In the Book of Mormon, Enos records an experience that he had of a prayer that he described as a wrestle before God. Alma the younger also records a wrestle in mighty prayer before God. I feel impressed to share with you a wrestle that I had with God in prayer and about prayer.
There was a time when I was having a real low point in my life and I was desperate for help from Heaven and answers to my prayers. I prayed fervently and insistently, but the heavens were silent. I prayed harder, I read and studied the scriptures even more intently, but the heavens were still silent. I increased my temple attendance and the frequency of my fasting, but the heavens were still silent.
I was feeling more and more desperate, and more and more abandoned by God, but I kept trying. I thought I might find some answers by searching the scriptures. I read the famous scripture found in James 1: 5-7 which says if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.
And I thought, “Yea right,” but I kept reading, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.”
This scripture stressed the importance of asking in faith in order to receive answers to prayers, without faith, we can’t expect to receive anything of the Lord.
I thought, “Sheesh, aren’t I demonstrating my faith? I’m doing everything I can think of to demonstrate faith and obedience to the Lord. What more do I need to do?”
So I started studying about faith. I read several scriptures about faith and then I tried looking up the word “faith” in the Bible dictionary. It says a lot of things that I already knew and quoted some of the scriptures that I’d already read, but then I came across a sentence that really bothered me. It says, “a lack of faith leads one to despair, which comes because of iniquity.”
I was so offended. Yes I was despairing, but I figured it was because I was having a really hard time and God wasn’t listening to me or helping me. I felt that God was clearly the one at fault here and it was totally unfair to not only throw it back at me by saying it must be my fault because I lack faith and even more than that it was accusing me of iniquity. How dare you judge me and condemn me? You have no idea how hard I’m trying or what I’m doing. Is there an assumption that life always goes smoothly for people who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and only wicked people despair? And I found myself yelling at this inanimate object that was my bible dictionary and wanting to give a piece of my mind to the thoughtless, judgmental idiot who wrote this cruel and offensive nonsense.
I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind, but that stupid phrase kept going through my mind over and over again, “a lack of faith leads one to despair, which comes because of iniquity.” It made me angrier and angrier the more I thought about it and I just couldn’t let it rest so I decided to learn more about iniquity to figure out exactly what it was that I was being accused of.
So I looked up the definition of “iniquity” in the bible dictionary. It’s not in there. Thank you, you’ve been so helpful, not. So I looked it up in several other dictionaries and after much research I learned that there are actually 11 different meanings that are all translated to the word iniquity. It means all the things that I expected it to mean like wickedness and disobeying the commandments and stuff like that, but that’s not all. It comes from a root word that means crooked or bent. So if we’re not in line with God’s will or his commandments we’re crooked and in a state of iniquity. But the part of the definition that really caught my attention was that iniquity can also mean being crooked in understanding. Or in other words, misunderstanding something.
Using this template or definition for iniquity, I looked to see how it fit some of the scripture stories, for example in the New Testament Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus were good friends to Jesus. One time Lazarus got really sick, but his sisters quickly sent word to Jesus and they had absolute faith that Jesus could heal their brother and everything would be okay. They probably weren’t even worried, but Jesus didn’t come and their brother died. By the time Jesus finally showed up, Lazarus had already been dead for four days, and Mary and Martha were filled with despair.
Now according to the Bible dictionary their despair is related to their lack of faith which comes because of iniquity. In this story, assuming that they were despairing because they were wicked is heartless and offensive, however using the template that iniquity can also mean misunderstanding makes perfect sense. You can imagine what they were thinking: Jesus we believed in you,. We believe everything you taught, we’ve been obedient to everything you said, we believed that you are the savior, we believed without a doubt that you could heal our brother, we believed that you cared about us and that you loved us, we thought we could count on you, but you didn’t come. You let us down.
From their point of view, they had every reason to despair. They thought that Jesus had personally, intimately let them down. But the reality is that they misunderstood the plan and purpose of God. God’s plan was that Lazarus had a very special mission to fulfill. He was chosen to be a special witness that Jesus was indeed Christ and that he had power over death. Now Jesus had already raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead, but Lazarus was different. Jarius’ daughter had just barely died and was brought back and some people might argue that she wasn’t really dead, she was just close to death. But Lazarus had been dead for 4 days, he was already placed in the tomb and his body was beginning to decay. There was no question whatsoever that Lazarus was dead. Dead as a doornail, dead, and everybody knew it. That Jesus was able to raise Lazarus from the dead was a miracle beyond anything he had previously done. It was a type (meaning a model or example) of things to come because soon afterwards Jesus himself would be raised from the dead, but not just to live for a while longer and then die again later, but he would be resurrected with a perfect body that isn’t subject to pain or death ever again. If Mary and Martha had understood the whole plan, they wouldn’t have needed to despair. Let’s take another look at the things they most likely were feeling.
Jesus we believed in you, we believed that you could heal our brother, we believed that we could count on you, we believed everything you taught, we’ve been obedient to everything you said, we believed that you are the savior, we believe that you cared about us and that you loved us, but you didn’t come, you let us down.
The answer to those questions and fears was that Jesus was the savior, he was worthy of their trust, he did love them – there was a reason that he didn’t come when they asked him to and ultimately he didn’t let them down, far from it, they got to witness and be a part of a glorious miracle. The despair they felt was because they misunderstood the plan and purpose of God. They were in the middle and they didn’t have the whole story yet.
Let’s look at another instance in the scriptures where this alternate definition of “iniquity” meaning misunderstanding might apply. Jesus had been arrested on spurious charges and condemned to death. He was mocked, belittled, mercilessly beaten and then crucified on a cross between two thieves. His lifeless body was laid in a tomb and guarded by Roman soldiers. His disciples were filled with despair.
You can imagine what they were thinking: how could this have happened? We believed that this was the savior, We gave up everything to follow him, We’ve seen his power and we really thought that he would triumph over all his enemies.
They never thought that it would end like this and they were confused, scared, and filled with despair. According to the Bible dictionary their despair is related to their lack of faith which comes because of iniquity.
Again in this instance assuming that their iniquity means that they were somehow wicked makes no sense, but using the template that iniquity can also mean misunderstanding makes perfect sense. They misunderstood that this was the very reason that Christ came to earth. This was his mission. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.
To answer their questions and concerns like how could this have happened? We believed that this was the savior, We gave up everything to follow him, We’ve seen his power and we really thought that he would triumph over all his enemies.
The reason this happened was because Jesus was willing to fulfill his personal mission, he was and is the savior, the messiah, the redeemer of the world. He does have power and someday he will triumph over all his enemies. It didn’t happen the way that they thought it would, but it happened according to God’s great plan of redemption that had been promised to mankind since the time of Adam. If they truly understood what was going on, there would still be sadness. How could you not be sad at the things that Jesus suffered?, but they would not feel despair, which is a loss of hope. Jesus’ sacrifice brings hope to each and every one of us. Because of him, everything that is unfair about life will one day be made right and it will all be okay.
Here’s another one. After Jesus died and was buried in the tomb, Mary brought spices to anoint his body, but the tomb was empty. She thought that someone had further insulted Jesus by stealing his body and further desecrating it. She was distraught and filled with despair,
Despair is a loss of hope, which according to the Bible dictionary is related to Mary’s lack of faith which comes because of iniquity. It is absurd to think in this instance that she despaired because she was wicked, but if in this instance iniquity means that she misunderstood, then it makes perfect sense. There was more to the story than she currently understood. Yes the tomb was empty, but that wasn’t a bad thing, it was the most glorious thing that has ever happened in the history of the earth. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb because he was alive. He was resurrected and because he was resurrected all of us can be resurrected and death loses its sting. When Mary saw the savior and he spoke to her and she recognized how he was, her despair turned to joy. Her despair came because she did not understand the whole story.
We live in a world with heartache and hardship. It is easy to lose hope and experience despair. Sometimes things don’t go the way we hoped for or wanted. Sometimes we feel like our prayers aren’t being answered even though we’re trying to be faithful and do the things that we’re supposed to be doing, but perhaps, there is more to the story that we don’t understand yet. Perhaps, we misunderstand the plan and purpose of God and at some future point we’ll see the whole picture, and we will see that it’s all okay. In fact it’s better than we ever imagined it would be.
For most of us that understanding of seeing the whole story will probably come after this mortal life has ended as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:19 “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” But we don’t only have this life. In Ether 12:4 it says, “Wherefore, whoso believeth on god might with surety hope for a better world, yea even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith…”
It is challenging when we’re in the middle of our struggles and things look bleak to remember that we don’t have the whole picture and it will all turn out okay in the end. And if we make that mistake, we’re in pretty good company. We’re no different that Mary and Martha and Peter and all the apostles. But like their stories, our stories will also turn out okay in the end. It will be better than okay. It will be even better than we imagine.
This is God’s promise and his promises are sure. I’m sharing this message as a reminder to myself as much as to anybody else, because I’m also in the middle and I can’t see the whole picture and I don’t have all the answers. But at least I have the hope in knowing that there is a bigger picture and someday I will understand the answers.
According to the scriptures and according to the advice given in the bible dictionary if we’re feeling despair, and we’re struggling maintaining our faith, it is because we misunderstand and we don’t have the whole picture yet.
In closing I’d like to share a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”