Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Psalms 37-39

(October 29, 2014)
                As a disciple of Christ, we should not fault anyone their progress and blessings and joys in this world.  That being said, David is quite right that it is difficult at times for us to see the wicked prosper.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  In a perfect world with perfect people, our prayers would be drawn out towards our enemies – hoping that they received blessings sufficient to bring them to a knowledge of their actions and with hope of repentance and forgiveness.  But none of us are perfect people.

                That being said, the Lord is perfectly generous with us in our weaknesses in trying to forgive as He is with others in their weaknesses and wickedness.  The more that I am forgiven, the easier I find it becomes to forgive those who have wronged me.  The more desperately I need the Lord, the more I am drawn out to help and bless my fellow men.  Each time I struggle through adversity and feel the gentle and constant pull of the Lord carrying me through it, I want to reach out and help those around me struggling through similar circumstances.

                Forgiving the wicked and not being angry when they prosper has, ultimately, nothing to do with the wicked.  After all, the Lord will make His best efforts to bring them back to the Father and they will ultimately choose what they want.  Forgiving the wicked, instead, is all about each one of us – if we do not forgive those who wrong us (even if they don’t repent or even acknowledge their hurt of us), we find our souls shriveling up and lose the capacity to feel God’s forgiveness of us.  This is a miserable state to be in.  I think this miserable state – assuming it perpetuates beyond the Veil – is why the unforgiving is said to have greater sin than the person they cannot forgive.  That is hard doctrine, but as I have failed to forgive and then ultimately forgiven, I have experienced that it is true nonetheless.

Alma 55

(October 29, 2014)
                The war chapters are profound symbols for the war that is currently going on in each of our lives – the continuation of the War in Heaven.  I was drawn to the wisdom of Moroni when he took the city of Gid and immediately began making additional preparations to defend not only those cities but also Mulek and Bountiful as well.

                When we make progress in our lives, Satan will not just concede the ground.  He fights for our souls just as hard as the Lord does.  He is not idle, nor does he admit defeat (Satan is bound up in his pride).  When we take a piece of ground, in my experience, we can expect a global assault almost immediately thereafter.

                When we abandon a habit or a vice, when our minds are opened or our testimonies increased, we will find ourselves refighting battles long since won.  If we have not, in the intervening years, continually improved our fortifications, we may find ourselves disrupted or destroyed by these attacks.  We must constantly be on guard – we are never perfected, only protected, in mortality.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Psalms 35-36

(October 28, 2014)
                The longer I go in life, the more I identify with David.  This is both frightening and comforting.  It is comforting because I understand what a powerful and blessed individual he was, and it is frightening when I recognize how he threw so much of what he was away.  But, of course, the blessing that I have in comparison to David is that I have the advantage of learning from his experiences.

                As I identify more and more with David, I find the Psalms seem to be speaking more and more directly to my own life.  Chapter 35, for example, could have been drawn from a snapshot of my current situation.  There are those who hid for me a net in a pit without cause.  These people made false witness against me, and laid untrue charges against me.  Where I was trying to the utmost of my ability to do right by them, they rewarded me evil for good.

                At the same time, one of those who made the false witness against me (and who has demonstrated the greatest anger against me) has been severely sick.  I have prayed for her health frequently and fasted for her a number of times.  She does not know this, and she won’t know it (at least from me – perhaps she will hear it on the other side of the Veil).  But as bad things have happened to me, I have seen their rejoicing in it (hidden behind veiled condemnation and faux pity).

                So as I read through that chapter, you can imagine how I felt.  But I also knew that David had in his character a weakness that was ultimately destructive and which I didn’t want to emulate.  And so I read David’s desire for the destruction of these enemies as a cautionary tale – I didn’t want to see my false accusers destroyed, but rather hoped that they would recognize what they had done and the damage they had caused and to repent.  That was how I felt before reading, and after reading I was impressed all the more that this was the only right way to approach the situation.  It has taken a significant amount of prayer and effort to release the negative feelings I have for them, and that is something that I am determined to continue to do.  If they want to gnash me with their teeth, let that be between them and the Lord – I want no part of revenge.  He will judge – He has taken good care of me and that is more than enough.

Alma 53-54

(October 28, 2014)
                There is a lot in these two chapters, but I found my mind focused on geography of all things.  The geography of the Book of Mormon is wonderfully consistent, and the things that don’t seem to make sense tend to support the Mesoamerican limited geographical model (full disclaimer: I don’t presume to know exactly where the Book of Mormon events took place, but whether they happened in Mesoamerica or the Midwest or Baja, the only thing that I can say with certainty is that the book is historical).

                For example, there is the line in Alma 53:6 that Mulek was the strongest hold of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi.  This has long been pointed to as ‘proof’ that the Book of Mormon is not true, because we know that Mulek is in the east wilderness by the seashore.  First, of course, even if the phrase ‘land of Nephi’ is incorrect, that does not disprove the Book of Mormon – I have tried diligently to make my journal accurate over the course of several decades, but I have to imagine that I have carelessly including similar (and more substantial) blunders than this.  

                But my current thinking is that it is describing the Lamanites rather than the city of Mulek.  As I read the grammar (difficult to do, since the original had no punctuation), I believe that land of Nephi modifies the Lamanites rather than the city of Mulek – differentiating the source of these Lamanites (Lamanites in the land of Nephi) from the secondary group of Lamanites which invaded the south to fight Helaman.

                But for geographical insights, there is little more interesting than a three word description of the secondary Lamanite incursion – by the “west sea, south.”  That makes no sense – is it west or is it south? – but the Mesoamerican model assigns the west sea to be what was west of the land of their first inheritance.  As geography reaches the land of Zarahemla, that west sea is on the south and the east sea is to the north.  Thus ‘west sea, south’ perfectly describes where the action takes place relative to the prior battles Mormon was describing (by the east sea, north).

                None of this, of course, really matters all that much (the Book of Mormon is true regardless of whether we understand its geography, and no non-believer will be convinced otherwise by these things), but it does provide some comfort to those of us who have received a spiritual witness of the truth of these things.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Psalms 32-34

(October 27, 2014)
                It is hard to wrap our minds around the utter futility of temporal means.  The Lord has provided us with a perfect test – one in which we can believe that we can accomplish things temporally (that the king can be saved by a host or the mighty man delivered by strength) because that seems to be the way things work according to our outward view.  The first thought is to believe that David is speaking metaphorically – the king is not saved (from death and sin) by a host – but I think David of all people (considering his history) recognizes that his statement is both figuratively and literally true.

                There is the old joke that the winning football team always gives credit to God but the losing team never blames God for making them fumble – the assumption being that neither side really believes that God had a say in the outcome.  The typical religious response is that God doesn’t care who wins a particular football game, and just stays out of it.  But I don’t believe that either, as the Lord of Hosts who notes the fall of a sparrow would seem to notice a couple million people gathering around the television in early February.

                No, I think that each and every temporal or spiritual success we have is not creditable to our strength or weakness – it is solely the Lord’s doing.  The Lord, in order to make our mortal probation meaningful, often brings about the result that is consistent with the strongest and fastest winning, but that temporal success by temporal means is merely an illusion to give value to our choices to align our will with God in spite of the difficulties on the path of discipleship.

                My other thought was David’s words concerning the many afflictions of the righteous.  David’s life (and these words) clearly dispute the belief that so many people have that the righteous should not suffer, and if they do suffer something is going wrong.  We don’t teach the Gospel of prosperity (but rather the Gospel of discipleship), and it is to be expected that our road back to the Father will be difficult and painful. The difference is not that we undergo such pain and difficulty – the differences is that those who trust God receive deliverances from their pain and difficulty.

Alma 52

(October 27, 2014)
                We each have our cultural biases that are out of harmony with the Lord’s teachings – and that is no different from the prophets (ancient and modern).  Mormon clearly was biased by his understanding of proper warfare – and it shines through brightly in his description of Captain Moroni’s methods of warfare.  On the one hand, Mormon is overflowing with praise for Moroni and his capacity and effectiveness as a leader.  On the other hand, Mormon is almost apologetic in his treatment of Moroni’s tactics.  At times the Book of Mormon reads like the writings of an apologist not quite sure if the subject he is praising is deserving.

                Because of that, we get Mormon’s language about how Moroni was right to use cunning because he was protecting the Church and the Nephite families – language we would not have now because our cultural assumptions are that cunning strategies are entirely appropriate.  We have language such as Mormon all but praising Jacob – a bloodthirsty Zoramite, no less – for his fierceness and determination in battle.

                There is a lesson and good news to take from this.  The lesson is that if a prophet of God as important and accomplished as Mormon can have issues with cultural biases, then it is certain that we too have cultural biases and blinders that preclude us from seeing the truth clearly.  The good news is that Mormon was a prophet and was able to overcome his biases through the help of the Lord, and thus we also have hope that we can overcome our biases from the same source.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Psalms 29-31

(October 26, 2014)
                I felt particularly moved as I read through chapter 31 today.  There are sometimes when reading the scriptures, it really seems as though they were written just for me and my life.  I feel as though I have gone through my share of grief, and spent a fair amount of time lately in sighing.  Much of my strength was lost because of my iniquity (finally, blessedly, lessened).  I am certainly reproached among my neighbors.  I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind.

                I have felt the slander of many, and there are those who take counsel against me even now.  While I hope no one is devising to take away my life, it is certainly a large amount of adversity in my life.

                But the blessing is that I trust in the Lord, and He really is taking care of me.  The challenges that I am facing are no better than they were months ago (there are reasons to feel them worse), but I am able to handle these challenges so much better than I could a few months ago.  I have been blessed by being given significantly more strength than I had back then.

                That seems to be the lesson of this chapter – if we trust in the Lord, He will bless and take care of us.  That is something that I can testify to and confirm.