A couple of weeks ago, I taught the Sunday lesson for the Relief Society in our ward. I want to share one of the central insights I gained from studying and preparing that lesson. It was based on Elder Christofferson’s General Conference talk, “Preparing for the Lord’s Return”.
The message of his talk was that relieving suffering and sorrow in the world – “the work of ministering to temporal needs” is important and worthy, but is a short-to-medium-term goal. The long-term, larger goal of the Church and Christ’s disciples is to prepare the world for His second coming – the Judgement and Millenium. Elder Christofferson calls this “the gathering and preparation of a covenant people ready to receive the Lord”.
Why is this the larger goal? Isn’t working to relieve physical suffering – from poverty, starvation, injustice, war, etc. – the worthiest goal in the world? To help those we see in need around us? It is very worthy, and essential; it’s work that will continue to be done until there’s no more suffering to be found. And that’s why it’s a shorter-term goal, and not the larger one in itself. Because there will come a time when there is no more suffering in the world. Isaiah 11:6 & 9, Revelation 7:16-17, and Doctrine and Covenants 101:30-31 describe that time. Elder Christofferson says, “When [Christ] comes, oppression and injustice will not only diminish, they will cease. …Poverty and suffering will not only decline, they will vanish. … Even the pain and sorrow of death will be done away”. That is why the larger goal is to prepare the world for the Lord’s return – because in doing that, all of these things will be relieved, completely.
The real purpose of all the service we give is to bring people to Christ. Without Him, and covenant-making and -keeping, there is no lasting peace, freedom, or relief. Doing good works for others might help against poverty, but will not save the human soul. Because He is the source of light, hope, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation. When the Lord went among the people of Israel during His mortal life, He constantly healed them from all sorts of sickness. Reading about it, I feel jealous sometimes – they were able to have their illnesses just taken away, physically, completely. They were so blessed, living at that precise time. If the Lord’s aim were just to physically heal all the people He could in the time He was near them (and this, I think, was likely a real aim – His compassion is infinite, and He was often ‘moved’ with it when confronted with the sickness around Him), then that would be quite unfair. Sorry, everyone else living in other times; you’ll just have to wait for the Millenium. So I believe that Christ’s greater purpose was (and His own explanations at the time bear this out) to teach everyone – to show, very visibly and unmistakably – that He, Christ, heals. His gospel, His grace, His path. Following that will lead everyone to the healing we all need. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to everything. To war, poverty, corruption, broken relationships, misuse of the earth’s beauties and resources, sin, evil, injustice…. It’s the only complete answer to these things, because it works to change each individual from the inside. It enflames the light in each person who receives it and changes every particle in us to become pure and wonderful. Really, really gradually, but it does it. You can feel it happening, and you can see it. That’s why Zion is described like this:
For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found within her, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall crown their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
Isaiah 50:3, 11
And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.
And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven, and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.
Doctrine and Covenants 45: 66-67, 69, 71
The healing power of the Gospel – which comes from its saving truths and the enabling grace of Jesus Christ – doesn’t have to wait until the world is a better place, or until the Millenium comes. It can happen immediately. It’s been happening forever, and will continue to – because that is what it does; give life, sanctify it, make it everlasting. That’s why living it and sharing it is our major project – alongside other projects which help people temporarily.
* In sharing this, I don’t want to downplay the importance of helping each other in temporal ways – it is part of our work as followers of Christ; it’s what we want to do naturally as humane beings; helping the poor and needy is continually represented through the scriptures as essential to our salvation. We must help as Christ did and does for each of us – He has called His disciples to love each other as He has loved them. But that love which He has shown for us is more than just answering physical needs. It is a whole, wise, eternal love which looks at our whole souls, and that is the love others really need from us.