“Only one ladder will do—a parable of the Atonement” (part two)

Last week I related a story I told to a group of children during church. In the story, our little group of children, along with their parents, church leaders, and everyone in the congregation, fell down a deep pit. We suffered injuries, and could not get out on their own. One lone man above could help them. He lowered a ladder, climbed down, and helped each person one by one back to the surface.

I pointed out the symbolism, that the man was Christ and the ladder was the Atonement. Christ alone has the proper means to rescue us from sin, sorrow, and death. He does this of His own free will because he loves us, not because we’ve done anything to earn this love. We didn’t have to. It was the pure and unconditional love of our Savior that allowed Him to complete the Atonement to save us, one and all.

But what about that ladder? The children had plenty of questions when I told the story. Before we got to the part about the man, they were trying to think of all sorts of ways to get out of the pit. But in staying in line with the story, I had to them, “No, that won’t work.” You see, in the imaginary story of the man and the ladder, there was only one solution. The pit was filled with people—friends, strangers, people from all over the world. Everyone who ever lived on earth had fallen into the pit. Some people tried to make their own ladders, but they weren’t long enough. Some people tried to find another way, but they got lost in the darkness. No, there was only one way out, and the man with the ladder from above was the only one who could provide the way.

a ladder going up into the sky

A Story as a Teaching Tool

A story is a teaching tool, like a fable or a parable. This could then be considered the parable of the man and the ladder. I’d like to focus on the ladder, where it comes from, and why it is significant in our salvation.

In our story, only one ladder was capable of reaching the trapped people below. The saving ladder came from above. Our Savior Jesus Christ also came to us from above. We read in the first chapter of John how Jesus was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God, and the Word came down to earth to dwell with man.

Jesus was with Heavenly Father before the world was made. He descended from Heaven to be our Savior. We also know from the Bible and the Book of Mormon that Christ was the only begotten Son of our Heavenly Father, with Mary, a mortal woman, as his mother. He is the only one with such lineage. His spirit father and His literal father are one in the same.

We are all spirit sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, but when we are born we have a physical father on earth. If we were to trace our genealogy it would go back generations upon generations of grandfathers and great-grandfathers. But if we were to trace our spiritual genealogy, it would have one line—back to our Heavenly Father.

Jesus Christ has one line in both of his genealogies straight back to Heavenly Father. Because of this, Christ had a spiritual and physical connection to Heavenly Father that allowed Him to become our Savior, unlike any other person born on the earth. His earthly mother gave him an earthly existence. His Heavenly Father gave Him the divinity to overcome sin and death, or in the parable, to lower down the ladder and make the climb to save us.

Why No Other Ladder is Good Enough

Some of the people in the pit tried to make their own ladders. None of them were good enough. We see this in our world today, with people worshiping false gods. I was listening to the radio on the weekend of the Super Bowl and I was saddened to hear a restaurant advertise a special for “Super Bowl Sunday,” describing their version of “the trinity” as hot wings, beer, and football.

How sad that the sacred nature of the Holy Trinity, or the Godhead as Latter-day Saints recognize it, was trivialized in this advertisement. My mind of course wandered directly to the first of the Ten Commandments—“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. And yet, here was an advertisement for the god of the NFL. I shook my head and turned the station.

Still other people in life don’t even recognize the pit we are in. They are comfortable in darkness and don’t even realize where they are. They are content to wander around in a state of confusion or a state of mind that lacks clarity, purpose, even aspiration. Yet, one day, at the end of their lives they will have a desire for something greater. And the ladder will be there for them as well, with the lone man waiting patiently to help them up.

man trying to climb out of a pit

One day, the people who worship other gods will come to realize none of them can get them out of the pit. The NFL will fail them. Their politicians will fail them. Their favorite entertainers, other religious leaders, super heroes, anyone else in the limelight of the world will fail them. Only Jesus Christ will save them. Now let’s look at Christ’s ladder.

The Ladder to Salvation

It has to be a ladder above all ladders. After all, this ladder needs to reach a place that is unreachable by human means, and it must also ensure the climbers are fit to enter the kingdom in the first place. We know that no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of heaven, so this ladder must be purifying. And since we want to live in this glorious place, this ladder must be a means to overcome death. Christ’s ladder accounts for both of these things.

Every ladder has two vertical planks and several horizontal rungs. In our story, the two planks are long enough to reach down into the deepest cavern of the pit. They are sturdy enough to hold the weight of all mankind. They are straight enough to make it all the way up to heaven. They are the pillars of salvation. They represent what Christ had to overcome in order for us to even step on the ladder. They represent sin and death.

Sin in this case is not merely the mistakes we make or the covenants we break. It comprises all sorrow and pain we have experienced on earth. When Christ prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked Him to remove this cup from Him. In other words, He agonized over the excruciating pain He would feel as he took upon himself the sins and sorrows of the world.

Nevertheless, He said to His Father, “Thy will be done,” meaning, He would go through with the suffering and crucifixion. Why? Because He understands the ladder. He knows a ladder cannot stand on one plank. He had to both suffer and die. Both halves of the equation were necessary. Both halves made a sturdy ladder. Both halves made it possible for us to enter Heaven, clean and pure, with bodies free of blemish or pain. He did this willingly, because he knew us before we were born, he loved us with all his heart, and he wanted us to be with him again. He didn’t want anyone left in the pit.

Hands on a ladder climbing to heaven

So feel safe. The pit may be dark, but we have a ladder and one man who can help us up. Take solace in this fact.

But what good is a ladder if you don’t take the first step and get on it? Next week, we’ll examine the rungs.

About Nanette ONeal
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.

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