In what may have been the Savior's first public discourse of His mortal ministry, He taught that He was the promised Messiah. Jesus Christ began His sermon by reading from the writings of Isaiah concerning the future mission of the Anointed One:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised." (Luke 4:18; emphasis added.)After reading this prophecy, the Savior "began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:21, emphasis added.) In other words, Jesus was declaring that not only was it He, the Messiah, to whom they were listening, but it was He who could heal them of their afflictions and provide the peace which they were seeking.
On this particular occasion, those to whom the Savior was speaking attempted to rationalize His message as they rejected Him and "thrust him out of the city." (Luke 4:28.) Jesus had anticipated their rejection and had taught them that even though there were many among them who had afflictions, few would accept Him and be healed. (See Luke 4:22-27.)
While many things have changed since the day of the Jews' initial rejection of Jesus as Messiah, many things remain the same. We, too, are confronted with the same question as those at the time of the Savior: "What think ye of Christ?" (Matt. 22:42.) How literally can we take the Savior's words? Have we accepted His invitation to "come, follow me" (Luke 18:22), or have we, as those of old, resisted Him? Does the Savior truly have power to heal our broken hearts and can He deliver us from our infirmities? To whom or to what do we turn as we face the challenges of mortality?
My intent in writing this article is to remind each of us of the wonderful healing power of Christ and His gospel. The scriptures are abundant with promises of beauty and peace that can come into our lives through Christ. In the Book of Matthew we read the invitation and promise of the Savior: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:22.) From Isaiah, we learn that the Messiah has "borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows." (Isa. 53:4.) In the Book of Mormon we also read of the power of Christ and His atonement. Alma teaches us that the infinite nature of the Savior's atonement included "pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind." (Alma 7:11, emphasis added.)
While these promises of healing and wholeness are glorious, it has been my experience - personally, professionally and ecclesiastically - that as a people we do not take the promises of the Savior seriously enough. Consequently, we are experiencing "bondage under the elements of the world." (Gal. 4:3.) Note the following description of some of the problems of our day:
"Since 1960 . . . there has been a 560 percent increase in violent crime; a 419 percent increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorce rates; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200 percent increase in the teenage suicide rate." (William J. Bennet, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 1993, as cited in President Gordon B. Hinckley's October 1993 general conference address.)
My heart goes out to all of those whose lives embody in any way the statistics quoted above. We truly live in the "perilous times" spoken of by Paul. (See 2. Tim. 3:1-17.) While these statistics represent what has happened in America these past 35 years, they are representative of what is happening in most parts of the world. While we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have not experienced as dramatic an increase in serious problems, all is not as well in Zion as we would like. Even though it would be a mistake to say that all of the problems we encounter in our lives comes as a result of sin, it is certainly " . . . the most persistent cause of human suffering." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 155.)
The Lord and His prophets have cautioned us that the primary reason we are experiencing many of the problems we do is that as a people we have not come unto Christ. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord has instructed us, "the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness . . . because they come not unto me." (D&C 84:49-50, emphasis added.) This failure to come unto Christ is why we suffer the "condemnation" spoken of in the scriptures and re-emphasized by President Ezra Taft Benson during his ministry. (See D&C 84:54-57, and Ensign, May 1986, p. 78.)
President Howard W. Hunter, in his first public discourse as president of the Church, reminded us: "This world needs the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The gospel provides the only way the world will ever know peace." (Address given at Carthage, Ill., June 26, 1994; See Church News, July 2, 1994, p. 6.)
President Hunter has also stated: "Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and His teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right." (BYU Devotional Speeches of the Year, 14 March, 1989, p. 112.)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the Lord's plan for our happiness in this life and exaltation in the world to come. Other ways of life may bring "joy . . . for a season" (3 Ne. 27:11), but it is the gospel of Christ which brings the "peace of God, which passeth all understanding." (Philip. 4:7.) There is no other way. However, "Whenever the God of Heaven establishes by revelation His design, Satan always comes among men to pervert the doctrine. . . . He often establishes a counterfeit system, designed to deceive the children of men." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 400.)
Two of the central tenets of this "counterfeit system" spoken of by President Benson are the philosophies of "humanism" and, what I have come to call "salvationism." The philosophy of humanism includes the idea that "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves." ("Humanist Manifesto II," The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, J. Gordon Melton, ed. 1988, p. 641.) While this philosophy is generally atheistic in practice, there is also a theistic variety practiced by many who believe they are diligently keeping the commandments. The following story illustrates humanistic philosophy as practiced by a Latter-day Saint:
"Esther was trying to be the perfect wife and mother. Every morning she woke up announcing to herself: `This is the day I will be perfect. The house will be organized, I will not yell at my children, and I will finish everything important I have planned.' Every night she went to bed discouraged, because she had failed to accomplish her goal. She became irritable with everyone, including herself, and she began to wonder what she was doing wrong.
"One night Esther knelt in prayer and asked for guidance. Afterward, while lying awake, a startling thought came to her. She realized that in focusing on her own perfection she was focusing on herself and failing to love others, particularly her husband and children. She was being not loving, therefore not Christlike, but essentially selfish. She was trying to be sweet to her children, but not freely, out of love for them, but because she saw it as a necessary part of her perfection. Furthermore, she was trying to get a feeling of righteousness by forcing her husband and children to meet her ideal of perfection. When her children got in the way of her `perfect' routine, she became irritated with them and treated them in a most unloving way. Likewise, if her husband did not meet her idea of perfection when he came home from work, she judged him as failing and was critical of him as a way of reinforcing her sense of her own righteousness.
"Esther remembered the Savior's commandment to be perfect as He is perfect. (See 3 Ne. 12:48.) She realized that this perfection includes loving as He loved (John 13:34), and realized she had been pursuing the wrong goal." (Teach Them Correct Principles: A Study in Family Relations, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1987, p. 7.)
As with Esther, most of us who have some challenges with perfectionism are not committed to selflessly serving others, but in serving ourselves by showing the world how competent we are. We are constantly on the run, doing a lot of things for a lot of people and often becoming physically ill in the process. Like Martha of New Testament times, perfectionists are "careful and troubled about many things." (Luke 10:41.) Martha's being "cumbered about much serving" (Luke 10:40) was a personal form of idolatry familiar to many of us.
We cannot save ourselves no matter how many casseroles we bake or home teaching visits we make. That is what Paul was teaching when he wrote, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9.) Any theology that stresses the importance of "good works" has humanism as a likely counterfeit.
Just as we cannot save ourselves, we must also remember that neither will God "save his people in their sins" and that "no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven." (Alma 11:34, 37.) "Salvationism" is the false philosophy which espouses the idea that "God . . . will justify
usT in committing a little sin; . . . and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God." (2 Ne. 28:8.) Consider the following example from my life:
My wife had asked if I would rock our baby, Rachel, to sleep. I knew I should, but I really wanted to watch the football game. I quickly settled on a compromise: I could take Rachel in my room, watch the football game on the portable television and rock her to sleep at the same time. A real "win/win" situation! I would miss the color screen, but what a small price to pay for being a good dad.
The problem came after a few minutes of watching the game. Rachel began to fuss. The thought came in my mind that if I turned the television off, walked with her and sang to her, she might be soothed. I knew it was the right thing to do, but did I do it? No, I spent the next 30 minutes struggling to watch the game and rocking my daughter, all the while resenting the fact that I couldn't do what I wanted to!
To many, this example my seem like a "little sin." Surely little things like trying to watch a ball game once in a while are not going to keep us out of celestial glory! I might even be able to convince some of you that my wife wasn't being sensitive to my needs as I had just returned home after a busy day as a bishop. I would agree that while this one act would not deny me entrance into the Kingdom of God it might be representative of a greater problem that would. The grace of God that sanctifies our souls, brings peace to our hearts and exalts us in the Kingdom of God is operational only upon repentance and "yielding [our] hearts unto God." (Hel. 3:35, emphasis added.) My story says something about where my heart was (and where my heart was not). Any theology that stresses the importance of grace has "salvationism" as a counterfeit. This is what Paul was teaching the Romans when he wrote that a life in Christ does not provide justification for sin: "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." (Rom. 6:15.)
These simple day-to-day accounts of my falling short of the mark in not adequately tending my daughter and Esther "looking beyond the mark" (see Jac. 4:14) in her attempt to have the perfect family have something in common. Not only are they typical of the daily challenges of life, they are representative also of the real issue which keeps us from coming unto Christ. The problem comes not in just what we did or did not do, but in the condition of our hearts. The grace of God is sufficient to overcome sins of every kind except having a hard heart and a proud spirit.
The Lord has said: "Wherefore redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah. . . . Behold he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin . . . unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit." (2 Ne. 2:6-7.) In other words, "True repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior. . . . Part of this mighty change of heart is to feel godly sorrow for our sins." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 71.)
Our resistance to the Savior's invitation to "come unto me" (Matt. 11:22) isn't simply refusing to do what we know we should, but in not being who we know we should be. Sometimes our hypocrisy is made manifest not just in what we do, but in what we are.
Coming to live a "life in Christ" (Rom. 8:2) has a power that transcends the ordinary. Examples of Christ "healing the brokenhearted" occur every day. While the examples I have given thus far could be true for most any of us, the gospel of Christ has power to change those who appear unchangeable. For several years I worked with an individual who was trying to overcome his problems related to homosexuality. Not long ago we were having a conversation about the origins of his problems and he said to me, "I do not fully understand the arguments of those who say,
I was born this way,' but what I do know is that I have beenborn again' and `have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.' (See John 3:5 and Mosiah 2:2.) This individual isn't simply "coping" with his problems, but is truly free. He has come to know the truth and the truth has set him free. (See John 8:32.)
There are some who would criticize these ideas and say that the gospel is fine for the minor mishaps of mortality, but serious problems require serious solutions that are beyond the simpleness of the way taught in scripture. I have observed that it is not the gospel which is too simplistic; it is our understanding and obedience that is lacking. Nephi taught us, "Because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished." (1 Ne. 17:41.)
The peace we are seeking may not come according to our timetable. The Apostle Paul "besought the Lord thrice," that his "thorn in the flesh" be taken from him, only to discover that his weaknesses were the Lord's way of making him strong." (See 2 Cor. 12:7-10.) On the other hand, our problems may be "swept away" (Enos 1:6) in an instant as was the guilt Enos experienced. We might also experience our deliverance "by degrees" (Mosiah 21:16) as with the people of Limhi, but we must not lose faith that it will come. While the scriptures do not necessarily promise us temporal prosperity, prestige, or immediate freedom from the problems of the world, they do contain promises of peace in the midst of adversity if we will "come unto Christ and be perfected in him." (Moroni 10:32.) The Savior taught:
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27.)
It is my testimony that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. By coming unto Him we can discover the peace each of us seeks, for He can "heal the brokenhearted. . . . [and] set at liberty them that are bruised." (Luke 4:18.) "What think ye of Christ?" (Matt. 22:42.)