One of the fundamental facts of the atonement is the incomprehensible truth that Christ personally and literally suffered all that we possibly can suffer in mortality. It is a message echoed in every book of LDS scripture. The prophet Isaiah saw that Christ would bear our griefs and carry our sorrow. (Isa. 53:4). Paul spoke of Christ being tempted “in all points” as we are. (Heb. 4:15). Alma in the Book of Mormon prophesied that Christ would suffer “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.” (Alma 7:11). And in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Savior himself reminds a despondent servant that, when it comes to suffering, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine & Covenants 122:8).
Even with that realization, we sometimes forget that in descending below all things, He reached a point that we will never have to experience.
Christ’s suffering, begun in Golgotha and culminating on the cross, brought Him to a place so dark that even He could scarce comprehend it. In order for His atonement to be truly infinite and eternal, He had to experience something that was as undeserved as it was unimaginable: The Father had to withdraw His presence, leaving the Son alone to experience the horror of spiritual death even as his physical death was upon him. We can never know, but can well imagine, that amid all of the suffering, this was the worst for a perfectly devoted Son. And thus he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
I cannot imagine that Christ did not understand that this would be required of Him as part of His sacrifice, but his cry of anguish certainly suggests that He did not fully imagine what it would feel like. That he anticipated this moment is suggested, to me at least, in John 14:18, when he assures his disciples that even though He will be taken from them “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” It is the reassurance of a loving Savior that where He was about to travel, we would not be required to go. He will not leave us comfortless. He will come when He is needed.
Paul echoes this healing message when he says of Christ that “he hath said, I will never leave thee, or forsake thee.” He who was without sin experienced that which He did not have coming to Him, but which we certainly have coming to us. Which of us has not so offended God that He would not be justified in forsaking us and looking for a better disciple as a companion? Undeserving as we are, we nonetheless are promised that we will never be left alone or forsaken. Like Peter, who for a moment walked on the water but began to sink as his faith faltered, there is no depth to which we can sink that is beyond the Savior’s ability and willingness to rescue us. We can run from Him as hard as we might, but when we run out of breath and energy, we will find that He is still right beside us, ready to bring us home when we are ready.
Such is the perfect love of our Redeemer, who with gentle stubbornness refuses to let us experience a darkness that only He has seen. For us, there will always be some light. And He will be its source.