I wrote this as a contribution to the Mormon Stories Sunday School blog, so it could be included in the Mormon Stories Sunday School podcast.
During a difficult part of my life, while dealing with addictive and compulsive behaviors, I discovered Ether 12:27, and found it a great help in changing my life. I had read it many times, quoted it not a few, and liked it prior to that point, but I didn’t discover its meaning until I was in that place.
Before, it was a nice, kinda gauzey scripture about how God will make weak things strong, with the emphasis on the strength. But, when I looked at it more closely, I noticed there was much more to it than that.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.”
This seems counterintuitive. If we come to God, we won’t get a pat on the back, we will be shown our weakness. That doesn’t sound very pleasant.
“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble;”
This does not say that God gives us specific weaknesses — it says he gives us the state of being weak. I think this is the most misread part of the verse — I know I read it the other way for a long time.
He gives us this state of being weak to give us the opportunity to be humble. This implies that, without being inherently weak, we would not be able to be humble — very compatible with King Benjamin’s formulation that “the natural man is an enemy to God.” Out of the box, left to ourselves, we aren’t friends to God, but, because of this gift of weakness, we have a chance to be humble and rebuild our relationship with God.
“and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;”
And if we humble ourselves before God, then, and only then, is his grace sufficient for us. God’s grace truly is amazing, but we have to prepare ourselves to receive it through this process of humbling ourselves before him if we are to receive it.
“for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them”
If we add faith in God (the first principle of the Gospel) to this humbleness before God, then he will make “weak things” become strong unto us. That’s the first time in the verse we have plural weak things, rather than the state of being weak. Might this mean that our individual weaknesses (in the sense of Dorcas Lane’s “one weakness”)? Or are other people in our lives “weak things?” I don’t know, but I think this part, for all that it’s the part people seem to notice in the verse, is the least important part of the formulation. We don’t need to understand in detail exactly what will be made strong, because the payload is more to be found in the previous clause.
If we humble ourselves before God, his grace is sufficient for us, and we also need to have faith in him. Humility is understanding our own lowness, and his greatness. Faith in him is trusting that he is there, that he loves us, that he wishes to help us and heal us, and that he will do so if we will allow him to. This became my plan for recovery, and, over a period of years, it helped me through quite a bit of healing and growth.