Tag Archives: Atonement

Building Blocks and the Atonement of Jesus Christ

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.

Believing Christ

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.

So What?

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.

“They Took Upon Themselves the Name of Nephi”

Relying on the theme presented in a previous post that all scriptures denote there is a Christ, and every story is really about you, me, and Jesus Christ and his Atonement, I would like to share an approach to a short and simple event recorded in The Book of Mormon.

The episode mentioned occurs in the 25th chapter of the book of Mosiah.  As a backdrop to our story, in chapter 24 we read of Alma and his people being persecuted by Amulon and his brethren, pouring out their hearts to God for deliverance, and being led away in the night out of bondage into the wilderness, and eventually to the land of Zarahemla where they found King Mosiah and the Mulekites. Some of the children, or people, of Amulon must have left with Alma and his followers; and they are the subject of chapter 25 we will focus on.

In verse 12 we read:

“And it came to pass that those who were the children of Amulon and his brethren, who had taken to wife the daughters of the Lamanites, were displeased with the conduct of their fathers, and they would no longer be called by the names of their fathers, therefore they took upon themselves the name of Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi and be numbered among those who were called Nephites.”

Why are we told this? In the abridgment of the record, why would Mormon find this worth including?

Let’s generalize just a smidgen. These individuals were not proud of who they were associated with, they “were displeased with the conduct of their fathers”, so they no longer connected themselves with those people, and “would no longer be called by the names of their fathers.” They then “took upon themselves the name of Nephi” so they could from  now on be associated with, and remembered as, Nephites. In other words, they didn’t like the group of people (who happened to be their forebears) they were hanging around with, [or grew up with] and they wanted to make a change in their lives and be affiliated with, or “numbered among”, new people.

Alright, now we ask the question, where is Jesus Christ in this scripture and how do you, me, and his Atonement tie in?

The central message of this passage is that of change, which is a testament to the Atonement. It is a type and a foreshadow. These “children” of Amulon changed their identity, and took upon themselves a new name. Does that sound familiar at all? It should, because we do the exact same thing. We change our lives in the necessary ways, and take upon ourselves the name of Christ. We read in Mosiah 5:7 “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.” Just as the people of Amulon took upon the name of Nephi and were called the children of Nephi, we take upon the name of Christ and we become his children.

There are powerful lessons to be found in the framework of this scripture, and to be learned from the children of Amulon.

It is wise to choose carefully with whom we spend our time, and who we allow ourselves to become associated with. Jim Rohn has noted, “You are the average of the five people you hang around with. . . You must constantly ask yourself these questions. Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most importantly, what do they have me becoming?” However, the children of Amulon understood a valuable truth. Namely, that our life is not defined by those who went before us, or by those we are associated with, or by the things that any of them have done. We are responsible for ourselves, and we are in charge of what name we will be known by, and who we will be numbered among. And we can change that at any time.

How easy would it have been for them to lazily conclude, “Well our parents were unrighteous power hungry blockheads, so I guess that in the future we can look forward to becoming unrighteous power hungry blockheads too.” Or, “Everyone else in our community persecuted Alma and his weirdo friends, we might as well do the same, even if we don’t understand why.” It would have been very easy, but they didn’t do that. They recognized their experiences with growing up in such an environment for what they really were – malignant and destructive. They understood that “bad experiences are an expensive school that only fools keep going to.” (Ezra Taft Benson) They chose to learn from the mistakes of those around them and change so they wouldn’t have the same bad experiences. These people grasped the principle taught by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you [or those you have been associated with] have been as He does about where you are and, with His help, where you are willing to go.” They were “willing to go” to the land of Zarahemla with Alma and his people, and leave their old life and situation behind. And because of the sacrifices they made, they then had the opportunity to be “called the children of Nephi.”

Maybe it is your “fathers” conduct that you’re displeased with at this time, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is your friends or a specific group of people that you no longer want to be a part of. Or maybe it is the negative experiences that you have had because of the individuals you were “numbered among” that is frustrating you. Whatever it is, the message of this story, and my message to you, is that you can change and you can overcome.

Here is why they did it, and why you should too…

13 “And now all the people of Zarahemla were numbered with the Nephites, and this because the kingdom had been conferred upon none but those who were descendants of Nephi.”

They wanted the blessings of the kingdom! We find here another type and pattern. The spiritual blessings of the Kingdom of God only come to the family of Abraham, the House of Israel. That is who the promises have been made to. But anyone that is not a member can be adopted in and become the seed of Abraham. Just as the children of Amulon were adopted into the family of Nephi and called Nephites.

You’re thinking so what does that have to do with me? Well, whether you are a descendant of Abraham or not, the so what is the principle itself. We, like the people of Amulon, and all the people of Zarahemla can remove our association with those whose conduct displeases us, and can change our identity to become numbered among the children of the family whose descendants the kingdom, or blessings, shall be conferred upon. We must look at ourselves as having this potential to conquer and learn from bad experiences of the past, whether they be others’ or our own. Then after we do this, let us also look at others the same way, and see them for who they have the potential to become, and help them change their identity and take upon a new name as well.

The Relatable Christ

When enduring trials, hardships, or frustrating circumstances I have often found myself pondering two questions. First, why is this happening to me?  And second, does anyone know how I feel right now? In the moment, it can be tempting to fall prey to the belief that there is no purpose to our struggles,  or that we are utterly alone in our despair or grief. Looking through the distorted prism of pessimism may suddenly seem easier and more attractive than the invitation to “look to God and live.” However, I have learned for myself that not only is there always a “wise purpose” for our suffering, there is one who can always relate to how we feel.

There is something consoling about someone being able to relate to you.  To relate is to establish a sympathetic relationship with someone, or to “bring into or establish association, connection, or relation.” Dictionaries define relatable as a word used to describe a “person with whom you feel as if you have something in common.” There is a special bond or relationship created by having something in common and being able to relate. There is no one that the word relatable better describes than The Savior. He is the one with whom we have the greatest opportunity to form a special association, connection, or relationship with in this life. His capacity to relate, and therefore comfort and strengthen, is greater than family, friends, priesthood leaders, and even a spouse.  However, even with that knowledge, I have found myself asking at times, does he really know though? Careful examination of the scriptures brings one to conclude, yes, he really does know.

Does he know what it feels like to be picked last or not at all? “Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barrabas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” “And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barrabas.” (Matt. 27:17, Luke 23:18)

Does he know what it feels like to be alone?  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Does he know what it feels like to watch loved ones go astray? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37)

Does he know what it feels like to be betrayed by a friend? “And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus and took him.” (Matt. 26:47,50)

Does he know what it feels like to be made fun of or mocked? “And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him.” (Mark 15:!7-20)

Does he know what it feels like to be taken advantage of? “Herod came from a family of political schemers. He used Jesus to gain favor with the Romans and the powerful Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.” (Jack Zavada)

Does he know what it feels like not to be believed in? “But though he had done many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him.” (John 12:37)

Does he know what it feels like when people won’t trust you or put their faith in you and your abilities? “But every man walketh in his own way, after the image of his own God.” (D&C 1:16)

Does he know what it feels like not to be acknowledged? “Like goldfish in a bowl, some are mindless of who changes the water and puts in the pellets.” (Neal A. Maxwell)

Does he know what it feels like to be confronted with temptations? “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil.” (JST Matt. 4:2)

Does he know what it feels like to have to forgive, even if it is undeserved? “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Does he know what it feels like to suffer negative consequences because of someone else’s bad decisions? “And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

Does he know what it feels like to be weak, sick, or afflicted in any way? “And he shall go forth suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.” (Alma 7:11)

Jesus does know how it feels. And he has commanded us to be as he is, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I.” (3Nephi 12:48) Since he is perfect in every way, this command could be applied specifically to various attributes he possesses. For example, “Be ye therefore charitable”, “Be ye therefore forgiving”, or “Be ye therefore an example”. In times of trial, hardship, or frustration, the call being extended might be, “Be ye therefore relatable”.

We become relatable like him by submissively suffering on our own level the things he suffered; God, of course, being the one who decides what “our level” is. Elder Maxwell has said, “By taking Jesus’ yoke upon us and enduring, we learn most deeply of Him and especially how to be like him. Even though our experiences are micro compared to His, the process is the same.” Thus we are placed in situations that, although difficult, will enable us to become more like Christ. If we are wise like Job, amidst all these things we will avoid charging God foolishly. It should be noted here, that the attitude that God’s tutoring needs to be justified by an immediately discernible reason, will lead a heart to become hardened. Submissiveness comes easier if we understand that we justified his tutoring and stretching when we chose to come down here to this world.

When we pray and ask to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, or to have our faith increased, or for opportunities to grow or help others, lets not be too alarmed when we are then called to pass through hardships or struggles of some sort. Lets not push the panic button when we are confronted with new personal challenges to overcome. We must allow ourselves to be molded into the instrument that the Lord needs. “How could there be refining fires without enduring some heat?” (Maxwell) We must allow ourselves to become relatable.  President Monson taught, “We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift his children. He is dependent upon each of us.” With that in mind, how can we expect to help someone with depression if we have never been depressed? How can we expect to comfort someone who is lonely if we have never felt alone? How can we truly assist in mending someone’s heart if we have never had our’s broken? How can we help someone feel like they are good enough if we have never felt inadequate? The next time you find yourself struggling, try and be grateful, and learn from it as much as you can. It is very likely that you are being prepared to be an instrument through whom God can work to bless the lives of others. To wade through an icy river of tribulation and then go back and carry someone else through the same figurative river, is to be a Christ figure.

In my life, opportunities for service or influence toward others in various ways have often been accompanied right before or soon thereafter by opportunities to go through something that gives me a taste of what the person I’m meant to serve or influence is feeling or going through. “Some afflictions are physical, others mental, or so begin. Often, however, they are interactive, forming a special pain.” (Maxwell) It may be that the “special pain” is being formed for the purpose of us becoming more relatable, better enabling us to serve with charity or influence with compassion. I have found that the closer I have analyzed what is happening in my life with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I can see the divine potter trying to mold my soul closer and closer to the shape of the Savior. God is in the details, and we can become as much like Jesus as we allow ourselves to. It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunities given. That involves looking at hardships and trials, big or small, as occasions for learning, growth, and becoming more relatable to others. In short, everything we go through can serve as a chance to become more like the Son of God if we but allow it.

The words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from his MTC devotional speech for new mission presidents The Atonement, have powerful application to missionaries, but can also be applied to members.

“I am convinced that [living the gospel] is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation was never easy. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, He is our Great Eternal Head. Why would we believe, why would we think, that it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? In turn, how could we possibly bear any moving, lasting testimony of the Atonement if we have never known or felt anything of such an experience? As [Latter-day Saints] we are proud to say we are disciples of Christ – and we are. But mark my word. That means you must be prepared to walk something of the path He walked, to feel something of the pain He felt, to at least occasionally. . . shed one of the tears of sorrow that He shed.

Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying you have to look for suffering, and I’m not saying that we experience anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and frankly, sacrilegious. But I believe that [followers of Christ] to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to come to repentance, to come to know something of the price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price – it will only be a token, but I believe it has to be paid. I don’t believe [living the gospel] has ever been easy. . . I believe it is supposed to require something of our soul. If Jesus could plead in the night, falling on His face, bleeding from every pore and crying, “Abba, Father, (Papa), . . . remove this cup from me.” Well little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or “easy” thing for a [Latter-day Saint]. This is the Living Son of the Living God saying, “Isn’t there some other way?” So, . . . if [you] wonder why this isn’t easy, [you] should remember [you] are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot better asked it a long time ago. He asked if there were not a less excruciating way – and for Him there wasn’t. So perhaps, for us in token symbolism, there won’t be an entirely easy way either.

[Brothers and sisters], if [you] can come to love and appreciate it, the Atonement will carry [you]. . . When [you] struggle, when [you] are rejected, when [you] are spit upon, and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, [you] are standing shoulder to shoulder with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect [person] that ever lived. [You] have every reason to stand tall, and to be grateful that the Savior and Redeemer of the world knows all about [your] sorrows and [your] afflictions, and that for a moment or two in [your] life, [you] will understand what he went through for [you].”

I believe one of the divine purposes for suffering on any level, is to make us more relatable like Jesus. So, as Paul worded it, “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort herewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2Corinthians 1:4) The more experience we obtain, and the more hardship we bear, the greater instrument in the hands of the Lord we become. The reason Jesus Christ has so much to offer us is because he has been through so much. Likewise, the more we endure, the more we will have to offer others. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

“As with every virtue, Jesus is the exemplar. While shouldering Jesus’ yoke, we , too, can better come to “know according to the flesh how to succor [each other].” Likewise, by seeing life’s experiences through to the end, on our small scale, we can finally say as Jesus did on the cross, “It is finished.” We, too, can then have “finished our preparations,” having done the particular work God has given each of us to do.”

“Therefore, one of the most powerful and searching questions ever asked of all of us in our sufferings hangs in time and space before us: “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” Jesus plumbed the depths and scaled the heights in order to comprehend all things. Jesus, therefore, is not only a fully atoning but He is also a fully comprehending Savior!”

Ether 12:27 Unwrested

Concerning the word wrest, an LDS scripture study manual states, “Dictionaries usually define the word wrest to mean to twist, force, or divert to an unnatural or improper use. To wrest the scriptures is to twist them or force an incorrect interpretation on them.” Alma expressed the heavy consequences of such a practice in his statement, “Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.” (Alma 13:20) The danger in forcing an incorrect interpretation on the scriptures is the principles taught are then capable of becoming inverted, and conveying a message they were never meant to convey. This action can blatantly, or even subtly, transform powerful truths into unstable falsities. Often wresting the scriptures is the result of taking them out of context, sometimes this is done innocently by accident, other times purposely in order to support a predetermined conclusion, or even to “justify in committing a little sin”. In my experience, there are few scriptures wrested more often in the church than Ether 12:27.  The unnatural or improper use of this verse is usually due to either forgetting the context of the passage, or confusing the word weakness with the word sin. In verse 23-25 Moroni, worried that his weakness in writing might cause the Gentiles to mock the sacred things he was writing about says:

“Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing. . . And thou hast made us that we could write but little because of the awkwardness of our hands. . . wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness and stumble.”

The Lord then replies in verse 26 and the oft quoted verse 27:

“Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness. And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

With the correct context we can observe that Moroni is talking about lacking the skill of powerful writing we find in the brother of Jared. That is a weakness, not a sin. Distinguishing between the two, while still acknowledging and respecting their consistent similarity and effect on one another, is imperative. Weakness could be exemplified in various ways such as  mortal limitations, mental or physical flaws or illnesses, emotional disorders, lacking skills, strength or wisdom, and the one found in all of us  – being subject and susceptible to temptations. These are all part of our experience in a probationary state and, as we learn from the verse above, can even be given to us by God. An example that comes to mind is John 9:2-3, “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Weaknesses can provide God with an opportunity to manifest his works and lead us to him. Meanwhile, sin on the other hand, is a choice to disobey the commandments of God and violate the light and knowledge that has been given to us. It cannot be given to us by God, is instigated and encouraged by Satan, and leads us away from God.

In a recent article in the Liahona titled It Isn’t a Sin to be Weak, Wendy Ulrich wisely stated, “We commonly think of sin and weakness as merely different sized black marks on the fabric of our souls, different severities of transgression. But the scriptures imply that sin and weakness are inherently different, require different remedies, and have the potential to produce different results.” “Because we are weak, we may not recognize if we are dealing with sin (calling for an immediate and pervasive change of mind, heart, and behavior) or with weakness (calling for humble, sustained effort, learning, and improvement). How we view these things can depend on our upbringing and maturity. There may even be elements of both sin and weakness in a single behavior.” She goes on to plainly warn, “Saying a sin is really a weakness leads to rationalizing instead of repenting. Saying a weakness is a sin can result in shame, blame, despair, and giving up on God’s promises.” Essentially, confusing the two will lead to the unnatural and improper applications of the laws of justice and mercy.

Mercy ceases to satisfy justice when we justify, to any degree, in committing sin. God can pardon and forgive sin, but never justify it. For he “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” The minute we switch from trying to overcome the less than ideal circumstances we might be placed in, or the weaknesses that beset us, or the desires that have found their way into our hearts, and start using them to justify our actions, we lose the Spirit of the Lord and are not covered by the law of mercy. We all come from different backgrounds and have different opportunities presented to us, and God will be fair in judging us accordingly, but he does expect us to try to live up to the amount of light and truth we’ve been given. I believe like President J. Reuben Clark that, “when the Lord metes out punishment, he will mete out the least possible punishment that it is possible to mete out and satisfy the demands of justice.” But I also believe that we will be held perfectly accountable for the times we choose not to “exercise faith unto repentance”. Giving into sin because we are weak does not prevent us from accessing our Mediator’s mercy. For as Alma testified, “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent and I will receive you.” The gateway to mercy is covered when we use our susceptibility to weaknesses as a justification and conclude that no repentance is necessary.

While we may be born with weaknesses, sin is ALWAYS a choice. Joseph Smith taught: “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him; the moment we revolt at anything that comes from God, the devil takes power.” He also said, “Satan cannot seduce us by his enticements unless we in our hearts consent and yield. Our organization is such that we can resist the devil; if we were not organized so, we would not be free agents.” We can also extract from these prophetic words that if we were born into sin, or born with an inability to resist temptations or enticements, we would not be free agents. Our second article of faith states “We believe that man will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” The doctrine of “original sin” was invented in the 4th century by St. Augustine and is false (Skousen, pg.199, Majesty of God’s Law). Further, we have this affirmation from President Spencer W. Kimball in October 1980:

“‘God made me that way,’ some say, as they rationalize and excuse themselves for their perversions. ‘I can’t help it,’ they add. This is blasphemy. Is man not made in the image of God, and does he think God to be ‘that way’? Man is responsible for his own sins. It is possible that he may rationalize and excuse himself until the groove is so deep he cannot get out without great difficulty, but this he can do. Temptations come to all people. The difference between the reprobate and the worthy person is generally that one yielded and the other resisted. It is true that one’s background may make the decision and accomplishment easier or more difficult, but if one is mentally alert, he can still control his future. That is the gospel message – personal responsibility.”

With this in mind, the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks from his Oct. 1995 Ensign article Same-Gender Attraction are instructive:

“We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”

While the issue he is confronting may be specific, the principle is general – we should refrain from using adjectives as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons.  This would include adjectives to describe behavior such as irresponsible, immoral, unethical, or lazy. We are not consigned by birth to a circumstance in which we have no choice in respect to any of those types of behaviors either.

Elder Oaks goes on to say:

“Different persons have different physical characteristics and different susceptibilities to the various physical and emotional pressures we may encounter in our childhood and adult environments. We did not choose these personal susceptibilities either, but we do choose and will be accountable for the attitudes, priorities, behavior, and “lifestyle” we engraft upon them.”

“We all seem to have susceptibilities to one disorder or another, but whatever our susceptibilities, we have the will and the power to control our thoughts and our actions. This must be so. God has said that he holds us accountable for what we do and what we think, so our thoughts and actions must be controllable by our agency. Once we have reached the age or condition of accountability, the claim ‘I was born that way’ does not excuse actions or thoughts that fail to conform to the commandments of God.”

“Whatever our susceptibilities or tendencies [feelings], they cannot subject us to eternal consequences unless we exercise our free agency to do or think the things forbidden by the commandments of God. For example, a susceptibility to alcoholism impairs its victim’s freedom to partake without addiction, but his free agency allows him to abstain and thus escape the physical debilitation of alcohol and the spiritual deterioration of addiction.

… Beware the argument that because a person has strong drives toward a particular act, he has no power of choice and therefore no responsibility for his actions. This contention runs counter to the most fundamental premises of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

A synonym for the word agency is stewardship. Ultimately, the message is that we are all accountable for our stewardship over our own thoughts and actions. Susceptibilities, that in and of themselves are not sins but are weaknesses and may vary in each person based on their circumstances and environments, cannot be used as excuses to justify transgression. Elder Oaks also offers some words of comfort for those who are confusing weakness for sin, leading them to feel disheartened.

“God has promised that he will consecrate our afflictions for our gain (see 2 Ne. 2:2). The efforts we expend in overcoming any inherited [or developed] weakness build a spiritual strength that will serve us throughout eternity. Thus, when Paul prayed thrice that his ‘thorn in the flesh’ would depart from him, the Lord replied, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Obedient, Paul concluded:‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong’ (2 Cor. 12:9–10).”

The efforts we expend in overcoming any inherited or developed weakness build a spiritual strength that will serve us throughout eternity. That brings hope to me.  Along these same lines Wendy Ulrich adds:

“We cannot simply repent of being weak—nor does weakness itself make us unclean. We cannot grow spiritually unless we reject sin, but we also do not grow spiritually unless we accept our state of human weakness, respond to it with humility and faith, and learn through our weakness to trust in God. When Moroni fretted about the weakness of his writing, God did not tell him to repent. Instead, the Lord taught him to be humble and to have faith in Christ. As we are meek and faithful, God offers grace—not forgiveness—as the remedy for weakness. Grace is an enabling power from God to do what we cannot do on our own (see Bible Dictionary, “Grace”)—the appropriate godly remedy by which He can “make weak things become strong.”

Now, the points made thus far are not meant to lead one to believe that Ether 12:27 does not apply to sins, nor to believe that sins and weaknesses cannot overlap. As Sister Ulrich mentioned, “There may even be elements of both sin and weakness in a single behavior.” The principle being taught is that if we come unto Christ and have faith in him, he will “make weak things become strong” unto us. “Weak things” can definitely be sins, and weaknesses can become sins and even addictions. The object of this article is to show that the verse says, “I give unto men weakness,” not “I give unto men immoral behavior,” or “I give unto men pornography addiction.” The intent of the article, is to prevent us from using the scripture to make it appear as if God is giving us behavior or addiction leading us to conclude it is therefore justified, while still preserving the testimony in the verse of the Savior’s power to help us overcome all manner of afflictions and be perfected. He does give us weaknesses that may have the potential, if the principle in the passage is not applied, to become inappropriate behaviors or even addictions. It should be noted though, that in such a scenario our moral agency is not being infringed upon because whether they do or do not is up to us. God knows our capacity to withstand temptations and our potential for growth in this life. With his foresight of our ability to overcome, he allows us to be susceptible to opportunities to choose between right and wrong. That is the test of life. Jesus was subjected to powerful, direct temptations from the adversary but gave no heed unto them. As Paul testified, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

The inspiring thing is that whether we have wrested Ether 12:27 by saying that sin is really a weakness in order to rationalize and justify instead of repent, or by saying that weakness is a sin leading us to have feelings of shame, discouragement, and despair which are not of God, or by failing to recognize the power the atonement can have on sins and weaknesses, coming unto Jesus Christ now, is the answer. I submit that upon conditions of sincere repentance and humility, coupled with actively striving to live as we should, we can be forgiven of every sin because of his mercy and strengthened in every weakness because his grace. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)