Sunday, June 14, 2015

Isaiah 58:10 -- On Sacrifice and Suffering

"And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:"
Isaiah 58:10

I like the idea of our light rising in obscurity, and that even the darkness in us will be light.  Not sure how that works, but definitely cool. :)  This verse is part of a chapter talking about fasting and keeping the Sabbath Day holy, both things that sometimes require some sacrifice.
Sacrifice is an interesting topic, and one that we don't always understand.  When we think of sacrifice, we often think of suffering, and unfortunately, we often think that is the point of the whole thing.  We try to get God's attention through some "extra" suffering, like going without food for a few days, but when we do things like that, we are kind of missing the point.
The animal sacrifice of the Old Testament was done away in Christ, but God does still ask us to sacrifice.  He asks us for the specific sacrifices of a broken heart and a contrite spirit (Psalms 51:17, Moroni 6:2, D&C 59:8, and many others).  And he still asks us to pray and to fast.  I think the problem is that we get it wrong sometimes, especially with the fasting part, and think it is just about inconveniencing ourselves, or about pure suffering.  In verse 5 of this same chapter (Isaiah 58), God asks "Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?" and the answer in the scripture (including this verse) is clearly no.  The Law of Sacrifice isn't about affliction or suffering or giving up something to get something.
Sacrifice is about overcoming our own selfish desires, and putting the Lord's will first.  By itself, not eating accomplishes nothing spiritual at all.  The point of fasting is replacing that attention, time, and effort with something else that God wants us to focus on instead.  As God asks us in this verse, if we help the hungry and afflicted, that is the point.
Now, by arguing that sacrifice isn't about suffering, in no way am I saying that the gospel is easy and we don't have to suffer. :)  Sometimes we do. When we partake of addictions and get wrapped up in bad habits, that happens, and it can be soul-wrenchingly difficult to change ourselves for God.  As it says in Omni 1:26, "offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved."  Offering a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and our whole souls... these are all good sacrifices, but also often painful. :)  And sometimes just living in this world causes suffering, with health issues and the results of bad choices in society in general.  Let's just not get it wrong and think that suffering is the *point* of the whole thing.  It happens sometimes, but it is only the side effect of changing our lives for God, of putting his will before our own.  Helping other people is the point of fasting, and putting God's will before our own is the point of sacrifice in general.  Suffering isn't the point of anything.
Today, let's give acceptable sacrifices.  Let's help the hungry and the afflicted instead of ignoring them.  Let's choose to break our hearts and reforge them rather than loving something else more than God.  Let's feel sorry for our sins and repent.  If we need some extra sacrifices in our lives, let's do some simple things like reading some scriptures instead of doing something else that we want to do with that time.  Let's pray instead of hitting the snooze button again.  Let's replace something we want to do or be with what God wants us to do or be instead.  Let's bear up our current burdens with God's help, and let's try not to think so poorly of God as to believe that he wants us to do any "extra" suffering.

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