There is a burdensome curse attached to mortality:
Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground—for thou shalt surely die—for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Moses 4:23-25)
The whole world is cursed for us. Our efforts will reliably yield thorn, thistle, briars, and noxious weeds rather than delicious fruits.
But wait. There’s more bad news.
And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in [a world of] sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good. (Moses 6:55)
Not only are our labors in the world rewarded with thorns, but there are thorns growing in our own souls. We are afflicted with blindness, narrowness, pride, selfishness. The list goes on and on. We’re a mess. We’re a heck of a mess. We vacillate between being offended by our own dispiriting fallenness and the annoying fallenness of people around us. We are a terrible burden to ourselves and all creation. And the condition is terminal.
But let’s make this more personal. Have you seen these bedeviling burdens in your own soul? Do you sometimes find yourself resenting other people for their qualities, both bad and good? Do you find yourself resisting God’s servants because their requests interfere with your preferences? Do you often know what is right but don’t want to do it? Do you often want to be seen as better than you are — admired for qualities that are largely a ruse? Do you sometimes wish you could sin and get away with it? Do you ever wish that God would do things your way?
We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us
If I understand God’s word and the human condition rightly, these are the common inheritance of humanity. The natural man is an enemy to God, goodness, fellow humans, and even himself. What a dismal state.
Ironically, those who do not see the sickness in their souls are the worst off. They — or maybe I should say we — are the emperors who think we’re adorned in royal finery when we are naked — uncovered by the robe of God’s righteousness.
Another irony: Those among us who have the most Celestial spirits may also be most burdened and troubled by the fallenness of this world. They may feel like strangers in a strange land — because they are. This is not our heavenly home. And the pains of mortality can be especially keen for sensitive souls.
Consider one of God’s great ones, Nephi, who proclaimed in a time of soberness:
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; (2 Nephi 4:17-19)
“When I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins!” Wow! That captures the human condition as beautifully as anything Shakespeare ever wrote.
Despair Invites Us
Because of my training in human development and family relationships, I often visit with people who feel burdened and lost. I am not a therapist, but I try to be a helper. A few weeks ago a young woman from a community in Arkansas came to see me. For a couple of years her life has felt gloomy, desolate, dark, and hopeless. She is sure that God is disappointed in her and that nothing will work out.
Her view is quite typical for the people with whom I visit. Mortality gives us plenty of data to make a bleak assessment of our lives and prospects. And the lovely ribbon that Satan ties it all up with is his vilest untruth: Nothing will ever be different because we have displeased God.
When we believe — or even offer any credence to — that one lie, all hope unravels, all energy drains, and despair settles in like a dark and heavy fog.
God’s diagnosis of despair is simple, and seems harsh: “And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity” (Moroni 10:22).
Despair comes because of iniquity? We bring despair on ourselves by our misdeeds? The answer is yes. But it is a special kind of iniquity. It is the iniquity of losing faith in His power and goodness. It is the iniquity of believing that our badness overpowers God’s goodness. That is the ultimate iniquity, and it sinks our mortal prospects.
Notice the words that changed everything for beloved Nephi:
Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
Though Nephi was swamped by despair, there was a whisper in his soul that awakened the heavenly giant. Nephi turned from dark despair to unbounded rejoicing when his focus turned from his own failings to God’s commitment to rescue us.
Our Father did not send us to earth to suffer, flounder, and die. He sent us to learn. And He brilliantly and graciously prepared a way for our escape from the messes of mortality. He sent His Son to pay all our debts, to conquer death, and to open the gates to glory.
What a rescue mission! Every other escape pales in comparison!
How do we access this great power? How do we turn our black despair into the brilliant light of His hope? The scriptural answer is repentance.
Repentance. It’s a word that Satan has tried to throw into disrepute. “Repentance is only for those weak ones who are not serious about God’s commandments.” But God waves the banner of repentance, inviting us to come to Him. It is simply the invitation to recognize our fallenness, our persistent weakness, the briars in our souls. It is also the invitation to recognize His goodness, His faithfulness, His redemptiveness, the graciousness in His soul.
As we truly repent, we not only liberate ourselves, but we set free everyone around us. Let me amend G. K. Chesterton’s words: “How much larger your life would be if you could become smaller in it [and God could become bigger in it.] … You would begin to be interested in others. You would break out of this tiny theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”
I testify that there is one reason for hope: the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no life He cannot reclaim, no burden He has not already prepared to carry, and no obstacle He cannot defeat. Or, in the words of President Packer: “There is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.
That is the promise of the atonement of Christ” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Boyd K. Packer, October 1995 General Conference).
How do we apply this truth in our daily lives and struggles? I think the answer is to follow Nephi’s pattern. Every time despair lures us toward its cruel clutches, we remember Whom we have trusted. We call on Him. We cry out for mercy, and we have faith that He will respond to our pleas.
For He is mighty to save! I testify that it is true.
In my own life, I am trying to inoculate myself against the dread disease of despair by filling my mind and heart with the doctrine of the atonement as it is found throughout the scriptures. As a special — and much needed — gift to the latter-days, God has given the amazing Book of Mormon which is especially dense with this sacred doctrine. For all who would also like to be immunized against devilish despair, I recommend a serious, lifelong study of these chapters in particular:
2 Nephi 2: Before dying, Lehi provided the amazing logic of eternity.
2 Nephi 4: Nephi’s sorrowing turned to rejoicing when he turned to Christ.
2 Nephi 9: Jacob rejoiced in the atonement of Christ.
Mosiah 3-4: Before dying, King Benjamin pointed his people to Christ and His atonement.
Alma 5: Alma the elder preached change of heart to his beloved people.
Alma 26: A transformed Ammon rejoices in God and His plan.
Alma 34: A re-energized Amulek insightfully testified of God’s plan.
Alma 36: Alma the younger showed his son and us the pattern for transformation.
Alma 42: Alma taught sacred doctrine to his son who strayed.
3 Nephi 27: Jesus visited the Americas and pointed to the core, transforming principles.
D&C 19: Jesus Himself invited us to understand His sacrifice for us!
While Satan would have us see fallenness in everything, God invites us to see miracles everywhere. Satan tempts us to think of ourselves as hopeless messes, living lives of despair; God invites us to see the blessing of sacred hope that come through His rescue and redemption. The earth is filled with His goodness, but it is only seen through the eyes of faith.
If you are interested in additional ideas for personal well-being, strong marriages, or effective parenting, you are invited to sign up for a free resource we have created at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Navigating Life’s Journey is a weekly e-mail series that offers helpful ideas based on research so you can trust they will work in real life. To sign up for any or all of these resources, go to
Thanks to A. Theodore Tuttle who shared with us his love of great scriptural atonement chapters. Thanks to Barbara Keil and Deanna Smith for their insightful contributions to this article.
Books by Brother Goddard:
YouTube videos on the Atonement