In the men’s dressing room at the Salt Lake Temple hangs what appears to be a full-size copy of a Walter Rane painting depicting Christ calming the seas. The painting is rich in its colors and full of action, with the angry waves threatening to swamp the small vessel that barely contains the six other men, all desperately battling to save the boat and likely their own lives. One Saturday night, in a free moment, I was gazing at this picture, and I said to the white-suited man standing next to me, “Why don’t we have that kind of faith?”
In another recent experience, I was walking around the small pond across from my mother’s apartment in Oklahoma City when I began to ponder, “Why can’t I walk across this pond?” I considered the possibility for a few seconds, telling myself that I could do just that if I had enough faith and if it was God’s will that I do so. It wasn’t long, though, before I understood that I knew I would quickly sink, and that, God’s will or not (and most certainly not at this particular time, place and circumstance), I simply didn’t have the faith required to step out there on that pond. I understood God’s promises, but I didn’t believe them.
It’s probably not a great stretch to assume that most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, would have very similar thoughts to those I had. One very honest father, as depicted in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, declared as he brought his son to Christ to be healed, “…Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”. This father, I’m sure, was beaten and smothered by the daily struggle to survive while caring for his son who was possessed by a spirit whose manifestations threatened his very life. His reality was most certainly a stark one, defined by the harshness of life as he observed it day in and day out. Darkness reigned, but he found himself presented this day with a light of hope. Christ had told him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” All things!
This father’s first response, likely offered in desperation for both himself and his son, was “Lord, I believe!” Then it appears that he experienced a quick moment of reflection that most of us would do well to consider for ourselves. After pleading, in effect, “Yes! Yes, give it to me. I’ll take anything you have to offer – I have nothing to lose!” he seemed to be touched by the spirit of truth – by the light of the Christ standing right in front of him – just enough to realize, “I don’t really believe this, do I? But I really want to! Man, I want to! Please, Lord, help me believe! It’s hard. Look around us. There is evil and hardship and starvation and….well, the world is harsh, and you offer light and hope and…charity. I want to believe in you. I want to believe you. Can you really help me do that?”
I’ve been pondering this theme a lot lately because I feel positively bound by my unbelief. The scriptures scream to us from beginning to end of the power of the priesthood, yet for some reason we seem to act as if miracles are the reserved domain of past prophets, apostles, or a select few who are somehow better or more worthy than us. Yet, there is nothing in the scriptures that supports such a position or view. Also, it seems awfully convenient for us to allow others to shoulder the responsibility that accompanies the power to create the universe.
In D&C section 84, which contains the oath and covenant of the priesthood, Christ offers an incredible blessing:
For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining of these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. (verse 33)
I used to assume that this promise of renewal referred simply to the resurrection, but I was blinded by the conventions of today, perhaps even by the philosophies of men, just as the heroic father above was blinded by the hardships of life in 33 AD Israel. Isn’t it possible instead that the blessing here promised is that of translation? Again, it’s a whole lot easier to believe that this refers to the resurrection than it is to believe that it refers to translation. It’s a lot easier to believe that I just have to “endure to the end” and then receive this blessing than it is to accept that I have a responsibility to actively magnify the priesthood unto the literal renewal of my body – in this life. Finally, it’s a lot easier to tell ourselves that we just haven’t been given this power than it is to acknowledge that we have actually been commanded to exercise the fullness of the priesthood!
So, returning to D&C section 84, we have the Lord offering this incredible promise, only to follow up a few verses later with a pounding condemnation of the entire church:
And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which his confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.
And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.
And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received –
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written –
That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. (verses 48-58)
The Lord is here chastising us for having “treated lightly” the things we have received. How do we escape this condemnation? We must receive His voice and become acquainted with it. We must “Come unto Him”!
How many of us truly hear and receive His voice and are familiar with it? How many of us really think that it is even possible for us? Better yet, how many of us truly believe it and strive for it? How many of us really believe Him – that we can…no – that we must come unto Him in order to escape the bondage of sin? In verse 50 and 51, the Lord doesn’t appear to be saying that we should sit and wait for Him to come to us – He says we are under the bondage of sin, “because they come not unto me”. And again, He doesn’t say anything about coming to Him “after death”. This condemnation is real NOW, and the requirements for redemption are real – NOW!
Brothers and sisters, I don’t know how I can communicate to you the passion that I feel about this. When I think about it, when I talk about it, when I write about it, my heart wants to explode. I see it so clearly, and I want so badly to please my Savior, to accept of His fullness, and to return to His presence – literally. It is a longing that continues to grow with each passing day, week, month.
It is so clear to me, though, that we are blinded by our comforts just as the father in Mark was blinded by his discomfort. He was so blinded by the darkness that surrounded him that he could scarcely believe the blinding light that stood right before him. We, in turn, are so blinded by the light around us that we fail to strive for the far greater light that awaits us. Do we forget that those who have received the greater light are under the greater condemnation? (D&C 82:3) I wonder to what extent we are living the prophecy of Nephi in 2 Nephi 28:21 when he said,
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
Is this us? Is all truly well in Zion? We are under condemnation – the Lord told us so Himself! And revisiting a familiar theme – Zion must be built, and it is not being built, except perhaps in the hearts of a few. What, then, is going to change so that it can be built? Is it possible that it will never be built until there are enough saints who believe Christ, who strive to hear His voice, and who are actively in the process of coming unto Him? Is it possible that the building of Zion is going to require miracles and that only those who truly believe in miracles will be able to build it?
Brothers and sisters, Zion will be built. Christ will return. The 144,000 will be ordained and sealed by angels (D&C 77:11) and prophets will lie dead in the streets of Jerusalem. The unfolding of this drama is coming soon, and we must to stop assuming that the actors will be someone else. They may well be us, and we must prepare ourselves to play our part. These actors will be chosen from among those who are prepared, whose hearts are sanctified, who believe in miracles. They will be those who not only believe in Christ, but who believe Christ and His promises. They will be those who do not “treat lightly the things” they have received. In the end, Zion will be built by those who earnestly seek the fullness of the Gospel and magnify the blessings and power they have been promised. The responsibility is great – for most it will be overwhelming – but how can we turn away? How can we fail to answer the call from Him who wrought the Atonement on our behalf? No – He has promised. Let us believe. And when the time comes, as it surely will, let us plead, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”.