Mosiah 4:5,11 — LeGrand Baker — human ‘nothingness’
At first reading, King Benjamin’s words seem to be an exercise in contradiction, or at least in confusion. This is the way he describes the people:
5 For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state.
11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures (Mosiah 4:4,11).
What a strange dichotomy: Those who are said to have an amazingly powerful testimony “which causeth such exceedingly great joy,” are described with words like, “nothingness,” “worthless,” “fallen state,” and “unworthy creatures.”
One would think that neither the King nor God liked the people at all. Yet he address them as “My friends and my brethren, my kindred and my people.” All apparently terms of endearment.
It is the clash of ideas in this address which makes it one of the most powerful sermons in the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin’s object is not to condemn the people who are to him most beloved. His object is to call attention to the strength of their faith and testimonies, and to point out that even with that, they are wholly dependent on the Saviour’s atonement for redemption. His comments are not about how bad the people are, but how unfathomably wonderful are the Saviour’s atonement and the power of his love.
I can almost understand how he feels. I will write about most things as comments in this Book of Mormon Project. But there are two things I am reluctant to write about. One is the concept of who and what and how big is Christ, the Only Begotten Son, the Creator God. Everything I know about the gospel goes round about those questions about Christ. But a direct approach to the answers is so overwhelming that I lack the language to even begin to write.
The second concept has to do with the question: “What is the atonement, and how, by its power, does one return to the presence of the Father.” And the answer, of course, is: I do not know! It is somewhat like reading the second page of D&C 88 and then asking “what is light.” One reaches one’s mind as far as it will go – to before the beginning, through this world’s experience, the spirit world, and to the celestial world. – then shaking one’s head and replying with the only possible answer: I do not know!
I KNOW that Jesus is God! I KNOW that the atonement is real. But WHAT they are, how big, how expansive, how eternal, the power of love and light – these things my time-bound mind cannot begin to fathom. That I may be embraced by the joy and peace of that love, is something I can experience, but cannot comprehend.
But there are some things I do begin to understand about the atonement. It is the Father’s power of creation, personified in the person and love of Christ. Before the beginning, “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of man.” Thus the first sparks of creation were the products of Christ’s creative power – bringing cosmos out of chaos to produce light and life. I presume that justice required that chaos remain chaos, but mercy liberated chaos to create cosmos. Therefore the very beginnings of life (we ‘re talking cognitive intelligence here) were created and justified by the powers of charity which are expressed in the atonement. By that same charity, matter was organized to become the celestial temple which is Kolob. By virtue of the atonement intelligences were made pure so they could become spirit children of God and participate with him in the Council in Heaven. By virtue of the atonement matter was organized to become the spirit world on which spirit children could live. By virtue of the atonement those spirits where given the option of learning through experience, then having their mistakes wiped away so we could come into this would without bringing any baggage with them – as pure and innocent little babies. By virtue of the atonement, matter was organized to create this world, so we could inhabit with physical bodies, experience both the sorrow and the joy of being here, and then be cleansed so we can return to our Father as pure as we were when we left. By virtue of the atonement those who die without that privilege may receive it in the next world, so every person who is born here may become as pure and as clean as he is willing to be – but not by his own power – but by the power of mercy and justice, which are sustained by the Saviour’s atonement. And when it is all over, nothing will change. “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God – Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” [ Both words are possessive. We will become and remain the children of God because we have first become the children of Christ.] (76:58-59) Whatever we are to become in the eternities will be both realized and sustained by the continued power of the Saviour’s atonement.
Presently, we are in the course of creation. That course is a kind of dual creative and maturation process which moves us from intelligences, spirits, physical people, resurrected people, and beyond. We sometimes put the Saviour’s role as Creator God in the past tense by saying he created us and gave us life. That concept is true, but inadequate. The Saviour did not [past tense] create us, he is creating us and by so doing, is giving us increased light and more life. This world is only a phase, not anything like the conclusion of the creative process. The conclusion will come, if it ever does, after we are again initiated into the Celestial world. But I don’t understand about that either.
Having written that, I must write again that I have no viable concept of who, what, or how big Christ is; or of what his atonement is; or the power of his love. I only have a glimpse of how much he loves us and what his atonement does. In that context I can most easily understand why King Benjamin should put such emphasis on our utter helplessness and unworthiness, and our total dependance on the merits of the Saviour’s love.