Fear. The very word instills it. We all have felt it—sometimes succumb to it. Do you harbor it now?
Fear is an ancient emotion—“quick...hide!” It whispers to us from the darkness, and sometimes shows up at our doorstep.
In ancient times, the king of Syria sent an army to encompass the home of a man and his servant. They “came by night and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, [he] said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:14-15). Fear had surrounded him and dug in.
But, the master, the prophet Elisha, had dealt with overwhelming fear before. He answered his servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). And then Elisha let his servant in on his secret. “Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). Elisha had spent a lifetime cultivating a relationship with the Lord, and the Lord was with him.
When the mantle of the prophet fell upon Elisha, he made a curious request of whose robes he filled. At the time that he was translated, the prophet “Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (2 Kings 2:9). Alright, let’s take a second to understand this. Elijah—that is sealing keys Elijah—is about to be translated, and his successor, Elisha, who has watched him and his interactions with the spirit for some time, is here asking for double the portion of the spirit that Elijah enjoyed. You can understand when Elijah replies, “Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless...it shall be so unto thee” (2 Kings 2:10). Elisha wanted it, he worked for it, and he acquired it. The spirit of the Lord was with him, the spirit that steeled him against his fears.
Now, what of the master? Do you think that Jesus ever feared? From the Atonement, we know that because we fear, he must have felt fear, at least our fears. He may have feared our fears when he petitioned our Father not to partake of that bitter cup, but with that petition he solicited our Father’s will, and we know our Father responded (Matthew 26:39). Beyond just a comforting assurance to continue, that all would be well, angels appeared, “strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). If angels filled the hills to capacity for Elisha, how many do you think were present for our Savior’s penultimate battle in Gethsemane? I’m personally inclined to think no-one was held in reserve behind the veil, that we were all there, that we all witnessed it, and we all did whatever we could to assist.
And so, if the Savior feared anything, I do not think it was Gethsemane. Jesus had unwavering confidence in his Father’s will. When asking to forgo that bitter cup, what I think Jesus feared most was the impending loss of communication with his Father. Like the astronauts who travelled around the dark side of the moon, for a time on the cross, Jesus lost the signal from home. To complete the Atonement, though undeserving, Jesus had to experience the withdrawal of the Spirit, and to the greatest extent any of us would. He had to be left to “[tread] the winepress alone” (Isaiah 63:3). Though prepared, when it finally happened, he yet cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Christ’s greatest fear was the withdrawal of the spirit; so likewise, in our lives, should rest our greatest fear.
It is instructive to learn that it is no sin to fear. Any parent in this room can testify that a parent harbors fears for their children. When we refer to the “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” it will be dreadful for some of God’s children, but our Father also dreads the day that his children will return to Him but not abide his presence (Malachi 4:5). You see, it is no sin to dread or to fear. Fear inhibits, yes, but a sin is only committed when fear prohibits righteous action.
There is a mortal tension between Satan’s freezing fear and the Lord’s activating assurance. Righteous action is enabled when the former is exceeded by the latter. Indeed, we read that at the extreme, “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Now, let’s think about that truth for a moment. One might wonder, if our Father already has infinite love for each of us, then why do we still fear? I submit that unrequited love is not perfect love. It’s up to us to love him back. Our Father is not some oppressive stalker. He will not force a relationship upon us, but neither has he hid his feelings, his literally undying love for each of us, declared and felt everywhere by those who have ears to hear and hearts to feel.
Jesus loved his Father back and would not withdraw from that relationship. Because Jesus would not withdraw, something unnatural occured on that cross. To fulfill the atonement, the Spirit had to withdraw from Him. This particular withdrawal was unnatural because this was the only case where the Father withdrew from His child. In all other cases, his children withdraw from Him. We need to be careful to remember this truth. Never attempt to fault God for abandoning you. That would be a gross misunderstanding and significant impediment to redrawing near to Him. Our Father only abandoned one, and only because that one wouldn’t do it himself.
We can infer from the seer of fiery chariots, Elisha, that our relationship with the Spirit is not binary, but that we feel its influence by degrees. What one can increase by portions, one can also lose by portions, but never completely, save those sons of perdition.
Many of you, like me, have or will experience a gradual and significant withdrawal from the spirit due to your own choices. Despite your withdrawal, the spirit will continue to whisper what you need to change. However, you may arrive at a point where you do not feel much else. From the darkness, in the night, your fears encompass you about, and they dig in. When you finally awake to your situation, you cry out, “Alas, my master. How shall we do?” Fear has taken hold, and there appears no way out. Defeat seems inevitable, repentance impossible. “How shall we do?” There is too much at stake. All could be lost. “How shall we do?” The sacrifice—too great. “How shall we do?”
You shall do the same as those that have gone before you. You will recognize your master, your Savior, and approach him by degrees. You will recognize your helplessness without him. You will study, pray, and begin to hope that you will overcome with Him. You will begin to trust Him and respond to his Spirit. As you redraw near, that “that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” when it finally overcomes the darkness, the fear (D&C 50:24). It is then, that you are prepared, and you place your everything, your Isaac, upon the altar (Genesis 22). You confess, come what may, and you discover the truth your master taught for so long, “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55). Like Elisha, the Lord is with you and prepared your escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I testify that Jesus is our Savior, and can be trusted to redeem us. I testify that you can increase your portion of the spirit, and that the spirit can overcome your fears. The only thing you have to fear is your own withdrawal from the spirit.
I offer these things in the name of my Master, Jesus Christ, Amen.