Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Nothingness of Man vs. The Greatness of God

I like reassurance.  I like knowing that I'm doing okay.  As a student back in high school and college, I was obsessed with grades, relishing those reassuring "A's," which told me I was smart and successful.  And dreading anything less than an “A,” which told me I was a failure.  (Ya, I know, I had some issues!!)  In the real world, I struggled to find reassurance confirming that I was living a successful life.

A few years ago, a friend pointed out the Book of Mormon's solution to struggles with self-worth:
". . . Humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel. And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true." (Mosiah 4:11-12)

Honestly, I didn't really understand then the connection between that level of humility and all the great stuff that could follow, but I was definitely interested in those promises . . . that I could:

·               Always rejoice
·               be filled with the love of God
·               always retain a remission of my sins
·               grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created me

But how could going into the depths of humility lead to all of that?

            I think a big problem I faced was that I wanted to be something.  I wanted to be a great mom, an amazing friend, an incredible wife.  I wanted to be an organized homemaker, a super-fast runner, an interesting conversationalist.  I wanted to be a lot of other things as well.  But I couldn’t live up to my own standard of what those things entailed.  And so I felt completely discouraged!  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t find that reassurance that told me I was that “something” I so desperately wanted to be. 

            Slowly, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be discouraged . . . because I don’t have to be “something” at all.  The Spirit has taught me to accept, instead, that I am nothing. 

            What?!?  What a terrible thing to say, right?  I mean, if I tell someone, “You are nothing,” then I better put up my fists, because those are fighting words, right? But I can tell you in complete sincerity that learning that I am nothing has been the most humbling and the most liberating truth I’ve ever learned.

            If you’re like me, you might need some convincing that this is a sound scriptural idea. 

Let’s take a look at King Benjamin.  At the end of his life, he called his people to gather together to hear his final sermon.  Now keep in mind that he referred to his people as a “highly favored people of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:13).  And what was his message to these peaceful, God-fearing people?  Among other things, he says:

“And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay.  Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.”(Mosiah 2:25)

            No reassurance.  No flattery.  No praise for their goodness.  Only a reminder of their nothingness.  Why would he give these good people such an unflattering message?

            There was more.  He warned them:

“… men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:18-19).

These people, who were faithfully keeping the commandments, were threatened with damnation and essentially called the enemy of God.  Did he really need to put the fear of God into these people who were already living so righteously?

Christ taught, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). So let’s look at the fruits of King Benjamin’s teaching:

And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them. 

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words, the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 4:2-3). 

They saw their own nothingness.  They recognized that their natures were fallen and corrupt.  They believed in the Lord’s mercy and their absolute need for His atonement.  They humbly begged for mercy.  And in return, they experienced “a mighty change . . . in [their] hearts,” they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to good continually,” they received “great views of that which is to come,” and “could prophesy of all things.”(Mosiah 5:2-3) After covenanting to obey God’s commands in all things, they became “the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). 

These incredible blessings came as a result of this people seeing themselves as “less than the dust of the earth.”

 The gospel is counterintuitive.  Jesus taught, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).  And King Benjamin’s people gained everything by seeing that they were nothing.    

Are we willing to hear this message?  Or do we want reassurance?  Do we want to hear that “all is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well” (2 Nephi 28:21)?  What’s wrong with that?  I mean, we’re all good people, right?  Nephi warns, “Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:24-26). 

And what do the precepts of men tell us?  They say:

“Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; 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 Nephi 28:8). 

Could that be us?  Could we want to partake of all the world has to offer, yet still believe in God?  Could we wrongly assume that our belief in Him is enough?  Could our earthly pursuits and accomplishments keep us from recognizing our own nothingness?  Could our incorrect beliefs lead us to a false understanding of our state before God?  Are we actually in eternal jeopardy unless we humble ourselves to the dust as these people did? 

The Lord does not seek to reassure us about our current state.  He does not flatter us and tell us how amazing and wonderful we are.  The only praise I see Him give is for those who humble themselves before Him, become as little children, and recognize their complete dependence on Him – those who, in essence, say, “I am nothing.” 

“You are nothing” is a hopeful message when it is coupled with a remembrance of God’s goodness and grace.  Notice how king Benjamin links the two:

“I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility . . .” (Mosiah 4:11)

            Christ said, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  I believe that King Benjamin spoke the truth.  And these truths are setting me free.  I’m still learning, but it’s exciting to be able to see with even a little more clarity.  Here’s what I’m learning:

·               If I am nothing and you are nothing, then there is no need to compare:

“When you begin to think you've outshone your fellow man, you should reflect again on Moses' reaction to seeing the Man of Holiness: ‘Now for this cause I know man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.’ (Moses 1:10.)  None of us have anything to boast of, even if you know more than your fellow man.  We all know less than He who is ‘more intelligent than them all.’ (Abr. 3:19.)

·               If I am nothing, then earthly pursuits and accomplishments are seen as “treasures on earth” that do not last.  My nothingness motivates me to “seek first the kingdom of God” and to lay up treasures in heaven. 
·               If I am nothing, then it is possible for me to love my enemy, to not be easily provoked, to turn the other cheek.  This will never be an easy thing for any of us to do, but at least it becomes possible when I view myself from God’s eyes.  If I am something, then I can’t help but defend myself, resist evil and demand an eye for an eye. 
·               If I am nothing, then I can trust the Lord with all my heart and lean not unto my own understanding.  I can acknowledge Him in everything and allow Him to direct my paths. 

One day, maybe like Alma, we’ll each be able to say:

“Yes, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore, I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12).