Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Waking into Pain - and the Primacy of Charity

A young woman with critical injuries is in a local hospital. I feel such pain when I think what she will face when she awakens. One moment she was happy, invincible, and having a great time with her friends. A moment later she lost control of her car, reportedly at reckless speed, and bolted across the median strip. Will she recall the terror of careening helplessly into oncoming traffic? Will she remember the late afternoon sunlight flashing off the metal and glass of the approaching Red Cross van, or the shock of its impact into the passenger side of her sideways vehicle before all went black? Her first question might be what happened to Hannah and James, her friends on the passenger side who took the brunt of the collision. When she learns that both are now dead, and that the others are seriously injured also, may God help her in her grief. We mourn for the dead and grieve with their families, as rightly we should, but sometimes the loss and pain experienced by the ones at fault may be far greater than we realize.

I will never forget the pain and trembling of a man I met in Switzerland long ago who had just killed a pedestrian. It wasn't his fault, he wasn't speeding, but he had killed a person, and it was tearing him up. Perhaps he could have avoided it, perhaps he could have stopped faster, perhaps he . . . I hope he has moved on and found peace, but he said he felt like his life was ruined. His pain was great though there was probably little to blame. When the tragedy occurs through a moment of true stupidity and is clearly, undeniably our fault, how much worse the pain. It is easy think of punishment, to want the guilty to suffer, but sometimes they do, profoundly, without any need for others to rebuke them. My heart goes out to the families of the victims, but also to the one who was apparently at fault.

When we awake from our mortal lives here, when we come to our senses and see just what we have done with our brief opportunity in this life, for some of us it may be waking into pain as we confront the harm we have done, the grief we have caused, the lives we have hurt. Our riches, our luxuries, our titles and degrees, our honors and awards, the bloated resume, the pleasures and parties, all that we coveted and conquered, may be meaningless. What truly will matter is whether we loved others, whether we obtained the miraculous and divine gift of charity, a gift that is part of the grace that Jesus Christ offers us when we allow Him to guide us and transform us. Paul wrote:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-2)
Faith in Jesus Christ is essential for salvation; hope of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins and Atonement of Christ is essential; but without charity, without allowing God to change our heart so that we begin to love and serve others as Christ would have us do, we are incomplete. I Cor. 13 concludes with this statement: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (v. 13).

When we awake, may the pain of our misdeeds and stupidity be long gone through the grace of Jesus Christ. May we instead be blessed to look back on our mortal life as an exciting adventure where we resisted the enemy of our souls and his pathetic temptations, all dross and foolishness, and instead repented of our sins, laid them upon the Lord, and followed the Author of our salvation, who helped us to bless the lives and save the souls of many.

Consider the words of the Savior in Matthew 25:
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I think these are the kind of people to whom the Lord may say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (Matt. 25:21). Passing an arcane quiz on theology or Trinitarian metaphysics is not the ticket to joy in the presence of the Lord. That ticket might be more closely related to charity, a gift received through grace. I think it's the most important thing of all, more important than what Church you belong to or how accurate your theology is.

In the Book of Mormon, Moroni, the final general of the Nephite people, a man who had faced the horror of war almost all his days and had watched enemies wipe our all the people he loved, turns to charity in his final comments to future generations, to us:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail --

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:46-48)
May we follow that inspired counsel and turn to the Lord more fully, that He may help us to experience this miracle of charity. May we have charity for those who mourn and face terrible or even unimaginable loss. May we have charity also for those who cause us grief, such as the young woman in Appleton who may not yet know what sorrow and unimaginable loss she has caused. This is so difficult, so unnatural, so unspeakably divine - but not impossible through the power of Christ.

4 comments:

Mose said...

I really liked this post, I think some Christians forget charity, and instead can look down on someone for being homeless, poor, in a tough situation, but it is these who need our love the most.

jayleenb said...

My heart goes out to all involved.

Thank you Jeff for a thought provoking post. Those are verses I ponder on a lot since I fall short of that love too often.

I pray love will prevail in this situation for all invclved.

Scott said...

My favorite post since becoming regular reader. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I had never thought of this before recently learning that a nephew of mine (whose parents left the church when he was in his teens) is (in his 30s) now regretting terribly his years of drug use and drug dealing. He told an aunt, "I can deal with the wasted years of my own life, but when I think of the people I may have hurt, even people I don't know . . . THAT is hard"--

we're hoping that this is the beginning of his "coming back"--

it's been very sobering--