In the Church of Jesus Christ we speak often about coming unto Christ, and being perfected in Him. Generally, for the righteous, it’s considered to be a positive experience. Likewise, the great and terrible day of judgement is described as “great” for the good and “terrible” for the evil. I’ve spent much time contemplating these two similar situations. What is it like to come face-to-face with God the Father and His Son Jesus the Christ? What is it like to be perfected?
Lie #1: The Devil is far away when I approach perfection
The scriptures describe mankind being refined in a fire, the weak and superfluous inside of us being burned away, leaving behind only the purest metal. Likewise, hell is described as a lake of fire and brimstone. How interesting that fire refines the righteous and also consumes the wicked. Could the two be connected? But wait, you might be thinking… isn’t hellfire far away from those seeking refinement? If I am seeking the throne of God, won’t I be far from Satan’s grasp? In our minds we cast Satan off into the distance and imagine him far from the threshold of Heaven. But in my experience God is firmly fixed in His place, I am all over the map, and the Devil does his best to be in between the two of us. How else can one explain Joseph Smith’s encounter with the devil just moments before the first vision opened to his view? Or Moses’ similar experience? Or Christ’s?
These experiences sound much more uncomfortable than I typically would imagine the experience of coming unto Christ. Shouldn’t becoming perfect feel good? Perfection is a common goal among church members, and Satan knows it. One of his main purposes as he marches into the space between us and our God is to try and usurp God’s place… to convince us that he is the God we seek… to draw us near and then lead us astray. He offers us a way that looks so much easier. He convinces us that one seeks perfection by avoiding failure, and therefore avoiding discomfort. He whispers to us that perfect people don’t make embarrassing mistakes, and if we do (and we certainly do) he teaches us to hide them, even from ourselves. When we listen to that great deceiver we wander from the path of perfection and exchange it for the appearance of perfection, wasting energy and time hiding our faults.
Lie #2: Working toward perfection makes me feel great
I am convinced that there is a great deal of pain involved in coming unto Christ, and it doesn’t get easier the closer we come. As we see Him more clearly we become aware of how different we are from Him. His perfection magnifies our imperfections. This is not a comfortable experience, especially if we are attempting to hide our flaws. It is a totally necessary experience, however. In order to repent and change we must first be made aware of our sins and digressions. How else could we progress towards perfection? The scriptures are full of examples of this phenomenon. Saul, Alma the Younger, Zeezrom. We do not all find ourselves facing the Savior as abruptly as these men did, but eventually we will all see ourselves as we really are, in comparison to Him. With Nephi we groan, “oh wretched man that I am.” With the people of King Benjamin we view our own carnal state, “even less than the dust of the earth.”
Lie #3: I must be something special to withstand the refiners fire
So then the question is, what makes the refiner’s fire bearable? Elder Boyd K. Packer explained,
“We all make mistakes. Sometimes we harm ourselves and seriously injure others in ways that we alone cannot repair. We break things that we alone cannot fix. It is then in our nature to feel guilt and humiliation and suffering, which we alone cannot cure. That is when the healing power of the Atonement will help…The Atonement has practical, personal, everyday value; apply it in your life. It can be activated with so simple a beginning as prayer. You will not thereafter be free from trouble and mistakes but can erase the guilt through repentance and be at peace” (Apr. 2001 General Conference)
Of course there is a magnificent end result in store for those of us who face the refiner’s fire. As King Benjamin stated “for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ… whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.”
Our ability to pass through the refiners fire does not depend on us having some sort of magical strength. It depends on us being willing to rely on the strength of the Lord. I believe our worthiness for the Kingdom of God is not determined by the percentage of perfection we attain in this life, but by our progress toward perfection. In this sense, it doesn’t matter where we begin, or exactly where we end up. What matters is that we move towards Him. This progress before God brings us joy, peace, and a sense of our worthiness, not only after we have arrived, but as we view our progress all along the way. And perhaps, when we face the pleasing bar of God, we will not be consumed by the shock of our own deficits, for we will have seen them long before. Instead we will be aware of our own plentiful repentance, and full of gratitude towards the Savior who has made repentance possible, even unto perfection.