Stories are a huge part of how we learn the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few examples are:
- The Lord taught Moses about the creation of the Earth–and man’s place in it–using a story that covered a span of six days.
- The Lord revealed things in visions to be interpreted by prophets, such as with Joseph and Pharaoh, as well as other Old Testament seers.
- Nephi and his brothers were commanded to retrieve the brass plates because they contained the scriptures, Lehi’s genealogy, and stories of previous prophets.
- Jacob taught the allegory of the olive tree to explain the gathering of Israel.
- And of course, Christ told numerous stories in the form of parables in order to help believers increase their understanding of spiritual truths.
In fact, stories are so important that we can lose our way spiritually without them. Consider the Mulekites, who left Jerusalem around the same time as the Nephites, but didn’t have any scriptures or writings with them on their journey. Like the Nephites, they came to the Americas, but their civilization didn’t thrive and they soon forgot the Lord.
No scriptures. No language. No stories. No reminders of their divine relationship to God.
Nowadays we are inundated with storytellers in all forms of media. We have books, movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, podcasts, and so forth. Certain kinds of stories become more popular as a reflection of widespread cultural values.
In the last thirty to fifty years, stories about time travel have become incredibly well-loved. Back to the Future, Somewhere in Time, The Terminator, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Butterfly Effect, and Avengers: Endgame comes to mind, just off the top of my head. There are many, many others.
Why does this specific idea entertain us so much? Simple: we would love, LOVE to have the power to go back in time and change decisions we’ve made, or decisions others have made that affected us poorly, so as to improve our lives today.
I’m no exception to this. I would be thrilled to have the chance to re-do my twenties. I made a TON of mistakes that still affect my life to this day, namely with my career and education choices. Some of you would probably like to go back and avoid a first marriage or do things differently to save it. I know there are plenty of cars I wouldn’t have bought, as well.
What does any of this have to do with the Atonement?
We are here in this mortal life to gain two things: a body, and experience. If you’re reading this, boom, you have a body, and double-boom, you’re gaining experience. Ideally, while you’re gaining experience you are also trying to keep the commandments, make and keep covenants with God, and continually repent.
That last part is supremely important. So important, in fact, that President Nelson and President Oaks both spoke on this subject in the April 2019 General Conference. President Nelson also taught it during the Christmas Devotional of 2018. Clearly, it is a subject the Lord has impressed upon His prophet and one we should heed.
We do not have the power to travel through time and change past decisions, and that’s okay. I posit to you the following idea: we have something better in the Atonement. We can’t change the past, but through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can change the impact of our past decisions.
Sometimes this will take a lot more work than we think, and yes, it can be an unpleasant process, only because sin is an unpleasant thing to carry. But that’s just it: the sin is unpleasant. Not the repentance. Only Satan would have us believe otherwise.
True repentance is a transformative process, not a single act in response to a single mistake. It is the act of constantly correcting our course on our way back home to God. President Oaks taught:
“True repentance is not an event. It is a never-ending privilege. It is fundamental to progression and having peace of mind, comfort, and joy.”
As much as we think about time travel as a way to improve our lives in the past, we should find joy in the fact the Atonement allows us to improve our lives in the future. It brings forgiveness of our past sins, relieving our spiritual burden while retaining the experience we’ve gained for future decisions. The process of repentance is one of growth and progression. To be forgiven is the Atonement’s greatest miracle, one when utilized makes the flux capacitor seem like a child’s toy in comparison.
Let us have faith in Him and His everlasting Atonement. Act on it. Repent, continually. This is what it means to endure to the end. We can do it, brothers and sisters.
- “We Can Do Better and Be Better” -President Russell M. Nelson, April 2019
- “Cleansed by Repentance” – President Dallin H. Oaks, April 2019
- “Repentance and Conversion” -Elder Russell M. Nelson, April 2007