Christ: The End Worth Enduring For

Presented at the SMPT Conference held at Brigham Young University, October 2016.

It may seem like an understatement of sorts to say, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33), when hardship is the state of man in the world. Suffering is not supposed to be the end state for us though, “men are, that they may have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Christ is the end of our sorrows, not because he removes our sorrows, but through him “[our] sorrow shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20). It is a process. As we sample life’s buffet, we will inevitably “taste the bitter”, not just so we can learn to “prize the good”, but so we can learn to metabolize the bitter and convert into something “for [our] own good” (Moses 6:55 and D&C 122:7). In life, we are meant to do more than just endure.

“Endur[ing] to the end” is the critical last leg of our overall journey to salvation (3 Nephi 15:9); however, when we talk about it, we often focus on endurance, as if white-knuckling the “rod of iron” was tantamount to enduring to the end. In actuality, understanding what the end is empowers us to “stand still” when “all things shall be in commotion” (D&C 123:17 and 88:91). More than merely understanding the end, the scriptures insist that we can know or even view the end through revelation. It is the through revelation’s lens that we can gain perspective on the end that is death, the end of our immediate sufferings, and the end who is Christ.

The scriptures, which are revelations themselves, beget further revelation for those seeking truth. It is important to know that the scriptures are living documents. We sometimes confuse the life we bring to the words as the only life the scriptures possess; as if the only voice the scriptures have is ours when we read. In addition to the ancient authors’ voices whispering from the dust, the “still small voice” of God’s spirit breathes life into the scriptures with words we can “feel” (1 Nephi 17:45). As a result of this interaction, we “can testify that [we] have heard [His] voice, and know [His] words” (D&C 18:36). The Lord entrusts us with revelation, so we will trust his words and follow him, especially in those times when we are confused.

Although not always evident and certainly not always appreciated, the precursor for revelation is often confusion. The promise “ask, and ye shall receive” presupposes a question. Life has a way of forcing questions on us that the scriptures seem ill-equipped to answer. Often solutions from the scriptures seem binary, where things are only right or wrong. Fortunately, revelation can convert scriptural binary, so it can be applied to solve the equations of our own suffering. The scriptures hold a power to transport us into an abstract world that can match the abstract confusion in our lives. A place where “all things whatsoever God has seen proper to reveal to us” he can “[reveal] to us in the abstract”. [1]

It is precisely through continuing personal revelation that the gospel is made “inexhaustible” [2] and we can begin to fathom such a thing as an “infinite atonement” (2 Nephi 9:7). Without the assistance of the spirit, we are easily confined to a finite world defined by the relentless rhythm of time. In his atoning act, Christ’s condescension to this world connected us to the infinite. We worship a God, before whom “past, present, and future…are continually” (D&C 130:7); therefore, God can and does “declar[e] the end from the beginning” to us (Isaiah 46:10). It is worth all the spiritual sweat we expend in understanding revelation from the scriptures and persistent prayer, if we can gain a glimpse of the sweet eternal perspective that the Lord can provide. Eternal perspectives enable us to correctly scope our current crisis.

The End that Is Death

Often our present problems can find relief through simply knowing that death is not the end. Christ “[is] the…life” that made immortal life possible for us (John 14:6). Christ’s infinite atonement not only extends our individual stories passed the finality of death, but also allows us to attain to a “knowledge…of the world to come” (Jacob 4:12, see also Mosiah 5:3). Our “hope and views” of the post-mortal world can allow us to face trials, suffering, and especially death knowing that we don’t have to face them alone.

When a loved one departs this earth, part of our solace can come from this knowledge that death is not the end of life. Additionally, understanding that death is not the end of our relationships can help us deal with life. The scriptures teach that “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there” (D&C 130:2). This principle is one of the more regularly confirmed revelations in scripture. The spirit hallows our daily precious moments with the people we love by adding a feeling of permanence that is nearly palpable to our associations. This spiritual witness of our enduring relationships is also part of our “knowledge…of the world to come” (Jacob 4:12). Our spirit-touched eyes can see what heaven will be like as we love others right now. This love, though not always “perfect”, can still cast out some of the fear that our vessels of faith take in as we traverse the swells of life (1 John 4:18).

Revelation offers us the awareness that we are not alone, especially at those times that we most fear that we are. “Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us” [3]; they are in the spirit world here “on earth, around us” [4]. By doing genealogy we generate more than lists of names and dates, we generate eternal relationships. Our efforts in family history invite the spirit to thin the veil that separates us from the dearly departed, so that our own ancestry can be the unseen ministering angels that “speak by the power of the Holy Ghost” to us in our times of need (2 Nephi 32:3) [5]. Genealogy generates power for us to overcome our difficulties. No matter how steep the odds we face in our trials here, the arithmetic of our own ancestry is such that we can count on there being “more with us than with [any of our figurative enemy armies]“ (2 Chronicles 32:7). It is very empowering to realize that the hosts of heaven, the great angelic army of the Lord, are our ancestors. [6]

Christ has “trodden the winepress alone” so we do not have to (Isaiah 63:3). His atonement can make our relationships eternal. The relationships we create here and through the veil are our “cloud of witnesses” to God’s love for us, a love that is perfect and “casteth out all fear” (Hebrews 12:1 and Moroni 8:16).

The End of Our Sufferings

Despite a growing knowledge of the world to come, when we are caught in one of life’s “mighty storm[s]” (Helaman 5:12), the end we tend to care about most is the end of our immediate sufferings. Trapped within the confines of our present circumstances, we are unable to see that there is “a way” prepared for us to “escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christ “[is] the way” (John 14:6). His infinite atonement is the only way to escape the chains of the finite now to spiritually see “things as they really are, and…as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).

The Holy Ghost is a comforter, because he is a revealer. Through the spirit, our faith and anxiety can qualify us to know what “things should happen” (Jacob 1:5). Revelation can comfort us; however, even knowing how something will occur does not necessarily trivialize the experience of living through it. Christ, who knew cognitively before hand what his suffering would be like was still “astonished” when his agony began in the garden of Gethsemane [7]. Because of Christ’s astonishing sorrow we can also be astonished at how personal a figure Christ can be in the path out of our own sufferings.

The Spirit’s witness of Christ is another way that the Holy Ghost fulfills his role as a comforter. The Spirit begins by confirming basic truths about Christ; that he exists and that he is the savior. Over time, the Holy Ghost personalizes Christ’s reality to us in ways that will deepen our awareness of the personal relationship we have with him. His reality can become so tangible, we will begin to feel “as though he had already come among [us]” (Mosiah 3:13, see also Jarom 1:11). This consciousness of his reality, his personal presence in our lives, gives us lasting comfort in our times of need. The numerous tender mercies we receive from God become more tender through an intimate relationship with their giver.

While speaking of theophanies, Moroni explained that the brother of Jared was one of those who “truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad” (Ether 12:19). The spirit helps us imagine the presence of God with our spiritual senses well before the day when “[we] shall see him” with our eyes (D&C 88:68). In this way, the Spirit, as the comforter, prepares us for the Second Comforter, who is Christ [8]. Coming into the presence of God is a process in which we experience his presence gradually as we learn to feel and follow the Spirit. Our sufferings are a vital part of this process.

When we are in pain, it is very easy to focus on causes instead of purposes for our trials. We can wallow in a multitude of why questions, before we begin to think about how to get through the quagmire of a particular problem. We often treat our problems like ends unto themselves, when really to the Lord our trials are a means to an end. Getting through a tribulation, though admirable, is not as important eternally as what we get out of it and who we become because of it. Life, including our sufferings, is a means to an end, and that end is for us to become like Christ. He is the end of our sufferings.

The End Who Is Christ

Christ himself said “I am…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6, italics added for emphasis). Christ is the end worth enduring to and his grace [9] supplies the power we need to reach him. It is our knowledge of Christ and our personal relationship with him that brings fuller purpose to our mortal pains and additional power to meet our trials. The spirit allows us such an intimacy in our relationship with Christ; however, this feeling of intimacy with Christ and a certainty of his existence, though related are different concepts. The scriptures use various senses to suggest progressive levels of certitude in our awareness of Christ’s reality; we can feel his spirit, we can hear his voice, and finally we can see his face. The scriptures similarly describe different degrees of divine intimacy or nearness, but the senses are ranked differently. From a distance we can hear him “as the voice of one crying in the wilderness” and we can glimpse him with an eye of faith, but the spirit allows a closeness beyond sound or sight, where we can feel his presence, and even “[taste] of his love” (D&C 88:66 and Mosiah 4:11).

The Lord does not want us to just know that he is, he also wants proximity to us. In scripture, he insists on intimacy, “draw near unto me, and I will draw near unto you” (D&C 88:63). The idea that we can taste of his love or goodness is a symbolically shocking way to describe how close we can come to the Lord through the spirit (see Mosiah 4:11 and Alma 36:24-26). To taste something, you have to be close enough to touch it with your tongue. As a brief aside, this is exactly what we do with the emblems of Christ in the Eucharist or the Sacrament, we put them in our mouth; it is supposed to be this intimate. Sometimes it is during suffering’s suffocating grip that we come to know Christ most intimately. His nearness can distance us from our pain, so that we can see our trials differently. At these moments, we can more easily enter into a Gethsemaneic mindset, where we are willing to accept the Lord’s will over our own. And having emptied out our wills, we will have more room for more of God’s power to do what was previously impossible.

Our sufferings can find their end in Christ, where his will can drive us to “finish[…]” our trials in a way that can also add finishing touches to us (D&C 19:19). Our submission allows the Lord to use our trials as tools to engrave his image in our countenances (see Alma 5:19). Our harrowing experiences prepare our hearts to receive the word, so that it can be planted there. Alma defines this word as Christ and his atonement, the capitalized Word, and suggests that as Christ grows in us, God may then “grant unto [us] that [our] burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son” (Alma 33:23, 22-23) [10]. Our suffering can lead us to such intimacy with the Lord that we end up becoming “like him” (Moroni 7:48). He is the end we endure life’s pains to reach and the end we can become. He is worth it and so are we.

Endnotes

To see the abstract for this paper, see “The End Worth Enduring for“.

[1] The Words of Joseph Smith: The contemporary accounts of the Nauvoo discourses of the Prophet Joseph, Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, ed. (Kindle Edition), 112.

[2] This phrase comes from a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on 18 August 1992 by Elder Neal A. Maxwell published in “The Inexhaustible Gospel”, in The Inexhaustible Gospel: A Retrospective of Twenty-One Firesides and Devotionals Brigham Young University 1974-2004 (Intellectual Reserves, Inc., 2004), 211-225.

[3] Ezra T. Benson, “Life is Eternal”, Ensign, June 1971. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/06/life-is-eternal?lang=eng

[4] Gospel Principles, “Chapter 41: The Postmortal Spirit World” (2011). https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-41-the-postmortal-spirit-world?lang=eng

[5] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament”, Ensign, January 1999. https://www.lds.org/liahona/1999/01/the-aaronic-priesthood-and-the-sacrament?lang=eng

[6] This is based on the principle that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5). Joseph F. Smith also stated that “When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants.” https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/03/i-have-a-question?lang=eng

[7] “Later, in Gethsemane, the suffering Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’ (Mark 14:33), or, in the Greek, ‘awestruck’ and ‘astonished.’ Imagine, Jehovah, the Creator of this and other worlds, ‘astonished’! Jesus knew cognitively what He must do, but not experientially. He had never personally known the exquisite and exacting process of an atonement before. Thus, when the agony came in its fulness, it was so much, much worse than even He with his unique intellect had ever imagined!” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Willing to Submit”, Ensign, May 1985) https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1985/04/willing-to-submit?lang=eng This idea is also hinted at in Alma 7: 11-13.

[8] The LDS Bible Dictionary defines the Second Comforter as the personal privilege of receiving the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/comforter?lang=eng&letter=c

[9] The LDS Bible Dictionary entry for Grace: “It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means.” https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/grace?lang=eng&letter=g I also like this article on Grace by John Gee http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1466&index=10

[10] I am reading Alma 33:23, where Alma says “plant this word” as a referrer to Alma 33:22 for a definition of “the word” used in the famous allegory of Alma 32, which, from this point of view, is a process of certainty and intimacy with the Savior himself.

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