Today I read part of King Benjamin's sermon again. It never ceases to amaze me how beautifully such an old man manages to sum up the gospel in such a short message. It must have been even more stunning to have been there in person.
After warning his people against giving heed to the natural man, he speaks of the Judgment Day, reminding them that:
"They shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil. And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls. Therefore they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God" (Mosiah 3:24-26).
At first glance, it, and the verses that accompany it, seem to give a rather frightening account of the judgment of the wicked. But, upon further examination, they give us some insight as to the nature of judgment, Satan's temptations, and the purpose of the Atonement. Here's what I learned from Benjamin:
First, that we withdraw ourselves from God. Benjamin doesn't say that the Lord banishes us--he notes that we see our own abominations, and, condemned by our own memories, we shrink away from the Lord in guilt and shame. That's how it works on the earth, too--the Lord doesn't abandon us, we abandon Him. Isaiah, employing divine investiture a bit sarcastically (I think he and I would have gotten along), asks , "Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?" In other words, "you're complaining that I've abandoned you. Why would I do such a thing?" He then answers, "Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away" (Isaiah 50:1, emphasis added). God isn't vengeful. He doesn't want to punish us--He isn't waiting for us to fail so he can yell, "gotcha!" When we sin, we "withdraw [our]selves from the Spirit of the Lord," (Mosiah 2:36) and the separation we feel from God is the natural consequence of our actions, not the outside imposition of a petulant child who insists he'll leave unless he gets his way. In the end, if we are damned, it will be because we damn ourselves, because we cannot stand to be in the presence of a being so wholly good as God with a perfect knowledge of our sins.
This brings me to the second thing I learned--the importance of proper perspective. Benjamin says that those who have been evil "are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations." Think of it--you're on a cruise ship for the rest of eternity, and your stateroom has a lovely view of the sewer exit pipe. All you can see from your porthole is your own waste fouling up the expanse of bright blue ocean. You close the blinds, but the smell is still there. And you lock yourself up in there, thinking that because your accommodations are so crummy, you're unworthy of associating with the other passengers on the boat. It never occurs to you to ask to have your room changed--you're too proud to admit that anything is wrong, and pretty soon you start insisting that you like it, that the smell in your stateroom is "refreshing" and "invigorating," and that you're having a lot of fun on this cruise. But despite your continued insistence, you're miserable, and you know it.
It seems to me that the only reason the wicked are stuck looking at their own guilt and abominations for the rest of eternity--a view which would indeed be more awful than the cruise ship sewer pipe--is because they refuse to repent, to ask the Captain for a change in accommodations. When we repent and turn over our transgressions to the Savior, His Atonement covers them, and we get a new chance at life--a new view of the world, as it were. We made some of the waste coming out of the sewer pipe, but our view of it changes as soon as we decide that isn't what we want for our life, and swallow our pride and ask the Lord to forgive us, to change our room to one closer to His. Until we do, we'll be stuck looking at our sins--and that's enough to make even the most righteous person among us perfectly miserable.
Or maybe what makes the torment so awful is the lens we're using to look at our sins. When we don't repent, we allow Satan to come in with a magnifying glass and a floodlight, pointing out scratches on the poorly engineered home-made telescope we're using to look at the stars. When we repent, we kick him out, acknowledge that we're imperfect, and strive to emulate the Creator of worlds without number. We're in the same place, but we're focusing on something different-- acknowledging our dependence on the Lord instead of beating ourselves up about our weaknesses. Looking at my weaknesses for eternity is a depressing thought, but contemplating the grandeur of God's creations is an exciting prospect. Even more exciting is the knowledge that when I have done all I can by repenting of my mistakes and striving to emulate the Savior, He will enable me to become like Him.
With that knowledge, why would I listen to Satan, who tries to tell me, "You'll never amount to anything--just look at what you've done! You're not good enough! Don't even bother." ? If I abandon hope of having my heart changed, of applying the Atonement in my life and being conformed to the image of Christ, then I am consigned to an awful view of everything I've done wrong, which King Benjamin says is the real torment of Hell.
With the perspective I have, I can see my sins as darkness that the Lord, in His infinite mercy, has put behind me, and I can walk away from my sins and toward the Lord, and so walk in His glorious light. When the devil tries to get me to turn around, away from the light, and fixate on my weaknesses, when he tells me that I'm worthless because of my mistakes, I can calmly reply, "And that, Satan, is why you are called a 'liar from the beginning.'" Or maybe, "Go to Hell, Satan--I'm headed in the other direction."