We know that the Savior was obedient to Heavenly Father in all things, he was tempted but did not head the temptations. In short, he was perfect. My question is: how can the Savior understand what it is like to fail? I try to live the commandments and I fail. It is demoralizing to fail and then have to get back up and try again. How can the Savior help me if he doesn’t understand what that is like?
While we acknowledge the Savior’s divine qualities, we should not forget just how human He was. We poetically muse that the infant “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” (Away in a Manger) since that would be the ideal child for exhausted parents. But cry He must if that child is to be fed! And the mortal experience is not something He simply outgrew: he thirsted (John 4:7, 19:28); he slept through an awful storm (Mark 4:37-38) (imagine the exhaustion necessary); he bled (Luke 22:44, John 19:34). He experienced divine emotions in His mortal experience: anger and grief (Mark 3:5); mourning or empathy (John 11:33-35); sorrow (Matthew 26:37-38). Many of His experiences are still common today: the death of His step-father; rejection from siblings (John 7:3-5); betrayals from friends (Luke 22:47-48); dealing with ungrateful people (Luke 17:12-19); down time with cherished friends (John 11:5, Luke 10:38-39); joy working alongside His friends (John 15:11). Or, as Paul says, “in all things it behoved him [Jesus] to be made like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17) (I cover some additional details of his mortal and divine empathy here).
As mentioned above, this mortal experience is not something Jesus grew out of, but something He grew into. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with … man.” And the holy record also notes that “Jesus increased … in favour with God.” (Luke 2:52). Our modern revelations explain that “he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.” (D&C 93:11-13). As a result, as Elder Talmage relates, “Jesus was all that a boy should be, for His development was unretarded by the dragging weight of sin; He loved and obeyed the truth and therefore was free.” (“Jesus the Christ”, chapter 9:The Boy of Nazareth).
Also, like us, Jesus was tempted by man (Mark 8:31-33) and devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Unlike us, He withstood the temptations and triumphed over all of them! Because Jesus “himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18). But does He understand just how difficult our temptations are if He’s never stumbled under the weight of them? Yes! even better because He didn’t give in! C.S. Lewis explains:
“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to talk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutest simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. They have lived a sheltered life by giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist” (Mere Christianity, page 78).
So He understands in a very real sense (more real than you or I have) what it’s like to experience temptation. But then, being sinless, can He relate to us when we deal with the consequences of succumbing to temptation? Here again we answer, Yes! Jesus’ integrity did not prevent accusations of sin from circulating (and if you think that didn’t affect His ministry and how He was perceived, you can ask Corianton about that when you get the chance). His innocence did not prevent getting associated with devilish power (Matthew 12:24), blasphemy (John 10:33, Matthew 26:65), and sedition. The only difference between Him and someone who was actually guilty was that he could face the cross with a clean conscience.
The guilt of sin was something that Jesus did not have to experience in His natural life. Nonetheless, after 3 decades of life experience, He entered a quiet garden and hallowed it through several lifetimes of suffering.
“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 he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12).
Here, and on the cross, Jesus served as proxy for you and received the consequences for your sins and failures (scripturally: pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, death, and infirmities). As a proxy, it is as though your name were placed upon Him and He was lashed with your frustration, burdened with your guilt, and compensated with the wages of your sin: death. Because of this, He can succor you! He asks you to yoke yourself to Him so He can lighten your burden and ease your frustration. He asks you to take His name upon you so you can rise with Him in glory (scripturally: loose the bands of death, bowels filled with mercy, succor his people)!
You may feel frustrated because you “yield to sin … [and] give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in [your] heart to destroy [your] peace and afflict [your] soul.” (2 Nephi 4:27, see whole chapter for Nephi’s solution). Jesus can relate. He has all power, but respects our agency. He could, if He fell to Alma’s temptation to “go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth … that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth”, but instead “he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, … he allotteth unto men … according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.” (Alma 29:1-2,4). “He’ll call, persuade, direct aright, And bless with wisdom, love, and light, In nameless ways be good and kind, But never force the human mind.” (Know This, That Every Soul is Free). This sorrow, felt when those we love exercise agency for vanity, remains ever with the righteous (3 Nephi 28:38, Moses 7:28-29, see also the whole chapter).
Taylor, if you still can’t see the Savior relating to your experience, try to see yourself in those the Savior succored. If you feel He is too holy to approach with your unworthiness, know that another felt that way but was brave enough to only touch the hem of His clothes (Matthew 9:20-22). She was blessed with a personal interview because of this. If you feel that you have been too ungrateful in the past for Him to bless you today, know that He inquired after 9 lepers who were on His mind (Luke 17:12-19). He knew Peter would deny Him, but He still asked for his company (Matthew 26:34). Take His yoke upon you and follow Him.