—Alma 42:14-15How many times have you heard the saying, “Ask and you shall receive?”
Allow me to explain.
The phrase originates with Christ in John 16:24 where we read the following:
Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.But it is more commonly associated with Christ’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount, where the record has our Lord expressing it as follows:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8; 3 Nephi 14:7)So far, so good. It’s pretty straightforward. But it also raises some questions. Ask for what? Seek for what? Knock and what, exactly, shall be opened? Is this just a blanket invitation to ask for whatever we want? We certainly tend to treat it as such.
(I’m reminded of a vignette from a 1990’s cartoon called Ren and Stimpy. At bedtime, we see Stimpy kneeling and praying, “…and please bless grandma and grandpa…” while Ren prays, “…and please give me a million dollars, and a fridge with a padlock and, oh yeah, huge pectoral muscles…”) Ask and ye shall receive, indeed.
So here’s the rub: asking doesn’t work. How many times have you asked and NOT received? Whether it’s huge pectoral muscles, a million dollars, an A on your exam, healing from a physical problem, a change in someone you love, power to break a bad habit, love, luck, money, or an infinite number of other things—ultimately it seems we wish, hope, and ask, but often don’t receive.
And further, we still attempt to testify that God “answers” prayers, even though we know that He hasn’t given us what we’ve asked for. Oh sure, we may look at the occasional “big deal” answer as evidence that we get what we ask. But even if asking works occasionally, it doesn’t seem to work reliably—even when we do, “all travel home safely” after church.
So we’re left to conclude that either Christ was lying in his invitation, or else we must be missing something in our application.
News Flash: Christ wasn’t lying. When you understand His invitation, you’ll find it works, reliably, every time.
Let’s reconsider our Lord’s invitation and learn how to ask, seek and knock. This journey will not be brief, and will not begin as you might expect, but it will end, “when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty.” (Lectures on Faith 2:56) This will take some “time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts” (TPJS 137) before we get where we’re going. This won’t be a light read, but there will be treasure buried here for those willing to put in the effort to uncover it.
OK. Ready? Let’s begin.
The first thing we need to realize is our predicament. See, you and I find ourselves trapped here in a Telestial world, separated from God, clothed in mortal flesh, and rapidly careening toward death. Jacob chose this very theme to begin one of his most remarkable sermons:
For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God…For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. (2 Nephi 9:4,6)There’s the predicament. Our flesh must waste away and die, yet, the only way to return and dwell with God involves the need of a body. It doesn’t help that the bodies we currently inhabit not only are dying, but are wholly incapable of withstanding God’s presence and glory. Our flesh “must waste away and die.”
The solution to this problem calls for something quite remarkable to bring us back into God’s presence, clothed with glorified flesh, able to remain and endure God’s glory. According to Jacob, this miraculous transformation requires a specific power, he calls the “power of resurrection” to provide our escape from the grave; otherwise we must remain forever cut off from the Lord. For, says he:
…this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the POWER of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 9:11,12 emphasis mine)“Power” is defined as the faculty of doing or performing a thing. The power of the resurrection, therefore, is the power by which “all men might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Nephi 9:22) Thus, the way is prepared for “our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Nephi 9:9) and we may be “snatch[ed] out of an everlasting burning, and...born of God.” (Mosiah 27:28)
In teaching these miraculous truths about our Lord, Jacob proclaims, again and again, God’s glorious attributes. In all, and not surprisingly, Jacob declares seven specific attributes of God’s character in 2 Nephi 9, as follows:
O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! (v. 8)
O how great the goodness of our God… (v. 10)
O the greatness and the justice of our God! (v. 17)
O how great the holiness of our God! (v. 20)
After each declaration, Jacob gives evidence to support his assertion. In the case of the final declaration—holiness—we read the following:
O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. (2 Nephi 9:20 emphasis mine)And so we encounter our first key to asking and receiving. It is this: God’s holiness—His highest and most defining attribute, placed at the pinnacle of Jacob’s list—stems from God’s knowledge.
Indeed, the key to Christ’s power to rescue us from our fallen state lies in his knowledge. Declared Isaiah:
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)By bearing our iniquities, Christ gained the knowledge of how to return from a state of sin and separation to a state of love and reunification with God. His return restored Him to God’s presence, cleansed and at peace, to be “at one” with God. This is the at-one-ment or atonement of Christ.
Christ was not born with the fulness of this knowledge within Him; rather, He had to gain it by going from grace to grace, until God called Him His Son.
And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. (D&C 93:1-14 emphasis mine)This knowledge was not won easily or cheaply; it required Christ to, quite literally, descend below all things. His knowledge was gained by sacrifice.
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ…the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead. (D&C 88:6-7, 13-14 emphasis mine)He had to, literally, take upon himself every problem he hoped to solve in us—every sin, every infirmity, every illness; even death. He experienced, first hand, every horror of every abuse and torture ever perpetrated by humans upon one another. His knowledge came not by theory, but by practice. He had to experience it all Himself to gain the first-hand knowledge of how to solve every issue and return to peace with God. There was no other way for Him to gain the knowledge by which he could save us.
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; (Alma 7:11-13 emphasis mine)By gaining this knowledge, Christ gained compassion—not mere pity, concern or sympathy for our sufferings, but actual experience with them, having borne every problem in His own body and spirit. And thus, Christ’s compassion is not a mere emotion, but an actual POWER to save us.
And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men— Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice. (Mosiah 15:8-9, emphasis mine)To repeat Jacob:
O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. (2 Nephi 9:20)There is no mortal problem, no sin, no abuse, no iniquity, no disappointment that is beyond Christ’s personal, first-hand knowledge—and power to correct. Therefore He can solve and repair any problem we present Him with. Because He knows. How great the Holiness of our God indeed!
Knowledge, Glory, Power
To summarize: God’s glory is His knowledge.
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; (D&C 93:24)It is Christ’s knowledge that gives him power to redeem.
Now, we started this discussion with “ask and ye shall receive.” Though we haven’t yet gotten close to approaching Christ’s statement about asking, seeking and knocking, we’re heading in that direction. There’s yet some ground to cover though, so we’ll continue in the next installment.
Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him before he manifesteth himself in the flesh.