Ascension, Descension, and Comprehension

In the sixty-eighth psalm, King David offers the following words of praise to God:

Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.

Psalm 68:18-19

Verse 19 is somewhat ambiguous in the original Hebrew. It speaks of a burden—amas (עָמַס)—without specifying what that burden represents. The King James translators chose to think of it as a happy burden, associated with the many gifts (benefits) identified in the prior verse. Other translations speak of God bearing our burdens or even carrying us in His arms. (See Psalm 68:19 on biblehub.com.)

So we praise God both for His ascendancy—His power over all things—and for His condescension—His kindness and generosity toward us.

The apostle Paul highlighted the irony of this passage in his letter to the Ephesians:

Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Ephesians 4:7-10

When the angel asked Nephi if he understood the condescension of God, Nephi responded, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:16-17). To help Nephi understand, the angel showed him the birth, the mortal ministry, and the crucifixion of the Savior.

The prophet Alma later explained that the Savior suffered pain, temptations, afflictions, and death in order to be filled with mercy, so that He would know “how to succor [us] according to [our] infirmities (Alma 7:11-12).

In December, 1832, Joseph Smith received a remarkable revelation, instructing him to establish a school. In the revelation, the Savior identified Himself by paraphrasing the passage from Ephesians quoted above:

He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-7

To comprehend something can mean to understand it. It can also mean to encompass it, to incorporate it. Somehow, ascending above all things (by being glorified) and descending below all things (by submitting to the limitations of mortality) allowed the Savior to master all things: to understand them and to fill them with His light. His suffering and death makes Him both powerful and empathetic. He has the ability to save us, and He knows by experience what we need to be saved from.

Elder Ulisses Soares testified that the Savior understands everything we suffer:

In addition to providing the majestic gift of salvation, the Savior offers us relief and comfort as we face our afflictions, temptations, and weaknesses of mortal life, including the circumstances we have experienced recently in the current pandemic. I can assure you that Christ is ever aware of the adversities we experience in mortality. He understands all of the bitterness, agony, and physical pain as well as the emotional and spiritual challenges we face. The Savior’s bowels are filled with mercy, and He is always ready to succor us. This is possible because He personally experienced and took upon Himself in the flesh the pain of our weakness and infirmities.

With meekness and humility of heart, He descended below all things and accepted being despised, rejected, and humiliated by men, having been wounded for our transgressions and iniquities. He suffered these things for all, taking upon Himself the sins of the world, thus becoming our ultimate spiritual caregiver.

Jesus Christ: The Caregiver of Our Soul,” General Conference, April 2021

Today, I will be grateful for a Savior who comprehends everything, who has ascended to the highest heights and descended to the lowest depths. I will trust His ability to understand me, and I will be grateful for the many gifts I receive through His grace.

4 thoughts on “Ascension, Descension, and Comprehension

Add yours

  1. I feel such tender emotions for your explanation and simplicity of this section and verse. Thanks-a-million. With much appreciation. I look forward to receiving this daily inspiration.

    Like

  2. I always love your posts Paul!
    This one reminds me of a funny mug I almost bought as a Birthday gift.
    “I can explain it to you…but…
    I can’t understand it for you”. ☺️

    Like

    1. Well put! I would hope that I don’t have to experience everything for myself in order to benefit from other people’s experience, but there really is no substitute for direct experience. Thanks for the comment!

      Like

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