Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Deuteronomy 2-3

(April 30, 2014)
We in the Church seem to sometimes think that we are the one, true Church (which we are) but also that everyone else in the world therefore cannot be pleasing unto God (which is not true).  The children of Israel were part of the one people on Earth from which the promised blessings of the Priesthood power were found and from which the Messiah would come, but the Lord still protected and blessed Esau.  Likewise, while we have the Priesthood in our Church, we also can recognize the truth that is found everywhere and the inspiration and righteousness that can be found in everyone.

Alma 55

(April 30, 2014)
Once again, the text of the Book of Mormon is consistent in a way that our understanding of it is not.  When I think of warfare, I think of firmly entrenched lines and movement along fronts.  This was also the manner of war during Joseph Smith’s time (think of the arrayed lines during the Revolutionary War).  There were rare exceptions, but generally the understanding of war at that time was one of armies and fronts.

The warfare described in the Book of Mormon is different (and consistent with Mesoamerican warfare).  To highlight that difference, look at the approaches of the Lamanites to Bountiful.  To my understanding of warfare, this struck me as odd (after all, Bountiful was in the north, and the war was going on in the southeast and southwest).  But with isolated areas and expansive wilderness in between (and muddled loyalties) it makes perfect sense from a Mesoamerican standpoint.

Deuteronomy 1

(April 29, 2014)
It is hard for us to accept, at times, that our rebellion and unrighteousness may forever put certain opportunities out of our reach.  Seeing the children of Israel, I can imagine what it must have been like for them to realize that their opportunity to experience the promise land had been foreclosed to them and they were destined to spend the rest of their lives wandering in the desert.  I can imagine their prayers of hope and desperation, begging the Lord to reconsider and allow them rest and peace.  And yet, that was something that was not to be for them – whatever the eternal consequences of their behavior, the mortal consequences were to permanently end certain opportunities.

I am led to think about this while I deal with the mistakes that I have made over the course of my life.  I look at the future of my life, and I recognize that certain hopes and dreams may be forever out of my reach (I don’t know whether they are or not, but at times it feels painfully likely).  I struggle to deal with the hurt these losses create in me, and I have prayed to see the situation changed.  I suppose that I always held out hope that it would eventually change, but I see now that this may not be the case – the status quo might be the permanent status quo.  I am therefore in the position to align myself with the Lord as best as I can and to accept His will – even when His will is not what I would have done to and for me.

Alma 53-54

(April 29, 2014)
A common trait is to philosophize away morality – and, in the process, we can become so confused that we lose sight of what is right and what is wrong.  A perfect example of this is in the approach of Ammoron in condemning Moroni for his brother’s death.  When we read this, we instinctively know and understand that what Teancum did was correct and appropriate.  And, yet, demonstrating that logically becomes more problematic.  Logic and reason do, at times, fail to come up with the correct answer for a given moral issue.

As a result, we should not be overly concerned if we cannot logically explain right and wrong at all times.  Sometimes, we know what is right even if we cannot demonstrate that knowledge.

Numbers 35-36

(April 28, 2014)
What we see here is an ideal example of how to go about dealing with things in the Church that you disagree with.  The sons of Manasseh did not confront Moses in a manner that denigrated his role as a prophet or as a leader of the Church.  They did not come to him with predetermined solutions that were non-negotiable.  But they also didn’t remain silent and expect the Lord to automatically tell Moses what to do.  Rather they respectfully brought the issue before Moses and then waited upon the Lord’s response through his chosen prophet.

Alma 52

(April 28, 2014)
Sometimes we expect the Lord to fight our battles for us – if we are on His side, we suppose, we should have no fear and no worry about defeat.  But this chapter is interesting not for what it says about the Lord but for what it doesn’t say about the Lord – the Lord is not mentioned directly or obliquely.  Instead, what we are left with is a battle between good and evil where the good guys are left entirely to their own devices in the course of the battle.

Had Moroni, Lehi,  or Teancum been slothful in their duties, presumably the Lord might have intervened.  But we have no way to know that.  All we do know is that many righteous people died and they were left alone to fight their battle on the Lord’s behalf.  Sometimes that happens – sometimes we are blessed to be permitted to fight unaided the enemies of the Lord.  We should, in those difficult times, do so with gratitude and give forth our very best efforts.

Numbers 33-34

(April 27, 2014)
We sometimes seek to get rid of our worst habits, but keep just enough of our toes dipped in the world that we enjoy it (while still being disciples of Christ – mostly).  I don’t think that will ever work long term.  As these chapters illustrate, if we allow bad influences to continue to exist around us, they will ultimately bring about our downfall.  We may coexist with them for a while, but in time they will either need to be eliminated from our lives or we will succumb to them.  Like the children of Israel needing to completely eliminate the indigenous people, we must completely eliminate the indigenous habits and tendencies in our life (otherwise known as eliminating the “natural man”).

Alma 51

(April 27, 2014)
We see war throughout the Book of Mormon (and other scriptures), but I don’t know of any place where the scriptures command or commend armed insurrection against the lawful government (although I admit I could be missing something).  It seems like, when force is justified, it is justified in putting down an insurrection or dealing with foreign invaders, but not fighting against a government (regardless of how wicked).  The closest I can think of would be Gideon’s actions against Noah.

Numbers 32

(April 26, 2014)
This chapter has a fine lesson for us to learn.  Sometimes the Lord wishes to give us a blessing, but for whatever reason we may prefer a different blessing.  I think this is likely true not only in life but also in the eternities (the Lord knows we would be happiest with Exaltation, but will be content to give us something less if that is what we determine we desire).  In any event, so long as we are prepared to fulfill whatever the Lord requires of us, He will often bless us in the way that we want to be blessed.  He allows us, often (but not always), to choose our reward.

Alma 50

(April 26, 2014)
It would be fascinating to truly understand the culture and history of what the Book of Mormon is describing here.  For example, why was Moroni concerned that the people of Morianton might unite with (who?) in or near the land Bountiful?  The indigenous people to the north?  The very people of Bountiful?  It doesn’t make sense, but there seems to be much more there beneath the surface.

And what about the people having a union take place between them?  This seems to be an intermarriage between the two tribes (as best as I can interpret it) – something that would have been common for people in Mesoamerica but not something that Joseph Smith would have had much experience with.  Is that what the union is referring to?

All in all, it would certainly be nice to truly understand what is being described and what is going on in this chapter – there is culture that I think I am missing that impacts my understanding of the doctrine.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Numbers 30-31

(April 25, 2014)
Here the sad tale of Balaam comes to a close.  His efforts to subvert God’s commandments were successful (in a sense), in that he managed to get the Children of Israel to sin and a number of them to be destroyed.  But, on the other hand, he himself was destroyed and he likely compromised greatly his own eternal reward.  Whenever we seek legalistic methods for circumventing the commandments of God (rather than looking to obey both the spirit and the letter of the law), we put ourselves at risk for following Balaam’s path to destruction.

Alma 49

(April 25, 2014)
More and more I am seeing examples of people attacking the religious for the crime of believing in their faith and living according to its teachings.  Whether the issue is homosexuality, the Priesthood, or anything in between it seems that there is no easier way to be disqualified for polite company than to stand up for the faith.  For a long time, this made no sense to me.  But we tend to think that people see the world the same way that we do, and that is a mistake that we make.

There are those people in the world for whom the existence of God is no a comfort but rather an intolerable burden.  After all, God means absolute morality, and absolute morality means consequences for sin.  This is a painful subject for those who hold themselves in opposition to God.  Amalickiah’s reaction strongly paralleled in my mind the reaction of Stalin at his death – raising his fist to the Heavens and shaking it in defiance.  We should not expect the world to love us – in fact, if we are loved by the world that should be a sign to us we are on the wrong path.

Numbers 27-29

(April 24, 2014)
There are those who believe that the Church (and religion as a whole) is a repressive organization for women.  But that is clearly not correct.  Moses, in these chapters, recognizes the rights of women to inherit property (find that any other place in the ancient world).  Christ spoke of the importance of women, taught doctrine to women, and appeared first to women after His resurrection.  Joseph Smith spoke at length of the importance of women, and the Church was involved in extending suffrage to women (long before the nation as a whole did so).  Even Brigham Young, who the feminists love to deprecate, spoke of how an unhappy wife should be given a divorce rather than compelled to stay in an unhappy and abusive marriage.

But respect for women does not mean that the agenda of feminists is to be swallowed whole – especially when that agenda conflicts in important respects to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Gender is an essential characteristic of our nature, and has been since well before the foundation of the world.  While we love both men and women in the Gospel, we do not and cannot treat them the same.  Instead, we treat each of them according to the love we have for our Savior and the love that He has for them all.

Alma 48

(April 24, 2014)
I feel, at times, that a powerful faith is a passive thing – but I don’t think that I am right in that.  I feel that a powerful faith becomes almost Panglossian in nature – God is in Heaven, and all is right in the world.  But by very definition, all is not right in the world.  All is very, very wrong in the world.  We have reached this point in our eternal progression precisely because we were engaged in that great War in Heaven.  We did not passively sit back and recognize that God is all-powerful, therefore His will would be done.  Instead we got in there and got our hands dirty in striving to build His Kingdom.

Real faith is not to say that everything will be alright, but rather to say that all our efforts will be enough (with God’s help).

Numbers 25-26

(April 23, 2014)
Zealousness is a difficult issue to know.  On the one hand, we don’t want to be overzealous and contribute to the destruction of those around us.  On the other hand, we don’t want to be slothful in obeying the commandments of the Lord.  How are we to know the difference?  This seems, to me, to be a not-insubstantial question to be addressed.

Alma 47

(April 23, 2014)
There is the old expression that when we lie down with dogs, we wake up with fleas.  Sometimes we are tempted to join in common cause with others who do not share our beliefs, and we are reluctant to do so.  We need a set of principles that will assist us in determining when we should do so, and when doing so will result in damage to the work of the Lord (as was the case when Amalickiah was able to work himself into the service of the king of the Lamanites).

I think the key principle is the counsel that we have been given to seek out people of good will.  Perhaps they might not agree with our doctrine, but working with people genuinely trying to do what is right will result in our better understanding them and them better understanding us.  Working with those not of good will, even when we share common cause, will ultimately result in negative consequences for us and for the righteous goals we are attempting to achieve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Temporal Rameumptoms (Link)

Here is a great post from Allen Wyatt on how we tend to look down on people who came before us, and how it is little different than standing on our own Rameumptoms.

Numbers 23-24

(April 22, 2014)
I cannot help but think that the story of Balaam has significance for those, like the Ordain Women movement, who claim to be within their prerogative to demand that the Apostles and President Monson petition the Lord to allow Priesthood ordination to all female members of the Church.  They claim their protests are nothing more than following in the footsteps of Joseph Smith – ask and ye shall receive.  In fact, however, their behavior is more akin to Balak demanding Balaam give them the proper response rather than taking the matter to the Lord to find out His will on the subject.

It is good to pray, including praying for guidance, but we cannot think that we can educate the Lord.  He knows more than we do – if we do not understand this, how can we understand anything?

Alma 46

(April 22, 2014)
This chapter details a political conflict, but at its heart is a religious conflict.  I think that may be more common than we at first think.  There is the expression that law is politics by other means and war is politics by other means, but I think politics is just religion by other means.  For far too many people (including me, from time to time) our politics becomes our god.  We become so certain of how we think the world should run that we ignore how the Lord says it should run.  We are so busy advancing our own interests (or the interests of those we favor) that we fail to consider the interests of others – particularly the interest of the Lord in the salvation of the children of men.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

"A person with experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument"

I don’t know who said this, but I love it.  There are so many things that I have been exposed to over the previous several months that I never would have considered a year ago.  I am a completely different person than I was then.  But experiencing the genuine struggles of the past year in response to my testimony and my family, I have learned a few things.  First, there really is no good argument for atheism.  Atheism is not an argument, it is an emotional response and an absence of an argument.  Atheists will say that God doesn’t exist and can be proven wrong, but pressed their arguments always come down to “our conception of your beliefs can be disproved in this way.”  An atheist thinks that because the fossil record dates back past 10,000 BC, then Christianity has been disproved.  When you tell them that evolution is not contradictory to Christianity, then they accuse you of moving the goal posts.  Atheists demand that you believe what they claim you believe, and then they try to disprove it – as if the aspect of the religion that they disprove matters.

The atheist cannot say, “God doesn’t exist and here’s why.”  There is no atheistic argument.  They can explain how certain things were done, but that’s it.  Beyond that, it is sophistry.  Here is something that you didn’t know about the Abraham papyri, therefore God doesn’t exist. (?)  Here’s something you didn’t know about the way Joseph Smith translated the plates, therefore the Church isn’t true. (?)  And so forth.  At no point will an atheist meet a theist strength for strength (best argument for best argument) because the atheist has no true argument.

So there is mocking and finger pointing and scorn, because that is what they are left with.  If they had reason and logic on their side, they would have won the battle a long time ago.  After all, a theist has all the reasons in the world to give up their religion if it weren’t true.  Religion persists because it is correct.  And all the mocking in the world won’t change that.

Finally Caught Up, and a Change

Well, I had fallen quite a bit behind in my posting (although I was still keeping records of my scripture reading daily), but over the past several days I have managed to finally catch up on what I had written in the past.  As I did this, I began to think about what I wanted to do going forward and what I wanted this blog to be about.

I recently cleared 1,000 page view, so there is at least someone else in the world who is reading what I am writing.  And that is good, I hope it is providing some strength and comfort for you.  Going forward, I intend to expand somewhat the things that I include in this blog.  I will include links to articles that I find informative and enlightening, quotes and my comments on them, and general thoughts that I am having.  It will not be solely limited to my responses to scriptural texts, although that will still be included.

I hope the changes that I make will be of some value to you.

Numbers 21-22

(April 21, 2014)
Balaam is a fascinating character in the Bible.  Aside from the more fantastical elements of the story (and, as I believe in a risen Christ and miracles in general, I have little difficulty swallowing a talking Donkey), the remainder of the story has lessons to be learned.  For example, there was a prophet who was not of Israel, even at this time.

But more interesting than that is the fact that Balaam was an example of a prophet who tried to be too worldly.  God had taught the Israelites not to destroy Moab – so the Moabites were in no danger.  And yet, Balaam was too frightened or too covetous of his position to communicate with Balak’s princes the truth.  Had he done so, would Moab have sued for peace?  Would there be no conflict? Would Moab have been blessed (albeit to a lesser amount)?  Balaam’s weakness served no one in this circumstance, and it is sadly not surprising to realize that Balaam ultimately fell away into idolatry/

Alma 45

(April 21, 2014)
I couldn’t help but think of Mormon, writing the words of Alma into the Book of Mormon at the close of the Nephite era.  What must it have been like to have seen with your own eyes the events prophesied, and to know that the end result must be the destruction of all you held dear?  Mormon likely must have known that there was no hope for his people at that point, because a prophet had foreseen his day, and prophesied of their destruction.

But, to me, the greatest lesson of this is that Mormon continued to work in diligence and righteousness.  I don’t think he slackened or abandoned his responsibilities to testify or call to repentance.  And that makes sense, because while the ultimate course of the conflict was never in doubt, the casualties along the way could be changed.  If he helped to convert a single soul, then that alone was of infinite worth – even though the war was lost.  Likewise, we know the ultimate course of the War in Heaven, but we must engage in the battle we know we will win with all of our hearts, because we doubt know what casualties we too might be able to avert.

Numbers 19-20

(April 20, 2014)
There are moments when we realize how much faith must be demanded of those who walk the path the Lord has set.  Moses received a revelation that Aaron would go up the mountain and there die.  How much faith must it have taken for Aaron to head up that mountain?  I suppose he must have known the end was coming – I doubt that Moses would have kept that a secret from him.  And yet he willingly accepted the end when it came.

Alma 44

(April 20, 2014)
Zerahemnah’s attempt to surrender parallels, in my opinion, the way we sometimes seek to surrender to the Lord.  We fight against Him until the time comes when we realize that we are inevitably to be destroyed if we continue.  When we relinquish our weapons of war out of necessity at that point, we still retain our pride and attempt to negotiate out our own terms of surrender.  Finally, however, if we are fortunate we will lay down our arms and fully and unconditionally surrender to Him, with a covenant to war no more against Him.  Even then, however, many do not keep that covenant but go to battle again the next time conflict arises.

Numbers 18

(April 19, 2014)
There is something profound in the idea of the inheritance of the Levite being spiritual rather than temporal.  Every day, we are each given the choice of the prodigal son.  Do we clamor for our inheritance now, while in mortality, or do we wait for an inheritance in the hereafter.  If we are wise, we will patiently accept the delay in receiving our inheritance in favor of receiving a far greater reward in the hereafter.

Alma 43

(April 19, 2014)
It is interesting to see the leader Zerahemnah (with a perfectly appropriate Mulekite name).  Only a short while ago, I didn’t recognize the persistent differences between the Mulekites and the Nephites, and how those differences changed the course of history of the region.  Now I cannot help but to see the very same things.  What I have seen, I cannot unsee.  I cannot imagine that to have been an accident, and if it were legitimate I cannot imagine that it would have been done in such a low-key manner.

The other thought I had was on Moroni’s approach to following the prophet.  He went to the prophet because of his faith, and he asked the prophet where to go.  But, interestingly enough, he left a portion of his troops behind (in case the prophet was wrong?).  I don’t know what lesson I am to learn from Moroni’s behavior, here, but I think there is something to take from it.

The other thought that I had as I read this was the importance of defending what we do for righteous reasons.  Even when we attempt to do the Lord’s bidding, we may find ourselves doing this for the wrong reason.  We defend the faith in an attempt to appear more righteous than we really are, or to win out over our adversaries.  This cannot be our motivations.  Instead, our motives must be one thing and one thing only – the glory of God.

Numbers 16-17

(April 18, 2014)
How could the people have so quickly turned against Moses and against Aaron?  When they had been so miraculously rescued from Egypt, you would think that this would have been sufficient to have held them a matter of a few years before they went apostate.  I suppose that it is simple to convince ourselves that those who lead us are ‘fallen’ or otherwise unqualified.  After all, we struggle to be right in our thoughts.  If someone disagrees with us, then they must be wrong.  If the person who disagrees with us is a Priesthood leader, then they must be fallen.  It is a seductive trap to fall into.

Alma 42

(April 18, 2014)
Corianton’s intellectual approach to the Gospel is a familiar one.  It is all too common that, when moral failings happen, that we attempt to blame the Gospel rather than ourselves.  If the Gospel is not true, then we have not sinned (because there is no sin).  Even if we don’t entirely lose our testimony, our testimony is weakened.

By contrast, Corianton takes the correct approach – when our testimony does not match our actions, we must amend our actions.  Sins do not ensure apostasy, but it is clear why they are such a danger to create apostates.  We must not allow that to happen in our own lives.

Numbers 15

(April 17, 2014)
There is something to be said about the fact that an individual who sins out of ignorance is not summarily forgiven, as we might expect in our modern society, but is rather subject to less severe punishment.  This makes sense – after all, we believe that each of us has the light of Christ in our lives, and when we sin we are each given sufficient knowledge to avoid that sin (even when we are deceived, or self-deceived).  Saying we didn’t know better is no excuse when it comes to the Gospel.

Alma 41

(April 17, 2014)
I don’t know why it is that we arrogantly presume that the eternal world must necessarily respond to the way we feel this world behaves.  We see competition, and strife, and we feel like a similar thing must be an eternal principle.  After all, it is at least my believe that the world was created in part through the Lord’s manipulation of evolution – creative destruction, if you will.

But why assume similar principles hold in the world to come?  In a world without entropy, is there any reason to believe that things wouldn’t be dramatically different?  In a world without time, what would change?  I think we picture a Heaven and a Hell far too like our modern world without consideration of the ways that they would necessarily be different.

Numbers 12-14

(April 16, 2014)
Two thoughts struck me as I read through these chapters.  The first is the irrationality of the supposed “realist” or “rational” crowd.  They had seen the Divine presence in their midst for a significant period of time, and yet they considered themselves rational in their fear of the people they were to displace.  But they expressed that fear in an utterly irrational manner – oh that we had died in Egypt (still dead) or died in the desert (yep, they would still be dead there).  Realism, when it is in opposition to the Divine, is in actuality an irrational and emotional response.  You can see that by the correlated behavior and approach of those who take that position.

The second thought was on the two spies who were faithful – Joshua and Caleb.  I do not think it was an accident that these two were from Judah and Ephraim.  There is a presumption on my part (perhaps unwarranted) that Ephraim and Judah were the tribes (next to Levi) most centered on the Lord.  This focus on the Divine seems to have embolden these two in the performance of their duties.

Alma 40

(April 16, 2014)
In my experience, there seems to be a correlation between loss of faith and failure to obey.  I do not presume to say that it is true in every case, but in some cases at least it is (I can say this through personal experience).  When we sin and fall short of the life we know we must live, we find our testimony weakening.  There is a dissonance that exists between our lifestyle and our beliefs.  One or the other must give in – either we sacrifice our beliefs to our lifestyle or sacrifice our lifestyle to our beliefs.

Numbers 11

(April 15, 2014)
One trait of leadership that seems common in our Church, but less common in the world, is the fact that our leaders do not aspire to leadership.  Like Moses, they see the burdens of leadership as actual burdens – not as opportunities to rule and accomplish their desires.  Like Moses, we each should see our stewardships as responsibilities and opportunities to serve (praying for help when we need it).

Alma 38-39

(April 15, 2014)
Sometimes I look to the Lord and ask for a miraculous witness of the truth of His great work.  This is foolish for a pair of reasons.  First, I have had such miraculous witnesses a number of times and yet I still have my times of weakened faith.  Second, it is a wicked and faithless people (i.e., me) who seeketh signs.  I like to excuse myself by saying that I am just knocking as directed and that I truly want to know so as to have more power to obey (both, I believe, are honestly true), but I still think it demonstrates a weakness in my character.

Contrast that with Alma and what he tells Shiblon.  Alma was confronted in a miraculous way by an angel of the Lord.  He was converted in a moment of profound repentance, in a coma brought about through the prayers of his father.  If ever there was one who had a miracle to convert him, it was Alma.  But Alma knows better – he knows that “I would not that ye should think that I know these things of myself, but it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me; for if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things.”

Numbers 10

(April 14, 2014)
One difficulty in reading and understanding the scriptures is that different things have different meanings to the ancient mind and audience than they do to our modern minds.  For example, as I read through the description of the silver trumpets in this chapter my mind was drawn to certain writings in Revelations that I think are directly related.  Because I don’t understand the way the trumpets were used, I don’t understand Revelations as well as I should.  Only by putting ourselves in the minds of the recipients of God’s word can we truly understand it.

I think that this is what is actually meant by likening the scriptures unto ourselves.  We sometimes hear that phrase and think that it means putting ourselves into the scriptures – and from what I am learning about visualization, there is value to that.  But there must also be an effort to hear the scriptures with ancient ears and interpret them with ancient minds.  This is a difficulty in the Bible, but even more so in the Book of Mormon – where so much of the culture and society of the book is still unknown.

Alma 37

(April 14, 2014)
I have often wondered why it was that Alma needed to hide the 24 plates from the people.  After all, it is clear that they managed to get the secret oaths and covenants in a different way – I doubt Nephi son of Helaman was the one to reveal them – so it wasn’t to keep the oaths and covenants from those who sought them out.  But as I thought of it, the answer became clear to me.  Alma wisely said to hide the secret oaths and covenants for the combinations because knowing they existed would draw people towards them.  There are those who would be righteous (or, at least, neutral) in the continuation of the War in Heaven but for the existence of certain avenues of rebellion.  When these avenues presented themselves, they would take them.

We need look no further than the issue of homosexuality.  Statistics are difficult to come by, but I don’t think there is any disagreement that the prevalence of homosexuality was significantly less a decade or two ago than it is now.  Why?  Because these sins are out in the open and mainstreamed, many people follow this path (claiming, ironically, that it is a genetic predestiny rather than a choice, societal pressure, or nature/nurture combination).  Where homosexuality something that was still scrupulously kept outside the public’s eye, there are a large number of people who would not be homosexuals and would not have to deal with that difficult issue.

The Lord often tries to protect us from sin – and one way that He does this is to hide sin from our eyes.  Satan, on the other hand, seeks to normalize and publish sin – knowing that if he can get sin into the public square, he will have many more people within his grip.

Numbers 9

(April 13, 2014)
When we have difficulties, too often we either complain to the Lord or we seek to solve them ourselves.  But we have a better example in this chapter.  The men of Israel didn’t know what to do about the Passover, and so they went to Moses.  They presented their issue and they waited on the Lord to answer them. They then accepted the Lord’s answer.  Some modern political movements of our current day could stand to learn a lesson from this – they neither wait patiently for the Lord to answer, nor do they accept the answer when it comes.

The other thought was how free the Gospel is to all of us - even in the days of the Israelites, the blessings of the Passover were to be made available to all.  This clearly gave a glimpse into the day when the Gospel would be taken to all the world.

Alma 35-36

(April 13, 2014)
The anger of the Zoramites for the destruction of their craft so clearly parallels the anger is certain members of our ruling caste today for the promulgation of religion.  They hate the preaching of the Gospel, because it destroys their craft of turning heart against heart in conflict for the acquisition of votes.  It destroys their craft of controlling population through the dark sacrament of abortion.  It destroys their craft by encouraging self-reliance and common decency.  They cannot maintain their power in the presence of a religious society.  And so they rail against religion.

That carries on to the other language used in these chapters – offended by the word.  That truly describes our modern society.  If I say in public that homosexual marriage is wrong and will lead to unhappiness, it is something that I am saying out of a genuine love for my fellow men and a desire to see them keep the commandments and find joy therein. And yet, to say such a thing is to be a “hater,” a “homophobe,” or a “bigot.”  It is to be cursed out of public discourse.  Because they are offended by the word of God, in part because it destroys their craft and in part because those who lead them sway them for the same reason.

Numbers 8

(April 12, 2014)
The Lord, according to His own word, could take the firstborn of Israel both of man and beast.  Instead of taking the men, however, he took only the tribe of Levi.  This represented 1/13 of the population, so that unless the average family size was 13+ children, the Lord was taking less than He was due.  This seems to be ever so common in our dealings with the Lord.  He has, by right, the capacity to take everything we ever have or own.  Instead, He sets out what we are to give Him.  Then, if we are willing to give Him this He will often take far less if that represents our best efforts towards meeting our obligations.  His mercy towards us is so often like His mercy towards the children of Israel.  He saves them all, making them all His.  He asks only for the firstborn, and then takes only a small portion of Israel instead.  And He calls that sufficient.

Alma 34

(April 12, 2014)
There are a number of things in this chapter that caught my attention, but the one that I want to address is found in the penultimate verse.  How many times are we confronted with the exact same choice that the humble Zoramites are confronted with?  We have been wrongly accused, and we are persecuted for things that we have done correctly or things that are out of our control.  The temptation in situations like that is to lash out, to defend ourselves, or to do something similar.  And yet, that is not the correct way to behave.  Amulek gives wise counsel here that if we engage in these sorts of behaviors, we put our own souls at risk and we become the very type of people that hurts us.  That is the greatest problem with sin – it encourages others to sin in recompense.  And that is the great challenge of turning the other cheek and why it is so necessary.

Numbers 6-7

(April 11, 2014)
As I read through these chapters, so much of what I was reading really wasn’t understandable (or easily understandable) to the people to whom it was given.  The symbolism of the Nazerite, or the symbolism of the sacrifices – I don’t think I would see the symbolism in that even if I were to study it with the fullest measure of my understanding without a knowledge of what happened later.

But that leads to two other thoughts.  First, how much of what is going on in my life is actually a learning experiences for those who will come after me – people who will see in my life things that are easily understandable to them but which I am not able to see currently?  Secondly, does that mean that a good portion of the benefit of our commandments are so that we can understand when the Lord is speaking to us and when He is not?  What I mean is this – when Zenos spoke of mercy through the Atonement of Christ the Son of God, this could have made no sense to anyone (and he was martyred as a result).  But if we heard him, isn’t it possible that we could understand him because what he taught gave understanding to the symbols which we knew?

Alma 33

(April 11, 2014)
I had thoughts about prayer and about our burdens being lifted as I read this chapter, but nothing compares with the lesson taught from Moses and the brass serpent.  So many of the problems in my life today are the result of seeking to solve challenges on my own.  I refuse to look up, whether out of shame or pride or any number of other reasons.  I know that I can be healed if I only look up, and yet I am reluctant to do so.  It really doesn’t make sense, but I am no better than the children of Israel in this respect despite the number of blessings that I have had.

Numbers 5

(April 10, 2014)
Reading about the jealous offering, I am led to wonder if that was something that worked.  I think that it must have, considering that it was revealed unto Moses and was (as best as I can understand) a Priesthood operation of the time.  I think that sometimes we project our modern sensibilities on the past with the conceit that things as they are now are the way things that they always have been.  For example, the laws of science are said to ensure that the experiment today in Montreal will have reproducible results tomorrow in Calcutta.  And, by extension, the experiment would have performed similarly in the time of Moses.

But do we really know that?  I have thought that there might be something akin to the double-slit paradox at work here.  Prior to us examining the universe, many things happened in the world that seem magical or counter-scientific.  But as mankind evolved to ‘measure’ the world around them, these measurements in some way led to predictability in ways both positive and negative.

Alma 32

(April 10, 2014)
I was struck by Alma’s statement that “it is well” that they were kicked out of their synagogues because it compelled them to be humble.  Sometimes, in my life, I get the feeling that suffering is a good thing but that suffering should be when I am doing something wrong.  If I sin, I should suffer.  If I repent, I should be happy.  But that really isn’t the case very often – I do poorly and I wind up happy or I do well and suffer for it.

But there is value in what Alma is teaching here.  These people were trying to do the right thing – they were trying to worship God.  They were cast out, however, which we realize from our earlier reading was probably a very good thing (considering the apostate nature of the Zoramite religious ceremonies).

Likewise, sometimes when we desire to do well, and when we try to do well, we find ourselves being overwhelmed with adversity.  A portion of this we can likely ascribe to the Adversary, but I think another portion of it is the Lord’s work in our lives.  When we try to do well, we are in the best position to hear His words and live His teachings (whereas before we might have allowed the philosophies of men to color the doctrine).  In order to properly teach us, He must break down the poorly constructed floor plan of our soul and rebuild it.  When we turn away from Him, remodeling just gives us more opportunity to build a structure that is not in accordance with His design.  But when we are ready to follow Him, then the adversity comes in order to reshape us according to His will.  It is a painful thing to go through, but we can well hope it to be worth it.

Numbers 3-4

(April 9, 2014)
Sometimes I think that it would be so much easier to live my life if I knew...really knew...everything in the Gospel.  If only I could live through knowledge rather than through faith, things would be so much better.  On one hand, this is an absurd thought.  After all, I have seen miracles in my life that can only be explained as proof of the existence of the Divine – not serendipitous miracles but actual Divine intervention contrary to the laws of physics.  They are few, and they are distant in time right now, but they are still there.  And, add to that the serendipitous miracles that still happen regularly (moreso since I have turned my life back around), and you would think that I would have no trouble feeling deep in my bones that the Gospel is true.

But we know that conversion does not come through miracles – even when the miracle is one that you are blessed to participate in.  And so I still, from time to time, struggle with my faith.  In these moments, I ask myself why the Lord doesn’t open the veil for me.  After all, I want to know, and I want to give my will over to Him.  But that isn’t the way that the world works.  We can see that in this chapter.  The children of Israel had seen miracles through the course of their Exodus.  They were living off of manna, for Pete’s sake.  And yet, when the company traveled the Ark was covered to hide it from the sight of the people.  They had come to know through the miracles (reluctantly – if you recall, many rejected or disliked their miraculous rescue from bondage), but they had to retain that knowledge through faith.  They were not allowed to walk in and touch the Ark whenever they wanted to so as to remind them of what had happened in the past.  Instead, they had to learn to live through faith day by day.

Alma 31

(April 9, 2014)
The Zoramites’ prayer is the focus, here, but there are things that we have to learn both from it and from Alma’s discussion of it.  Alma indicates that they pray with hearts full of pride, and this is clearly true.  But I have noticed in my own life a common weakness where I will also pray with pride in my heart.  I pray for vindication (of myself, of my beliefs) and I pray that others will change.  I pray to get what I deserve.  Not always, and (thankfully) not often, but sometimes it creeps in.  I suppose that it likely happens with each of us.  This is a reminder of how important it is for us to excise these things out of our lives and out of our prayers.

Alma 30

(April 8, 2014)
One thing that surprises me about this chapter (and is yet another evidence of the truth) is that it so accurately portrays the atheist.  Did Joseph Smith have extended experience with atheism in his youth?  We read all the time how he was exposed to various religious traditions, but never that he was exposed to atheistic traditions (if such exist). And yet, in this one chapter we have a flawless presentation of the thinking, arguments, and actions of an evangelical atheist.

Of course, that leads to one other issue.  If Korihor knew that he was lying, how many other evangelical atheists know that they are lying?  You always want to presume that the person who is speaking is telling the truth, but you don’t always know.  And, as my life has taught me, even when you are trying to tell the truth you don’t always know your own mind.  But I think there is something to be said about the idea that atheism is (at least among the evangelical supporters) not widely held.  A true-believing atheist is liable to keep quiet about it – there is no reason for him or her to proselytize.  But an evangelical atheist is less advocating a position then they are fighting against God.

Alma 27-29

(April 7, 2014)
The transition between chapters 28 and 29 is a very interesting one from my perspective – so much so that I am unsure whether or not we are reading the words of Mormon or of Alma in chapter 29.  I have always assumed that it was the words of Alma, but in the closing of chapter 28 Mormon’s writings and summary are so appropriate (discussing the need for missionary work) that it is clear what he is thinking of.

Still, I think that chapter 29 reads more like Alma than like Mormon.  What I think we have is Mormon talking about the importance of missionary work and how vital it is to resolve the great inequalities of life.  He then includes the quotation that is Alma 29 to demonstrate and support his thesis – Alma likewise recognizing how important missionary work is and (as Alma is righteous) demonstrates how the righteous always desire to share the Gospel.

Numbers 2

(April 6, 2014)
I looked at these orderings to see if there were any eternal principles to discern from them.  I looked to see if this arrangement was somehow better than all other arrangements.  And, with my limited understanding, I cannot say yes to either question.  So what does that mean?  Especially in light of the last verse of this chapter – that this was the word of the Lord and the people of Israel were obedient to it?  What it means for me is that sometimes things don’t have to be perfectly done – sometimes the Priesthood is a delegation of Divine Authority into imperfect hands.  Moses was not perfect, but if he was assigned this job by the Lord then the results of his best efforts were the will of the Lord.  And Israel was correct to follow what he set out.

Alma 25-26

(April 6, 2014)
I hope I am not being uncharitable here, but I have always envisioned the conversation between Ammon and Aaron that goes on just below the surface.  Ammon, who has converted so many people, is rejoicing in the Lord.  Aaron, a little bit irked (after all, it was Aaron that spent so much time in prison, not Ammon) is both correct in what he is saying (in a way) but also a little bit jealous that this has become Ammon’s story and that he is the one rejoicing despite the fact that Aaron worked just as hard and struggled and suffered more.

It is a very human reaction from Aaron, and it is yet another minor detail of verisimilitude that provides another small evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Numbers 1

(April 5, 2014)
Numbers in the scriptures are a problem – the numbers seem entirely improbable in light of what we know about population dynamics and the simple issue of how much water would be needed or how much waste would need to be addressed.  Some people actually lose their testimonies when they look at the numbers that are included in the scriptures.

Of course, all of this presumes that we are right in that the numbers are wrong.  They could, by some mechanism that we are not aware of, be accurate and we are wrong in our current understanding.  But let us presume that the numbers are inaccurate.  Does that somehow invalidate the Gospel?  Of course not.  The Gospel is the Atonement – everything else is an appendage to that.  If Christ rose from the dead, then what does it matter if ancient numbering techniques and practices included a certain fudge factor (or even outright exaggeration)?  It means nothing, of course.

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved.  We also believe that we are led by fallible leaders (and every leader in the history of the world, save one, was likewise fallible).  We should not expect infallibility in our leadership, in our scriptures, or in those around us.  If the numbers are horribly wrong, but Christ rose from the dead, then we know what we must do.  And He did rise from the dead.

Alma 24

(April 5, 2014)
I have never understood the conscientious dissenter from military action.  I can understand not wanting to kill your enemy, and I can understand not wanting to risk your life.  But at some point, it seems to me that it is incumbent upon you to step up and to protect those around you from harm.  Failing that, it almost seems to be a failure in your stewardship.  After all, the children of the Ammonites were killed along with them – and these children will not have the opportunity to grow up and have children of their own.

Of course, by my very thinking here I fall prey to two of the most common traps that we fall into.  The first is obvious – I lack faith.  I am certain that these people believed that the Lord would protect (or, at a minimum, save – as if salvation could be referred to as a minimum) their children.  The second is that I assume that what is right for me is right for everyone.  If the Lord said to them in their hearts to not take up arms, then that is what they are called to do and they only do right if they do as they are instructed.

Leviticus 27

(April 4, 2014)
Sometimes I think we get hung up on the details of particular ‘transactions’ with the Lord.  We examine the relative values of peoples and genders, or whether this or that is redeemable or passes under the rod, or in general act like lawyers engaged in a business deal.  In so doing, I think we mostly miss the point.

The point is that everything belongs to the Lord.  Everything.  We give Him what He asks for, and are allowed to keep what He doesn’t ask for.  But it is all His.  Reading the Mosaic Law in that frame of mind, or reading certain parts of the Doctrine and Covenants that way leads to a much better understanding of what is going on.

Alma 23

(April 4, 2014)
In the law, there is a presumption that the solution to bad speech is more speech (not so much the suppression of bad speech).  That is not an absolute rule (there are exceptions, and good ones) but one defining trait of untruth is that it cannot abide truth being spoken.  Truth may, from time to time, have reasons to suppress untruth.  But truth will also allow untruth because it is in the contrast when it become apparent which is which.  But untruth must stifle and suppress truth.

We see that currently in the attempts by some to suppress the rights of people to speak on certain moral or political issues.  If you are against gay marriage, there is a concerted attempt to drive you out of the public square.  If you do not believe in anthropogenic global warming, you are likened to a Holocaust denier.  In both cases, the “debate is closed.”  But why is the debate closed?  It seems that the debate is closed because continued debate would show the dishonesty and error – and that cannot be allowed.

It is fine and good to say that on the areas where we are being suppressed, but we need to remember that when discussing issues for which we are temporarily ascendant.  We of all people should not fear speech – because the truth is always the solution to error.

Leviticus 26

(April 3, 2014)
Why exactly would any man make an idol?  It doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.  After all, I don’t put together a mudpie and suddenly bow myself down to it.  What is the nature of thought behind doing such a thing?  I know that there are religions in the world that still practice idolatry, and I have talked with some of their practitioners.  They will go to the store and buy their god, and create a little shrine to worship it.  What goes on in the mind of man to think that their deity can be purchased retail?

Alma 22

(April 3, 2014)
I had two thoughts as I read through this chapter.  The first was on the king’s description of removing his sins.  When I think of rooting something out, I typically think of the removal of a wart.  It is a painful process, and you have to dig deep down in order to ensure that the infected tissue doesn’t merely spread.  Obviously that wasn’t what Lamoni was speaking of (or what Joseph Smith was translating to) – removing a tree root is a difficult enough process that it was clearly of a similar nature to removing a wicked spirit.  But either way, the process is very difficult and requires effort.  According to what I have read, as well, it was not atypical for feats of strength (such as removing a tree root) to be typically done with prayers for support in the Mayan culture – but that is neither here nor there.

The second thought that I had was on the remedy that Aaron prescribed.  Like Lamoni, I would love to have my wicked spirit rooted out of my breast.  So as I read at this point in my life, I focused on the advice of Aaron.  When it was given, it stopped me short.  After all, hadn’t I done something very similar to Lamoni’s prayer (last night, most recently)?  But it quickly struck me that Aaron’s advice to Lamoni was specific to Lamoni – just as Christ’s command to the rich young man was specific to him.  There is something that each of us must also do to acquire the blessings of understanding and knowledge and it is up to us to find what that thing is or those things are and to prepare ourselves such that we are ready when the time comes.

Leviticus 23-25

(April 2, 2014)
There is within me such a huge desire to be completely independent.  I don’t know whether that is just something with me or whether it is something that is uniform across human nature.  But I want to be able to provide for myself, and I want to be left alone.  But that isn’t a good thing.  The first thing that I thought when I read this chapter was to wonder how the people would feed themselves in the seventh year.  But Moses answers that – the Lord will provide for the people.  They will have a bounty every sixth year, and this will hold them over until the seventh year.  The Lord had built in to His program a mechanism for ensuring that the people never forget to rely on Him.

But, and this is perhaps more interesting, the Lord didn’t require them to go into the test of their faith until after they had seen the miracle.  They had the double harvest, and then they were to not work.  I wonder if there is a principle here in the method of the Lord, or whether it was simple necessity.  It seems, often enough, that the test that we have to pass in mortality is sometimes to recognize our blessings rather than to patiently wait for them.  Perhaps that was the challenge to ancient Israel as well.  They were to remember that what they had been given was a gift from the Lord and they should still honor the Sabbath on the seventh year.

Alma 21

(April 2, 2014)
Mormon, it seems clear, is particularly hostile against those practicing the religion of Nehor.  For a long time, I breezed right past that without concerning myself with it but lately I have been seriously giving thought to what it meant to be of the order of Nehor.  It is something different from the secret combinations that led to the destruction of the Nephites, but it is something just as damaging and destructive in its own right.

What I think the grand problem with the Nehorites is that they are close enough to the true religion that they can cause others to mistake what they preach for the truth.  But where the true faith requires our desires to bend to the doctrine, the order of Nehor bends doctrine to our desires.  It isn’t that it is wholly untrue, but rather that there is enough true that it becomes particularly deceptive to those who hear it.

The Amalekite who contended with Aaron correctly pointed out that the Lord loved the Lamanites as much as He loved the Nephites.  But, atop that true doctrine the Amalekite piled on false doctrine – there was no need for an Atonement, that Christ would not come, and that they had no need to repent.

We see that in our modern society.  Those who advocate for gay marriage will use the same deceptive reasoning.  Doesn’t the Lord love gays just as much as He loves anyone else?  Yes, of course.  Then why are we so hateful as to stand in the way of the happiness of gay people who want to marry (as if wickedness ever led to happiness)?  And, in a moment, they have taken true doctrine and bent the doctrine to conform with their desires rather than vice versa.

Nehors are dangerous to the community of believers, they are dangerous to our society at large, and they are dangerous to us as well.  Each of us can easily become a Nehor when we tried to make the doctrine conform to our own wills and become laws unto ourselves.

Leviticus 21-22

(April 1, 2014)
Once again my mind was drawn to the symbolism of what was happening here, but that isn’t what I wanted to write about.  Instead, I wanted to write about how impressed I was that Moses actually believed that he was speaking for and to God.  These statutes that are recorded here are not ones that, with their symbolic nature, you would have expected to developed naturally.  Some, perhaps, but not all of them.  If I were preparing a religion, it would have been very different from this (not that I expect that they thought the same way that I do, but nonetheless).  Whomever wrote this chapter believed that he was communicating God’s will.

That leaves us with two options.  The first is that Moses is the author.  If Moses thought that he was communicating God’s will, then we have a hard time stating that he was mislead himself – after all, he claimed to have spoken with Jehovah face-to-face.  So if Moses wrote what we have in this chapter (and I believe that he did), then this chapter becomes a powerful testimony as to the truthfulness of the existence of God.

The only other option is that a subsequent believer, putting traditions down to paper, wrote what is written here believing centuries after the fact that they were true.  This seems unlikely.

Alma 20

(April 1, 2014)
Like King Lamoni, there are those around us that we fear to offend.  Perhaps they, too, are family members and we worry about the effect of speaking certain things to them, and so we bite our tongues.  I think that this is, in general, a good thing.  But there comes a time when we need to overcome our fear of giving offense and speak boldly to those we fear.  King Lamoni set the example – he was afraid of his father, but in the moment of truth (when commanded to slay Ammon), Lamoni boldly told his father that he would do no such thing.  He testified to his father.

We must be willing to likewise boldly stand up for the truth at all times, and to speak up for the truth at the right times.  It is sometimes hard (for me, at least) to know those times.  But a determination to be ready is sufficient, I believe.

Leviticus 20

(March 31, 2014)
Scriptures like this give a plethora of prohibitions that are used to justify disregarding the clear language of the Bible.  For example, the Lord clearly reveals to Moses that homosexuality is forbidden.  But, say those who seek to change God’s word, it also says that adultery is wrong and adulterers should be slain.  Moses got it wrong there, said they, and so he is likewise wrong when it comes to homosexuality.  Rather than obey both, they use the disobedience of one to justify the disobedience of the other.

I am grateful that we are not living in the time of the Mosiac Law.  With my failings through life, it is doubtless that I would have found cause to be stoned to death dozens of times over.  Fortunately, thanks to the Atonement and the Gospel, I was blessed to be given the leave to repent of my sins and seek to build a life better in keeping with the Lord’s will.  But just because I am grateful that the Lord did not cut me off doesn’t mean that I can invalidate the Lord’s commandments (both those I have broken and those I personally have not).  It is only pride that causes us to see the sinning of others and to use that to justify our own wickedness.

Alma 19

(March 31, 2014)
It is hard to get our minds around the idea that mortality is of limited importance.  It is all that we see, and as such we find it so all-consumingly significant.  But that really isn’t the way that the Lord views things (and it shouldn’t be the way that we view things).  Things in mortality are really very short – and death, whenever it comes, brings only relief and the opportunity to move on to the next stage in our eternal progress.

I thought of this when I read from this chapter about the Lord preserving the life of Ammon by striking dead the Lamanite who was trying to kill him.  Why was Ammon preserved?  It is not an easy question, as there are others just as righteous who were not spared.  Stephen was stoned.  Almost all of the original Apostles were martyred (and, as I think more about it, I recognize why that had to happen – we needed to know they were willing to die for what they believed in order to provide power to their testimonies).  Why save Ammon, and not everyone?  I think that the answer solely comes down to one thing and one thing only – the Lord still had work for Ammon to do.

We show up at the office, punch our timesheet (a.k.a., birth), and we set about doing what we were brought here to do.  Some of us have to learn on the job.  Some of us do fantastic work.  Some of us do little (or are even counterproductive).  And sometimes we go through all three phases.  But we love our job, we love the ‘money’ that it brings, and we love the company that we have.  But at some point, the Boss is going to say that He has no more need for our services today.  And we will be sent home.  Hopefully it will be because we have done everything He has sent us here to do (and not because we have become such a problem that He cannot continue to have us here without affecting the quality of everyone else’s work), but regardless the time will come and we will punch out.  The Lord won’t keep us here any longer than He needs us, because He knows His plan and if we can endure to the end (presumably easier the sooner our particular end happens to be), then we will receive a full salary for our work.

The Lord loved Ammon, and He saved him.  The Lord loved Abinidi, and He let Abinidi be martyred.  The Lord loves us – whether He saves us depends on what He has in store for us.  May we trust and praise the Lord always.

Leviticus 18-19

(March 30, 2014)
Some people foolishly try to criticize the God of the Old Testament as evil, mean, cruel, or hateful.  But the God of the Old Testament is the Christ of the New Testament, and the teachings are the same (although the outward ordinances are different).  Love your neighbor.  Be good to each other, and love and serve the Lord.  Only those determined to see differences miss the similarities.

Alma 18

(March 30, 2014)
When we finally gain a testimony of the Gospel, or when our testimony grows in any meaningful way, we are almost certainly compelled to seek out forgiveness of our sins (as was King Lamoni, here).  In this way, we can often likewise feel the pull of truth, because truth leads to repentance.  If we feel a sense of our own unworthiness, and a desire to live more in harmony with God’s will and to bless and love our fellow men, then the things we are pondering are more likely to be truth that we are feeling the Spirit to testify of.

Leviticus 16-17

(March 29, 2014)
The use of the phrase “whoring” to describe sacrifices to “devils” is interesting.  Is it possible that the power of the idols is actually their capacity to become a point of contact with the spirits that follow Satan?  And whoring, despite seeming to be inappropriate, is actually the perfect word to describe idolatry.  We are the bride of Christ, and as we seek out other sources to provide us with the gift of life, and we deny Christ’s claim on our souls, we are doing nothing less than whoring ourselves out to devils.

Alma 17

(March 29, 2014)
How many times are we faced with the very challenges that we need in order to accomplish the Lord’s work?  Were it not for the Lamanites by the Waters of Sebus, isn’t it probable that Ammon would have had difficulty in converting the people of Lamoni?  When the shepherds saw their flocks being scattered, wasn’t it reasonable that they believed that this was a catastrophe and they were destined to be destroyed?  And didn’t the Lamanites who scattered the flocks at that point see their actions as victorious?

In all cases, they were wrong.  What they experienced was a blessing.  Particularly the servants, who feared for their lives – as they were given the gift of the Gospel.  Shouldn’t we look to our adversities in the same manner?

Leviticus 15

(March 28, 2014)
When I liken the scriptures to myself, I always look at them in two ways.  First, I put myself in the mindset of a listener in the time the scriptures were given – what did they know and how would they have received what was taught.  This is, I think, the way that the scriptures yield the most insights.

But the second way I try to liken the scriptures to myself is to put myself back in the scriptures knowing what I know now.  This leads, from time to time, to some interesting thoughts.  For example, knowing what I know about how disease spreads and so forth, would I have obeyed the laws presented in this chapter?  Or would I have thought that I understood their purpose and obeyed the ‘higher law’ that I thought they represented?

Alma 16

(March 28, 2014)
I think that it is reasonable to presume that Zoram didn’t know that there were no Ammonihahites that had been taken prisoner.  What is even more interesting is that it is reasonable to presume that Alma didn’t know that fact, either.  And yet Alma is praying to the Lord in humility to find out how to rescue his brethren – in his mind they could have been the very brethren that only shortly before had been burning women and children in the fire.

When I first read this chapter (and in subsequent readings) I was impressed in Alma’s trust in the Spirit to direct Zoram right where he needed to go.  But now I realize what happened – Alma’s love for his enemies led him to pray, and prayers for the benefit of those who persecute you would of necessity be powerful things because of the putting off of the natural man required to offer such a pray.

Leviticus 13-14

(March 27, 2014)
Compare and contrast the methods taken by the ancient Israelites to avoid leprosy (which I think is a symbol of sin) with the carelessness with which we dance around sin – trying to get as close as we can without actually being infected (or sometimes even desiring the infection, but in a manner that we can claim it not to be our fault).  We nuzzle up to the plague-ridden.  We sit on their chairs, we lay in their beds.  We do everything we should not do.  The Lord is very simple in His explanations – when we act as a priest working to heal the leper, we may encounter and try to help them.  But the rest of the time, we should keep our distance from the unclean.

Of course, we are all both lepers, and agents of the Lord – we are clean and unclean.  But we aren’t really talking about people in this symbol, but rather about sin..

Alma 15

(March 27, 2014)
There is one thing that I find to be oddly comforting about this scripture.  Zeezrom, having persecuted Alma and Amulek, is consumed with a burning fever.  This is something that I don’t think that most people would have identified as something that happens regularly – we don’t associate guilt with a fever.  But in my life, I can look at several moments when I have felt that fever when I fell far short of what I should have been doing with my life.

Leviticus 11-12

(March 26, 2014)
We look at the Law of Moses, and the dietary restrictions that they impose, and at least I somewhat scoff in my mind about some of them.  Many are clearly inspired for health reasons, but others make no sense to me and I feel almost embarrassed by them.  This is a problem with me, however, and not with the revelations.

Like the modern revelation that we have today, there is just too much in the Law of Moses that is correct from a health perspective (and yet unknown in the time prior to any understanding of germs, etc.) to dismiss it as anything other than revelation.  And, if revelation, then we must be cautious before disregarding it.

Alma 14

(March 26, 2014)
I have never believed that the Lord needed any help in judging any of us.  After all, He knows the end from the beginning and can see into our hearts in ways that we cannot see ourselves.  He didn’t need to send us down here to be tested – He could have told us our eternal reward at the point where we were born and His judgments would have been both perfect and just.

With thoughts like that in mind, I think that Alma is wrong on why he thinks that the women and children were martyred.  I think that the purpose of mortality is for us to be tested, but it is for us to recognize that the judgments of God are correct and just.  They were allowed to martyr the women and children so, in that day when the Lord judged them, they would be forced to concede that their days had been days of wickedness on the Earth and the Lord’s judgments were just.

And what about the women and children?  Well, to my mind the second part of the purpose of our mortal life is to develop us towards those attributes of Godhood that we each need to develop. And what they suffered must have been in furtherance of that end in a manner that I don’t understand.

Leviticus 9-10

(March 25, 2014)
I cannot help wondering what the text of the Torah would be like were it not for the progressive changes that occurred over time.  We know about the plain and precious truths being lost through conspiring individuals, but just as likely much was lost through careless transcription errors and good-hearted individuals insufficiently humble to realize that the scriptures did not need human editing (even Josiah).

Would we understand the symbolism of the Mosiac Law better?  Did the people of Israel have more with which they could understand the Mosiac Law themselves?  It seems likely – each succeeding generation (after consolidating power) would have taken steps to ensure orthodoxy and to prevent continuing revelation.  It will be fascinating in the Hereafter to go back and see just what was lost and how.

Alma 13

(March 25, 2014)
I wonder if the standard explanations that we have for faith (and why it is necessary) are accurate.  I used to think that faith was something that we had to have in order to be properly tested.  Now I wonder if that is true.  After all, the Lord knows our hearts, and could judge us perfectly without the necessity of our exercising faith.  If we knew the end from the beginning, perhaps we would be inclined to attempt deception on the Father, but certainly that would be impossible.  The other possible conclusion is that we would know the judgments of God are just (because we went through the process of acting by faith), which has some validity.

But I am thinking that the development and necessity of faith is more for making us into who we need to be than to demonstrate who we are.  The Lord works by faith – and faith is a principle of power.  We could not accomplish our eternal destiny without the development of faith.  Just as a child needs to develop the confidence to act on their own in order to be a properly functioning adult, so too a Child of God needs the opportunity to act by faith in order to develop sufficient faith to act in the eternities.

I feel I am explaining my thoughts poorly, but they are swirling just out of reach of a better explanation.  But the key to take away from this is that faith is not (or not solely) a mechanism for testing but is also a mechanism for developing us for the eternity ahead of us.

Leviticus 8

(March 24, 2014)
I thought about the Urim and Thummim, and what happened to them.  Presumably they were taken by the Babylonians when Jerusalem was taken, and I wonder what purpose that they were put to there.  And what happened to them thereafter.

Tradition states that the Urim and Thummim were mechanisms for resolving questions that required a question to be presented in a brief and simple way, and a yes or no answer would be given.  That brings new light to the translation process of Joseph Smith if that is what he followed.  Did he contemplate the narrative (as it had been told to him by Moroni and other angelic visitors) and come up with language that he then took to the Lord for the yes or no answer?  That would explain a large number of seemingly small errors in the texts – things that give me no more heartburn because the things that he got right that he shouldn’t have far exceed the few things that appear mistakes to me in my hindsight.

  And what does that say about us when we take things to the Lord.  Many times, I will ask the Lord for answers but when is the last time I have presented the Lord with a simple yes or no question?  I don’t think that I do it that often.

Alma 12

(March 24, 2014)
It is funny how a mortal can look on the size and the scope of the universe, and can firmly understand the utter impossibility of someone to save themselves from the impending slow death of the universe (or even their own imminent death), and yet somehow come away thinking of themselves as the source of their own salvation.  I could no more save myself than I could fly to Pluto.  And that is true for each and every man, woman, and child on this planet.  If we cannot even make it to Pluto on our own, what makes us believe that we can get to Heaven on our own.

The Atonement is infinite because our need for it is infinite.

Leviticus 6-7

(March 23, 2014)
The requirements of the Mosiah Law, and its almost constant sacrifices, is something that we are well aware of in the Church.  But do we pause to think about the necessity of similar, regular sacrifices in our own lives?  Sometimes I find myself frustrated by being called to sacrifice something that I don’t want to sacrifice or called to sacrifice something sooner than I think that I should.  I feel like if I am righteous, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice (I realize how foolish that is, mind you, but I still think it).  But if there is a day when we haven’t sacrificed something to the Lord, that should worry us.

Alma 11

(March 23, 2014)
There are a number of things to take from this scripture, but none are more important than this – Zeezrom, who the prophet Amulek declared was a “child of Hell,” still could repent and be forgiven.  The infinite mercy of the Savior is beyond comprehension.

Leviticus 5

(March 22, 2014)
Sinning through ignorance is an important topic for me, as I have come to terms with a number of significant mistakes that I have made in my life – but made ignorantly.  In our minds, we are inclined to grant blanket absolution for the sins we commit in ignorance, but we really cannot do that.  The Mosaic Law (and, symbolically, the Gospel) teach us that our mistakes and sins in ignorance still must be dealt with.  Our human inclination to declare ourselves not responsible for the mistakes we ignorantly make is yet another form of the natural man that we must overcome.

Alma 10

(March 22, 2014)
Having gone through my own crisis of faith, I have some difficulty understanding Amulek here.  I would have loved, for all the world, at that point to know of the truth of the Gospel.  What I couldn’t say then was that “I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know.”  I suppose that is normal and natural – not everyone experiences the same apostasy – each of us sins in our own way.  But I wonder how unique Amulek was in the grand scheme of things – how often those struggling with their testimonies are actually fooling themselves into not believing.  I don’t think that was what happened with me, but it appears to be something that happens to at least some people.

Leviticus 2-4

(March 21, 2014)
Some things I have never noticed before, but in reading the scriptures again and again they seem to pop out to me in an order and manner that leads me to believe that I am being inspired.  As I read these chapters, I was impressed by the obviousness that the Gospel and Christ’s great sacrifice was the culmination of the Law of Moses, to the point I wondered how anyone could miss it.  In that frame of mind, I read about the sacrifices of a female goat.  This brought me up short.

Why a female goat?  I had just been convinced again of the clear nature of the Law of Moses as pointing towards the Atonement of Christ.  But the sacrifice of a female goat wasn’t pointing to that, was it?  As I thought about it, I remembered the analogy of a husband loving his wife the way Christ loved the Church.  Is the Church the female goat?  Or is it man in general?

I can easily see the possibility of either interpretation (and perhaps both are correct).  If we sin ignorantly, the Church still must be involved in order to restore the person to activity and full fellowship.  Likewise, we as individuals (and those around us) must suffer for some of our sins, even if we sin in ignorance.

Alma 9

(March 21, 2014)
Sometimes I am reminded of just how hard life can be.  Reading through this chapter, for some reason my mind centered on the struggles that I was having in my life.  I think it might have had something to do with the fact that Alma is speaking of the mercies of the Lord to all of those who call out to Him.  I have felt those mercies, but in my wicked nature I have not felt them to the extent that I would like to.  I want more comfort, more peace, more faith and knowledge.  I see the challenges in front of me, and I wish that the Lord would take them all away.

Of course, that is pure foolishness.  I know that intellectually, but emotionally it is still something that I want.  I want perfect faith approaching knowledge, so that the challenges of life aren’t as challenging.  But we are here to be tested – I understand that.  So like Alma, I sin in my wish even when my wish is to be closer to the Lord and to better feel His presence.  So I will continue to call upon His name in hopes that, in the end, I will be embraced by Him and enter into His rest.

Exodus 40; Leviticus 1

(March 20, 2014)
I wonder what it must have been like to have lived in the days of the Exodus.  To have all of these miracles happening in the sight of all of Israel seems to me to have likely been second only to the miracles that would have been visible to someone following Christ during His mortal ministry.  And no wonder – after all, the Exodus was certainly an analogy or a type of each of our acceptance of the Atonement and fleeing our own personal Egypt.

There is an overarching pattern there, as well.  Just leaving Egypt isn’t enough – although it is a necessary first step in the process.  After we leave Egypt, we must then search out the law and follow it, taking courage in the face of the giants we each must slay, and persevering until we reach our own promised lands.  In that sense, we are all on an Exodus, and while the miracles that happen don’t happen in the sight of all of Israel, there can be no doubt that miracles continue in the sight of each of us who is willing to take our journey from Egypt today.

Alma 8

(March 20, 2014)
Sometimes chapters are just dense with things to draw from, and this is one of them.  Alma, who had just been rejected, could have been prideful or felt justified in the inevitable punishment that Ammonihah would encounter.  But instead, he went away sorrowing for the people and the suffering they would endure.  He was to teach them that the Lord would destroy Ammonihah, but we know that it was ultimately the Lamanites who did the deed.  The Lord likely did not inspire the Lamanites to do so (although their roundabout route to Ammonihah raises doubts about that assertion), but it shows that even as the Lord often blesses us through other hands, He also sometimes punishes us through other hands (or punishes us by withholding His protection from others).

Amulek’s statement that he was a Nephite has always seemed odd, but in light of the fact that the Ammons we know from the Book of Mormon were Ammon (named a Mulekite), Ammon the son of Mosiah (likely with Mulekite blood, as part of an intermarriage which brought the first Mosiah to the throne when the people merged), and Ammonihah, it is reasonable to believe that Ammonihah was a Mulekite city rather than a Nephite city – thus making Amulek stand out and making him need to point out that he was a Nephite.

Finally, Mormon’s commentary that Alma and Amulek could not be held captive in prison, but this power was not shown until they were bound, is somewhat of a symbol for our lives.  We too cannot be bound in sin, because of the infinite Atonement, if we accept Christ.  But we often don’t reach out to Him until we are held captive ourselves.  Like Alma and Amulek, this allows the Lord to show forth His matchless power through our lives, and gives an additional answer as to why the angels rejoice over the sinner who repents.

Exodus 38-39

(March 19, 2014)
The Lord does not need our finest things, and He is not impressed with gold, silver, or diamonds (if He wanted diamonds, He could just swing by the nearest neutron star and gather some up).  But it is appropriate and right that we bring our finest and best for holy purposes – that Aaron’s breastplate have a diamond, that gold was used, and so forth.  Because when we give the Lord our very best, it says something about us regardless of whether the Lord needs what we give Him or not.

Alma 6-7

(March 19, 2014)
Lately I have been reading the words of the scriptures less as where the words are the important part and more towards where the concepts are the important part.  What I mean is that I am less engaged in proof-texting and more in trying to understand what is actually being taught.  I believe I mentioned before that words like all and never caught my attention, because their absolute nature led me to think in absolute terms.  I think that my lawyering nature led me to that conclusion, and I am reconsidering whether it was correct.

But despite avoiding that approach lately, I was drawn to the language of this chapter that we should pray and ask for all things that we need.  There seems to be little limit on that statement.  I thought about it, and realized how very much that I needed that I wasn’t getting in my life, and how I was counting on myself to get it.  That led me to thinking about my pride, and why we have to be humble to ask what we need.  We all want to be self-sufficient – we all want to be able to say that we are able to meet the needs that we have.  To rely on anyone (even the Lord) requires us to humble ourselves greatly.  But there is nothing that we need that we should not be asking the Lord for.

Alma 5

(March 18, 2014)
I had a number of thoughts as I read through this chapter that I intended to include, but my mind was immediately drawn to one central fact that I just had to make mention of.  Alma, speaking of his understanding of the truth, spoke of the necessity he had of fasting and praying for many days in order to come to a knowledge of the truth of the matters he was speaking of.  I had read that any number of times, but it struck me this time who was speaking.

This was Alma the Younger – the same Alma the Younger that had been visited by an angel, who had a voice that could shake the Earth.  The same Alma the Younger that was in a coma for several days before finally recovering as he cried out to the Son of God.  The same Alma the Younger that left behind his wicked ways and repented and headed the Church.

What truly struck me about that was the fact that Alma the Younger still needed to be converted through prayer and fasting.  I suppose I have gone through that same experience – I have let slip my testimony through unrighteousness and laziness, and I find myself without the conviction that I thought I would always have as a result of my experiences.  Like Alma, however, the only true way to get and keep a testimony is through daily additions – miracles and signs can assuage doubts, perhaps, but do not often convert (at least not permanently).

Exodus 37

(March 17, 2014)
I thought about what it must have been like to have been the one to have crafted the Ark of the Covenant – to have been the person who had put shape to something that ultimately became this holy artifact.  But I realized that this was no different than to look at a missionary that you have raised as they are giving their farewell.  To have helped to craft such a person who takes upon himself or herself the mantle of Christ must be, in every meaningful way, the same as crafting the Ark of the Covenant and then seeing it become imbued with holy power.

Alma 3-4

(March 17, 2014)
At first I was going to write about how often we bring upon ourselves the very curses that we receive, but then I started to think more about how we are stumbling blocks to those around us.  How often do we, in our attempt to equate our beliefs with doctrine, end up being stumbling blocks to those around us?  If we think one thing, but someone else (more intelligent, or even just right about this one thing) thinks something different – but believes that we are accurately presenting the doctrine, that person is liable to believe that the doctrine is wrong.  This could very well make us, as believers, stumbling blocks to those we should be trying to help bring into the Gospel.

Exodus 36

(March 16, 2014)
I have an interesting thought from this chapter, and I am not sure that I will adequately develop it.  But I find it noteworthy that at some point Moses tells the people of Israel that the Lord has received enough.  I think that sometimes we think that the perfect life is one in which absolutely everything is given to the Lord.  And while I firmly agree that we must be ready to give everything to the Lord, I don’t think that He often actually requires that of us.  Instead He requires that we provide Him enough for what He asks.  Sometimes that is everything we have, and sometimes it is very little.  In all cases, we must be ready to give Him everything, though.

Alma 2

(March 16, 2014)
How often have we seen this play out in our modern lives  – there are those who claim that they believe in democracy right up until the moment that the people decide something that they don’t like.  Then democracy is evil.  Look at the homosexual marriage movement – they first thought that they were a popular movement until such time as they started losing at the ballot box pretty well everywhere that they tried.  So what did they do?  They started to impose their view of the world through judicial fiat.  They began suing anyone who disagreed with them or gave less than enthusiastic support.  Like Amilici, they were all for democracy as long as democracy provided a cover for getting their own way.  The moment it did not, however, the mask was removed and they started to pursue their aims through the naked acquisition of power.