Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Count Your Blessings- Summary

This proved to be an excellent couple of weeks for me to study the notion of counting one’s blessings. This period has been full of many little rises and falls to my mood, as small things have continually come along both to aggravate and delight me. What I have learned from all this is just how fickle my sense of gratitude can be. When times turn even slightly up I praise God, when times turn even slightly down I have no interest in Him.
Feeling both sides of the coin, I have been able to consider why it is difficult to count my blessings at times. For me it is due to a sense of wounded pride, an indignation at sweeping away the hurt and saying all is well. But I have further discovered that that is not what counting one’s blessings is about at all. It is about dispelling a momentary fiction with the reality of truth.
Indeed, though at times it is difficult to lean into grateful retrospection, during these past two weeks I have felt markedly improved each time that I managed to do so. So let’s take a look at what it really means to count one’s blessings, and why it matters.

We Live in a State of Ever-Changing Fiction

When it rains it pours. Though our lives are usually mixed with elements that are both good and bad, we usually grab onto just one of those elements and shade all the rest by it. If we are struck most by something in our lives that is good, then we perceive every wrong thing as slight and forgettable. If we are struck most by something that is bad, then we perceive every good thing as hollow. We tally up only one side or the other at a time. Either I have seven things that make me feel so blessed right now, or else I have nine things that are leaving me down in the dumps.
One practice of meditation is to separate the different parts of one’s self and see each as being in its own unique state. Thus I might be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally depressed, but spiritually cared for. Absent this more granular awareness I might simply say that overall I feel “bad-ish,” which is not the greater truth.
It is understandable for us to live with a fickle mood, it is the common nature of us all. But if we are ever to live as dependable, steady beings, then we need to accept the fact that how we feel in the moment is probably not the truest expression of things as they really are.
James 1:8- A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
3 Nephi 13:24- No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

We Might Be Fickle, but There Are Permanent Things

It is true that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but in my experience He tends to do one of those more than the other. So many of the truly important blessings in life are the ones that are with us forever. Our very existence, for example, is a gift from God, and one that we are assured will continue forever. It may change its state through the grave and the resurrection, but still we remain an ongoing identity. This is a permanent thing, one that is left unaffected by whether I am having a “good day” today or a “bad one.”
Love is another eternal gift. Both the love that God ever holds to us, and the love that He means to help us cultivate in ourselves. Existence is already a wonderful blessing, but all the more so when it can be paired with eternal love. Even if the woes of the moment temporarily darken us from being able to perceive the love of God, yet it is sill there even so. It is only a matter of breaking through the mold before we can perceive that eternal stream once more.
And when we are learn how to never be darkened and always perceive that eternal love, then we also discover the gift of eternal happiness. For living in the love of God is always an experience of joy. It takes time, even a long time, even so long that we may not find it until the next life; but eventually we can find out this great secret of how to forever live, love, and be happy.
Jeremiah 31:3- The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 3:16-For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

A Brighter View of Life is Truer

In the end, there must be one permanent reality. On the one hand it could be that there forever remains a mixture of happiness and sorrow, the same as we perceive now, one side never fully overthrowing the other. On the other hand, it could be that one of these sides will eventually prevail over the other, either plunging the world into constant misery, or else reclaiming it to a state of constant joy. We have had it proclaimed to us that this mixed reality is only a transitory state, and that after it does come a totality: a sweeping victory for goodness and joy.
Those that believe this to be true are inherently optimistic, and hold to those undercurrents of eternal good: life, love, and joy. To hold this sort of optimism is not to blindly ignore the pain of today. It does not require us to turn a deaf ear to the hurts happening around us. It does not preclude us from mourning our temporary losses. It is only to recognize that after this time of very real sadness, there still comes an eternity of even realer joy.
I think where most of us go astray with counting our blessings is when we start listing out the transitory, worldly goods that we enjoy: a new car, a roof over heads, and not having lost one’s job. These are good things, we should be grateful for them, but the deeper, abiding peace will only come when we start counting the infinite goods as well.
Isaiah 54:10- For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Matthew 24:35- Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Psalm 102:26-27- They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

The Nature of Sacrifice- Summary

It is evident that God did not intend for us to remain static. We are not merely meant to exist, we are to thrive. To accomplish this, each one of us requires fundamental change, a complete transformation, to discover the divine potential that God has placed within us.

And, since the dawn of mankind, it has been taught that sacrifice is an essential element of that change (Moses 5:6). I have been taught this since I was young, and I believed in it, though like Adam I did not understand the full reasons behind it.

But the scriptures do not only teach us the behaviors that we are meant to follow, they reveal to us the purposes for them. It was for this reason that I began my study, and I was not disappointed. Through these passages I was able to find a few different reasons for why sacrifice is so essential to becoming who we were born to be.

Sacrifice is Choosing the Eternal Over the Temporal

When God created humanity, He commanded us to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28), and so we are justified in seeking our own preservation and well-being.
But we are also mortal, and it is in our nature to take this injunction beyond its intended measure. We do not limit ourselves to seeking security and nurturing, we fall into greed, and the appetites of the flesh are insatiable once we begin to feed them.
And so the spiritual side must strive to maintain control, to keep our ambitions within worthy bounds. God encourages this by asking us to do things that are repulsive to the mortal self, but pleasing to the spiritual. This trains us to surrender the temporary, in order to secure the eternal. These tasks, by necessity, must be hard. If they were easy for us to perform, then no lesson of self-control would be gained.
Luke 10:41-42- And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Matthew 26:41- Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Sacrifice Helps Us to Become as Christ

Sacrifice teaches us self-mastery, and weans our mortal appetites, but that is not all. As mentioned before, it also serves the purpose of effecting our transformation. Not a one of us came to Earth to stay the same, every one of us requires a fundamental change. If we come to earth and are not transformed, then we are as the servant who buried his master’s money, and was then deemed an unprofitable servant for having not improved upon it (Matthew 25:14-28).
Now I have been one of those Christians that says I need to be changed by Christ without meaning it. I have said it only because it is the thing that is supposed to be said. I have said it while still trying to save myself by my own grit and merit. I have said it believing it to be true of others, but that I was mostly alright just the way that I was.
And you know what? I have learned that I am totally inadequate just the way that I am. I have learned that I let myself down hard when I am just myself alone. I spent a long while trying to “find myself” when “myself” was the whole problem. I needed to be “finding him.” Or, I needed to be finding my “other self,” that self which is like Christ, that seed that was planted in my heart at birth and can grow to become like my savior if I stop worrying so much about being “just me.”
Galatians 2:20- I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Matthew 16:25- For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Christ Makes Sacrifice Work

Once, humanity required no transformation, and no sacrifice. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve interacted with God directly. They required no mediator to do so, for they were worthy in and of themselves. After the Fall they were cast out, and from that time on were no longer capable of enjoying God’s presence. They and their children began the pattern of sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-4), but that, in and of itself, would not have been sufficient to restore them to God. The death of an animal does not unveil divinity.
Even the spiritual sacrifices which accompanied the animal offerings (things like surrendering sin and devoting one’s heart to the will of God) would not be enough to undo the effects of the Fall. Each of us have taken the Apple in our own way, and each of us know that when we did so, we stained our soul in a way that we alone are powerless to expunge. No, the only reason why our sacrifices are not lost in the cold vacuum of eternal damnation is because of the enabling power of Christ’s atonement. Out of all of us, Christ alone never partook of his own, personal Apple. Christ alone was sired with the power to break past the limitations of mortal death. Since pre-Fall Adam and Eve, Christ alone is worthy, in and of himself.
Thus when we make sacrifice, we do not do it to appease God, that could never work. We do it, as we have already seen, to surrender our fallen parts in place of Christ’s risen ones. We do it to become a part of him, to be adopted into his body, and to rise with his glory.
Galatians 3:26-27-For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
1 Nephi 10:6- Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.
Matthew 10:38-39- And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.