"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
April 2, 2014
Pondering a Talk I Never Heard
by Marian Stoddard

There are talks that stick with you and make you ponder, some that bring you back to thought repeatedly over a period of time. The unusual thing about one of those, for me, was that I wasn’t actually present to hear it because I lived on the other side of the country when it was given in a sacrament meeting.

My mother gave this talk. She began by reading Mosiah 2:17: “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

Then she said that although this verse is very familiar to us on the subject of service, she was not going to talk about service; she wished to talk about what it tells us about the nature of God.

When ye are in the service of your fellow beings — [others of his children] — ye are only in the service of your God.

Place that in parallel to the Savior’s teaching in Matthew 25: 35-40:

For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

The truth is that to our Heavenly Father or his Son, offering help, service, love and compassion to another person is, to them, exactly as if we offered them that gift. What does that tell us about God?

One of the missionaries serving in our ward when I was in high school described a discussion with a college student who had left the religious tradition of his parents, and was skeptical of the proposal that there was something valuable to be found in Christian faith.

The image he had been given of heaven was God everlastingly above and beyond us, while the saved rested on their various clouds with their harps, playing music and mouthing praises to God for all eternity. He saw no great purpose accomplished in such a life. He said, in fact, that it just seemed to him like one big unending ego trip for the Almighty. That was not a God he was inclined to follow.

And indeed, that is not the God we follow. Revealed religion, so much deeper than faltering tradition, shows us a Father who told Moses, “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

My glory.” Not just his work, but his glory. His joy, his light, his purpose, is us — his desire that we should gain all that is possible, which is to become like him as perfectly as Christ has.

Why? Because we are his children and he loves us that much. Christ’s purpose and hope is that through his atonement we would be able in fact to stand before our Father, perfected and polished in the power of his sacrifice for us.

“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” If we “do it unto the least of these” we do it unto him, our Savior. The love and the hope for us, the purpose, are indistinguishable between the two of them. All that they offer, all that they do, is for our sakes. It’s not to make themselves mightier or more important.

I think that does indeed tell us a great deal about the nature of God.

We understand that the great burden of all our sins and griefs, an infinite burden, descended on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the cross. That means that he carried that weight on his soul and body all through the long night, all through the trial before the Sanhedrin and the interview with Pilate, through the flogging and spitting, the roar of the assembly to release Barabbas, then stumbling through the streets without the physical strength to carry the cross upon which he would be executed.

The driving of the nails into his hands and feet, the wrenching thump of the vertical pillar into the hole where it would rest, the hours hanging there in agony without wavering from his purpose, were simply the continuation, not the sum total, of what he went through for our sakes.

As I have pondered the magnitude of that offering, I have realized that only Christ could have done this, not just because only he was perfect enough but also because only he was perfect enough in his love for us. That was essential in his perfect nature. He was prepared in his total, infinite love, equal to the love of our Father who sent him. Only an infinite sacrifice was enough.

Satan, who wanted this role, seeing it as preeminent, could not have done it. He did not love us enough to go through what was necessary. Only Jesus understood. Any breath of self-eminence, of self-preservation, would have risen up and declared NO! — and all would have been lost.

This was the purest, most infinite level of subsuming the self in an eternal, selfless purpose. Jesus acted in hope, not certainty, for each of us. He knew that not all of us would accept his sacrifice, making it all for naught in those cases, but he didn’t waver. He finished his work.

It’s been years since I didn’t get to hear the talk my mother gave, only hear about it, but these are the things that have grown in me from that seed of her report. It’s been pretty powerful. I find things added upon each other, as the years go by, and probably will for the rest of my life.

When Nephi desired to see the vision that his father had seen, he sat “pondering in [his] heart” (I Nephi 11); and an angel appeared to him to answer his searching.

Nephi records: “And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (v.16-17)

The angel showed Nephi the coming Messiah, from his birth, through his ministry, and his death, and declared that this was the condescension of God for our sakes.

I, too, do not know the meaning of all things, but I too know that he loves his children, and that I am one of them. All this was given for me.

This is the truth of Divine nature, of which we too have a portion. Love and light reach out to us, and teach us how to reach too.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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