This week I finally saw Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light. What a beautiful film, in many ways. I absolutely loved it.
The most striking part, though, was a scene near the end where a supporting character gets his screen time to talk to our protagonist, a pastor plagued by doubt and melancholy. The church sexton confesses to the pastor that our apparent understanding of Christ’s suffering is superficial, limited to the cross.
He wonders if the emotional suffering of Gethsemane, and the spiritual elements of the crucifixion might not have been worse. He describes these scriptural details in a way that deeply intensifies the Lord’s suffering.
I sat up pretty straight during this scene. His confused reaching for truth brings him so close to a Latter-day Saint knowledge of the Atonement. I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and talk about the Book of Mormon. I wanted to show him Jeffrey R. Holland’s Easter talk below.
Sadly, YouTube doesn’t have a clip of just this scene. It starts around 7:00 in the 7th video in the linked playlist, and runs about 40 seconds into the 8th.
Winter Light YouTube playlist
“Virtually all Christian churches teach some kind of doctrine regarding the Atonement of Christ and the expiation of our sins that comes through it. But the Book of Mormon teaches that and much more. It teaches that Christ also provides relief of a more temporal sort, taking upon himself our mortal sicknesses and infirmities, our earthly trials and tribulations, our personal heartaches and loneliness and sorrows–all done in addition to taking upon himself the burden of our sins….”
“That aspect of the Atonement brings an additional kind of rebirth, something of immediate renewal, help, and hope that allow us to rise above sorrows and sickness, misfortunes and mistakes of every kind. With his mighty arm around us and lifting us, we face life more joyfully even as we face death more triumphantly…”
“So Christ came to earth, lived his thirty-three years, then fulfilled the ultimate purpose for his birth into mortality. In a spiritual agony that began on Gethsemane and a physical payment that was consummated on the cross of Calvary, he took upon himself every sin and sorrow, every heartache and infirmity, every sickness, sadness, atrial, and tribulation experienced by the children of God from Adam to the end of the world. How he did that is a stunning mystery, but he did it. He broke the bands of physical death and gained victory over the grasp of spiritual hell. A God himself came down and made merciful intercession for all the children of men.”
–Jeffrey R. Holland (LDS apostle), Christ and the New Covenant, 223, 224, 228
During this morning’s session of General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Twelve Apostles spoke about applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives and improving our understanding of it; he said near the end of his talk that we should all “establish a personal study plan to better understand that Atonement.”
Two things that I’ve read came quickly to mind. The first is the chapter called “Atonement” from Jeffrey R. Holland’s book, Christ and the New Covenant, which is one of the best books on the Book of Mormon that I’ve ever read. This one chapter is about 50 pages long, and is a supremely comprehensive yet readable analysis of what the Book of Mormon teaches about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. Sadly, this work isn’t available online, but it’s available fairly cheaply from Amazon.
The other thing I’d recommend is the last chapter of Hugh Nibley’s book, Approaching Zion, called, “The Meaning of the Atonement.” This is available online here, and explores the symbolism and spiritual significance of the Atonement, from multiple perspectives.
I’ll read through both of these as soon as possible as a start, and see where my study can go from there.