Neal A. Maxwell said, “There would have been no Atonement except for the character of Christ.” My dictionary defines character as “the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person… from another” or “a description of a person’s attributes, traits, or abilities.”
Last week in our YSA Seminar, we discussed the attributes of Christ and this week we discussed them some more. We came up with a list of 35 attributes and connected them with the Savior through examples in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. (You can read that list here and your thoughts for improvement are welcome.) We also tied about three-fourths of them directly back to the Atonement and Elder Maxwell’s statement by successfully completing this sentence for them: “There would have been no Atonement except for Jesus’s [attribute goes here].”
Lastly, we took a stab at identifying a single attribute, which, by itself, best summarizes the character of Christ. Among our leading vote-getters were “compassionate,” “loving,” “obedient,” and “selfless.” Of course, such an exercise isn’t necessary, but… I personally favor “selfless,” which I think sums up many of his other attributes and is also the focus of Elder Bednar’s talk on The Character of Christ. I am also swayed by a statement I once heard from a general authority (who wasn’t a general authority, or even a member of the Church, for much longer after he said it; nevertheless…) that the root of all sin is selfishness. Perhaps that means that the root of all virtue is selflessness(?). Anyway, in his talk, Elder Bednar says,
Perhaps the greatest indicator of character is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. Character is revealed, for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering; in the ability to detect the hunger of others when we are hungry; and in the power to reach out and extend compassion for the spiritual agony of others when we are in the midst of our own spiritual distress. Thus, character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward. If such a capacity is indeed the ultimate criterion of moral character, then the Savior of the world is the perfect example of such a consistent and charitable character.
In support of his last sentence, he cites a number of examples of the Savior thinking of others during the last days and hours of his mortal life. He also cites Matthew 4:11 and the Joseph Smith translation of that verse which entirely changes its meaning. At a time when Jesus must have been completely physically, spiritually, and emotionally spent, He called for angelic support not for himself, but for John. If you’re not familiar with the article, you really should read it. He also includes some incredible examples from women he has known. None of us should ever complain that our local Relief Society president isn’t supplying us with enough relief!
We should be in awe of the Savior and his character. We should do all we can to emulate Him. And our prayers should be filled with expressions of worship and gratitude knowing that we are the beneficiaries of his perfectly selfless nature.