In each of our lives, there come times when we feel like crying out as the psalmist did: “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? “(Psalm 13:1)
Distance From God/Disunity
In moments like this, what we are experiencing is separation or disconnection from God. This distance from God can arise when we choose to sin, (all too often “Netflix and Chill” leads to “Bishop and Repent”). It can arise when we choose to look at our trials and struggles as if we were all tributes in an arena like the Hunger Games and God is some game maker devising ways for us to suffer in order to entertain the angels around him in the capital. This separation can also come when we fail to realize, as Hugh Nibley has pointed out, that our personal “weaknesses are like dogs…if we walk toward them, they will run away from us. But if we run away from them they’ll chase us.”
Whatever it is, we must recognize that the wedge between us and God is our own doing. “Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (D&C 3:3). As President Eyring has pointed out, “The pavilion that seems to intercept divine aid does not cover God but occasionally covers us. God is never hidden, yet sometimes we are.” The fact is, each of us struggle with sins, trials, and weaknesses, but the Savior’s work through His atonement of cleansing us, strengthening us, and empowering us is never frustrated. If we are not feeling his influence, it is because we are not enabling ourselves to do so, not because he standest afar off, is hiding, or has forgotten us. I would like to discuss how taking advantage of His grace can affect our faith, and transform our sins, trials, and weaknesses from stumbling blocks, to building blocks.
Sins—Alma (Forgiving and Redeeming)
Mormon describes Alma the younger as “a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people.” (Mosiah 27:9) After a visit from a heavenly messenger, and a repentance process involving two days of physical paralysis, Alma stood and said, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the spirit.” Through the atonement he overcame his sins and was changed from a carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, and becoming a new creature. Through the atonement his sins became building blocks that were used to frame his testimony, rather than stumbling blocks that would knock it down.
Trials—Joseph Smith (Comforting and Strengthening)
Doctrine and Covenants section 127 is a letter written by the prophet Joseph Smith to the Saints in Nauvoo while he was in hiding. We can learn much about the relation between the Savior and our trials and tribulations. Joseph wrote, “and as for the perils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small things to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was ordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end. . . But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. it all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation; (why?) for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it.” (D&C 127:2) The second verse in an oft sung hymn reads, “We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness, we’ve proved him in days that are past.” Through his faith Joseph had proved God to the point that he gloried in tribulation and was accustomed to swimming in deep water, because God had come through every time. Because of his faith in the comforting and strengthening power of the atonement, his perils became building blocks that supported his testimony.
Personal Weaknesses—Enoch (Perfecting and Sustaining)
Enoch was asked by the Lord, as we all are, to do something that required more from him than he felt capable of giving—go prophesy unto the people and tell them to repent. We read his response in Moses 6:31
“And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?”
He responded the way we often do, by giving the Lord a list of reasons we aren’t good enough. Whoa man, you’ve got the wrong guy… I’m just a boy, I’m too young, the people hate me, I can’t talk, I’m not ready for that… sorry. What we often fail to realize is that struggling with imperfections or inadequacies is at the very core of life’s purpose, and oftentimes as we move nearer to God, our weaknesses become more detectable. This is because the closer we get to the Lord, the more often he gives us opportunities to have stretching experiences – experiences that require us to do things we’ve never done before, and to become better than we’ve ever been.
“And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance. . .
Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course.”
Enoch exercised his faith in the perfecting and sustaining power of the atonement and went forth. His personal weaknesses were transformed from stumbling blocks into building blocks as he became a strange thing in the land. And in the next chapter the earth trembled, the mountains fled, the rivers of water turned out of their course according to his command and armies were fleeing from Enoch in fear. Instead of focusing on his ability or inability, Enoch focused on his availability and by acting in faith proved his dependability, allowing the Lord through his Atonement to take care of his capability, thus turning his weaknesses into strengths.
In each of these cases–Alma, Joseph, and Enoch–they not only believed in Jesus Christ and His atonement, but they believed Him, and that is what led them to exercise their faith and act, enabling them to feel His influence. Stephen E. Robinson has taught:
“If we believe only in Christ without believing Christ, then we are like people sitting in cold, dark houses surrounded by unused lamps and heaters, people who believe in electricity but who never throw the switch to turn on the power. People like this often pretend to themselves and to others that merely believing in electricity makes them warm and gives them light, but they still shiver in the dark unless they turn on the power. Though the appliances may all work and the wiring may be in good order, until we accept the power itself, beyond merely believing in the theory of power, we cannot enjoy the warmth and light.”
It was because Alma believed Jesus was able to cleanse him, that he cried out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness.” It was because Joseph believed Jesus was able to strengthen him that he not only figuratively swam through his trials, but eventually described himself as a rough stone rolling down from a high mountain. It was because Enoch believed Jesus was able to sustain him that we went forth and opened his mouth.
You Can’t Know Something That Isn’t True
Now, all that I’ve said thus far is a precursor for what I’m going to say right now, and if you don’t remember anything else, remember this. You can’t know something that isn’t true! That’s impossible. If someone told you they knew the sky was falling, you would say, “no, you think the sky is falling.” If someone told you they knew chicken was a type of fruit, you might reply, “you can think what you want.”
Cane supposedly knew he was free when he killed Able, but once the spotlight of accountability was shone on him, the light revealed that what he thought he knew was just a thought. Korhior thought there was no God, and could be no Christ. Later admitting that he “always knew there was a God”, and that the Devil had deceived him.
Faith to Knowledge
By not just believing in the concept of seeds growing into trees, but believing the seed can do what its supposed to be able to do and then planting it; by not just believing in the concept of electricity lighting a room but by believing electricity can do what it purports and then turning the switch; by not just believing in the concept of the atonement of Jesus Christ but by believing Jesus can cleanse your sins and then talking to the bishop, by believing Jesus can uplift you and then reading your thin pages thick with meaning and calling out to God in prayer, by believing Jesus can strengthen you and then doing what he asks and making an effort; we can transform our faith from having a desire to believe, to believing, to KNOWING.
“Behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs KNOW that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you KNOW.” (Alma 32:33-34)
In closing I wish to bear witness not of things that I think, but of things that I have come to know for myself!
I know that God lives, that He loves us, and that he has a deep and personal interest in the salvation of each of his children. I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the living Son of the living God. I have come to know for myself that through his infinite atonement we can be cleansed of any sin, strengthened in any trial, and overcome any weakness; and that through our faith, those sins, trials, and weaknesses can serve as building blocks used to learn, grow, and progress. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and I testify that for anyone who is spiritually sitting in a cold dark house, it is full of witnesses that the lights turn on, the heaters work, and the atonement is real. My is that each of us, regardless of past belief, or disbelief, will right now choose to believe Christ, exercise our faith, and take advantage of the blessings of the atonement, using them to close that gap between us and God, thus creating unity. I know that if we will do this, not only will our faith increase, but we will ultimately feel more joy, and gain the understanding and experience we came here to acquire.
This is important because as the second coming draws nearer, and the Lord’s work hastens, the adversary’s does as well. Temptations will become more intense, trials and persecutions will become more severe, weaknesses will be exposed. Elder Maxwell has said of the rising generations that if we are faithful we “may be a part of some of the winding up scenes for this world, and as participants, not mere spectators, though on later occasions you might prefer the latter.”
We don’t have time to trifle with sacred things, we don’t have time to take the gospel for granted. As we choose to increase our faith through the atonement and transform our transgressions, trials, and struggles from stumbling blocks to building blocks, we will be worthy of, and ready for the tasks ahead.