"Lord, Is It I?"

Toward the end of His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ gathered with His chosen apostles to participate in the Passover Feast. During this meal, which would come to be known as the Last Supper, Christ declared, “Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” Matthew records the disciples' response to this statement: ”And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, ‘Lord, is it I?’”

From time to time, I have found myself asking this same question in response to prophetic calls admonitions: “Lord, is it I?” This has been particularly true of the calls to beware of pride–something that has happened in General Conference at least 27 times over the last 39 years of my life.

President Ezra Taft Benson warned of the danger of pride nearly 33 years ago when he taught:

Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. (See Mosiah 3:11; 3 Ne. 6:18.) In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby. (See 2 Ne. 4:15; Mosiah 1:3–7; Alma 5:61.)

Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us
(Beware of Pride, April 1989).

Consider three examples of pride recorded in the Old Testament.

In Genesis 4, we read the story of Cain and Abel. Many know the story: The Lord commanded Adam, Eve, and their children to offer up the firstlings of their flocks as a sacrifice in similitude of the Father offering up His Firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for the sins of the world. One of Adam and Eve’s children, Abel, was a shepherd. He had no problem following this commandment because he had an abundance of flocks and firstlings. But Cain, “a tiller of the ground,” had no flocks from which to take a firstling, and so he, upon the advice of Satan, offered up the first fruits of the field. The Lord chastised Cain for his lack of faith and invited him to repent and to turn back to the path of righteousness. Instead of repenting, Cain allowed his enmity toward his brother to fester to the point that he took his brother’s life. When asked where his brother was, Cain responded, “I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In pondering this account, I realised two things: Cain did not have the means to offer an appropriate offering to the Lord, but the commandment was in full force. Second, he could have asked his brother, Abel, for help. In referencing this account, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once declared, “although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and ‘because I have been given much, I too must give’” (Are We Not All Beggars?, October 2014). Surely Abel, a righteous son of God, would have given if Cain had just asked.

Cain also could have asked the Lord for advice on what to do. He could have said, “Lord, thou hast commanded that I offer up the firstlings of my flocks, but I have no flocks. What wouldst thou have me do?” Why didn’t he? Pride. Those who allow pride to grow in their hearts are unwilling to ask for help from others.

Lord, is it I?

Later in Genesis, we come across the story of the destruction of two early cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. It can be tempting to read this account as evidence that sexual sin is so grievous that the Lord would utterly destroy a people rather than let them continue in their sinful ways. But the prophet Ezekiel explained the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was more than just sexual sin, although that was part of it:

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me… (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

Brother James Fullmer, the seminary and institute director for our region, has taught that “when we point the finger at a sin ‘others’ have, we are missing an opportunity to learn to self-reflect. If Sodom’s primary sin was pride (the universal sin) then there is a great opportunity to [consider] all of the various ways that pride can manifest in our lives” (email communication, 11 February 2022). It is also worth noting that Ezekiel’s prophetic declaration included a warning that the children of Israel were more corrupt than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah because, unlike them, the Israelites had broken sacred covenants made with the Lord.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught this about the sin of pridefully pointing our fingers at others in judgement:

I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you” (The Merciful Obtain Mercy, April 2012).

Lord, is it I?

The last example I would like to share comes from the Second Book of the Kings. Naaman, a captain of the Syrian army, was stricken with leprosy. Upon the advice of a faithful handmaid who served his wife, he sent a letter to the king of Israel, asking for a blessing of healing from the prophet Elisha. While the king of Israel was worried that this was a ruse to cause war between Israel and Syria, Elisha agreed to perform this miracle. Naaman went to Elisha's home and was met at the door by a servant who told Naaman what the prophet wanted him to do: Wash seven times in the River Jordan. Naaman was insulted. He was a man of great importance and the prophet did not even come personally. And the River Jordan? It was small and dirty! Why couldn’t he wash in the mighty rivers of Damascus instead?

Naaman was about to storm off when his servants said to him, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” Naaman repented of his pride, washed seven times in the Jordan, and was cured of his leprosy (2 Kings 5).

How often do we, like Naaman, declare our desire to do great things in the name of the Lord, but resist doing the simple things, such as ministering to a brother or sister, accepting an invitation to speak in Sacrament meeting, or doing something that has been urged by the First Presidency rather than given as a commandment?

Lord, is it I?

Truly, pride is one of the greatest sins. It destroys our relationships with others, our relationships with God, and our relationships with ourselves. So how can we overcome pride? What can we do to avoid the pitfalls and traps of pride?

When we face the temptation to be prideful, we can remember our sacred covenants and the teachings of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Unlike Cain, we can ask for help. Unlike the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we can show kindness to others, especially those who are strangers. Like Naaman, we can follow the words of the prophets, even when they ask us to do something simple–especially if that simple thing is not something we want to do.

Let us return to President Uchtdorf’s talk from ten years ago:

Do you harbour a grudge against someone else?
Do you gossip, even when what you say may be true?
Do you exclude, push away, or punish others because of something they have done?
Do you secretly envy another?
Do you wish to cause harm to someone?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to apply [this] two-word sermon: stop it!

In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Brothers and sisters, let us put down our stones.
Let us be kind.
Let us forgive.
Let us talk peacefully with each other.
Let the love of God fill our hearts.
Let us do good unto all men.

Elder Dale G. Renlund has recently suggested that we not only put down our stones but, when possible, place ourselves between those who would cast stones and those at whom they would cast them and become stone catchers (Infuriating Unfairness, April 2021).

By doing these things, we can once again ask, “Lord, is it I?” but this time we will do so with joy, not sorrow.


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