Context and General Information
- Lehi, before his death, preaches to Jacob a final time.
- People are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil.
- We have the law.
- The law justifies no one, in fact because of the law we are cut off – from God.
- We are also cut off from God spiritually and will be miserable forever.
- BUT, redemption comes through the Holy Messiah
- Christ offers Himself as a sacrifice for sin to answer the ends of the law.
- If we will come unto Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit, then His sacrifice will answer the ends of the law – and we will not be subject to misery or death.
- It is important that everyone on this earth knows this message. No one can dwell in the presence of God, save it is through Christ – His merits, mercy, and grace. He laid down His life and took it again to bring pass the resurrection of the dead.
- He will also stand an intercessor between us and God – saving us.
A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit
For the past several posts, we have been studying the main reason we need redemption and Christ’s role in our redemption. You can read the past posts: Part One – the law; Part two, – Redemption; Part three, – Christ’s grace and truth; and Part Four – A Sacrifice for Sin.
Today, we are shifting gears. It’s not about the law or what Christ does. It is about what we do.
Of course, it is critical to understand that without Christ redemption isn’t possible. Without Christ, hope for redemption isn’t possible. Without Christ and the knowledge of plan of salvation (including life after death) it is easy for life to lose meaning and purpose.
Simply put, we need Christ.
Even if we were nearly perfect, we would still need Him. Peter needs Christ, Job needs Christ, Mother Theresa needs Christ. None of us can work out our own salvation without Him.
So – now that we have that understanding, that we are wholly reliant upon Christ’s mercy and Atonement, we can now shift our focus on what we need to do. Here, in 2 Nephi, centuries before the Savior’s coming to the earth, Lehi explained to Jacob what we needed to do in order to qualify for Christ’s grace and Atonement. We read:
“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” – 2 Nephi 2:7
We need to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
As I write this, I have to confess that I’m not sure I should separate out the two elements of what we are to sacrifice. They seem so connected. However, I will keep them separated and study them individually. Maybe they aren’t the same exact thing. Maybe they are. Maybe they are different facets of the same thing…We will find out as we study.
So – a broken heart.
When I think of a “broken heart,” my first thought is sadness – especially loss. As in the loss of a loved one. I think of having a crush on a someone (when you are a teen), and then realizing that he isn’t even aware of your existence. I think of losing a friend to death. I think of being betrayed by a loved one. I think of sending a kid off to college (both good and bad on that one!). I think of having to put down a beloved but sickly pet.
As I think about these things, I realize that the ideas that I have about a “broken heart” may be more culturally informed. I don’t know if this is the way that the scriptures meant it.
I found something really interesting online:
“Professor Pike explained the significance of having a “broken” heart and a “contrite” spirit. The Hebrew verb (from the root šbr) translated as “broken” in Psalm 51:17 means “to break, smash, shatter.” The word (Hebrew root dkh) translated as “contrite” means “to crush.” Drawing on these meanings, Pike concluded: “Therefore, a broken or contrite heart or spirit is one that is crushed, smashed, broken to pieces. … The symbolism of our smashing or breaking or crushing our hard, willful heart into pieces and offering the result to God is significant, because a smashed heart no longer exists in a recognizable or retrievable form. … It is at this point that the Lord can replace our now broken, offered heart with a new one” – Book of Mormon Central
So – maybe our traditional meaning of “broken” isn’t too far off. I mean, as I think about it, often when we go through these crushing experiences in life, we are somewhat compelled to be humble. We go to the Lord seeking refuge and peace. And then He can heal us.
It is easy, when life is going well and isn’t breaking our hearts, to get a little complacent. It is easy to let our hearts get hard and to forget how much we really need Christ. So the moments that break our hearts in life can help us to remember our Savior.
I guess what I’m saying is – often, we don’t have to break our own hearts and put them on the altar of God. Instead, we often have our hearts broken by the circumstances of mortality, then we take the shattered heart and put it on God’s altar with hope that He will heal us.
And this isn’t a terrible thing. I am reminded of what Alma taught the people:
“And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.” – Alma 32:13
Yes, the poor of the Zoramites had been used and exploited by the rich. They were broken-hearted and humble. They had, undoubtedly, experienced oppression. They were wronged, and God wasn’t really “okay” with the terrible treatment of these people. But, because of their experiences, they had become humble and in this was the blessing. Their humility, their broken hearts, were fertile ground for the word of God. They were humble, sought repentance, and found mercy. They would be saved.
Now, the thing that Lehi (and the Lord) teaches is that we must give a broken heart as a sacrifice. Sure, sometimes that just happens in life. But, the command isn’t that we wait for life to break us. Instead, we are asked to do it ourselves. Alma taught:
“And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.
Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.” – Alma 32:14-16
It’s wonderful to know that when life breaks our hearts, if we will turn to the Lord, then He will heal us. But even better is for us not to wait for life to do that to us! It’s better for us not to be compelled to humility. Christ was the perfect example of this kind of behavior.
In the October 2007 General Conference, Elder Bruce D. Porter taught:
“Christ’s example teaches us that a broken heart is an eternal attribute of godliness. When our hearts are broken, we are completely open to the Spirit of God and recognize our dependence on Him for all that we have and all that we are. The sacrifice so entailed is a sacrifice of pride in all its forms. Like malleable clay in the hands of a skilled potter, the brokenhearted can be molded and shaped in the hands of the Master. – Bruce D. Porter, emphasis added
So – we are asked to give the sacrifice of a broken heart. Instead of being full of ourselves, our abilities, or whatever it is that keeps us from turning to God, we should “break” our own hard hearts. We should be willing to submit to God, allowing Him to shape us and our hearts in a way that help us to become like the Savior.
Now onto understanding what a contrite spirit is…let’s go to the dictionary:
: feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for a sin or shortcoming” – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
So, our spirits need to have sorrow for sin. And it’s pretty easy to see why God would require this as a sacrifice.
Why so much Sadness in the Plan of Happiness???
Okay, so we are asked to offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And, I’ve got to say – at first glance, it sounds so depressing. But this is the plan of happiness right??? What gives?
First of all, I think that Satan is subtle in his deception and temptation. He wants to skew truths so that we will choose the wrong and become miserable just as he is. This isn’t something new. This is exactly what he did in the Garden of Eden with Eve. He told a partial truth and partial lie about the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. His tactics are the same now.
If Satan can get us to feel overwhelmed and overburdened by the Lord’s commandments, then we give up. And we become miserable. It is easier to feel overwhelmed and overburdened when we don’t really understand what the Lord is asking of us and why. So, it really behooves us to study the gospel with the companionship of the Spirit so that we can know God’s word and His goodness – so we won’t be confused by the lies of the adversary.
OKAY…that being said, why do these things on the altar of God sound so depressing???? Well let’s think about it:
Even though I just spent nearly a thousand words saying that we should try to offer this up ourselves, it now comes to me that we don’t really need to break our own hearts!!!!! Life will compel each of us to be humble! Part of mortality is pain, misery, sickness. It doesn’t matter how much money, power, beauty a person has. We are all susceptible to the problems of mortality.
In other words – life will break our hearts! And when it does, give it to the Lord. He pleads:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
When life burdens us, we can go to the Lord, and this is where happiness comes in, HE WILL GIVE US REST!
The Lord isn’t asking us to walk around depressed with broken hearts. The Lord isn’t asking us to be in pain, misery, and sickness. The Lord isn’t asking us to be pessimistic or masochistic. The Lord wants to heal us. So – he asks us to give Him our broken hearts. He can’t heal us if we don’t give Him our hearts to heal in the first place.
Second, the Lord wants us to have spirits that are contrite. He wants us to feel sorrow for sin. And why? Again, it’s not so that we can live a sorrowful and painful life. Instead, when we have godly sorrow for Sin, then the healing balm of the Atonement can be applied in our lives. I’m reminded of King Lamoni’s father:
“O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.” – Alma 22:18
This is exactly what the Lord requires of us and then gives to us. We put our natural man, desires, shortcomings, weakness, on His altar, and then, in return we come to know Him. We come to know Him through experiencing the sweetness of His grace.
Oh – and the thing about knowing Him – His nature is the nature of happiness. So, when we know God, through giving up our sinful natures, then we know happiness.
Here’s the thing. No matter what we decide to do with our hearts and spirits, because we are fallen creatures, we will experience times when we have broken hearts and sorrowing spirits. That’s just life!!!
The Lord is asking us to take these things – that happen to be broken and shattered anyways – He is asking us to take these two faulty, imperfect things and put them on His altar. Then, He will take our broken hearts and our poor spirits, and He will make something new. He will lift us up. He will bless us with peace and comfort. He will give us rest.
This is how happiness works into these requirements. He doesn’t want us to wallow in pain and pity. The opposite! When we refuse to give up our broken hearts or contrite spirits, then we continue to proceed in pain! Instead, He asks us to give up our heavy burdens so that He can put His arms around us and embrace us in His everlasting love.
Truly, it’s a plan of happiness.