I enjoy your take on gospel questions very much. Elder Bednar frequently speaks about the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement. He mentions episodes in the Book of Mormon that take place before the actual Atonement. I’m curious about your thoughts on how this power was available before the event of the Atonement took place. Thanks!
Well, I’d first want to point out that understanding the enabling power of the Atonement is a much more important topic than the nature of time and how it effects a mortal’s ability to seek out the Atonement. But with your question as it is, the nature of time would have been much more important to Enos who really wondered how he could benefit when it hadn’t happened yet. And the response he received is also an answer to your question about time as well.
7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?
8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. Enos 1:7-8
I believe that Enos was not only asking about the doctrine of the Atonement, which I believe he already understood quite well.
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. Enos 1: 1-3
I believe he was wondering as you are now, if the Atonement hasn’t happened yet, how can he benefit from it? The answer he receives is “Faith.” It may not seem to be what you were looking for. And if you only understand faith as a principle of belief, you are correct. It does not answer your question. But faith has so many aspects that I don’t think we fully understand it as mortals.
There are two other aspects of faith that I need to explain to make this a complete response. The first aspect of faith is power and action. Joseph Smith gave a great sermon regarding this. First he quoted the New Testament.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Hebrews 11:3
While sectarians will say that this means “that we only understand this through faith,” that is not what was the original meaning. If we place the words “we understand” in parentheses, that would more closely resemble the original meaning. The Prophet explained it thus:
By this we understand that the principle of power, which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith; and that it is by reason of this principle of power, existing in the Deity, that all created things exist—so that all things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, exist by reason of faith, as it existed in HIM.
Had it not been for the principle of faith the worlds would never have been framed, neither would man have been formed of the dust—it is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal, as well as eternal things. Lectures on Faith 1:15-16
Does that kind of power sound like simple belief? No, in a gospel sense, it is much more than simple belief. Faith in Jesus Christ (notice Hebrews mentions “by the Word of God” — capitalization added.) is what opens the floodgates to the power of God.
The second aspect of faith is that of prophecy.
4 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.
6 Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. Jacob 4:4-6
“…the past, the present, and the future were and are, with Him, one eternal ‘now’ ” Joseph Smith (HC 4:597)
Faith is also what allows us to perceive this “eternal now” and allow us to participate in blessings from events that have not yet occurred. While our mortal limitations only allow us to “believe” they will happen, it is through faith whereby we may truly realize the benefits from the future as if they had already happened.