Misunderstanding the Messages
by H. Wallace Goddard
The great danger for humans is that we will walk by the light of our own understanding.
We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men. (Isaiah 59:9-10)
There are innumerable areas where we fail to comprehend divine truth. Yet we may expect our shortfall to be greatest in the areas of truth that are most exalted and sublime.
At some point in mortality most of us find ourselves in the clutches of crude, small, selfish acts. We detest them even as we cling to them (for the natural man craves stimulation at all costs). Sometimes we wonder how we got so far down a vile road. We resolve to get ourselves out of the filth. But mortal messes accumulate faster than we can remove them.
More than once along the mortal journey we are likely to be threatened with a dreaded confrontation with a judge, either mortal or immortal. It is natural to lie and contrive in order to avoid the painful accounting. We hardly need to add accusation and moralizing to our already-heavy burdens.
Here is one of life’s great surprises. When the woman taken in adultery was dragged before the Lawgiver, the Judge, the Holiest of all, He did not accuse her. The scribes and Pharisees accused her. And they nettled Jesus to take a stand against her unholiness. He, the model peacemaker “stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not” (John 8:6).
When they continued to pester Him “he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (verse 8). The irony is breathtaking. The “defenders of the law” were guilty of noxious sin but anxious to prosecute anyone guilty of different or more disagreeable sins. He was the only one in that gathering or any other mortal gathering who was without sin. But He threw no stones.
The errand of the keepers of the law had taken a nasty turn. They were disqualified as judges and executioners. Yet even in their viciousness, He did not accuse them. Rather, the law that they used to batter fellow travelers became their accuser. And they were left without basis for accusing Jesus. They departed discontent at the outcome but apparently unwilling to repent.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (Verses 10-11)
Satan’s name literally means “accuser.” That is a vital point. It is he and all those who do his work who do the accusing. We may tell when we are under that evil power when we are anxious to find others guilty and make them suffer.
When we find our consciences nagging us, we naturally assume that God is upbraiding us: “Why haven’t you been reading your scriptures? You should not use harsh words with your family. You have been neglecting your prayers. Your church service has been disappointing.” He has every right to be irritated with us. He has given us so much and we perform so poorly.
But such upbraiding is almost never the voice of God. He who commands us to treat each other with love does not resort to chiding and scolding to motivate us. It is Satan who points the accusing finger for, in his perverse strategy, he knows that shame paralyzes rather than energizes. While the evil one scolds us and cajoles us to do better, he laughs because he knows that such scoldings discourage us. His message is to do good but the effect of his message is to do nothing.
Satan and God approach us very differently. Satan points the accusing finger at us while God’s hand is stretched out to us. Those are very different gestures. Satan accuses. God invites.
The scriptures describe Jesus as our advocate who is pleading our cause before the Father (D&C 45:3). He offers His sinlessness, His blood, His sacrifice to heal us (D&C 45:4). For those who show even the least disposition to repent He invites “come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal [you]”(3 Nephi 18:32). For those who scoff at repentance, humbling tribulations are offered. But those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 12:6).
If we see God as a hostile accuser, we avoid encounters with Him at all costs. If we see Him as a loving Redeemer, we seek His refining embrace. Perhaps father Lehi was describing that blessing when he summarized his life by saying that “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).
We may judge whether our self-scorning is evilly or divinely inspired. “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).
What a surprise. Years of cajoling that we assumed to be heaven-sent may indeed have been devilish if they left us wan and listless. How many inactives remain outside the warmth of His goodness because they assume that He will chide and berate them if they approach Him? How many have felt their gloom deepen as they mistake Satan’s accusation for God’s invitation? How many have concluded that they are beyond His redemptive reach because of the burden of so many sins?
Richard L. Evans observed that “our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience” (Conference Report, October 1956, p.101).
Rather than flee from God as our accuser, or hide from God as our judge, we should run to God who is our Advocate. Because we have an high priest who is touched by the feeling of our infirmity, we should “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
During the time that I served as the bishop of a student ward I consistently began interviews with the question, “How are you getting along with your Heavenly Father?” The responses followed a predictable pattern: “Well, I am trying. I am so busy with school and work that I am not doing as well as I should. I could read the scriptures more . . .” It seemed to me that many of the college students avoided Heavenly Father the way we might avoid a cranky parent. At the time of greatest need they avoided their greatest resource and friend. My counsel was to make Him a part of their lives. “Talk about Him as you drive to school. Hum a hymn as you walk to class. Let your heart be filled with thanks to God.” The remedy for darkness is Light.
Accepting His offering of love and goodness has a powerful impact on all our relationships.
The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241)
When we are filled with divine love, we are more gracious parents, more helpful partners, more considerate friends. It is clear why Satan would like to block the flow of heavenly goodness into our lives. The good news is that we can learn to respond to any darkness in our lives by turning toward the Light.
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.