Monday, July 21, 2014

1 Kings 5-6

(July 21, 2014)
                The highlight of these chapters was the voice of the Lord speaking to Solomon.  Sometimes I think that we feel that the scriptures tell of a time much different than our own, when the voice of the Lord came readily to the prophets, but I doubt that is true.  We have the voice of the Lord recorded frequently in the scriptures, but that is because we are reading scriptures.  It is both a highly spiritual record and compresses decades sometimes in a few chapters.  If we were to count the number of times the Lord spoke to Solomon, my guess is that it would likely be in single digits.

                Is that not consistent with our own lives?  Do we not have the voice of the Lord come to us that often?  Maybe not every day – we get the feeling that it should come every day from the scriptures – but enough to keep us on track, and doing what the Lord wants us to do.  In my life, I have had enough miraculous events happen that if I were to condense the whole of my experiences into a chapter or two in the Old Testament, I think I could fit right in – and some future reader likely would wonder whether things were just different in my day or whether I was gullible or superstitious to think the Lord would speak to me like this.  I don’t think I am that different in my experiences from others – I  wonder whether we all have miracles enough to make us live lives as the prophets of old, but we forget or don’t notice or downplay them because they are only occurring every few years (as if the Lord was on Solomon’s speed-dial).

                Anyhow, the Lord’s words were the highlight here.  Notice what he said to Solomon – Solomon was the build the temple, but the building of the temple (while necessary) was not sufficient.  He also had to live righteously and keep the commandments.  I think that we in the Church sometimes believe that our membership in the Church is enough – we avoid serious transgressions and sins, and given enough time we will reach Exaltation.  But just having the temple in our lives is insufficient as well – we must also be continually striving to live the commandments, so the Lord will dwell with us, as He did with Israel.

1 Nephi 22

(July 21, 2014)
                I have long thought that this chapter was the single most optimistic chapter in the entire Book of Mormon, and short of the scriptures detailing Christ in the garden, on the cross, and the empty tomb this chapter is the chapter that fills me with the most hope.  There is the language of hope for the righteous – that they will be protected and gathered in, but that isn’t the language I am talking about.  There is also the language of Divine intervention – sending down fire to protect the righteous, but that, too, isn’t the language that I am talking about.

                No, the language I am talking about, and the most hopeful verse in the scriptures (save, possibly, my favorite verse in the scriptures [Mosiah 26:30]) is verse 26.  We see Satan being bound, and we imagine Michael and his legions with flaming spears tying Satan in chains and thrusting him into the pit.  But note what this verse says – that isn’t the way things are going to happen.  Satan is going to be bound because of the righteousness of the people of God – people like you and me, should we choose to be those people.

                At times it seems hopeless to achieve the level of righteousness that we feel we need to achieve, but this scripture gives us hope.  If we persevere, we have it within our capacity to build our lives and our love through Grace to the point where Satan no longer has power over us.  Then, as we each do that, over time we will have Wards were Satan likewise has no power over us, then communities, cities, States, and eventually the world.  We understand better than most the calamities that are headed our way, but we also know from the scriptures (including this one) that we will through Christ overcome.  What a blessing of hope that provides!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

1 Kings 3-4

(July 20, 2014)

                I don’t know that we give proper credit to the wisdom of Solomon because we have already internalized so many things that he came up with.  For example, his act in threatening to ‘split the baby’ seems like such common sense to us in these days (we even have a term for it – splitting the baby), that we have trouble imagining why it would be such an impressive thing that it would be included in the scriptures.  But it is only common to us because for around 3,000 years we have been beneficiaries of that wisdom (and the wisdom of the Proverbs) – slowly filtering into our collective understanding of the world.

1 Nephi 21

(July 20, 2014)
                Sometimes I think we allow ourselves to be confused by the commandments of the Lord.  Very rarely, in my experience, does the Lord command us to do things that are beyond our control.  He instructs us to obey the commandments, He gives us our stewardships and we are to magnify and fulfill them.  But most of the time there is not a result prescribed by the Lord.  We are to do what He has asked and to leave the results to Him.

                So, for example, if we are called as Home Teachers, we are given the commandment to give our best efforts to meet with our families, teach them, inspire them to pray as a family, and so forth.  If, in the end, they choose not to come to Church then that is something I do not believe will ultimately be something that we are judged on.

                Rarely, however, we are given results-based commandments from the Lord.  These commands are the ones where Nephi’s bold words in 1 Nephi 3:7 are applicable – if there is a particular result that we have been commanded to achieve, then the Lord will provide a way for us to achieve that result.

                I bring this up because this is the understanding that resolves the apparent conflict between Nephi’s words and Isaiah in this chapter speaking of how ‘though Israel be not gathered,’ yet Isaiah would be blessed.  I think that Isaiah’s formulation is more common by far, but because we lose sight of what we have actually been commanded to do (because we think we are commanded to achieve results rather than take actions or magnify callings while respecting agency), we think we are going to be provided a way to accomplish things the Lord never asked of us.

1 Kings 1-2

(July 19, 2014)
                The actions by David, in how he instructed Solomon, are very much out of character from what we saw of him during his lifetime.  Those he had forgiven, he commanded Solomon to kill.  Those who had served him well, he ordered struck down.  How many times did Joab save the kingdom?

                But as I think about it, there is a certain logic to absolutely everything that took place.  Joab never repented of his actions when he killed those who David promised peace.  Adonijah was fine until such time as he sought out David’s young virginal comforter (a demonstrated aspiration to the throne).  Shimei (the one who openly repented) was given strict commands, and if he followed them he would have died of old age.  Abiathar, as a priest, was not struck down even though there was justification.

                As shocking as this appears to me to be at first glance, the longer I look at it the more I realize that my shock is an issue of culture and perspective, rather than one of eternal law.  And that, as much as anything else, is truly surprising to me.

1 Nephi 20

(July 19, 2014)
                The highlight of this scripture is the bookend verses of 18 and 22.  In 18, the people of Israel are taught that peace is always available to them if they keep the commandments.  In verse 22, they are taught that peace is forever withheld from them if they do not keep the commandments.  These two promises are operable regardless of what the external circumstances might be.

                I have learned, now, both halves of this lesson.  For a long time, I had everything that you could argue a man could want in mortality.  And yet, despite what I had I was not living the way that I should live.  And I had no peace – I thrashed back and forth in a desperate attempt to find peace, but none was forthcoming.  Now, I have lost almost everything that I once had.  But I have also made significant progress in keeping the commandments and excised out of my life my worst vices.  I find myself missing the things that I once had, and sorrowful for the loss, but likewise at peace in a way that I would not have thought to be possible only a year ago.

                I hope that things ultimately resolve themselves in a positive way for me, but so long as I keep the commandments, I know that my peace will be as a river (flowing continually).  And that is a comforting feeling in a time of uncertainty.

Friday, July 18, 2014

2 Samuel 23-24

(July 18, 2014)
                Is there anything more painful to deal with than recognizing that others are suffering for your sins?  David, seeing the death and destruction around him because of his mistake, hints at the anguish and calls upon the Lord to afflict him rather than his people.  Particularly as a parent, this is difficult for me to deal with.  I see that I have made mistakes, and as a result of the mistakes that I have made my children are put into positions where they are being hurt.  I never would want my children to be hurt, and it breaks my heart that it is a situation that I cannot simply step into and fix on their behalf.

                The only thing that alleviates that pain even slightly is to constantly keep before my mind the truth – that they are His children, too.  They were His children before they were mine, and He loves them with a love that exceeds mine.  If I, with my imperfect love, would step in and make everything better if it were in my power, then I can trust that He (with His infinite love) would likewise step in.  But with Him, He is held back not because of limitations in His scope of power but rather in an increased understanding of what His children (me and my children) need in order to achieve our greatest potential.

                And so I am left to strive to take care of my children.  I am left in anguish, and I am left like David to call on the pain and suffering to be put upon me rather than upon them.  And then I am left to wait upon the Lord and trust that He will take care of us all according to His perfect love and Divine will.