Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Official Declarations 1-2; Proclamation on the Family

(December 31, 2013)
Oftentimes I think of the gentle promptings that I have in my life, and I wonder if that is the same level of prompting that the Prophets and Apostles have to be in tune to hear.  Would I have the faith and confidence in myself as a listener to feel this gentle pull and issue one of the Official Declarations?  Knowing that it went to key principles of the faith – who can marry and who can hold the priesthood – would I need more definitive answers before I could feel certain enough to promulgate the changes to the Church?  Were there more definitive answers (and I think it likely)?

Moroni 10

(December 31, 2013)
There seems to be a certain line of thinking that many of us are vulnerable to.  It follows the idea that the miracles that we have read about in the scriptures were great and profound, and it would be good to expose them to scientific examination.  But they all occurred before we had the capacity to examine them.  This, we sometimes think in the recesses of our mind, is not a coincidence – we then seek to minimize or find scientific explanations for the miraculous things we read about because we begin to think that science would explain them

This chapter posits a different approach.  Science is a valuable and meaningful pursuit (I am trying to teach myself modern physics currently).  But science, if we are not careful, can displace rather than supplement faith.  With the rise of science, the faith of man decreases as we look to the natural word for explanations of reality rather than the Divine.  As that faith decreases, the miraculous things that followed believers through time also decrease.

As I said, I have seen this in my own life.  I have been blessed to have seen miracles, including things that had no scientific explanation.  I have found that my mind works on those miracles over time – weakening them at the very point I attempt to find explanations for how they happened.  It is dangerous to allow our minds to work against our spirits – developing our minds is good and right, but we must always remember who those minds were created to serve.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 138

(December 30, 2013)
There is so much here that it is nearly impossible to know where to begin.  So I will begin in a very odd place.  What must happen to Christopher Hitchens (notable atheist and inventor of the term “antitheist” for an evangelizing atheist) when he died, passed beyond the veil, and awoke to the new reality where he found himself?  What, beyond that, would be required to convert someone to the Gospel of Jesus Christ beyond walking up to Peter or Adam and asking them what they should do?

Our rational minds what us to believe that, when that moment comes, all will be converted and all will be right and at peace.  I long for the day when I shall awake from this sleep called life and open my eyes to the eternal nature of the soul.  When that moment of death has passed, and in the instant thereafter when I realize that the eternal part of me survives, I cannot adequately convey in words the joy I anticipate in that moment.

But here’s the key – that isn’t the end of things.  Christopher Hitchens and I will both open our eyes and realize that the soul is eternal.  But conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an intellectual process – it can be aided by intellect, but that is it.  No, true conversion – the process by which we turn our wills to God – will only be beginning for Dr. Hitchens.  And, in a similar sense, it will still be only beginning with me.  I hope that I will have filled my lamp drop by drop over the course of my lifetime, but just seeing the eternal nature of man will not sanctify me any more than it will sanctify Dr. Hitchens.  Thus the need for the Gospel to be preached to those in Spirit Prison.

Moroni 9

(December 30, 2013)
After reading this chapter, I wonder what the relationship between loss of love and the loss of any fear of death is.  I have read (and I cannot find the quote right now) that love is a necessary component of fear, because to fear is to envision the loss of someone or something that you love.  If you become completely bereft of love, then you have managed to overcome fear – but at a terrible cost.

We know, of course, the better way to overcome fear is through perfect love.  Fear seems to arise from love that is yet imperfect, and is removed by either loves absence or completion.  It is an interesting concept for me to ponder.

Doctrine and Covenants 137

(December 28, 2013)
Once again, I am amazed at how often my reading schedule comes together.  Baptism for the dead and little children being alive in Christ, all on the same day.

Moroni 8

(December 29, 2013)
Sometimes I feel like I get almost as much out of the way the scriptures are written as I do from the scriptures themselves.  The doctrines are profound and life-altering, but the way that the authors of the scriptures formulate their thoughts gives me an insight into how the prophets of old thought about the world around them and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, the tie between the remission of sins bringing meekness and lowliness of heart is something that I have seen over and over.  I would not think in my mind that the two were naturally linked.  But the more I walk the road of repentance, the more I realize that they are very closely linked.  It is a natural result of being forgiven – when I receive forgiveness, and I brought into greater and greater awareness of the love and majesty of God and His great kindness to me as an unworthy child.  The more I direct my attention there, the more I recognize who I am in relation to Him.  This brings meekness and lowliness of heart as surely as night follows day.

Moroni 7

(December 28, 2013)
It there a more powerful statement in all of the world than the simple statement, “Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.”  We labor throughout our lives to change our natures and give ourselves over to Christ, or else we labor for some worldly goal (worthy or unworthy).  In the absence of faith, everything we have worked for turns to dust at our death.  Some unbelievers hope for immortality through their family, or their work, or any number of other ways.  But even if immortality was offered in this way, they would never see it in their beliefs because oblivion would consume them and all that they had ever hoped for, loved, won, lost, and accomplished would be gone in that moment they passed from living to dead.

There is no hope without faith.  The universe is too large, we can do nothing to change the rotation of the Earth as we circle the Sun (a minor planet around a minor star – one of billions in a galaxy found in a universe full of hundreds of millions of such galaxies).  The scope and scale of our impotence in the face of the scale of reality is complete – we are nothing. Without faith, there is nothing that we can do that will matter in the slightest, and so hope is irrevocably lost absent faith.

With faith, however, we see the universe as it truly is.  The magnitude of reality is nothing more than a moving metaphor for the power and majesty of God.  We see the size and scope of the universe, and we glimpse (only in the tiniest way) the scope of God’s power and our own weakness before Him.  He placed the planets around the stars, the stars in the galaxies, and formed and forms these galaxies.  Such is His power, and with faith we rightly stand in awe of Him.  And yet, with that same faith we understand that for some reason – beyond any value in ourselves and beyond our comprehension – we are loved by Him.  He who set the stars in the sky and could likewise throw them down loves us.  With the scope and scale of the universe, He still knows our name.  This resonates with me as I write it, and I am brought nearly to tears by the thought.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 136

(December 27, 2013)
This is a very temporal set of commandments, in a sense, but as we know there is no such thing as a truly temporal commandment.  We are given instructions here on so many things related to how we operate our lives that in some ways this is one of the most useful Sections that we have.  We are to develop expertise to be useful to the Lord, and to use our expertise to build the Kingdom.  We are to return what we borrow, return what was lost, love each other, humble ourselves, and seek the Lord.  The centerpiece to this list, to me, is that we are to be wise stewards.  If we recognize ourselves as stewards, and all things are in the Lord’s hands, the remainder of things tend to take care of themselves.

Ether 15; Moroni 1-6

(December 27, 2013)
There are two thoughts that I had as I read these chapters.  The first was on Moroni’s reaction to Ether.  Sometimes the Book of Mormon will have moments that seem correct, but at the same time don’t seem like the kind of things that an imaginative author would do.  In this case, the last verse of Ether highlight’s Ether’s reaction to his isolation and his willingness to trust in the Lord.  It is out of place in the narrative, but it is clearly in place when reviewed in light of Moroni’s situation.  When he translates this line and adds it, it is not an afterthought to him.  Instead, Moroni finds himself in the very same position as Ether – a lone witness to the destruction of his people.  Of course Moroni would add such a line to his translation (and, in the same fashion, of course Moroni would translate the record we have in Ether for the same reason).  It makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing you would expect an author to pick up.  An unlettered boy would not exercise such precise control of his narrator.  I see things like these (and they are scattered across the Book of Mormon) as other evidences of the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon as a translated work.

The second thought was on Moroni’s days spent in isolation.  Presumably, he had a wife and children at some point (the record is unclear on this fact, but it is a safe assumption).  If nothing else, he had a father and friends.  All of them were lost to him.  With his faith, it would have been easy to have wished for an end to his mortal probation.  But because he was willing to continue serving – even alone – he was able to bless the lives of untold millions of people through his efforts.  At various points in our lives, we might feel alone or that our efforts are irrelevant.  This is not the case.  We are never alone, and the Lord can always take the few loaves and fishes we have to offer and use them to feed a multitude.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 134-135

(December 26, 2013)
These are difficult Sections to read in conjunction.  On the one hand, Section 134 is firmly directed towards describing the honored place of the law and our responsibility to both give respect to the leaders and to the law.  Section 135 shows the inevitable consequence of following the counsel of Section 134 – Joseph Smith accepted the word of the governor, and this trust cost him his life.

Once again, these things make no sense except and unless they are read in the light of the Gospel and the hereafter (so little makes sense in the universe without a hereafter).  Joseph Smith followed the direction contained in Section 134, it cost him his life, and yet he entered into his Exaltation.

Ether 14

(December 26, 2013)
The key concept of this chapter is found in verse 25.  All too often, I think we see our misfortunes as some sort of a curse that has been placed upon us by an angry God.  In reality, however, I think it is far more common that we are the source of our own destruction.  Our wickedness has negative temporal consequences that accompany the negative spiritual consequences.  Eventually these negative temporal consequences build up to a point where everything we want and love is destroyed by our own wickedness.  This is not a cursing from the Lord – it is the result of us breaking ourselves against the Law.

Doctrine and Covenants 133

(December 25, 2013)
Sometimes I read the scriptures and I am certain that my mind is focusing on irrelevancies, but when I read this section my mind focused on the description of the Sun hiding its face in shame and the Moon withholding its light, and the stars being hurled from their places.  I thought for a while on the subject of what astronomical phenomenon would that accurately describe.  I somehow think that there will still be those who – right until the moment Christ appears – attempt to explain away everything through a scientific absolutism.

Ether 13

(December 25, 2013)
I find a great deal of hope in this chapter.  Corinatumr was a bad, bad man.  He wasn’t as bad as some others during this time period (the Gadianton Robbers wanted him dead, and he presumably wasn’t one of them), but he clearly was a man that put himself before the Lord.  And yet, even after everything he had done the Lord still sent Ether to preach repentance to him – with the promise that it wasn’t too late and he could still be forgiven.

When I look at my mistakes in life, I sometimes feel as though I have squandered my birthright and the damage I have done is irreversible.  And perhaps that is true in a mortal sense – I cannot get back the years spent in mistaken pursuits.  But in an eternal sense, it is not true – it is not too late.  It wasn’t too late for Coriantumr and it isn’t too late for me.  It only becomes too late when we choose not to repent, mimicking Coriantumr’s doomed choice.

Ether 12

(December 24, 2013)
I have read this chapter many times in the past, but I was amazed at how much new information that I found in it (more than I can detail in a single post – I was receiving new insights in just about each verse).  I suppose that this is a natural progression, where as we progress we see more than we didn’t see in the past.  But it was quite startling to see so many things contained in a single chapter in this way.  And I suppose it is also a positive – if I am seeing new things, it means I am still learning and progressing (which means the Lord hasn’t given up on me yet).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ether 10-11

(December 23, 2013)
These chapters seem to me to be more like our day than some other parts of the Book of Mormon.  In many parts of the Book of Mormon, the people seem to go through the pride cycle (righteousness leads to prosperity which leads to pride which leads to wickedness which leads to punishment which leads to humility which leads to righteousness and the cycle starts over) in a matter of a couple of years.  That does not match the experience that I am seeing around me.  The pride cycle, as I see it, is really happening over the space of decades rather than years – still clearly visible, but not as quick.

I can understand it happening that quickly, however, as I have seen when a society seems to be in the grips of what can best be called a fever, and things speed up at an incredible pace.  It appears that the Nephites and Lamanites were undergoing just such a condition in their day.  In our day, however, our pride cycle takes about three decades to run its course.

Doctrine and Covenants 132

(December 22, 2013)
There is an expression that I heard from Chris Foster, which I believe.  It states that, “[d]eeper doctrine is often nothing more than taking God's words literally.”  Never is that more appropriate than this Section.  I have read through it a number of times, but if we take the Lord’s words literally, the things it has to teach us are beyond our ordinary comprehension.  I won’t even go into them all, but I challenge anyone who reads this Section to apply that principle – read this and take God’s words literally, and see just what that would mean.

Ether 9

(December 22, 2013)
I understand that it is part and parcel of the human condition to wait until there is no other option but to repent before we will repent.  I also understand that we are obligated to overcome that human weakness and humble ourselves to repent daily, hourly, and even minute by minute and moment by moment.  But what I don’t understand is why that innate rejection of God’s authority is part and parcel of the human condition.  If we who inhabit this Earth have arrived here because of an eternity of righteous striving, why then does the acquisition of a physical body (and the Fall) draw us so fully contrary to the Plan of Happiness?  What is it about our separation from our Father than leads us to sin?  Is it truly that we are so weak on our own, that we cannot obey when left to our own devices?  While I understand that we are weak, I don’t think that is it – after all, eventually we are to be sanctified and overcome this weakness.  I am trying to come up with an analogy that seems appropriate, and I am led to the thinking of first getting a driver’s license.  Everyone I know (including myself) disregarded rules once we stepped inside the car because there was a feeling of freedom and capacity that we had not had before.  I think that might be the best analogy, and though we have that same feeling of freedom and capacity we must learn anew that the laws that we followed in our spiritual childhood are still the laws we must follow to achieve happiness.

Ether 7-8

(December 21, 2013)
I have always had a Panglossian approach to the world that has served me well – I can say (intellectually, if not emotionally) that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  The Father has taken each of us, His children, and placed us where we need to be in the world to best serve others (and, by extension, where we can be best served).  Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, He has placed each of us like a piece on the table in its perfect and proper place to fit the pattern He has designed.  We have curves and cutouts, but these He has used according to His great design.

When we see thing such as the prophets being given free range in this chapter to teach the people, and the corresponding success, there are two different ways to look at it.  First, the decision to open the country to the prophets resulted in more people being saved at this time.  I have problems with that intellectually, because that would mean that there were others who could have achieved Exaltation but for the fact that they were born in the wrong time in the wrong place.  The other way to look at it is that the Lord had a plan and the prophets were meant to preach to the whole country and He placed the right child on the throne and the right children accross the country and the right children as prophets to save those of His children He had given to Christ according to His plan.

I find the second a more intellectually consistent position, but it is not without its difficulties (I understand why Pangloss is derided – we still have to rescue those around us).  When we see the blessings of the Lord around us, we must remember and be grateful for them with the understanding that everything happens according to the Father’s will – He is not surprised by what we do or don’t do, and by knowing us He knows everything.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ether 4-6

(December 20, 2013)
I think that each of us, at some point and time, must make the same decision that the Jaredites made.  We, small and insignificant against the magnitude of the challenge before us, must put out to the uncertain sea – commending ourselves to the Lord and His care.  Only by so doing can we hope for reaching the promised future He offers us.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 131

(December 19, 2013)
Jack Haldane is quoted as saying “[m]y own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”  Reading through this section, I can understand that to be true.  After all, there is another world all around us that we cannot perceive in our clumsy and brutish state.  Could a child in the womb understand the concept of merging in traffic?  This simple act to an adult is not only stranger than that unborn babe imagines, but stranger than that child can imagine.  Only after passing through from one stage of life to the next, and receiving the appropriate growth that accompanies such a change, can the child begin to imagine the simplest aspects of the life ahead.  So, too, are we incapable of understanding even the basics of the eternal, while our minds are so occupied by the finite.

Ether 3

(December 19, 2013)
I had a pair of thoughts as I read through this chapter.  The first will be easier to articulate – the Urim and Thummim (which seem to have been presented to the brother of Jared at this time and were passed down all the way to Joseph Smith) seem to have significance.  I do not think it was an accident that the Lord gave the Urim and Thummim to the brother of Jared at this particular point.  After all, what was the brother of Jared attempting to do?  He did not want to cross the waters in darkness, but was praying to the Lord to touch stones to provide light as his people crossed the deep ocean.  Is that not a symbol or type for the Urim and Thummim – stones touched by the Lord to give light to us as we cross the deep waters of our mortal life?

The second thought I had is more difficult to express.  In the beginning of this chapter, the brother of Jared is acknowledging his weakness.  He is unworthy, and his nature is to do evil continually.  As he is righteous, we can assume he is being fully honest in this prayer.  And yet, by the end of this chapter he is introduced into the presence of the Lord and redeemed from the fall.  Sometimes we see ourselves in our fallen state, and we are tempted to believe that we are too far from the Lord to ever make it back to Him.  But here, in a situation where the brother of Jared clearly believed himself to be unworthy, he in reality stood only moments away from redemption and being able to part the veil and enter the presence of the Lord.  This is a powerful truth.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 129-130

(December 18, 2013)
It would be so fascinating to peek behind the veil – only for a moment.  I understand well what was said, that a glimpse behind the veil would provide more knowledge than a lifetime of reading on the subject.  Still, I wonder so many things about how we shall live when we have an eternity with which to live.  My mind really has trouble comprehending both the magnitude of eternity and how our society will be changed by it.

Ether 2

(December 18, 2013)
Why is it that the Lord, who admits that the waves which would swallow the ship prepared by the Jaredites came from His mouth and were under His control, would not simply still them to permit the Jaredites to go with windows?  I think that there is some significance there.  The trials that we pass through – the very trials that we go to the Lord for help in conquering – are sometimes gifts from the Lord to help us to accomplish our purpose.  Presumably the waves were designed to more quickly get the Jaredites where they needed to go – the thing that swallowed them into the depths of the sea is the same thing that freed them to get where they need to go.

We should consider that when we ask for relief from our adversity in prayer.  Yes, the Lord could probably grant us the relief that we are requesting, but would that relief get us where we need to be?  Possibly not.  Instead, we should follow the example of the brother of Jared and take a solution to our problem that does not remove our adversity but rather allows the challenged to be properly met and overcome.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 128

(December 17, 2013)
One of my favorite quotes is that ‘growth and comfort never occur in the same place at the same time.’  I have always thought that clever, and have appropriated it for my own use many times.  But recently I have begun to realize both how true it is, and how uncomfortable growth can be.  The process of purification is a matter of allowing the Lord to burn away your impurities.  There is no comfortable method for placing yourself within the refiner’s fire.  You must be willing to do so, it is true.  But then you must accept that you will inevitably be burned in the process.

Ether 1

(December 17, 2013)
I suppose that it never dawned on me that the confounding of the languages at the Tower of Babel was not an instantaneous thing.  I sort of imagined to myself that one minute everything was going according to plan and the next minute your request “hand me that hammer” is returned with “Ajnsd rwscnow euhd skovnr!?!?”  And in that moment, the people scattered.

But that doesn’t appear to be what happened.  After all, Jared was seeing the confounding happening in front of him.  It was happening slowly enough that he had time to go to his brother and to ask him to pray to the Lord for their protection.  How odd and terrifying that must have been – to go from a functioning society to a dysfunctional one in a moment would be bad, but seeing it happen in slow motion must have been worse.  The question I have is not why Jared and his brother cried to the Lord, but why everyone else did not.

The other thought I had as I read was about Jared’s faith.  Sometimes I think we get so focused on the righteousness of the brother of Jared that we lose sight of the fact that Jared was a pretty faithful guy in his own right.  He foresaw that they would likely be scattered, and he sought the Lord’s help in being scattered to a choice land – exercising his faith in that regard.

At times, I think each of us feel as though we are being scattered (I certainly feel that way right now).  If nothing else, we have a comfort zone we like to live in (just as Jared certainly had home and land and comforts he did not want to leave).  But, when the time comes that we are to be driven out of our comfort zone, shouldn’t we share Jared’s faith to pray to the Lord that we will be led to a choice landing spot?  Easier said than done, I know, but I think it gives me food for thought.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mormon 9

(December 16, 2013)
It is funny the way your mind works upon scriptures – interpreting them in light of your own weaknesses rather than their actual meaning.  For example, the scriptures that say that disciples of Christ, firm and unshakable in their faith and doubting nothing, shall have power to do whatsoever thing that they pray to the Father to have done.  I look at that and think to myself about how great it would be to have that kind of faith – I would be praying for this mighty miracle and that mighty miracle and I would set the world right in no time flat.

Then, after a moment of sober reflection, I realized that if the Lord has the power to do these miracles through a hypothetical me that has that kind of faith, He has the power to accomplish those things without me.  And yet He has not.  Why has He not done them?  It isn’t because He cannot, and it isn’t because He does not love His children.  No, it is because He understands what needs to happen in mortality better than I do.  So the thoughts of a hypothetical righteous me standing in front of a tornado, praying it away suddenly evaporate from my mind.

But, I thought, I would be able to heal others and forestall death for myself and those I love.  But a little thought stripped me of that notion as well.  God holds the keys of life and death, and He uses them with love for us.  Who am I, with no real knowledge of life beyond the veil, to say that remaining in mortality is the better option?  Isn’t that, also, just pride on my part?  The Father holds the keys of entry and exit to this mortal sphere, and I certainly lack the wisdom to supplant Him.

No, the more I thought about things the more I realized that the hypothetical me with the necessary faith and righteousness to have such effectual prayers would also be a me that is far more observant of my Father’s will, far less likely to use such power for fear of harming myself or His other children, and more patient in all types of afflictions.  It almost seems a power that, should I ever acquire it, I would never use it.  Perhaps that isn’t quite the case – perhaps, having thought these thoughts I have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.  But at least I would be far more reserved in the use of such a power than I am now in my indiscriminate prayers (more akin to a wish list to Santa than a genuine effort to understand His perfect will).

Doctrine and Covenants 127

(December 15, 2013)
One of the great worries in my life is just how little persecution that I face in my attempts to follow the Gospel of Christ.  I don’t want persecution – on the contrary, I am quite glad that I don’t have to suffer through it.  But its absence worries me.  Should I be drawing conclusions from the fact that I am rarely (if ever) called upon to suffer persecution for obedience to the Gospel?  Does that mean that I am so weak that the Lord could not expose me to persecution, or I am so far astray that the Adversary feels no need to attack me?  I hope, in the pride of my heart, that I am not subject to such persecution because I am striving to be obedient even without it – but I fear that it is because of my weakness that the Lord withholds it from me.

Mormon 8

(December 15, 2013)
It is difficult for me to imagine what Moroni was feeling during these last days and years of his life.  Here he was – alone in the world, with no hope in mortality.  Did he pray for death?  Did he pray for life?  My difficulties seem relatively minor in comparison, and yet he is handling them so much better.

The other thought I had in reading this chapter was on miracles.  We know that miracles begin to cease as the people stop believing in them.  And I think if we look around ourselves, we start to see the loss of miracles in comparison to the past.  I think that at least a portion of that is the way we revere science (science is valuable, but is only a part of the whole).  Even us, as members of the Church, look at science in a way that diminishing our capacity to believe in miracles as we ought to.  We want a miracle to happen in a public way so science can engage it and we would know it was a miracle – not recognizing that miracles need no recognition from science.

Doctrine and Covenants 125-126

(December 14, 2013)
I am impressed by the counsel of the Lord to Brigham Young – that his calling at this time was to take especial care of his family.  The Bishop has currently given me a similar calling in my life.  My focus is to not be my career, or my calling, or any other pursuits.  My focus for now is to care for my family.  I was willing (and happy) to do that, and it is just a reassurance to me that this calling was one that was also given to a prophet.

Mormon 6-7

(December 14, 2013)
Nothing will give you cause to reflect than for a prophet to describe a set of circumstances to you, and for you to recognize those circumstances in yourself, and for the prophet to then ascribe those circumstances to sin and wickedness.  That is what happened to me in these chapters.  Lately I have been struggling with what can only be described as a fear of death.  I think of the moment immediately after passing through the veil – if, in that moment, I am aware and will continue to be aware, what rejoicing there will be.  But my rational mind fights against that faith that I hold and wonders what if, in that moment when my eyes close for the final time in mortality, it is simply sleep from which I never wake up?  What if everything that is me is gone in that instant of death?

This thought fills me with terror – not the least of which reason because of the fact that I do not think that reason and rationality can ever be satisfied on this subject.  Faith is a necessary component to understand, and it is similarly necessary to either accept or deny the Atonement and immortality.  We cannot say that there is a hereafter without faith, and we cannot say there is not a hereafter without faith of a different sort.  I struggle with this, and I ruminate on this.  My soul believes, but my mind rebels.  This conflict, and this uncertainty, fills my heart with what can only be described as terror.

I response to this, Mormon is unequivocal.  This fear of death – this terror that clutches my heart and consumes my soul – is the awful fear of death within the breasts of the wicked.  For me to encounter this fear – to fight it and to suffer through it – is a consequence of my failing and my wickedness and my sins.  To not only experience this fear, but to deal with the fact that I am the cause of my own suffering, makes it doubly difficult.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 124

(December 13, 2013)
I have never been able to resolve the apparent conflict between the language of this section (“when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”) and Nephi’s statement (“for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”).  The two seem directly contradictory.  If the Lord giveth no commandment save He prepare a way, then how is it possible that we can go with all our might and cease not our diligence and still not perform the work?

While one is directly the words of the Lord, the other are words of His prophet (and quoted so many times as to be nearly unassailable).  It appears that somehow the two must be reconciled in order to gain an understanding of the truth.  How are they to be reconciled?

This is not an academic issue with me.  Right now, I am putting forth my very best efforts, working with all of my might, ceasing not my diligence, and yet I am concerned that all of these efforts will simply not be enough.  I want the confidence that Nephi had – if I am willing to go and do, the Lord will prepare a way for me to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.  While I know the Lord will accept my offering, that isn’t what I want to have happen (well, not all that I want to have happen).  I want to accomplish the task in front of me.  I want to preserve what needs preserved.  I want to build the temple that the Lord wants built, but my best efforts right now aren’t getting it done.

Are these both valid principles, and one applied to Nephi while the other applied to Independence, Missouri?  Is Nephi’s pledge because it was an individual commandment and Independence because it was a communal commandment (that does not help my situation, as there is more than one person involved in the work I am trying to accomplish)?  What would I need to do to move my efforts off of the Independence track and on to the Nephi track?

Mormon 5

(December 13, 2013)
Mormon condemns those who do not repent of their iniquities, but instead struggle for their lives without calling upon the Being that created them.  But in my current situation, I am pleading with the Being that created me while I struggle for my “life.”  I am fighting to repent of my iniquities, and I am pleading for support.  I feel it, from time to time, but the hope is fleeting while the pain is unending.  I don’t know how to carry my load like this.

There were those whose flight was slower than the Lamanites, who were cut down.  The massacre happened across the land, with a scene of bloodshed and carnage.  I feel like that is an apt metaphor for my life at this moment.  I am being cut down on the left and the right.  I cannot consolidate my gains because I am being hurt so quickly and so much.  I call upon the Being that created me, but I fear lest the overrunning of Jordan in my life is just around the corner and I am incapable of holding it back.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 122-123

(December 12, 2013)
There are times when elements of my life go so far beyond coincidence that it is impossible to imagine it occurring without a Divine hand.  My reading of Mormon 4, just moments before, left me with the feeling that I was impotent and incapable – a leaf adrift on river, the water driving me against the rocks as I went.  The imagine was clear to me – society and culture, those around me, all of these things controlled far more than I did.

And then, I read these two chapters.  This could not be an accident.  Yes, I am small.  Yes, I am unimportant.  Yes, forces around me shape my life like the waves of the sea beat up the boat.  The boat cannot change the tide, and cannot still the waves.  But the small helm, which incapable of moving the tide around it, still can drive the ship where it needs to go.  I cannot control the world.  I cannot influence the world.  But I can, with the Lord’s help, influence enough around me to cheerfully do all things that lie in my power, and then to stand still to see the salvation of God and for His arm to be revealed.  My I be blessed with that utmost assurance is my prayer.

Mormon 4

(December 12, 2013) I had a thought while reading this chapter that I have often thought of when reading similar chapters.  What about those who were not unrighteous?  Presumably there were many people who were not delighting in bloodshed (probably on both sides), and yet here we have the widespread destruction of an entire people.  What of the children, sacrificed on idols?  What of their terror and pain?

The course of humanity seems to be a river beyond the control of most of us.  We can influence a splash here, or an eddy there, but the flow of time and man sweep by us regardless of our efforts to change its course.  It leaves me with a strong feeling of futility – even in my own life and immediate circumstances, I find my best efforts insignificant.  What hope have we in this life is we are confronted with tides and forces so far beyond our ability to influence and to which so control our lives?

I come back to the philosophy of absurdism.  Either the world is absurd, and there is no meaningful answer to anything.  Or the world is a shadow of the World from which we come – where Justice exists even when we lose justice, where Mercy exists even in the absence of mercy, and where Hope endures even when we have lost all hope.  There is no way to deal with suffering in the world without the understanding that the world is not all there is.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 121

(December 11, 2013)
It is hard to read this, of all scriptures, on a day when I am suffering through a particularly large amount of pain.  On the one hand, you would think this would be comforting to read on such a day – after all, my suffering was not as Joseph’s suffering.  But, on the other hand, I am left with two pressures against me.  The first is that I feel like my pain is intense, yet minimized by the comparison with his – trivialized, almost, despite its acuteness.  Secondly, Joseph has the unshakable confidence that came from a life of service to the Father and the Christ who appeared to him.  He knew what I am left to believe.  He knew that his suffering would end in a triumphant and glorious resurrection.  I believe that my suffering will end in resurrection.  That uncertainty – that weakness in my testimony exposed in my suffering – has done more to disturb my mind than anything I could have imagined.

Mormon 3

(December 11, 2013)
I always had a thought, rumbling in the back of my mind, that the key to just about everything in life was faith.  After all, it is relatively easy to give up on something for a mere 80 years in contrast to the benefits that will come from an eternal reward.  If our faith is strong enough, we will easily forswear ourselves of the immediate in return for the eternal.

I mention this because of the discussion in this chapter about vengeance.  If God exists, and if He is as we believe He is, then He is a perfect judge.  He is also a perfect support for us, and He perfectly loves us.  If we have faith in Him, there is never a need for vengeance.  Vengeance, then, is an act of distrust of the Lord – we are saying that we either do not believe that He exists or we do not believe He is who He says He is.

Acquiring the fact the carry us through the hard times, however, is somewhat easier said than done.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 118-120

(December 10, 2013)
I have often felt uncomfortable about the description of tithing in these Sections.  After all, were we obligated to give all of our surplus before paying our tithing?  I suppose that it is not as pressing to me, as I have been tithed my whole life.  But it seems as though this commandment has just been forgotten.

On the other hand, this shows the greatness of the Lord.  He has every right to demand everything from us – it is all his, after all.  But He lets us keep a portion.  Like a child’s toy, He gives us a sense of ownership of the things that matter to us – so long as we understand that they truly belong to Him the way our children’s toys truly belong to us.

Mormon 2

(December 10, 2013)
The great terror that I feel, as I am trying to repent and change my life, is that my sorrow is not a godly sorrow that denies sin but rather a worldly sorrow that feels misery because I cannot always take pleasure in sin.  This is a particular concern to me, since my unrighteous desires are ones that will likely persist throughout my time in mortality.  I sorrow for my sins, but at the same time there is a constant pull on me to return to them.  I feel that what I am experiencing is godly sorrow, but how can I be certain when I still want to commit the sin?

The only thing that I can look to is that I want to not want to sin (if that makes any sense).   I think the pull towards unrighteousness is a common trait in humanity (maybe I am fooling myself), and while sanctification and the loss of any desire for sin is the goal the desire for the loss of desire to sin is a necessary first step along the path to that goal.  After all, the Ammonites could not take up their weapons of war even in their old age because of the pull that came from their old sins.  Thus these people, willing to kneel in front of their enemies and allow themselves to be cut down, were likewise pulled by habits and vices from their past.  I don’t place myself in their company, but if they share this weakness I suppose that it is not a fatal one in my life.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 115-117

(December 9, 2013)
I was struck by the Lord’s language on building the temple after the pattern than He established.  I dwelt on it for a while, and it hit me that many of my problems could be because I was building my “temple” (my life) after a pattern different than His pattern.  I was trying to make of my life the best that I could manage, but the Lord didn’t say to build a nice temple.  Or even a glorious temple.  He said to build the temple after the pattern that He established.

I have a large number of short and long-term goals that I am working towards.  I am struggling to find my footing at work and at home.  I feel I am doing my absolute best, but I seem to be spinning my wheels.  I suppose my thoughts need to be on whether I am trying to build the best temple that I can (by my limited understanding) and how I can build my temple after the pattern shown by the Lord.  I suppose the next step will be to examine each of my goals that I have set and to determine whether they need to be altered or changed in order to make them consistent with the Lord’s pattern.  I did that to a minor extent (taking off a couple of things that shouldn’t have been goals), but I need to open myself up to revelation and deal and prayerfully consider those goals going forward.

I need to desire to have my life built in the way that He would have it built, rather than the way that I would have in built.  Because I have made a mess of my own life.  I suppose that will require me to humble myself to accomplish this.

Mormon 1

(December 9, 2013)
I believe that it is fair to say that we have little understanding of the way the world actually works.  For example, Mormon closes this chapter with an explicit discussion of sorceries and witchcraft.  Ask the typical Christian (Mormon or otherwise) whether such things exist, and I would imagine that they would concede that they do.  But, by the same token, that seems to be only words rather than a true understanding that these powers we don’t understand exist.

We comprehend miracles (although all too often we try to explain them away).  But we are less comfortable accepting that Satan has powers of his own that permit him to impact the world.  I have no doubt that this is a deliberate set of circumstances – another way of the Devil to claim that he is not who we know him to be because there is no Devil.

Monday, December 2, 2013

3 Nephi 19

(December 2, 2013)
What would each of us have done if we were in the position where we heard it noised abroad that Christ would be at the temple tomorrow?  Wouldn’t we give everything we could, work through the night, and travel as far as necessary to make it there to see Him?  And, if we claim to be so willing, why is it that we will not make similar efforts to attend the temple that is just down the street?  Is it because we don’t truly believe or fully understand that the Lord is at that temple just as much as He was at the temple in Bountiful?  Do we want the miraculous appearance so much that we ignore the gentle Spirit that will guide us to better our lives?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Helaman 7

(November 10, 2013)
At this time of significant difficulty in my life, I am comforted by the fact that Nephi’s mission to the north was unsuccessful.  It is good to see that our failures aren’t the end of the line for us.  While Nephi’s failures had to do with the sinfulness of others and mine had to do with my own sinfulness, nevertheless he remained a powerful prophet who worked mighty miracles despite an unsuccessful mission.

When we strive to achieve righteousness through our callings, we are often frustrated when our efforts seem to fail to bear fruit.  We may even chastise ourselves (I know I have).  But sometimes we fail to recognize the role of agency in the Plan of Salvation – we know it intellectually but we forget it emotionally.  When we fail, we need to ask ourselves whether we fulfilled our stewardships to the best of our abilities and, if so, leave our efforts in the Lord’s capable hands.

Doctrine and Covenants 94-95

(November 20, 2013)
I think we underestimate just how significant contention is in our lives.  After all, Christ Himself declared that contention in the School of the Prophets was grievous to Him.  I think the reason why contention is so grievous to Him is that contention by its very nature seeks to impose its will on others.  One simply does not contend if one does not seek unrighteous dominion.  After all, why do I need to yell at someone else other than to make them do what I want them to do?  And if I leave them to their stewardship, I may attempt to teach or uplift or enlighten them if I see better things for them or I desire them to achieve more.  But once I contend with them, I am in effect saying that what they are doing is no longer good enough for me and they must do more for my sake.

3 Nephi 4

(November 20, 2013)
It has always struck me that those who obey the Gospel are, as a general rule, able to take care of themselves while those who disobey the Gospel are, as a general rule, only able to provide for their needs by preying on those who are responsible.  I don’t know that this is so much an inherent condition, but I think that it might be something as simple as the fact that those who live in violation of the laws of the Gospel spend their lives preying on others as the simplest means of providing for themselves and never learn a better way.

Doctrine and Covenants 108

(December 1, 2013)
Verse 2 of this Section has an interesting formulation to my mind.  The Lord here states that Lyman is to let his soul be at rest concerning his spiritual standing, and he is to resist His voice no more.  To my reading, the resisting the voice is connected to Lyman’s concern about his spiritual standing.

Do we have that in our own lives?  Do we resist the Lord because we are unsure of where we stand in relation to Him?  Do we pull away, as a consequence of our having too little faith that He can heal us, or that He accepts our meager efforts?  I wonder.

Sorry for the Interruption

I apologize for the brief delay in posting, lately.  I am just finishing up what has been the most difficult month of my life.  While I have been diligent in reading my scriptures (I don't think I could have gotten through the month without them), I have been less diligent in either writing about them (or in my journal at all).  And, having not written about my readings, I had nothing to post online.

I hope with a new month, there is reason for new optimism.

3 Nephi 18

(December 1, 2013)
The Christ-centered approach to missionary work is much different than what I think we envision in our weaker moments.  Christ in this chapter sets out the pattern for missionary work.  (1) All we are to do is to hold up Christ as an example to the world.  We are to tell of Him, and model our lives after His to the best of our ability.  Both halves (telling and imitating) are necessary.  (2) We are to continually minister to those around us, regardless of whether we might believe they are beyond hope/help.  Christ gives us no authority to declare anyone beyond His infinite Atonement.  We are to pray for them, serve them, and minister to them.  Perhaps they will be saved, and perhaps not.  But our responsibilities remain the same.

I think a great deal of our reluctance to perform missionary work is a result of our attempts to perform that work in a manner contrary to this pattern.  We place the burden for success or failure on ourselves – we think if we come up with the perfect argument or the right logic, we can somehow “save” those we try to teach.  Then, if we fail, we feel as though we have failed forever and placed those we are attempting to bless beyond the reach of Christ.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Missionary work is difficult to the extent that we remove Christ from the process.  If we simply try to model His life for those around us, serve them, open our mouths to tell them of Him (not of us, but of Him), and then rely on the Lord to work upon them, there is no pressure on us other than to serve and bless those around us.  Missionary work, then, becomes easy.