Grace and the “Person in the Pit” (from the New Youth Curriculum for March 2013)
Posted by Karen on March 2, 2013
(By the way, I added the example of Moroni from Ether 12 near the end of the post on March 3.)
I was looking at the outline on Grace in the New Youth Curriculum for YW (https://www.lds.org/youth/learn/yw/atonement/grace?lang=eng) and found this little analogy (which I’m calling the “Person in the Pit”):
Draw on the board a simple diagram of a person at the bottom of a pit, with another person standing at the top of the pit, lowering a ladder. Ask the young women what is required in order for the person in the pit to be saved. What is the role of the person at the top of the pit? What is the role of the person in the pit? What does this diagram teach the young women about how the Savior’s grace saves us?
I thought it would be interesting to answer this question by posing another question: What would be the interpretation if King Benjamin were telling this same story?
Let’s look first at how he teaches grace in Mosiah 4.
5 For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—
6 I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—
7 I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
8 And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you.
There are three facts that King Benjamin says every person has to “come to know:” the goodness of God, your own nothingness, and the atonement. In terms of the “Person in the Pit” story, we need to know that the person at the top is both powerful and loving, that we really are stuck in the pit, and that the ladder will get us out of there. He goes on to say:
11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
There is something about recognizing, at the same time, both God’s great goodness and our own weakness that allows us to partake of God’s graceful atonement. In our “Person in the Pit” story, what would happen if only one of those two things were recognized?
- If we recognized God’s goodness and love, but we didn’t realize our weakness (our complete inability to get out of the pit) then too often we would feel no urgency to change or respond to God’s love. In our analogy, even though we knew about the ladder we might actually be tempted to stay in the pit because we assumed we could get out whenever we wanted, on our own terms.
- If we recognized our weakness, but didn’t feel God’s goodness and love (and power, wisdom, patience, long-suffering), then too often we might feel inadequate to respond to God’s plan and/or, be afraid God’s plan wasn’t adequate for our weakness. In our analogy, even though we knew about the ladder we might be afraid to start climbing because either we or the ladder might not be strong enough.
But if we put both halves together as King Benjamin suggests (recognizing both God’s goodness and our own weakness), then King Benjamin says we will always rejoice! In the analogy, we would be someone who knew the danger we were in and the goodness of the person at the top. We would humbly approach the ladder recognizing that if it weren’t for the ladder, we would be stuck in that pit forever. We would also look up the ladder in gratitude for the the infinite love and wisdom of the person at the top who gave it to us.
I imagine the analogy will often be used to emphasize the work we do as we climb up the ladder. It is work, of a sort. To give up one’s own desires is a lot of work. As King Benjamin put it, the only person who can make it out of the pit is one who “yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” In the analogy, we might picture people in the pit holding bags of rocks, bits of gold dust, or whatever else they found in the pit that they thought would bring them some gain. And/or, we might picture people who have found a way to climb the walls of the pit and are part way up, unaware of the fact their method will never allow them to reach the top. Now picture these people being approached with a ladder. Will they drop the bags they are holding to grab the ladder’s rungs? Will those climbing the walls come down to the bottom to go up on the ladder instead?
All of us have something keeping us from just giving into God’s atonement – pride, possessions, fears, etc., – even though this ladder of His is such a simple and sufficient escape! I believe King Benjamin thinks that understanding both our weakness and God’s greatness overcomes every excuse we have to not climb up that ladder. Some of us understand one of those but not the other; most of us probably could understand them both much more than we do already. Or like me, perhaps you too have learned your lesson once, but have to learn it again, and again, and again. I think that God will always be trying to communicate one or both of those two things to His people so that they will give up the “natural man” and come be one with Him.
As one example, let’s go to Alma 36:7-21. Alma the Younger has an experience where he recognizes, at the same time, God’s greatness (see verse 7) and his own nothingness (see verse 11). He obsesses about his weakness for days (verses 12-16) until he finally remembers and trusts what his father had taught him about a Redeemer (verse 17). He cries out to God, and immediately receives a knowledge of God’s love for him (verses 18-21). Now knowing both God’s love and his own weakness, he is “reborn” and dedicates the rest of his life to sharing this message with others.
For another example, let’s look at Ether 12. Moroni is obsessed with his weakness in writing. He is afraid that he will mess up the whole plan of the Gentiles taking the Book of Mormon to the remnant of the Nephites/Lamanites, because the Gentiles will mock at his writing and won’t believe the Book of Mormon is from God. In other words, he is afraid he is standing in the way of God’s work. In Ether 12:27, God explains that he is fully aware of Moroni’s weakness, since it was God who gave weakness to everyone. It was on purpose; it was a gift, you could say. Why would He give us this gift? So that we will be humble enough to go to God and work together with Him in His work. Moroni still doesn’t quite get it; he’s still worried his weakness will stand in the way so he prays for the Gentiles to have charity so they’ll be humble enough to go to God too, and then read the book and take it to the remnant. God again communicates to him: Don’t worry! I’ve got it under control.
The lesson I take from Moroni is that God is fully and completely aware of my weakness (always has been, always will be) and yet He loves me and wants my help anyway. He wants me to be one with Him and wants to use me to help others come to Him. The fact that He trusts me even in my weakness is one of the happiest ideas in the world to me, and makes me realize how silly I’m being when I obsess about my failures. If God doesn’t care, why should I? What he wants most (and only?) is my heart (isn’t every sin actually evidence of not giving up that?). If I’m obsessing about me then I’m not ready to give my heart. But when I realize that all those things I’m obsessing about don’t really matter, and that Christ has already overcome them anyway, then I can give my trust and heart to God and see what work He has for me to do next.
In other words, to me, the work of getting up the ladder is simply giving in to the idea that I’ve already been saved by the atonement, and the real work comes after I’ve reached the top and God gives me work to do with Him. The work of the ladder is giving Him a “broken heart and a contrite spirit,” which is to say, to stop worrying about myself at all! God has overcome the world, including all that burdensome worry! Or in the language of King Benjamin, when I see God’s greatness I begin to obsess about my weakness. It is only when I remember what I have been taught about God’s grace that I finally give in and let my obsessive nature go in exchange for a willingness to do whatever God wants me to do next. That decision is followed or coupled with a strong feeling of God’s love for me, and His pleasure that I’ve decided to come along with Him in His work. And that does make me rejoice! What greater joy is there than knowing that God wants us to be with Him?
We might not have an experience with an angel, but all of us do have times where we recognize God’s greatness and our own nothingness. That means we all have many chances to finally give up obsessing about our sins and decide to trust God’s grace. And I think He loves us enough that He will always keep communicating His love and our weakness over and over again until we will finally give in. (Or give in again, and again….) This seems to be the real message to the person in the pit: We are all weak, but not to worry – God loves us and has promised that His grace is sufficient! (Ether 12:27)