I was the speaker in my ward on Easter Sunday. Although the talk was not written I’m going to try to summarize what was said. (I never “write” a talk. Just take a list of scriptures with me, which on this occasion I never used.)
In the months before I entered law school, I worked in Provo alongside a fellow named Jay Wirig. Jay had been a missionary in the 70’s in Hong Kong. While there, he suffered a collapsed lung. He was diagnosed and then sent by the doctor to see a specialist to be treated. His companion took him to the specialist’s office, which was up a flight of stairs. That isn’t much of a problem unless you have a collapsed lung.
When he arrived in the office, an unpretentious, elderly, Chinese fellow – in a spartan office- used a stethoscope to listen all about his chest and back. Then the fellow got out a tool that looked like a phillips-head screw driver, but had four razor tips on the end. Without warning or anesthetic the doctor stabbed him in the upper chest. It hurt. Then he fished a tube in the hole he’d just made, attached the tube to a suction bottle, and within a short while the lung re-inflated and pain went away – except for the wound on the upper chest. The doctor has no bedside manner, did not bother explaining what he was going to do or why. He just proceeded without regard to the patient’s feelings to administer what would cure the ailment.
When Jay returned to home after the mission ended, he suffered recurring collapsed lungs. Eventually, they recommended surgery. The surgery required them to enter his chest cavity through his underarm. When you open on the side, rather than through the solar plexus, the rib spreader crushes cartilage, pulls muscles and ligaments, and inflicts a great deal of trauma. He was kept in the same post surgical ward as the heart patients. The much older heart patients had their chests opened through the far less traumatic means of opening and spreading at the solar plexus. Therefore, the elderly patients were feeling quite well post-surgery, while Jay was in agony. He took some grief from the older patients, because here was a 20-something year-old young man complaining while they were not.
Poor bedside manner by physicians can make the patients they treat feel anxious and alienated, even if the medical treatment they provide is curative. Even if they ultimately do what is right, good and healing, doctors can leave the patient feeling victimized rather than cared for.
Similarly, lawyers can be insensitive to client’s feelings, becoming far more attentive to legal principles, theories and arguments than the underlying people affected by the dispute. When I was in law school, I co-authored a book on family law. Because of that, I wanted to practice family law when I graduated. In Utah that means primarily divorces, although it includes the occasional adoption and guardianship. I took divorce cases for about three years before I just could not stand that area of law any longer. It was too bitter, too divisive and too inadequate. It would take another three years before I finished all the cases I had pending, but when finished, I stopped practicing family law. Although I got good results for my clients, I was unable to identify with their emotional needs.
Some years later, after my own divorce, I saw this in a whole different light. As a result of going through the legal process for my own divorce, I concluded the law should not be used to deal with family dissolution. It should be handled by mental health counselors, who have adequate sensitivity for the horror and pain experienced any time a family is broken apart by divorce.
We have a ward infested with lawyers and doctors. I would venture, perhaps every one of us can look back and see those we have helped professionally, but who we have failed inter-personally. We may have solved the legal or medical problem, but at the price of injuring the spirit of those we helped.
When Christ suffered, He gained knowledge. His knowledge is not limited to the physical cure, but includes the spiritual and mental anguish of our disappointments, losses, failures, illnesses, injuries and limitations. He said very little about what He went through. The longest single explanation given by Him is in D&C 19
. There He states:
15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
Now this sounds like the Old Testament God. However, this is a warning based on the established laws by which all things operate. Sooner or later, all of us will come back into the presence of God. When we do we will either have repented and be prepared to be in His presence, or we will not have repented and we will withdraw in shame and agony. This is explained in Mormon 9: 3-5
…Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?
4 Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell
5 For behold, when ye shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you.
Joseph Smith said a man is his own tormentor and accuser. That is, when we see ourselves as we truly are, and can reckon our own unworthiness from the presence of a “just and holy being,” we will recoil in horror at our filthiness. We will see how vain we have been.
It is this problem Christ is warning us to guard ourselves against. It is a plea from Him to repent, so we may remove from ourselves this burden of guilt. This is the greatest gift of the Atonement. All other benefits of His suffering pale in comparison with this compassionate result of His suffering for our sins.
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; 17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; 18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
This is describing a specific event and time. The only Gospel which records the event is Luke. Luke 22
41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
For Him to suffer as we will if we choose not to repent, He was required to assume our sins, feel our anguish and unworthiness in the presence of a “just and holy God,” and then come back into harmony with Him. Hence the need for the “angel” to appear to Him from heaven. Unless He confronted exactly what we are called on to confront, He could not minister to us. He could not heal us. He could not take upon Him our sins.
And so He became as unworthy as any of us. No matter what malignant thing you have suffered, who you have abused or neglected, or what harm you have caused or endured, Christ has felt the anguish of that while in the presence of a “just and holy being.” He knew His sheep would flee while He suffered. But He also knew the Father would never leave Him:
John 16: 32
: Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
Suffering the guilt of filthiness in the presence of His Father, He overcame and subdued all enemies to righteousness. He felt shame, but returned it to compassion. He felt agony and rejection, but overcame it with charity. By this means He gained the knowledge necessary to heal all our sins, remove all our guilt, and subdue all our anxieties in the presence of holiness.
Isaiah says this:
Isa. 53: 11
: … by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
By bearing or taking upon Himself the guilt which divides us from the Father, Christ knows perfectly how to conduct you safely back to the Father’s presence. As Christ explains in D&C 19
, it requires us to “repent” — because if we fail to repent we must suffer, just as He did. Except our own suffering for our own sins is not curative. It is not redeeming. It is only justice. For us, we seek to claim mercy. Mercy comes from Christ’s Atonement which can and does render those who take part in it altogether clean.
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
He has prepared it for us. But it is our choice to take hold upon it. For that, our personal decision to repent remains at the core.
Christ’s capacity to heal us was gained through the Atonement. He possesses compassion in another measure beyond us. For Him the power of His compassion exceeds mere sympathy. It is a power to heal. His compassion removes from us the burdens we feel.
Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail about the injustice of the Saints’ suffering from the Missouri mob attacks. As he listed his complaints, and clamored for justice against his enemies, his mind became a blur of emotion and events. With “the avidity of lightening” his mind turned over and over again the injustice of it all. Then, when his mind could take it no more, Joseph fell into a detached state of profound openness to God’s voice. Then the voice of inspiration came to him and said:
7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes
On the other side of this statement from God, Joseph was still in jail, under the same horrid conditions, with the same captors. But having heard the voice of God declaring, “peace be unto thy soul,” the compassion of Christ removed the pain of suffering. Now the conditions of his lamentable imprisonment became tolerable. For Christ’s compassion removes, empowers, enables, and enlivens. It frees us from the torments we suffer. Through Him we can bear all things.
Of all the Lord provided, an escape from our torments crowns His Atoning sacrifice. It empowers Him to liberate us from all our burdens. His compassion is a power, not a sentiment.