Weakness


The Power of SurrenderBy Rob Bolick

One of the favorite scriptures in our Church that some people misunderstand is Ether 12:27. Why is that? They misquote it–in essence, rewrite it–to suit their lack of understanding.

I’m not really trying to be critical of us as Saints. It just saddens me that some of us, with all the light and truth available to us, still seem to miss the main message of the gospel, of who we are, what our state is here, and how to return to Father.

I believe that the confusion in Ether 12:27 stems from a fundamental misconception of our very nature and being. We shouldn’t really blame our good brothers and sisters, however, because even the headnote misquotes the verse: “The Lord gives men weaknesses that they may be humble—”.

Here’s what the verse really says:

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Often people rewrite this verse to say that the Lord gives us weaknesses that we may be humble. What this presupposes is that we are essentially OK and that all that stands between us and Godhood is to get rid of those annoying little irritants (our weaknesses). When we have ditched these faults (typically through our own sheer determination, self-discipline and pure will power), viola! we will have earned our right to return to the Father and we’re well on our way to Godhood. Wrong. Very wrong. Totally, completely, irrefutably wrong. This misses the point completely. Yet the concept pervades our LDS culture and thinking.

I love Benjamin Franklin. He was and is a wonderful man, an inspired man. A humble, prayerful, thinking man. We are all familiar with his approach of contemplating his weaknesses–writing them down and then each week trying his best to eliminate one particular imperfection from his being. My, but how the world (and Church) would be a better place if we each strove so diligently to try to improve ourselves!

Regrettably, some of us, I believe, tend to see ourselves in the Ben Franklin mode of perfecting ourselves: If we just work hard enough, long enough, faithfully enough, did more and more and more and more, then we’ll pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and in a matter of time, we’ve perfected ourselves. The problem, of course, is that this will never work, eternities without end. Why? It’s fairly obvious, really. The Fall.

As King Benjamin aptly and succinctly taught, we are “less than the dust of the earth”. So much for our self-esteem. Why is that? Dirt is 100% obedient to God. We’re not.

I also don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the scriptures use the same phrase to refer to Adam as being formed from the “dust of the earth”. The very elements which comprise our beings seek to obey God. Our spirits yearn to go “home” to Father. As William Wordsworth correctly and succinctly stated, “God is our home.”

The problem, of course, is the Fall. These same dusty bodies inhabited by our spirits, in our fallen state, paradoxically become an enemy to God. (Fortunately for us He loves His enemies.) He to whom our spirits yearn is unattainable in our fallen and lost state. Enter, Jesus. He is The Way. The only way.

So what’s the difference between “weaknesses” and “weakness”? Lots. “Weakness”, in my opinion, simply denotes us in our lost and fallen state. Our problem is not the accumulation of various imperfections, i.e. weaknesses, for which we should strive diligently to eliminate from our lives in order to merit eternal life. Our problem is that in our fallen state, i.e. our weakness, we will never go home but for the intervention of our Savior and Redeemer.

So what is our task as described by Moroni, one who truly knew and understood? We come to Christ. Then He will show us our weakness. We really only know our weakness as revealed by Christ. We will never know our weakness but by revelation. Implicit in Moroni’s directive is that if we don’t come to Christ, we will never know our weakness.

What next? Per Moroni, our weakness, paradoxically, is a gift from Christ. We need it to be humble. We need to be humble to access Christ’s grace. Without Christ’s grace we’re DOA, literally.

I remember attending an Education Week class at BYU and the instructor asked for a show of hands of how many brothers would like to receive a revelation. We all raised our hands. He then stated that he could guarantee that we would all receive a revelation that very day. He certainly had our attention. He then said, “Go home and ask your wives how you can be better husbands.” Ouch.

This seems to me to be similar to the kind of revelation we can receive when we ask Father to show us our weakness. It’s not a pretty sight, but it’s absolutely worth knowing that we are in fact less than the dust of the earth. It’s much better for us to know of our state and standing before God than to wander in the dark, which is precisely where we, as fallen man, happen to be.

But we need to ask. God has many blessings that He’s anxious to bestow upon us, but we need to ask, seek, knock. I love the quote from the Bible Dictionary on Prayer:

“The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them.” Amen.

I mentioned “self-esteem” earlier. The entire concept of “self-esteem” is misplaced, I believe. The only self-esteem we should have, in my opinion, is being less than dirt. What we need is God-esteem. If we have the correct perspective of ourselves in our fallen state, our only frame of reference should be as Ammon said, “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak”. (This from the guy that single-handedly “disarmed” the mob at the waters of Sebus.)

May we each ask, seek, knock for further light and truth. May we each learn from Christ our weakness, to be given the gift to see ourselves as He sees us, to exercise faith in Him, and to let His grace sanctify us that we may through His power, be remade in His glorious image.

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15 Responses to Weakness

  1. James says:

    Rob, thank you for your insight. I especially like how you said, ‘..but it’s absolutely worth knowing that we are in fact less than the dust of the earth.’ What an outrageous notion as the world would see it! Yet, what’s so interesting about Mosiah 4 when King Benjamin’s people had ‘awakened to a sense of their own nothingness’, is that they were immediately thereafter filled with unspeakable joy, a love for all men, and with the Spirit such that were it expedient they could have prophesied of all things!! Who would have thought? How could that possibly work? What happened to PMA – positive mental attitude?

    I think of what would I tell someone who wanted to know where to start their process of coming unto Christ – church member, non-member, righteous, sinner, scriptorian, gang member, drug dealer, etc. What is the one answer that works for all of them? Where can each of them start regardless of their current stature? How about zero. Total dependence, complete surrender. Filleted open like a fresh kill, nothing to hide, no false pretense, totally transparent; an admitted walking, talking, bag of dust 100% dependent on the grace of an Almighty God for every breath. No room for pride, envy, strife, contention, lust, idolatry, because all that’s left is the enormous gratitude to that Merciful Being that gave us life, as undeserving as we are.

    The fact we comprehend how undeserving we are of His mercy and grace allows us to be filled with His love and mercy toward all flesh, like the sons of Mosiah who could scarcely consider the possible damnation of a fellow soul without quaking and trembling at the thought of it. How wise, prudent, and loving is our God who provides a formula whereby we can be remade from the inside out, simply by allowing our eyes to be opened by him. What a glorious revelation indeed is it to see ourselves as we truly are. Thank you and God Bless.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’ve got this right, Brother James! What a joy to read the clarity of these truths that you so beautifully shared.

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    • Rob Bolick says:

      James:

      I think you bring up a very important point about Mosiah 4. Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea how liberating it is to realize your own nothingness before God. Yes, it is amazingly liberating. Joy is the perfect experience for getting to that point. We no longer need to be concerned over our selves and how we’re doing. No room for pride, ego, or worrying about how we’re faring at the moment. We’re simply children of God and rely wholly on the merits of Christ, since we of ourselves merit nothing.

      Thanks for bringing up this very happy and liberating point.

      Rob

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  2. Sandy says:

    Great insight! Thank you. I, too, have previously thought that we are less than the dust of the earth/elements because they obey His will. I so appreciate John’s enlightenment when he taught that the difference between us and the elements is that they were not blessed with free agency. They do what the Lord commands because they do, not because they choose to. Man is the only creation of God that is blessed with the great and terrible gift of free agency.

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  3. Heather Moore says:

    Thank you for this. Beautiful.

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  4. RandyLynn says:

    I surely agree with Kelly and Jared. For 26 years I’ve had the privilege of living with my son, Vince, who is non-verbal among other things. I thought y’all would find it confirming that for years before Brother P. wrote his books Vince has typed profound spiritual things, almost all of which I’ve read from Brother P. Most people don’t even acknowledge Vince, but the few who do have been blessed beyond their comprehension. So when Rob gave the definition of prayer my mind immediately went to Vince conveying that “H.F. wants to bless us if we’ll only ask, prepare ourselves and receive His blessings”. I’d also like to give you a gift from Vince, who is very close to H.F. and Jesus. He typed “Justice is won on the backs of those who plunge in without letting fear prey upon their confidence”. This may help us in times to come. Warm regards, RandyLynn

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rob Bolick says:

      RandyLynn:

      Sounds like you have an amazing son! The Lord obviously loves and trusts you immensely to have entrusted you with one of His precious sons to love and nurture through mortality. I have the feeling that you will both be eternally blessed through your love and service.

      I am continually amazed when I am reminded how short mortality is and how eternal the consequences of being true and faithful.

      My 9 month old son fell into our pool and ended up in an irreversible coma. I envisioned taking care of him for decades. It was hard beyond comprehension living under all of particular circumstances we were experiencing at the time. Nevertheless, I had nothing but pure love from my precious little boy. I loved to hold him and stroke his curly red hair and feel the warmth of his tiny little crippled body next to mine.

      He died four days before Christmas a year and a half later. I still miss him. That was 24 years ago.

      I still think of the non-events of the life he didn’t experience—he’d be going on his mission now. He’d be coming back now. Finishing college, getting married, giving me some grandkids, etc. Oh well, not his particular plan.

      He in fact started his mission much earlier than I’d envisioned for him when he was born. Thank goodness God is in charge of his life and not me. I have a perfect testimony that Zack’s life is exactly as God set forth for him. I simply feel honored to have been entrusted to be his mortal father for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days.

      I’m also grateful for the mercy of a veil placed over us when we came to this world, and I’m grateful it continues. All I can say is that the plan is Perfect. (And it would be impossible to have less that a Perfect Plan from a Perfect Father.)

      May God bless us all as we seek to do His will and endure faithfully to the end.

      Rob

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Um, wow. Are you channeling Brother Pontius? Seriously, this is great. This is the kind of stuff I seek all the time. Thank you for sharing this. I can use this. Also, if you have this kind of ability to share this kind of wisdom and knowledge, please, don’t hold back. Time is so short and there are very many of us diligently searching the scriptures and other good books to gain more light and truth. I can’t wait to read the other comments about this post. God bless! Kelly

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    • I agree! Rob is a dear friend of mine, who is always “right on” in gospel knowledge and spiritual understanding. He is also very down-to-earth, which makes for some fun and enlightened reading! I asked him a few days ago if he would kindly let me post this on the UnBlog, and he graciously consented.

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      • Jennifer says:

        Yes very well said. Too many times I feel we “interprete” the scriptures to fit our needs,though not necessarily true. I’ve always struggled with The Lord GIVING us weakness…why would he do that. I figured we had enough weaknesses on our own by simply being human and mortal. Weakness from the fall makes complete sense. Thank you!

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        • Rob Bolick says:

          Jennifer:

          Truly every good thing, per Mormon, is a gift from God. We often make the mistake of confusing those things which we think are “good” as being from Christ, and the others from the other source. What we as fallen mortals tend to forget is that His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts ours (as natural men and women). What we often see as burdens and trials and hardships inflicted upon us by our Adversary, are in reality blessings from Above.

          It is so important to thank God for ALL things, especially those which we are prone to not realize come from God. President Uchtdorf gave a masterful sermon in this past conference on this topic. In my thinking, his talk ranks among the finest and most profound of our time.

          I happen to agree with you, that God has given us weakness as a supernal gift, essential to our becoming remade in His likeness and image. This is of our birthright as sons and daughters of God and part of His Perfect Plan for each of us.

          Rob

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    • Rob Bolick says:

      Kelly:

      Brother John is clearly one of my heroes. I want to be like him when I grow up someday. (Most of my family is pessimistic that such will ever happen—me growing up, that is).

      I still cherish the memories of reading his books and all of a sudden desiring with all my heart things that I didn’t even know existed prior to his generous sharing of beautiful gospel truths and doctrine.

      I regrettably did not have the privilege of meeting him in mortality. We have had some interactions since, which I obviously can’t share here.

      Yes, our time here pre-Millennium is very, very short and getting shorter with each passing day. So much to do; so little time. We can hardly waste a day.

      Yes, I happen to have plenty of thoughts, and am preparing a couple more blurbs to send to Terri for her consideration.

      Rob

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jared says:

    J.P. – one inspired beautiful man. I got a hunch like mannered amazing men: Bruce R. Neal A. etc were sent home early a) for the great need to help the masses on the other side, etc. b) they were preventing us to walk by faith because of the irrefutable truths they unearth for us. Wow! What incredible delicious soul edifying truths they share…. 🙂 Such amazing conduits for the disseminating of pure, beautiful, light, and knowledge… God be ever thanked for his mercy and love shown to us through Brother John and like inspired men and women … . God be thanked that the unearthing of similar truths is available unto the least of us. 🙂

    Like

    • John would absolutely not want to be put into the same category as Bruce R or Neal A., but you are ever so kind, Jared. There is one source of truth and salvation, and it is Jesus Christ. All that any of us can hope for is to be a conduit for truth, which centers in Christ. All glory to Him!

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      • Jared says:

        So true Terri. It all points back to Christ, the giver of all good. I am a little extra appreciative of your husband and others like him particularly right now in my life. I have family who are leaving the church right now because they are following someone who is critical of the Brethren, and is leading them and others away. Your good husband always maintained fidelity to the Brethren and taught powerfully that the gospel /church really work! 🙂

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