I have thought a lot about the phrase “We rejoice in Christ” this week. I wondered what this really means, especially as we make mistakes and sometimes forget God for other life pursuits. Through studying, I found a particular scripture which really made me ponder. In 2 Nephi 15: 18-20 (Also Isaiah 5) it states,
18 Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of avanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope;
The word which stuck out to me as I read these verses was “Wo(e)”. According to google dictionary, the definition of Wo(e) is “great sorrow or distress”. I’ve always wondered as a child until now how many times the Lord promises sorrow and destruction for wickedness. Part of it makes it seem as though he enjoys punishing those who do wrong. As for myself, it is hard to think a God who could send Christ to save us all could adversely enjoy the misery of his children.
I really like a story shared by Elder Von G. Keetch in the 2015 General Conference:
Some time ago while visiting Australia, I traveled to a beautiful horseshoe bay renowned for its surfing. As I walked along the beach, I was enthralled by the magnificence of the large crashing waves breaking just outside the bay and the smaller waves rolling in closer to shore.
As I continued my stroll, I encountered a group of American surfers. They were obviously upset about something, talking loudly and gesturing toward the sea. When I asked them what was wrong, they pointed to just outside the bay where the big waves were breaking.
“Look out there,” one of them angrily told me. “Can you see the barrier?” Looking more closely now, I could indeed see a barrier stretching across the entire mouth of the bay, right where the large, enticing waves were breaking. The barrier appeared to be made of a heavy mesh and was supported by floats on top of the water. According to the surfers, it dropped all the way down to the ocean floor.
The American surfer continued, “We are here on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to surf these big waves. We can surf the smaller ones breaking within the bay itself, but the barrier makes it impossible for us to surf the big ones. We have no idea why the barrier is there. All we know is that it has totally spoiled our trip.”
As the American surfers became more animated, my attention was drawn to another nearby surfer—an older man and obviously a local. He seemed to be growing impatient as he listened to the ever-increasing complaints about the barrier.
Finally he rose and walked over to the group. Without saying anything, he pulled a pair of binoculars from his backpack and handed them to one of the surfers, pointing out toward the barrier. Each of the surfers looked through the binoculars. When my turn came, with the help of magnification, I could see something that I had not been able to see before: dorsal fins—large sharks feeding near the reef on the other side of the barrier.
The group quickly became subdued. The old surfer retrieved his binoculars and turned to walk away. As he did, he said words I will never forget: “Don’t be too critical of the barrier,” he said. “It’s the only thing that’s keeping you from being devoured.”-Blessed and Happy Are Those Who Keep the Commandments of God, 2015
So now these verses, which speak of the fate of those who don’t hearken to God’s voice, mean something else to me. It is a warning of the inevitable consequences of abandoning God’s commandments. The commandments bring safety for the soul, peace of mind and more deeply connect us to God. But what happens when we abandon them? Can we pick and choose the consequences? The answer is no. Calling God’s commandments evil, unfair or confining rather then what they are does not change the fact God gave us commandments for our spiritual safety.
I also have thought a lot of two different examples of the state of those give in to temptation and live in their sins. One was the fate of those trapped in Dante’s nine circles of Hell. The second is the fall of the Nephite nation recorded in the Book of Mormon.
For those who don’t know, Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy is a narrative poem illustrating the afterlife and the fate of those who do or do not live a righteous life. Through the three parts Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso he painted a picture of the justice of God and the consequences of man’s choices.
Honestly, most people remember only the first part of his work Inferno, which describes in bitter detail the fate of the wicked, doomed to one of nine circles of Hell. Though I do not agree with much of what Dante described, I do remember very distinctly a very particular scene. As he crossed with the infamous poet Virgil through limbo he heard the most horrid cries of pain. Those who had never taken sides, those who reveled in the seven vices, and those who had caused terrible harm to their fellow man.
For him to understand and receive his own salvation, Dante had to see and understand the fate of the wicked. Virgil tells him, “Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people”
Though this quote really pained me when I read it many years ago, there was a particular stanza describing those caught in Hell’s vestibule which caught my attention. It reminded me of the fall of the Nephite nation.
“And I — my head oppressed by horror — said:
“Master, what is it that I hear? Who are
those people so defeated by their pain?”
And he to me: “This miserable way
is taken by the sorry souls of those
who lived without disgrace and without praise.
They now commingle with the coward angels,
the company of those who were not rebels
nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.
The heavens, that their beauty not be lessened,
have cast them out, nor will deep Hell receive them —
even the wicked cannot glory in them.”-Canto III, Inferno
Unlike Dante, I believe those trapped in these circles of Hell do have a way to escape. Such a state is only final if a person decides it is so. This is so because we have Christ, who” bdescended below all things, in that he ccomprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the dlight of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6)
The true tragedy is this. Those trapped in Hell choose to stay. Their misery is born from living in their sins and never turning back to God. Wickedness never was happiness, because we can never truly be happy while destroying our bodies and souls through harmful decisions. Especially if those decisions lead others to suffer.
I think the lesson to learn from this is no matter where we are in life spiritually, there is always a way to come back to the light. However, we must choose it for ourselves.
I remember once while on my mission a sister asked one of the teachers during our zone conference how it could possibly be that anyone would willingly choose misery and never try to come back. He said there comes a point where a person can either lose all hope of ever changing or actually willingly want a wicked life. When that happens, there is nothing which will or can be done to make them change. This is because we have the freedom to choose our course for ourselves. It is as Lehi told his family before his death,
26 And the aMessiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may bredeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are credeemed from the fall they have become dfree forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the elaw at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are afree according to the bflesh; and call things are dgiven them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to echoose fliberty and eternal glife, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be hmiserable like unto himself.-2 Nephi 2:26-27
This is why it was possible for a people blessed by God like the Nephites to fall. It was through small and simple choices made generation after generation. It is truly haunting to read Mormon’s observation concerning his people on the brink of their destruction.
12 And it came to pass that when I, Mormon, saw their lamentation and their amourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would bagain become a righteous people.
13 But behold this my joy was vain, for their asorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the bsorrowing of the cdamned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take dhappiness in sin.
What I love about Mormon though are the words which he later sends his son Moroni. “25 My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto adeath; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and blong-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your cmind forever.” (Moroni 9:25)
We cannot control what others choose, but we can choose to hear Christ, learn of him and insodoing find peace with him. The greatest gift we can give to our self and others in this life is to choose to live a faithful, Christ centered life.
Thank you to those who read this!