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.