Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Christ and the Healing Power of the Atonement

 Q: I was wondering if you have some good advice on how to strengthen your faith in Christ's ability to heal you?

A: My answer will be in two parts: The first will deal with Christ, and his power to heal all wounds (both physical and spiritual) through the atonement. The latter portion will deal with the faith that each individual must exercise in order that we might more fully partake of the power of the atonement. (p.s. I think some of the best stuff is at the end, so read the whole thing so it will make sense to you.)

Alma, in prophecy concerning the coming of Christ (see Alma 7:11-13), described His mission and ministry thusly:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
It took me a while to fully accept the implications of this verse. I had no problem with the concept that Jesus Christ had atoned for my sins-borne the pains and afflictions that come through sin, and loosed the shackles of sin and death, but when it came to the notion that Christ had also suffered for our physical sicknesses, our pains, and our mortal afflictions, I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around that concept. I was sure that this passage referred to the suffering and affliction that Jesus Christ had experienced during his lifetime, but I was wrong. If that were the limit of His experience, he could not have experienced these things to such a profound level as to make it possible for Him to know “how to succor his people”. Elder Neal A. Maxwell declared the extent and the reality of Christ’s suffering for each of God’s children when he said:
“He knows by actual, personal experience, because not only did He suffer pains, afflictions, and temptations of every kind during his second estate, but he took upon Himself our sins as well as our pains, sicknesses, and infirmities. Thus He knew, not in abstraction but in actuality, ‘according to the flesh,’ the whole of human suffering. He bore our infirmities before we bore them. He knows perfectly well how to succor us. We can tell Him nothing of pain, temptation, or affliction; He learned ‘according to the flesh,’ and His triumph was complete!” (Neal A. Maxwell, We Will Prove them Herewith [1982], 46, in Book of Mormon Student Manual, 182-183).
The prophet Isaiah testified of this (in Isaiah 53:4-5) when he said (concerning Christ):
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
The apostle Paul added his testimony concerning the purpose of Christ’s suffering to that of Alma and Isaiah when he said (in Hebrews 2:17-18):
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
It is for this reason that I often tell my friends that on judgment day no one will be able to say: “You just don’t understand me!” or “You don’t know what I had to go through!”. Trust me. He does. Of anyone who has ever lived on this earth, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who truly understands each one of us, and so knows “how to succor” us. What does it mean to succor someone? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explains:
“[Succor] is used often in the scriptures to describe Christ’s care for and attention to us. It means literally ‘to run to’ [as in to the aid of]. What a magnificent way to describe the Savior’s urgent effort on our behalf. Even as he calls us to come to him and follow him, He is unfailingly running to help us.” (“Come unto Me” [CES fireside for young adults, Mar. 2, 1997], 7,, in Book of Mormon Student Manual-Religion 121-122, 183)
This is why the apostle James could declare with confidence (in James 4:8) that if we “draw nigh to God, He will draw nigh unto you.”

On the same note, the Lord made a similar promise in D&C 88:63-64:
Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you;
I have occasionally heard it said that God is an unjust God (or that he doesn’t exist) because a just God would not allow so much suffering and sadness in the world. While I don’t think that we can fairly blame all suffering on God (see Alma 14:11, and 60:13), I am reassured that the Lord does not ask us to endure anything that He has not endured already.

On a related note, the fact that we must suffer afflictions and setbacks in this life is just one of the conditions of our existence in mortality. Some of them come as a result of our mortal weakness, but more often they are incidental to the mortal condition. In either case, they should not always be viewed as a punishment. It may be important for our personal growth that we learn to endure such trials. The scriptures have much to say about the purpose of adversity in God’s plan to help us to grow and improve.
Hebrews 12: 5-13  And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

Job 5:17  Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty:

Revelation 3:19-21  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
Elder Henry B. Eyring taught concerning the role that adversity plays our lives when he said:
“With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity. There may be periods, sometimes long ones, when our lives seem to flow with little difficulty. But it is in the nature of our being human that comfort gives way to distress, periods of good health come to an end, and misfortunes arrive. Particularly when the comfortable times have gone on for a while, the arrival of suffering or the loss of material security can bring fear and sometimes even anger.

That aching for an answer to “How could this happen?” becomes even more painful when those struggling include those we love. And it is especially hard for us to accept when those afflicted seem to us to be blameless. Then the distress can shake faith in the reality of a loving and all-powerful God. Some of us have seen such doubt come to infect a whole generation of people in times of war or famine. Such doubt can grow and spread until some may turn away from God, whom they charge with being indifferent or cruel. And if unchecked, those feelings can lead to loss of faith that there is a God at all.

My purpose today is to assure you that our Heavenly Father and the Savior live and that They love all humanity. The very opportunity for us to face adversity and affliction is part of the evidence of Their infinite love. God gave us the gift of living in mortality so that we could be prepared to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, which is eternal life. Then our spirits will be changed. We will become able to want what God wants, to think as He thinks, and thus be prepared for the trust of an endless posterity to teach and to lead through tests to be raised up to qualify to live forever in eternal life.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Adversity,” Ensign, May 2009, 23–27).
This is where the principle of faith comes in, not only the faith that Christ has the power to heal us, but also the faith to endure whatever the Lord may see fit to inflict upon us (see Mosiah 3:19), and to accept his will for us above our own personal wishes. It takes great faith to accept that the Lord may have a different outcome in mind for you than the one that you are praying for. As we begin to develop that faith, we will learn to seek to conform our will to His.

That is why when The Lord promised us that “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you,” He added this important caveat: “that is expedient for you”.  That said, it is nevertheless heartening to remember the words of the Angel to Mary: “For with God, nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  And again, as Paul says in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  As you can plainly see great power and blessings are promised to those who exercise even a small amount of faith.
Matthew 17:20
And Jesus said unto them…If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Matthew 21:21
Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
The power of faithful prayer to work miracles is repeatedly affirmed throughout scripture, but Amulek includes this warning after exhorting us to pray constantly (see Alma 34:18-28):
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
King Benjamin echoed the importance of the principle of selflessly giving to others even as we seek to obtain for ourselves when he taught (in Mosiah 4:16,19, and 21):
And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
If we are choose not to help those around us who are in need, why should we expect the Lord to help us in our need? If we are not willing respect The Lord’s commandments, how can we expect Him to respect our wishes? If we are not inclined to expend any effort on the behalf of others, why should we expect the Lord to work great miracles for us? A crucial part of faith is the determination to act according to the will of the Lord in all things. If we cannot demonstrate enough faith to obey the simple principles of the Gospel, then the Lord is under no obligation to bless us.
D&C130: 20-21  There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

D&C 82:10  I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
This is not to say that we earn blessings through righteousness, but rather that God blesses whomever He chooses, and He chooses to bless those that keep his word. This is borne out in the teachings of the apostle John (in 1 John 3:22):
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
While this question was intended to deal with physical sickness and ailments, I wish to state that the atonement of Jesus Christ is truly an infinite atonement. Christ suffered in the Garden, died on the Cross, and was resurrected on the third day for each one of us personally. Not only for our sins, but also for our temporal sicknesses and our afflictions. Beyond that, and more significantly in my book, Christ underwent the mental and emotional pain and anguish that we each must suffer in this world. This also applies to those of us who may have to endure mental or chemical problems and disorders in this life. We each can take solace in the fact that Christ endured ALL things for us, and so knows how to succor and comfort us, even in the depths of our anguish.

Along these same lines, a different friend once asked me if I truly believe that Christ has the power to break the chains of addiction. I do believe this. In fact, I believe that it is impossible to truly be free of such captivity without the redeeming power of the atonement. It is also equally impossible without faithful and sincere effort on our part. If we exhaust ourselves in diligently seeking to free ourselves from the shackles of addiction, and exercise faith in Christ’s power to heal us from such maladies, Jesus Christ will free us through his grace. Whether we have fallen into the awful trap of addiction, or have in some other way blundered into the grasp of the devil through sin, I believe that Jesus Christ can, with our righteous effort, free us (in every sense of the term) to act and to not be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26-27) through the power of his atoning sacrifice.

Isaiah, speaking in the words of the Savior, declared that this was the purpose of His life and death:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
Jacob rejoiced over this in 2 Nephi 9:20-21, 10 when he said:
O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
I rejoice over the goodness and mercy of our God! I thank him with all my heart that he loved us enough to send his Son to suffer and die, not only for our sins, but also so that he could comfort us in our sicknesses, our trials, our afflictions, and free us from the bondage of addiction. It brings me such sublime joy to know that we are not alone! We have a loving heavenly Father that loves each of us equally, and desires only our eternal welfare. Truly, we do not comprehend a love so profound and infinite as the one that God has for his children. Paul perhaps expressed it best when he said:
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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