"I Understand!"

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Walking on Water" from the book Walking on Water and Other Classic Messages.)

When others are going through trials or facing difficult problems, there are two ways that we express that we understand each other. The most natural thing in the world for us to say in such situations is “I understand.” Sometimes when we say “I understand,” our understanding is viewed through the lens of empathy. We have not been through others’ specific problems, but we think we know what it would feel like. We project our own souls onto the life experience of another. We try to put ourselves in our friend’s shoes and say to him or her, “I understand!” The Spirit helps us immeasurably in this endeavor. In a certain sense, the Holy Ghost is the great empathizer and he can share his perspective with us. Occasionally those we are trying to empathize with might look at us and say, “Do you really? Do you really understand? How can you? You have not been through what I’m going through.” That is the first type of understanding, one created by our empathy and enhanced by the Holy Spirit.

The other type of “I understand” comes directly from our own personal experiences. They too may be enhanced by the Spirit, but there is a depth of reality to our feelings. When we say “I understand” to someone, we are saying, “I understand your situation, challenges, grief, or trial because I have been through the same kind of experience myself.”

Of the two varieties of “I understand,” which does Jesus want to say to us? In which does his goodness consist? His goodness came from his premortal character, certainly, but that was refined and a dimension added to it when he took upon him flesh and shared mortality (and all that that word implies) with us. During his mortal life his goodness was deeply personalized because he wanted to say to us all, no matter our sorrows, “I understand,” in the second way. Alma testified to this truth when he wrote of Christ’s mortal experiences. Notice in the following verses the specific kinds of occurrences the Savior wanted to know by enduring them in his own life. “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, . . . and he will take upon him their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added). Notice the critical key words in this passage: pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, death, infirmities.

Without doubt, the Savior also knew joy and happiness and peace and love and laughter. He had to be the happiest man who was ever born because, according to Lehi, righteousness is happiness (see 2 Nephi 2:13), and no one was more righteous than our Savior. But he wanted to understand the more negative painful moments of life, and Alma tells us why. He did this all “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh” (Alma 7:12–13). Alma explains that Jesus could have comprehended, through the Spirit, all of life’s experiences—he had a depth of spiritual empathy we cannot fathom—but there was an added dimension to his goodness which came because he himself had been through mortality at its most demanding levels.

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