Recently, at a stake conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted the prophet as saying, "The future is as bright as our faith." This is a theme worth examining at this time of the year and at this time in the Earth’s history. All but the most pure-hearted among us are a little stressed at this season, trying to live up to expectations. And the news seems daily more calamitous. However, always on a search for hope, I have been studying various addresses by the brethren in great detail. A theme emerges in nearly every one. It has to do with remembrance and faith.
What is the greatest light?
Not only should we remember the good times, but we should analyze how they came to be. For example, look at the greatest gift we have—the miracle of the atonement and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. We tend to use those words almost casually, as part of a formula when referring to our Elder Brother. However, to be rescued from evil, to have our sins wiped clean, and to be redeemed so that we can once again embrace our Heavenly Father with pure hearts, is the greatest hope of mankind. It is indeed the "perfect brightness of hope" that Nephi talks about in the Book of Mormon.
However, what was the price of that gift? Christ’s undeserved, terrible, and unimaginable suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Elder Merrill J. Bateman explained to us in a stake conference that the Savior didn’t just suffer for generic sin of mankind as a lump, but that each of us actually passed before Him, scarred with pain and muddied by sin. In some kind of sacred, metaphysical way that we cannot comprehend, He took the suffering and sin away from each of us and placed it on His back, because He knew we couldn’t go forward thus crippled. Being more concerned with us than with himself, He knew that He could bear it, if He just kept true and drew strength to the God who had sired him. He was tried to the greatest extent of his nature and ability. He cried out for relief, at least once that we know of, but then regrouped and bowed once more in submission. Ultimately, after inexplicable agony, He was crucified, and rent the veil between Earth and Heaven in this great atoning act. Surely, nothing was ever more bright and miraculous than His resurrection! It wasn’t just that He conquered death, it was a sign that sin no longer needed to be spiritually deadly for us. Sin was literally killed and went down into the grave with the Savior. But He was resurrected clean and pure! By doing so, He gave us the chance to have the same experience.
What if we don’t understand?
Another example, also quite illustrative for us as mortals, is Abraham. All his hope, promise, and love was in his son Isaac. The entire Abrahamic covenant of celestial marriage and eternal increase for all of his posterity was contained in Isaac, the miracle child of his old age. And yet, he was commanded to place that miracle child of destiny on the altar and slay him! How could he understand this? What part did this sacrifice play in Jehovah’s great plan? It seemed to Abraham that such an act would destroy it! Not only that, but Abraham himself had been placed on the altar, threatened with death by his own idol-worshipping earthly father in a ceremony that was abominable to this same God. But, because Abraham, like Jesus Christ, was entirely submissive, he endured that unspeakable pain and bewilderment and prepared to follow this commandment. Can you imagine his joy when the Lord stayed his hand at the last moment?
King Benjamin tells us that the only way we can "become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord" is to "become as a little child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us] …"
This is a telling scripture. Chapter 26 in the Gospel Principles manual states " through sacrifice can we become worthy to live in the presence of God. Only through sacrifice can we enjoy eternal life. Many who have lived before us have sacrificed all they had. We must be willing to do the same if we would earn the rich reward they enjoy.
We may not be asked to sacrifice all things. But like Abraham, we should be willing to sacrifice everything to become worthy to live in the presence of the Lord." (Emphasis added)
How do we develop the faith to be tried as Abraham?
According to the brethren’s addresses that I have researched, the key to this kind of faith is that we are tried line upon line and learn precept upon precept. This is where our remembrance becomes key. Look back at your life.
· Do you see a life of trial or a life of miracles?
· Did the trials come first or the miracles?
· When was your learning curve the most steep?
· Why does the Lord say that "faith precedes the miracle?"
Many people looking at the vast amount of trials visited upon them have felt misunderstood, picked on, abandoned by God, and harshly dealt with. If they stayed true, however, as Abraham did, as Christ did, they were finally able to see that the trials, though completely bewildering at the time, were actually the stairs to miracles.
We don’t develop Abrahamic faith in an instant. That was why the five wise virgins could not impart of their oil to the five foolish virgins. It was impossible to give a lifetime of learning by faith to another person.
For many years I suffered bi-polar depression and PTSD. There seemed to be no reason for it at all. It was a dysfunctional element in our family and in my marriage. At times, I held on to the decision to live only by the tips of my fingers. It was a trial I passed through alone, misunderstood, and without hope. However, after some quiet rebellion against the Lord, I finally followed Elder Holland’s advice ("Broken Things to Mend", Ensign, May, 2006) and put my whole life on the altar, covenanting to the Lord that I would be submissive in all things. I gave up my fears. Then after this twenty-five year trial, the miracle came. Advanced medicines were developed and put into my hands. I woke up one morning and with a deep feeling of well-being I had never known, realized that I lived in a beautiful world. The miracle had occurred, just as my strength was finally failing me.
As I looked back on my life, I could see that it had always been this way. The big things in my life: my conversion, my marriage, the births of my children, and now my healing had all come about after an intense trial of my faith, and then by way of miracles.
And this, that I might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.
I have come to the conclusion that the steps to Abrahamic faith are a series of seemingly unsolvable and bewildering trials followed by miracles that only God could have performed. This that we may know that only God could have blessed us in this way. Each time our faith is rewarded our faith is strengthened. Remembrance of this deliverance is what buttresses our faith. The more miraculous deliverances from trial that we experience, the stronger our faith becomes, until we literally live by faith.
Is there anything more important in this life than learning to know Elohim and Jehovah? That is the whole reason we came to the earth.
When I was writing The Last Waltz, I had great trouble understanding the horrible tragedy of World War I. I didn’t know how I, a housewife in the 21st century, could possibly understand what a hideous experience the Europeans had passed through. Then the Lord taught me an important truth which I phrased in my book as an exchange between my heroine Amalia and her faithful friend, Louisa. Amalia is reeling from the senseless death of her soldier husband the consequent suicide of her mother-in-law.
"Part of faith is not giving up hope for a better world," [Louisa] said finally.
"But life is such a bitter gift!" [Amalia]
"At the moment, it seems like it. This is a very dark passage you are in. But it would be a mistake to see that passage as your whole life. There is nothing in this world more deceptive than darkness. You think you live in a void, but actually there are colors and textures and beauty all around you."
"I don’t want to see them . . ."
"Because you thing that it will hurt."
"That is the lie of the darkness." She smiled and took Amalia’s hand. "The price we pay for immortality is to know both this darkness and the light and to choose between them."
When I remember and relive the miracles in my life, I see that they could never have occurred except by the hand of God. And I also see that until I had learned the lesson from the trial that preceded each miracle, I never would have learned to know the Lord in my extremities. The purpose of life if not to find perfection or to live free of pain. The purpose of life is to choose Light and follow it, embracing it so that the darkness cannot have any hold on us in the eternities.