I spent several years at the Yale University Divinity School. In that academic environment, I gained a lot of experience in biblical languages, texts, customs and interpretations, as well as in theology, religious history and religious traditions. But I most value what I learned through my relationships and conversations with others.
For a bit of context, the Yale University Divinity School is an ecumenical (i.e., multidenominational) academic institution that trains scripture scholars and future ministers. There are many divinity schools in North America, though most of them are decidedly sectarian. That is, they admit students from only a single faith tradition who are then taught by professors who share that faith tradition, with the intent that those students will serve in a variety of roles within that faith tradition. Yale Divinity School is non-sectarian. It proactively admits students from a variety of faith traditions, which creates a vibrant ecumenical setting where conversations of learning and faith from a variety of perspectives permeates the experience.
Most people who go to divinity school have the intention of being ordained and then entering the religious profession. So my friends at divinity school were amused when they had this initial conversation with me.
Yale friend: So, are you hoping to become an ordained minister?
Taylor: Actually, I’m already an ordained elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yale friend (with some confusion): OK, so will you get a paid ministry once you complete your Yale degree?
Taylor: Actually, no, on two points. First, there are no paid clergy in the LDS Church. Second, the church is run by a lay clergy. So all positions are staffed by appointed volunteerism.
My Yale friends were typically surprised that I would attend a divinity school when I was already ordained in a faith tradition that had no paid ministers. This would be analogous to a certified dentist, who provides free dental care to anyone who asks, paying to spend several years completing a degree at a dental school.
These types of conversations created opportunities for each of us to learn more about our faith, our religious traditions and our aspirations for making a positive difference in the world. The Yale Divinity School was a residential academic program, so as students, we spent a lot of time together. We’d have classes together in the morning, then chapel service, more classes, and then lunch, with additional classes in the afternoon.
Lunchtime at Yale Divinity School was always special. Given the ecumenical nature of the divinity school, we all had a lot to discuss over the lunch table as we reviewed what we learned in our courses and asked each other how our individual faith traditions brought perspective to what we were learning.
It was in this ecumenical setting at Yale that I gained a major insight while in conversation with a fellow student. My friend shared his love for and perspective on Jesus Christ.
For all that Jesus taught us, one of the most important things is that Jesus taught us how to suffer.
For all the difficulty, trial and trauma of our lives, no one has suffered more than Jesus.
No one has been more fully betrayed, more fully misunderstood, more fully alone.
Jesus wasn’t simply alone in his suffering. He was totally alone while he suffered the exquisite infinity of all pain — all for us.
He suffered so that we may not have to suffer in the same way. When we do suffer, he is our exemplar for patient, faithful, pleading, enduring suffering. When we experience such suffering in our lives, it is then that one of the most oft-used scriptural phrases that seems so innocuously pedestrian becomes the most soothing balm of Gilead: “And it came to pass.”
Notice that this phrase is not “And it came to stay.” The pain and troubles all will pass. They will never permanently stay. Our suffering is finite. Our difficulties come to pass in order that we might learn and know. Thus, without suffering, there is no preparation for learning. And without the Atonement to heal all, there is no true learning.
In our suffering, we come to experience the truth and reality that Jesus became like us so that we could become like him. God — who knew all, had all, created all — was willing to take on the destructive flesh of a mortal body to suffer with us, live with us, love us and thereby show us a better way.
Taylor Halverson, who holds doctorates in biblical studies and instructional technology, is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. His website is taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.