Sunday, October 19, 2014

Job 37-39

(October 19, 2014)
                Here we have the Lord’s answer to Job’s questions, and it involves a heavy dose of repetition.  As I read these chapters, I began to find my mind drifting – recognizing that I understood the concept and wondered why it had to be driven home in the manner that it was.  But then I began to think, and I realized that these were the words of the Lord and not something to be trifled with.  If He believed, in His wisdom, that repetition was important than I ought to consider why He was repeating Himself.

                As I took that different approach and went back and reread some of the Lord’s words, it really struck me that He was repeating for emphasis.  He was, in effect, trying to break through Job’s intellectual understanding of the idea that we are nothing before God so as to allow Job to really feel and understand this concept.  Job was in the same position as I was – knowing but not really knowing – and the Lord’s use of repetition was designed to change that.

                As I allowed the Lord’s words to affect me the way they were designed to, I began to better feel just what the Lord was saying when He spoke of our nothingness before Him.  His power and His wisdom are so far beyond us that we don’t even know the right questions to ask.  All we can do is to throw ourselves at Him and hope for His mercy and Grace to envelope us and bring us line upon line towards Him and towards understanding.  But we cannot understand Him while seeing through the glass darkly – much less judge Him.

Alma 44

(October 19, 2014)
                When our plans fail, and we find ourselves in disaster or ruin, do we properly recognize what brought it about?  Do we look inward for the aspects of our character and our moral failures that brought about our downfall (and, by so doing, begin to extricate ourselves)?  Or do we, like the Lamanites, blame the ‘breastplates’ of our lives – those around us, circumstances, our family, our ecclesiastical leaders, or anyone we can find for what is going wrong in our lives?

                Suffering, tribulation, failure, adversity, and sorrow are part and parcel of the human condition.  They come from any number of sources, but they all share a common goal – each of them carry with them the capacity for drawing us closer to God, increasing the presences of His Spirit in our lives, and bringing us peace and knowledge of Him.  While it is unreasonable to believe our lives will be without challenges (or to uniformly assign moral blame for our adversity), if we are not drawing closer to God in our adversity (whatever the source) that is a problem with us and not with anyone or anything else.

                When I am suffering, I can sometimes see where that suffering is coming from – and sometimes I attribute it (correctly, in my mind) with sources outside of my control.  Nevertheless, I am suffering.  But if that suffering that I am experiencing is pushing me away from God, decreasing my peace and my faith, then that is a moral failure of my own and cannot be attributable to the person that put me in the situation to suffer in the first place.

                This is a lesson that I have learned at great cost.  I was fortunate to begin to see past my desire for blame and justification and to recognize that regardless of why I am in a particular situation I am still morally responsible for how I handle the situation once I am in it.  It has led to a couple of painful months of soul searching, but the rewards on the other side (when I can honestly say that I have been through suffering and the suffering has brought me closer to God) makes it all worthwhile.  It is a wonderful thing when I reached the point where I could kneel in prayer and genuinely thank the Lord for pain that I was desperate for Him to remove only a few months ago.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Job 35-36

(October 18, 2014)
                Elihu is fast becoming one of my heroes in the scriptures – I know so little about him, but to have acquired his wisdom at his young age he must have been an impressive man.  In these chapters, Elihu highlights something that I have recently discovered but illustrates a consequence of it that I hadn’t imagined.

                After fasting recently, I went to the Lord in prayer and asked Him for a blessing I felt in need of, and in the course of my prayer told Him that I had fasted for Him and thus I had hopes that I would receive the blessing I sought (sort of a Divine quid pro quo).  The Lord gently informed me of my error in thinking – it became obvious that my fasting really did nothing to benefit God, and was instead designed to benefit me.

                Elihu builds on that and develops some of the consequences.  There is no righteous act that we can perform that benefits God – anything that we do He could have accomplished at a word (and likely far better than we did it).  Likewise, our sins do not negatively affect Him at all – if He was injured by our sins, He could simply remove us from this Earth again at a word.

                The consequence of this, however, is something absolutely amazing.  I always knew intellectually that the Lord needs nothing from me, but I felt it as I read and thought about Elihu’s words in these chapters.  And if He needed nothing from us, then why His work and sacrifice on our behalf?  Love, of course – only His love.

                It struck me how far beyond me that God is.  It also struck me how grateful I ought to be that God, with all of His power and majesty and His unlimited virtue cares enough for me to care for me (even though I am unable to help Him in any way) – I really begin to get a glimpse of Divine charity.

                I feel like I am poorly expressing something that is very meaningful.

Alma 43

(October 18, 2014)
                There were a couple of interesting things in this chapter, but my mind focused on the Lamanites fighting like dragons as they became cornered.  As I am certain I have mentioned, I see the war chapters in the Book of Mormon as an extended metaphor for our personal war with sin (they are historical as well, but I believe they were included for the principles they teach us).

                Over and over in our lives, we will find ourselves in a battle with sin and with evil.  Oftentimes we will feel, as did Mormon in his day, that the battle is unwinnable and it will take Divine intervention to survive.  This, of course, is always true.  But at other times, we will find ourselves in a position similar to Moroni – our sins on the ropes as we fight and prevail at long last.

                It is at those times when we are particularly vulnerable.  The Lamanites here began fighting as dragons – sundering breastplates and cleaving helmets.  Likewise, when we feel we have a particular vice or weakness on the ropes it is the time to become extremely cautious as that vice will often attack with a newfound strength (or we will face an attack from Satan in a different direction).  Regardless, in my experience when we are close to overcoming a flaw in our life and making legitimate progress we will suffer a significant attack that we must withstand.  I have found that by expecting and preparing for this attack I am better able to resist it when it comes.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Job 31-34

(October 17, 2014)
                Elihu is an interesting character in Job.  Of all the characters, he alone escapes the criticism from the Lord at the end.  Job is criticized for asking in ignorance (not even understanding the question he is asking).  The other three elders are criticized and called to sacrifice for their words.  But Elihu is not – lending substantial weight to the words that he is saying.

                And in that light, we see that his words are profound and important.  He points out that when tragedy strikes, our first question should not be “why me?”, but rather “where is my sin and how can I repent?”.  This is the case even with a man such as Job – one upright in all things.

                The Lord does not idly cause us to suffer.  Even when our suffering is the natural consequence of the actions (or even the sins) of others, the Lord is perfectly just and not a tear from our eyes will be wasted.  Joseph Smith was certainly innocent of wrongdoing when he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail, and his captors were unquestionably evil.  And yet the Lord promised Joseph that all of these things would work out for his good.

                Elder Holland spoke of how that happened.  He spoke of Liberty Jail as a temple-prison, and the changes that were brought about in Joseph (and the Church) as a result of his imprisonment.  Understanding that this change constituted repentance (as does all change for the better), we can take courage in our suffering to know that our pain is an invitation from the Lord to repent.

                We can, as Elihu counsels, call upon the Lord to teach us that which we see not – those defects in our individual characters that need repentance to be healed – and we are then invited, as was Job, where we have done iniquity to do it no more.

Alma 42

(October 17, 2014)
                This has long been one of my favorite scriptures in the entire scriptures, not so much because of the individual language, but rather what it signifies.  Corianton fell away about as far as a man could fall away from the faith.  He had the consequences of his father and grandfather in drawing people to reject the Gospel (and the people were thereafter destroyed for their wickedness).  He had personal sins of great significance (perhaps something he shared with his grandfather, although the record is silent in that respect).

                And yet, after all of this, Alma closes by telling Corianton that he is still called to the work.  Sometimes when I look back at my life and the missed opportunities that I have had to do something worthwhile for the Lord (missed because I wouldn’t answer the call or I was simply unworthy to do what I should have been doing), I get the feeling that my moment has passed and I will never accomplish what the Lord sent me to Earth to accomplish.  My life, I feel at times, has become a failure.

                But this is the cunning of the Adversary to try to convince me of this.  I may never be a Prophet or Apostle, but let’s face it – it was highly unlikely that I would ever hold that position anyway.  But I can bear my testimony online and in Church meetings.  I can make comments in lessons.  I can make chili for the Ward party.  I can pick up less-active members for Church.  I can teach the Gospel to my children.  The Lord can have use for me.

                The only thing that might be lost forever as a result of my sins is the pride and praise of the world that I sought in my service, and frankly good riddance to that.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Job 28-30

(October 16, 2014)

                Job rightly understands the importance of wisdom and knowledge.  The only true knowledge and wisdom is what drives us to fear the Lord and depart from evil.  Some people seek knowledge and wisdom for other reasons – to gratify their pride, or their lusts, or increase their power.  Others seek knowledge to bless and benefit their fellow men and come closer to the Lord and avoid evil in their lives.  At times, the knowledge that they are both pursuing is the exact same knowledge (think of a lawyer studying the law to oppress those around him and another lawyer studying the same law to free those around him from oppression).  While the knowledge might be universally true, the wisdom component of that knowledge is not – the knowledge only benefits us if we use it to fear the Lord and depart from evil.