Skip to main content
Devotionals

Hope In Christ

Aloha! It's good to be with you. It’s wonderful to be introduced by the love of my life and my companion, Sister Tanner. I saw that they flashed up at the very end of her introduction a picture that was taken when we were engaged. Some of you may think, “Who's that guy?” This reminds me of a scene in the novel Dandelion Wine where an old woman shows a picture of herself when she was younger to some young girls in the neighborhood. She tells them, “That's me when I was younger,” but the girls say, ”No it's not! You don't look like that!” Try as she might, the old woman can’t convince the children that she is in fact the young girl in the picture. Some of you might have felt that way when you saw the picture of a younger version of me. You may have thought "Who is that guy?” Well, it is actually me. It’s Susan and me when we were your age. Believe it or not, we looked like that. We were so 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 reading a written talk. What I'd like to talk to you about today flows from our panel discussion here a couple weeks ago with the Executive Committee of our Board. Elder Holland asked me to address some sensitive questions that you wrote--questions which dealt with morality and worthiness. After I gave an answer, he suggested that I follow up on what I said in my answer in more detail. So that’s what I’m going to do today.

I'm going to talk today about the questions you wrote that dealt with being addicted to pornography, sexual self-stimulation, and other addictive behaviors. Your questions expressed concerns not only for yourselves but sometimes for your loved ones. In your questions it was clear that some of you were struggling to feel hope—hope that you could ever be better or that your loved one could ever be better, free from addiction. So I want to talk today about hope—specifically about hope in the Savior, hope in Christ.

But first I have to talk about sin—or really about sinfulness. We have to talk about the feeling of being trapped, chained by sin that can sometimes lead to despair. We have to look into this abyss to know how to get out of it. Then I want to talk about hope and particularly the hope in Christ. This bright hope can lead us on a journey out of dark despair.

This journey reminds me of some of the great works of literature that I love. One of these works is Dante's great epic poem, which starts with the Inferno and ends with Paradiso; it starts with Hell and ends with Heaven. It describes a journey from the depth to the heights, our journey of salvation. Similarly, John Milton, a poet that I've read, studied, and taught a lot, describes the same sort of movement in his poem. He begins Paradise Lost with a vision of Satan suffering in Hell. Then the poem moves from Hell to Heaven and finally shows us how, through the Atonement, we can recover paradise. So, we are also 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 first in order to really understand the hope and the light that we have in Christ. To appreciate the bright hope we have in Christ we have to understand dark Hell of despair.

Both Dante and Milton define this hopelessness as the essence of Hell. Anyone who has been in this dark place will understand why Dante famously placed on the gates of his Inferno the words: “Abandon all hope all ye that enter here.” Hell is by definition for Dante a place without hope. Milton says something very similar when he first describes Hell in Paradise Lost. He says that Hell is a place where hope never comes. Milton depicts Hell as a world of fire and brimstone but he's even more interested in the psychological or spiritual nature of Hell.[1] His Satan quickly escapes a burning lake of fire and even journeys outside the physical confines of Hell. But he brings Hell within him because he brings his despairing personality with him. He is always in Hell no matter where he is. He once says “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” ( PL 4:75).

So first we have to talk about being trapped by sin before we can talk about hope in Christ for being freed from sin. I want to face that first. I feel like Jacob, who said it's hard to talk about sin. It’s hard to talk about these things too, but it's important.

The first thing I want to say is that all people sin. You need to understand that we all are sinners; we all sin. In Romans, Paul is quite clear about this. He says, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). 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.” So this doctrine isn't just in Paul in the New Testament; it's also in modern revelation.

In the church, we're uncomfortable with talking about sin. In fact it's interesting to me that when we talk about sin in the Church, we normally don't call sin, sin. We're much more inclined to use euphemisms. I've heard people 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.” It would be more correct to say that we need to be strengthened in our weaknesses and we need to be helped to overcome our shortcomings. What we really need forgiveness for is our sins. Sometimes will use [the word] “transgressions” instead of “sins.” It's almost as if we don't even want to talk about the word “sin” because it has that dark coloring to it.

So the first thing to remember is that we all sin; we all need to repent.

And “repentance”—sometimes we also think of this as kind of a negative word, too. But in fact repentance is the essence of the gospel. It is said that this is the gospel of repentance. You've heard that many times. The good news of the gospel is precisely that we can repent and be forgiven. Repentance is 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, namely sins.

Now, we need to keep a balanced view of all this. People can err on both sides of this balance. Some people are little too casual about their need to repent. The way they approach transgression is a bit like the Book of Mormon scripture that 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” (2 Ne. 28:8). There are some who minimize the sinfulness and feel like—yeah, I'm fine. I’m okay, you’re okay. They don't really confront their sins or sinfulness.

There are others, however, who have the opposite problem. A lot of you in this audience may find yourself in this situation. It's the problem of that spiritual perfectionists among us have. We beat ourselves up because we feel like we are always making mistakes; we define ourselves by our mistakes, weaknesses, and sins. One time a friend of mine gave me a little cartoon. It shows this balding old man arriving before Peter at Heaven's gate. Peter says to him, “No, no, that wasn't a sin either. Why you must have just worried yourself to death.” There are those who worry themselves to death; those who are too preoccupied and feel like everything is sin.

So, between these two extremes there's a right balance to have about how to look on ourselves before God. I like the saying that the gospel is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I used to say it this way: "The gospel’s message for those who fear is to fear not, and for those who fear not, to fear.” However, this sounds like you can never get it right. Ultimately the gospel offers 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. And we can’t fix this all by ourselves alone.

Now to understand our predicament, there's something deeper than our individual sins that I need to talk about. We don't talk much about this next topic in the Church. Yet it's all over the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. It is what I call sinfulness or it is the bondage of sin. Our sinfulness becomes evident when sin becomes repeated actions, not just an individual, one-time transgression. This creates the feeling of being chained by sin, an image the Book of Mormon uses over and over again.

You see this in something like pornography. Pornography can be very addictive. There are many people that feel trapped by this sin. It's not just one sin or individual incidents that throw people into the pit of despair. It’s a sense of being trapped by their weak, sinful nature. The same applies to other addictive behaviors, like self-abuse. You also asked about sexual self-abuse or masturbation; this was a question that came to us on the panel. Like drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sometimes violence and anger—people can feel trapped by these things. These are all some of the ways that we experience sin as chains, as a bondage, as a captivity. The problem goes beyond just a single sin. It has to do with our sense of being trapped in a cycle of sin.

If you haven't felt this yet you probably will at some point. But if you haven't felt this here is a good analogy from our efforts to diet or exercise. We often find ourselves always needing to lose the same five pounds or ten pounds. We feel kind of trapped in this cycle. And we feel ourselves having two wills. We desire to eat what we shouldn’t and kind of hate ourselves while we're eating that brownie. That's the experience that Paul and Nephi have in mind when they speak of sin as bondage or captivity.

There's a sentence in the D&C that says when we transgress again after repenting we feel the burden of the old sins returning (D&C 82:7). We feel the weight not just of a sin but of our sinfulness. Paul and Nephi both talk about this. Paul says in Romans, "That which I do I would not do and that which I would not do I do."(See Rom. 7:15). (Now, Joseph Smith has the different translation of this; I'm just going with the King James right now). Paul is saying, "I hate myself for doing the things that I don't like to do, and yet I do them." He is divided against himself, at war with himself. Again, you can see this in yourself when you diet: you hate yourself for breaking your diet; you don't want to do it, but you do it anyway. You are divided person. There's actually a fancy Greek term for this. It's called dipsychos—it means having two souls or two wills, the divided self. This is what Paul is talking about. He's at war with himself, his spirit and flesh seem to be at war with each other. He feels trapped by sinfulness. So he finally cries out, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who Shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24; see also 2 Ne. 4:17). He wants to know “How can I get over this?" “How can I break free of the natural man?”

Now, I think he's talking not just about himself but about all those of us that feel captured by or in bondage to our sinfulness, our transgressions. I've known people who struggle with pornography who have felt the very same way. They're so ashamed, they almost want to just tear out their eyes because they feel at war with themselves. You see this also in people who struggle with alcohol abuse or other addictions. They just feel horrible after they do it, yet drawn like a moth to the flame to transgress. This is the nature of what we're dealing with in pornography: not just with individual sins but with our sinfulness.

Nephi deals with the same thing in Nephi's Psalm, which we'll talk about quite a bit today. In Nephi’s Psalm (2 Nephi 4), he says he feels " encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me" (2 Ne. 4:18). It’s interesting that Nephi says that he feels encompassed by sins that easily beset him. It is as if temptation is attacking him as a hostile enemy. I don’t know what sins he struggles with. It feels to me, at least as I read Nephi’s Psalm, that one of these sins might be anger. He might have an anger management problem. He talks quite a bit about being angry with his brethren, and understandably so. 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. He wonders what he can do about this now. I love Nephi's Psalm because it reveals his struggle with the natural man.

It comes in a remarkable place in the Book of Mormon. It comes right after Nephi's father, Lehi, dies. Nephi is now alone with fratricidal brothers who want to kill him, and he's trying to hold his community together. So where does he turn? Maybe before he would have talked to his father, but now he turns to writing a prayer that talks about his own internal struggles in a way we haven't seen with Nephi before and never do quite in the same way again. He chides himself for giving in to temptation: "And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations?" And in the very same language as Paul, he cries, "O wretched man that I am!" Like Paul, Nephi knows what it is to feel in bondage to sin, trapped by a weak, sinful nature.

What is the solution to both sin and sinfulness? It is found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Both Paul and Nephi turn to Christ to rescue them. Let me quote from Paul because that may be less familiar than Nephi. This is in chapter seven of Romans, where asks, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The answer? “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 7:25). He turns to Christ. And of course so does Nephi.

The solution for sin and sinfulness is found in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Through the Atonement we can have our individual sins forgiven. Through the Atonement we can also overcome our sinfulness, becoming new, having our hearts renewed and changed, and being actually empowered to overcome and be liberated from our sinfulness. That's where the Scriptures talk about Christ is setting us free, not just forgiving us, but enabling us to be free from the chains and the bondage of sinfulness. The Atonement forgives us for our sins. It also heals our sinfulness, mends our brokenness. Now this possibility of being forgiven and being healed is what gives us hope in Christ and in his Atonement. This is the great message of the gospel: that we really do have this hope, this hope in Christ to be forgiven and healed.

Hope is a key gospel virtue. We hear of it in familiar triplet faith, hope, and charity. This is a magnificent gospel triad - faith, hope, and charity. But I have observed that in the Church we talk a lot more about faith and a lot more about charity, than about hope. Hope gets kind of neglected, even though it's the central virtue in the triad and a core gospel virtue.

I remember Elder Packer telling a story about the importance of hope. He said that one time Elder Tuttle, another of the General Authority, was eating out at a Greek restaurant with his wife. His wife kind of looked Greek with her dark hair. So the restaurant manager, who was Greek and had suffered through World War II, came up and said "You’re so beautiful! Your wife is so beautiful! If you answer one question right, I'll give you your meal for free." Then the manager asked them, "What is the greatest thing that humans most need in this life?" The Tuttles said, "Love." The Greek restauranteur said, "No. Love is not the most important thing. People can live without love. What people most need is hope." He knew this from the war. What people need most during the war was the hope that things would get better.

It is 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 in LDS scriptures, it doesn't even have an entry for hope. It has one for faith and one for charity. Hope seems neglected in the lexicon of our lives, too, partly because it gets confused, 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 spiritual look-alikes, and they are interrelated. One person once said that the three of them are good friends—faith, hope, and charity. In Moroni 7, they're interrelated. Sometimes in sequential ways with faith leading to hope, leading to charity, and sometime in different ways.

But faith and hope are also different and distinct. 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 this is not doubt but despair. You can feel this, those of you that know a romance language, in the words for hope: "espérance" or "esperanza" or “esperança.” These are words for hope. And what is their opposite: In Portuguese it’s “desespero” or in English “despair.” Despair is not only to be without hope, to not have hope. Even more, it is when 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 get me out of the pit, or that I can be anything other than I am as my wicked self, the natural man.” So, despair is a much darker thing than discouragement. It's related to discouragement and it's related to depression. But theologically to be in despair is to set yourself up against hope, to say you and the world can never be different. Moroni says that “despair cometh from iniquity” (Moro. 10:22), and truly despair is wound up in our sin and our sinfulness, in the sense that we can never be better.

So 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 than hope. You can have faith that this church is true. You have faith that God lives, or that 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; it can be propositional, I would say.

In addition, faith can apply to the past, present, and future. Hope applies to the 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 have faith in that. Hope is really future-oriented. Hope is oriented to the dawn, to the prospect of things at some time being better and brighter.

Also, faith is only a noun whereas hope is a noun and a virtue. Hope is an act of looking forward into the future with eager expectation. We can say “I hope.”

But this raises an important thing to remember about hope as a theological virtue. A problem with hope is that there's a mundane meaning of hope. We say “I hope it rains.” “I hope I get an A.” “I hope …” for any number of things. These are mundane hopes, secular hopes, just regular daily hopes. Hope in Christ is something different. Neal A. Maxwell called one kind of hope "proximate hopes". He used the plural. We have hopes in this and that and the other. Hope in Christ is about the Atonement. It is ultimate hope.

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 ultimate 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 true hope lies.

This kind of hope is not really quite optimism either. I won't go into this but optimism is a little different than hope.[2]

So, as Christians we have to fight against despair. When we fall into transgression, especially repeated transgression, we have to fight two enemies, win two battles. One of them is the battle with the particular transgression. We have to resist temptation. To compare this fight to dieting again we have to say: "I'm not going to eat that; it will break my diet. So I have to resist." But the other battle is the battle to give up, to give in to hopelessness, to surrender. Satan wants to win both battles, but the first is just a skirmish. If he gets you to transgress, if he gets you to do something you know you shouldn't do; if he's gotten you to sin once, he's won a skirmish. He’s won a battle. But we hasn't won the war. When the Adversary gets you to habitually transgress in one way or another; to, say, habitually break the law of chastity by watching pornography; then he's got a deeper hook. He’s winning many battles, but he hasn’t won the war. What he really 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, Satan doesn't want to just win the skirmish for a specific sin. And he even doesn't want to just get you in the habit of sinning. He wants you to give up trying. That's where despair comes in.

How do we overcome this? 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 using the psalm of Nephi. The psalm of Nephi gives us some ways that we can face and slay the great Giant Despair.

· Nephi prays “let me shake the very appearance of sin." If you're struggling with these kinds of transgressions, addictive sins, note the beginning of the temptation. Note what leads up to sin. 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".

· Nephi also prays, “let me be strict on the plain road.” Develop strictness in your life, develop discipline. Be disciplined in small things. There is a secret in doing small things well and consistently. 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: these small things, this discipline can give you strength to resist sin. They may have nothing to do with your sin. Yet they develop a discipline that will allow you to overcome the temptations that “so easily beset” you.

· Nephi cries "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.” This suggests 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.

· I would add another thing: let the light in. Nephi confesses to us his problems. It’s helpful to find some people who 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 don’t need to share them with most people. But there are some people who can help us in our journey if we let them. Certainly our spouses, our parents, the bishop, and the Lord. You can do like Nephi was doing and let the light shine in to your dark places.

· And finally, I would add one other piece of counsel: take advantage of covenants. This doesn't come out quite as much in Nephi's Psalm but covenants can help us overcome sinfulness, especially the sacrament. It's the only covenant we make for ourselves repeatedly. Go to the sacrament table and make that covenant weekly so you can more fully keep yourself unspotted from the world. The sacrament isn't just a renewal of old covenants. 3 Nephi 18:7 says it's a testimony of our commitment to Christ each time we partake. Notice how many present tense verbs in the prayers. We promise “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 at your baptism, and make that covenant again.

These are lessons you can use from 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 Nephi lets me understand and confront sin and sinfulness and despair and have 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 sing 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, as the scriptures say, based on an “immutable promise” and a covenant that God will forgive and will heal our infirmities.[3] 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

[1] The Book of Mormon also clarifies that the fires of Hell is a metaphor for guilt. Over and over it says that the suffering of the damned is “as” a lake of fire. And King Benjamin is explicit that this fire is a metaphor for guilt. See Mosiah 2:38.
[2] See Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace, ch. 5, 1986, trans. 1990: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” I would alter this slightly. Hope is not only the certainty that things make sense, it is also the assurance that, for those who love the Lord, things ultimately will turn out well through the Atonement of Christ.
[3] We are assured several times in the scriptures, in deeply consoling language, that the Lord:
“Giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.” (D&C 98:3. See also Rom. 8:28; D&C 90:24, 105:40, and 110:15.)