In Sunday School yesterday, we studied the beginning of King Benjamin’s speech (Mosiah 1-3, and a bit from chapter 4). Our teacher wrote a list of scriptures that we began reading, where the king reiterates his own and his people’s “nothingness before God”; scriptures like this:
But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; (2:11)
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another – I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. (2:21)
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. (2:25)
If that was all you read in his speech, you’d be feeling pretty discouraged. I remember wrestling a little with that when I was younger, wondering why his message was so stark, when elsewhere I was taught that I was a beloved daughter of God, who wanted to bless me with everything possible, including a place in His presence for eternity. Since then, I’ve come to understand the purpose of King Benjamin’s words better; and as we read through these and other scriptures in class yesterday, I started getting concerned because we were missing out all the scriptures right next to them; the ones that explain them. Of course, the teacher had a plan, and meant us to feel concerned (he then pointed out scriptures like Doctrine and Covenants 18:10 and Romans 8:16-17). Someone in the class called out that if you didn’t read the next scripture (after a particular one we looked at), you might start to cry! I made the comment that interspersed with all these scriptures are others that explain about Christ’s atonement, and that the king wasn’t describing the worth of their souls, but the mortal condition: the fallen nature of mankind that we inherit upon birth into this world. That’s why he says that “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam”; this is the “rebel who must lay down his arms” (C. S. Lewis).
Benjamin is making it very clear that we are nothing without God; that we depend wholly on Him for everything – He is not an afterthought or addition to our lives, a Being we merely call on for help when we want it, or worship on the days we remember. He is everything to us; we are here on His sufferance, by His mercy; we wouldn’t be alive without Him; there would be no earth for us to live on, no bodies for us to inhabit, no families to be part of, no food to eat or joy to experience. We cannot even breathe without Him, Benjamin says. Whether you acknowledge Him or not, He is blessing you every moment, and has blessed you from the beginning. As soon as you keep a commandment, you are blessed even more. That’s why we’ll all, always, be “unprofitable servants” – never imagine that we repay God for anything, or that we can ever break even with Him for all He has given us. We never will, and so we never need to. We do need to recognise that God is good, and loves us; therefore, love Him and keep His commandments. He doesn’t bless us only because we try, or are good, or love Him, but because He is good, and loves us perfectly. Our part is to be continually grateful to Him. That’s really His ‘reward’, if anything.
The genius of structuring his words in this way is that Benjamin brings his people to a stark comprehension of where they truly are; they see the great distance between themselves and God, and realise that on their own, they are lost. Then he teaches them about the Saviour who would come to redeem them; who would “suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death;
for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning…. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name… (Mosiah 3:7-9).
What I really wanted to say tonight (my ‘introductions’ grow to such mammoth proportions! It’s been that way since I was in primary school and had to write short stories. I’d finally get to the centre of the story somewhere near the end…) is that this speech masterfully teaches one of the paradoxes of Christianity. That it’s not until you humble yourself, recognising your lack of power to do any great thing on your own merits – remembering that even your power to breathe and have air with just the right combination of gases to do that is because God created it to be so – that you are able to see the way (to eternal life and endless joy and power and all the wonderful things) and enter in by it. That the earthly and eternal blessings of God, the purpose of all life, the unfathomable glories that await the children of God, are only accessible from the point of humility and recognition of our dependence on Him. On the one hand, we must recognise that we are nothing; on the other, we learn that to God, we are everything, and He will give us everything. We are His heirs, “joint-heirs with Christ”; yes, we are dependent on God for all these things – our life, our breath, our worldy goods, our talents, intelligence, bodies, hope, etc. – but He provides us with them; all of it is for us. The earth, His plan of salvation through Christ, His church, and all the ‘extra’ blessings we receive when we do keep His commandments, are for us. Eternal life is for us. The universe, really, is for us. It is for us because God is good, and everything good comes from Him. His purpose is to love, infinitely, endlessly, and perfectly, and so he provides everything we need to be perfectly happy and fulfilled. To understand our dependence on Him, and “nothingness” compared to Him, is not reason to be discouraged, but to rejoice – in the goodness of God and the evidence of His love. To be encouraged by the perfect hope our Saviour brings and commit ourselves to be part of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind.