A friend, Jimmy, sent me this excellent observation, “I have always struggled with Mosiah 4:5 ‘the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness and your worthless and fallen state.’ The word ‘worthless’ just seemed like a strong word. I have been taught that we are children of God, that we have value. How can we be worthless? Is it from our perspective and not God’s perspective? It still seems a bit harsh coming from the mouth of a prophet.”
What a great question, Jimmy. What an important question! Understanding this is crucial to understanding the gospel itself.
Many people less observant than Jimmy have glossed over these words, but Benjamin’s statement should make everyone do a double-take. What? Gaining knowledge of the goodness of God will make me feel worthless and fallen? I constantly hear about the “plan of happiness,” but I don’t recall ever hearing about the “plan of feeling worthless and fallen.”
Benjamin’s statement is even more perplexing when we understand that these people who were feeling “worthless and fallen,” and “less than the dust of the earth,” were actually “diligent in keeping the commandments,” and a “highly favored people of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:11, 13).
So, if they were so obedient, why were they feeling so awful? The short answer is because they were in trouble. We are all in trouble. And coming to an awareness of our serious trouble is the “broken heart” that the scriptures talk about.
We are worthless because we are “fallen.” So in order to understand the Broken Heart, we need to understand the effects of the fall on each of us–and spoiler alert, it’s not good. As noted in the previous segment, “How Damning Was the Fall?”, we come into this telestial world “lost,” and even “carnal sensual and devilish” (Mosiah16:3,4; 2 Ne 2:21,26; Alma 41:11). Benjamin’s “highly favored” people were awakened to an awareness of their “nothingness, and their worthless and fallen state” (Mosiah 4:5). We are “unworthy, and because of the fall, our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). All mankind is, “fallen, and in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence” (Alma 42:14). We are under the “curse of Adam” (Moroni 8:8). We have died the “first death.” We are already spiritually dead! (Alma 11:45; 42:9; D&C 29:41). We have failed the “first judgment” (2 Ne 9:7). Suffered the wrath of his “first provocation” (Alma 12:36).
If that list breaks your heart, then mission accomplished, it’s supposed to. Benjamin said that this awareness comes to people who already know of the goodness of God. That means these good obedient people were feeling worthless and fallen, not despite their goodness, but because of it. And yes, that is a paradox for most people who firmly believe, “the more I obey God, the happier I will be.”
The broken heart is commonly described as “humility.” That isn’t right. Here’s how we know: Christ gave us an example of the broken heart when he told the Nephites, “ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me…” So, who were these Lamanites who had broken hearts? Were they paragons of humility? No, they were the wicked Lamanites we read about in Helaman chapter 5–not humble at all. They were going to kill Lehi and Nephi but then experienced paralyzing “darkness, and an awful solemn fear” (Helaman 5:28).
Humility is a desirable trait–something we can cultivate. The broken heart is awful and definitely not self-initiated. The broken heart is God giving you a preview; if the judgment were right now, how would you stand? Well, unless you have already been redeemed, the preview will be awful; it will “break your heart.”
Not only would no one want to feel the pains of a damned soul, but no one could self-generate that level of anguish. So, the timing and degree of this “fear of the Lord” is not under our control. Benjamin made it clear that this anguish comes to us–not from us, “the fear of the Lord had come upon them. And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 4:1,2).
Consider these additional examples of the broken heart. Alma felt “the fear of the Lord” and the “pains of a damned soul.” Enos had a “wrestle” before God, “crying” for supplication for his soul. Lamoni’s father said he was “troubled in mind.” The very wicked Lamanites in Helaman 5 experienced debilitating darkness and “an awful solemn fear”. Prior to the first vision, Joseph Smith wrote, “my mind became exceedingly distressed, for my sins, and for the sins of the world.” At the beginning of his dream, Lehi began to follow Christ but was for a long time in a “dark and dreary waste.” Both Nephi and Paul lamented feeling “wretched.”
Notice the element of distress in every account: Fear, pain, wrestle, crying, troubled, awful fear, distressed, darkness, wretched. All these accounts are consistent in their anguish, but what is not consistent is the level of righteousness of each person; some of these people were very wicked, some were very obedient, but each of them was feeling sick to their stomach anguish.
Do those words sound like a plan of happiness? Hardly. And yet, the broken heart is indispensable in the plan of happiness. Each of these people was only moments away from feeling exquisite joy. They were only moments away from gaining a remission of their sins from Jesus Christ. They were only moments away from being redeemed and saved from the effects of the fall.
So yes, the “plan of happiness” gets much more press, but the “plan of feeling worthless and fallen” is always a prerequisite.
CS Lewis said it like this, “I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 23).
Martin Luther said, “Man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” (Heidelberg Disputation #18)
Paul said, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10).
So, being brought to a recognition of our fallen circumstances is absolutely awful but is a necessary step to exquisite joy. Being shown the seriousness of our fallen state can be the beginning of our salvation.
Guest post by Vardell Taylor. The author welcomes thoughts and ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org