Sunday, October 6, 2013

Becoming a Witness of Christ

Artist Carl Bloch

Every one of God's children will face challenges, heartaches, set-backs, and disappointments -- because of our own mistakes or the mistakes of others.  Some might result from natural disasters or physical hardships that are inherently abundant in mortality.  All of these situations can feel binding, hindering, discouraging, and impossible to get through.  In the hardest of times, we might feel like we are in a kind of bondage with no way out.  In these dark times we might wonder why God has allowed this hardship to come upon us, or what He wants us to learn from it.

Through my own dark times of when I felt like I was in bondage; grief and mourning, overwhelming stress, lack of stable income, etc.; I have come to see that there is, indeed, something to learn -- and also to become.  As I have sought out and found healing through the Savior, I have learned that this life is a time to become something -- something greater than we already are or could become on our own strength -- and there is a way to achieve it.

We are baptized with the purpose of making a two-way promise with God, or a covenant.  We promise to keep His commandments, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, etc., and to be a witness of God (Mosiah 18:8-10).  In return, He offers us the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the member of the Godhead who provides comfort, peace, and direction.  Our Heavenly Father also promises to forgive us of our sins when we repent, so that we can become clean again and worthy of His presence and eternal joy.

But, what does it mean to be a witness of God, or of His Son Jesus Christ?  A witness is someone who can vouch for someone else; that what the person is saying is true, that what they claim is accurate.  If the Lord is offering healing from sorrow, renewed happiness, and a removal of sin and guilt through repentance, and we have experienced that for ourselves then we can say, "Yes, it is true.  He does do what He says He can, and will, when we do our part, because I have experienced it first-hand."  We can become a witness and help others gain trust in His grace and atonement by our testimony.

Artist Walter Rane
In the Book of Mormon, there is a record of the people of Alma who were true to their baptismal covenants, trying their best to keep the commandments and live peaceably together.  Despite their faithfulness, the wicked former priests of King Noah along with a group of Lamanite soldiers they had allied with, all who had been lost and wandering for some time, discovered and surrounded the peaceful covenant people, set guards around their city and subjected them to bondage (see Mosiah 23).  The people of Alma submitted to this, without a fight, because they believed that somehow God would deliver them from bondage.

The situation grew seriously worse before it got better.  The people of Alma were persecuted, then forced into physical labor, and then even condemned to die if they were found praying to God (Mosiah 24).  Alma and his people were in a situation that was literal bondage and there was no visible, possible way out.

The first thing the Lord did for them was to acknowledge their situation and their trust in Him, and then to comfort them in their affliction, giving them strength to bear it, even with patience, cheerfulness, and ease (vs. 13-14).  And finally, some time later, the Lord provided a way for them to escape and make their way to "the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah did also receive them with joy" (v. 25).

Verse 21 describes the reason for their joy in this new-found freedom, "for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God."

Verse 14 gives the reason why God allows bad things to happen to good people, "And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions."

Where did Jesus Christ gain this power to be able to visit his people in their afflictions and to ease their burdens, and finally to deliver them completely?  He gained this power by submitting to the will of the Father, taking upon himself all of the pains, sorrows, and sins of the world so that all who will accept his sacrifice and turn to the Father for forgiveness or relief will receive it.

It began in an olive grove and continued on a cross, culminating in the victorious moment in the dawning morning of the Savior's own resurrection.

By experiencing the pains of sin and sorrow, and then the sweet release from it, Jesus of Nazareth became, perfectly, the Redeemer of the world.  He now knew exactly what the aftermath of sin and hardship felt like, and he knew how to relieve the sting and heal the wound.

Isaiah, prophet and seer in Old Testament days, foresaw the coming Savior.  He saw that Jesus would be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief ... he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows ... he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities ... and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:3-5).

Alma, on the American continent, son of the aforementioned Alma, also taught of Jesus' saving role.
    And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
    And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)

What the Savior experienced will never be forgotten.  Recorded even in his resurrected body are the prints of the nails in his hands, wrists, and feet, and the spear wound in his side.  Jesus Christ will never be inadequate or unprepared to respond to anyone who sincerely seeks his healing power.  He reassures us, "yet will I not forget thee.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:16).

The scriptures and modern-day prophets testify that if we turn to the Lord when things are hard, He will visit us in our affliction, even to ease our burden, give us strength to bear it, and eventually grant deliverance.  Sometimes that restoration or restitution won't happen until the next Life, but it will come.  Because of this process of suffering, imploring, and healing, we can become a witness of Him and His power to heal, forgive, sustain, and comfort.  We overcome the weakness and unhappiness of this imperfect world.

We become patient, trusting, confident, and happy.

Since we have covenanted through baptism that we will stand as a witness "at all times, in all things, and in all places" then we should expect to experience bondage of one form or another at times because it is part of the process of becoming a witness.  Knowing this and being this, the bondage then does not debilitate, but will elevate us above the problem and we will grow in faith and love for the Savior.  And eventually be victorious.

When this brief life is over and we have the benefit of seeing ourselves and our mortal life within the context of eternity, it will be of much greater personal worth to us to have become witnesses of Christ than to have avoided pain and suffering.
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”

—Orson F. Whitney, quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, in Faith Precedes the Miracle (1972), 98
Artist Walter Rane

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