This Easter, I have a story to tell, a story about the Atonement.
I’m blessed in that I don’t have to look far for models of the Atonement, because a story from my own childhood suffices. It’s a story of a young father, a curious child, and a burning piece of metal. It’s a story about quick choices and searing pain. It’s a story about my father.
My father has been an amateur silversmith since his early youth. He makes Indian-style jewelry — rings and earrings and necklaces and bracelets, silver inlaid with semi-precious stones. The process is painstaking, as he polishes stones and heats silver and solders together bent wire. The result is a thing of beauty.
I have always enjoyed watching him work. Some of the early memories I have are of Dad working on a large asbestos pad, but now he works on a pad made up of some modern polymer. He takes his blowtorch and heats the silver to high, high temperatures. He hammers and bends the metal and connects ends together using a silver solder that melts at just the right temperature. Once a ring is done, each of the joints soldered, he will drop it into a jar of finishing acid to remove the imperfections. I always liked that part — there’s a mighty hiss as the red-hot metal hits the liquid, and a cloud of steam arises.
It’s a beautiful process. It’s also a hobby which led to one of my more interesting childhood experiences. I don’t actually remember any of this, but it has been related to me numerous times, and the details are locked into my memory.
I was two years old and stood by my father watching as he worked on a ring. He finished soldering a joint on the ring, and picked it up with his metal tongs and set it to the side. The ring wasn’t finished yet, and so it wasn’t time to cool it just yet by dropping it into acid. It had come straight out of the blowtorch flame and it was hundreds of degrees hot. Dad reached for his tools to continue working on the ring, and he noticed that I was eyeing it with fascination.
“Don’t touch,” he warned me. “It’s very hot.”
I nodded. “Very hot,” I replied. And then I pursed my lips and blew a quick breath towards the ring — as children do to cool off their dinner when it’s hot — and reached out my hand to grab it.
My father was sitting in the wrong position to try to stop me, and I was a pretty quick little two-year-old. As I reached for the ring, my fingers only inches away, my father did the only thing he had time for. He yelled “No!” — and he reached out and swatted the ring away from my hand.
I panicked, thinking I was in trouble, and started crying. He was worried that I had been burned, but when he checked my hands, they were just fine.
As for Dad, he burned himself pretty badly. This was the predictable and painful result of voluntarily grabbing at a piece of red-hot metal. He recovered from his burns and his skin healed, but he carries the scar of that incident, to this day. (He also learned not to set hot metal within a child’s reach!).
Today, I play the piano in primary, and sometimes the organ in sacrament meeting. I play the guitar with my wife and kids. I write music on occasion, and while I can’t claim any great musical talent, I have found quite a bit of joy and satisfaction in playing musical instruments.
I heard the story of the hot ring several times growing up — it was one of those childhood stories that my parents never tired of telling, like the time I took a bite of a potato at the supermarket, or the infamous diaper disaster. It wasn’t until shortly before my mission that I suddenly realized that that oft-heard childhood story was my own, real-life example of the Atonement.
The hot silver ring could have burned right through my little two-year-old fingers if I had grabbed it. The result would not have been mere pain for me — it would have been permanent damage. The amount of heat in the metal was something that I did not have the capacity to bear. And if that had happened, I might never have played the piano, or the guitar, or known the joy and satisfaction I feel from those activities.
My father was not immune to pain himself. He suffered when he swatted the ring away from me, as he knew he would, and he still bears the mark on his hand of the pain he took on himself that day. But he recovered from that pain. And he knew that his own greater capacity for bearing pain would allow him to take that pain himself. If he took it on himself, he would recover; if I had to bear it, it would destroy my hand. His choice was instantaneous and is the reason I can type this message today.
Christ takes upon Himself our sins because He knows that He has the capacity to bear them, and we do not. They cause Him great pain. But if they were left with us, they would destroy us. And so He bears the pain for us, because He loves us, and He too bears the mark on his hand of the sacrifice He made for each of us. That’s the message of the Atonement, a message we will hear this Easter season.
We can find that message in the scriptures, and in the writings of the prophets. We can hear it sung in hymns, or spoken in talks. We can even read it on blogs.
But I don’t even have to go that far. It’s a message that I recall fondly every time the family sits around to reminisce about childhood stories, and someone inevitably brings up the silver ring.