Separation and Unification

Recently I was led to study the principle of unification and separation within the Gospel of Christ. This was something taught in recent Ward Conferences in my Stake but I have looked into this more and will try and explain my ramblings in some sort of sensible order!

What is Separation?

Separation is defined as “the action or state of moving or being moved apart” or, even better “the division of something into constituent or distinct elements”. Separation means that things, or objects that were previously together are broken into different, unique parts of the previous whole.
Separation takes a number of forms and happens in a variety of ways in the world we live in. Examples of separation include, but are not limited to:

  • National separations
  • Separation within countries of language
  • Race
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Generations

In most of these circumstances, separation can be seen as a hurdle or a barrier between quality relationships. For example, the people of Mosiah were taught by King Benjamin about Christ and they had all covenanted to live a Gospel life – however this standard was not upheld by all of the rising generation (another example of separation between generations). We read “And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 26:4) The people began to be separated in their faith. As such they had more contention and problems which led to Alma leaving his judgement seat he was voted to in Alma 1 to go out and preach the word of the Lord.

However, there is more to separation and it’s opposite, unification.

How does Separation Fit into the Plan of Salvation?

Separation plays a key role in Heavenly Father’s plan for his children. From the very beginning we were with Heavenly Father but we decided to become separated for a future goal, which will be brought forward later. This physical separation from our Heavenly Father was important. We now live on this Earth with a physical body which houses our spirit (unified together).

As we go through life, we will eventually experience the opposite, death. Death is defined in the Bible Dictionary as this:
Two kinds of death are spoken of in the scriptures. One is the death of the body, which is caused by the separation of the body from the spirit; “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The other is spiritual death, which is to die as pertaining to, or to be separated from, righteousness—to be alienated from the things of God (Alma 12:16, 32; 40:26).

We had to leave the presence of the Father in order to progress. In the same pattern, Adam and Eve had to fall (become separated) from the Garden of Eden in order for mankind to live and have joy. Also, once we reach the end of our mortal probation, it is true that we all will die physically, which involves a number of separations: body and spirit, family members and separation from the Earth are just some examples. Separation plays vital parts in Heavenly Father’s plan.

Is Separation Necessary?

The short answer – yes. There are a number of times, linked with the Plan of Happiness but also for other reason, when separation is needed.

In Alma 3:14 we read of the example of the Lamanites and Nephites. These two great nations were constantly at odds with one another. From the inception of the two separate groups, there was always a clear reason why this separation had to happen. This is what we read “Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.” In this case, this very literal and physical separation was to protect the Lord’s covenant people. There is some issue raised about ‘the mark’ that the Lord placed upon the Lamanites and what this means about race. Whilst others will have their view and continue to voice that, I take this as simply an example of pragmatic guidance from the Lord. Simply – see those people that look different to your people, avoid them because they hate your people and also their traditions would lead you away from the Gospel path. Here – the separation protected the Nephites physically but also spiritually.

In Alma 5:57 we read of a much more figurative, or spiritual, application to the necessity of some separation. Alma teaches “And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;” The people taught by Alma were not only encouraged to separate from the wicked but told to be separate and touch not their unclean things. Now of course, it would be difficult for the believers to physically gather away from all non-believers – perhaps this refers more to the state that we are expected to live in today, being in the world but not of the world. However this guidance was implied, it is another example of where separation is needed.

The above applied also when the Saviour came to visit the Americas. He said to them “But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.” (3 Nephi 15:19) This is similar to the other two examples but another example of when separation is used in the Lord’s ministering with His children of the covenant.

Perhaps the most drastic example of separating covenant people from the wicked is the people of Enoch who were literally taken from the Earth to dwell in the presence of the Lord. We read of this in D&C 45:12 “Who were separated from the earth, and were received unto myself—a city reserved until a day of righteousness shall come—a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations;” This and the other examples show that separation does not always mean a negative thing completely. However, in every example found in the scriptures, separation was only used to protect the righteous from the wicked. On a personal level, separation is not good news.  

How is Separation Overcome?

We need to avoid separation between nations. Separation can lead to weakening of the whole. We see an example of this in Alma 31:2 when Alma was sorrowful with the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites. We read “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.” Alma was sorrowful because of this separation. He knew that it would have a negative impact on the Nephites (probably due to the degenerating spirituality of the Zoramites and the danger of them joining the Lamanites) and the negative impact on the individual Zoramites themselves. Separation can be a danger to both sides.

We need to avoid separation between neighbourhoods. We need to avoid separation between families. However, more importantly, we have to avoid separation within ourselves. One important way we have to avoid separation is between our thoughts and where we are at now, where our body is if you will. For example, if we are at a sacrament meeting and renewing our covenants, our sacred promises with the Lord where we can receive great spiritual promptings, but our mind is elsewhere then we miss out on a great experience.

However, the most dangerous separation we have to overcome is that of the separation of body and spirit. We know from D&C 93:34 that “And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” Of course, fortunately we do not have to overcome this separation ourselves. Our merciful Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that we will have our spirit and body unite again.

However, what can we do to unite our mind and body, our families and those around us? We have to work at it. The interesting thing about separation and unification is that one of them happens naturally, and it is not unification. Unification takes effort, separation can happen naturally in a degenerative manner. So work at unifying your family, your friends – because unification brings power and strength. 

What is Unification?

The power of unification is potent. Mosiah 18:21 describes how people who take upon themselves sacred covenants can unify together. Alma taught “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” This is the template for congregations in the Church. We often debate how wards can be stronger in love and service. This is it. Of course, seeing it in practice is much more difficult but this is the target. The covenant of baptism is a call to unite “And it came to pass in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.” (Alma 4:5) We can keep the commandments, study the scriptures, worship at the temple all we can. However, if we do not unite, support and love one another in these activities we are missing out on great blessings.

As I was studying the Topical Guide for the word ‘Unification’, I came across this reference in Helaman 1:6 which says “And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.” This intrigued me. I wondered how this reference could shed any more light on unity. As I pondered over this I realised that this shows an example of how unity can bring peace. In the experience we find this reference, the Nephites are at a crossroads. The great war between the Nephites and Lamanites had passed and the chief judge that had led the way, Pahoran, had passed away. They needed a new chief judge and three of Pahoran’s sons vied for the position. When the victor, Pahoran (Jnr), was voted by the voice of the people, Pacumeni decided to unite with the voice of the people. He chose unity. Had his action been reciprocated by the other forerunner then the Nephites may have lived a very different lifestyle in the years to come. However, Paanchi did not, he chose separation. He called upon Kishkumen, an assassin presumably, and killed Pahoran. As the account continues, this Kishkumen becomes the original leader and initiator of – the Gadianton robbers. We will come back to this band at the end.

How does Unification fit into the Plan of Salvation?

As with separation however, I wanted to look at how unity or unification is used in the great plan of happiness. Recently in my studies and worshipping at the Temple I was thinking about this and the examples of unification are rife within the Plan of Salvation – more so than separation. In Genesis and the book of Moses we read the Creation account and the account of the Fall. I list just a few examples of unification here in these processes:

  • “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2) We also know the Earth itself was created out of matter, not just out of thin air, and this matter had to be organised, or united together
  • “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9-10) Unifying of waters and land
  • “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind…” (Genesis 1:21) Unifying of creatures on the Earth to gather together, each after their kind
  • “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24) This was a very interesting one. Again, I do not fully understand how man and woman were formed. Was it literally a rib from the side of man? I don’t profess to understand yet. However, there is this we can gather – there was a separation and then unification. Separation of ‘rib’ from man and then unification of man and woman – this unification is important for us each individually for eternal marriage and families are part of God’s plan

I could go on with this example but I have picked out a few that stood out. The Creation and the Fall make up two pillars of this Plan of Salvation. The third and final intergral part is the great unification, the grand reconciliation. In fact, the Plan of Salvation itself is an example of “Unification -> Separation -> Unification” for after the adverse effects of the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes all things possible to be brought together in the end. In Alma 11:45 we read “Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” This is why we worship our Saviour, our Redeemer. He makes unification between us and God, us and our families and us and our bodies possible. Without His great sacrifice then separation would become permanent and whilst separation is sometimes necessary in God’s plan, it is ultimately a state we wish to avoid.

When is Unification Dangerous?

Of course, as unification is so powerful, it is something that the adversary, along with every other useful and good thing that he can, uses to try and shake us from our faith. In 3 Nephi 6:27-28 we read of an occasion (and this is not the only example in the history of the Earth and mankind) where a unification happened that caused danger for everyone else involved. We read “Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law. And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness. Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.” This unification caused monumental issues for the people of the Americas. In fact it caused the Nephite government and civilisation to crumble and separate into tribes rather than one united people.

If we are not careful, then we can allow the adversary and his followers to unite against us and separate us from our Saviour. However, we can use the principle of unification to combat against this foe. We find this just a couple of years later in the same people mentioned before who had Christ visit them. “And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.” (3 Nephi 27:1) As we unite as disciples of Christ and strive to live a life patterned after Him, then we can find the strength to resist the wiles of Satan and overcome the world – but unifying will be vital for this to happen, not becoming separate.

Perfect vs Unconditional Love

Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave an excellent talk in the last General Conference about our Heavenly Father’s perfect love. As we know the love of God reaches all. We find the scriptures full of references of his undying love for His children. For example, in Jeremiah 31:3 we read “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” We see evidence of His love in what He has done for mankind. In John 3:16 we read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

However, there is a very important distinction that must be made. It is something which I have occasionally said and it must be clarified. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained “One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture.” I have often used this phrase but it can provide some incorrect meaning. God’s love is indeed unconditional in the sense that He will always love us but if we desire the full blessings of His love, that is down to us. We know that God is not a respecter of persons but also that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson further clarifies by saying “Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,”3 “perfect love,”4 “redeeming love,”5 and “everlasting love.”” These scriptural expressions are much more appropriate. Because of the love of God, He has provided everything for us. Because of the Saviour, the cause of God’s love can redeem us.

As we make ourselves more open to this redeeming love, we can then be changed. We see an example of this in Mosiah 5:2 where the people of King Benjamin exclaim – “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Whilst this feeling is often linked to conversion and a mighty change of hear, we do have to ensure we have this event, or feeling, on a regular basis. As we do this, the redeeming love of God changes us. This is what helps us become better. Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

His love is perfect. His love is redeeming. His love is life-changing.

The Paupered Prince

This entry is based on a talk given by Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy in the December 2009 Ensign.

Christmas is a fantastic time to ponder the Saviour, His life and just exactly what He did for us in fulfilling the mission of His life. Elder Porter poses the question “Why did the Lord Jesus Christ leave that world of light, where he dwelt with the Father in everlasting glory?” Before He came to  Earth, our Redeemer was known as Jehovah and He lived in the presence of the Father as a foreordained prince.

The concept of why this had to be in illustrated beautifully by the story of ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ by Mark Twain. Prince Edward of Wales, heir to the throne of England, accidentally swapped places with Tom Canty, a young pauper. The two (who look practically the same) swap clothes as Prince Edward shows Tom around Westminster Palace. Edward (in Tom’s clothing) gets thrown out of the palace by the guards. Edward then goes through the trials of this pauper – he sees the injustice of the current law and the depressing poverty of his people. Eventually, as the story ends, Edward is restored to the throne (now as King Edward) and because of his experience among the people, he is a hugely compassionate king – because of the suffering he had through.

As it was with Christ, our King. “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Christ descended below all things for many reasons, but one reason is just like in the story of The Prince and the Pauper – so the He could experience what we experience in our mortal lives. In Alma’s sermon to the people of Gideon, he states “…he will take upon him their , 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 7:12) Now of course, in reality, before He came to Earth Christ (as Jehovah) already has perfect compassion, but this mortal experience and the infinite Atonement gave Jesus the Christ an all-encompassing knowledge of the trials of mortal life. He truly knows how each of us individually feels during our experiences.

However, that’s not all the Atonement was for – Christ to gain a perfect knowledge – but rather to give Christ an incredible power to allow God to forgive us of our sins. When we sin, we create a huge problem that we cannot live with God, as His standard (the only way we can live with Him) is in perfection. Once we have sinned – an infinite gulf separates us, to cross that gulf we need an infinite power. Christ’s Atonement provides that and He (and only He) can plead our case before the Father – “Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.” (D&C 45:4-5) We rely totally on the grace and mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The great comfort about the Atonement is that “He is there not only when we cry out from the burden of sin but also when we cry out for any other reason.” continued Elder Porter. The redeeming, healing power of Christ assists, not just with our sins on the day of Judgement – but it is an active, everyday influence in our lives on all our sorrows and griefs. It gives us the strength to overcome such things and to make us more Christ-like. “My prayer and hope is that we will discover the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, that we will understand that the Atonement is not something abstract. Christ literally overcame the world and stands as our friend, a Prince who has lived among us and knows how to make us strong…” continued Elder Porter. The Atonement was not simply a one-off event, effective to only save us from our sins, but also to carry us through life and the trials and experiences we receive.

The Paupered Prince was born, lived, persecuted and died on the cross. He was also exalted back, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to His Heavenly station as Creator and Ruler, “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace…” (Isaiah 9:6) – we are everlastingly indebted and he calls for all of God’s children to come unto Him for rest.

Truths and Deceptions

This entry is based on an entry in the Ensign (October 2009) by a sister called Jennifer Nucklos.

In this troublesome world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading to every corner of the globe. More and more are accepting the invitation to come unto Christ by receiving this Gospel through the principles and ordinances that he taught. We are really becoming the “stone…cut without hands,” (Daniel 2:34) in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Therefore, Satan is continuing his work with lies that he has crafted over millennia of deception and misery. In particular, he aims to lower our opinion of ourselves. As he achieves this – the afflicted person will lower their potential by these destructive thoughts and even find themselves lost, with the tragic view that they are not worth the trouble. These lies are mainly fuelled by our own thoughts and misinterpretation of scripture. Here are some examples:

Lie: Because of my weakness and failings, God is continually disappointed on, frustrated with, and even angry with me.
Truth: God loves me and rejoices in me because I am His child.
We all have weaknesses. Christ himself said “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble…” (Ether 12:27) so we actually have weaknesses and failings for a reason, and the Lord has allowed it. However, some misunderstand why we have these weaknesses and let these thoughts drag them down, which sometimes lead to further imperfections and therefore causing the person to lose the faith needed in Christ to overcome their trials. God’s love is perfect and “we are the children of God,” (Romans 8:16) so He will always deeply love us – even if we turn our back on Him. So, we can take comfort in the fact that He loves us and, through Christ’s Atonement, He can “make weak things become strong.” (Ether 12:27)

Lie: I’m not as righteous, spiritual, attractive, or kind as that other person; therefore God must love that person more than He loves me.
Truth: God knows my individual potential and progress intimately. He does not compare or rank me with His other children.
People may do this, because someone is ‘better’ than us they will like them better. However, God is not like us in this way. “God is no respector of persons,” (Acts 10:34) and so He loves one person just as much as the other. Elder Jeffrey R Holland said “He does not mercilessly measure [His children] against their neighbours. He doesn’t even compare them with each other. His gestures of compassion toward one do not require a withdrawal or denial of love for the other…” Just imagine your unconditional love for a parent, child or spouse, then multiply immeasurably – that is how much God loves each and every one of us.

Lie: I need to prove that I’m worth loving by being perfect. Only when I’m perfect will I be able to experience love from God and others.
Truth: Even though, I’m not perfect now, I can have constant access to divine love.
Whilst I do not think we consciously think that we need to be perfect to earn God’s love, I do think we place restrictions on ourselves because we are not good enough – thus really believing we do need to be perfect for God’s love and blessings. Sister Bonnie D Parkin said “Do we frequently reject the Lord’s love that He pours out upon us in much more abundance than we are willing to receive? Do we think we have to be perfect in order to deserve His love? When we allow ourselves to feel “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love,” (2 Nephi 1:15) … we realise that we don’t need to be immediately perfect.” If God only showed love to those who were perfect…there wouldn’t be a lot of love given, only to Christ! Those who strive to live God’s commandments do receive blessings as a result from keeping those eternal laws – but the love and desire that God has for us to return to Him is always there for every child of His.

Lie: I’m a terrible failure. I’ll never be good enough because I keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Truth: I’m not perfect, but the desires of my heart are good. I can feel inspired to progress.
Godly sorrow is something we need to repent, it is a good thing. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation…” (2 Corinthians 7:10) . However, there are some who unfortunately feel this sorrow to a detrimental level. They feel upset and unworthy because of their imperfections, leading them to think they’ll never be good enough. I’m sure many have felt this or feel this on a regular basis. However, as we partake in the sacrament, renew our commitment to the Lord on an even more regular basis then we can progress. It may take a lifetime (in fact, it will) but as we rely on Christ and do what we can to be better, then we will get there, no matter how many times we fall.

Lie: I have too many issues, hang-ups, and past mistakes to be blessed and happy.
Truth: No mistakes, no personal challenge, no past circumstance is outside of the healing and redemptive power of the Atonement.
If we believe in Christ, then we need to believe His words if we are to overcome this lie. President Boyd K Packer taught “…save for those few who defect to perdition…there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness…Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ.” Through Christ, all sin can be overcome – we can be mended and modified through the eternal, universal, redemptive power of the sacred Atonement. Alma the Younger felt it and said “there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36:21)

As we learn and understand these eternal truths, we can accept that we are imperfect – that even if we serve God “with all [our] whole souls…[we] would be unprofitable servants,” (Mosiah 2:21). Yet, we can still have God’s loving arms wrapped around us, for He loves His children, each and every one of us.

Liberty Jail/Temple Experience

This is based on a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R Holland at a CES Fireside in September 2007.

One of the most difficult and depressing times for the Prophet Joseph Smith was the winter of 1838-39. Persecution in Missouri had become so terrible that the Saints had to travel, through the cold of winter to Illinois, a treacherous trek. Not only that, but the Prophet and other brethren were falsely accused of crimes and unjustly incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Elder Holland describes the horrific ordeal as such – “Surrounded by stone walls four feet thick, the floor-to-ceiling height in the dungeon was barely six feet…When they lay down , it was mostly upon rough, bare stones of the prison floor covered here and there by a bit of loose, dirty straw or an occasional dirty straw mat…
The food given to the prisoners was coarse and sometimes contaminated, so filthy that one of them said they “could not eat it until they were driven to it by hunger.” On as many as four occasions poison was administered to them in their food, making them so violently ill that for days they alternated between vomiting and a kind a delirium, not really caring whether they lived or died.” Such were the conditions the Prophet of God and his brethren found themselves in that wretched place. Not only that but the guards were abusive and blasphemers – making every aspect of that prison terrible.

So why call Liberty Jail a prison-temple experience? This term was first used by Elder Brigham H Roberts in recording the history of the Church. Surely what those brethren endured there was the extreme opposite of a temple.

We are entitled to receiving sacred, revelatory experiences in any situation you’re in: at home, at Church, in the Temple – but also in the most miserable situations of your life. In fact, that’s probably when you’re most likely to receive the most profound experiences and learn the greatest lessons. We all will face our ‘Liberty Jail’ at some point in our lives – not physically but spiritually of course. From all different sources for all different reasons, adversity will come to everyone – God’s plan for us wasn’t for life to be perfect but to have opposition to learn and grow (see 2 Nephi 2:11). Through God though – as will be discussed – we can find warm, comforting arms in those times. Joseph Smith found such comfort from on high – the D&C sections 121-123 were all revelation received during the prison-temple experience and they are powerful words. There are three lessons learnt that Elder Holland highlighted.

The first, having already been mentioned, is that all face struggles in life – the rain falls “…on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) and when this does happen, we will feel like Joseph Smith, crying “O God, where art thou?…How long shall thy hand be stayed?” (D&C 121:1-2). We might feel God has abandoned us and that all is lost. We need to remember however that God is always with us, that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able…” (1 Corinthians 10:13) and I firmly believe that God works the same way with our trials – we will not be tested above that we’re able to endure with God’s help. Remember God’s answer to the Prophet “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment: And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7-8) – all these things we face will end, they are for a short season. The Lord has promised us “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn.” (Isaiah 54:17) and so we need not fear trials.

The second lesson is that, because you are in a trial – it doesn’t mean you have necessarily sinned – although some sins do lead to a greater amount of trials to face. In fact, often the most righteous suffer the most – just look toward our Redeemer! Joseph Smith himself had to be reminded “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8) – the most perfect person to walk the Earth was also the one to suffer the most. “However heavy our load might be, it would be a lot heavier if the Saviour had not gone that way before us and carried that burden with us and for us,” said Elder Holland. Through the Atonement, we can find relief from our burdens and comfort because Christ has suffered it all for us already – we just need to accept the gift. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) – as we come unto Christ by accepting His Gospel, we find rest. We are not greater than the Saviour, therefore we are not entitled to perfect lives with no suffering – and it would have been far worse without the Atonement of Christ, something we can truly be thankful for. This also doesn’t mean we should go looking for trials – for they will come anyway. Also do not pray for them – God does answer prayers – but do pray for guidance for the strength-building experiences when they do come.

The third lesson highlighted by Elder Holland from the Liberty Jail experience is remembering to act in harmony with the teachings of God. “…The powers of heaven cannot be controlled or handled only upon the principles of righteousness,” (D&C 121:36) – therefore, we should not act in anger or vengeance. It takes a true disciple of Christ to take on trials with humility, meekness and continual charity. The true test comes when we’re at our lowest. Christ, Himself, again showed this principle in action. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Christ in His most agonising moments had the charity towards those who lifted Him onto the cross to forgive them. Only then does the meaning of D&C 121:45 – received in the prison-temple – ring true; “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men…then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” Only once we endure our trials with the patience and love required by the words of the prophets, then may we feel we have won the fight.

These three principles are three gems excavated from the prison-temple, however the final counsel given from the Lord to the Prophet is powerful too. Joseph Smith was writing these words for the saints, and he said “…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (D&C 123:17). These are motivating words…however, when we remember what conditions he wrote these in, they can have a larger impact on us. He was still in the prison-temple, the time he’d be let free was still unknown – meanwhile the saints were also at their lowest, being driven from Missouri to Illinois. What a great attitude to have in troubling times, to cheerfully do all things in our power.

I know, with Elder Holland, that trials are a part of life. “The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.” (2 Nephi 22:2) – as long as I trust in Him, I will be cared for, as He is always there.

The Saviour Jesus Christ

This entry is based on an article by President Boyd K Packer of the Twelve in the March 2008 Ensign – a special edition all about the Saviour.

Right from the very beginning, Jesus, who was Anointed the Christ, has been an integral part to the Plan of Happiness for God’s offspring. “And the Lord said: Whom I shall send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me…” (Abraham 3:27) – but what exactly was Christ, then known as Jehovah, chosen for? “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made…” (Alma 42:15) -in order for God’s children to return to Him, a Saviour or Mediator was needed. Jehovah stepped forward voluntarily to take upon Himself the sins and sufferings of the world, for said His Father to Moses “…this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) and Christ’s will is one with His Father. He was “foreordained before the foundation of the world.” (1 Peter 1:20) and not only that, but God said “by mine Only Begotten I created these things…” (Moses 2:1) meaning Jehovah, under the direction of the Father, created the world that we stand on. “Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited…” (1 Nephi 17:36) – it was necessary so that we would have a place to live, grow and develop, according to the Plan of Salvation. This is the antemortal Godship of the Christ.

Of course, Jesus Christ is not only known by this name alone. He has many names, all highlighting His divine nature and role to mankind. For example; “Alpha and Omega” (3 Nephi 9:18)“the good Shepherd” (John 10:11)“the Rock of Heaven” (Moses 7:53)“Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5)“Saviour” (Luke 2:11)“Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)“Bread of Life” (John 6:35) – all signifying His eternal power and love for us!

He and His Atonement are central to the Gospel of Christ. Joseph Smith when asked what the fundamental principles of the Church were – he said “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” After all, He is “the Chief Cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20) Without Him, all other things we do would be pointless.

It’s interesting to note that, despite all these attributes that Christ has, when He brought, accused of false charges, He was meek and accepted it all. He knew He had the power to stop the abuse, but that wouldn’t have fulfilled the Plan. When Jesus was quiet, Pilate said to Him “Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify me, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10) – in quiet dignity and majesty, Christ answered “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above…” (John 19:11) Christ had submitted to the undeserved punishment because He willed it, not because Pilate had the power to impose it. Earlier in His ministry, Christ had said, concerning His life “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:18). Jesus the Christ, the great Jehovah, could only depart this mortal life if He himself willed it – no one else could do it!

Due to this divine power of taking His own life – He was the only One capable – and sinless – enough to put into effect the great and last sacrifice. He, by His own will and choice, took upon Him all that we will ever bear. Gethsemene, His abuse at the hands of the Romans, His suffering on the cross – all these things He went through, so we could be free. “…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Now, because of this courageous act of supreme love, those who come unto Him and repent can and will be made perfect through His atoning blood. He paid the penalty and performed all for us.

So, to ‘name’ this suffering, we use the word Atonement…but what does that mean? The word can be split into three: at-one-ment, meaning to set at one with God – a good term to use as Christ mediates between us and the Father. However, surprisingly, the word Atonement only appears once in the New Testament, in the verse saying “…we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” (Romans 5:11) – why so? The word ‘atonement’ had been used plenty of times before in the Old Testament. Nephi explains “Because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book…an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them,” (1 Nephi 13:29) – plain and precious truths of the Gospel had been lost – but it has been restored to us today. The Book of Mormon contains the word ‘atone’ 39 times, the Doctrine and Covenants contain it 5 times and the Pearl of Great Price 2 times. All of these compared to the 1 in the New Testament – surely we recognise the great value and strength that the Restoration of the Gospel brings to our faith in Christ and His Atonement! This does not even include the many references to the Saviour that do not use the word ‘atone’ but can also add to our faith and testimony.

As has been mentioned, this Atonement was accepted by Christ by His own will, He wanted to do it for us. He had agency. Agency is the reason why the Atonement was needed in the first place. God said “I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day that I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency…” (Moses 7:32) – our first parents had this agency. Adam and Eve chose to partake of the fruit of which they had been told not to. In doing so, they set the Plan into motion. If they hadn’t then all things “…must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created,” (2 Nephi 2:22), we wouldn’t have been able to come to Earth to receive our bodies. However, this brought with it the Fall of Man to a carnal state – a state in which we cannot return to live with God. Although – let it not be confused that, because of Adam, we automatically are punished. “…men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression,” (Article of Faith 2) but because we are human we all will make mistakes at some point in this life. But – “…as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) – this is the necessity of Christ’s Atonement.

President Packer stated “I seldom use the word absolutely…I use it now – twice. Because of the Fall, the Atonement was absolutely essential for resurrection to proceed and overcome mortal death. The Atonement was absolutely essential for men to cleanse themselves from sin and overcome the second death, spiritual death, which is separation from our Father in Heaven…” and so, Jesus the Christ performed this necessity just for us – that we may return to live with our Father in Heaven once again. With this gift of the Atonement of Christ, we have the great opportunity to repent and forsake our sins. Christ “…satisfied the demands of justice…” (Mosiah 15:9) and if we accept His gift by following His Gospel, we can return to dwell with God.

To know why Jesus Christ was necessary we also need to know that the Creation and the Fall were equally as important as the Atonement – all these three are known as the Pillars of the Plan of Salvation. Without one – the others would not be needed or function. The Creation, implemented by the great Jehovah, was planned out – by choice, not chance as some would try to insinuate – that the perfect form of the Earth, the galaxies – God’s universe was all not there then suddenly there, perfect…which makes me question, which is indeed more far-fetched? That theory or the existence of our loving Heavenly Father? “Had there been no Creation and no Fall, there should have been no need for any Atonement, neither a Redeemer to mediate for us. Then Christ need not have been…” said President Packer.

To remember Christ and all He did for us and renew our covenants, we take the sacrament each week. No more are blood sacrifices needed as the great and last sacrifice has been accomplished. “Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) – Christ fulfilled that Law and suffered so that, through Him, we might be saved.

To finish, here is a statement by the Apostle Paul about Christ: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:14-20) and with that the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:22-24). And to these great men of God, we can add our own testimony. I know that my Redeemer lives, His name is Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father, who has many Names. He performed and wrought the perfect, infinite Atonement and through His Gospel we may return to live with God eternally. The Great Jehovah, in the tabernacle of clay, descended below all things so that He might rise, higher than before – for each and every single one of us – for me – to prepare the way, for He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) and I am eternally indebted and grateful for what He did!

The Infinite and Intimate Atonement

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a central doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is one which we learn very early on in our learning within the Gospel and yet it is one which we will never fully understand. This stood out to me whilst I was serving my mission and we were instructed by our Mission President and his wife.

We know that Christ had to suffer for our sins. It was vital in our Heavenly Father’s plan if we were to have our agency. In Alma 34:15 it says “And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” Here we learn that in order to have justice executed perfectly but in a way that we can receive mercy and forgiveness, a sacrifice of suffering – or an Atonement – had to take place (see also Alma 42:15).

Now we have learnt why the suffering had to occur, why did it go on for so long? In the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, and why so severe? It has been estimated looking at timings in the Bible that Christ suffered for 6-7 hours in the Garden and about 6 hours on the cross – why so long? Surely if he had said concerning his own life “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:18) – then why did He go on for so long in so much pain?

Here is a verse which began to change my understanding:
“Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.” (Mosiah 15:9). Here, Abinadi states the Saviour is the only One standing between us and the cold clasp of justice – without Him, we’d be lost. He did it. He satisfied the demands of justice so that we could avoid the intense punishment He went through – a powerful verse but that is not all! Abinadi continues:
“…Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed…And who shall be his seed?
Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 15:10-11)

Christ saw us! As He went through our pains, afflictions and the consequences of our sins, He saw us – what we individually would go through and have done (those who have accepted Him and will accept Him). He went through and endured our deepest, darkest moments so that, when we come to Him He can give us rest. He has known exactly how we feel and knows how to remedy it.

If we are to accept the Atonement in our lives, our understanding of it needs to constantly be developing – this understanding added onto what I understood before. It brought a much deeper recognition of the personal and infinite nature of the Atonement. What if Christ had not completed the Atonement? I would be completely lost without it – I could never accomplish what I need to in this life on my own! “…there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17) – it is only through His Gospel that we can be saved!