The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences

I was reared in a Latter-day Saint home in Louisiana, where most of my boyhood friends were Protestant. Just before leaving on my mission, I asked my father—a lifelong Southerner and member of the Church—a few doctrinal questions. One question was “Dad, what does it mean to be saved by grace?” He answered quickly, “We don’t believe in that.” “We don’t?” I said. “Why not?” Without any hesitation he replied, “Because the Baptists do!” Some months ago a colleague of mine spoke to a Relief Society gathering on the topic of salvation by grace and the necessity of trusting more in the Lord and less in ourselves. He later commented to me that one sister remarked tearfully after the meeting, “This is too good to be true!” Both of these experiences show that Latter-day Saints are sometimes not comfortable with the idea of being saved by grace. On one hand, the notion strikes too close to a belief of some in salvation by grace alone. On the other hand, many of us, well conditioned by American society, are committed to the proposition that we can literally do anything we set our minds to.

However, the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, abound in the language and logic of grace. Until recently, though, Latter-day Saints have made few serious efforts to discuss this timely yet weighty issue. In The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences, Bruce C. Hafen directs our attention to those works and labors that Christ alone can perform, those aspects of the Savior’s redeeming power that reach beyond deliverance from death or even forgiveness of sin, and those divine gifts and graces that enable us to engage with trust and optimism the disparity in our lives between the ideal and real. The book seems to build upon an address delivered to Church Educational System personnel in August 1988 and later published in the April 1990 Ensign. The title of the book is an effort to tie man’s offering with the Lord’s. “The Broken Heart,” Hafen writes, “has a double meaning: first, the breaking of Christ’s heart at the moment of his death on the cross . . . ; second, the broken heart and contrite spirit the Savior asks each of us to place before him on the altar of sacrifice. Through the breaking of his heart and ours in these two interactive senses, the full blessings of the Atonement are realized in our individual lives” (27).

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 30:4
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