This past weekend I attended a conference at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX where President Nelson and others spoke. He made a particular point of talking about the weaknesses that we all have to one degree or another and segued his message into Ether 12:27.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.”
It’s probably one of the more well-known and quoted verses in the Book of Mormon, and I have pondered it off an on for as long as I have been aware of it. What weakness is God showing us? Will he reveal some hidden weakness that we don’t perceive? Perhaps. If we already see the weakness, what purpose would there be for God to show us something that we already see?
As I heard this verse read at the conference, the Spirit framed it in a particular way in my mind. One of my favorite spiritual gifts is the ability to see things in whole or in part as God sees them. I saw a connection between that gift and this verse.
The potential interpretation of this verse that I received was that when we come unto God, he will show us our weaknesses as he sees them. Think of how many ‘problems’ we think we have because we view them with mortal eyes and understand them with mortal minds. God can indeed allow us to see with new eyes. (2 Nephi 4:31, 2 Nephi 30:6, Mosiah 5:2-3, Alma 13:12, Ether 3:6) The Catechism of Lecture 5 says:
“Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind? They do. […] What is this mind? The Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit allows us to possess the mind of God and if his mind, then his vision and understanding as well. Ether 12:17 continues: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble;” God is the designer of our weaknesses, he gave them to us so that humility may be a possibility. Humility is not a punishment; it is a path to strength.
“…and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;” God’s grace is enough, it is precicely what we need, no more no less. It is enough because the designer of weaknesses understands what he is doing and beckons us toward humility so he can show us wonderful things. This is one of the ways he reveals himself to us.
“…for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me,” This is a significant clarification, it isn’t just humility but also faith that is necessary. The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says that in theology, humility consists of:
- lowliness of mind;
- a deep sense of one’s own unworthiness in the sight of God,
- penitence for sin,
- and submission to the divine will.
There is a lot to unpack there of course, but humility combined with faith is the key. Humility puts us into a place where faith can obtain the traction it needs for God to complete his work in us. Faith is acting with trust, and when humble, we can trust with the capacity sufficient to receive the promised strength.
“…then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Imagine all of your weaknesses are instantly reversed, what would you see? If God intends for the weaknesses that he has given us to become strengths, then this could drastically alter the way we look at weaknesses. What if we saw our weaknesses as dormant strengths just waiting to be awakened? Would this not increase our faith and intensify our desire to approach humility?
When God does give us strength, what form are we expecting it to take? When we get this strength, is it possible that we don’t recognize it? Do we imagine a flow of supernatural power that provides instantaneous change?
Under the word “strong” the Webster’s 1828 dictionary mentions “active power” and “passive power.” Active power is the ability to exert great bodily strength like Samson, Nephi, or Ammon, but passive power is the ability to bear or endure like Job, Abinadi, or Jesus.
Note that God doesn’t say that he will eliminate the weakness, but that his grace is sufficient to make the weak thing strong unto us. That strength could take the form of active or passive power. The purpose of this strength is also essential to understand. These strengths may make our lives easier, but that doesn’t seem to be their fundamental purpose.
It is more likely that these strengths will help us to fulfill our purposes in life and allow us not only to see the hand of God but to access his mind.
And to think of how much time is spent mourning over our weaknesses, being embarrassed, or feeling guilty about them.
In closing, ponder these words of Jacob:
“Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things. Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.” (Jacob 4:7-8)