agency there was no possibility for us to progress and return to Him at all. The possibility wouldn’t even exist.
Sacrifice and agency are inseparably linked. Sacrifice can’t happen without agency because if you don’t choose to give up something, it really isn’t a sacrifice. It’s force. Agency is necessary for progress because if you can’t learn and choose for yourself, you can’t grow. However, agency also causes all sorts of consequences (like sin, pain, and loss, just to name a few) and the price to recover anyone from the fallouts of agency requires the sacrifice of One capable of paying the price.
So God chose His plan because He: 1) Loved us enough to give us the opportunity to progress and become perfect as He is; 2) Recognized the necessity of agency in progression; 3) Knew the fallout and consequences of agency, as well as the cost required by justice to recover from that fallout; 4) Accepted that sacrifice on His part and the part of His Son was required to pay the cost of agency’s fallout; 5) Decided that our progression was important enough that the fallout of agency and the ensuing required sacrifices were worth allowing.
Unfortunately, giving us that gift of agency required an almost immediate sacrifice on His part.
When He presented His plan to us, His children, some of His children immediately chose to rebel against Him by refusing to accept His plan and His choice of our Savior. Because agency requires consequences to our choices, our Father enacted that consequence against those children. They were cast out of His presence and lost the ability to progress. How could they progress, when they rejected the only plan that truly offered them progression?
But the loss of His children just so the plan of progress could be enacted must have been a heavy one. Our Father sacrificed for us before this earth was ever created. He knew that He may have to sacrifice by losing some of His family so that those who would choose to progress according to His plan would have that opportunity.
This loss of family was the first sacrifice that made the Atonement of Jesus Christ possible, and it is a continuing sacrifice as His children here on earth now also choose to turn away from Him. Without the willingness to sacrifice, no matter how painful the cost, our God could not have enacted the plan that would make true salvation and exaltation available to so many more.
It was only the first of our Father’s sacrifices for us in this plan He created. The second was willingly sacrificing His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to pain, suffering, and death to the extent that no one else ever has or ever could experience.
Of course, He knew how it would all turn out. He knew that when the sacrifice was paid, His mercy would have the power to repair the damage. He could restore life and power to His Son and to all of His children. His goal of a kingdom built on eternal family would be assured.
But I’m sure when He essentially placed His Son on the altar, He still wept at the sacrifice of His Son. To watch His Son go through such an indescribable struggle, to be the One asking Him to do it, to not be able to prevent the pain – that was our Father in Heaven’s second sacrifice.
Learning From His Sacrifices
Our Father’s sacrifices, aside from their role in bringing about our opportunity for progression and recovery in the first place, also highlight for us the absolute priority our progression holds in our Father’s eyes. If our progression is so essential in His eyes, how does that change our perspective of our own progression? Perhaps seeing progression as our Father sees it will help us see it as our own most important priority. Our love of Him and desire to return to Him help us accept His will and take the steps we so need to take in order to progress.
Even more than that, our Father’s sacrifices ought to teach us of the love He has for us. Though we can feel and recognize His love for us, the magnitude of His love can still be hard to grasp. But recognizing that He sacrificed for us and our progression should help us better recognize the lengths to which His love will reach for us.