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Devotionals

Hope in Christ

Hope in Christ | John S. Tanner

What Susan didn't tell you about that one story was that my dad was actually on the other end of the line when that phone call came and I've often wondered how I would have felt if I had agreed to lie and my father had known it. That seemed like a little parable to me because God is always on the other end of the line and he knows all of our conversations. Our Father is always listening.

Well, Aloha! It's good to be with you, it's wonderful to be introduced by the love of my life, my companion Sister Tanner. They flashed up at the very end a little picture that was when we were engaged. I know some of you may think, “Well who's that?” There's a funny story in the novel Dandelion Winewhere this old lady has a picture when she was younger and there's a child that comes into her home and she says, “That's me when I was younger!” and the child says,” No it's not! You don't look like that!” So, you might have felt that way when you saw the picture - "Who's that?”, but it's actually us: Susan and I when we were younger and we were in love then and we are even more in love now.

I'm going to do something a little different today. I'm going to talk to you and teach you without a written talk. I wanted to just introduce my theme what I'd like to talk to you about today; it flows from our conversation when we had that panel here a couple weeks ago with the Brethren and Sister Bingham. Elder Holland asked me that in that panel to take the questions that you wrote that regarded morality and worthiness and I gave an answer and he suggested that I continue to talk to you and follow up on that and so I want to do that today and I want to do that more in the spirit of the panel or I just want to talk about this but so I'm going to talk today about the questions you wrote: remember, dealt with pornography, and dealt with sexual stimulation, and it dealt with what I call addictive behaviors and not only in yourselves but in sometimes in your loved ones those were the questions we got and specifically you also felt that you were struggling to feel hope that this could ever you could ever be better or that your loved one could ever be better.

I want to talk today about sin and about sinfulness and about hope and specifically about hope in the Savior, hope in Christ. So this is going to be interesting for me to just teach this for a little while with you but as I thought about that structure of that or how I wanted to organize it, we're going to talk about sin first and talk about what I call sinfulness and that leads to sometimes despair and then I want to talk about hope and particularly the hope in Christ that brightness of hope we can have so in that journey from darkness, the dark kind of conversations about sin, this journey reminds me of some literature that I love. One of them is Dante's great epic which starts with the inferno and ends with Paradiso; it starts with Hell and ends with heaven. Similarly, John Milton a poet that I've read, studied, and taught a lot has the same sort of movement in his poem. He begins the poem with a vision of Satan suffering in hell and then it moves toward heaven afterward. So, we're going to move from darkness to light in the conversation I'd like to have with you today—but we have to face the darkness in order to really understand the hope and the light that we have in Christ.

We really have to understand that and we're also going to talk a little bit about despair; both Dante and Milton define that hopelessness is the essence of Hell and anyone who has struggled with this will understand Dante famously has at the gates of his Inferno “Abandon all hope all ye that enter here,”. Hell, is by definition for Dante a place without hope. Milton has something very similar when he first describes his Hell he says it's a place where hope never comes but he's even more interesting and psychological in this, he shows Satan moving outside the physical confines of Hell but bringing that despairing personality with him. Satan once says, “O wretched man me which way I fly infinite misery infinite despair, myself and I am not in Hell but myself am Hell,”.

I want to face that first like Jacob it's a little hard to talk about sin, a little hard to talk about these things too, but it's important. The first thing I want to say about the questions we got when you're struggling with sin, with certain sins, whether they're sexual or other sins and I sense that there are many in the congregation and the campus who do struggle with these, is you need to understand first that we all are sinners, we all sin.

In Romans, Paul is quite clear about this, he says, "All have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God." Something very similar is said in section 82 of the Doctrine and Covenants where it says that we are we are all struggling with sin. Verse 6 says, “And the anger of God kindleth against the inhabitants of the earth; and none doeth good for all have gone out of the way.” This isn't just in Paul in the New Testament, it's also in the modern revelation. In the church, we're uncomfortable with talking about this, in fact it's interesting to me that when we talk about sin, we normally don't call sin, sin, we're much more inclined to use euphemisms. I've heard us say, “forgive us for our weaknesses”, you've heard the same thing, or “forgive us for our shortcomings” as if we don't want to name the thing: sin.

I would say we need to be strengthened in our weaknesses and we need to be helped in our shortcomings, but what we really need forgiveness for is our sins. Sometimes they'll use [the word] transgressions but it's almost as if we don't even want to talk about the word because it has that dark coloring to it, but the first thing to remember is that— we all sin; we all need to repent. And repentance sometimes, we also think of it as kind of a negative word, but in fact repentance is the essence of the gospel. It says this is the gospel of repentance, you've heard that many times. The Gospel’s good news is that we can repent and be forgiven. It's a blessing, it's a great thing to be able to have that privilege and in order for us to know that we need to repent we have to identify that we have things that we need to repent of.

Now, for some of us we need to keep a balanced view of this. I have seen that there are people that err on both sides of this. For some people, they're a little casual and the way they approach transgression might be a little bit like this Book of Mormon scripture- it says, “And there are many that say eat drink and be merry nevertheless fear God and he will justify in committing a little sin. Yea lie a little and take advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor for there's no harm in this. Do all these things for tomorrow we die and if it be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God,” There are some who minimize this and feel like yeah, I'm fine and don't really confront their transgressions.

There are others however who have the opposite problem and a lot of those you may find yourself in this situation, it's kind of the spiritual perfectionists among us and we beat ourselves up because we feel like we are always making mistakes; we define ourselves by our mistakes. One time a friend of mine gave me a little cartoon, it shows this balding old man arriving at heaven at Peter's gate and Peter says to him, “No, no that wasn't a sin either. Why you must have just worried yourself to death,” So there are also those who are just preoccupied and feel like everything is sin. So, between those extremes there's a right balance to have about how we look on this and some of it is that we need to negotiate the gospel message, which is the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I used to say, "The gospel has a message for those who fear - to fear not and for those who fear not- to fear. In some ways, you can never get it right, but it is a message of hope, but it's also a message of the conviction that we need help because none of us are perfect. All of us have sinned, all of us fall short of the glory of God. Now, there's something deeper than our individual sins that we often don't talk about too much in the church.

It's all over the scriptures especially the Book of Mormon and it is what I call sinfulness or it is the bondage of sin. It is sin as repeated actions not just an individual once in a while transgression. It's the feeling of being chained by sin as the Book of Mormon uses over and over again. You see this in something like you asked about like pornography, pornography can be very addictive and there are many people that feel trapped by that sin it's not just one sin in other words it's a sense of the fact of being sinful of continuing to self-abuse which was also asked about sexual self-abuse or masturbation was a question that came to us. Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sometimes violence, and anger, the way we interact can be this way.

These are part of some of the ways that we experience sin as chains, as a bondage, as a captivity. It goes beyond just a single sin and it has to do with our sense of being trapped in a cycle of sin. I think if you haven't felt this you probably will at some point but if you haven't felt this a good analogy for me is the need to diet or exercise. Some of you will find yourself always needing to lose the same five pounds or ten pounds, you're kind of trapped in this cycle and you know you eat and you kind of hate yourself while you're eating that brownie. That's the experience that Paul, Moroni, and Nephi have.

There's a sentence in the scriptures that says when we transgress again we feel the burden of the old sins returning and that weight of sinfulness. Paul and Nephi talk about this; Paul in Romans says, "That which I do I would not do and that which I would not do I do." Now, Joseph Smith has the different translations I'm just going with the King James right now he says, "I hate myself for doing the things that I don't like to do," Can you see yourself again eating and breaking your diet and you know you don't want to do that but you kind of do it anyway.

That divided person there's actually a Greek term for this it's called dipsychos—it's two souls or two wills, the divide itself and Paul talks about that and finally he says, "Oh wretched man that I am. Who Shall deliver me from the body of death? How can I get over this?" Now, I think he's talking about not just about himself but about those of us that feel captivated or in bondage to our sinfulness our transgressions.

He's at war with himself, his spirit and flesh seem divided. I've talked to people who have struggled with pornography who have felt the same way. They're so ashamed, they almost want to just tear out their eyes because they feel at war with themselves. There are other kinds of transgression I've dealt with people who are struggle with alcohol abuse and they just feel horrible after they do it.

This is the nature of what we're dealing with, not just with individual sins but with our transgressions, and Nephi has the same thing, in Nephi's Psalm which we'll talk about quite a bit today. Nephi’s Psalm (2 Nephi 4), he says he feels "encompassed about, because of the temptations and sins which do so easily beset me". This is interesting that Nephi would say that and it feels to me, at least as I read Nephi’s Psalm, that one of those might be anger. He talks quite a bit about being angry with his brethren. Well, they want to kill him but Nephi knows that he's responding in a way that may be letting the natural man take hold of him and he wonders what he can do about this now. I love Nephi's Psalm because it comes in a remarkable place in the Book of Mormon. It comes right after Nephi's father, Lehi, dies. He's alone and he's got fratricidal brothers who want to kill him and he's trying to hold this community together. And where does he turn? Maybe he would have talked to his father but now he turns to writing and he talks about his own internal struggles in a way we haven't seen with Nephi and never do quite in the same way again.

And he says, "And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations?", and then in the same language as Paul, he says, "O wretched man that I am!", this sense of being in bondage, trapped to sin. What is the solution to both sin and sinfulness? It is found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Just let me finish with Paul because that may be less familiar than Nephi. This is in chapter 7 of Romans, he says, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." He turns to Christ and of course so does Nephi. The solution for both sins is the forgiveness that we can have through the Atonement. And for sinfulness, it's the possibility that we have, through the Atonement, of becoming new, of having our sins forgiven and our hearts renewed and changed and actually empowered to overcome and be liberated. That's where the Scriptures talk about Christ is setting us free, not just forgiving, but enabling us to free ourselves from the chains and the bondage of sinfulness. The Atonement forgives us for our sins. It also offers another image that the Scriptures use which is the healing for our sinfulness.

Now that possibility of being forgiven and being healed is what gives us hope in Christ and in his Atonement. And the great message of the gospel is that we really do have this hope. Christ offers hope. Hope is a key gospel virtue. We hear of it in the faith, hope, and charity but it seemed to me that of that magnificent triad - faith, hope, and charity - we talk a lot more about faith and a lot more about charity, and hope gets kind of neglected … but it is this core virtue. In fact, one time, when one of the General Authorities was eating out at a Greek restaurant and his wife kind of looked Greek with her dark hair, the restaurateur came up - he had suffered through World War II - and said "You're so beautiful! Your wife is so beautiful that if you answer this question right, I'll give you a free meal" This was Elder Tuttle and his wife - he was a dear friend of Elder Packer who told this story to me - they were then asked by the man "What is the greatest thing that humans most need in this life?", and the Tuttle said "Love," The Greek restaurant tour said, "No, love isn't the most important thing. You can live without love. What you most need is hope."

What you need is the sense of hope that things can get better. It's this virtue then, in this triad of virtues, that sometimes gets neglected in my view anyway. In fact, if you look at the Bible dictionary, it doesn't even have an entry for hope. It has one for faith and one for charity. It seems neglected in the lexicon of our lives somewhat too, partly because it gets confused. It gets confounded or conflated with faith in particular and they are very much alike. I call them "siblings". They're near twins, they're sort of look-alikes, and they are interrelated. One person once said they're good friends - faith, hope, and charity-. In Moroni 7, they're interrelated, sometimes they're sequential in different ways. But faith and hope are somewhat different and the way I see this difference most quickly is by their opposites

The opposite of faith is doubt. What is the opposite of hope? Well, it would be hopelessness and the word for that is despair. You can feel, those of you that know romance language, there's the word "espérance" or "esperanza", to hope in there. And to be without it, to not have hope, it's not just that you don't have hope, it's that you set yourself against hope. One of the reasons that some Christian traditions have thought of despair as itself a sin is because it denies the Atonement of Jesus Christ. To be in despair says, "I do not believe that Christ can change me, that Christ can offer me something and that I can be anything other than I am in my wicked self, the natural man. So, that's a much darker thing than discouragement. It's related to that and then it's related to depression. To be in despair is to set yourself up against hope, to say it can never be different.

Moroni says that despair comes from iniquity and it's truly wound up in our sin and our sinfulness, the sense that we can never be better. So despair, hope, and faith are a little bit different. Another way that you can think of the difference is that faith can be somewhat more impersonal. You can have faith that this church is true. You have faith that the prophet of God lives and the Prophet is a prophet. Hope is a little more personal. It's about how the gospel applies to your life and to your loved ones. Do you have hope that you can be forgiven? Do you have hope that you can be better? Do you have hope that somebody can be healed? You or your family. It's very personal. And faith can be personal but it can be impersonal as well, can be propositional I would say. Faith can apply to the past, present, and future. You can have faith that something happened in the past. You don't have hope that something happened in the past so much, you should have faith in that. Hope is really future-oriented. Hope is oriented to the dawn, to the prospect of things sometimes being better and brighter.

Faith is only a noun whereas hope is a noun and a virtue. It's an act of looking forward into the future with eager expectation. So, the other problem with hope is that there's a mundane use of hope. I hope it rains. I hope I get an A. I hope … that is mundane hope, that is secular, that's just regular hope. Hope in Christ is something different, Neal A. Maxwell called that one kind of hope "proximate hopes". It's plural. We have hopes in this and that and the other. Hope in Christ is about the Atonement. In fact, I love this scripture in Moroni 7:41 where it says, "And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the Atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise."There is one hope and it is hope in salvation, hope that Christ will reach into our lives and save us, and fix whatever is broken and heal whatever needs to be healed, and whether in this life or eternity, that's where our hope lies. Hope is not really quite optimism either. I won't go into this but optimism is a little different than hope.

So now, when we fall into transgression, especially repeated transgression, we usually have to fight two enemies, two battles. One of them is the battle with the particular transgression. "You know I'm not going to eat that, it will break my diet so I have to resist that", but the other one is the battle to give up, to give in to hopelessness. Satan wants to win both battles but the one is just a skirmish if he gets you to transgress, if he gets you to do something you know you shouldn't do once. He's gotten you to do that once, he's won the skirmish. He hasn't won the warfare. When he gets you to become habitually transgressed in one way or another, say you habitually break the law of chastity by violating pornography. Then he's got a deeper hook in you but what he also wants to do is get you to lose the battle of hope, to give up, to become hopeless, to give in to despair. Then he's won the war for your soul so he doesn't want to just win the skirmish, the specific sin and he even doesn't want to just get you to feel like you're getting in the habit of sinning. He wants you to give up, that's where despair comes in. How do we overcome that? We have to be clear about this brothers and sisters. We have to realize that we need to cling to hope. Despair cometh from iniquity. Hope cometh from Christ.

Quickly I'm going to go through a few ways that we can do this from the psalm of Nephi. The psalm of Nephi gives for me some ways that we can face this giant despair. Nephi says, "praise let me shake the very appearance of sin". If you're struggling with these kinds of transgressions, note the beginning of the temptation, note what leads up to it. You have to open the fridge before you eat the chocolate cake, note what you do that leads to sin. Don't go into the bar if you're an alcoholic. Don't browse the computer alone in your room or surf channels on TV in a motel room if you know that this is what you struggle with. Shake at the very appearance of sin as Nephi says in his Psalm, "O let me shake at the very appearance of sin". And then Nephi says let me be strict on the plain road. Develop strictness in your life, a discipline. Do it in small things. The secret is just taking small things. Sometimes, if you get up in the morning, if you read your scriptures, if you just follow the routine that you've promised yourself you would follow those small things; it may have nothing to do with your sin, you develop a discipline that will allow you to overcome the temptations.

Nephi cries "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.", that's the third thing you can do. Get up! Awake! Get out of the situation! Get going! Pick yourself up from the floor in your wallowing with self-pity. Get going! Awake spiritually! Go take a cold shower. Change your circumstances. And then I would add another one: let the light in. Nephi confesses to us his problems, find some people that can support you. It could be your parents; it could be your spouse if you're struggling. We want to keep our sins to ourselves and we should into most ways but there are some people that can help us in our journey, certainly our spouses, our parents, the bishop, and the Lord. You can do like Nephi was doing and let the light shine in. And finally, take advantage of covenants. This doesn't come out quite as much in Nephi's Psalm but especially the sacrament. It's the only covenant we make for ourselves repeatedly. Go to the sacrament table and make that covenant so you can more fully keep yourself unspotted from the world.

The sacrament isn't just a renewal of old covenants. 3 Nephi 18, it says it's a testimony of our commitment to Christ. Notice how many present tense verbs “I do always remember”. When I take the bread, sometimes I say to myself quietly “I do always remember”. Put yourself in the present tense not just your baptism and make that covenant again, and that's how you can use some of the psalm of Nephi. Now, in the interest of time, I'm going to skip some other things but I love the way the psalm of Nephilets me understand and confront the idea of sin and sinfulness and of despair and a firm hope, hope in Christ. Some years ago, I wrote a couple of songs based on the psalm of Nephi. We've sung one of them which is "I Love the Lord"; some of you may know it to the tune of "Finlandia". I'm going to have Dan Henderson in conclusion singing another one I wrote. It's to a folk tune and it goes like this:

“Sometimes my soul in deep affliction Cries out, O wretched man am I!When I'm encompassed by temptation, When flesh is weak and I comply.Yet still I know in whom I've trusted.He's heard my cries by day and night. He's filled my heart with love consuming. He's borne my soul to mountain height …… Then why in sorrow should I linger, My strength grow slack and my heart groan?I'll not give way to grief or anger,For God's great mercy have I known.Awake my soul! And cease from drooping.Rejoice my heart! And praise thy God. Who is the rock of my salvation. I'll strictly walk grasping his rod …… Awake my soul! And cease from drooping. Rejoice my heart! And praise thy God.Awake my soul! And cease from drooping, Rejoice my heart! Rejoice my heart! Rejoice my heart!And praise thy God.”

I know brothers and sisters that our hope in Christ is sure. It is what the Scriptures call based on an immutable promise and a covenant that God will forgive and will heal our infirmities. I know that this promise is immutable because it's been written in blood, the blood of our Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen