Our Own Reality- Isaiah 28:9-10, 2 Nephi 26:22

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, forever.

COMMENTARY

Precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
And he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords
Though they are opposite in their intentions, both God and the Devil have learned the art of subtlety. God knows that milk must come before meat in conversion to the gospel, and Satan knows that small indiscretions must precede serious sin when damning a soul.
The gradual change that is effected by each is to transform our perceived reality. They entice us to small actions that make us grow more tender or more callous in our perspective, make us shift our priorities, make us live a different lifestyle.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that our lens of reality is unchanging. But it is not. It changes, it just does so very slowly. We have all had friends and families who were once a certain way, but then transformed to the opposite. Our friends and family might say that we have done the same. Perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse. But in either case, that change most often comes slowly, almost imperceptibly.
Thus we are very wise and forward-thinking if we not only ask ourselves what our beliefs are now, but also consider how our small, seemingly inconsequential behaviors today will change those beliefs over time. Thus the thoughtful cynic can choose practices which will slowly give him a more hopeful heart, while the thoughtless optimist might be duped into adopting practices which slowly give him a jaded outlook.

For Our Own Good- Exodus 3:16-17, 4:10

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

COMMENTARY

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanite
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue
Yesterday we spoke of how each of us requires a “mighty change of heart” in our lives. I believe that many would say they agree with that statement, but then specify that for them it is a cosmetic change only, not a structural one. Meaning we most often feel that the underlying desires of our heart are already perfect, and we just need to follow them better. We see our actions as flawed, but our paradigms as perfect,
However, as we see in this scripture, that wasn’t the case with Moses. He was already a good and honest man whom the Lord was willing to reveal Himself to, yet Moses still needed to change his image of what was right in order to keep the commandment that God was giving to him.
Similarly, Sariah was a good and faithful woman whose heart wasn’t ready to receive a child, and Abraham’s heart wasn’t ready to receive the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter needed an intervention to consider the Gentiles as worthy of receiving the gospel. Jonah wanted the city of Nineveh to be burned, contrary to the Lord’s will. These were all good people, yet people who still needed to change.
God does not only intend to change the hearts of the wicked and sinful, but even of the righteous. His intention is not to make us into the best people that we can imagine, but even into people that we have never before considered.

The Need for Law- Alma 11:37, Helaman 5:10-11

And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.

COMMENTARY

And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins.
The Lord should come to redeem his people, but not to redeem them in their sins.
It is important to note that the gift of Christ’s law, which rescues us from the condemnation of divine law, does not give us free license to sin and carouse about without a care for the welfare of our soul.
We often make the mistake of thinking of law as simply being a set of punishable rules, but really it is a guide for living a purposeful life. We obey the laws of our nation not only to avoid being thrown into prison, but also that we may establish a community that is nurturing and safe. Imagine if we could break the laws and steal and cheat and kill without punishment. Yes, we would avoid imprisonment, but also our societies would disintegrate into utter chaos.

Not to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely cosmetic. It does not take sinners, who remain sinners, who indulge in sinful thoughts and actions as a way of life, and then stamp them with a “fit for heaven” label that doesn’t belong. Rather it takes sinners, and it teaches them how to live purely.
Obviously there is a delicate line here. Because even those who are sincerely trying to follow the gospel are going to make wrong choices along the way. And I don’t just mean ignorant mistakes, I mean that they will willfully and intentionally do something that they know is wrong. And for these sincere-hearted, but imperfect souls, there does need to be grace. There does need to be some degree of understanding and pardoning of guilt.
To what degree? Well, that isn’t for me to judge. That falls under the purview of Christ himself, and he alone can tell us how aligned we are in his eyes.
What I do know, though, is that he intends for us to repent when we have these shortcomings. Even knowing that we are sure to slip again, he does expect us to keep moving. And when we do commit to try again, he gives us a purer heart that wants all the less to sin. He is saving us from our sins, slowly moving them apart from us until we have no more desire for them.

The Need for Law- Jeremiah 31:33, 3 Nephi 11:31-33

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

COMMENTARY

But this shall be the covenant that I will make, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people
As we mentioned yesterday, Jesus became the mediator between us and divine law, having purchased the right to save all of us according to his own terms. And even before being born in the flesh and performing his saving atonement, he spoke through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah of this coming covenant.
In that pronouncement he made clear what his mission statement for this new covenant would be: to put the law into our hearts, to be our God, and to cultivate us into being his people. The purpose of Jesus’s gospel, therefore, is to bring us in harmony with heaven. Through his tutelage we are meant to learn to love the law, to desire to follow its precepts, and to willingly choose God for our God.

And this is my doctrine, and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

To repent, to put away the old, and to be born again as a new creature. These are the stipulations of the new law given by Jesus. Unlike divine law, perfection is not required, but that does not mean that effort is not required. He forgives us for not completely following every commandment of divine law…but he forgives us so that we may then try again. And when we fail again we are must to try once more. Over and over.
Thus the mandate of divine law is perfection, but the mandate of Christ’s law is not perfection. It is to try and try again. So long as we sincerely are trying, so long as we are truly repenting and recommitting, then that is it, we have already satisfied our part of Christ’s law. Thus the mandate of divine law is to already be heavenly, but the mandate of Christ’s law is to work on becoming heavenly. So long as we are sincerely becoming better, then that is it, we have already satisfied our part of Christ’s law.

What Chance Do I Have?- Summary

There was a part of me that wondered if I ought to conduct this study at all. I wish to be cautious about ever introducing a new doubt to a mind that has never considered it before. What if there is a reader who never questioned their ability to hold firm, but now that I have given them the idea they can’t get rid of it?

But then I ask myself, who is there among us that has never questioned our ability to hold firm? Perhaps the way that self-doubt has chosen to phrase itself in my heart is different from how it has for you. I asked myself “if other spiritual giants could fall, what chance do I have?” but you might have asked yourself the same question in a different way.

Either way, though, the matter of self-doubt is universal, and so I felt I did not need to be shy of addressing it. The message of the gospel is one of hope and triumph, because it is able to directly answer these questions of despair and defeat. I will share what ways I have found that it does so in this study.

Our Fears Come From Our Weakness

Back when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, we had a conversation about her nephews and nieces. They were young children then, and she spoke of how much she loved them, and how she was delighted by the boundless confidence that they showed. They had a certainty that they were important and powerful. She observed that such feelings tend to fade in children, though, and she wondered why, and she wished it could be prevented.
I, too, wish that the innocence of children could forever remain unshattered…but I think that that is impossible. Each one of us, even the most innocent and brilliant of children, is flawed in our own way. And in a fallen world every flaw is eventually exploited in a way that crushes our hearts. We will fail, and we will know that that failure came about because of our weakness.
Where it was once effortless to believe in ourselves, our default state becomes far more cynical after being beaten down by the harsh realities of life enough times. Pessimism starts to sound synonymous with wisdom, our bright future is splashed with bleak colors, and it becomes supremely difficult to believe in ourselves for anything lasting and good.
Judges 16:17- He told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
Moses 1:10- And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

Our Weakness Make Us Humble

Despair is a natural result of defeat, but it is not the only possible result. There is, also, the possibility for humility. To be humble is not to put oneself down, but rather to see oneself as one really is. And what one really is is flawed…but still good.
Where youthful innocence might be totally aware of one’s goodness, but oblivious to the fact of also being flawed, despair goes to the other extreme of totally seeing one’s flaws and becoming oblivious to the fact that one is also still good. Humility strikes the correct balance between the two, still able to appreciate the inherent worth in every soul, but acknowledging that that worth is currently limited from its full expression.
The appreciation of one’s goodness gives us hope, while the appreciation of one’s limits makes us open to receiving help. Both of these elements are necessary for one to be teachable. If one feels they are already perfect they will not be open to receiving the Lord’s help, and if they have no hope they will not either.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
James 4:6- But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Our Humility Leads Us to the True Strength

And finally, if one is humble, then they can be receptive to God’s grace lifting them back to where they were before. Even lifting them beyond it.
To recognize the inherent flaws of mortality and to doubt the strength of men, even to doubt the strength of oneself, is not amiss. But that should never make one doubt the strength of God coupled with a willing soul. The only time that man has ever failed was when he tried to stand alone. He fails if he tries to stand alone from the beginning, he fails if he tries to stand alone after having walked with God for a time. One must ever remember that they are good and capable of doing good, but also that they will forever need help along the way.
Men and women can take sincere pride in knowing that they have the capacity to become a worthy vessel. They can show joy at being one that is pure and refined. But they should remain humbled by the knowledge that they are still only the vessel. They might be utilized as a conduit for good, but they are not the good that pours forth. So long as they keep that distinction in their mind, they can walk with God and never fall.
Mark 10:18- And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

Individual Trials- Summary

I first thought of this series during my study on Free Will vs God’s Control. At the time I wanted to explore trials as a simple curiosity, not because of an abundance of trials in my life. Then, while in the process of actually doing this study many trials began to stack up on me. They came on the global level with COVID-19, the local level with a flurry of earthquakes, and on the personal level with guilt and doubt.

Conducting a gospel study is useful for educating oneself and better understanding the workings of God. But it is also useful in how it allows God to seed preparation for what He knows will soon befall you. If we let Him, He will steer our focus not only to what we need to know for today, but also what we will need to know for tomorrow.

The principles that shone most brightly through this study are also the principles I have needed to implement in the trials that came my way. Eventually my hardships will pass me by, no matter what I choose to do in the midst of them. The only question is whether I will emerge better or worse for the experience.

Trials Can Come in Any Form

A trial can be thought of as any an event or situation that shows us who we are and where we stand. It is a test of some specific aspect of our character. We have trials of our faith, of our resolve, of our loyalty, and of every other virtue we hope to obtain in this life.
Anything that is put upon us to strain these virtues is therefore a trial. We feel a tension, one that seeks either to pull us down or lift us up, and the question is whether we break, move, or remain stationary. As the amount of tension is increased, the option to remain stationary is lost. At certain forces we must either break or move.
The trial might come in a single moment of intensity, it might endure as a constant weight for a very, very long time. It might weigh us down with pain, it might tug upwards with blessings. It might pull at us in both directions at the same time with a difficult choice. It might be external, or it might be pushing and prodding at us from within.
What a trial is not, though, is an equal and opposite reaction caused by us bashing ourselves into a wall. That is a consequence.
Abraham 3:24-25- And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

1 Corinthians 3:13- Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

Trials LEAD US TO BECOME OUR TRUE SELVES

A trial is not some final exam to prove what strength we have already obtained. A trial is the process by which that strength is discovered. It is not the moment when a blacksmith strikes his finished weapon to verify its resilience, it is earlier when the blacksmith melts the ore in its crucible.
Let me back up with that analogy. For a long time the ancient world knew that there were processes by which iron could be refined into something stronger. Specifically they were looking into ways to have it bind with carbon, which if it done perfectly would result in an entirely new type of metal, one many times stronger than the original iron. But how to perform that binding was a mystery that took centuries to solve. Eventually Indian metalworkers learned that the iron and carbon must be placed within crucibles, heated to astronomical temperatures, and then they would melt and bond together into that entirely new metal: steel.
The crucible is not just a test of force, and steel is not just stronger iron. The crucible is the process of transforming something old into something new, and steel is the result of permanent change. Our trials are the crucible by which we are broken down, until at last we are able to bond with God into an all-new alloy.
Peter 1:7- That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Jeremiah 9:7- Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?

Defining Trials EXCEED US

It is true that we can increase our moral resolve by constantly exercising it, like the gradual buildup of a muscle. We can achieve a greater strength by our own efforts, and be able to endure things that we could not endure before. This is a good thing, but there are limits to how far it can take us. Eventually there are things that we simply cannot endure, and it isn’t a question of needing more “spiritual exercise” to get there. At some point spiritual exercise needs to be joined by spiritual transformation.
You might remove as many impurities as you can from iron, and improve its strength by so doing, but eventually it will reach the limit that is inherent in the material. Eventually iron can only get so far. As I mentioned before, iron becomes steel only by being bonded with something else. It isn’t enough to just be near to the something else either. You cannot merely stack the iron on the wood and have the same strength as if you burned both down and fused them as one.
Our greatest, defining trials do not ask us to prove our own strength, and they do not ask to us to stand against that which we cannot withstand. They ask us, rather, to melt…into God. We have to bow, or else we will be broken. But if we lean into the Almighty, then we are transformed. And after the transformation we will rise again, resurrected as something new.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

2 Corinthians 5:17- Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Finding Our Purpose- 2 Chronicles 1:7-8, 10-12; Mark 10:49-52

In that night did God appear unto Solomon, and said unto him, Ask what I shall give thee.
And Solomon said unto God, Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?
And God said to Solomon, Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee;

And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.
And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.
And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

COMMENTARY

Give me wisdom, for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?
And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.
Sometimes we want to follow the vocation God has for us, but we have some blocker in our way. Consider Solomon, called to lead the nation of Israel, but lacking the requisite wisdom to do so. Or Bartimaeus, who had the heart of a disciple, but lacked the ability to even see which way he walked. These men were transformed so that they could answer the call in their hearts.
It is the same for us. When Jesus comes to heal or strengthen us, it empowers us to answer our calling. I once felt blocked in my own discipleship by a misguided fear. I’ll explain more of that later, but that confusion was corrected in me so that I could fully commit to my discipleship.
If you feel like there is a purpose that you are meant to fill, but that you just can’t for some reason, you may not be wrong. Perhaps you truly are being blocked. But then ask God to deliver you from your constraint. Why wouldn’t He help you to perform the very task for which He made you?