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Weakness vs Weaknesses

"Heaven does not send forth the Spirit to sustain weak doctrines. It is the power of the doctrine that attracts the power of the Spirit." - Joseph Fielding McConkie (2006 BYU Easter Conference)

"One by one, our best efforts as individuals will be required to correct errors that have crept in through the years." - President Russell M. Nelson (The Correct Name of the Church, October 2018 GC)

The following is merely my opinion and is not an official declaration or stance from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The quote above from President Nelson is used in a context where he is speaking about the proper name of the Church. What struck me when I read it for the first time a few months ago was the plural use of the word 'errors'. To me, this suggests that there are multiple errors that have crept in among the Saints over time and that one by one our best efforts will be needed to overcome them. I am not sure how many of these 'errors' exist, but it is my opinion there are many and they come from mainly two different categories:

1. We become so committed to what we think we know that we close off further light and knowledge that has been revealed or is yet to be revealed.

2. Over time, we have let our culture slightly distort concepts from the way they are actually taught and discussed in the scriptures.

There are a few examples of this I could name, but here is just a quick list:

  • The idea that the sacrament renews baptism covenants (Elder Andersen has taught that this is true he supposes, but it misses the point of what the scriptures actually teach about it).
  • Our conversations about equating priesthood power with priesthood office (there have been many quotes from the brethren that teach that this is a false idea)
  • That God gave us our capacity to make choices
  • And a host of other doctrinal details we have learned from our culture instead of what the brethren and scriptures actually teach.
Why focus on these things? Why does it matter? I personally like how 3 Nephi 7:18 highlights why it is important. In this verse, we have Nephi teaching apostate Nephites and we have what is, to me, one of the most looked over and startling lines in scripture:

"... it [was] not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily."

How does one get power in their teaching like that? I would like to think that Nephi had his speech so purified and theological fluff so removed that he was able to invoke unmatched power from the Holy Ghost (see Joseph Fielding McConkie quote above).
This is why a focus on Christ should be paramount, but on top of that, there are ideas that need to be corrected in order to grow our relationship to him. 

The 'error' I will focus on today is the idea of 'weaknesses'. The idea is often expressed in this way (**NOTE: this is not what Ether 12:27 actually says):

"Ether 12:27 says God gives us our weaknesses. God gives us these weaknesses that we may be humble"

God does not give unto man weaknesses (other than the possibility of disabilities, but those do not come without the use of agency to accept such in pre-mortal councils). If you have a patience problem, it is improper to say that your weakness of impatience came from God. To interpret Ether 12:27 the way many of us do is no better than the sectarian belief of an ex nihilo creation. It can lead many of us to "charge God foolishly" for our mistakes and trials. It can also hinder repentance in that it can cause some to believe that all we need to do is to acknowledge our weaknesses if those weaknesses are ultimately things not our fault. It can cause people to miss the greater lesson to be learned in that we all are eternal entities who are living in a fallen world and that overcoming those "eternal" and fallen deficiencies is the process of sanctification.

A careful reading of weakness in the Book of Mormon always associates it with man's fallen nature in comparison to the Holiness of God. The word 'weaknesses' is NEVER used in the scriptures. This is not to say it is improper to discuss our weaknesses, but the scriptures always put the context of various prophets 'weaknesses' as a composite part of their overall 'weakness'. For example:

  • Moroni writes extensively about the deficiency in his writing skills in Ether 12. A careful reading of the language in verse 23 shows that the writing is deficient due to their weakness. Or in other words, anything that has not been enabled by the grace of Christ to be more holy falls under the category of weakness. 
  • Nephi also laments over his writing a bit in 2 Nephi 33:4 & 11. These verses are especially interesting and make the point clearly if read closely. Nephi's writings are not as good as he would like, but he understands that God will take these same words and make them strong. 
To put it succinctly, Nephi and Moroni understood and trusted that what makes things strong is the enabling power of Christ. To get the point across more clearly is a word study around the word 'develop'. There is no expression of developing or growing out of a weakness in the scriptures. The word 'develop' is never used. It is true we can practice and get better at something, but this, unintentionally, distracts our gaze from the grace of Christ. We should practice and should seek to grow talents, but the language we use so often is scripturally inconsistent and causes us to miss "things as they are".

The emphasis on weaknesses and the need to overcome them one by one is nowhere to be found in the scriptures. Our emphasis on it has caused some to despair. It has caused some to think they must "develop" and grit their teeth instead of doing the small and simple things consistently and then trusting in the grace of Christ to make their weakness strong.

In closing, Ether 12:37 brings us full circle as we get a full definition of what it means to be made strong:

"... because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father."

To me, this all suggests that the error in our gospel conversations causes us to minimize our trust in Christ. Things are not made strong until something is endowed to us. This can happen little by little and drop by drop to where it seems like we are developing talents. But we can never assume strength and the Divine Nature through the grit of our own teeth. It is always an endowment and it will always be on the basis of trust in the Savior.

Therefore, we can stop despairing. Therefore, we can stop being a Martha and become more like Mary. We can slow down and trust. We can keep covenants and seek to have our 'weakness' revealed to us:

"And they had viewed themselves (had their true predicament revealed unto them) in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come..." (Mosiah 4:2-3)


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