Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalms 13-18

(October 23, 2014)

                Life, at times, seems to be so complex and so difficult.  But reading in the Psalms today it became apparent that they aren’t so difficult after all.  So many aspects of life really come down to one simple question – temporal or spiritual?  Do we rely on temporal strength to get what we want, because it is predictable and within our control?  Or do we use appropriate methods to seek out what we want, knowing that the Lord we meet our needs and trusting in Him?  Do we seek out the temporal things of this world?  Or do we seek the things of a better world, yet to come?

Alma 48

(October 23, 2014)
                To understand this idea, I have to detail a basic idea of how I mark my scriptures.  I include underlines with various colors for personal application of the scriptures, brackets of various colors for the topic of the scriptures, and a vertical line for the type of scriptural discourse (psalm, storyline, editorial comment, parable, prophecy, words of the Godhead, etc.).  

                This pattern has been working quite well for some time, and in particular there are very few times I really need to think about what vertical line I need to use – and when I do need to think about it, it serves the very purpose of marking my scriptures (causing me to pay close attention to the text to identify exactly what is being said and by whom and why).

                All of that changes in one section of the Book of Mormon, though – the writings of the prophet Helaman as edited by Mormon.  I don’t know exactly the reason why, but Helaman’s writings edited by Mormon almost defy any attempt to differentiate between storyline and editorial comment.  I suppose it could be because the great amount of editorial comment included in Helaman’s writings, but I really doubt that.  Instead, I think that Helaman was self-depreciating to a point that became problematic for Mormon as an editor, so a substantial portion of Helaman’s writings needed to be edited in light of what Mormon knew (the signs are there, if you look).

                But the reasons why aren’t really the reasons I bring this up.  Instead, the reasons I bring this up is the sheer fact that when we pass from one writer in the Book of Mormon (Alma) to another (Helaman), the text changes so much that it is impossible to ignore.  Not changes that can only be detected by wordprint studies or similar metrics, but detected by a simple test of trying to discern whether a particular line contains storyline content or editorial comments.  Once again, this is something that I could not imagine Joseph Smith had the capacity or inclination to fabricate.

                While on the subject of the writers of various parts of the scriptures, it is interesting to me to see Helaman praising Moroni for his virtue and moral character.  Then we see Mormon intervene in what can only be described as an editorial on the editorial highlighting the virtues of Helaman (another reason why I believe that Helaman was self-depricating and Mormon was trying to rectify that).

                I had two other thoughts on this chapter.  The first were on the manner in which the Nephites were able to prosper – by staying close to the Lord they were able to discern when to flee and when to prepare for war.  I am in a situation where many people are telling me to flee, but I am not certain what the Lord wants from me.  I am preparing for war (metaphorically – fighting with towards a goal rather than against), but I am constantly seeking the Lord’s guidance on whether He wants me to prepare for war or to flee.  And, most importantly, I am clinging to the Lord’s promise that if I am called to prepare for war he will let me know how to defend myself (as He promised the Nephites).

                Finally, the response of the Nephites to the destruction of the Lamanites is instructive.  The Nephites knew the suffering the Lamanites would experience in the event that they went to war.  They knew (and lamented) that the Lamanites would be entering the next world unprepared.  But the Nephites also knew that what they were doing was necessary for the protection of their family and children.  In a similar way, I am in a position where I am trying to avoid a course of action that would bring a great deal of pain and heartache to someone, but that very person at times seems committed to taking the course that will lead them to pain and heartache.  I wish that I could help them to avoid that result, and it breaks my heart to see the choices this person is making, but ultimately it has to be each and every one of us who decide for ourselves.  As much as I might regret seeing the pain these decisions bring about, I have to make the correct decision in line with the Lord and what is best for my children and rely on the Lord to take care of the rest.

Psalms 7-12

(October 22, 2014)
                I loved the psalmist’s language of not prevailing with our lips.  Sometimes we see challenges in our lives (or opportunities, for that matter) as things to be seized by our own mortal, temporal capacities.  While it is true that we are to use our mortal means to accomplish these tasks whenever possible, we are not to rely on these means – we fight the battle the Lord asks us to fight and He wins the war.

                When we achieve some temporal goal (even a worthy one that appears spiritual) through temporal means, that success is false.  It is wrong, twisted in some way, and in my experience will always fall apart in the end.  It is like the missionary who converts through the force of personality or the temporal skills of persuasion rather than introducing his investigators to a genuine spiritual conversion.  Such a missionary might have success, but their converts more often than not fall away, lose touch, and are in a worse position than before because they now know the Gospel and are judged accordingly.  Far better to do the work, serve with your might, and let the Lord accomplish His own work such that the fruits of that work are the fruits that the Lord intends.

Alma 47

(October 22, 2014)
                It seems that we, from time to time, find ourselves in positions where it would seem achieving our goals require us to bend our principles – in this case, the accomplishment of the goal of avoiding war with the Nephites depended only on the king engaging in deception in warfare (something that would clearly be seen as a moral failure in a Mesoamerican society) and appointing a known traitor as his second.  But, I am sure the king thought, it would be better to choose to align myself with this devil to avoid death.

                Of course, when we are in that position it seems that the Devil (out of his desire for glee over our destruction) gives us the very thing we thought to avoid.  The king ultimately was killed by the very man he chose to keep him safe.  So too, if we seek to avoid some difficult circumstance or bad consequence, will find ourselves face to face with what we fear if we engage in unrighteous means to avoid it.

Psalms 1-6

(October 21, 2014)
                David, for all his flaws, demonstrates a powerful truth – we can stay faithful even when things are going horribly wrong.  David was faithful when Saul was trying to kill him.  He was faithful when Absalom was trying to kill him.  He stayed faithful in the desert and in the wilderness.  He was faithful standing against Goliath.  In fact, his moment of weakness and failure happened when he was a king comfortably residing in his kingdom.

                Looking at things in this way, I am more inclined to be grateful for my struggles and adversity because I could not predict how I would handle the successes that I might envision in my dreams.  In my adversity, however, I am grounded and maintain my faith in the Lord.

Alma 46

(October 21, 2014)
                Some of the most painful situations in life are those times when things are out of our control, but which lead to pain and suffering for those we love.  The classic example of a child who chooses to leave the Gospel comes to mind as the perfect demonstration of this.  When things like this happen, our first inclination is to self-evaluate (what should we have done?  what did we do wrong?), and I think that is healthy.

                But ultimately agency is such that there will be those that we love who make bad choices – it is inevitable.  Mormon was very clear to say that Helaman taught the people well, but the people abandoned the faith in droves anyhow.  If Helaman isn’t a good enough example, let us look to the perfect Father that we have over us – He is without sin, and yet how many of us His children have chosen a path contrary to His will and which will bring us pain and misery?

Job 40-42

(October 20, 2014)

                I see it as very instructive that Job spent the first parts of the book lamenting his circumstances and calling upon God to either take his life or bring him justice.  But after speaking with him, the Lord tells Job to pray for his friends.  It is only then – only when Job sets aside his own suffering and seeks out Divine assistance for those who oppressed him – that he was healed.  I think that this is something that we should all remember.  I wonder how many times my wounds stayed open, painful, and fresh because I would not pray for the healing of those who had wounded me (maliciously or accidentally)?