Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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.

Enduring Instructive Waiting

I recently found an article online that caught my attention. A pop-culture site was giving their ranking of the twenty most common pet peeves. A few of them may have been a little out there, but for the most part I thought they were notably common. A few of the things the list included were open mouthed chewers,  people who don’t return things, foot tappers, pen clickers, being interrupted, and getting your headphones caught on things. I thought this was interesting, but I felt they left out what, to me, may be the biggest, most common pet peeve in our society, and in the Church today – waiting.

We all have things in our life that we are presently waiting for. These things can  be spiritual or temporal, they can range anywhere from waiting to get married, waiting for an opportunities or a promotion, waiting for direction or peace, waiting for answers to prayers, or waiting to receive promised blessings from God. Whatever it is, each of us  likely struggles with waiting for something, and this can be difficult. As President Uchtdorf has said, “Waiting can be hard. We live in a world offering fast food, instant messaging, on-demand movies, and immediate answers to the most trivial or profound questions.” Hence the observation, “We don’t like to wait. Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.” He goes on to note that as rare and unpleasant as this virtue may be, it is a necessity. “Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell plainly stated, “When you and I are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we like our timetable better than God’s.” Sometimes in the moment it can look as if our timetable makes more sense. President Uchtdorf noted, “We wait for things which at the time may appear so right and so good to us that we can’t possibly imagine why Heavenly Father would delay the answer.” We convince ourselves that if we could control the lever that unlocks the blessings of heaven, and pull it at a time that we deem suitable to our needs, we’d have greater happiness, alleviated suffering, and less discomfort. This just isn’t true. God, who knows all things, has our best eternal interests in mind. In fact, he knows and understands those interests better than we do, which is why he instructively requires us to wait. There are reasons for this, but usually “the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after the trials have passed.” (Uchtdorf) In the meantime we can look for lessons from the experiences of others. The scriptures are replete with examples of people who had to wait. As we examine their stories, we find apparent reasons behind their waiting, and considerable blessings that were gained as they were patient.

Jacob had to wait seven years before he could marry Rachel as he served her father. “And they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Gen 29:20) Along with a greater capacity to love, he likely gained a greater work ethic than he had before, and greater appreciation for the marriage when the time came. These things would lead him to be a better husband and father to his own family.

The Israelites had to wait 40 years before they could inhabit the promised land. It did not take long for the Lord to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, but expunging the Egypt out of the Israelites was another, much longer, story. They were put through a character development process in the form of tests and tutorials that led them to change. Perhaps during the waiting periods of our lives the Lord is trying to remove the false ideologies, habits, and practices that represent the Egypt in us, preparing us for our own future ‘promised land.’ Elder Maxwell remarked, “Faith likewise includes faith in God’s developmental purposes. . . Still, some of us have trouble when God’s tutoring is applied to us! We plead for exemption more than we do for sanctification, don’t we, brothers and sisters?” If we can bring ourselves to humbly plead for sanctification and knowledge rather than exemption, waiting will begin to be instructive, and even edifying.

In Alma chapter 52 we read of a time when patience worked out in Teancum’s favor.

16 And it came to pass that Teancum had received orders to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and retake it if it were possible.

17 And it came to pass that Teancum made preparations to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and march forth with his army against the Lamanites; but he saw that it was impossible that he could overpower them while they were in their fortifications; therefore he abandoned his designs and returned again to the city Bountiful, to wait for the coming of Moroni, that he might receive strength to his army.

18 And it came to pass that Moroni did arrive with his army at the land of Bountiful.

Teancum was asked to do something, and had to wait because it wouldn’t work at that specific time. His patience for the correct circumstances led him to receive additional strength beyond his own army’s capacity. With the help of Moroni and the reinforcements they took the city of Mulek by stratagem. It may be that the timing and circumstance for the blessing we seek are not yet right. We may not be spiritually or emotionally strong enough to figuratively retake the city of Mulek.

Helaman and his stripling warriors faced a similar dilemma in Alma chapter 58 when they were directed to take the city of Manti.

And they were so much more numerous than was our army that we durst not go forth and attack them in their strongholds.

Yea, and it became expedient that we should employ our men to the maintaining those parts of the land which we had regained of our possessions; therefore it became expedient that we should wait, that we might receive more strength from the land of Zarahemla and also a new supply of provisions.

And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land, to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla.

And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months, even until we were about to perish for the want of food.

They waited until they couldn’t wait any longer, and finally received provisions accompanied by an army of a mere 2,000 men, which they felt was inadequate “to contend with an army which was innumerable.”

And now the cause of these our embarrassments, or the cause why they did not send more strength unto us, we knew not; therefore we were grieved and also filled with fear, lest by any means the judgments of God should come upon our land, to our overthrow and utter destruction.

The trial of waiting, and not receiving the assistance they felt they needed and deserved, caused them to feel embarrassed. However, this led them to pray and receive assurance from the Lord.

10 Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.

11 Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.

What Helaman and his men ultimately gained by waiting longer than they thought they could wait, and receiving less than they felt they should have received, was increased faith in the Lord. They learned that they could rely on Him. Helaman records: “And we did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with a determination to conquer our enemies.” This result came because they chose to pray. Perhaps we have been waiting for reinforcements and provisions in the form of a specific blessing or answer, even to the point of embarrassment, and what finally came was less than we felt we deserved. The Lord may be trying to teach us, as with the stripling warriors, not to rely so much on the reinforcements, whatever they may represent for us, but to rely on Him and to have faith in Him.

Joseph Smith had to wait three years after his first vision before being visited by Moroni, and another four years before he was allowed to obtain the plates. This instructive waiting period was likely given for him to overcome his weaknesses and sufficiently mature. He recorded that between 1820 and 1823, “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God.” Admittedly, one of the weaknesses or foibles he was guilty of was levity, defined as “lightness of mind, character, or behavior; lack of appropriate seriousness or earnestness.” He repented, and eventually grew into his prophetic calling. But it took time. It is true, as Elder Maxwell taught, that “so many spiritual outcomes require saving truths to be mixed with time, forming the elixir of experience, that sovereign remedy for so many things.” It may be that we, like Joseph, just aren’t ready to receive what we’re waiting for yet. We may be guilty of levity and need to repent and grow, this requires time.

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by then Elder Gordon B. Hinckley to students at Brigham Young University in 1977. The comments are specifically addressed to young adults waiting to get married, but the principles that are taught apply to everyone.

If you are complaining about life, it is because you are thinking only of yourself. There was for many years a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” The most effective medicine for the sickness of self-pity is to lose oneself in the service of others.

There are some girls on this campus who are worrying themselves almost sick over the question of whether they will have opportunity for marriage. Of course marriage is desirable; of course it is hoped for and worked for and sought after. But worrying about it will never bring it. In fact, it may have the opposite effect, for there is nothing that dulls a personality so much as a negative outlook. Possibly some of you will not be married; but don’t forget that there are other things in life, other pursuits to be followed. I would like to suggest that you read the story of Dr. Anne G. Osborne in the March issue of the Ensign magazine. Here is a highly trained instructor at the University of Utah medical school, an eminent specialist in her field, and a member of the Sunday School General Board. I like the title of her short article. She calls it, “The Ecstasy of the Agony: How to be Single and Sane at the Same Time.” Speaking candidly of her age as thirty-three, she mentions marriage as a promised blessing, but she soon makes it clear that there is a stimulating and productive life for those single young women who will get interested in serving the needs of others. Says she,

As single Church members we can either engage in morose personal recrimination and self-flagellation, bemoaning our single status and living on the edge of desperation, or we can use this interim period in our lives as a time of active, creative waiting. . . . [She continues,] When discouragement weighs heavily, look around. . . . I have found that a sure cure for depression is to realize someone out there needs me. In blessing someone else, my needs and problems are quickly consumed in the warm glow of knowing that I have brightened another’s life and that what I have done is pleasing to the Lord.

[She concludes with these words:] Let us then rejoice in this precious treasure, time, and thank the Lord for a special gift. We truly have time to become interesting because we are interested.

These thoughts seem to coincide with the remarks of President Uchtdorf, who learned for himself “that patience was far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience required actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results didn’t appear instantly or without effort.” He went on to state, “There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!”

Just about every time Elder David A. Bednar has spoken in a public setting since being ordained an Apostle, he has taught the principle that “we are agents who act for ourselves and not objects to be acted upon.” For agents who act, waiting can be instructive; for people who allow themselves to become objects that are acted upon, waiting can be irksome, dragging, and even annoying. The responsibility to act as an agent and turn waiting into ‘instructive waiting’ is our own. We can do this by choosing to be patient, choosing to pray for assurance, looking for the lesson, using the time to learn and better ourselves, and losing ourselves in the service of others. This is important because as Elder Maxwell has declared, “Without patient and meek endurance we will learn less, see less, feel less, and hear less. We who are egocentric and impatient shut down so much of our receiving capacity.”

Years down the road, when the necessary building blocks have been put in place, the needed lessons have been learned, and the essential experience has been gained, we will likely feel like crying out to our former selves, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did: “Don’t give up boy. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead, a lot of it. You keep your chin up. It will be alright in the end. Trust God, and believe in good things to come.”

In the same address, Elder Holland asserted, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. Of that I personally attest.”

I wish to emphasize a final principle here, and it is this – God is never late, His timing is perfect. When we are waiting on the Lord, we are really waiting for Him to be done waiting for us.  If the blessings are late, or seem late, it is not that God is late; it is instead likely that we have not yet been obedient to the necessary commandment upon which the specific blessing is predicated, or we are still yet to learn the lesson(s) found in the waiting process leading up to that blessing. If there is a postponing on His part of the bestowal we seek, no matter how long or how miserable we may feel, it is for our benefit. As President Henry B. Eyring observed, “The Lord’s delays often seem long; some last a lifetime. But they are always calculated to bless. They need never be times of loneliness or sorrow or impatience.” We can press forward with faith in the understanding, as President Uchtdorf taught, that “in your patience you win mastery of your souls. . . knowing that sometimes it is in the waiting rather than in the receiving that we grow the most.”

Smoke Signals and the Grace of God

While traveling on our life’s journey, we all face times of testing and trial; times when things don’t go the way we want or expect them to; times when we find out if our faith and trust in God is real or imagined. In such instances no one is immune to the disappointment, discouragement, and despair that can accompany these things.

A few years ago a dear friend of mine shared a story with me that I have never forgotten. It taught me that not only do I not always know what is best, but that even in my darkest, most trying moments, God is near, and He is at work in my life.

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and everyday he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, alone, and discouraged he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements. He also used the hut to store his few possessions.

But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. The man was stung with grief and anger.

“God, how could you do this to me?!” he cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.

“How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked of his rescuers.

“We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.

It is easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn’t lose faith. God is at work in our lives. The next time you feel like your little hut is burning to the ground, it may just be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” This was clearly the case for the man in the story. However, like many of us, it was difficult for him to recognize that truth in the midst of his tribulation.

The counsel of President George Q. Cannon is helpful in such situations:

“The saints should always remember that God sees not as man sees; that he does not willingly afflict His children, and that if He requires them to endure present privation and trial, it is that they may escape greater tribulations which would otherwise inevitably overtake them. If He deprives them of any present blessing, it is that He may bestow upon them greater and more glorious ones by and by.”

The man was required to endure the trial of his hut burning to the ground, but that privation allowed him to escape the greater tribulation of trying to stay alive while remaining on the island alone. He was deprived of the blessing of sleeping in the hut that night, but it was that very deprivation that allowed him to receive the greater blessing of being rescued.

The principles put forward by President Cannon represent a theme that can be observed in the scriptures, as well as in our lives. Trials and tribulations serve as smoke signals that summon the grace of God. These smoke signals can invite boats in the form of opportunities, friends, lessons to learn, or greater blessings than we were presently enjoying. Viewing our trials this way gets easier as we remember Heavenly Father’s character and become more familiar with this pattern.

This pattern can be seen in many examples in the scriptures. Ammon may have felt his hut was burning to the ground and all was lost when he was imprisoned for two days upon reaching the land of Nephi, but that trial allowed him to meet and teach King Limhi and his people, as well as lead them out of bondage back to the land of Zarahemla.

Alma was very discouraged after being  withstood, reviled, spit upon, and then cast out of the city of Ammonihah. But this smoke signal summoned a boat in the form of an angel who told him to return to the land of Ammonihah where he met Amulek. If this had never happened, he would not have witnessed God’s hand as “they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them.” (Alma 8:31)

Joseph likely felt like his hut was burning to the ground when he was sold into Egypt by his brothers, or when Potiphar’s wife had him put in prison. But these hardships gave him the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream which led to his promotion, enabling him to temporally save many people, including his own family, from the coming famine.

Brigham Young taught, “If you possess the light of the Holy Spirit, you can see clearly that trials in the flesh are actually necessary.” Perhaps it was his possession of that Spirit, and understanding of the necessity of trials, that led him–after being driven out of Nauvoo, and crossing the plains to the Rocky Mountains–to make this statement: “We are infinitely more blessed by the persecutions and injustice we have suffered, than we could have been if we had remained in our habitations from which we have been driven – than if we had been suffered to occupy our farms, gardens, stores, mills, machinery and everything we had in our former possessions.”

Joseph Smith braved many hardships and tribulations during his life. Possibly the most trying of those experiences was the four months in the middle of winter he spent unlawfully confined in a dungeon, ironically named, Liberty Jail. In his letters he spoke of the jail being a “hell, surrounded with demons. . . where we are compelled to hear nothing but blasphemous oaths, and witness a scene of blasphemy, and drunkenness and hypocrisy, and debaucheries of every description.” He wrote, “We have . . . not blankets sufficient to keep us warm, and when we have a fire, we are obliged to have almost a constant smoke.” “Our souls have been bowed down” “and my nerve trembles from long confinement.” “Pen, or tongue, or angels,” Joseph wrote, could not adequately describe “the malice of hell” that he suffered there. (Holland, Lessons From Liberty Jail)

To make matters worse, in the midst of this imprisonment, the Saints were being driven out of their homes in Missouri via an extermination order signed by Governor Boggs. These conditions drove the prophet to cry out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1) Surely Joseph could relate to the man watching his hut burn to the ground who cried out “God how could you do this to me?!” But Joseph’s burning hut of adversity sent up a smoke signal that would summon a boat in the form of some of the most powerful lessons ever taught in the scriptures contained in Doctrine and Covenants sections 121-123.

As challenging and profound as each of these stories are, none match the affliction and distress endured by the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. As described by Jesus himself, so great was the suffering it “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” The culmination of the suffering consisted of the Father withdrawing His Spirit, causing the Savior to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” These flames of anguish burning down Jesus’ hut summoned the greatest gift of grace this world has ever known – the atonement. It is through this figurative rescue boat that we are endowed with the strength to not just pass through our trials, but to allow our trials to “pass through us in ways that sanctify us.” (Elder Maxwell)

President Thomas S. Monson proclaimed:

“There are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were – better than what we were, more understanding than what we were, more empathetic than what we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before.”

Linda S. Reeves has offered this perspective thought, “What will it matter, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God.” In other words, what will it matter how many huts we watch go up in flames if, in the end, those smoke signals are the very things that beckon the rescue boats – the grace of God – to come to our aid and take us to where we need to go.

Whatever the hut that is in flames represents for us, we can rest assured with the knowledge that God is not maliciously burning it to the ground for his own satisfaction, nor will he allow it to burn to the ground without sending a smoke signal summoning a rescue boat. He is at work in our lives orchestrating the experiences, challenges, and trials that will bring us the greatest amount of knowledge, experience, and eternal progression.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

“The tests of life are tailored for our own best interests, and all will face the burdens best suited to their own mortal experience. In the end we will realize that God is merciful as well as just and that all the rules are fair, we can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed, and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way.”

Whether we recognize it in the moment or not, He does have our best interests in mind. With our limited vision we may be satisfied for the moment with figuratively living in a hut on a deserted island, because it is better than drifting away aimlessly in the ocean. But God sees the bigger picture, and knows that we can accomplish much more if He can rescue us from where we are. Even if it requires us to experience some frustration and despair as our circumstances are altered. So remember, the next time you feel like your little hut is burning to the ground, it may just be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God. In the words of George Q. Cannon “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, God will never desert us, He never has, and He never will.”

From Self-Doubt to Moving Mountains

At some point in our lives we each become acquainted with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Often times these feelings sprout from focusing solely on our personal weaknesses and imperfections. The danger in zooming in exclusively on these, is our strengths and our individual potential can then fade out of sight, causing our self-image to be blurred by negative shadows of self-deprecation.  This can be difficult to avoid though, because life is challenging. When hard things are asked or required of us, our initial response may be to think we are not good enough. To make matters worse, there may even be forces outside of our control that appear to carry our tasks up to a level of seeming impossibility. When such situations arise I find comfort in this truth taught by Elder Richard G. Scott, “Learning, pondering, searching, and memorizing scriptures is like filling a cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon anytime.” As the characters in the scriptural stories become “stalwart friends that are not limited by geography or calendar,” they can be pulled out of your memory cabinet to teach useful truths in a moment of need. One of my best friends when I need self-worth is Enoch the prophet.

The story of this friend picks up in Moses chapter 6:

26 And it came to pass that Enoch journeyed in the land, among the people; and as he journeyed, the Spirit of God descended out of heaven, and abode upon him.

27 And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off.

Enoch was asked by the Lord to go prophesy unto the people and tell them to repent, this was no small task considering how wicked they were. Remember Enoch was the great-grandfather of Noah, so these were some of the darkest days in the Earth’s history. And unfortunately for him, it is very rare that you find people who enjoy being told to repent, especially iniquitous people guilty of grievous sins. Now, we might not be chosen to call a civilization to repentance like Enoch, but just as he was asked to perform this difficult assignment, we are repeatedly asked to do hard things.  These could be things asked of us by God, by our parents, friends, family members, church leaders, teachers and professors, or even employers. These things could range from keeping a certain commandment, fulfilling a demanding calling, going on a mission, forgiving someone, lending a helping hand or listening ear, being overworked at your job, finishing assignments, dating, or enduring irony or loneliness. In short, Enoch’s task may be generalized to include anything that requires more of us than we feel we are capable of giving.

We look now at Enoch’s response:

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 replied the way we often reply when asked to do something difficult, by reciting a list of every reason we’re not good enough. “I’m just a boy I’m not old enough for that, the people hate me, I can’t talk.” In other words, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy! I suggest you find someone else, because I can’t do that.” Similarly overwhelmed with self-doubt, we give this same response to those asking hard things of us, and maybe even worse – to ourselves. The oddest thing is the moment someone tries to convince us to believe in ourselves, we somehow feel obliged to defend our doubts and offer an attack on our self, disguised as a counterargument just like he did. We, like Enoch, often listen to the wrong spirit. Brigham Young candidly advised, “If you have a bad thought about yourself, tell it to go to Hell because that is exactly where it came from.” I don’t believe we come into this life with low confidence and a bad self-image, I believe that comes from letting those thoughts that come from the adversary stay in our mind instead of sending them right back where they belong.

The very fact that God is asking Enoch and not someone else shows that God believes in him. But Enoch is too focused on his weaknesses and imperfections to see that. He is struggling to see himself as God sees him. The words of Elder Bruce C. Hafen offer comfort in such seasons of doubt, “So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, and stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away.” As Elder Hafen says, struggling with problems in the form of imperfections or inadequacies is at the very core of life’s purpose, and 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. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell has put it, “God as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times. The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched.”

So, we are in the business of making spiritual music in the form of progression. However, like Enoch we may not feel good enough or even worthy, to play the song that is requested. Hope can be found in this principle taught by Cecil O. Samuelson, “One can be fully worthy in the gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections. . . Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection. . . It may reflect more upon your current direction than on your final destination.” Enoch might have been under the impression that he needed to be perfect in order to perform the task of calling the people to repentance. If so, that is a troubling conclusion. If perfection was a prerequisite to being worthy of having the opportunity to perform difficult, soul-stretching tasks, not only would Jesus be the only one worthy of doing anything hard, but that would be counterproductive to the very work Jesus himself is engaged in, namely our eternal improvement. Remember, God is more concerned with our direction, we may feel weak as we ascend the upward climb toward him, but at least we know that we are moving up. And as we will learn in the Lord’s response to Enoch, we are not alone in our effort to climb.

32 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, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.

34 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; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.

How interesting the Lord does not just tell Enoch to walk, but to walk with Him. In essence the Lord is saying here, “Enoch, go forth and try. All I need is your best effort. If you really feel like you can’t talk very well, then I will speak for you. I will justify whatever effort you put forward with my grace. And I will move any outside forces beyond your control, like mountains or rivers, out of your way.”

 As the story of Enoch is pulled out of the memory cabinet, it must be accompanied by this truth taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Lord does not ask about our ability or inability, but only about our availability. And if we prove our dependability, the Lord will take care of our capability.” The Lord is not asking Enoch if he is able or not able to call the people to repentance. That’s simply not what He is asking. He is asking him if he is available – if he is willing to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands by trying. Then, as Enoch proves his dependability by giving his best effort, the Lord will take care of his capability and make up where he lacks. The Lord did not ask if five loaves and two fishes were able or not able to feed five thousand people, he only asked if they were available for Him to use. And as their dependability was proved by being brought forward and given to the Lord, their capability was taken care of.  Likewise, when we are given soul-stretching opportunities He is not asking us whether we are able or not able to do those hard things. His concern is our availability. And just like Enoch, and the five loaves and two fishes, if we make ourselves available and prove our dependability by trying our best, the promise is the Lord will take care of our capability.

37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.

38 And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here and keep the tents, while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.

39 And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.

Enoch was endowed with power from on high as he proved his dependability and did as the Lord asked by testifying with boldness. The people feared him because they knew he walked with God. He was referred to as a “wild man” and “a strange thing in the land.” The transformation gets even better in the next chapter when armies are fleeing from Enoch as he moves mountains and bends rivers just as the Lord had promised.

12 And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent;

13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

14 There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea.

The Lord was true to his word in taking care of Enoch’s capability, but it was more than just effort that made the difference for Enoch in this transformation from self doubt to moving mountains. If we jump back to chapter six we read:

35 And the Lord spake unto Enoch, and said unto him: Anoint thine eyes with clay, and wash them, and thou shalt see. And he did so.

36 And he beheld the spirits that God had created; and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye; and from thenceforth came the saying abroad in the land: A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.

What was the result of Enoch anointing his eyes with clay and then washing the clay from them? He was able to see with spiritual eyes rather than just his natural eyes. Seeing things with spiritual eyes included seeing himself as he really was. Surely this allowed Enoch to see that he was foreordained before this life to perform this task. It likely awarded him the ability to see himself as God saw him, which is enough to boost anyone’s self-worth.

What might the anointing the eyes with clay and then washing them represent for us? Each week we have a significant opportunity to anoint and wash our eyes, and be filled with the Holy Spirit as we partake of the sacrament. Over the course of the week our vision of our self and the world around us can become blurred and distorted by many things, but as we take advantage of this ordinance and participate properly, a renewal of the spirit will better enable us to see things as they really are. This will capacitate us not only to change our focus from our weaknesses to our strengths, but to zoom in on the Savior as he converts those weaknesses into strengths.

As our focus is altered, the way we pray will change. We will desire to follow the counsel of President Thomas S. Monson, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.” We will stop praying for tasks that are equal to our abilities, and will begin to pray for our abilities to be made equal to our tasks. Then the progression and growth will occur. As he puts it, we will be the miracle. This is an important adjustment because life will not be full of tasks that are equal to our abilities, remember struggling with problems (hard tasks) is at the very core of life’s purpose. But we agreed to these.

In the gospel reference book True to the Faith we learn:

“In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. …

“The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women were given certain responsibilities and faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood duties. Although you do not remember that time, you surely agreed to fulfill significant tasks in the service of your Father”

The fact that opportunities to accept responsibility for such significant tasks were offered to us means Heavenly Father believed in us. The fact that we committed to them means we believed in ourselves. It is easy for God to carry on that belief, he does not have a veil placed over him. He never forgets our real identity or our eternal potential. I believe the reason He entrusts us with hard things to do and overcome, and gives other people opportunities to require much from us, is so we can learn things about ourselves that He already knows. Enoch needed to learn something about Enoch. He needed a chance to become who he had committed to become. That never would have happened if he had not been asked to do something he felt overwhelmed by. It is the same for us. Therefore, as we go forward, the encouraging words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell hang before us, “It is extremely important for you to believe in yourselves not only for what you are now but for what you have the power to become. Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now but that will unfold later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time where instead of sometimes being fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit.”

I know that if we will stay close to the Lord, make ourselves available, and continue to faithfully anoint and wash our spiritual eyes every week, we, like Enoch, will go from self-doubt to moving mountains. We will become “a strange thing in the land.”

An Approach to the Sacrament

In chapter 11 of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians we read of his charge for them to “keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.” Their lack of ability to adhere to this counsel can be observed in their approach to the ordinance of the sacrament. The correction offered by Paul can in large part be attributed to their perversion of four simple concepts in regards to this ordinance. Their approach was not in the right state of mind, it was not in remembrance of the Savior, they were not partaking worthily,  nor for the right reason. If in our lives all four of those principles are not in place, then we ourselves are guilty of corrupting the sacrament just like the Saints at Corinth.

1. The Right State of Mind

“When ye come together therefore into one place, is it not to eat the Lord’s supper? . . . and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the Church of God. . . Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” (1Corinthians 11:20-22)

They were clearly not in the right state of mind. Maybe we are not intoxicated by a strong drink, but could we be intoxicated, when participating in the sacrament, by thoughts that are not conducive to the Spirit or centered on the Lord? President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “Every thought that one permits through his mind leaves its trace. Thoughts are things. Our lives are governed a great deal by our thoughts.” The easiest time for God to help us in governing our lives is during the reflection and repentance that takes place throughout the ordinance of the sacrament. If our thoughts are elsewhere, we are doing ourselves a disservice.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell pointedly asserted that, “some of the best sermons we will ever hear will be thus prompted from the pulpit of memory, to audience of one.” The sacrament provides a great opportunity for the Holy Ghost to bring to our remembrance our improper conduct from the previous week and then preach personalized corrective sermons. While the emblems are passed. . . . Are we thinking about His advice or thinking about sports? Are we focusing on leveling up on the game on our phone or reaching a higher spiritual level? Are we seeking out spiritual media like the scriptures or hymns with the intention of strengthening our spiritual status? Or are we seeking out social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hopes of strengthening our social status?

2. In Remembrance

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me.” (1Corinthians 11:23-24)

“When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of you have made covenants – you know what to do and you know how to do it – our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day, to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that ‘they always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them.’ ‘Remember’ is the word. ‘Remember’ is the program.” (President Kimball)

This principle of remembrance was effectively taught in an address by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. “Christ suffered for the sins and sorrows and pains of all the rest of the human family, providing remission for all of our sins as well, upon conditions of obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel he taught. . . That is why every ordinance of the gospel focuses in one way or another on the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and surely that is why this particular ordinance with all its symbolism and imagery comes to us more readily and more repeatedly than any other in our life. It comes in what has been called “the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church”. . . Perhaps we do not always attach that kind of meaning to our weekly sacramental service. How “sacred” and how “holy” is it? Do we see it as our passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption?

The ancient Israelites celebrated the passover, and would offer an unblemished lamb from the firstlings of their flocks looking forward to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For us, “Remember is the word. Remember is the program.” We remember Him, and memorialize our escape from the angel of darkness, each week as we partake of the sacrament.

3. Worthily

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Corinthians 11:27)

How do we know if we are worthy to partake of the sacrament?

John H. Groberg expressed these thoughts on the subject: “What does it mean to partake of the sacrament worthily? Or how do we know if we are unworthy?If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy . . . If, however, we refuse to repent and improve, if we do not remember him and keep his commandments, then we have stopped our growth, and that is damnation to our souls. The sacrament is an intensely personal experience, and we are the ones who knowingly are worthy or otherwise.”

As long as we are not under priesthood restriction, we are worthy when we offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Truman G. Madsen expanded on these two requirements, “We use the word broken heart to mean radically frustrated in a romance. It may very well mean that, but in the scriptural usage a broken heart is a malleable, meltable, moveable art, and a contrite spirit is an honest acknowledging spirit that says I am in fact dependent on what I am in fact dependent on, there is no self-deprecation here, only honesty. I need help. When that is acknowledged it comes.”

If we humbly recognize that we have done wrong and need help, and couple that admittance with a desire to improve, shown by our efforts the next week, then we are worthy. We should also understand that worthiness and perfection are not the same thing. Cecil O. Samuelson taught, “One can be fully worthy in the gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections . . . Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection . . . It may reflect more on your current direction than on your final destination.” We do not have to be perfect to use the sacrament, that would defeat the purpose. It is all about the direction we are headed in.

4. The Right Reason

“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”

The sacrament provides an opportunity for us to hold ourselves accountable each week, for every one to “examine himself.” It is a chance to look at what we are doing right and what we could improve on. A look at a little bit of Old Testament symbolism can give a greater understanding of the reason for the sacrament.

Brother Chad H. Webb taught that in Leviticus chapter 1, “the Lord teaches the children of Israel to voluntarily bring an offering unto the Lord. The offering was an animal which was to be a male without blemish, which would be accepted to make atonement for the person who came to worship. The person then killed the animal, and the priests would sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar. . . Next, the offering was cut into pieces—the head, the inwards, the legs, and the fat. The head represented our thoughts; the inwards our heart, our feelings; and the legs, our actions. The symbolism reminds us of the sacrament as we commit to love God “with all [our] heart, might, mind and strength.”

This typification can be very insightful when considering the words of Neal A. Maxwell. “So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the “sacrifice unto the Lord … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving “away all [our] sins” in order to “know God” for the denial of self precedes the full acceptance of Him.”

What does it mean to place the animal in us upon the altar and let it be consumed? And how do we do that?

The animal in us is the natural man. It is any thoughts, desires (or feelings), and actions that are not in line with God’s. The ancient Israelites placed animals upon the altar, we offer up the natural man in us. Every week when we partake of the sacrament we have an opportunity to place our inappropriate thoughts, desires, and actions on the altar and let them be consumed. Doing this consistently allows a developmental change in our very nature to take place.

This elimination of the natural man within us, made possible by Christ’s grace, allows us to have the capacity to change our own circumstances.  “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums.” (Ezra Taft Benson) Brad Wilcox worded it this way, “Christ’s grace does not just correct; it endows. It does not just cleanse and console; it transforms – and not just in a narrow way from smoker to nonsmoker, drinker to nondrinker, but from unholy to holy, from justified to sanctified, from human to divine.”

It is imperative that this process takes place often. Because as Boyd K. Packer declared, “We all live on spiritual credit. In one way or another, the account builds and builds. If you pay it off as you go, you have little need to worry. Soon you begin to learn discipline and know that there is a day of reckoning ahead. Learn to keep your spiritual account paid off at regular intervals rather than allowing it to collect interest and penalties.” Luckily for us, the regular intervals are every week. But we must not get caught in the trap of just paying off the interest on our spiritual debt and never actually removing the credit. That would be the equivalent of repenting of the same things every week and never actually making any long term changes, or offering up the same thoughts, desires, and actions without ever giving them up and letting them be consumed. The purpose of the sacrament is not just for Jesus to correct and cleanse the same things each week, (get rid of the interest) it is to endow us with power, to strengthen, transform, and sanctify us. Not to merely take us out of the slums every week, but to take the slums out of us!

In conclusion I’d like to share one last thought. “As Latter-day Saints, we covenant in the waters of baptism and during the sacrament to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. On such occasions, do we take his name in vain? There are ways we can use the name of Deity insincerely.” (Brad Wilcox) Having taken upon ourselves His name, we are required to live so that those who know us know Him. I look at it as if I am figuratively wearing a jersey with His name on the back of it. In a way, every week when we renew our covenants, the Savor asks us: Did your performance bring honor or shame to my name?

I like to look at the sacrament as a weekly interview with the Savior. I try to ask myself questions that I feel like He would ask me. Here is a list of those questions, provided with the hope that your approach to the sacrament from now on will be more personal and productive.

Weekly Review: Sacrament Interview Questions

How hard did I work on my own imperfections this week?

How did I react to the imperfections and potentially offensive acts of others?

In what ways did I rely on the Lord this week?

How was I delivered from a “prison” this week?

Am I seeking to build God’s kingdom or my kingdom?

How did I share the gospel this week?

How did I influence my family or friends for good this week?

How did I seek to climb up the spiritual truth ladder this week?

In what ways did I act as a Christ Figure?

In what ways could I try a little harder to be a little better?

What am I doing that I need to stop doing?

What am I not doing that I need to start doing?

Moral Relativism: 2 Thumbs Down

In a recent New York Times article entitled “If It Feels Right…” columnist David Brooks reviewed a study performed in 2008 by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. The research consisted of interviews with 230 young adults from across America concerning their morals. The results paint a clear, yet dejecting picture of the moral degeneration going on in our society.

“The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, … you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.

“When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.”

“The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. ‘It’s personal,’ the respondents typically said. ‘It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?’

“Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme [saying]: ‘I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.’”

Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”

Brooks sums it up in this sentence:

Smith and company found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism – of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.

Responses like this, “moral choices are just a matter of individual taste”, or “I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong”, are very telling. These answers are moral relativism at its finest. Each gives the impression that what is moral, what is right or wrong, is relative to each individual and what they choose to believe. In this scenario each person becomes his or her highest authority to appeal to. The Lord worded it this way,  “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.” (D&C 1:16)

What’s the problem here? Well, the problem is morals are not relative, the truth is absolute and unchangeable. The clearest definition of truth I have found is D&C 93:24, “And truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” A synonym would be reality, the truth is reality – things as they really are. We are each responsible to choose what we believe, but regardless of our choice, that does not change reality. Truth is independent of belief and acceptance. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “Resenting the law of gravity won’t keep a person from falling if he steps off a cliff. The same is true for eternal law and justice.” The fact is, there are in existence natural laws of justice, laws that not even God can break. If he did, Alma teaches us that “God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:25)

With that in mind, we might ask: why are so many people, particularly youth and young adults, embracing this idea that morals are relative? Where did this surge of spiritual stupor come from? I believe the answer to those questions is found in evaluating principles.

Brigham Young once declared, “If I do not learn what is in the world, from first to last, somebody will be wiser than I am. I intend to know the whole of it, both good and bad. Shall I practice evil? No; neither have I told you to practice it, but to learn by the light of truth every principle there is in existence in the world.”

So, if we are to learn “every principle there is in existence in the world”, we have a responsibility to examine what the principles are that would lead someone to believe in a doctrine such as moral relativism. For me, the Book of Mormon is the most effective tool when considering the verity of a principle. It was given not only to testify of Christ and teach true principles, but also to expose Satan and the principles he endorses. For the subject at hand, we look no further than Alma chapter 30, where we find an account of Korihor the Anti-Christ. In an Ensign article from February 2014 Professor Daniel L. Belnap of Brigham Young University presents eight conclusions pronounced by Korihor that in my view, form the very foundation of the movement we are discussing.

“Korihor. . . established a moral relativism that challenged the Nephites for years to come. His assertions, many of which may be familiar to a modern audience, contain the following:

a. There is no God (Alma 30:28, 37-38)

b. Belief in Christ is “a foolish and a vain hope” (Alma 30:13)

c. Those who believe in a remission of sins are under the effects of a frenzied or deranged mind (Alma 30:16)

d. Their derangement is caused by following the traditions of their fathers and the whims of corrupt leaders (Alma 30:14, 23-28, 31)

e. Man is a creature (Alma 30:17)

f. One “fares in this life according to the management of the creature; and whatsoever a man does is no crime” (Alma 30:17)

g. There is no sin and no need for a Savior (Alma 30:17-18)

h. Those who encourage people to keep God’s commandments are stripping away an individual’s “rights and privileges” (Alma 30:27)”

Now, lets analyze these falsehoods one by one and observe how each one can be used to initiate moral relativism.

a. There is no God

This one may at first be startling to someone who doesn’t believe in God but still rejects morals being relative. But this principle is the cornerstone of the foundation. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “living without God in the world brings a functional lack of consistent perspective. If there were no eternal truths, to what principles would mortals look for guidance? If not accountable to God, to whom are we ultimately accountable? Furthermore, if nothing is ever really wrong, then no one is ever really responsible.” If we remove God from the picture, and morals are not appealing to absolute truth that comes from what God has said, then we have moral relativism in every case. The objection will then be made, “that’s not true because we are held accountable to the laws we make through legislation.” This might seem reasonable, but it presents a dilemma. Laws of the land are subject to those who make them, and can easily become corrupted.  Frederic Bastiat stated,”But the law is made, generally, by one man, or by one class of men. And as law cannot exist without the sanction and the support of a preponderating force, it must finally place this force in the hands of those who legislate.” He goes on, “This inevitable phenomenon, combined with the fatal tendency which, exists in the heart of man [to engage in plunder], explains the almost universal perversion of law. It is easy to conceive that, instead of being a check upon injustice, it [can become] its most invincible instrument.” Cicero boldly taught the dangers of using man-made laws as a standard: “The most foolish notion of all is the belief that everything is just which is found in the customs or laws of nations. . .What of the many deadly, the many pestilential statutes which nations put in force? These no more deserve to be called laws than the rules a band of robbers might pass in their assembly.” If morals are not based on God’s laws as revealed through his prophets, and are relative to worldly governments or laws, that is still moral relativism, no matter what type of government is used. In a monarchy, the morals are relative to the king or ruler. In a democracy, the morals are relative to the people as a body.

b. Belief in Christ is “a foolish and a vain hope”

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) King Benjamin taught, “And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ.” (Mosiah 3:17) The Apostle Paul testified, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) If we dethrone Jesus as the only way to receive salvation and return to God, and declare a belief in him to be “a foolish and a vain hope”, what follows is religious relativism. Now the door is open to any other idea of how to be saved. You choose.  This principle generates responses like this, “I don’t think I could say that Hinduism is wrong or Catholicism is wrong or being Episcopalian is wrong – I think it just depends on what you believe . . . I don’t think that there’s a right and wrong.” (Christian Smith 2009) A God who is himself bound by invariable natural laws, cannot be the author of confusion – leading each living soul down a different path with contrasting ideologies, and offering the same reward.

c. Those who believe in a remission of sins are under the effects of a frenzied or deranged mind

Sin is the violation of a moral or religious principle. Remitting is to give pardon or forgiveness. What advantage does one gain by teaching that the belief that moral violations need to be remitted or paid for is the effect of a frenzied mind? He is no longer held accountable for violations! Paying whatever price it takes to have an offense pardoned is no longer necessary. So much for putting a child in time-out, or sending a criminal to prison, for both of those involve someone doing something wrong and then doing what it takes to receive a remission. It is the same principle.  If no remission is required, the individual is left to hold himself accountable. He conveniently becomes his own highest authority.

d. Their derangement is caused by following the traditions of their fathers and the whims of corrupt leaders

This principle breeds relativism because if this is true, then no moral can be passed down from one generation to the next through the channel of the family. Whatever God revealed as truth to one group of people is in the past, and is now, in the present, considered “a foolish tradition of their fathers.” Definitions of right and wrong would then be derived from what had not already been taught, or from the agendas of public figures or the “whims” of celebrities rather than what religious leaders teach.

e. Man is a creature

An effortless way to establish a basis for moral relativism is to teach that man is a creature, having evolved from animals we are nothing more than a species of brute. Here is an example from Benjamin Wiker of where a principle like this takes us. “Sexual revolutionary Alfred Kinsey pulled off his normalizing of sexual deviancy by arguing that homosexuality and “inter-specific matings” (i.e., sex between members of two distinct species, the equivalent of bestiality) regularly occur among animals. Since we are merely animals too, so he argued, then homosexuality and bestiality must be natural—and hence not immoral.” Identifying the dilemma he further states,  “But on this logic, anything that appeared with fair frequency among animals—such as cannibalism and sexual brutality—would be natural, and hence moral, for human beings.”

f. One “fares in this life according to the management of the creature; . . . and whatsoever a man does is no crime.”

Believing that we experience good fortune in this life according to our own management, that we prosper according to our own genius, that we conquer according to our own strength will naturally extinguish the flame of faith in God,  and dismantle the idea that there are laws “irrevocably decreed in heaven. . . upon which all blessings are predicated.” (D&C 130:20) With such beliefs, a sense of individualistic pride would be instinctive. However, “In spite of its outward, worldly swagger, such indulgent individualism is actually provincial, like goldfish in a bowl congratulating themselves on their self-sufficiency, never mind the food pellets or changes of water.” (Neal A. Maxwell) Eliminating the idea of a God who figuratively puts in our pellets and changes our water leads us to become ignorant goldfish, whose morals are up to individual taste and preference.

g. There is no sin and no need for a Savior

The only way we wouldn’t need a Savior is if there is no sin. This creates a paradox though. If nothing we do is really wrong, then nothing can be right either. Everything is relative. We wouldn’t need any sort of law to keep us to a level of ‘good’ behavior because there is no ‘bad’. Lehi worded it this way, “if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if those things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon.” (2Nephi 2:13)

h. Those who encourage people to keep God’s commandments are stripping away an individual’s “rights and privileges”

Professor Belnap notes, “This last point is particularly dangerous, for it elevates one’s rights while avoiding any discussion of one’s responsibilities. In purporting to be in favor of individual liberty, moral relativism actually threatens one’s privilege to exercise agency by ignoring the negative consequences of one’s responsibilities to others.” He continues, “In fact, Korihor’s emphasis on “rights” is nothing more than a revised version of Satan’s premortal gambit to strip us of agency. By focusing on perceived loss of rights, we do not hold ourselves accountable, particularly in our relationship with one another, and therefore lose agency, exactly as the adversary wishes.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks offers a similar claim, “One of the consequences of shifting from moral absolutes to moral relativism. . . is that this produces a corresponding shift of emphasis from responsibilities to rights. Responsibilities originate in moral absolutes. In contrast, rights find their origin in legal principles, which are easily manipulated by moral relativism.”

There is a common thread among every one of these principles – the desire to remove accountability. If this can be done, the rest of the dominoes will fall. “Removing accountability destroys agency, which destroys the need for law, which destroys the idea of God.” (Bob Canning)

In regard to eternal law and justice, Elder Christofferson explained, “Freedom comes not from resisting it but from applying it.” We cannot gain any freedom by holding off against the idea that definitions of right and wrong are unalterable. We are born with this knowledge. “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” (Moroni 7:16) All of us are given a conscience with the awareness of moral law. To visualize this concept we refer to C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on quarreling. “They say things like this: ‘How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’ – ‘That’s my seat, I was there first’ – ‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’ – ‘Why should you shove in first?’ – ‘Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine’ – ‘Come on, you promised.’ Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: ‘To hell with your standard.’ Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.”

The determination of this post is that morals are not relative, and to subscribe to any of the eight principles taught by Korihor that have been mentioned, is to advocate moral relativism. Agency is the name of the game, the means to progression. And you cannot have agency without accountability. And you cannot have accountability if morals are relative. Thus, the solution to changing a rising generation of moral relativists to a society of moral absolutists, can be summarized in the words of Elder Christofferson: “Personal accountability becomes both a right and a duty that we must constantly defend; it has been under assault since before the Creation. We must defend accountability against persons and programs that would make us dependent. And we must defend against our own inclinations to avoid the work that is required to cultivate talents, abilities, and Christlike character.”

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!”