(Continued from last week…)
THE NATURE OF WORTHINESS
Last week we talked about both the brother of Jared and Alma Sr., and how in their self-assessment, they truly felt unworthy before the Lord.
And so, I say…let’s be honest! Who really is worthy? “To be worthy” in our current English suggests the idea of “meriting” or “deserving.” I ask you, who really is deserving? Sure, we are considered worthy to enter the temple if we abide by certain requirements, but that’s because God doesn’t require us to be like Him to go there. And there are different levels of worthiness. For instance, one can be considered worthy to take the sacrament, but not worthy to go to the temple. One of the requirements of going to the temple is paying a full tithing, but, to my knowledge, the prophets have never told the Saints to refrain from taking the sacrament if they weren’t full tithe payers. We are also promised that if we keep any commandment, we will be worthy to receive the blessings attached to it. But, deserving of those magnificent, heavenly blessings? Worthy? And what about being worthy to come into the presence of the Lord? Who deserves that? Who has merited that? Who of us is really worthy? The truth is we can be considered worthy because of what the Savior did for us. The prophet Enoch, that powerfully righteous man, praying to the Lord said:
“…thou art God, and I know thee,…thou hast made me, and given unto me a right to thy throne, and not of myself, but through thine own grace” (Moses 7: 59).
Even ‘Zionistic, taken to heaven’ Enoch knew that after all the commandments he could and would keep, after all he could do, it was still by the grace of God that he would be saved and have a place in the heavenly kingdom. We, like Enoch, must recognize our unworthiness before the Lord.
ALMA the YOUNGER
Alma’s son, Alma the younger, who followed in his father’s footsteps, both in rebellion and in conversion became the next prophet of the Church. Years later, after ceaselessly laboring to bring souls to Christ, Alma the Younger praised his missionary son Shiblon for his own steadiness, diligence, and faithfulness to God. Shiblon had been put in chains by the Zoramites and was also stoned by them for preaching the word. Alma the Younger, like an admiring father, praised Shiblon for bearing all these persecutions with so much patience, and faith toward God. You can feel Alma’s great approval and joy towards his son, Shiblon. Then at the end of the father-and-son interview, Alma counseled Shiblon: “Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times” (Alma 38: 14). Unworthiness? Shiblon?…the good son?…the one that didn’t go after the harlot!…the one who patiently endured terrible persecution to take the word of God to an apostate people!…Unworthy? Well, according to his father, the prophet, we are all unworthy “before God” and that unworthiness should be acknowledged.
Back to the brother of Jared’s prayer: “O Lord…we know that thou art holy…and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3: 2). Even when we consider ourselves worthy to take the sacrament, or worthy to go to the temple, do we acknowledge our unworthiness before God? The Book of Mormon teaches us that we should.
Amulek knew that he was that little black sheep. He passionately declared without fear to his own people that he was hardened and fallen and lost and must unavoidably perish except it were through the atonement of Jesus Christ, His Lord. (See Alma 34: 9.)
Mormon knew that he was that little black sheep. He taught that he was a fallen man, and if it weren’t for Christ, no good thing could have ever come to him. (See Moroni 7: 24.)
In Doctrine & Covenants 121: 39, we are told that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, that as soon as they get a little authority, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Notice—“the nature and disposition of almost all men”! Some time ago, the thought came to me: I wonder what else it is the nature and disposition of almost all men to do? And when the scriptures speak of men in this way, they aren’t just speaking of the males. They are referring to fallen mankind.
The Book of Mormon tells us that the children of men are foolish, and vain, and evil, and devilish, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord; quick to be lifted up in pride, quick to boast, false, unsteady, weak, and unstable. (See Helaman 12: 1, 4, 5.) And you know what? I am one of them. When I was serving as a bishop, I openly called myself the “sinner bishop.” But I have Jesus Christ to help me and love me and forgive me and wash me clean if I will but believe in Him, and put my trust in Him, and seek forgiveness to the end of my days.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying that there is no temptation that comes to us, but such as is “common to man.” (See 1 Corinthians 10: 13.) “Common to man”? What does that mean? For me, it means that because of the fall, our mortal natures have become more and more susceptible to evil influences. And there is no temptation or sin that is rare in this world. Millions and millions of people are worked upon by the same temptations. We each deal with a different set of them, but every temptation in every set is shared by a multitude of other people. That’s how I see it. Now, the reality with much of mankind is that they don’t let temptations or sins bother them. Only those awakened to the goodness of God and who are concerned about their standing before Him are tormented by their sins. This is one of the first lessons our hearts need to learn. EVERYONE who is God-fearing, EVERYONE who is God-loving struggles with sin.
Joseph Smith said to the Saints: “If you wish to go where God is, you must be like God….Search your hearts, and see if you are like God. I have searched mine, and feel to repent of all my sins” (History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 588). I would venture to declare that close to none of you would have ever even considered that the little black sheep in the painting was Joseph Smith.
The truth is, that little lamb represents every one of us. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing).
(to be continued…)