Friday, January 31, 2014

Genesis 12-15

(January 31, 2014)
When we look at the life of Abram, and what he did, it makes me curious what made him stand out to the Lord as one to receive the particular blessing that he received whereby we are all of his lineage (through birth or adoption).  He grew in wealth, certainly, but others have done the same.  He armed his people and fought on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (and his brother), but so did others.  He shares the stage with Melchizedek (Shem, perhaps?), but despite the righteousness of Melchizedek and what would clearly be an inspiring life to learn about, we hear nothing but a few words of Melchizedek and the narrative again turns to Abram.

Why?  I know that there is an answer, but I don’t know what it is – what makes Abram stand out sufficient to receive the promised blessing which he receives?  He becomes the man willing to sacrifice his son, and becomes a type for his Father in that regard.  But I think the more important things is that Abram (Abraham) is the continuation of the covenant relationship between God and man.  It is not Abraham that is so important, but rather the covenant which God makes with him that matters.

2 Nephi 13-14

(January 31, 2014)
There is a lot to see here, but the main point of these two chapters can be found in the transition in Chapter 14.  The calamities that are to occur will still occur, but even “in that day,” as bad as that day is, the “branch of the Lord [shall] be beautiful and glorious.”  When we see the world around us, the wickedness and suffering seems almost more than we can bear at times.  But we have the Lord’s promise that even in such difficult times we can be confident that we may experience His blessings and protection if we are willing to stay by Him.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Genesis 10-11

(January 30, 2014)
There are so many aspects of the beginning of the world that we simply don’t understand.  I mean that through both a religious and a scientific sense.  The problem, however, is when we pretend to knowledge that we simply don’t have.  It is tempting to say that we know what actually happened, because the Bible tells us something, or because science tells us something.

In both cases, we risk wresting what we think we know beyond all recognition.  The Bible is a journal, and having written a journal I can tell you that mine has mistakes in it – even when I am doing my very best to make it accurate.  A prophet’s journal, though far better than my meager efforts, would likewise be imperfect because the prophet is also imperfect (there is only one perfect Man).  But even more obvious is the fact that we only see things from our perspectives, and so we cannot know everything that we might otherwise want to know or think to know.  Was the Flood global?  The Bible is written by those who had a limited perspective – if Noah wrote the journal that was passed down to Abraham (and from Abraham to Moses), then the question is what did Noah see.  Is it not possible that Noah saw the entire Earth (from his perspective) covered in water?

It is the same issue with science.  The best scientists I know always tell me the same thing.  Science can do a reasonable job of telling you what is happening now, but as you go backwards or forwards in time science becomes less capable.  To make the point simply, science focuses on probabilities.  If science can take something that they think strongly, they say (hypothetically) that it is 99% likely that this is what happened.  But as they go further back, they make more “likely” assumptions based upon probability.  Even if each of those assumptions are strong, it doesn’t take long for the probabilities to decrease.  A 99% assumption based upon a 99% assumption is only 98% likely.  Carry that out 100 times, and you are left with only a likelihood of 36.6% – still substantial, but not the slam-dunk that you would think.  And that is with only 100 compounded probabilities over the course of six millennia at an incredibly high predictive rate.

Long story short (which I got on as I thought about what it meant when the earth was divided in the time of Peleg), is that we simply don’t know much about the how, or even the what, of what happened in our ancient past – either through the Bible or through science.  What we do know is that we know enough to guide us in these days, and we also carry the promise that when the Lord comes He can teach us how He did what He did, and I trust that it will all make perfect sense at that time.

2 Nephi 11-12

(January 30, 2014)
Reading through these chapters (particularly Chapter 12), I had reinforced to me something that I have been thinking of over the past several days.  I simply do not know how to worship.  The qualities of my prayers are such that it is as if I am praying to a composite of one part Santa Clause, one part grandpa, and one part drinking buddy (of course, the drink would have to be soda, considering).  No where in my prayers am I praying to the Almighty God.

I am the kind of man that Isaiah is condemning in this scripture.  I am full of pride, stiffnecked idolatrous, and haughty.  I don’t know how to be any other way – I don’t understand how to worship.  I know that I need to be humble (or humbled), but beyond that I need to learn more of Him so that I can worship Him, and learn more of worship.

These past two days or so have given me some idea of just how far I have to go.

Genesis 8-9

(January 28, 2014)
I think that I spend too much time contemplating and not enough time enjoying.  I think that if something has a rational explanation, that is the sole explanation.  I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t felt that way somewhere along the way – you love something, and as you learn more about it you find yourself loving it less and less.  The more you know, the less you enjoy it.  By knowing it, you have removed the magic from it.

I think that is a weakness in me.  We know why the rainbow appears scientifically.  But does that make the rainbow any less beautiful?  Does that make it any less of a source of wonder?  More importantly, does that make it any less of a symbol of a covenant between God and man?  Just because we can explain the physical properties of light that cause a rainbow does not negate the other, potentially more important aspects of the rainbow.

2 Nephi 10

(January 29, 2014)
There is a difficult balance to reach between godly sorrow (something that we should experience constantly, because we fall short and fail to live up to our birthright) and sorrow after the world.  Teasing those two ideas apart has been a struggle for me, but I think there is some help in this chapter.  Jacob (a person not unacquainted with sorrow, as we can only assume that he suffered through much of the same abuse that Nephi suffered through), gives us the answer in verse 20.  We must still be willing to lay aside our sins (impossible to do without godly sorrow, as we understand the repentance process), but we should also not hang down our heads.  We can look at ourselves with godly sorrow but still remember that we are not cast off, yet, because of the marvelous Grace of the Lord.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2 Nephi 9

(January 28, 2014)
There is just too much in this chapter to ever possibly deal with it all.  But the main thrust of this chapter is that there are two pathways before us at all times – the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked.  We are each free to choose which of these paths that we will walk down.  But we also must accept the temporal and spiritual consequences of that choice.  Should we choose the path of righteousness, we must expect pain and difficulty throughout mortality, but with the promise of an eternal fullness of joy.  If we walk the path of wickedness, our lives might be better (from a carnal perspective), but in a moment that life will be over and we will have an eternity to regret our mistakes.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Genesis 5-7

(January 27, 2014)
I am seeing a great deal of discussion around about whether the flood was a global flood or a local flood (or, even, a semi-global flood – imagine if the rain was sufficient to raise the ocean water levels by the 26 feet or so).  While I don’t propose to know what happed, what was necessary to happen theologically, or even what the record shows to have happened scientifically, I don’t have a care in the world about that.  Because, while I don’t know what happened, I don’t think that in the Day of Judgment there is going to be a test on that particular portion of the Noah story.  We are not going to be asked, ‘When the Lord flooded the Earth, what was the volume of water released, where did it come from, and was Mt. Everest completely covered?’  We are going to be asked, ‘When the Lord called you, as Noah was called, did you obey, like Noah obeyed?’

2 Nephi 7-8

(January 27, 2014)
I keep finding myself pulled back to an issue that I once believed wholeheartedly – that the main reason for disobedience was a lack of faith.  I am slowly finding myself convinced that I am not correct on that assumption.  I always thought that if you believed enough, you would naturally (and even self-interestedly) choose to do right rather than wrong.

Once again, these chapters seem to say the opposite.  In fact, my life seems to say the opposite.  The best example of that which I know is the fear that I have of praying for humility.  I don’t hold off on praying for humility because I don’t think my prayer will be answered – no, my fear is that my prayer will be answered and answered with any number of catastrophic events that will lead me to an increase in humility.  Were I fully at peace with the Lord, I would not refrain from praying for anything that would draw me closer to Him.  Regardless, however, the thing that is holding me back from praying for humility has nothing to do with a lack of faith.

Genesis 3-4

(January 26, 2014)
I cannot help but wonder what Adam and Eve must have been thinking through the calamity of the events between Cain and Abel.  How difficult it must have been – both to be separated from both of their children and to know that Cain had sinned against the Lord and turned his back on his eternal reward.

The thought of losing a child to death is terrifying, but the thought of losing a child to apostasy is even more frightening.

2 Nephi 6

(January 26, 2014)
I believe I have said before that my metaphorical ears perk up when I hear absolute language in the scriptures – always, never, all, none, and so forth. I am beginning to wonder whether by doing this I might be wresting the scriptures, so it is something that I am trying to be more careful about, but it strikes me nonetheless.  That is why my ears perked up at the language “none will he destroy that believe in him” in verse 14.

We worry so much about the randomness of arbitrary nature of life that we sometimes forget that randomness evens out over time.  If we flip a coin, we may win or we may lose.  But if we flip a coin every moment over infinity, we can expect the results to hew very, very close to evenly.  So it is with us – the arbitrary and capricious nature of the universe only appears that way because we are looking at the universe in such a small segment of time.  Some people get breaks, and some people don’t.  But over the course of eternity, all of these things will balance out – not by mere probability but because of the justice and mercy of God.

It does not say that those who believe in him will not suffer, or even that they will not die, but that none will be destroyed.  And that is a comforting thought.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Genesis 1-2

(January 25, 2014)
One of our largest challenges in dealing with modern science is the fact that the prophets who received revelation on the Creation and the Fall didn’t likewise know modern science – so their inspiration and revelation is given, almost, in a different language.  The Lord couldn’t tell Moses that He created the world by gathering material into a supergiant star, using fusion until iron began to develop, then having gravity collapse the star upon itself only to create a supernova – the resulting explosion creating the heavy elements which would then gather over a period of millions or billions of years into the star we have now and the planet we call home.  Moses’s first question, of course, would have been ‘what is a supergiant star?,’ or ‘what is a supernova?’ and things would have gone downhill from there.  And even if the Lord could have educated Moses in an instant, that would still have left Moses having to communicate with the people of Israel in a way that they understood without the benefits of modern science.

The amazing thing about Genesis (and all of the Creation stories that we have, actually) isn’t so much what they say, but what is lingering just below the surface.  As we come to understand the origins of the universe better, we can almost squint our eyes a bit and see what Moses was seeing and what he was trying to convey.  I don’t happen to believe in the young Earth theory (I think it is telling that in the two versions of the Creation we have written in Hebrew [Moses and Genesis] it uses the word “day,” which is the only applicable word in Biblical Hebrew regardless of how long it is, while Abraham, written in Egyptian [a language with more options for showing duration] uses the more general term “time”), and so I look at this as Moses’s attempt to convey in a short writing what he learned about how the Lord over billions of years guided the Creation of this Earth.  We see the formless Earth, being pulled together by gravity over the course of millions of years.  We see the evolution of plants, then animals in the sea and the air, then beasts in the fields.  We see the Sun and stars becoming visible as the Earth continues to change and the dust settles to allow light to pass through the atmosphere that we now have.  I can understand why Moses wrote it in this fashion, but it is all there.

Religion has nothing to fear from science simply because some of the prophets of old and of modern times weren’t scientists and didn’t speak the lingo.  If we are willing to look we can find the truth right there.

2 Nephi 5

(January 25, 2014)
I cannot fathom how difficult it must have been for Nephi to do the things which the Lord commanded in this chapter.  First of all, it must have been difficult for him to leave in the first place.  On the one hand, he was leaving to save his life and bring peace – so that was likely a huge relief.  On the other hand, however, he must have known that by leaving he was also leaving his nieces and nephews to a life of idolatry and wickedness.  Presumably that must have caused him some pause – wouldn’t that have been a difficult decision to have made? – and some pain.

The second half of that is even worse.  Somewhere along the line the relationship between the people descended into outright bloodshed (presumably very early on – as soon as the Lamanites found the Nephites).  Laman and Lemuel felt robbed, so when they found the Nephite encampment, you can expect that everyone was gathered together to go and take back what was theirs.  There is very little said about this time, and I don’t think that is an accident.  You can easily see the possibility that Nephi fought directly with Laman or Lemuel (after taking years of abuse from them), and perhaps killed one or both of them.  You can also easily imagine Nephi fighting with a nephew that he favored when they were together, and being called upon in the situation that they were in to kill him in order to protect those who looked to him for their protection.

The silence of the record might fool you, but I imagine that things did not get any easier after he left Laman and Lemuel.  I can understand the need to leave when it is a matter of life or death, but leaving the problem rarely solves the problem.  When it is a matter of life and death, leaving is justified.  But leaving brings with it another set of pains and difficulties that are as bad or worse than the ones you experience with staying.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Title Page, Epistle Dedicatory, Explanation Concerning Abbreviations

(January 24, 2014)
There is a certain level of pride that we each have in our own understandings of the Gospel.  I think that the translators had it quite correct that there are those of us who only accept truth that has been crafted by us, or hammered on our own anvil.  It is difficult to accept truth that is revealed to us until we gnaw away at it and in some manner digest it.  This is better than turning our noses up at the truth, but it still shouldn’t be the case.  When truth is revealed, we should accept it.

In my own case, I can only say that my limitation is one of fear.  When I encounter truth that hasn’t been hammered at my own anvil, I fear the possibility that it is wrong.  I fear the loss that following the wrong path will lead to (or, more particularly, I fear the loss of opportunities to do wrong if I foolishly do right – it is irrational, but most fear is).  It is difficult to conquer that fear, but I am convinced it is necessary.

2 Nephi 4

(January 24, 2014)
I have always thought that lack of obedience was nothing more than a symptom of lack of faith – if our faith is high, then we will be far more likely to obey and trust in the Lord.  But recently I have begun to change that viewpoint.  I look at my own life, and see that some of the times I was the least obedient were times when I had unshakeable faith – just because my faith in the Gospel was high didn’t mean that I was prepared to bend my will to the Lord and submit to Him.  Knowing He lives and giving your life to Him are two separate and distinct things.

Likewise, we look at Nephi who had a clear knowledge of the Lord.  He had seen miracles in his extremities, had the Lord save his life a number of times, had visions, been ministered to by angels, and really progressed in his life to the point that belief seems to be too weak of a word for what he had.  But yet, regardless of the actual nature of what his weakness was, he still suffered and dealt with personal failings.  So it seems that I am wrong – that disobedience is not a symptom of lack of faith.  We can be obedient when our faith is fragile and weak, and we can be disobedient when our faith is strong.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Articles of Faith

(January 23, 2014)
My thought centered on Article of Faith 9 as I read this morning.  Sometimes, when we think of other religions, we put the matter as follows – they have some truth, but in our Church we have all the truth.  This is a comforting concept, but I don’t believe that it is correct.  What our Church brings to the world is the Priesthood authority to perform the saving ordinances and the line of authority to receive inspiration and revelation for the entire world.  Article of Faith 9 makes it clear that we don’t have the Truth, because there is yet more to be revealed.  And who are we to say that there is not some element of truth to be found in some other faith, better practiced than in our own?

This does not mean that we don’t have something worthwhile to offer the world – on the contrary.  We may not have a monopoly on truth in this Church, but this is the only true Church.  Discerning between truth and error using reason and the mind is an important process because of how it develops our minds and our spirits.  But it is ultimately futile as a mechanism for discovering Truth.  The Gift of the Holy Ghost, however, which we have in this Church empowers us to discern between truth and error, find the truth wherever it may be, and learn the will of our Father.  It empowers us to receive the revelation of the great and important things which the Lord still has to reveal to us.

Please understand that what I am saying in no way diminishes the importance of the Church, or the Priesthood, or the ordinance, or the necessity of following those who have been placed in positions of stewardship over us.  I am only saying that we still have a lot to learn, and the Lord may choose to teach and reveal that to us either through the Church or the world.  We would be hopelessly confused without the Holy Ghost to guide us, but in this Church we are blessed to receive His constant companionship (if we remain worthy of it).

2 Nephi 3

(January 23, 2014)
Joseph in Egypt long ago prophesied that Joseph Smith, Jr. would be named after his father, Joseph Smith.  This is just a minor thing, of course, but it leads me to a thought that is interesting to me.  That would mean that, when Joseph Smith, Sr. was being named by his parents, they were led by inspiration to give him the name Joseph.  The two conclusions to draw from this are obvious.  First, even those who are not members of the Church can be guided and led by the Spirit to take the actions that they should to fulfill prophecy (which, I would hope, is self-evident to us all by this point).  Secondly, we can be guided by the Spirit in even things that are minor or seem unimportant so long as the guidance is necessary for the Lord’s plan.  If someone stood in Church and said they were inspired by the Spirit to name their child, I don’t know, Wilbur I would have thought in my heart that they were only allowing their emotions to run away from them and claiming that to be a spiritual prompting.  But the Spirit leads us (and others) when we might not expect it and we are foolish to discount the small miracles and inspiration on what appear to us to be trivial matters.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Messenger and Advocate vol. 1, pgs. 14-16

(January 22, 2014)
The lesson to be learned from this reading is two-fold.  First, we marvel and the amazing experiences that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith enjoyed.  We take comfort in his direct language that the merciful God in Heaven will answer when we diligently seek Him, and this answer has the power to displace doubt and uncertainty.

Secondly, we note that Oliver Cowdery was wrong in some important respects.  His experiences, sufficient to drive out all doubt, did not ensure that “fiction and deception had fled forever.”  No, we have not yet reached that point – a fact that Oliver learned to his sorrow when he broke with the Church and joined the Methodists (?).  Only later in life did he recover what he once had and what he lost, and we may never know the full impact of his going astray (except in how it emboldens critics of the Church).  We are each given our own spiritual experiences of which we are called to act as witnesses, and for which we feel no doubt.  If we are casual or careless, we may find ourselves likewise having lost what we thought would be with us forever.

2 Nephi 2

(January 22, 2014)
I don’t think it was an accident that Lehi gave this as one of his last, great sermons to his sons.  And I don’t necessarily think that Jacob was Lehi’s intended audience, either.  He begins by speaking to Jacob, and telling Jacob of his trust that he is righteous and will be saved.  He then goes on to speaking about the reasons why Jacob has been saved.

What is interesting is the grouping again of the three main aspects of our religion – the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.  Verses 11-15 give an outline of the Creation, while the Fall is described in verses 18-25.  Verses 26-29 speak of the Atonement.  If we think of how often we experience that same grouping (Creation, Fall, and Atonement) I do not think it was an accident.

Lehi was trying, through his lessons to Jacob, to teach Laman and Lemuel about the realities of the Gospel and things that they would have otherwise learned in sacred places (could they have already learned them?).  He was either teaching, or reminding, them of what was really important and how they too could partake of the same blessings that Jacob had.  Once again, this makes me feel like the beginning of the Book of Mormon is the story of Laman and Lemuel as much or more than it is the story of Nephi.  Lehi was once again giving them a chance to change and remember covenants (made already or to be made in the future).  Laman and Lemuel saw Jacob’s example and chose differently from him.  We can likewise see Laman and Lemuel’s example and choose differently from them – we can choose to follow the path established by Jacob.

Joseph Smith -- History 1:66-75

(January 21, 2014)
I think that a great deal about what we believe in this Church is either tradition, or culture, or even outright wrong.  I don’t mean to say that the Church is wrong, but I am rather speaking to the beliefs that we carry about the Church.  For example, look at the process by which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptized – it seems so strange and disordered compared to the mechanics of the Church today.  I understand why those mechanics are in place, and I think they often serve important functions (and we shouldn’t violate them willy-nilly), but I think in my own mind I elevate the mechanics up to the level of the Gospel.  This is a mistake.  The Gospel is eternal, while the mechanics may be useful (or even wrong, from time to time).

The other thought I had was about why Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were commanded to lay hands on each other after they were baptized.  There is something there that goes beyond the simple mechanics – something important.  John the Baptist gave them the authority to baptize (and thus qualify themselves for the Aaronic Priesthood), but the final action had to be a mortal process rather than a process performed by their Heavenly messenger.  Tangentially, we should remember that when we want to criticize our local leaders – there are enough in the Heavenly Host to fulfill each Bishopric position or every quorum leadership position.  The Lord, however, has left mortals in charge for His own purpose – and we buck that purpose at the peril of our own salvation.

2 Nephi 1

(January 21, 2014)
In an attempt to strengthen my testimony, I am reading through the Book of Mormon this time with a deliberate focus on complying with Moroni 10:3-5.  One consequence of that is that I am paying careful attention to the mercies shown by the Lord in the Book of Mormon.  I must admit that I am amazed at how often the scriptures speak of these mercies – and how often they are shown both in the histories of the people spoken of and in the individual lives of  the listeners.  It seems that these mercies are the means by which conversion occurs.

We are reminded of the blessings of our ancestors, and we are called upon to remember the blessings of our own lives as well.  With those firmly in our hearts, we find the Spirit comes more easily (at least, it does for me).  When I remember how kind and merciful the Lord has been to me and others I care about, I am filled with the peace that drives out doubt.

With this in mind, it becomes that much more apparent why ingratitude is so significant and such a stumbling block.  When we think of ourselves as entitled, we lose the ability to appreciate the mercies of the Lord.  When we lose sight of these mercies, our testimony begins to weaken.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Joseph Smith -- History 1:55-65

(January 20, 2014)
There are lessons to be learned with Charles Anthon, in light of our current materialistic world.  I have seen non-Member commentary that is favorable of evidences that support the Restoration, but I have seen many of those same evidences attacked by those same non-Members when they see the consequences of that support.  There are those in the sciences and academia who have their belief in science or academics secondary to their opposition to the Lord (ignorant or otherwise).

A key lesson to take out of all of this is that it is irresponsible to give non-Members a veto power over our faith.  Why should we, who believe, ever require that those who not believe support our faith?  Especially since the pattern for discerning Divine truth is not one that is subject to peer review – only Christ can judge our hearts and our conversions.

1 Nephi 22

(January 20, 2014)
This chapter contains one of the most hopeful evidences of our capacity as Children of God that exists in the scriptures.  When we think of the Millennium, we usually think of Satan being bound as a consequence of Michael coming down with a host of angels armed with weapons and tossing him into a pit somewhere.  But that is not how Satan is destined to be bound (and, when we think about it, it makes sense that it is not a physical battle of some sort).

Instead, verse 26 teaches us how it will happen.  Satan is bound because the people become so righteous that he will have no power over them.  Think about that for a moment – we look at Satan rampaging throughout the world, and we can have faith that his power is limited because of the capacity of the saints in general (through Christ) to bring about a world sufficiently righteous to render him impotent.

If the saints can accomplish this collectively through Christ, it only makes sense that we can accomplish this individually through Christ.  Our task, while large, is not hopeless.  Satan can be bound and rendered powerless in our lives as well – not at the point of an angelic sword, but through the righteousness that can be ours drop by drop over the course of a lifetime of obedience and service.

Joseph Smith -- History 1:21-54

(January 19, 2014)
I am beginning to learn that patience is needed in order to understand the things of God – a hard lesson to learn so late in life, but I suppose better late than never.  I am learning that sometimes we are given to recognize a problem (even a serious or significant one) that would appear to need immediate and drastic action...and then we are forced to wait upon the Lord for additional light and knowledge.

As I learn this lesson, it struck me how this pattern was followed with Joseph Smith.  Had I come out of the Sacred Grove and falsely claimed revelation, I would have claimed God told me to do something.  He would have told me to start a Church, or reveal His word, or anything.  I believe it would be a natural human behavior, when falsely claiming a vision of this sort, to also claim more information.

But this wasn’t a false vision, invented by man.  Instead this was a true Vision, following the teaching methods of Deity (that I am beginning to learn).  Joseph Smith was visited by the Father and the Son, told to join none of the churches, and...nothing else that he could reveal.  And he was to wait.  Years.  Clearly the questions that he must have had, and which seemed so important and that demanded immediate answers (what to do with no true church?  how then is mankind in general (and me in particular) to be saved?) were given no immediate answers.

Sometimes big questions, big apparent contradictions, and big problems have as their Divinely-appointed solution to let a few years pass.  It is hard for us to deal with that as mortals, but mortals is not what the Father is raising us to be in the long run.

1 Nephi 21

(January 19, 2014)
The most heartbreaking thing about looking at our lives and our weaknesses is found in verse 4 – to see that we labored in vain and spent our strength for naught.  Like Israel, we each have a purpose for which we have been put on this Earth, and while we work towards this purpose from time to time, I find in my own life I am only too capable of forgetting my Divine purpose and filling my days (and consuming my strength) on things that can only be described as vain.  This is time that can never be returned.

Joseph Smith -- History 1:1-20

(January 18, 2014)
I had three thoughts as I read through this portion of the chapter.  First, I don’t understand those of us within and without the Church who believe that the ends justify the means.  Why do anti-Mormons break the commandments they believe in to attack another faith?  Why do we break the commandments to achieve what we feel are righteous goals?  Ultimately, I suppose it comes down to faith and genuinely believing what you profess.  If an anti-Mormon genuinely believed that they were right, they would have the confidence in their convictions to advocate without violating their own morality – trusting the Lord to do the rest.  If we, say in our interactions with our family, truly had a living faith, we would have the confidence to interact with our family in ways that respect their agency and trust the Lord to do the rest.  Our violation of our own standards demonstrates our unbelief.

Secondly, and this is a related topic, we are all in need of faith.  Joseph Smith’s example is not a unique one, because the problems that he went through are the same problems each of us goes through.  We are all young (in an eternal sense), and we are all very unaquainted with things (ditto), so it is impossible through reason alone to come to a certain conclusion who is right and who is wrong.  Our only hope for knowledge is to take the issue to the God in prayer.

Finally, one of the reasons why we are reluctant to follow this course of action is because the final step in following the pattern set out by Joseph Smith is also in place – before we get our answer, we must face and overcome (with the Lord’s help) our darkness.  We feel that darkness lurking just out of sight and mind, and we fear to face that evil.  Having recently come face-to-face with some of the darkness in my soul, I can understand that terror.  But having also, through the power of Christ, begun to overcome that darkness I am also able to testify how much better it feels to face the darkness and see the light on the other side.

1 Nephi 20

(January 18, 2014)
Reading through this, I was struck with certain elements of leadership (both politically, within the family, within the Church, and likely in the Eternities).  Ultimately, how does one lead when the interaction is between equals?  Between co-equal children of God in the world?  Between co-equal partners in a marriage?  Between immortal, eternal beings at any level (here and hereafter)?

Leadership in the sense of the arm of flesh is imposed in a top-down fashion, but that cannot last (and doesn’t work here).  After all, if we base our leadership upon position (that we won’t always hold) or power (that was given to us, and which cannot be exercised unrighteously), then all of those things don’t present a valid mechanism for leading.

Leadership, in its proper sense, must be an issue of trust.  All of the factors that we look to in our understanding of leadership – persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned – aren’t just good ideas for leadership, but are rather the only mechanism by which leadership can be exercised without inappropriately overrunning another’s agency.  It is difficult to do, but there really is no other way to lead.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Joseph Smith: Matthew 1

(January 17, 2014)
I don’t know why we believe that we can be comfortable and still properly living the Gospel.  The Gospel is a source of comfort, but it is not comfortable.  Look at the calamities that will face the world before the Second Coming.  These disasters will be enough to shake the faith of even the elect.  Why do we feel we have the right, because of our faith, to not have to suffer through the indignities of being cut off in traffic?  Or having a bad hair day?  Or even a back ache?

We think in terms of the prophets of old, and what it will mean to qualify ourselves for the same Exaltation that they receive.  But, by the same token, we can liken the prophesies to ourselves and think what characteristics we would need in order to have that same faith that would empower us to remain diligent in our testimonies even with everything in the world crumbling around us.  We living in a trying age, to be sure, when the forces of atheism are ascendant and actively proselyting a materialistic and deterministic dogma.  It is a dangerous and deceptively persuasive idea, and resisting it is hard.  But how do we think we can stand with Abraham, who maintained his faith in spite of being called upon to sacrifice his son the way he was nearly sacrificed, or to stand with our progeny, who will maintain their faith as the stars fall from the sky and experience famines and pestilence and earthquakes and other catastrophes, if we cannot resist the materialistic threats to our faith in our days.

1 Nephi 19

(January 17, 2014)
It seems astonishing that we would worship a Man who acted so opposite to the human condition if we were truly a materialistic world.  That is one question I haven’t heard really well-answered by those who are atheists.  If religion isn’t real, then why are so many people willing to act contrary to their material instincts?  And why are those who act contrary in that way happier than those who don’t (in general)?  And why, when selecting a deity to worship (presuming, as materialists do, that deity-selection is an attempt to meet mental and emotional needs), do they select one who offers such constraints on behavior rather than a permissive deity?

I do not see happenstance resulting in the worship of an exalted Man who allowed Himself to be scourged, crucified, and requires us to do the same.  No, I see instead a world where the proper experiment is never performed by those who claim the mantle of science – exercise faith, act according to your belief, and see the result of that faith and those actions.  Religion is not a non-disprovable hypothesis, but it is not subject to being disproved by any method other than that explicitly established (and reiterated in Alma 32).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Abraham 5; Facsimile 3

(January 16, 2014)
I don’t want to go into much detail, here, but the fact that the Creation story was communicated to both Abraham and Moses cannot be a coincidence.  It seems more likely that what we have recorded here is a part of the endowment session – performed by the Lord to prepare those prophets for the work they would need to carry out.

1 Nephi 18

(January 16, 2014)
I can understand why pride is such a toxic sin.  After all, when you look at Laman and Lemuel, one of the most pernicious sins they deal with is their pride.  It is this pride that won’t permit them to be instructed by their younger brother.  It is this pride that has them second-guessing the Lord’s manifestations to them – they are converted when they see the angel, when they build the ship, and when they see the storm subside, but in time each of these manifestations is weakened or lost.

Contrast that to the humility of Nephi.  One of the highlights of this chapter is Nephi describing the pain he is suffering from, but at the same time talking about how he would not murmur because of those afflictions.  It takes a great deal of faith to praise the Lord in our afflictions, but it takes a great deal more humility for us to accept that the Lord allowing afflictions to befall us is for His purpose and we are humble enough to trust Him.

It falls, as always, for us to choose to be like Nephi or like Laman.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Abraham 4

(January 15, 2014)
There is a distinctive phrase where the Gods watched the things that they had ordered until they were obeyed.  I wonder, as a parent, whether I am not following this example very well.  I tend to be a “fire and forget” parent when it comes to delegation of responsibility – I give instruction, and the next time I follow up on it is to see it done or be upset that it isn’t done.  I think that might not be the proper way to go about things, however.   I guess I should better follow this example – when something is important enough to instruct one of my children to do it, it is also important enough for me to watch to see it obeyed.

1 Nephi 17

(January 15, 2014)
How are we to build our faith, when each and every circumstance can be taken in multiple ways.  Look, for example, with the family of Lehi arriving at Bountiful.  This was a wonderful land and a wonderful place.  Were they led by God or were they guided by chance?  As far as Laman and Lemuel knew, there was no evidence to determine that in either direction.  So, when the time came to build a ship, Laman and Lemuel withheld their labor because they did not believe.

So often, we are in a position of not being able to derive certainty of interpretation of the things around us.  Is this a blessing, or is it the result of my own efforts?  Is this trial to teach me something, or is it the result of someone else taking advantage of my attempts to be righteous?  There is, as is the case for Laman and Lemuel, no intellectual way to find certainty in the face of such situations.

As I learn and struggle, I am becoming more and more convinced that faith is an intentional act.  It is a resolution to believe – a gift of God, to be certain, but also a resolution to approach a situation that can be interpreted in multiple ways with the view that is consistent with our understanding of God and His plan for us.  This is, in some ways, very uncomfortable – we want to have certainty in our lives, especially when it comes to the issues that are the most important to us.  But we are commanded to choose, and in order to do so there must be a trial of our faith.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Facsimile 2

(January 14, 2014)
I have never been one to either be converted through scientific evidences or to be shaken in my testimony through scientific evidences (my struggles to stay on the path tend to be internal, rather than external, battles).  But it is always interesting to see something that seems so out of place, only to learn that it is the only thing that makes sense.

I reference here the language Joseph Smith used when describing Kolob (in relation to the Sun).  He says “one day to a cubit,” which immediately made my inner ear perk up.  After all, we are looking at differing units of measure – one of time, and the other of distance.

As I looked for subsequent information on the topic, however, it became apparent what was going on.  Egyptian astronomers used cubits in two different ways in relation to time (and I am unsure which Abraham is referring to here).  First, they would plot out the time in the pyramids such that a day covered a cubit.  I find this the least likely explanation.  Secondly, cubit was used in Egyptian astronomy as a measurement of angular distance – such that in a day, a cubit (approximately a degree) would be covered in angular distance (which is accurate – the Earth covers just about a degree a day in its travel around the Sun).  This seems highly plausible as an explanation of what Abraham meant, and also seems to be another (albeit minor) evidence as to the work that Joseph Smith performed in translating the papyri.

1 Nephi 16

(January 14, 2014)
As I was reading this chapter today, I was struck by something I hadn’t really considered before.  Why was it that the Lord needed to provide the Liahona?  Why couldn’t He have worked through inspiration?

As I thought about it, I came up with two reasons for it.  First, it seems apparent that the Liahona was the least-intrusive manner for providing the guidance that they needed.  He could have provided visions and inspiration throughout, but by instead providing the Liahona, He served to give them “small and simple” means for them to follow His plan for them.

The second was that the Liahona became a perpetual reminder that the Lord was in charge.  In order to condemn Lehi and Nephi, Laman and Lemuel would have to either ignore or explain away the Liahona – it was a physical item that had to be considered.  I wonder how Laman and Lemuel managed to ignore it, or how they explained it away as the cunning craftiness of Nephi, but that was an additional hurdle that Laman and Lemuel had to cross in order to apostatize.  In that sense, this was once again a mercy provided to Laman and Lemuel.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Abraham 3

(January 13, 2014)
What are we supposed to see, when we look up into the heavens?  We understand so much about how the universe is constructed, and its staggering scope and size.  We understand how the various celestial bodies interact (and I wonder whether governing is correlated with gravity), and just how many of them there are (10,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy alone).  It is beyond human comprehension the numbers, the scope, the size, and the everything.  This doesn’t even factor in that the math doesn’t work properly, yet, because there is both energy and mass that we cannot identify.  And quantum mechanics still runs haywire with any true attempt to understand everything.

And yet we know so much, but the wonder is still there as we look up into the sky.  On a cold, clear night we get a glimpse into the scale of the universe.  We feel, somewhere deep inside, that something more is there.  This is a response that isn’t hardwired into our DNA (why would it be?), but comes from somewhere else.  I can understand, somewhat, why the great prophets of old were astronomers.  On the one hand, they were looking for Christ’s birth (and the new star), but on the other hand looking into the heavens can teach us things that we cannot learn looking down at the ground.  I don’t understand why that is, but it is.

1 Nephi 15

(January 13, 2014)
This may seem like a tangent, but I promise that I will come back to my impressions reading this chapter in a moment.  Shusaku Endo wrote one of the best, and most haunting, novels of all time – Silence.  Most people read that book as the story of Father Rodrigues and his struggles to maintain his faith and understand God.  But tagging along with Father Rodrigues is a clumsy apostate named Kichijiro.  Kichijiro causes nothing but trouble, and never stands up for what is right.

When Shusaku Endo was attending a lecture here in the United States, someone once asked him about Kichijiro.  They phrased the question in such a way that they praised the book and the characters (except Kichijiro), and then asked Endo why he included Kichijiro.  They said that Kichijiro served only as a distraction from the point of the story.

Endo listened to the question through his translator, and then asked the question be repeated.  He clearly couldn’t understand what was being asked.  After a bit of explanation, however, the question came through and Endo’s astonishment became apparent by his response.  His answer was simple – “Kichijiro is me.”

Here is how this relates back to the scriptures.  It is a hard lesson to learn, but I have realized that I have been reading 1 Nephi backwards.  It is not the story of Nephi (although that is important) – it is the story of Laman and Lemuel.  Laman and Lemuel are not villains or foils for Nephi and Lehi – they are children of God who (like us) are in a state of rebellion against God.

Looking at it that way, it is easier to see the mercies of the Lord in their lives (and in ours).  Laman and Lemuel, we think, should have been cut off a long time ago.  But the Lord continues to give them opportunity after opportunity to repent and to change.  It seems He gives them more opportunities than we think that they should have.  But at the same time, He is giving us far more opportunities than we should have, too.

The lesson to learn is to watch the life of Laman and Lemuel and find out how we can stop following their path that leads to destruction and instead find our way on to the path that leads to salvation.  But reading this, the patience of the Lord with Laman and Lemuel (and each of us) is among the mercies of the Lord that I feel we are to remember when we enact Moroni’s promise in Moroni 10.

Abraham 2

(January 12, 2014)
Abraham came into the land and, as it was wicked, he prayed more devoutly.  There seems to be a division of people in this world (in my experience).  The one half weaken in their faith and attention to Deity is adversity.  I discovered people like that on my mission, who would respond that there was no God, and they knew it because they had been in the war.  Others allow themselves to be pulled down by the pains of life, or by sin swirling around them.  The second half strengthen their faith and attention to Deity in the exact same circumstances.  On my mission, I would meet people who responded that they knew that God was read because they had been in the war.  Others, when experiencing the pains of life, or with sin swirling around them, follow Abraham’s example and pray more devoutly.  I know which group I need to align myself with.

1 Nephi 14

(January 12, 2014)
One thing that I have difficult understanding is the fact that while most people are generally good, the world is generally bad.  That seems counterintuitive.  Each of us are children of God, with infinite potential, and with qualities and characteristics that are gifts from God that empower us to serve our fellow men.  Meet people and talk to them, and it becomes apparent that people are generally good.  Yet wars and immorality and persecution are commonplace.  The dominion of the saints is very small.  Why is this?

I can think of two reasons for this, and I think that they both are applicable.  The first is in our own failings.  We do not live up to the standards that we know that we should live up to, so why should we be surprised when we (in aggregate) fail to live up to those standards.  The second reason is that we see the “other” as the enemy – we forget that we are all children of the same God.  I have seen good and decent people attack good and decent people.  I knew them both, and knew that they were both good people.  But each of them saw the other as “other,” and so felt justified to attack and condemn.

Abraham 1

(January 11, 2014)
So many times, we mistakenly look to the Lord for temporal salvation.  I don’t know that this temporal salvation is something that we can expect very often.  The miracles we read about in the scriptures are miracles because they are atypical.  In most cases, martyrs actually are killed.

    Looking at it objectively, we really shouldn’t have expected it to be done any differently.  It is not an issue of capacity, but of purpose.  After all, Christ had the capacity to offer Himself temporal salvation, but chose not to.  By a similar token, He has the capacity to give us temporal salvation, but I think it is uncommon for Him to do so.

  I thought of this as I read about the three virgins who were sacrificed for refusing to bow down to strange gods.  Presumably they were righteous, and presumably they prayed to the same God that Abraham prayed to.  Presumably they felt the same fear that Abraham felt.  And yet he was spared and they were not.  Abraham had a work to do, whereas they were ready to enter into the Lord’s rest.  Temporal salvation is given when there is a work left to be done – spiritual salvation, however, is a gift freely available to us all if we only accept the Atonement.

1 Nephi 13

(January 11, 2014)
Why did the Great Apostasy need to occur?  Why couldn’t the Lord’s people have retained the Gospel without the plain and precious truths being removed?  If we accept that the Lord is in charge, then there must be a answer to this question – not only that it occurred but why it occurred.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that we can learn or understand the answer to this question, but there must be the answer.

My best understanding (and this is solely my opinion, so don’t take it any further than you can throw it) is that the Great Apostasy is similar to the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years.  The Israelites had learned certain bad habits while among the Egyptians.  They still had a slave mentality – waiting for others to do things for them.  They still had a idolatrous mentality – turning to other gods at the drop of the hat.  They needed to be prepared for the task at hand – forming a monotheistic society built up worshiping the one true God.  And they weren’t ready for that.

Just as they wandered in the desert, the world languished in the Great Apostasy for some time.  The world was a brutal and cruel place, and certain attitudes and aspects needed to be changed for the Gospel to flourish.  And so, generation by generation, the Gospel slowly became integrated until it reached a critical mass where the plain and precious parts could be reintroduced.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Facsimile 1

(January 10, 2014)
I have looked at this Facsimile I don’t know how many times, read all of the arguments that it is illegitimate, read all of the apologists that the arguments for them being illegitmate are wrong, and answered those arguments in my mind to my own satisfaction.  But I have never, until right now, gotten the point of this Facsimile – the reason why it was included in Abraham at all.

Abraham, on the evil altar, is a symbol of us on the evil altar.  Like Abraham, we have been bound by the author of wickedness and we face our death to appease the evil king.  Like Abraham, we cannot make our escape, we face the terror of death, the pain and suffering of the inevitable destruction that awaits us, and our understanding that all we do is in vain to avoid this.  And like Abraham, only one option is available for our Salvation – God rescuing us from our impossible situation.

The symbolic nature of this Facsimile thus becomes clear – it represented a real event, but that real event represents something more.  Like Abraham, we are bound by our sins and left to die on an altar built for wickedness and presided over by idolatrous gods that represent the four corners of this fallen world.  Overseeing our death in gladness is Pharaoh, the evil king, who has ordered our death – in this case, a symbol for Satan.  But by calling out to God, we can be snatched from our eternal destruction by the power of God and the infinite nature of the Atonement.

1 Nephi 11-12

(January 10, 2014)
It has been said that pride is the uniform sin, and the basis of all other sins.  Pride, as defined in the spiritual context, is enmity – enmity between man and God, and enmity between each other.  Pride is the reversing of the Plan of Salvation – no longer do we seek out Christ and become saved, instead we seek out ourselves and become damned.  This is shown in the judging and crucifixion of Christ – that men would pronounce judgment on their own God is the height of pride.  Nevertheless, we find people today who are willing to condemn God for not living up to their mortal understanding of morality (or immorality).  What is worse, this same tendency resides in each of us, as we want our way rather than the Lord’s way.  It is no wonder that such pridefulness – even among the saints – is described as crucifying Christ afresh.  The same mentality that causes us to murmur about our lot in life, or fail to serve when prompted or called, or not forgive others, or any of the other ways we fall short is that very same mentality that set Barbaras free and crucified the Lord and Savior.  It is a chilling, and terrifying, thought.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Moses 8

(January 9, 2014)
I have discovered, as I am attempting to change my life, just how corrupt my thinking has become.  I look at the language of this chapter about the imaginations of man – “every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually.”  Until I engaged in serious efforts to change my heart, I did not realize just how often that the imaginations of my heart were evil – almost evil continually.  I am finding that I must maintain constant vigilance in order to redirect my imagination away from evil and into neutral paths.  I still have not yet managed my mind well enough to direct my imaginations towards good (that is still the goal, however, that I am working towards).

I can understand why this is so important to the Lord.  There are things that we don’t do because we love the Lord, but there are other things that we don’t do because of social or other external constraints.  For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic we might be angry at them and desire to ram our car into them.  But we don’t do that because (a) we might get hurt in the process; and (b) doing so would subject us to civil or criminal penalties.

But in our imaginations, there are no external constraints.  In our imaginations, we don’t get hurt in the ensuing collision (we can even arrange it where we are capable of accomplishing our nefarious designs without so much as a scratch on our bumpers).  We don’t get caught, we don’t get sued, we just get our revenge and they get their comeuppance.  That is the power we wield within our imaginations.

You might even say that, within our imaginations, we have close to the power of God.  Does that worry anyone else as much as it worries me?  Because if our imaginations are evil continually, doesn’t that mean that if we had this power to act without consequences our actions would be evil continually?  How can we hope to qualify for Exaltation until and unless we demonstrate in the one area of our lives where we hold a similar amount of power that we will use that power for good and not evil?

I am convinced, as I attempt to change my life, that the most important battles that I am called upon to fight are the last moments before I sleep – when my mind wanders, looking for rest, and is inclined to drift through well-worn grooves I have allowed to be formed towards evil imaginations.  When I can purge myself of them – when I can starve this portion of my imagination and build that part of me that imagines good continually, then I will be on the path towards becoming the child of God I am meant to be.

1 Nephi 9-10

(January 9, 2014)
The conclusion to chapter 10 is a powerful one.  It includes both a warning and a promise.  The warning is explicit – if we do wickedly we drive ourselves out of the presence of God forever.  But the promise is even greater than the warning – all who diligently seek the Lord shall find Him.  As I struggle to develop my faith, I must recognize that my weaknesses and deficiencies in faith are a moral failing, because if I had been sufficiently diligent in seeking the Lord, my faith would be strong because I would have found Him.  But, by the same token, as I now reorient my life to diligently seek Him and build my faith, I can have the confidence that comes from this promise that my efforts are not in vain and I will find Him if I continue diligently.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moses 7

(January 8, 2014)
There is so much doctrine in this chapter, that I cannot even begin to relate it in this format.  Instead of trying to tease apart all of the differing things that we can learn from this chapter, I will instead point out of couple of things that I particularly noticed.

First, I noticed how the language that was used to describe the creations of God was very appropriate – moreso to our modern understanding of the universe than to the understanding that Joseph Smith had.  Is there any better mechanism for translating the concept of the expansion of the universe than the phrase that the curtains of the Lord’s habitation have been stretched out?  Because that seems particularly appropriate – as do many other elements of this chapter.

Secondly, I can only imagine what Enoch must have thought when he looked forward to Christ only to see the vision of Christ raised on the cross and the wickedness that followed.  But to Enoch’s credit, he didn’t even seem to blink at this – despite his earlier comments showing that he thought this sacrifice would bring the Earth to rest.  Instead he discovers that Christ’s Atonement is to be immediately followed by dark days.  His trust in the Lord, however, is so perfect that this doesn’t even phase him.  He moves beyond it to ask and learn why it is so knowing that it will all work to the Lord’s will.  I see a parking spot get taken and I worry about what it will do to my day, while Enoch sees the crucifixion and the Great Apostasy and doesn’t blink an eye because he understands all things are in the hands of God.  That is faith to aspire to.

1 Nephi 8

(January 8, 2014)
I cannot imagine the pain that must be associated with having a child who strays from the Gospel.  For a long time, I never understood how it could even happen – if you raised a child in the Gospel, why would they ever leave it? – but as I struggle with my own faith and my own weaknesses, I understand it far more.  Even being raised in this Church and the Gospel, the path of discipleship is hard.  Maintaining the level of faith required for salvation is hard.  Surrendering yourself to the Lord is hard.  I have only just begun the process, and I have been alive and had a testimony for a very long period of time.  But I allowed the mists to blind me, just as much as Laman and Lemuel did.

So I can understand it happening, now, but I still hope and pray that it doesn’t happen to any of my wonderful children.  But if it does, Lehi has set the example.  We don’t passively accept their life choices, but neither do we cut them out of our lives.  We demonstrate our love for them and continue to encourage them to return home to the Gospel that we know can bring them joy.  I am no expert on the subject (and I hope I never have cause to become one), but I do deal with mistakes of a lesser kind in myself, my family, and those around me.  These same lessons would seem applicable there, as well.  We don’t condone the faults of others, but neither do we condemn them for their mistakes.  Instead we demonstrate our love for those around us and encourage them where appropriate to repent and improve their lives.  This is something that I can integrate now into my life.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

1 Nephi 5-7

(January 7, 2014)
Building on my thoughts about Laman and Lemuel, and their unwillingness to be convinced and converted, we have the perfect example of this point in Sariah.  Sariah’s comments to Lehi were just as stinging as Laman’s, and she clearly lacks the faith and testimony of Lehi and Nephi at this point.  But when her sons return – when she comes to understand that the Lord is behind this work – she is converted and we don’t read very much about her complaining thereafter.  She holds a position, but when the Lord shows her to be wrong she is humble enough to change her views.

The other thing that I picked up in today’s reading was the text of Nephi’s prayer when he was bound.  My earlier readings of these verses always focused on the way the Lord answered his prayer – he prayed for strength to burst the bonds, but instead the Lord merely loosened them to allow him to escape.  In a similar fashion, often our prayers are not answered in the way we pray for them to be answered – but they are answered nonetheless.

But this time I focused on the language of Nephi’s prayer in what he was asking for.  He asked the Lord to give him strength according to his faith.  This seems a simple idea, but there is meat on these bones.  It acknowledges in the prayer that Nephi is weak and incapable on his own, it acknowledges that Nephi has faith and trust in the Lord, and it acknowledges that the strength that Nephi will receive it not his own but is instead a gift from the Lord.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Moses 6

(January 6, 2014)
A couple of thoughts from this chapter.  First, I wanted to spend some time thinking about what exactly is meant by the phrase all things bear record of Him.  On first glance, it would seem that the easiest explanation is St. Thomas Aquinas’s explanation that the primary cause (as opposed to all other conditional causes) is God – without God, nothing would be.  Therefore, the mere fact that something exists is proof of God.  I find this persuasive but not conclusive, but I think there is great value to thinking of the universe in this way.

But I don’t think that this explanation gives full value to what is being said here.  Not only do all things bear record of Him in a general sense, but I believe that all things bear record of Him, meaning the nature and characteristics of God the Father.  The magnitude of the universe around us bears record of His power and capacity.  The orderly fashion by which the planets move bears record of His order.  The beauty of nature bears record of His kindness and His mercy – and His desire to see us have joy.  Each and every thing that we see around us, if we open our hearts to Him, can testify not only that God is but also who God is and how God lives.

The second thought I had was on the expression that children are conceived in sin.  At first, that seemed to make no sense to me – the act of conception is not a sinful act by its nature.  So I didn’t understand what it was saying.  So I did some added research and found several commentaries discussion the expression and explaining that children are conceived in a sinful (fallen) world, and thus sin entered into their hearts as they reach the age of accountability.  But we know that all children who die before they reach the age of accountability are saved in the Celestial Kingdom, and receive their Exaltation.  This means that many, many people will receive that blessing – how many children have died before the age of accountability, and what are their proportion to the general population? – probably far more than I would have thought without considering this issue.

That left me to think about what it meant for us that we were not among those who died before the age of accountability.  There are two lines of thinking that I have heard on the subject.  The first is that we have some deficiencies that need correcting, and that is why we are given this added time in mortality – to scrape off the rough edges that would keep us from Eternal Life.  This opinion is espoused by Elder Bruce R. McConkie. (“It is implicit in the whole scheme of things that those of us who have arrived at the years of accountability need the tests and trials to which we are subject and that our problem is to overcome the world and attain that spotless and pure state which little children already possess.”)

The second idea was presented by President Randy L. Bott, which took the view that it wasn’t the nature of things to put the largest responsibilities in the hands of the second stringers.  Instead, we were put on this Earth to carry forth the work triumphantly, and thus we should worry less about our own salvation and spend our days working for the salvation of our brothers and sisters – and that, by so doing, we will find our own salvation confirmed.

I adore President Bott, and I believe he is more knowledgeable about the scriptures than I will ever be.  Add to that the fact that his ideas about our value and worth feel more comforting to me, and the fact that they build my weakened ego, and I really want to believe that he is right.  But Elder McConkie is an Apostle, and his opinion is derived at least in part through conversations with President Joseph Fielding Smith.  So, when it comes to an appeal to authority, Elder McConkie outweighs President Bott.  This leaves me with the understanding that I am put through mortality in order to heal within myself some deficiency that I must deal with.  I certainly don’t lack for deficiencies in my life – I had better get on with dealing with them.

1 Nephi 4

(January 6, 2014)
The Lord has a way of preparing His children for the tasks ahead of us, and sometimes our most unexpected situations end up being preparatory for accomplishing His work.  We all know about the need for acquiring the Brass Plates, but I think that there likely was a need for Nephi to kill Laban.  The Lord could have directed Nephi to knock him out, hide him, bind him, or do any of a dozen other things.  But the Lord directed him to kill Laban.  I do not think that was an accident.

The Lord needed Nephi to be a warrior.  He was going to be put in the position of defending his family and his people against the proto-Lamanites by wielding the sword of Laban.  He could not do that if he hesitated, and he likely would have had more difficulty raising his sword against his brethren than he would against Laban.  So he was placed in a position to wield the sword when he could ponder and accept what the Lord was teaching him, and then to carry it out.  Thus he would be better prepared when called upon to do so in the future.

My other thought was on the Spirit’s whispering that it is better for a wicked man to be destroyed than for a whole nation to perish in unbelief.  There are those who claim that Exaltation should be available to all and that a perfect plan would lead all or most of His children (leaving aside the Sons of Perdition) back to Exaltation.  This scripture, in a way, shows why that cannot be the case as I understand it.  Knowing what Exaltation is and what it means, it is better that a soul should be damned than an eternal race be condemned to perish in unbelief.

Moses 5

(January 5, 2014)
I find it very interesting that Satan himself uses an oath to God in his secret combinations.  Even he recognizes that the power of God is the source of all power (and, I assume, it logically traps those who would repent by making them oath breakers to the very God they wish to return to).

I also thought about the idea of our offerings to the Lord.  Was it the form of the offering that was rejected?  I believe it was, but even more than that it was the heart that was rejected in this offering.  Sometimes we make offerings that are not acceptable to the Lord.  We feel like the Lord wants more from us, but we mistake what the more that the Lord wants is.  He can take our loaves and fishes and feed a multitude with them, but our offerings must include a broken heart and a contrite spirit to be acceptable to Him.

1 Nephi 3

(January 5, 2014)
This chapter has a number of profound and powerful lessons to take.  First, I think there is great meaning to the idea that the Lord favors those who obey His commands.  We sometimes think that the Father loves us unconditionally, and I believe that to be fully true.  But there is a difference between loving and favoring – we are loved unconditionally but we are favored when we follow the commandments of the Lord.

The second idea was that the children of Lehi, in bringing their property to Laban, were sacrificing only what was already lost.  After all, they were not taking it with them into the wilderness, so they had no use for it.  And in any event, the Babylonian captivity was just around the corner and they would be losing what they had at that point even if they stayed.  Laban, on the other hand, had no opportunity to even enjoy what he took from them, as he would shortly die.

I think this holds a powerful lesson.  Our property (and even our life, for which property can be a metaphor) is already lost.  We will die, the captivity is inevitable, and there is nothing that we can do to avert that.  We can use and give up our property for the building of the Kingdom of God – and by so doing help to qualify ourselves to enter in there some day – or we can clutch at our property or even take the property of others – only to find that we have lost that property and the inevitable night of captivity has come.  It is our choice.

One final, similar thought.  Laman and Lemuel were clearly angry at the loss of their property, and that is a temptation that each of us must face.  We may think that we are called to give up our property or our lives in a futile attempt to accomplish the Lord’s work – only to find, in the end, that our property was ‘wasted’ as we couldn’t even accomplish what the Lord had commanded us to do.  But just as Laman and Nephi each had to determine how they would respond to their use of property in a ‘futile’ attempt to serve the Lord, so much we each resolve to serve the Lord and give our everything to Him even when it seems that our everything is lost in the process and His work is not moved forward.  For it only appears that way to the eye of the natural man – but to the eye of faith the Lord takes what we offer Him and magnifies it beyond our comprehension.

Moses 4

(January 4, 2014)
There is much to take from this chapter, but nothing more so than the Lord’s commandment to Adam that by the sweat of his face he should eat his bread all the days of his life.  Some people work very hard to avoid work, but I have noticed in my own life that the harder I am working, the happier I am.  It seems counterintuitive sometimes – one would think that I would get more joy doing the things that I wanted to do than the things that were unpleasant to do.  But as my work improves and as my capacity to work increases, I find myself happier and at peace more even as I struggle with the other aspects of my life.  My work has become a source of strength rather than a burden.

1 Nephi 2

(January 4, 2014)
We condemn Laman and Lemuel, but I think we deny how difficult things must have been for them at this point.  They lived a life of relative comfort and security, and here their father has a vision and drags them out on what must have felt like the worst camping trip of all time to them.  They did not have the spiritual confirmation that Nephi had of their father’s words – they had only the assertions of a man the world around them decried as mad.

So I can understand their reluctance at this point.  Perhaps we can’t excuse it, but it is understandable.  After all, Sam initially is in the same spot – he doesn’t believe, but is converted by Nephi’s teachings.  Where Laman and Lemuel go wrong is not entirely in their initial reluctance to believe, but rather their unwillingness to be converted when subsequent facts come to their attention.  They take the position that they were right and Lehi was wrong (which probably made sense to them, and was at least arguable).  Then, out of pride I suppose, they hold to that position even after seeing an angel and Nephi demonstrating his power and finding the Liahona and everything else that goes on.

If we have difficulty believing (as, I suppose, we each will from time to time), then that is one thing.  But what we cannot do is follow Laman and Lemuel’s path and harden ourselves in such a way that we are incapable of believing even after the Lord has reached out to us to show us He is there.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Moses 3

(January 3, 2014)
I think there is some significance to the fact that the Lord created every creature on the face of the Earth and presented it to Adam for him to consider and to dismiss before presenting him with Eve for his helpmeet.  I draw two lessons from this.  First, there is nothing in mortality or in all of God’s creation that can supplant the precious place of a woman as a necessary and essential helpmeet for a man – not the office, not video games, and not sports.  Secondly, I think there is something to the nature of the way that we learn that is presented in this chapter.  Adam found nothing else to supplant Eve, but I think he was better able to understand that after looking for a helpmeet elsewhere and realizing that there was nothing there of meaning.

1 Nephi 1

(January 3, 2014)
It is hard to know what to write about a chapter that I have read so many times, and with such care, over the years.  For years whenever I would resolve to improve spiritually I would start with a conscientious reading of 1 Nephi 1.  I have teased so many things out of this chapter that just about each verse of it has meaning.  I can only imagine what my life would be like if I had held that intensity through the entirety of the scriptures.

But despite that, each time I read this chapter something new seems to pop out at me.  This time it was the fact that Lehi was not praying for himself – he was praying for the people.  I have spent a good bit of time thinking of the motivations that led Lehi to pray, but I do not recall having noticed that.  It struck me how similar Lehi’s prayers were to the prayers of the brother of Jared.  It seems that our prayers for others are more readily answered than our prayers for ourselves (which is only natural, I suppose).

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Moses 2

(January 2, 2014)
This is fascinating stuff to read – I don’t think I understand very much of what is going on here (I always thought I did, but the more I ponder, the less I know), but it is still amazing.  For example, what exactly is the firmament?  At first I thought I understood, but as I read I realized that it wasn’t what I thought it was.  What about dividing the Day from the Night?  I never noticed but this was accomplished before the creation of the Sun and the Moon.  Some things, I think I understand better having read this again.  But other questions come up and I find myself lost in thinking about how this world was made.  And I wonder, if I really understood how the world was made what else would that knowledge lead me to understand?

Testimony of Joseph Smith; Brief Explanation of the Plates

(January 2, 2014)
The thing that stuck with my mind as I read this was on the fact that Moroni was resurrected.  I know we all know that, but it answers a question I have long had – but I never put two and two together before.  We hear how the spirits look at the loss of their physical bodies as a bondage, and I can understand how difficult it must be to go from being an active participant in mortality to being a passive spectator.  I wondered just how long it would take for us to reach the point where we would be able to claim our immortality through the Atonement and be resurrected.

I have no answer for me, but at least for Moroni the answer is something less than 1,402 years.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pearl of Great Price Introductory Note; Moses 1

(January 1, 2014)
This is a fascinating chapter to read, especially when I am so interested in astronomy.  I think of the billions of stars that make up galaxies, and the galaxies that form clusters and groups, and the groups of galaxies that form superclusters, and the filaments along which countless superclusters flow like the veils in a bloodstream.  I am so far beyond amazed at the scope and size of the universe that we live in that it is impossible to conceive of in its majesty.

Like Moses wisely noticed, the scope and scale of the universe should fully teach us one thing – for this cause, we know that man is nothing.  Nothing temporal will stand against the inevitable.  We cannot build technology sufficient to escape the intersection of the Andromeda and the Milky Way galaxies some billions of years from now.  But though man is nothing, children of God are something – something precious and immortal.  It is only by clinging to that immortal part of ourselves that anything else that we do matters.

As God says, this Earth will pass away and another will come, only to be replaced by another.  Worlds without end.  Innumerable to man, but not to God.  With our best technology and a million years, we could not guess the number of Earths with life in all the billions of galaxies, with billions of stars (even the idea of multiplying a billion galaxies times a billion stars gets beyond human comprehension – much less the hundreds of billions in each).  But God knows them, and he knows each and every child on each and every Earth – including you and I.  This seems impossible, but something inside us shows us that it is true.  Man is nothing, but God makes him something because to hold the attention of God is to become immortal.

Book of Mormon Title Page; Introduction; Testimony of the Three Witnesses; Testimony of the Eight Witnesses

(January 1, 2014)
The symmetry of the Book of Mormon struck me as I read the Title Page.  There it is, right in the very beginning, that a purpose of this book is to have us pondering the mercies of the Lord towards those who went before us.  And we know from Moroni 10 that we must ponder in our hearts how merciful the Lord has been to the children of men.  The Book of Mormon gives us the tools that we need in order to fulfill Moroni’s promise.

I have gone through that process before – first when I was 18, and then several times since then.  But I am learning that conversion is a lifelong process – I was given a witness that the Book of Mormon was true, and as I live up to the teachings of it I feel invited to return to the book and again follow Moroni’s promise to gain a strengthened testimony.  This strengthened testimony will help me to better live up to the teaching found therein, and by so doing I will open myself up for a better witness in the future.