Chemical reactions happen every day. Like that reuben sandwich I had a couple days ago. All that corned beef mingled with Swiss and sauerkraut!? Mmmmm . . . . . What an amazing chemical reaction in my mouth. Not so great a chemical reaction passing through, but I seem to forget that each time I order one.
Anyone who has been through a chemistry course knows that you have to be careful when combining chemicals together because while some combinations produce no reaction at all others can be quite lethal. Some reactions will happen immediately. Some take time. And still others require the help of a catalyst to encourage them to move forward. But in every circumstance the chemicals must come in contact with each other in order for the reaction to happen. And once they do the process begins and it only stops once all the reactive materials are consumed.
Rust is really no different. It’s just the result of a chemical reaction which requires contact between iron and oxygen atoms. Sometimes catalysts are present during the reaction. Sometimes it just happens on its own. But whatever the circumstances that cause the reaction, all it takes is once – one single opportunity for the oxygen and the iron to come in contact with each other – and rusting happens.
The rusting process, however, is not necessarily perpetual. Once all the oxygen has been used up the process stops because there is no more material for the metal to rust with. (Perhaps a quick refresher from the rust wiki page is in order.) So if only small amounts of oxygen are present you may actually never be aware of the rust. It can happen so undetectably we may not even know anything has happened.
Where we really run into problems is if there is more oxygen than iron in our chemical reaction. If there’s not enough metal to outlast the oxygen then the object continues rusting until all we have left is that fine red powder that’s good for nothing.
But whether the results are undetectable or end up being far too obvious doesn’t change that damage has been done and that cleaning and repairs to the object need to be made.
So it is with us. We may not know that we have rusted. We might never feel its effects in our soul. Heck. It could even be obvious to everyone around us and we could be oblivious to it. But regardless of whether we are aware of the damage or not, rust really is a big deal that needs to be addressed. Jesus taught:
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
The LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible has this alternate translation of the word “perfect:”
“GR complete, finished, fully developed.”
What a perfect fit for our discussion! Jesus is teaching us that we must be complete. And if we have allowed our faith and our souls to rust and corrode we are imperfect because we are no longer whole or complete. We are missing some part of our substance because we have allowed the rust to eat it away.
Because Jesus has asked us to be “complete” when imperfection enters into our lives and our faith we must address it if we do not wish it to become as debilitating as the leg of a chair rusting all the way through. That chair then becomes good for nothing but to be thrown out and replaced (kind of like the salt of the earth; see Matthew 5:13). If we are not careful in caring for our faith we too can become “good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
Fortunately for us, cleaning up the rust and repairing its damage is also a chemical process. Which means that just as it only takes once to begin the rusting process, it also only takes once to begin the healing process. We call this cleansing and healing process “repentance.”
And what creates the contact necessary to begin our repentance? The Lord says it best in Ether 12:27:
“[I]f men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Repentance isn’t a bad thing. It is a very good thing. And because we are all full of imperfection and wickedness we all need it. It is a process of healing and change requiring contact and interaction with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who will – by His grace and the virtue of His infinite atonement – clean the rust from our lives and restore the substance it has dissolved. We then become the chemical reaction with Him which makes of us a “complete” soul.
We might not ever be aware of the damage to our souls until the rust is cleaned away. But remember: It only takes once. Once to start the rust in our lives. And once to stop it and reverse it. One single act of turning to Jesus Christ begins the redemptive chemical reaction called repentance. And one lifetime filled with daily repentance returns one into the presence of God as a complete – a perfect – individual.