The worth of every soul is great in the eyes of God: Taking the doctrine seriously

I had the opportunity to talk in sacrament meeting this Sunday.  I wanted to share the script of my talk here!
What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. (Psalms 8:4-6)
So wrote the Psalmist.  Are we really worth it to God?  We all have felt at one time or another that we aren’t good enough, either temporally or spiritually.  Self-doubt nags mankind like no other in this age where your resume is judged by a computer, and your popularity is measured by the number of likes on a Facebook post.  In our spiritual endeavors, we feel like a juggler before God, trying to find time and energy for meetings, temple visits, home teaching assignments– all while getting our job done at work and spending time with family, because “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
By man’s standards, man is imperfect, a product of his environment, a thing to be acted upon and not to act.  But this is where revelation, both modern and ancient, testify that, despite his imperfections, man is worth it God, that God is in search of man, that his work and his glory is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.
I want to frame my talk around a scripture in modern revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 18, a revelation given to three of the early leaders of the Church, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, a revelation given with instructions to build up the Church.
Right after the Lord assures both Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer that they are called to the work even as Paul the apostle, he gives this doctrine:
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
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.
And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
This scriptures will be familiar to many as a scripture mastery.  Perhaps you will also recall the beautiful depiction in the Joseph Smith movie.  While imprisoned, Joseph Smith and some of the early Church leaders had to listen to the terrible language of their captors as they recounted their atrocities among the Mormons:
“Tell us, did you ever kill any Mormons?”
“Two, maybe three.  Course, the young’uns, they don’t count for much.”
“Yeah, but they’re good for target practice!”
Joseph Smith stands up and with power and authority demands: “SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!”
At the very end, and while taking perhaps a bit of artistic license, Joseph Smith pleads, “The worth of every soul is great in the eyes of God.”
This depiction shows how that when we demonize others, when we bully and hurt, we can forget that every soul is valued of God.
I would like to focus on two aspects of this passage with which I was impressed this week as I pondered upon it.  First, God acknowledges our worth first, and his joy in our repentance second.  And second, God emphasizes the value of a single soul, effectively asking us to minister to the one.

The inherent worth of man

The worth of each soul is great in the sight of God.  Can you put a value on a soul?  Some have tried– if you’re familiar with the story of Faust, who sold his soul to have any question he asked answered.  In Isaiah, the Lord speaks of his Second Coming as a day when “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.”
But I believe that we are of infinite worth.  That the reason the atonement of Christ is an infinite atonement not only in order to cover our sins, but because we are worth so much to God, because it had to be “sufficient to own, to redeem, and to sanctify.”
We as members of the Church sometimes struggle a little with this doctrine, that our righteous works somehow improve our individual worth, that we are striving for rank or prestige in this life or in the life to come.  And perhaps with a little justification, others outside of our faith accuse us of striving to earn our salvation.
But we should be reminded of the doctrine taught in two parables of Christ.  The first is the parable of the Prodigal’s Son.  The Prodigal sold his inheritance and left his father’s house to revel in riotous living.  But when he recognized the folly of his ways, he returned to his father ready to become his servant.  The father welcomed him with open arms and slew the fatted calf to celebrate the return of his son.  The son’s inherent worth in the eyes of his father didn’t decrease in any way when he left his father’s house.  Does our love for our children diminish when they stray from the gospel path?  It was that inherent worth that brought such great joy to the father when his son returned.
We would do well to remember this inherent worth of each of God’s children, whether they are a disobedient child, a beggar on the street, someone who has wronged us, someone we disagree with, or even ourselves.
I want to emphasize that God loves all of his children.  My wife and I recently attended a conference for members of the Church who experience same-sex attraction.  This beloved group of brothers and sisters have gone through so much trying to find where they fit in God’s plan.  The theme of this year’s conference was “The worth of souls” to remind them that they are of worth in the sight of God.
“So how do you measure the worth of a man
in wealth or strength or size
in how much he gained or how much he gave,
the answer will come to him who tries
to look at his life through heaven’s eyes.”
The second parable has to do with those our fellow laborers in the parable of the labourors in the vineyard.  I am going to quote Elder Holland’s account of the story:
I wish to speak of the Savior’s parable in which a householder “went out early in the morning to hire labourers.” After employing the first group at 6:00 in the morning, he returned at 9:00 a.m., at 12:00 noon, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, hiring more workers as the urgency of the harvest increased. The scripture says he came back a final time, “about the eleventh hour” (approximately 5:00 p.m.), and hired a concluding number. Then just an hour later, all the workers gathered to receive their day’s wage. Surprisingly, all received the same wage in spite of the different hours of labor. Immediately, those hired first were angry, saying, “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”1 When reading this parable, perhaps you, as well as those workers, have felt there was an injustice being done here. Let me speak briefly to that concern.
First of all it is important to note that no one has been treated unfairly here. The first workers agreed to the full wage of the day, and they received it. Furthermore, they were, I can only imagine, very grateful to get the work…
Indeed, if there is any sympathy to be generated, it should at least initially be for the men not chosen who also had mouths to feed and backs to clothe. Luck never seemed to be with some of them. With each visit of the steward throughout the day, they always saw someone else chosen.
But just at day’s close, the householder returns a surprising fifth time with a remarkable eleventh-hour offer! These last and most discouraged of laborers, hearing only that they will be treated fairly, accept work without even knowing the wage, knowing that anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days.
In the economy of heaven, the salvation of another soul in no way devalues our own.  There is no saved and super-saved in the kingdom of heaven.  When we prepare ourselves to partake of the sacrament and sincerely repent, all of us are covered by Christ’s Atonement.

Ministering to the One

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
I love this verse of scripture!  The imagery is beautiful.  You can see yourself in an embrace.  I think heaven will include a lot of hugs.  I really like this verse, because it shows the value of individuals in God’s plan, and that salvation is on an individual basis.  Christ suffered for your sins individually.  He knows you.
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people;
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that be may know according tot he flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
 Unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of this gospel principles of ministering to the one even in the Church.  As missionaries, we strive to achieve our 20 lessons a week.  We have to remind ourselves that we teach people, not lessons.  As home teachers, we set goals to achieve 100% home teaching, and we can lose the greater goal of ministering to our brothers and sisters.
This is an inherent tension in a gospel of missionary work.  Christ simultaneously charged his disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  But at the same time, as the Good Shepherd, he invests all his time going after a single lost sheep.
This seeming paradox is the essence of the gospel, and is another aspect of showing how we try to emulate Christ’s infinite Atonement.  We minister as Christ did: one by one, knowing our charge is to preach the gospel until it has penetrated every continent and sounded in every ear, while never losing sight of the individual right in front of us.  Christ compared the gospel to a net, promising us that we will fish until our nets break.  But at the same time, he compares us to a single sheep in need of saving.

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