Synopsis: The Lord has said that he gives men weakness so they may be humble, and if they are humble and have faith in him then he will make weak things become strong unto them. The following article takes an in-depth look at the significance of what this statement means for us.
In the 12th chapter of Ether we read in the 27th verse: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints usually interpret this scripture as saying that if we are humble and put our faith in God then he will turn our weaknesses into strengths. Put another way, it is said that what was once our weakness God will turn it into it becoming one of our strengths. However, this may not be the correct understanding of what this scripture is saying.
It should be noted that this verse of scripture ends by saying: “I will make weak things become strong unto them.” The word “unto” is significant. In the context of this verse it means, “for their good, or for their benefit.” In the New Testament we see a similar thought expressed by Paul who complains about a “thorn in the flesh [whereby] the messenger of Satan [was able] to buffet me, least I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he (the Lord) said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians. 12:7-9)
In speaking of the weakness that Paul had Jesus explains that the reason he wouldl not remove this “thorn in the flesh” is because “my strength is made perfect in weakness.” There is a saying that goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Moroni says that God gives us weaknesses to humble us and Paul himself admits that the weakness he had was keeping him from exalting himself above what he should. Thus his God-given weakness was serving a useful purpose.
Like a rock that is an obstacle in our path that can be used as either a stumbling block or a stepping stone, a weakness can either cause us to stumble or help us to rise to greater heights, depending on how we approach it. If we let our weaknesses deter us they can cause us to stop in our spiritual progression but it we view our weaknesses as something meant to struggle against, rather than it being a stumbling block to our progression they can aid us in becoming a better person.
When viewed in this light, our weaknesses provide us with the opportunity to struggle against an opposing force. This then become challenges for us overcome, and it is in the struggle to overcome that we gain strength. With this understanding we can interpret Moroni’s words as saying, “I will make men weak so that by struggling against their infirmities they can become stronger.”
To illustrate this point, imagine a coach who is training someone to be a sprint runner. As a person continually does practice runs he reaches a point where his time isn’t improving so his coach tries a different approach. To each of the runner’s ankles the coach attaches a chain that has a heavy iron ball affixed to the other end of it. When the coach has his trainee try running again, the runner now has to struggle to move forward as his legs try to drag the heavy iron balls behind him.
When the runner finally makes it to the finish line, instead of making rapid speed, it has taken him a very long time to reach the end. Even though the runner may feel discouraged by his performance the coach isn’t worried. Instead, he has his trainee try again and again and again. To the runner, it seems that the coach is unfairly placing an undue burden upon him that seems to be making things worse rather than better. But when the coach finally decides to remove the ball and chain. the runner finds that the muscles in his legs have become stronger and he discovers that he can now runner faster than he ever did before.
This is the same principle God uses to help us grow stronger. The apostle Paul felt that if God could just take away this thorn in his flesh that it would make it easier for him to live a more Christ-like life but God told him that this weakness would help him become more perfect in Christ. And it is the same with us. Many times we feel like failures when we can’t seem to overcome a persistent personal weakness, but it is in the struggle of constantly trying to do what’s right despite our faults that makes us stronger. As the Lord told Paul, his grace is sufficient to save us.
But there is another possible variation on this interpretation. In verse 37 of this same chapter Moroni says “And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And 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.”
Moroni reiterates that we are made strong because of our weaknesses but the purpose of this is so we are able to sit “down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my father.” This has reference to us becoming exalted and becoming like God. There is no question that God is strong but the word “strong” as used in this sense means being powerful in authority in much the same way a king is powerful because of his position. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15:43),
Here on earth we may feel spiritually weak and wonder how we will ever measure up to Christ but it is precisely because of our weaknesses that helps strengthen us spiritually that we can be raised to sit in power.
With this understanding we can interpret verse 27 as saying, “I will give men weaknesses to humble them and if they will humble themselves I will exalt them to sit on my right hand where they will become powerful rulers over kingdoms, thrones, and dominions.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12), and what Peter meant when he wrote, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). When we compare these saying with that of Moroni we learn that God gives us weaknesses to humble us and when we are humble then God can exalt us. And as exalted beings we will be strong.
But Moroni mentions another important aspect of why we have weaknesses. He said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble.” As has already been pointed out, Paul said that if it wasn’t for his weakness he would find himself exalting himself more than he should. He had received so many revelations and had such great success in his missionary labors that he admits it would have been easy for him to boast about how great he was. But because of his weaknesses he was reminded how much of a sinner he still was. Therefore, his weaknesses forced him to be humble.
In the same way, because of our own personal weaknesses, each of us might likewise be prone to boasting about how great we are. More than this, in the LDS Church we have often heard that God has held back in reserve his most valiant spirits to come to earth at this time because as the second coming of his Son draws near, Satan will unleash the full fury of his power to stop Christ from returning and claiming what rightfully belongs to him. Therefore, to counter that Satanic power, God purposely is sending into this ultimate battle his most faithful and valiant spirits. The fact that we who have willingly accepted to become part of Christ’s church by entering into a covenant with him through the ordinance of baptism means that we are among those great and valiant spirits.
If we are part of that group who were held back for these latter days, no doubt we have witnessed from behind the veil the follies, blunders, and weaknesses of mankind over the past six thousand years. Being strong in the defense of Jesus, it is very likely that we felt we were too valiant to fall into the same mistakes that others before us had made when it was our turn to be born into mortality. It is quite probable that we were so confident in our spiritual strength that we felt we could enter into battle with Satan like we once did in heaven and easily defeat him again.
With that over abundance of confidence, it would be all too easy for us to boast in our own strength, therefore God gives us weaknesses – most of which are common to what the scriptures refer to as “the natural man” – to humble us and make us realize we’re not as great or as spiritually strong as we imagine ourselves to be. As King Benjamin taught, “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yeilds to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). Thus, God gives us weaknesses to humble us so we can learn to yield ourselves to the enticing of the Holy Spirit and become submissive to the Lord in all things.
But if the ultimate purpose of giving us weaknesses is to help us become more like our Father in heaven so that we are better able to inherit all the power and glory that he possesses, when that day comes will we no longer need to be humble once we have become exalted?
There are two answers to that question. The first can be found by looking as some familiar situations. As Christians we believe that God is all-powerful. That means there is no one more powerful than him. His every word is law and what he says no one can over ride. Furthermore, he is in total control of everything and all that he does is not only right but perfect. With that much absolute power and perfection, God has no reason to be humble. In fact, he has every right to be assertively demanding, and often times is.
If our goal is to become like our Father in heaven, then why do we have to be humble? Asked in a different way, why is it so necessary for us to be humble in order to become so powerful that we no longer need to be humble?
There are four reasons. The first is that in order for us to become exalted we have to learn how to live the celestial law to perfection. But to be taught means being willing to be instructed and then diligently applying what we’ve learned. This is no different than a student in college who not only has to listen to what his professor is teaching but must do their assigned homework. However, once the student has successfully graduated and becomes a college professor themselves, then their role and attitude changes.
In the same way earthly fathers expect their children to be submissive and obedient to them in much the same way our Father in heaven expects us to behave towards him, yet when our fathers were growing up, they were the one who were expected to be obedient and submissive to their parents.
The second reason why we need to be humble is that when we do become exalted we will not act independently of Jesus Christ. In the book of Revelation 5:10 we read: “And [he] hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Although those who become exalted will be crowned with all the glory and honor that God has and will rule and reign as kings and priests, we will do so “unto our God.” In other words, even in our exalted state as kings and priests we will still be serving Christ and be under his direction throughout all of eternity. Thus, we will be required to submit our will to God’s forever, and to do that will require us to be humble forever.
But what about God? If he exercises total control over everything then why does he need to be humble? This brings us to reason number three.
As we have seen, one of the requirements for being humble is to submit our will to someone or something greater than ourselves. Unlike what most Christian churches believe, the LDS Church teaches that God is not the highest authority. There is an authority higher than him to which is must be obedient and it is his submission to that authority that allows him to be God.
The Lord revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith: “unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified… he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:38,39,22).
The reason why our Father in heaven and his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, are justified in the positions they hold is because they abide by the conditions and live within the bounds of the law that governs the celestial kingdom. If they did not do this, then they could not be permitted to live in a celestial world but must live in some other kingdom.
As Jesus explained, whenever anyone acts “in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37). And this law applies to God himself as much as it applies to us. For example, God cannot change truth even if he wanted to because truth is unchanging. Therefore, if God were ever to tell even just one lie he would instantly become dishonest. Since that is an act of unrighteousness, the heavens would withdraw themselves from him and refuse to obey his commands. Thus, if God wants to retain his glory and power he must submit himself to living the entire law of righteousness all the time.
However, there is yet another reason why even our Father in heaven must be humble, but before we can understand why we have to gain a fuller understanding of what it means to be humble.
As we have already discussed, submitting our will to someone or something is an act of humility and we usually associate being submissive with someone who acts as a servant. We also think of a servant as someone who must do what they are told, and since no one can tell God what to do we usually don’t think of him as being a servant, but the truth is that he is very much a servant and wouldn’t be God if he wasn’t one.
Although this may sound like a strange concept, it is one that we are all very well familiar with and readily accept in our own earthly life. Nearly all parents sacrifice their time, money, and energy to caring for the needs of their children. In fact, there are many, many times when a parent goes without something so that their children might have something they either need or want. Therefore, a good parent often subordinates what they want to do in order to provide for their children.
In this sense, good parents are servants to their children in the same way that a school teacher is the servant of their students. Although children are required to obey their parents, parents are similarly required to care for their children. Thus parenthood carries with it a great responsibility and in America those parents who do not properly care for their children run the risk of possibly losing custody of them.
In the same way, our Father in heaven may be an all-powerful God whose word and authority is absolute, but if he did not provide for the needs of his children he would be an unrighteous parent and, as we have already seen, if God did even just one unrighteous act, he would cease to be God. If that were to happen he would in effect lose custody of his children. Therefore, like any good parent, God subordinates himself to serving the needs of his children.
One of the clearest definitions of love is: To care for the needs of others more than we care for our own needs. To love someone doesn’t mean that we don’t care about ourselves but it does mean that we put the needs of others ahead of our own. God loved us so much that he willing sacrificed his only begotten Son to save us, and Jesus Christ, who is our head and who we obey and serve as our master, in a display of pure love willingly gave up his life to save us. Thus, to love someone is to serve them, and service is an act of humility.
As exalted beings we will be doing what our Father in heaven does which is begetting spirit children and helping to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. To effectively do that we have to learn how to love them as Christ loves us, but to do that we first have to learn to be humble.
Related articles can be found at Nature of Spiritual Growth