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.
I offered one of our children an incentive (some might call it a bribe) to speed up his potty training. The deal was that if he could successfully go for a certain agreed period of timeI think it was a week or so, day and nightwithout using diapers or Pull-Ups, he could begin to ride the shiny new training-wheeled bike I had for him in the garage. He successfully completed his part of that deal on a Sunday morning.
He had done his part, and I felt I therefore owed him mine, whatever the day or time. So, before church began, I agreed that I would walk beside him as he rode that little bike around the block, a distance of about one mile.
Halfway around, he tired of riding and asked me to pull the bike home for him. A bit perturbed, I bent down, grabbed the handlebars with my left hand, and began towing the bike. About ten steps later, my lower back began to spasm. It felt like my back muscles were attached to a dial that someone was turning. The pain doubled me over. Within seconds I couldnt even move. I remained on my feet, albeit bent over, only because I had the bike to lean on. I gasped for breath, wondering what I should do. After a minute or so, I found that I could slowly make my way home if I used the little bike as a walker.
When I got home, I quickly called someone to see if he could cover a class I was to teach. There is no way I can go to church in this condition, I thought. (My decision was made all the easier because I hadnt yet prepared a lesson!) I then grabbed a book I had been reading and carefully climbed down onto the floor and gingerly turned to my back. My Sabbath would be reading this gospel-related book, I told myself. I happened to open the book to the first page of a new chapter. I stared in surprise at the chapter title: “GO ANYWAY,” it told me. I have lived through many coincidences, but that chapter title at that moment did not seem to be one of them. I was to be at church.
Commandments are a little bit like that chapter title. They are given to us to awaken us to somethingto both a problem and a need. And the commandments I am finding the hardest to keep at any particular moment are the ones that are calling me out of my deeper slumbers. A little-known application of a well-known experience during Israels wanderings in the wilderness will help us to understand this more clearly.
On an occasion in the wilderness when the Israelites started complaining against Moses because of the difficulty of the way, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” The people then came to Moses in the spirit of repentance and begged him to intercede for them before the Lord. Moses did so, and the Lord instructed him to make a serpent out of brass and to set it on a pole. He was then instructed to command Israel to look upon the serpent of brass. All those who looked upon it lived.
The scriptures confirm what one suspects when reading this storythat the brass serpent was a similitude of the Savior. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” John wrote, “even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Here is a question that illuminates the role of the gospel, and specifically the commandments, in our lives: If the brass serpent is a type of the Savior, of what might the fiery serpents be a type?
Consider this possibility: that the fiery serpents are a similitude of the commandments.
The law of Moses was largely an outward law of what the scriptures call “carnal commandments.” Its various behavioral rules were many and specificso much so that it was essentially impossible for anyone to keep all of them perfectly. Sacrificial offerings were required for each transgression under the law, continually pointing Israel to the need for atonement yet at the same time hinting at the insufficiency of the law itself to do that since, as Paul said, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins,” nor “purge” mans “conscience” (that is, his desire or will) from a disposition to sin.
Like the fiery serpents, the law of Moses was given to Israel to turn them to Christ. The law, like each serpent, was designed to “bite” Israel by awakening them to their sins and requiring them to seek atonement for them. Just as salvation from the poison of the fiery serpents required Israel to look to the representation of Christ that Moses raised on the pole, so salvation from transgressions under the law required them to look to the Lord himself.
Jesus announced that this outward law that was given unto Moses was “fulfilled” in Christ. “[It] hath an end in me,”119 Jesus said. But he then commanded, “Look unto me, and endure to the end,” and (this is important) “keep my commandments.
“120 He gave this same instruction to his apostles near the end of his mortal life: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”121 So his statement that the law of Mosesthe law of outward performanceswas fulfilled in him was not at all to say that the obligation to keep commandments was fulfilled in him. Far from it. He was just saying that the complicated set of outward laws that comprised the law of Mosesa set of laws with the sole purpose of pointing Israel to the coming of the Messiahwas fulfilled with the appearance of that Messiah.
While the commandments we are to live today may be less outwardly demanding than the law of Moses was, they are far more inwardly demanding. For example, it is not enough merely not to kill. The Lord now has commanded us not to be angry! Anyone who gets angry at another, he says, “shall be in danger of hell fire.”122 Likewise, we are not to lust, and we have been commanded not to let any such thoughts “enter into [our] heart.”123 The Savior also said that we are to be “meek,”124 “merciful,”125 and “pure in heart,”126 with “bowels . . . full of charity towards all men.”127 It is not enough any longer merely to love one another; we are to love each other as Jesus has loved us.128 And so on. No matter the excuses we feel we might have, it is like we are each staring at a page meant just for us that says, in effect, “Go Anyway”Love Anyway, Forgive Anyway, Be Grateful Anyway, Have Faith Anyway, Be Charitable Anyway. If the ancient Israelites were bound to stumble by the strictness of their outward law, we are even more certain to stumble by the strictness of this inward law.
Our struggles to keep these deeper inward laws expose our need for the Savior just as transgressions of the law of Moses did. However, these deeper laws do something more than this. These are the laws of the celestial kingdom that we must be able to abide in order to abide the glory of that kingdom.129 So when we break these laws, our unholiness itself is being exposed. The laws therefore not only cause us to turn to Christ for a forgiveness of sins (in order to justify us pertaining to the law), they also expose within us the weaknesses that we need him to change in us if we are to become as he isnot only without spot, but holy.130 With this understanding, when we turn to Jesus, we fall before him not only for forgiveness but for the purging, purification, and sanctification of our souls.
Lehis dream is instructive here. Of two absolutes in the dream, the first was that every person who failed to cling to the rod failed to make it to the tree. So it turns out that walking in the vicinity of the commandments is not enough. For protections sake, we must cling to that rodlike Helamans stripling warriors, we must “observe to perform every word of command with exactness.” To which you might object: But we DONT perform every word with exactness! And because we dont, we are therefore, each of us, separated from God and, in effect, “guilty of all.” And you would be exactly right.
However, here is the crucial point: Being guilty of all does not mean that we are no longer clinging to the rod! On the contrary, it is precisely because we are clinging to the rod that we recognize in the first place that we are guilty. The word of God is what gives us the standard. It is precisely because we have committed to live to that standard with exactness that we are awakened to our sinsthat is, to our failure to live that standard with exactness. So the rodthe lawis what establishes our guilt. And the tightest-gripped, most exactingly obedient moments we ever display are when we are repenting of our failures under the law, as repentance is itself the central provision or commandment of the rod of iron:
“Now this is the commandment,” Jesus announced, “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me . . . that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” “I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, [so] that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” “Whosover [repenteth and] cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, . . . him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Think about it. The kingdom of God is comprised not of the impressive and the beautiful but of the broken and guilty who come unto Christ. This brings us to the second absolute in Lehis dream: Every person who fell down to partake of the fruit stayed at the tree. Guilt, being the only thing that turns us sufficiently to the Lord, truly is a giftone of the greatest of all the gifts of God.