I started the Sunday School lesson last week with three questions on the chalkboard:
"Why do pain and suffering exist in this life?"
"What part do we play in pain and suffering - in receiving and causing pain and suffering?"
"Why would a God have to suffer for us?"
talking about those questions, we read Alma 7: 11-12, Isaiah 53: 4-6
and Matthew 8:7. We listed all of the things for which the first two
passages say Jesus suffered: pains, afflictions, temptations,
sicknesses, death, infirmities, griefs, sorrows, transgressions,
iniquities and, interestingly, "the chastisement of (punishment associated with) our peace". We read that Jesus suffered in order to know how to "succor (nurture, support, feed, etc.) his people" "according to the flesh" (not at just a theoretical or intellectual level). We talked about things we can understand "according to the mind" without really understanding "according to the flesh".
first answers from the students to each question tended to be doctrinal
("to teach us lessons" / "to help us learn and improve" / etc.), but we
drilled down to the practical answer ("because pain and suffering are
unavoidable aspects of mortal life and central to the Plan of
Salvation"). In other words, because God approved and decreed we would
suffer. He "authored" it, since it was a central (perhaps the central) aspect of his plan.
I then asked everyone to think about the
second question and consider that we almost always talk about how the
Atonement pays for what we suffer (what is done to us), but we seldom
talk about the suffering we cause (what we do to others) and how
forgiving us is just as much a part of the Atonement as suffering for others is - since both are aspects of healing.
talked about why, within our legal system, the person who commits the
crime must do the time - and why a judge won't sentence me for what
someone else does. We talked about if God could be any different - if
there were different rules for God than for us.
the 2nd Article of Faith and that God couldn't hold us accountable for
all of the bad things that happened as a result of the Fall (that we
won't be punished for Adam's transgression) - that God had to be willing
to take responsibility for what he set in motion and be accountable for
it - to walk the walk that he required us to walk - to suffer
everything his plan demanded we suffer. He had to be an example we can
choose to follow, not a sadistic dictator who causes others to suffer
while watching from the sidelines.
We finished by revisiting
the meaning of the word "repent" - how it means, at the most basic
level, to change in a way that improves or makes better. We re-read
Matthew 8: 7 - where Jesus says his central mission is to "heal". I
mentioned that the Old Testament says in more than one place that God
"repented" of what he had done - and how we change that wording because
of how we associate repentance only with sin. I told them that changing
the word "repent" to mean nothing more than changing in a way that
improves or makes better ("to heal; repair") frees God to "repent" the
natural results of the Plan of Salvation (the unavoidable pain and
suffering of mortality) by healing us and fixing the otherwise broken
link between us and Him.
Thus, God becomes, in a very powerful
way, both the author AND the finisher of our faith. I explained that we
talk almost exclusively about Jesus' role as the finisher of our faith
(the one who pays the price to tie it all together in the end) but that
we generally ignore completely the implications of God being the author
of our faith (the one who broke the link in the first place, asked us to
suffer out of trust, caused the debt to be incurred and promised things
we would have to believe without seeing).
The Atonement of
pure Mormonism is SO incredibly expansive, deep and profound that we
generally craft a Reader's Digest version and forget that the abridged
version isn't the author's complete works. I hope I opened the library
door for my students today and gave them
the encouragement and/or inspiration to walk inside, "feast on the word"
and discover something delicious that will nourish their souls - even
if it is different in some way that what others have found to feed their
souls. I hope I uncovered (and they recognize and taste) what I
consider to be the main course of our theology and not get so focused on
the condiments, the appetizers, the beverages and the desserts that
they forget to enjoy the main course - or never catch sight of it in the
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