The Relief Society Declaration declares that, “As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar.” Devotion to the Savior includes understanding His mission and ultimate purpose in our individual lives and to the world.
Diane Jergensen shares her thoughts on how understanding the Savior’s atonement truly provides hope.
Hope is described as a verb, an action, and, more specifically, the act of cherishing a desire with anticipation – to desire with the expectation of obtainment – to expect with confidence. Hope is to believe, to bank on, to count/to depend/to rely on. Hope drives action with enthusiasm and is the seed of faith in some goal or vision of the future which we desire to achieve.
Nephi speaks of having a “perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men” that will lead to our being able to press forward with a steadfastness in Christ. (See 2 Nephi 31:20.)
Hope – Being Fully Persuaded God is Able to Perform
I am also appreciative that there is another kind of hope which comes at a point in life when hope is not perfectly bright and when the Lord seems far away and His promises certainly do not appear to be sure. When I think of the struggle we each have with righteous desires unfulfilled, I think of Abraham who was so faithful throughout his life and received marvelous promises from the Lord. However, those promises appeared unfulfilled. In fact, Paul describes the agony of Abraham’s faith in the midst of the reality of the physical condition of Abraham and Sarah and their ability, or rather inability, to bear their own children. Paul says, Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but, was strong in faith … being fully persuaded that, what (God) had promised, (God) was able also to perform” (Romans 4:20-21). So it was with Abraham, “Who against hope believed in hope that he might become the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18).
Sometimes, I think each of us struggle, like faithful Abraham, with believing in hope when our hearts and our minds might, after considering current circumstances, question whether what we had anticipated or had been promised by a loving God would ever come to pass. Even though we are fully persuaded that God is able to perform, it still requires great energy and effort to against hope, believe in and maintain our hope.
In the scriptures there are countless examples of the struggles that each of us face–loss of physical abilities, economic problems, sorrow at death, withdrawal of the Spirit through sin or mistakes, promised blessings unfulfilled–to name just a few. Struggles that when in the midst of them, appear so overwhelming that one can at times lose hope.
In Judges chapter 6 we read of Gideon. Israel is essentially in bondage to the Midianites and Israel was greatly impoverished, desiring that the Lord would come, finally, to their aid as He had done so many times before. One night an angel of the Lord came and visited Gideon.
“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:12-16).
So here we have Gideon essentially saying to the visiting angel, “We’ve been forsaken of the Lord, and Where are those miracles that I was told over and over again while growing up? You want me to do what? Me? I’m nobody. I come from a poor family and I’m the least of the gang.” And just as Gideon did, I myself would probably have said, “Okay, prove it”.
Well the angel proved it. But, the Lord wasn’t done yet. Through a process which to a military strategist would seem just plain crazy, the Lord whittled down Gideon’s numbers from about 32,000 to 300. Finally, Gideon was ready to go to battle against an overwhelming number of Midianites who, in addition to their greater numbers, were in a much better strategic position.
But, Gideon knew the Lord was with him and, even though logic and common sense would speak otherwise, he proceeded with hope fully persuaded that God would perform that which He had promised.
The scriptures say that the 300 men surrounded the hosts of the Midianites and at a prescribed time the men “blew their trumpets and brake their pitchers, and held the lamps … and cried, The sword of the Lord and of Gideon” (Judges 7:20). Then, in the confusion and surprise of the moment, the Midianites thought that an army of Israel had entered their camp, and they began fighting among themselves and fled. Not one of Gideon’s men were lost in the battle, and Israel was miraculously freed. God provided Israel with salvation as Gideon and his men were obedient to His commandments … even though what the Lord had asked seemed inconceivable by conventional wisdom.
Hope – To Endure Hard Things
Just as Gideon was asked and required to do something extremely hard (and scary), we too have been asked to endure and do hard things.
Jesus also was required to endure extremely hard things. A Sacrament hymn says “We may not know, we cannot tell what pains He had to bear” (There Is a Green Hill Far Away, Hymn 194). In Gethsemane, Christ did that which no other child of God could have done by taking upon Himself our sins, our hopes, our disappointments, our feelings of joy, our pains of deepest sadness, so that He might be able to understand each of us individually and to succor, or run to our aid, during our own personal Gethsemanes.
So why is faith, or hope, in the Savior and the Atonement that he performed for each and every person who has ever and will ever live upon the earth so critical to our lives today?
Just as Gideon, we can also have hope and faith in our Father in Heaven and our older brother Jesus Christ. That faith, like Moroni says, can become an anchor to our lives, keeping us stable amid the winds and waves of doubt and discouragement. (See Ether 12:4.) We can have faith that He does hear our pleading prayers (even when it feels like they stop at the ceiling of our room rather than ascending to heaven). And even when things seem insurmountable, we can have faith and hope that He is aware of us and our needs and at that moment when we can’t go on any longer, He is there to assist each one of us. His promise is that if we will look to Him, keeping the covenants and promises we have made to Him, He will save us and provide a way for us to turn our lives around and work through the discouraging situation or situations in which we may find ourselves … no matter the cause or seriousness of that situation.
Eric and I have a very close friend whose life seemed completely destroyed by a series of bad decisions that he had made in his life. He had given up on his life, feeling that the Atonement no longer held any hope for him because of his circumstances. He was prepared to just endure the punishment that had been given him without further hope that there would be better times. Thankfully, he still wanted to believe and was willing to try again believing that Christ was, in reality, able to fortify his hope and that, somehow, the Lord could help him turn his life around.
What happened was the miracle of the Atonement. This good man worked through the consequences of his choices with faith… and working through those consequences was not easy. He began to study the scriptures again, began to pray again, began to serve in his Branch (local congregation), began to reach out to others in kindness. And, sure enough, he began to change. He is now active in his Ward (local congregation) and busy in doing good. He is full of faith. Have his problems gone away? No …. not by any means. He still struggles with life’s common concerns. But, he is a powerful witness of the hope that comes by looking to Christ and doing as He would do, even when there seems to be no reason for hope.
Oftentimes we casually say that because of the Atonement our sins are washed away. There is nothing casual about that by any means. We have all felt a kind release from the sorrow for sin we feel. And, in those moments, we have felt our deep gratitude and appreciation for Christ. But, Christ also promises that, through His atoning work, we can have the faith and hope that not only will our sins and our mistakes be washed away, but also the disappointments of life, the weariness of constant, seemingly endless life challenges, the ambiguity of our lives, the frustrations with others’ influence in our lives … and I could go on and on … but, we are promised that all of these things will be looked upon with kindness by a loving Christ and that He will provide support and help in times of need. For as Paul said, “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched by the feelings of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).
Hope – Continual Through the Atonement of Christ
What I find truly amazing is that the Atonement isn’t a onetime shot. We can look to Christ time and again, each time with a brightness of hope that we will receive the same love and patience that Christ always shows to us.
Jesus Christ is the essential part of the plan of salvation. It has been that way from the very beginning. Because of His selfless love and willingness to always do the will of the Father, Christ stepped forward and gave His life so that we would have the hope and faith that we can one day return to the presence of our Heavenly Parents, and, once there, find the peace and rest that often escapes us in this life. But, even in this life, we are promised that if we follow Him, we will find “peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23).
There are days when I would really rather have had the Lord promise us “ease in this life” and not just “peace in this life.” But, unfortunately, that is not the plan. I know that our struggles will always be for our good and will provide us with experiences that will bolster our faith and remind us that we really can trust in God and in His Son. Through Christ, we can all have a perfect brightness of hope that His promises are sure. But, especially, when circumstances don’t appear to provide any hope for peace, we can, “against hope, believe in hope” and the Lord will support us in our efforts. We should never give up on hope in the Lord because, as a blessing of His Atonement, the Lord will never give up on us.