“I have a non-work related question for you. Where can I get a Book of Mormon?”
That’s how a coworker started an IM conversation with me at work one day when I was still in Florida.
Hmm…oh, I don’t know. Let me see if I could possibly figure that out…you want one? You want twenty?? Want to meet with the missionaries?? Wanna come to church? Get baptized? Gahhh! Play it cool, PLAY IT COOL!
“I think I can find you one…”
This coworker was a committed Baptist who was highly curious about religions while holding VERY strong opinions about the validity of everything he learned. He studied the Bible devotedly, had read the Qu’ran, and was having lunch regularly with another girl at work who’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Apparently it was now my turn for cross-examination.
He did read the Book of Mormon, he did meet with the sister missionaries (ironically, the only friends I had left in Jax), he did write a 22-page treatise on all the reasons he thought the LDS church couldn’t possibly be true that eventually found its way to the mission president, and (in fairness) I once sat him down and lectured him for an hour on the principles of faith and belief and their superiority over historicity in testimony building.
He didn’t get baptized.
The missionaries and I spent more than 6 months with him talking about the things that we believe and in what ways it was different, and not so different, from what he affirmed — amicably, if you can believe it. We covered topics that ranged from the means of salvation to the archaeology of the Book of Mormon, from the Trinity to The Godfather and what it teaches us about grace and works. In the end, he totally adopted our teachings on eternal families, respected the organization of our missionary efforts, and valued our genealogical resources, but still thought Joseph Smith was a charlatan. Right before I moved away he thanked me for our open discussions and told me that, through them, he had come to realize his dogmatic assertions were not always correct. Now if that’s not the Spirit of God hard at work, I don’t know what is. Praise the…ah, nevermind.
Throughout this investigative fervor, my sister missionary friends and I concocted a plan to get him and some of my other coworkers to church. The sisters were going to be speaking in sacrament meeting and we thought it would work out great if I could give a talk with them. They got permission, I invited everyone, my coworkers all cancelled the morning of, and the three of us mostly talked about how much we loved each other. So, all in all, our scheme was a wild success.
Regardless, I thought I’d post my talk here for posterity’s sake. For someone’s posterity’s sake.
God Yielded His Heart to Us
In Moses ch. 7, from the Pearl of Great Price, we learn of a vision that Enoch has where the Lord shows him all the inhabitants of the earth. He sees Satan veiling the earth with darkness and “angels descending out of heaven; bearing testimony of the Father and Son” [v. 27] and then we learn something really interesting: “The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept.”
And Enoch’s really confused. He asks, “How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?” [v. 28] And Enoch continues, on and on, about how great God is and what great things He’s done and then he concludes saying, “Naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?” [v. 31] Or, in other words, what in the world is going on here? How are your tears even possible?
The Lord’s response is this: “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands…and unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood…and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them…wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” [v. 32-37]
God knows the fate of the wicked. It is not their disobedience that causes Him to weep, but their suffering.
We know the precise cost of His investment of love in His people. Not only did God choose the path of vulnerability – opening himself up to pain and disappointment – when he enabled us to come here, allowing us to be “free to act for [ourselves]—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life,” [2 Nephi 10:23] but also, as written in 1 John: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” [4:9]
This was obviously a great gift and sacrifice by the Son as well as the Father since the act of Atonement was one freely chosen by Christ Himself whose whole life was one of supreme vulnerability. He came to earth as a helpless child, He relied on and befriended imperfect people, He was betrayed, ridiculed, and ultimately crucified as a common criminal. Can you think of a more fitting title than Lamb of God for a Savior such as this?
Teryl Givens, an LDS author and professor said, “In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain He can, assumes all the suffering He can, and weeps over the misery He can neither prevent nor assume.” [The God Who Weeps]
Why does God yield His heart to us in this way? Or, in the words of Job: “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?” [Job 7:17] Seriously, why even bother with us at all?
Since God made us in His own image, we may be able to glean a partial answer by studying our own natures.
For that, I will defer to the work of a qualitative researcher named Brené Brown that Sister Aure actually introduced me to when we first met almost 10 months ago. Brené Brown has spent over 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Through her research, she’s concluded that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love. It is what enables us to connect. She also states that the only people who don’t experience vulnerability have no capacity for connection or empathy.
It follows that in order for God to be a God of love and to experience a fulness of joy, He must also practice vulnerability. But unlike the rest of us, who can only give imperfectly, God is free to set his heart upon us without personal risk because He doesn’t love us in order to fulfill a need for Himself but for a need He wants to fulfill on our behalf.
A couple years ago I had a friendship that basically dissolved into all sorts of unhealthy and negative behaviors and emotions and for a long time I was trying hard to love my friend in order to get our old friendship back. But it just wasn’t going to happen, and I was completely unwilling to face that. So I was caught in this frustrating cycle where I would try to be generous and loving and then I’d hit a wall where I wasn’t getting an adequate return on what I thought I was investing and I would get upset and lash out and then I’d feel bad and try to be generous and loving again…it wasn’t good, and it wasn’t fair for either one of us. Finally, I decided that she meant enough to me that I was willing to accept whatever she could offer me – that I would love her and be her friend regardless of how it seemed she felt about me or our friendship. I wish I could tell you that I was even remotely good at it or that it worked miracles, but I wasn’t and it didn’t. HOWEVER, it did change things for me. It gradually replaced the pain and the struggle I was experiencing with a better love and compassion than I was capable of feeling before. This is by no means the solution for every similar situation, but in this specific instance, it was very empowering.
Power in Empathy
William Placher, a Presbyterian author and professor expressed: “The God who loves in freedom is not afraid and therefore can risk vulnerability, absorb the full horror of another’s pain without self-destruction. God has the power to be compassionate without fear; human beings now as in the time of Jesus tend to think of power as refusal to risk compassion. But God’s power looks not like imperious Caesar but like Jesus on the cross.” And I would add, like Jesus in the Garden.
We learn from Nephi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, that Christ lays down his life in order to “draw all men unto him.” [2 Nephi 26:24] And drawn to Him we are. We seek out those who have experienced what we’ve experienced. People we can connect with on a deep level. Those who win us over with their constancy and sublime compassion and generosity.
Alma, another prophet from the Book of Mormon adds that Christ takes our infirmities upon Him “that his bowels may be filled with mercy…that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” [Alma 7:12] Christ was supplementing His cerebral knowledge with experiential knowledge.
In the same vein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian and vocal critic of the Nazi party, one who was imprisoned for 2 years during WWII and ultimately executed, noted: “Christ helps us not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering…Only the suffering God can help.”
But God doesn’t do these things just so that we have a shoulder to cry on, divine though it may be. He does this because in his infinite goodness, He wants us to have all that He has and He wants us to be all that He is: “Partakers of the divine nature,” [2 Peter 1:4] “Joint-heirs with Christ.” [Romans 8:17]
Givens also said that, “God’s desire, so manifest in the texture of the created order, is to enlarge the sphere of human joy, and we discover the marvelous truth that our joy is His joy.”
So God provides us with a plan of HAPPINESS. Which isn’t merely a cute name. It’s not clever advertising. The purpose of the plan is for us to obtain joy. Life abundant.
Sister Neill F. Marriott, in this most recent General Conference said, “Yielding to the Lord’s way is the only way to lasting happiness.” [Yielding Our Hearts to God, Oct 2015]
God knows the way – He IS the way – and He wants us to follow Him. But God does not coerce. He does not demand. He invites. He pleads. And He loves. He establishes commandments to guide us. He provides methods of communication through prayer, scriptures, and revelation. He calls prophets to warn and bear special witness. And He gives us His whole self, not only to overcome the effects of sin – to bridge the gap between what we are and what He is – but also that we may be more assured in “trusting [our] all to [His] tender care.” [Hymn 270: I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go]
Christ has earned His empathy. And His empathy earns our trust. We want a god who has suffered alongside us. Who’s been in the trenches and experienced our traumas. Not an armchair god sitting aloof in his gilded pearly white tower, directing things with his impartial yet all-powerful finger. We can’t connect with a god like that. Save us he might but it wouldn’t be much of a reward to live with him afterwards.
God’s sacrifice is a clarion call to the best that is within us. The idea is that “we [WILL] love Him, because He first loved us.” [1 John 4:19]
Yielding Our Hearts to Him
But such love does require a yielding on our part. A vulnerability. “A broken heart and a contrite spirit.” [3 Nephi 9:20] It requires faith like Adam and Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Sara and all those who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them,” as Paul notes. [Hebrews 11:13] It requires placing our hearts on the altar, offering our independent wills, acknowledging that we need help – that God might make a better navigator than our inconstant consciences.
My first experience driving a car happened when I was 12 – coming back from Girls Camp, actually. We were on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere, my dad sitting next to me. He gives me a brief overview of what to do and then we’re off. I’m probably going 5 miles an hour…because I’m terrified. I have no idea what I’m doing or how any of this works. My dad assures me we can go a little faster. So I go a little faster – probably 15 miles an hour – really flying down the road at this point, and we come to a T-intersection. So I stop, cautiously look both ways, start to go…turning the wheel, we’re doing good, we’re doing good…but then I forget to straighten the wheel again and suddenly we’re seemingly careening off the road into this shallow ditch where I run over a tiny pine tree. At which point my dad decides that I’ve probably had enough experience driving for the moment.
Sometimes I feel like my life is just like that. I’m attempting to operate this complicated piece of machinery I don’t fully understand. I can barely reach the pedals or see over the steering wheel. I’m obviously not qualified to be doing this. All I know is that my dad is sitting next to me, giving me pointers, guiding me, reassuring and encouraging me, helping me understand. And because of that I know everything is going to be ok. Even if I end up in a ditch mowing over pine trees.
Sister Marriott pointed out, “The result of sacrificing our heart, or our will, to the Lord is that we receive the spiritual guidance we need…When we open ourselves to the Spirit, we learn God’s way and feel His will.”
And God will not lead us astray. Paul assures us “that all things work together for good to them that love God.” [Romans 8:28] It may not be the good we expect, or hope and pray for. It may not come when we think we need it most. But it will come and it will be the best good for us. We must not give up on Him. And He will not abandon us in our sincere, though halting, efforts.
As Sister Marriott puts it: “If we earnestly appeal to God, He takes us as we are — and makes us more than we ever imagined.”
Story of Jairus
One of my favorite scripture stories is that of the Daughter of Jairus as contained in the book of Mark. Jesus is going around doing what He does – healing people, casting out devils, preaching the Word – and there’s a great press of people surrounding Him. The scriptures describe the scene, “And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him [meaning Christ], [the ruler] fell at his feet, And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.” [Mark 5:22-23] So Jesus goes with him and all these other people follow Him and crowd about Him.
Well in this great horde is the woman with the issue of blood who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and is healed. And in the time it takes for this whole episode to occur, people from Jairus’ household show up and tell him, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” [v. 35] And this could have been the end of the story – listen, bud, it’s too late for you, stop pestering the Savior. You’ve made too many mistakes. You’ve waited too long. Your chances are no longer lying at the point of death but they’re dead. No one can help you now.
But, “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.” [v. 36] And Christ goes to the home of this ruler and raises his daughter from the dead.
God has yielded His heart to us, in so many incredible and seemingly impossible ways, and He does it so that we might have joy. “All that [the] Father hath.” [D&C 84:13] He offers us the most compelling evidence for why we should trust Him and He asks that we yield our hearts to Him so that he can guide us to the best possible outcome. Let us set our hearts upon Him as He has upon us, so that we may say, with Isaiah, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” [64:8] It’s not too late.