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Mormon 9: With Fear and Trembling

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

The Lord's promises to covenant Israel are so present with Moroni that, even when he's writing to the unbelieving, they spill out.

  1. The Lord will come and we will stand before Him.

  2. We can be cleansed by his blood, spotless, pure, fair and white if we turn to him and cry mightily to the Father in Jesus's name.

  3. The Creator, who is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God of miracles

  4. If we believe in Christ, doubting nothing, whatever we ask the Father in His name will be granted us.

  5. We will manifest these signs: casting out devils in the name of Jesus, speaking with new tongues, taking up serpents, taking no hurt from drinking deadly poisons, laying hands on the sick who then recover.

  6. All the Lord's words will be confirmed to those who believe in his name, doubting nothing.

  7. If we believe, ask the Father for our needs in the name of Jesus, and reconcile our fallen natures with him in wonder, vulnerability and authenticity, and continue working at it to the end of our lives, we will not be cast out.

  8. The Lehites will be restored to the knowledge of Christ, in accordance with the prayers of their forefathers.

  9. The Father will remember his covenant with Israel and bless them forever.

I'm struck today by one phrase in particular in this chapter: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him" (vs 27). I've felt for years that this often-recurring phrase does not mean what it seems on the surface to mean. Today, I may be catching a glimpse of what it means instead.

There are two parts to this phrase, and misunderstandings that tend to attach to each. First of all, "work out your own salvation" does not mean that we're supposed to earn our salvation by hard work. Salvation can't be earned. It's a gift that our Savior has won for us by His incomprehensible sacrifice, and that He invites us to receive. That's why the immediately preceding phrase is "come unto the Lord with all your heart".

So, what does it mean?

First of all, "working out" has connotations of reconciliation. We work out disagreements and problems. We untangle competing claims, sort through all the factors and come to a resolution.

I need working out because I am divided within myself. There is a part of me that loves and trusts God and desires more than anything else to serve Him and receive His nature. I think that's me at my core. But there's another part of me that is insecure and prideful, that wants to be important and gets irritated and feels awkward and gets angry and carries around hard feelings toward certain people while claiming to believe in unconditional love. My job is to work out those discrepancies, to untangle those unsavoury aspects of my fallen self, and bring them to the Lord for healing. And it is to work through my issues, rather than preoccupy myself with other people and their failings.

The second part of the phrase is "with fear and trembling before him." That cannot mean "while trembling in terror at the prospect of displeasing God." It cannot mean that because earlier in this same verse, Moroni says, "Doubt not, but be believing...and come unto the Lord with all your heart." Fear doesn't seem possible without doubt. And you cannot come with all your heart to someone that you hold in terror. Also, over and over, when there is a divine manifestation, the first message that comes from God is "Fear not."

So, if "fear and trembling" does not refer to terror, what does it mean?

I think it's significant that the human body and even the earth tremble at the voice of God. For example, when the Nephites heard the voice of the Father in 3 Nephi 11:3, "it did pierce the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake." Similarly in Helaman 5: 30-31, when Nephi and Lehi were encircled by fire in a Lamanite prison, the Lord spoke to their captors in "a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul -- and notwithstanding the mildness of the voice, behold the earth shook exceedingly, and the walls of the prison tremnbled again."

I don't think that trembling is based on terror. I think it's love. I think it's an involuntary reaction to a connection so profound that it gets past all our defences and makes our souls to vibrate.

That, I think, is fear and trembling.

If so, when Moroni invites us to "Come unto the Lord with all your heart and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him" he's inviting us to bring our whole vulnerable selves, with no hiding and no holding back, to Jesus Christ. He's inviting us to come close enough that the Lord's nearness can set us quaking.

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