The Lord told the prophet Moroni , "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them" (Ether 12:27).
When most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints read this verse they usually understand it to mean that all men have weaknesses of one sort or another but most of the time they are too arrogant to admit having them. However, if they humble themselves God will reveal where they are weak and then help them to become strong in those areas. For example, a person whose weakness is his temper, God will help them to overcome that tendency to where they become known for their patience and calmness in all situations.
Yet, what is often glossed over is the statement when God says, "I give unto men weaknesses." It's one thing for us to be weak because of our own personal shortcomings but it's an entirely different situation to say that at least some of our weaknesses were deliberately given to us by God.
It might be argued that the complete sentence states that God gives men weaknesses so "that they may be humble." In other words, if we didn't have any weaknesses we would become puffed up in pride, which is a sin in itself. Therefore, to help us be humble, God gives us weaknesses. But that can't be the correct interpretation for three reasons.
The first is that we already have more than enough weaknesses to overcome that we don't need more to make us humble. The second is that just because we have weaknesses doesn't mean we are automatically humble. What the Lord told Moroni is that we first have to become humble and admit our weaknesses before God will then turn our weaknesses into strengths. The third is that we are born with multiple weaknesses of the flesh that is inherent in our makeup, of which pride is just one of them along with greed, jealousy, anger, selfishness, and many other faults. It doesn't make sense that God would give us weaknesses just to keep us from falling into one of many sins.
So we're back to our original question which is, Why does God give us weaknesses? The short answer is that they are necessary for our spiritual growth.
Without weaknesses our spiritual growth is much slower than it would be otherwise. When we lived in heaven before coming to earth we had no character weaknesses because we lived in a sinless environment where it was not possible to sin. Notice that when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit God declared, "Behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil" (Genesis 3:22). This clearly implies that before eating that particular fruit they didn't know what evil was and without knowing evil we cannot sin. And if there is no desire in us to sin then it is not possible for us to be weak because the spiritual definition of weakness is the lack of strength to overcome the temptation to sin.
But if that is true, then coming here to earth had to provide us with an opportunity to experience evil, otherwise we would find ourselves in an environment nearly identical to what which we had in heaven. Therefore, it was necessary to be put into an environment outside of heaven where we could not only see what evil was but actually confront it, be fully exposed to it and perhaps even succumb to it. This is why there needed to be a Savior chosen before we came here to earth because it would be His sacrifice that would wash away whatever sins we might commit. In this way, we could come to earth with the full assurance that there was a way provided for us to know evil and still be able to return to that sinless world we came from.
To spiritually grow more rapidly requires facing greater challenges. In our pre-earthly life we didn't face many challenges so our spiritual growth was relatively slow. To know evil doesn't present much of a challenge unless there is something that entices or lures us to participate in it. The strength comes from resisting that temptation. If there is no effort to resisting sin then our spiritual growth is stunted. Therefore, God had to devise a way for us to be challenged and the way he chose was to give us weaknesses.
If Adam and Eve didn't know the difference between good and evil before they partook of the forbidden fruit it is obvious they were created innocent. Therefore, when the serpent enticed Eve to eat of the fruit, her first reaction was to decline the offer. It wasn't until he lied to her that, in her innocence, she started having second thoughts about doing what God had told her.
From the biblical account it seems that when she offered the fruit to Adam he took it without having any second thoughts. Since this story as recorded in the Bible is so short it's quite possible that we don't have the full details of what happened but we have enough to know that Adam and Eve were sufficiently naive that they were easily deceived into doing what Satan asked. Unless we count ignorance as a weakness, Satan tempting Eve hardly took any effort on her part to resist his offer.
But, once their eyes were open and could recognize evil then they had to opportunity to either accept what God or Satan said or reject their words. To put this in perspective, suppose a parent tells a child not to touch a hot stove because they'll get burned. Because of the child's faith in the parents they automatically accept what they're told even though they don't understand what being "burned" means. But suppose an older brother or sister comes along and tells them to touch the stove, saying that they won't get burned. With no experience to go by, the young child, in their innocence, doesn't know who to believe and if their older brother encourages them to touch the stove, they are more likely to do what he says.
However, once they've touched the hot stove and gained an understanding for themselves of what "burned" means, they now have a real choice of whether to touch it again or not. And the same was true of Adam and Eve. God told them they would die if they ate a particular fruit. Satan said they wouldn't and encouraged them to eat it. But once they did eat it, they knew that Satan was a liar and that God had told the truth. Although Satan might continue to tempt them to disobey God, Adam and Eve now knew for themselves who Satan was and would more likely not listen to him the next time he tried to get them to follow his words.
However, something more happened to Adam and Eve than just having their eyes open. According to what most Christians believe, something called "original sin" came into existence whereby a biological change took place that caused their offspring to have the desire to sin. As each child is born, from Adam down to our present time, they come into the world with a natural tendency to sin. In fact, they now have to be taught and disciplined to do what is right and, even then, there is a strong pull for them to do that which is not right in the sight of God. This is why Nephi lamented, "I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me" (2 Nephi 4:18).
The word "sin" has often been described as opposition to God, thus, sin is deliberately doing things the opposite of how God wants us to behave. Satan, therefore, seeks to constantly entice us to sin. To counteract his influence, God gives us commandments that tell us how we should live but, because of our biological weakness, Satan has the advantage because we are naturally inclined to listen to him rather than to God.
This is the weakness that God spoke about to Moroni but instead of there being one kind of weakness there are actually four different types. The first is that which we are born with and is common to everyone. At the time of our birth our physical bodies are made spiritually weak because they are programmed to be self-centered. A new baby is programmed to instinctively think only about its own survival and therefore seeks to satisfy its own desires. And it's because of this tendency that leads people to do things that God considers sinful.
The second kind of weakness is what we bring with us from heaven as part of our individual personality but which becomes evident only when we are tested by the temptations of a sinful world. It's like finding the weakness in a metal by putting it under stress. And it is because of the natural weakness of our physical body that we soon come to learn what kind of personal spiritual weaknesses we have.
The third kind of weakness is what we develop here on earth by our own bad habits and bad choices. The more we turn from God's because of our own rebelliousness, the less resistance we have to doing what's right and after awhile, we no longer need to be tempted to do wrong because we willing do it out of habit. It's as though our behavior pattern is set on auto pilot to sin.
But, in addition to these three, there is a fourth weakness which is what the Lord gives each of us individually that is specific to us. This particular weakness is like receiving an added handicap that makes it a little harder for each person to do what is right. However, this weakness is tailored to fit the spiritual needs of the individual it is given to. It makes them have to struggle a little harder in certain areas than they otherwise would have to.
But all of this was by design. We were deliberately made to be weak because it is in the struggling that we grow strong. This is what God meant when He told Moroni, "if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." Since sin is opposition to God, then when we humble ourselves and turn to God, He uses our weakness as a tool to help make us strong.
When viewed in this light, having weaknesses can be thought of as being a good thing but it can also be a bad thing as well depending on how we use them because being weak, in itself, is not sinning. It's what we do with our weaknesses that makes the difference.
Like gravity, our weaknesses are designed to attract us to sinful behavior and because of this Satan takes advantage of this pull to entice us to sin. And the more we give into his enticements the weaker we become at resisting his power. On the other hand, the more we resist the desire to sin, the stronger we become spiritually, but, no matter how strong we might become, the pull of sin never goes away. It just gets easier to fight against.
This is no different than someone lifting weights. Even if the weight is only ten pounds, gravity is always pulling it downward but the stronger the person is, the easier it is for them to lift it against the pull of gravity. But if a weight lifter wants to increase their strength then they must increase the weight they're lifting, but no matter how strong they become, gravity is always, constantly, pulling against their efforts.
In the same way we can use our weaknesses to help grow us spiritually stronger if we resist the pull of sin otherwise we grow weaker. God has promised that if we will humble ourselves and have faith in Him, he will help us use our weaknesses to become stronger but if we don't turn to Him, then Satan will do all he can to help us become weaker and weaker until we have no more desire to fight against the pull of sin.
With this understanding we are now able to answer a couple of question that many people have wondered about.
At our baptism we make a covenant to keep all the commandments God has given us and that when we don't do what we should that we will repent of those sins. The Lord has explained, "By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins-behold, he will confess them and forsake them" (D&C 58:43). If that is true then many faithful LDS people have wonder how they can say they've truly repented when they keep committing the same sins over and over again? And if they haven't properly repented then they fear that they are not worthy enough to enter the celestial kingdom. Another similar question that has troubled people is whether God is displeased with them for repeatedly repenting for the same sin?
The answer to these questions is that we have been given a physical body that is designed to sin and we will keep sinning in one form or another until our bodies die. If repenting was simply a matter of never committing a particular sin again, we would all be perfect in a short period of time as we worked on overcoming one sin after another. Some people sin more than other but everyone sins because that is the nature we've been given at birth.
What God is seeking to do is help strengthen us as much as possible by the use of our weaknesses, and how much effort we put into doing that determines how quick and how strong we become. It's no different than lifting weights. In the beginning we start out with ten pound weights because our muscles are so weak that we don't have the strength to lift much more than that, but as our strength increases the more weight we can lift.
In the same way, when our spiritual muscles are weak we have trouble resisting the pull of sin and can only withstand the easiest temptations, but as we become stronger we find ourselves resisting harder temptations. Yet, it is rare for someone to reach a point where they are never tempted to ever sin. The only difference between the strong and the weak is the degree of sins they commit.
For example, taking a paper clip home from work without permission is stealing but so is embezzling a million dollars but these two crimes differ widely in their severity. Furthermore, there is a difference between deliberately taking a paper clip home from the office and failing to return a paper clip that was inadvertently brought home in a group of papers.
In the same way, all sins differ in their value. Telling a white lie, gossiping, and lying under oath about a robbery are all sins but they are not equal in significance. While a weak person may have trouble keeping the word of wisdom, a strong person may have trouble being a 100% home teacher every single month. A weak person may have trouble saying their prayers on a regular basis while a strong person may have trouble with never ever being unpleasant regardless of their circumstances. Although the strong still sins, the degree to which they do is not the same as those who are weak.
What our Father is heaven is most concerned about is whether or not we're trying to become stronger and He also knows that we have a tendency to try harder sometimes than we do at other times. That's just part of our human weakness. And there are times when we may not be able to overcome a particular sin no matter how hard we try.
The apostle Paul is an example of this. He wrote, "there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." First of all, notice that he said that this "thorn in the flesh," as he calls it, was given to him. He wanted so much to overcome this particular problem but, unable to do so, he three times asked God for help. Finally, the Lord answered him saying, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
In effect, what the Lord told Paul was that he wasn't supposed to overcome this problem and would have to live with it for the rest of his life. But the reason why is because without it he wouldn't be as humble as he should. Furthermore, the Lord told him that it was all right because the only thing he needed was God's grace (i.e., the atonement) which would be sufficient to take care of the penalty of this sin. In this way, God's strength would perfect Paul precisely because of his weakness.
Does that then mean we shouldn't worry about repenting or giving into sin?
In speaking to the Romans Paul explained, "the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). Then he said, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!" (Romans 6:1-2).
When we break God's law it is the atonement which washes away our sins and the greater the sin the greater effect the grace or atonement of Christ has on us. If that is true, then should we sin more so that we can have more grace shown to us? Paul's answer is, "God forbid!" In the same way, when we are weak and sin more frequently, as long as we are striving to become stronger by keeping God's commandments, then His grace is sufficient to make up for our weakness, and the same is true of the strong. But when we don't repent or, in other words, when we're not even trying to resist sin, then the grace of God has no effect on us.
That's why God said, "For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him" (D&C 18:11). "And surely every man must repent or suffer" ( D&C 19:4). "he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received" (D&C 1-32-33). We could rephrase this last verse as saying, "And he that repents not shall not be forgiven and from him shall be taken his place in the celestial kingdom."
Those members of Christ's Church who are not trying to overcome the pull of sin are those who are not valiant in the gospel and, as a consequence, they will not obtain a crown over the kingdom of God but will inherit the terrestrial kingdom (D&C 76:78-79). Being valiant in the gospel means faithfully enduring to the end or, in other words, never giving up trying to live the commandments of God despite how often we succumb to the pull of sin. This is why Nephi wrote "that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh" (2 Nephi 10:24).
It's in the struggle against sin that we become stronger but if there is no struggle then there is no spiritual growth. This is why God gives us weaknesses.
Return to main menu