Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Beholding Grace

Sometimes living near BYU has major benefits. Today it was the opportunity I had to go tour the Carl Bloch exhibit currently displayed in the Museum of Art. BYU manage to procure several altar pieces and other paintings from Denmark and they are absolutely beautiful. But the one I find most fascinating is the one I've seen every time I'm in the MOA; Christ Healing at the Pool of Bethesda.

In ancient times, Jewish tradition held that the Pool of Bethesda possessed special healing properties, and that when the water was disturbed by the touch of an angel, the first person in the water would be healed of their infirmities. Because of this, many who were sick or afflicted would gather at the pool and wait for the waters to be troubled. John 5:2-9 tells the story of a man who was there 38 years waiting to be healed, and this is the subject of Bloch's painting. In the painting, Bloch shows Christ lifting the cover of darkness wherein the man resides. The symbology is easily portrayed as a glowing Christ comes as the light of the world to a man who sits in darkness. The still pool in the corner of the painting contrasts with the Living Water who has the power to heal both body and soul.

When viewing the painting, this scripture from Isaiah came to mind: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." (Isaiah 9:2). What a perfect metaphor for the healing power of Christ! The light and the life of the world came to earth to cast off the darkness in our lives, and light our path to eternal life. John 1:17 states, "Grace (JST- life) and truth came by Jesus Christ."

To me, this story has always been an poignant example of the grace of Christ. He who condescended below all things purposefully lived His life in order to both understand us and be able to save us. Nephi in a vision was shown the life of Christ, and told about His mission to earth. The angel asked, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?...Behold the Lamb of God, yea even the Son of the Eternal Father. Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?" Nephi answered, "Yea, it is the love of god, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men." (1 Nephi 11:16, 21-22).

Christ is the Living Waters, the Tree of Life, and the epitomy of the grace of Heavenly Father that allows us to gain eternal life. Nephi taught, "It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23). Grace means mercy, benevolence, favor, and good will. Thus, after we've done all we could, God shows us mercy and will make up for our shortcomings.

In a revelation to Joseph Smith we are taught, "Through his Atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved." (D&C 138:4) Of course it is important to try our hardest to live the commandments and keep the covenants we've made, but no one is perfect and no one can be the sole means of their own salvation. Abinadi discoursed on the redemption of man through Christ and stated, "Only in and through Christ can ye be saved...Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord." (Mosiah 16:13,15). Acts 15:11 states "We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved." In Ephesians 2:8 we read, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." And in 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul taught, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."

God's grace, His mercy, is there for all who come unto Him, who believe in Him, and who exercise their faith in Him through humbling themselves and following His commandments. Paul taught the saints in Corinth about the grace of Christ: "My (Christ's) grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) And Moroni taught, "If men come unto me I will show unto them their weaknesses. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

Thus, the simple recipe for allowing us to behold the grace of God is to humble ourselves and have faith in the power of the Atonement. Alma taught, "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and affliction 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 infimities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he many know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:11-12)

Christ wants us to be healed by spiritually coming unto Him. As he lifted the veil of darkness off the man at the Pool of Bethesda and healed him physically, Christ's Atonement gave Him the power to heal us from spiritual darkness as well. His grace is sufficient for all men who come unto Him, and He desires to bring each one out of darkness and into the light of eternal life.