Grace in the New Curriculum

Looking at this today:

I like the initial question to the teacher:

What scriptures and other sources have helped you understand grace? What are you impressed to share with the young women so that they can understand grace?

For me it has been King Benjamin’s speech and Ether 12 that have helped me best understand Grace. Once I got a bit of a picture of things, then Paul became a treat to read and really makes it so clear. But I think I had to get an idea of it first to enjoy Paul the way I do now.

So how would I explain Grace? Hmmm.

Well, I’ll do a bit of uncareful explaining first and see where that goes. Grace means that God loves me first, saved me first, did everything necessary for me first, and I am slowly becoming aware of that and learning to trust that. The “work” I suppose you could say, is shedding the “natural man” that does not believe or trust anything outside of myself, and yielding to the Love of God (or, as Benjamin says, “yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” – though I suppose that Spirit is communicating this love to us).

Once (or whenever) I feel that Love and really feel it, it is a transforming experience. I feel God’s greatness and my own “nothingness” – but, I feel both at the same time, which means I am completely surprised and amazed at how God wants me and loves me, even in my nothingness. My nothingness is, at the same time, recognized completely, and yet completely irrelevant – it does not matter. My weakness is at the same time the most real or obvious to me as it as ever been, and yet, I realize that God does not care that I am weak. He Loves me and wants me to be with Him, and to be one with Him.

And sometimes, I realize that God wants me to be a part of His work with Him – not as a minor figure, not as say, someone who sweeps the floor and stays in the shadows, but as a real, full participant in His work, with Him. We are, almost, equals in the work of saving souls. When I become one with God, which is His desire, we become one in His work. (All of that could be defined as “Consecration.”)

So I should be a bit more careful now and show how I see this in Ether 12 and King Benjamin.

Ether 12:27:

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

What I really like about Ether 12 is the idea that God gives us weakness to see what we will do about it. My weakness (or weaknesses, as it is usually read though isn’t the word used in verse 27) is not so much a sign that I have failed, but a sign that I need God. Read that again:  is not so much a sign that I have failed, but a sign that I need God. The trick is that we often feel like needing God is failing somehow. But the real lesson of Grace is that it is okay that we are weak, because God’s grace is sufficient for every person on earth. In fact, God gave to mankind weakness through the Fall so that we would be humble and trust God.

The trick is for us is to realize at the same moment that we are really weak, but that God is good (translated: God has already Loved us, in that state, and it has become irrelevant).

I really like that word for this: our weakness is irrelevant.

Not our sins, mind you. Our mortality, the fact that we are tempted, the fact that we make mistakes. That weak-state, that “natural man,” is what was given to us. It is our nature. That means that we are not guilty for that. Original guilt has been overcome! Christ atoned for Adam’s fall! As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive! That is true both for physical and spiritual. God has already overcome the world.

But, so often, sin is an attempt to cover-up for our weakness. Why would we ever lie? Steal? etc? Why be cruel to someone else, take advantage, etc.? I’m not going to do a descent job of psychology here, but there’s something to the idea that when we feel unconditionally loved, we let go of being so petty and selfish. When we think we’re on our own, that there’s no safety net, that if I fail here or there then my life slowly crumbles into something I don’t want it to be, then we’re a lot more likely to sin, whether in big or small ways. Sin is a way of not giving-in to God’s Grace.

This is my interpretation of the finale of the Les Miserables film. What’s the comparison of the barricades to heaven supposed to mean at the end? I think it’s saying that Love – Grace – is the only real Revolutionary force. What actually changes people, countries, etc.? When someone actually realizes they are loved and can love. “To love another person is to see the face of God” are the last words we hear before Jean Valjean walks into “heaven” and the re-written march of the last scene starts playing. There’s something to that I think. When do the people in that film sin? When they feel like God has abandoned them and they are on their own. (Or, when they think they are so good that they don’t need God. To them there is no Grace for the sinner – which also means, when they make a mistake, there is no Grace for them and it is better to simply die than live with sin.) What changes them? Experiences of real, trusting love.)

I’m having a hard time staying focused on interpreting scripture word-by-word here, but the point is that we are all “miserable” or “weak” because we are human. What makes the difference is first whether or not a person recognizes that fact, and second whether or not that person trusts God’s Grace. Because, see, God loved us first, and how we respond to that Love is what makes us sinners or saints. Being weak is not sin. Sinning is resisting His love (and remember, His love implies He wants us to be one with Him – both to receive all that He has and to be a full worker in His Kingdom) and consecrating is embracing that.

So now to King Benjamin to try to explain Grace there. I’m looking at a few verses from chapter 4 specifically, though all of his speech  is on this topic too. Here are a few verses:

5 For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—

6 I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—

7 I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.

Brief commentary. This part of verse 6 really stuck out to me just now: ” the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord.” Sometimes we think of the atonement as a “fix” to something Adam and Eve messed up. That might not be what we actually believe but sometimes we talk that way. (Or perhaps the opposite is true sometimes too: we don’t talk that way, but we feel that way inside.) Grace – Love – the Atonement was prepared from the foundation of the world – from before Adam and Eve’s fall and before you or I ever made one mistake. And notice, what God wants is that we simply “put [our] trust in the Lord.” Learn of Grace, and trust it. That’s the simple version of the Plan of Salvation. 🙂 What about the rest of the verse – keep the commandments, continue in faith, etc? I think that is a natural outflow of really feeling both God’s greatness and your own nothingness, and giving yourself to it. See these next verses of Benjamin:

11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.

13 And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.

14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry…

If you remember these things and therefore are humble (the right kind of humility – a trusting child-like humility – and not the self-hating kind) then you will “always rejoice” – how wonderous! But more than that. You will “grow in the knowledge of the glory” of God, of that which is just and true. Your mind will “stretch as wide as eternity,” as Joseph Smith put it. And therefore, you will not have a mind to injure each other, you will have a peaceable mind and one that teaches your children naturally. Keeping the commandments is not how we get to God’s Grace, it is a natural outflow of trusting God’s Grace completely. In fact, Benjamin says that it is after we feel the remission of our sins that we live this way. It is NOT, as we sometimes think, a way to live in order to someday feel God’s Grace and the remission of our sins.

If sin can be thought of as resisting Grace and Consecration, then what we usually call “sins” are simply signs or symptoms of not giving in completely to God’s work. I really think those two things have to go together – we feel God’s Love and His desire for us to be “one” with Him, and we respond to that invitation to be “one” by giving up our sins and Consecrating our very hearts to His work. It’s sort of a call-and-response structure.

The lesson also included this suggested analogy:

Draw on the board a simple diagram of a person at the bottom of a pit, with another person standing at the top of the pit, lowering a ladder. Ask the young women what is required in order for the person in the pit to be saved. What is the role of the person at the top of the pit? What is the role of the person in the pit? What does this diagram teach the young women about how the Savior’s grace saves us?

think this analogy will often be used to say that even though the person at top has lowered the ladder, it simply waits there until we climb on it and work our way up to the top. And there is something about that interpretation that feels right, but there is something that feels so wrong! But what, exactly.

I think if King Benjamin were telling this same story, he would emphasize the powerlessness of the person in the pit and the great mercy of the person at the top. Same story, you see, but a different emphasis. The interpretation would be that the person in the pit needs to recognize that they can’t get out any other way and that God has already put a ladder there from before they were even in the pit. What then is the role of the person at the top? To communicate love to the person in the pit after the ladder has been lowered. What is the role of the person in the pit? To recognize there is no other way to be saved from the pit and humbly and joyfully climb up that ladder to be back with the person at the top.

I think I’d add to the story that we’ve collected up all these cool things we’ve found down there in the pit. Maybe some cool rocks or a nicely shaped root. 🙂 Or specks of gold dust or whatever would be of actual monetary value. We have to use both of our hands to climb the ladder, but we don’t want to lose our collection. That is the dilemma: do we leave behind the comforts of the pit for the demands of the world above? Do we empty our hands of our collection and grab hold of the ladder? Or perhaps our dilemma is different: Do we leave our solitude for the demands of unity and companionship? Thus God communicates two things to us: that we are weak and in danger in that pit, and that He loves us and wants us to be with Him.

I think my typing time is coming to an end, so I’ll end with leaving some space for more verses (or talks) as I think of them that have “helped me understand grace,” as the question in the new curriculum put it (and add your own in the comments):

  • Alma 36:11-20. Alma the Younger has an experience where he recognizes, at the same time, God’s greatness (by the shaking of the earth at the voice of the angel!) and his own nothingness. He obsesses about his weakness for days until he finally remembers and trusts what his father had taught him about a Redeemer. He cries out to God, and immediately he feels his guilt and stress leave. Faith leads to remission of sins, right then and there. We might not have an experience with an angel, but all of us can have that experience: when we finally give up obsessing about our sins and trusting God’s Grace.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. These sound a lot like Ether 12:27, now that I read them so closely together. Paul feels like more that his infirmities are shown, the more the Grace and strength of God can be seen. The more we admit that we are weak the more strongly God’s Grace shines right through us to bless others’ lives. Something like that.
  • 2 Nephi 4
  • Alma 26:12
  • Jacob 4:6-7

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