Divine love. Charity. Pure love. Godly love. Eternal love. Call it what you will, it is more than most of us have ever fully felt or comprehended in love before.
We have all seen different types of love before. There is the physical love we have for one another called Eros or romantic love. Brotherly love, which can be just as intense in its own way is not physical, but it is all about concern for the welfare of someone else. We genuinely want them to be happy in life, to be well cared for, and to be comfortable. There are also forms of self love where our main concern is for our own welfare above that of any other person. Some call that a Narcissistic love or the love of self. It is vanity.
With so many kinds of love in use, it can be difficult to decide what kind of love, or mixture of kinds of love, we are experiencing at any one time in our life. The scriptures teach us that charity is the pure love of Christ. It is the most potent and enduring form of love. The kind of love Christ feels for us can be difficult to understand or even to imagine. I have had a few flashes of comprehension lately that is leading me to better understand this kind of love. It is about this Christlike love that I would like to focus on here.
Characteristics of Charity
We can all come up with personal examples we may have seen or even experienced that we would place under the description of charity. But we are talking about a kind of love that is so big, so overwhelmingly powerful and complete as to make it difficult to wrap our mortal mind around it. So I would like to give some examples of Christlike love, charity, and see if anything triggers something within you to help you gain any personal insights that will help you better understand this grandest form of love.
One of the main ways in which God shows us His love is to show us His willingness to condescend to help us in the areas where we can’t help ourselves. Growing up I only knew one definition of condescension, and it wasn’t a flattering look on anyone. When someone acts condescending towards another we sometimes feel like they are “stooping” from their perceived lofty position to help someone viewed as inferior to themself. Such acts of “kindness” can be seen as humiliating or almost shameful. Putting this definition of condescension into a gospel setting doesn’t put God into a very favorable light, for it makes Him look snooty, snobbish, conceited, or stuck up. I always felt there was something wrong with my view of the word condescension, for surely that couldn’t be part of the character of God. That was not the kind of love I wanted to aspire to.
In 1 Nephi 11 Lehi has already had his vision of the tree of Life. Nephi, seeking for greater understanding, and wanting to see what his father saw, has inquired of the Lord to be shown this same dream. Instead of just showing him the dream his father had, the Lord showed Nephi his true heart’s desire, and that was to know the interpretation of his father’s dream. Nephi was seeking true clarity and understanding of what his father had experienced.
When Nephi told the Spirit that he desired to know the interpretation of the tree of life in the dream, the first thing the Spirit showed him was Jerusalem and other cities then the city of Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus (1 Nephi 11:13). What Nephi was shown next was Mary, the mother of Jesus (1 Nephi 11:13-15). From verse 14 onward an angel has taken over the tutelage of Nephi. The angel then asked Nephi if he knew the meaning of the word condescension. Nephi didn’t know what it meant (verse 17), so the angel showed him future events in an effort to explain the word to him.
Technically speaking, Nephi’s answer to understanding the condescension of God comes starting in 1 Nephi 11:22. Everything from verse 24 through the end of chapter 14 is a demonstration of the many ways in which God demonstrates his condescension towards us.
In 1 Nephi 11:20-23 Nephi is shown Mary again, but this time with a child in her arms.
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the of God, yea, even the of the Eternal ! Knowest thou the meaning of the which thy father saw?
22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the of God, which itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the desirable above all things.
23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most to the soul.
There is nothing in those verses that tells us or shows us that the tree of life represents the love of God. This was something the Spirit opened to Nephi’s spiritual understanding so he comprehended that the birth of the Son of God into mortality was an act of love on the part of God, our Father. What the Spirit shows Nephi next demonstrated to Nephi that being willing to be born into mortality as the Son of God was also an act of love by Jesus the Christ.
In the next few verses the Spirit shows Nephi that the scriptures are given to mankind as an act of love on God’s part, because the iron rod in the dream, the scriptures, have been given to us to lead us to the tree of life, or to experience the love of God. In 1 Nephi 11:30-33 we see that because of Christ’s ministering to the people angels came and taught them. Nephi also witnessed the ministrations or mercies of God’s love to the people among whom he lived and served every day. Nephi then saw that some of those same people were among those who lifted Jesus up on the cross, and Jesus died for the sins of the world.
30 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the heavens open again, and I saw descending upon the children of men; and they did minister unto them.
31 And he spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were , and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with and ; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.
32 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was of the world; and I saw and bear record.
33 And I, Nephi, saw that he was upon the cross and for the sins of the world.
In chapter 12 Nephi sees the Lord’s dealings with his own people. Nephi saw their posterity become as numerous as the sands of the sea, their wars, rebellions, the prophets that went among them, and the visit of Christ to his people after he ascended into heaven at Jerusalem, and the complete destruction of his own people within four generations of Christ’s visit to them.
Do you still remember what it is we are aiming for here? We are looking for the meaning of the “condescension of God.” All of these experiences are helping to define and demonstrate God’s condescension to Nephi. Let’s continue.
In 1 Nephi 13 Nephi is shown the future of the promised land, the dwindling of his brethren in unbelief, the coming of the gentiles, the coming forth of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and the blessings God would pour out upon the heads of those who accepted that book and made covenants with Him. In 1 Nephi 13:21-23 the angel who was now speaking with Nephi showed him the meaning of the first book, the record of the Jews.
21 And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book?
22 And I said unto him: I know not.
23 And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The that thou beholdest is a of the , which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the , save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.
Again, Nephi is being shown that the purpose of scripture, no matter where it originates, is to lead the children of God to experience and taste for themselves the love of God. Do you get the impression that God is going to great lengths to demonstrate and make His love personal for each of us? All of the scriptures given to mankind took many thousands of years to write and compile. And remember that the Book of Mormon alone waited for almost 1,500 years in a hole in the earth while the Lord was preparing for the restoration of His gospel among His children in the final dispensation of time.
All the way through 1 Nephi 14 the angel demonstrates to Nephi the lengths God will go to to save His people and honor his covenants with them. The angel outlines for Nephi the wars, the formation of the Great and Abominable Church, and the progress of all mankind down to the coming of Christ to reign personally upon the earth.
Two key verses demonstrate the condescension or the love and mercies of God. They are 1 Nephi 13:37 and 1 Nephi 14:7. Both of these verses give us the purpose of the plan of salvation.
37 And are they who shall seek to bring forth my at that day, for they shall have the and the of the Holy Ghost; and if they unto the end they shall be at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting of the Lamb; and whoso shall peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.
7 For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a among the children of men; a which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto and , or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the of the devil, of which I have spoken.
Here is my original definition of condescension – just as a reminder.
Growing up I only knew one definition of condescension, and it wasn’t a flattering look on anyone. When someone acts condescending towards another we sometimes feel like they are “stooping” from their lofty position to help someone viewed as inferior to themself. Such acts of “kindness” can be seen as humiliating or almost shameful. Putting this definition of condescension into a gospel setting doesn’t put God into a very favorable light, for it makes Him look snooty, snobbish, conceited, or stuck up. I always felt there was something wrong with my view of the word condescension, for surely that couldn’t be part of the character of God. That was not the kind of love I wanted to aspire to.
Now let’s look at the condescension of God from another perspective. God our Father and Jesus are perfect. There is nothing lacking in their characters, their behaviors, nor their attitudes or abilities. We can’t say the same for any of us. Without someone to make a reconciliation between us and our Father in Heaven, we would be cut off from His presence forever. The whole purpose of having a Redeemer in the plan of salvation was to make that reconciliation so that at least some of the children of God could progress and become gods themselves. Our Father stated that His purpose for all that He does is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39). This was and is the reason for Christ coming to the earth in the way that he did.
Jesus was already perfect. But he was willing to be born in the most humble and dire circumstances, be raised among us mortals when none of us were his equal in any category you can think of. During his mortal life he submitted himself to every indignity and humiliation required of him to demonstrate our Father in Heaven’s love for us. Jesus did this all willingly, because of his love for his Father, and his love for each of us. This was the only way to save us from our own destruction. And Jesus was willing to pay any price to be able to offer us a chance at salvation and exaltation in the presence of God, our Father.
Did Jesus know he was better in every way than all those around him? Yes, he knew. Was Jesus aware that his personal capabilities and capacities were better than all of us combined? Yes, he did. This is the condescension of God, his willingness to lower himself from his already attained status as a God, to walk among those of us who can be dumber than a brick sometimes, and more stubborn than a two year old in the middle of a tantrum. He spent his life serving, ministering to, and eventually dying for each of our sins in order to open a way for each of us to repent of our sins. That definition of condescension doesn’t sound snooty or snobbish to me.
Every example of Christ being wounded, inconvenienced, or hurt for our benefit demonstrates the condescension of God, for he was willing to descend below even the lowest of us mortals and suffer the punishment for our sins in order that all who will might be exalted to godhood and live with God for eternity.
Other examples of God’s love
Unlike some, I have always had trouble comprehending the extent of God’s love for me. For example, how many of us look forward to the judgment bar of God (Christ) with joy and not just a little bit of trepidation or dread? For all the talk of Christ being the example of charitable love, at some point I am still going to have to face him and be held accountable for my sins. Yes, we are told he will be merciful and as kind as he can be, but no matter how much he would love to save each and every one of us, if we haven’t repented of our sins we will have to face punishment. That is the law, and there is no getting around that. I suppose I just need to face facts and repent.
There are two issues of God’s love I have contemplated of late. The first is how God loves us so perfectly and consistently when we have treated him so poorly. How could He not be offended or at least be tempted to turn His back on us and let us just suffer for our own determined obstinacy? Well, the other day I was on Facebook and saw a clip from a theatrical production of Romeo and Juliet. This was the window scene from Act II, scene ii.
But to be frank and give it thee again.
And yet I wish but for the thing I have.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
With a love like that of Juliet for Romeo, doesn’t it make sense that Christ could suffer at the hands of all those around him and still serve, minister to, and love each and every one of them? Jesus even washed the feet of Judas, knowing full well that Judas was about to betray him. This describes Christ’s willingness to descend below all things in order to raise us up and exalt us to be with him and God. For the first time in my life I was able to feel of his love for me to the extent that it caused me to weep.
The second issue I have thought of is our formal standoffish attitude about being reunited with God, our Father. As the great law giver we have, as He has directed, focused our attention on Christ. Christ is, after all, our one and only way back into God’s presence. But how many of us look forward with weeping and joy to be back in the arms of our Father once again? Can we even fathom that kind of reunion? As it turns out I have photographic evidence that we can. Please watch each of the two Youtube clips below. Note how each video makes you feel. Personally, I cannot watch them without choking up. (Each video will open in its own window.)
My reason for including these clips comes from my contemplating how I might feel seeing my Father in Heaven again. Do I really think I will have this kind of reaction upon seeing my Father again? Or will I dread being in His presence? The same thoughts go for seeing my Savior. What do you see happening in your own mind?
I now have a better understanding and grasp of the condescension of God, which includes Christ. I have a better grasp on the depth of their love for each of us, and how they are willing to suffer our indignities in order to provide us with a way out of our predicament if we are willing to repent. And I have seen the overwhelming joy pure love can express when we finally are reunited with someone we love. That kind of love is unbounded, and defies description in any of the known languages. These are just a few aspects of charity for you to consider and apply or look forward to. I hope this has helped you in your quest to better grasp the love of God.
Click the link below to
print a PDF copy of the article.