The following is an excerpt from the book, Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness, by James L. Ferrell. We will share one chapter or excerpt, with permission, each week.
Why do we need to turn to Christ? And how, exactly, does the gospel invite us to turn to him?
To address these questions, we need to understand both our current condition and our eternal possibilities. What is our current condition? As we discussed in the last chapter, our condition is that we are separated from God. To use a metaphor from the last chapter, he is Light and we are not, and we are therefore inescapably apart from him. But what does this really mean?
Here, another analogy might help us. A good friend of mine spent many years as a judge. He presided over hundreds of drug cases. All were more or less just cases to him until, one day, he lifted his head to see his neighbor standing before him. Things were suddenly entirely more personal. And yet, there was a law, and that law had been broken. He might have liked to set his neighbor free, but what kind of justice would that be if he didnt do the same for all the others? But if he did the same for all the others as well, what would become of the notion of justice? Or mercy, for that matter? If none are guilty, then mercy is rendered meaningless as well.
So what problem confronted this neighbor? Two, actually. The first was that he had violated the law in a serious way, and these violations required punishment. In this case, the facts were such that the man needed to go to jail. And his friend was the one who needed to send him there. There is no escape from such personal consequence for violations of the laws of this world. The only way that a violator of such a law can be justified and set free again is for him to pay whatever consequence is associated with the transgression.
But this man had a second problem, even graver than the first. My friend has told me of the dismal repeat-offender statistics for drug users. After jail terms have been served, justifying their release, the overwhelming majority of offenders nationwide end up before yet another judge for the same or worse offenses and suffer the same consequence as beforeover and over and over again. The first problem in such cases is that there has been a violation of the law, but the bigger problem is that the weaknesses and desires that led to those violations in the first place have not been overcome. Although their time served in prison had justified them in the eyes of the law for past offenses, it failed to sanctify them from the weaknesses and desires that had led them to commit those offenses and that would yet induce them to transgress in the future.
These twin principles of justification and sanctification play a central role in our own situations relative to God.96 We, too, have two problems. The first is that we have violated the laws of Godour hands, the scriptures say, are “unclean.” The second problem is that our hearts are impurethat is, we still desire things that are not holy.97 Why is this a problem? Because anything that is unholy cannot be with God. We “must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness,” the scriptures say, “that [we] may be prepared for [his] glory.”98 “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.”99 In other words, unless and until our hearts and desires and wills are sanctified as the Lords, we will never be able to be with and see the Father as he really is, in the fulness of his glory.100 Which is to say that the only way to overcome the problem of never being able to catch up to light is to be made light ourselves.
The problem of lifethe problem that the whole plan of salvation and redemption was conceived to solveis how to transform and sanctify beings whose impure hearts, desires, and wills cannot abide the glory of God into beings whose hearts, desires, and wills can abide that glory. We are, as it were, the repeat drug offender. We must not only be justified or forgiven for past sins but must also be sanctified from any desire for sin.101 How else could God entrust us with his power?102
God, like my friend the judge, might wish that he could waive the law in the case of those whom he loves, but to do so would frustrate the whole plan of happiness. Why? Because to waive the consequences of law would be to render law meaningless. Whats wrong with that? one might respond, hopefully. If we got rid of law, wouldnt we get rid of our problems? And wouldnt that make life so much easier and more enjoyable? To which I would answer: “No, the law is a gift to us. Getting rid of it would mean that you and I would be doomed to an eternal hell.”
Why is that?
Think about it. Even if God could waive the law without frustrating the plan of happiness, that would solve only the first of our problemsthe problem of needing to be justified or forgiven of our sins. Waiving the law would not sanctify our hearts, and we therefore would still be separated from God. It turns out that laws or commandments are necessary in order for us to become sanctified. Heres why: We can overcome the desire for sinfulness only by being allowed to choose sinfulness. Where there is no choice to sin, there also can be no choice not to, and therefore no opportunity to overcome the desire for it. It was the establishment of the law that “created” the possibility of sin in the first place, for without the presence of the “right,” there would be nothing that could be considered “wrong.
” “If . . . there is no law,” Lehi taught, “there is no sin. [And if] there is no sin, [then there can be] no righteousness.”103
Redemption is the process of sanctification through which the Lord, by his Spirit, refines and purifies our souls so that we “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”104 “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God,” Lehi taught, “save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”105 The Savior took our impurities and proclivities toward sin upon himself and overcame them. His condescensions106 below us all have given him the ability and power to change the hearts and dispositions of all who demonstrate that they want their hearts and dispositions to be changed. However, since it is our wills, themselves, that need to be changed, he cannot, without frustrating the whole plan of redemption, change us against our wills. He will change and lift only what we ask to be changed and lifted.
If, recognizing our broken sinfulness, we humbly and repentantly fall before him, begging in faith for his merciful forgiveness and healing, the Savior of the World, or “my Jesus,” as Nephi intimately referred to him,107 will fulfill his oath and his promise to heal and make us holy.108 His work on our behalf is at once infinite and infinitesimal: It is so big that he offers redemption to all, and yet so small that he offers redemption to meoffering to cleanse and sanctify every particle of my soul, refining it through the fire of the Holy Ghost.
It follows from this that we need to see every piece of ourselves that needs refiningevery weakness, every fault, every failing, every transgressionso that we can offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit. This is why attempts to pump ourselves up and think artificially well of ourselves can be so damaging. Happiness depends on us seeing our faults. The gospel “causes men and women to reveal that which would have slept in their dispositions until they dropped into their graves,” Brigham Young taught. “The plan by which the Lord leads his people makes them reveal their thoughts and intents, and brings out every trait of disposition lurking in their [beings]. . . . Every fault that a person has will be made manifest, that it may be corrected by the Gospel of salvation.”109
To the Zoramitish modern world, a world that is obsessed with peoples looking and feeling good about themselves, this may sound like a depressing prescription. Cant you just hear Korihor saying, Why do ye yoke yourselves down with such foolish things? Dont bind yourselves down. Youre just finebetter than fine, actually. Youre wonderful! Lift up your heads. You can do anything you set out to do. Look up with boldness!110 But his words would be leading us astray and robbing us of the very happiness that he proclaims to be enabling. We are lifted “grace for grace,”111 one disposition at a time. As we offer our weaknesses as sacrifices to the Lord, he will remove our sinfulness from us. But we need to see our weaknesses in order to offer them to him. Which begs this question: How, in this fallen world, will we be able to see what we need to see?
As we will discuss in the next chapter, the Lord reveals these truths to us through the mechanism of his commandments.