NT 7: Temptation, Mortality, and Hope

img_2650I made bread today. This is my late grandma’s recipe and every bite brings a wave of nostalgia. And it’s just really, really delicious bread.

Today I studied the temptation of Christ following His forty-day fast in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11, NT and Luke 4:1-13, NT). The temptations Jesus experienced seem to reveal a pattern of human frailty: physical hunger, desire for control over life and death, and lust for power over external things and people. If we have Christ’s perspective of the reality of earth life and eternity, that perspective quickly exposes Satan’s lies about the supposed importance of satiating physical hunger at the expense of more important things, his lies about mortal ability to control anything, and his lies about the need for “power.” Satan knows mortal weakness, though, and knows just how to get us.

Like today. Some of the “magic” I have felt the last few weeks has rubbed off and I’m left to my own strength again; left to fight those temptations that are uniquely mine. But are those temptations only mine? Going on the strength of 1 Corinthians 10:13, maybe our temptations and sufferings really aren’t that unique. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NT). If temptations fall into a pattern of human frailty, maybe our temptations and sufferings aren’t that different from people around us.

We sometimes wonder if Christ really did experience every pain, affliction, sorrow that every person on earth has ever or will ever experience. The conceit of suffering suggests that no one can know, no one can possibly fathom just how difficult this temptation or challenge really is. The conceit of suffering also convinces us that if no one has experienced exactly what we’re going through, then no one can possibly help. And we effectively cut off the only real source of comfort, help, and healing that exists: Jesus.

He really did experience EVERY pain, sorrow, affliction, sickness, disappointment, temptation (Alma 7:11-12, BoM). He KNOWS. He understands what we’re going through. He wants to help. If we acknowledge His prior experience and accept His knowledge, we can open ourselves to help, healing, and change.

As for my temptations today, I don’t know if Jesus had any of His own kids to yell at, but He did experience mortality and I believe that He understands (at the very least) the weakness at the heart of my temptation to yell. He provided “an escape” for me several weeks ago (when I didn’t yell at my kids for a whole week!) and He can help me learn how to overcome my weakness, stop giving into temptation, and change my behavior to something more godly.

Day 77: Lonely, but Never Alone

Mormon 8:2-3, 23-24

Moroni, the final Book of Mormon prophet-historian, was to his knowledge the last Nephite living around 400 AD. An enormous army of Nephites had been decimated at a final, massive battle; of 24 known survivors (Mormon 6:11, 15) only Moroni escaped the Lamanites’ dogged determination to wipe out every last Nephite (Mormon 8:2-3). “[A]nd I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people” (Mormon 8:3). Moroni was truly alone. His father had been killed, his people were destroyed; he was left to wander the land in constant fear of his life: “And whether they will slay me, I know not” (ibid.).

Have you ever felt alone? In our day, it’s entirely possible to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated, lonely, unheard, unnoticed, uncared for. I have experienced this. After graduating from college and moving in with my grandma, I struggled to make friends in my single adult congregation. I still remember the pain and embarrassment of trying to make friends and singling out a man one Sunday who I didn’t know was engaged. When his fiancée showed up the next Sunday, I realized what I had done. I felt foolish, embarrassed, frustrated. But nothing could compare with the utter loneliness that descended on me. As a missionary, geographically and technologically cut off from my family and assigned to live with perfect strangers, I felt afraid and isolated for many months. Literally no one knew me. The people who should have been my friends didn’t seem to care about me.

Somehow Moroni pressed on. And somehow, I did, too. Moroni testified:

…and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them. And he knoweth their prayers…. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word. (Mormon 8:23-24)

Like Moroni, I discovered Christ in my extremities. As I walked my lonely paths, I found the Savior walking beside me. He heard my prayers; He organized small details of my life to speak comfort to me and bring great blessings; He provided me with opportunities to grow, to develop self-confidence, to hone talents, to learn how to minister to others, to get outside my comfort zone, to succeed against self-imposed limitations and stiff odds; He kept me safe when I was afraid; He provided for me in my hours of need.

It is tempting in the depths of despair and loneliness to conceitedly think that no one understands. But Jesus Christ truly does understand. He walked the loneliest path of all, through Gethsemane and on to Calvary where even His closest friends abandoned Him. He bore the weight of our sins, suffering, illness, and pain completely alone. On the cross, Jesus even lost the support of His Father’s presence, needing to fully comprehend spiritual death so as to fulfill His role as Savior. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so…. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are” (“None Were with Him,” General Conference [April 2009]).

Jesus Christ understands. He can help you carry your burden, whatever it is. He has felt your pain, loneliness, despair, disappointment. He stands ready to wrap you in the arms of His love and mercy. No matter who you are, what you have done, where you live, Jesus Christ knows and understands you. He loves you perfectly. He can heal you, just as He did Moroni anciently, and just as He has healed me.

Day 68: The Arm of Mercy

3 Nephi 9:3-14

While the death and destruction of 3 Nephi 9 are pretty devastating, I was struck by the Savior’s words as he speaks from heaven to the Nephites and Lamanites. In verses 3-11, Christ names specific cities, describes their destruction and the reasons for it. The Savior was intimately aware of even the minute details of people’s lives, behavior, actions, geographic location, and more. And despite all of the wickedness, despite the ways in which the people rejected Christ and His prophets, He invites them “we ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? … Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).

Have you ever carried an emotional, spiritual, or other weight around with you for a while, long enough that you have forgotten what it’s like to live without that weight on your shoulders? I have. I also know the relief and freedom of finally having that burden lifted, realizing what I have lost while carrying it around, and rejoicing in my new freedom. This is what it’s like when the Savior heals you. Sins weigh us down, whether or not we recognize it in the moment. When we repent and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, those spiritual burdens will be removed; the difference will be stark.

No matter what you’ve done, the Savior is eager to help you repent and heal you. He has satisfied the demands of justice and, if you turn to Him for help, He can apply mercy. And He will heal you.

Day 46: Balm for Every Wound

Alma 31:5

Alma 31 needs a little more attention before I treat some later chapters. Verse five has stuck with me the last few days and I finally realized why. Verse five reads in part:

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else….

The preaching of the word led people to do good and had a powerful effect on them. In other words, learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ more consistently resulted in righteous behavior than any other event or practice. Reading between the lines, the teaching and learning of the Gospel impacted not just individual behavior but its effects extended to the community as well.

So often in our modern society when something goes wrong, we blame ineffective laws and law makers, schools and curriculums, government and law enforcement. What if there was something we were completely missing, something that could actually solve all of society’s man-made problems, inequalities, tragedies, and more? Alma knew that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would have a more powerful effect on the behavior of the Zoramites and the peace of the Nephite nation than anything else he or the chief judge could throw at their problems. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.

What national headlines have troubled you this year? There are plenty to choose from. How about gun violence? The number of shootings in public locations seems to have increased dramatically this year. Whatever the specific motivation for the gunman’s behavior, a knowledge of and appreciation for the sanctity of human life, a deep-seated commitment to personal worth and potential, and a covenant relationship with God to keep His commandments could have kept that gunman from ever walking down the path toward murder. What about corruption at the highest levels of business administration? Jesus Christ teaches us to value the needs of others above our own needs or wants, to humble ourselves and control our desires, to give freely rather than be greedy. What about bullying or the macro version community disagreements running along cultural divides? Jesus Christ teaches us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (remember that even mortal enemies are our neighbors), to do good to all people (even the ones who “despitefully use you,” see Matthew 5:44, NT), to serve others and forgive freely (see Mark 11:25, NT; D&C 64:10). The effects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are real and can have tremendous influence for good.

Now, natural disasters are going to happen and people have their agency; someone who knows the Gospel can still make a choice to go against its teachings. Until Christ returns to the earth and Satan is bound, tragedies and abuse and war and social unrest and crime are just going to be part of life. But the Gospel also provides the balm for every spiritual/mental/emotional wound: Peace and healing through Jesus Christ.

 

Day 19: Healing the Wounded Soul

Jacob 1-2

And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul. (Jacob 2:8)

How does the word of God heal the wounded soul? On the surface I think the logical explanation is that the word of God is another name for the Gospel of Jesus Christ––faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end. Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ literally heals the soul because participating in those steps results in a soul’s redemption and exaltation.

As John writes in his Gospel, Jesus Christ is the literal word of God (see John 1:1, NT). Our souls gain many wounds over a lifetime, whether it is broken hearts, pain for the sins of loved ones, scars from our own sins and transgressions, regret, unkindness, just to name a few. But Jesus Christ, who suffered so much on earth, learning through His mortal experience how best to help each of us with our individual pains, sicknesses, afflictions, sorrows, can heal any wound. One of the miracles of His Atonement is that it gives Him power to understand and apply the perfect treatment.

 

Day 17: Antitheses

2 Nephi 24:3

I love patterns and the scriptures are in no short supply. Some of my favorite Gospel patterns include pairings of opposites; I always find enlightenment in pondering how the Gospel resolves these antithetical equations.

Second Nephi 24:3 revolves around such a pattern. It contrasts eternity and mortality, promising rest in eternity as a salve to specific conditions of mortality. “And it shall come to pass in that day [the millennium/the day of resurrection, signaling the “start” of eternity from a human perspective] that the Lord shall give thee rest, from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.”

“Rest” is here presented as a condition of eternity. It resolves sorrow, fear, and bondage which serve as fundamental markers of the human experience. If eternity is the antithesis to mortality, then sorrow, fear, and bondage are the conditions of mortality and antithetical experiences to eternal life. In which case, we can identify defining characteristics of eternal life as the opposites of sorrow, fear, and bondage: namely joy, fearlessness, and freedom.