At one of the more emotional high points of the play Les Miserable, Inspector Javert, who personifies the pursuit of justice and the absence of mercy, sings the following words:
And so it must be for so it is written
On the doorway to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price!
While this misguided sentiment stands in complete opposition to the hope offered to each of us through Christ’s atonement, I wonder if we are, at times, overwhelmed with this same feeling. Are we one mistake away from losing our chance for exaltation?
I bring this up because a few weeks ago, while attending a ward in Texas, the Sunday school lesson was about Matthew 11:28-30 where we are challenged to yoke ourselves to Christ. The lesson sparked a conversation where ward members expressed frustration about their nagging imperfections. A feeling of hopelessness and despair seemed to fill the room as each person reflected on how they seemed no closer to their worthy goal of perfection.
This is not a uniquely Texas problem. In fact, I feel that our relentless pursuit for perfection can become an obstacle to our happiness and a wedge between us and God. But wait, didn’t Jesus say:
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. –3: Nephi 12:28
Yes, our personal perfection is our key to exaltation. But absent from these words of the Savior is a timeline. He did not say be perfect today, tomorrow, or next year. I am sure He didn’t say that because He knew that our perfection as mortals is not our purpose for being here.
Perhaps we need to make a small course correction in how we view and apply the atonement in our lives. Maybe we need to remind ourselves that the intimate nature of Christ’s supernal act of love is enabling, not condemning. The atonement needs to give us hope that our constant, even daily struggles with sin should help bring us come closer to God and not move us further away.
We are all sinners and we all falter and fall. But the price of justice has been paid. Christ suffered for all our sins and I do not feel any of us are capable of committing any sins that could disqualify us from exaltation.
In contrast to Javert’s cruel cry to exact justice, we have Christ’s personal invitation of hope:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.