One of my favorite things to do is study the history behind words. There is so much to be learned from stripping a word straight down to its roots and digging around in the dirt to discover just where the true meaning came from. Let’s take the word reconcile for example. Recently “Be Ye Reconciled to God” was the focus of our study for the Come Follow Me program, so this word becomes important in our discussion.
- Re—in Latin, “re-“ means back
- Concile—in Latin, “conciliare” means bring together
- Therefore, “reconcile” means to bring back together
Before the Bible was translated from Latin to English, reconcilio was the word used in place of Atonement. Atonement is a special word itself, a word that can be broken down as follows:
- To become one
When we look at these two words together, we begin to understand just what Christ did for us with a more rounded approach. Because Adam fell, we became separated from our Father in Heaven. In order to become one with our Father in Heaven again, propitiation would need to be preformed. Propitiation is another beautiful word with a fantastic meaning:
- Propitiation-a personal sacrifice that restores harmony with God
From this word, we can determine that something that was once lost is found. I love this idea because it confirms what many Latter-day Saints believe, yet much of the Christian world does not accept—that we were once with our Father in Heaven in the premortal life. How can something be restored to something that never happened? We understand that in the premortal existence, a plan of salvation was presented to us before this world was even created that would enable us to become like our heavenly parents someday. This plan required testing.
But how could we be tested if we remained in an untried state?
In the premortal estate, we did not have the same opportunities that mortality provides to use our agency, and so there was not an opportunity to make mistakes in the same way. And thus, “Adam fell that man might be…” The consequence of Adam’s fall tore us from the side of our Father in Heaven, causing chaos and death, yet giving us the chance to have a mortal body. In order to organize the chaos, Heavenly Father provided His children with a law that, if followed, would satisfy the demands of justice. Justice is a harsh master that requires perfection. Therefore, a perfect sacrifice would have to be performed. How could we, as fallen mortals, ever hope to achieve perfection enough to satisfy the law? Now, unlike in the premortal existence, our actions and agency mattered, and our untried state was no more.
But what about “…And men are that they might have joy”? If we aren’t able to satisfy the demands of justice on our own, how can we be restored to our Heavenly Father again as the word reconcilio implies? If we all remember correctly, (Can we remember back that far?!) the plan of salvation has a contingency plan built in to it—our older brother was going to come to our aid if we could not live up to our part of the bargain. He promised us, ever so long ago, that He would choose mortality and choose a perfect life. He promised us also that He would accept the demands of justice and law on our behalf, and provide propitiation for all of His brothers and sisters. All of a sudden, it would seem that maybe it would be possible for men to have “joy” in this mortal life after all!
Remember that gorgeous word propitiation?
To restore harmony with Heavenly Father through sacrifice?
Ah, therein lies the rub… Someone would have to lose their life on our behalf.
It is a sobering thought.
And yet, justice is a harsh task master.
So, how can we obtain joy in this life when one of our own must lose His life?
We must begin to understand the reasons behind Christ’s sacrifice, and we must believe that those reasons are important enough to motivate us towards a true change of heart.
Some insight into what those reasons might be comes from our dear prophet. In his talk October 2016 conference address, Joy and Spiritual Survival, President Nelson shared with us the importance of the word joy. It was an illuminating discourse for me and it unlocked a key understanding of the word joy that we often read in the scriptures. Joy is an understanding and belief in the great sacrifice that Jesus performed for every single one of us. Joy is an understanding and belief in the great plan of salvation. Joy is an understanding and belief that the Atonement, the reconcilio, happened and that it applies to all of us. Joy is the understanding and belief that through propitiation, Christ really did take upon Himself our sins and our guilt and transferred His perfection to us in return. Joy is an understanding and belief that because of this transfer of Christ’s perfection, grace really is sufficient for all men (Ether 12:27).
Christ’s reasons for propitiation vastly outweighed any reason against not performing. His love for us was, is, and always will be, complete.
Indeed, words have great power.
Just think… Joy!
The next time you read joy in the scriptures (and once you start paying attention, you will notice it appears frequently in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon), understand that it means knowledge and belief in the plan of salvation.
And so we come back to the verse: “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” Because of our word study, we can understand these words in a new light. Let’s dissect this verse and see what we can determine.
- Adam fell—Where did Adam fall from? He had to fall from somewhere, right? He fell from a premortal existence that found us all by Heavenly Father’s side.
- Fell—Connotes being removed from a place of comfort or organization to a place of chaos.
- That men might be—A choice was involved in the ‘fall’ in order to accomplish something of great importance: that we might receive bodies for our spirits.
- Men are that they—There is a purpose to this life besides just ‘being.’
- Might—A term for uncertainty—maybe, maybe not—yet with a hint of hope. Something is available for the taking if it is accepted
- Have joy—Use the plan of salvation to our advantage to help us return home to our Father in Heaven
Next week’s article, full of more fabulous etymology, will continue to examine how we can be reconciled to Christ!
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.