While reading Abinadi’s sermon to King Noah’s court, I had a sudden flash. King Noah’s court is the world today. Abinadi’s words were recorded because they were meant for us.
He said, “And now, did they understand the law? I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts; for they understood not that there could not any man be saved except it were through the redemption of God.” (Mosiah 13:32)
It doesn’t take much understanding of the world today to realize that the secularism of today’s society is based upon the poem by William Ernest Henley, Invictus:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
It is very telling that these were the last words uttered by mass-murderer Timothy McVeigh before his execution.
Sadly, even many Latter-day Saints mistakenly believe that they are the masters of their fate, that like the ancient Pharisees, all they need to do is to obey every jot and tittle of the law and they will save themselves. When things go wrong in their lives, they are puzzled, confused, bitter. They rail at God: “Haven’t I obeyed the commandments? Haven’t I done everything I could to be the best possible Latter-day Saint? Why is this happening to me?”
Like the Pharisees they have missed the point of the law. In and of itself, it is meaningless if it does not lead us to the Savior. The purpose of our existence is not to check off all the boxes, but to “putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ.” (Mosiah
The word become is what this life is all about. We are here to choose immortality and eternal life, to become. To know God and his son Jesus Christ. Whatever the trials in our lives, they are all about becoming. And the grace of God (the enabling power of the atonement, see Bible Dictionary p. 697) is the only thing which can enable us to overcome those trials in a way that will make true Saints of us.
Having recently been delivered from a trial that has lasted most of my life, I can well understand why we live in an age of addictions. People will do anything to “shut up their heads.” It is not only drugs, alcohol or pornography that is the addiction of choice. Anything that stands between us and dependence on our Savior can become an addiction. Even our church callings! If we are so wrapped up in who we think we are, we are not open to becoming who the Lord would have us be.
Many of us have great natural talent and ability and approach the challenge to serve with an arsenal of our own development. We literally spend ourselves, sometimes depleting all our natural strength, because we don’t understand that we are the Lord’s hands. It is His work we are doing, not our own. We need to humble ourselves, as King Benjamin suggests, and realize that it is only through the grace of God that we can presume to do His work on earth.
I was blessed to have a wonderful secular education. I also came from a home that demanded excellent performance in every detail. A convert to the Church, I never really understood that it was not my strengths the Lord was interested in developing. I took my callings seriously and devoted a great amount of time and energy to sharing all my “experience.” It wasn’t until I was totally humbled by illness and could no longer depend on my natural ability that I really learned what this life was all about — perfecting our souls through grace, not through our own strengths.
On the other hand, it seems that more and more, people are becoming overwhelmed by the mess that exists in the world, or because of the world, in their homes. They struggle to have light and truth in their lives, but always feel that they come up short.
When I was at the lowest ebb of my illness, a family member was suffering a horrible trial that was truly more than I could bear. I couldn’t help. I was at the end of my tether. The scriptures seemed like a reproach. All the “happy” members of my ward seemed out of my hellish sphere. I was forced to my knees. Forced to admit my weakness and ask for strength by the grace of God. (Ether 12:27) I had to place this family member in His care, because I was barely clinging on to the cliff of mortal existence, while ferocious waves conspired to tear me from my increasingly weak handhold.
A correspondent wrote to me recently: “I would try to work as many hours as I could, often falling into bed at 1 or 2 in the morning, sometimes later, and then up in the morning to get kids off to school and start my working day all over again. There were 10-12+ hour working days intermingled with kids. My health suffered. So, of course, always looming in my mind was why do I have to do all of this? I truly felt I was suffering — but for what purpose? There had to be more than just making it through the day in one piece!”
We were both extremely heartened by a quote my husband found for me from the 1993 Women’s Conference:
“Grace transcends mortal rules of justice. Life is not a mechanical scale of effort or suffering on one side balanced by the appropriate reward on the other. Life is a process of growth, where growth itself becomes the reward.
“I tired long ago of hearing promises of some future mortal reward equal to my suffering, as when well-meaning friends foresee financial security or loving companionship in a future whose happiness will outweigh the sadness of my past. The deceiving logic of such an idea implies that when life goes on, droning with problems, with no glory in sight, I am not yet worthy or perhaps have not yet suffered enough. That is unsettling, when all around, those apparently less righteous or less tried seem to be reaping the glorious gifts of this earth.
“The fact is that trials are neither distributed equally nor sorted according to a subsequent and matching earthly or heavenly treasure. Problems are neither price nor penance for credit toward some misconceived idea of payment. Instead, life itself, even eternal life, with growth, hope, and peace promised by the Savior’s atonement, becomes its own reward, offering divine gifts of the Spirit. The proving question is not, ‘What will I gain or achieve?’, but, ‘Who will I become?’” Evening Balm and Morning Manna: Daily Gifts of Healing Grace, Elaine Shaw Sorensen, Women in the Covenant of Grace — Talks Selected from the 1993 Women’s Conference
The wisdom of this approach to life in the 21st Century seems absolutely crucial to our well-being. As the world becomes worldlier, we need to rely ever more on the Savior, because society no longer buttresses our values, but actively tears them down. Like the handcart pioneers, we need to come to know the Lord through our extremities.
Whatever succeeds in making us worthy of the Kingdom through the grace of God is surely worth it, isn’t it? That is the whole purpose of mortality. Becoming.
I would like to close with a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that each of us should hold closely to our hearts:
“On … the night of the greatest suffering the world has ever known or will ever know, he said, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (John 14:27)
“I submit to you that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart. I can tell you this as a parent.
“As concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless, I could would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help, or should feel his or her interest were unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments.”
(CES Satellite Broadcast, 2 March 1997)
If we do not take hold on the grace our Savior offers to us, for you and me, it is as though that night of the greatest suffering never happened. Let us learn to turn to the only source of light there truly is. Let us learn to lean on the Savior.
G.G.’s latest book, Pieces of Paris, a novel chronicling the difference between real and narcissistic love, has just been released. She loves to communicate with her readers through her website http://ggvandagriff.com or her blog at http://ggvandagriffblog.com.