We are all familiar with Christ’s observation, as he foreshadowed His own crucifixion: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Now, I make it a pretty firm rule never to disagree with anything that Jesus said, and I think that what he was telling the disciples that the greatest love He could show them was the sacrifice of His life. But I do think that there may be an even greater love that we don’t spend enough time contemplating.
During my almost half-century on this planet (I said “almost”), I have seen and experienced my fair share of tragedies. I have watched good friends and family members forced to carry burdens that they never imagined would be laid on their backs. But among all of those trials, none is more tragic than the loss of a child.
It is something I have seen far too often, but thankfully have not endured. I have seen friends lose infants to illness, toddlers to accidents, and teens to drugs. I have counseled parents who faced the horror of their children taking their own lives.
The loss of a child is out of the natural order of things. It turns the world on its head. It is an affront to our sensibilities. It is an incomparable loss.
And it is something that our Father in Heaven willingly chose to endure.
I can imagine circumstances under which I would give my life for another person. While I hope never to be put in such a dilemma, I can conceive of circumstances in which I would sacrifice myself, even for a stranger. What I cannot imagine is sacrificing my own child for the benefit of someone else.
Yet that very sacrifice was the linchpin of our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation. That plan could not be successful unless His Only Begotten, His most Beloved Son would be sacrificed on our behalf. The favored Son, He who had done no wrong, would have to die in order to rescue the rest of us–all of whom have willingly disobeyed the Father.
It is impossible to imagine the agony Christ endured in Gethsemane and Golgotha. Such infinite suffering is mind-boggling. But what of the suffering Father, who would willingly stand beside His perfect Son and, because of His love for us, take no action when Jesus pleaded: “Take this cup from me.” What must it have taken for the Father, as the final step of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, to withdraw his Spirit from His Son, while Christ cried out, “Why has thou forsaken me?”
I cannot bear to see my children suffer. When they are in pain, I would willingly take that ache on myself to ease their hurt. But I don’t have that power. The Father did, and because of the greatest love imaginable, He did not come to the rescue.
Without direct experience, none of us can truly empathize with the loss of a child. Less so when that child is sacrificed as part of your own plan, for the benefit of others, millions of who deny your existence or curse your name.
Abraham, perhaps, came closest to this understanding, when he was given a test that we would consider unthinkable. But even Abraham was spared the actual requirement of the blade falling upon Isaac. There would be no goat caught in the brambles to serve as a substitute sacrifice. The salvation of Christ would come only after the sacrifice was complete.
I believe that the Father’s sacrifice merits more of our attention and gratitude. During the silent moments of the sacrament ordinance, His unparalleled love should play a primary role in our remembrance and be a major motivation for our covenant to obey Him. God so loved the world that He not only sent His Son, but He sacrificed Him. Such an inconceivable love should give us all hope that in His eyes, we are too wonderful to give up on. Too loved to lose.