O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? ( Romans 7:24 )
Ever struggle with this one? I know I have. In my last article, “ Faithful and True ” I share my struggle to know whether I am a faithful and true disciple of Jesus Christ or a hypocrite. My subject now is similar: how I relate to the Apostle Paul when he said, “O wretched man that I am.” Experience tells me I am not the only one who has felt this way. Many years ago I visited with a wonderful member of our ward (congregation) who told me, “I can never measure up. . . . I feel damned by the scriptures, because I can’t do it all.” I asked this friend if he had done anything anything of a serious magnitude which required confession to a bishop, such as, breaking of the law of chastity, stealing, or murder. My friend said, “No, but it’s all the other things that I fall short on.”
We all fall short, but we matter to God. In his talk, You Matter to Him , President Dieter F. Uchtdorf masterfully teaches, “The Lord uses a scale very different from the world’s to weigh the worth of a soul.” ( You Matter to Him , Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2011 General Conference ) As we learn of the scale used by the Lord, we will see ourselves in new light and see ourselves as we might become.
Beatitudes NOT Do-attitudes
Many times, so many of us look at the commandments as a to-do-list, that we can check off and move on to the next one. Sometimes learning of a new commandment feels like trying to spin one more plate without letting ALL of the other ones come crashing down. I think this feeling comes because our focus might be misplaced. When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament and Book of Mormon, He did NOT teach the “do-attitudes.” Jesus taught the “Beatitudes,” which are principles He wants us to incorporate into our “being,” or the fabric of our lives (see 3 Nephi 12:2-12 ; Matthew 5:1-12 ).
In verse 3, the Lord starts with “Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me , for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” ( 3 Nephi 12:3 , emphasis added). I have noticed that whenever prophets acknowledge their feelings of inadequacy, weakness, or maybe being “poor in spirit,” they usually follow with an expression of faith in the Lord. The Apostle, Paul does this in his Epistle to the Romans.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” ( Romans 7:24-25 , emphasis added.)
Nephi follows this same pattern when he first laments over his sins, and then expresses his great love and faith in God.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. ( 2 Nephi 4:17-21 , emphasis added.)
My Soul Was Filled With Joy
Alma the younger has a little different story, because he was actively rebelling against God when he was called to repentance by an angel of the Lord. Below Alma shares how his heart was turned to the Lord:
Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me , who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more ; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! ( Alma 36:15-20 , emphasis added.)
If there was hope for Alma, who was “a very wicked and an idolatrous man . . . [and who] . . . was going about to destroy the church of God” (Mosiah 27:8, 10) then there is great hope for all of us! Maybe, we are not so wretched after all.
This Hath Touched Thy Lips
One of my favorite examples of hope from a “wretched man” is the story of Isaiah’s experience in the temple. Isaiah sees “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1) with more than one angel. Isaiah then bemoans,
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. ( Isaiah 6:5-7 )
I can really relate to Isaiah with his feelings of unworthiness when he says, “I am undone.” The footnote in verse five says, “he was overwhelmed by his consciousness of the sins of himself and his people.” So many of us go to church, do our best to live the gospel, yet we know our lives have aspects that are not in harmony with the Lord. It is only when the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ touches us, like the “live coal . . . taken with the tongs from off the altar” that our lives change. As I have pondered the “live coal,” my understanding of the scorching price Jesus paid for us has intensified. The “live coal” burns the “wretched man” from our lives. Each Sunday, if we are prepared, we can allow the “live coal” of the Sacrament to touch our lips, take away our iniquities, and purge our sins. This is a process I have experienced many times, but only as I focus on my “wretched man” and my desire to repent through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I feel great hope if “wretched” men such as Alma, Isaiah, Nephi, the Apostle Paul, and others can find the salvation in the Lord, then maybe it is not so bad to be a “wretched man” after all. I am thankful the Lord sees past my “wretched man” to the desires of my heart for His healing power. I am thankful for the promise I find in His Infinite Atonement! (See 2 Nephi 9:7 .)
If you enjoyed this article, please click "Like" or share it with your friends. Entering positive personal comments in the field below are always appreciated. Thank you, Stan Winchester
Painting: Joy of the Lord used with permission, Copyright © 2012 by Greg Olsen