Sunday, June 29, 2014

1 Samuel 23

(June 29, 2014)

                Living the hills, away from the comforts of home and family, is something that I can somewhat understand.  Doing so because of something that others believe that isn’t true is also something that I understand.  But there are greater lessons to be learned out of this chapter than just those two things.  In fact, the greater two lessons seem to be these.  First, just because you are living in the wilderness doesn’t mean that you will forever be living in the wilderness.  Second, just because you are innocent of the charges against you that lead you into the wilderness now doesn’t mean that you will forever remain innocent.  David, ultimately, sinned despite his time of innocence in the wilderness.  It is important to remember that correct behavior at one time (even if the world believes you are not living correctly) does not guarantee correct behavior in the future – living correctly requires constant and lifelong effort whether anyone believes you or not.

Moroni 7

(June 29, 2014)
                I cannot believe how I have never read this chapter the way that I read it this time.  This chapter completely opened up to me when I realized exactly what it was – a sermon to a people about to be destroyed.  Mormon knew and understood that his people were going to be killed by the Lamanites.  He knew that their days of probation had passed, and there would be no rescue.  He knew that the people he was speaking to had seen others die, and had read or heard of the miraculous deliverances of Alma and Captain Moroni and Helaman.  But Mormon knew and understood that this deliverance was unlikely for them.

                What does he then do?  He begins his sermon by reassuring the people that miracles do exist.  His people needed to hear that and to believe that, because they were facing a superior foe that they had no chance of defeating on their own merits.  In the face of such a situation, a sermon on miracles would both be useful doctrinally and useful for battlefield morale.

                But then Mormon changes gears in his sermon, as he deviates from faith (or, rather, builds upon faith) to discuss hope and charity.  And note what he does in his sermon discussing hope – he expressly points out that the hope that he is offering through Christ is not a temporal hope but an eternal hope.  He is not saying that through faith they will win the war (although he concedes that it is possible however unlikely), but rather that through faith they can develop hope that all will ultimately work out for those who believe in either this world or the next – thus they can have a perfect hope.

                What a sermon – perfectly created and delivered at the perfect time for a people in desperate need of it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

1 Samuel 21-22

(June 28, 2014)
                David’s army was a group of scoundrels and miscreants.  But it is interesting to look at David as a symbol of Christ (which he was, at this point in his life).  Like Christ, David was the anointed king.  Like Christ, David did not take the throne that was rightfully his to take – and which he likely had the power to take (speaking of David – Christ certainly had that power).  And like Christ, David found himself among those with debts, or those in distress, or those who were discontented.

                I am struggling with certain parts of my life – most particularly the challenges that will face me in my interactions with my family going forward.  But of a lesser concern, but still a concern, is the impact that this will have on me and who it will make me to be.  I realize that I am becoming something other than the ideal that is presented within the faith.  But examples such as these remind me that the ideal is not a necessary component of a close relationship with the Lord.  Christ, like David, worried less about the nature of the man and more about the willingness of the man to follow Him.  And I am willing to follow Him, despite my weaknesses.

Ether 15; Moroni 1-6

(June 28, 2014)
                I feel for Coriantumr at this particular time in my life.  Coriantumr was a man who figured out, too late as it turned out, what he should have known all along.  At the point he realized his mistakes, he began doing what was in his power to fix his previous behavior, but the problems had gone on too long and the damage was too severe to rectify.  To his credit, he tried to make amends – but the temporal consequences of his behavior were permanent.

                Likewise I am in a similar position.  Like Coriantumr, I discovered some time ago my wickedness and took steps to root that out of my life.  And I was, thanks to the Atonement and the Lord’s blessing, successful in that attempt.  But, like Coriantumr, I am finding that the damage may have already been too severe to be overcome despite my repentance and forgiveness – though I have felt the Atonement wash away the spiritual effects of my prior sins the temporal effects may be beyond repair.  And that is something that fills my heart with a great deal of despair.

                But, even as that despair threatens to overwhelm me, I take comfort in the words of Ether at the close of the book that bears his name.  Whatever happens to us temporally – whether matters we desperately care about work out how we want them to or not – ultimately do not matter so long as we find ourselves saved in the Kingdom of God.  Redemption is, ultimately, a personal matter.  Over this last week, I have felt the Lord’s love and comfort moreso than at any prior point in my life.  For that, I am grateful – even as the despair threatens to consume me I feel blessed to receive the Comforter to help me carry on.

1 Samuel 18-20

(June 27, 2014)
                If there was ever a scripture that was appropriate for me to internalize in my current situation, it is the tale of these chapters.  David was married to Michal, the daughter of Saul.  David was innocent of the charges that Saul leveled against him, but Saul trusted his own judgment and wisdom regardless of the veracity of the charges.  As a result, David was damaged and ultimately separated from his wife.

                Though David was charged falsely, and though David was separated from his wife, David still treated Saul appropriately and with justice and mercy.  Nothing less would be appropriate from me.

Ether 14

(June 27, 2014)
                “Who can stand before the army of Shiz?  Behold, he sweepeth the earth before him.”  We each, in our lives, find ourselves facing an impossible situation.  How can we stand before the army of Shiz?  Whatever the situation that confronts us, we can easily find it so large that it is insurmountable.  The difficulties we face sweep the earth before us.

                And yet, Shiz ultimately died.  His army was ultimately destroyed.  Not before damage was done, of course, but his power was not omnipotent.  Likewise, we will face our overwhelming challenges in our lives.  Damage may be done, we may hurt and we may mourn.  But in the end, the opposition that these challenges bring will be brought down low before our Lord if we are willing and capable of remaining true to Him.

1 Samuel 17

(June 26, 2014)
                The story of David and Goliath has many meanings, but perhaps nothing captures the truth of this story than to look at it as a type of the conflict between Christ (and each of us) as David and Satan as Goliath.  Satan is formidable, to be certain, and we cannot hope to fight and prevail over Satan on his own terms.  No amount of metaphorical swords can help us through our battles with him.  But in the battle to save souls, the victory is in the Lord’s hands – and no armor or sword or strength can prevail against the Lord (or us, on His errand) in an eternal scheme of things.

                We each face Goliaths in our lives (I happen to be facing one right now).  I am getting a great deal of advice on how to handle this situation and most of that advice can be summarized as to take on armor, or get a better sword, or do similar temporal things to protect myself for the battle that everyone seems to think is inevitable.  While I hope conflict isn’t inevitable, and that this confrontation ultimately is resolved, I would rather be carrying a sling on the side of the Lord than be armored on the side of Satan.  For we are not in conflict with each other, even when we might think we are (we are never enemies to each other).  We are on the Lord’s side or Satan’s side and the other side is our enemy.

Ether 13

(June 26, 2014)

                I have often wondered what is meant by the idea of a new heaven and a new earth.  After all, we know that this world is a new world already.  My understanding has always been that the ultimate goal was not a new, new world to replace this one but rather a return to the old world.  But this seems to indicate that I am incorrect in that assumption.

Ether 12

(June 25, 2014)
                In times of desperate uncertainty (and this time in my life would qualify), we each would like nothing more than to see the end from the beginning.  I have a result that I want to see from the chaos that is currently swirling around me – a shape that I want the vortex to form.  But my chosen shape may not be the Lord’s chosen shape.

                The faith that we are blessed with is not the ability to see the end of the chaos, but rather to have sufficient faith to know the Designer.  When we know the Designer, then we can confidently deal with the chaos with the firm hope that the end result will work out to our good.  That is our faith, and it is what gives us hope in the times of our uncertainty.  May we live truly regardless.

1 Samuel 16

(June 24, 2014)
                We constantly think of the Lord’s words to Samuel to look not on countenance or the height of his stature as a means to avoid judging others.  But, at least in my own life, I find that I have significant problems in trying to do so.  I look at others in their situations, and I am tempted to judge when I should not.  But as I pondered this scripture, in light of the chaos into which my life has descended, I realize that there is an even more profound meaning to this scripture.

                This scripture doesn’t just apply to our judging individuals, but also in judging situations.  I have found myself in the midst of a nightmare that I thought was unthinkable just a few short weeks ago.  I find myself torn apart by circumstances entirely outside of my control.  And yet, I cannot remember a time in my life when I have ever had the blessing of feeling carried by the Lord in the way that He has carried me this week.  I feel compelled to look at this situation according to the “outward appearance,” but the Lord is looking at the heart of the matter.  Despite the anguish that I am suffering through, I have been reassured of the love that my Savior has for me.  I feel strongly that, regardless of how this situation ends up (and it is outside of my control at this point – my mistakes in the past have placed it firmly there), the Lord has still accepted my repentance for past mistakes and these struggles that I am going through will ultimately be for my good.  Even as I write this, going through an intense pain in the process, I find the Spirit whisper just loudly enough to be felt over the gnawing dread, that what I write is true.

Ether 10-11

(June 24, 2014)
                When I read through these chapters, my mind was drawn to the language concerning the rejection of the prophets.  In my own life, I have often failed to hearken to the counsel of the prophets – not from lack of belief but from lack of capacity.  Now, having made significant strides in bringing my life in accordance with the will of the Lord as revealed to His prophets, I find that much of the damage has already been done and my slowness in finally hearkening to the Lord may have catastrophic results for people who are innocent of my mistakes.

                     It is always hard to see someone you love suffer.  It is more difficult to see someone you love suffer because of something you have done.  But there is perhaps a special type of agony when you see people you love suffer because of mistakes you have made in the past, but of which you have repented.  In this situation, by going through the repentance process you gain perspective and understanding of the severity of your prior bad acts.  You learn to hate the sin that beset you so easily in your past.  And yet, having finally been blessed to overcome that sin (and being relieved of your burdens for committing it), you find that sin affecting others in negative ways.  I can only imagine that it must be what Alma the Younger felt as he likely tried (at least sometimes unsuccessfully) to reclaim those he had led astray.

1 Samuel 14-15

(June 23, 2014)

                We are frequently reminded of the scriptural admonition that to obey is better than to sacrifice.  But do we really understand what that means?  Sacrifice is a process of trying to draw closer to the Lord, but (like repentance generally) sacrifice only draws us closer to the Lord by removing obstacles that stand between us and Him.  Obedience is the only mechanism by which we actually move closer to Him – sacrifice is just the giving up of things that would otherwise stand in the way of our obedience.

Ether 9

(June 23, 2014)

                I couldn’t help but have my mind drawn to the similarities between the two sets of governments set up at war with each other, and the process of divorce.  Like divorce, what was once one has now been divided into two.  Like divorce, there is a waxing and a waning of hostilities that are involved within the parties.  And like divorce, it seems like too often the people who suffer are not the rulers (the parties) who make the decisions but rather the subjects (the children) who have these decisions imposed upon them.

Ether 7-8

(June 22, 2014)

                The fear that always exists is that we have no idea just where the reach of secret combinations may go.  But as much as we might like to place them in political spheres, I believe that the most prevalent examples of secret combinations can be found in the cultural areas of our lives.  Whether it is Hollywood (generically speaking), or philosophy, or similar areas that subtly change our thinking into ways contrary to the establishment of the Kingdom of God, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that most often politicians are the pawns and the cultural drivers are the members of the combinations.

1 Samuel 12-13

(June 21, 2014)
                I had two thoughts as I read through these chapters.  The first was a follow-up on my reading in the Book of Mormon, related to the furious winds.  Of course, having read about furious winds, I would be drawn to pay attention to the fierce storms.  Like the winds, the fierce storms were also brought about by the Lord in order to draw His people closer to Him.  We might each want our lives to be comfortable, but ultimately we often find that our hope lies in responding properly to the storms and winds rather than avoiding them altogether.

                My second thought was on Saul and his sacrifice.  More particularly, it was on the effect of that sacrifice on Jonathan.  Jonathan was, as we learn later, a good and decent man.  Presumably he would have made a fine king for Israel.  In fact, he might have made a better king than David would have.  And yet, through no fault of his own he found himself losing that opportunity to be anointed king because of a decision made by Saul.  That must have been a difficult thing for Jonathan to accept, but he appeared to accept it nonetheless – a powerful lesson for each of us in dealing with the actions of others (especially when they have negative consequences for us).

Ether 4-6

(June 21, 2014)

                There are times when we each will face a furious wind in our lives.  I think there are two sources of those furious winds.  The first are the winds that come from Satan and his buffetings.  These tend to drive us towards somewhere we shouldn’t go.  When it comes to these furious winds, it is our obligation to stand in holy places and be not moved.  The other type of furious winds are those sent by the Lord, and which are created to drive us somewhere the Lord wants us to go.  Of course, part of the difficulty is in determining which are which.  I am convinced that we spend a good portion of our mortal existence struggling against the furious winds of the Lord and being blown about by the furious winds of Satan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

1 Samuel 10-11

(June 20, 2014)
                For all of the frustrations that can be caused by people who do not believe in God (or believe in a God that is absent), it is heartbreaking to see who and what they become as a result of their own iniquity.  Think of the cry of the children of Belial – how shall Saul save us? – and know that when we think through anything in mortality we must eventually come to understand that nothing can save us.  We will die, and be forgotten.  And all those who once knew us will be forgotten.  Whatever we build will be destroyed, and whatever we destroy will be rebuilt.  To an atheist, there is no hope.

                Thank the Lord for the knowledge that He has given us and, more importantly, through the Atonement.  Because without it there is only the eventual coldness and emptiness of nothing ahead of both us and the universe.  To a child of Belial, the king cannot save them.  But to a Child of God, the King can save him.

Ether 3

(June 20, 2014)
                So it is clear that I was mistaken yesterday when I thought that the stones might still have been glowing with heat (after all, the Brother of Jared carried them with his hands).  But even that, in a way, is interesting – the scriptures seem to often give us enough information to not be led astray by our own pet theories (if we pay careful attention to what we read).  I don’t know what the significance of that is, but it is a key point that took up space on the plates where space was limited, thus it was valuable to point out that the stones were carried in his hands.

                The other thought that I had in reading this chapter was how the Lord will, from time to time, hold back certain things for His own purposes.  This is consistent with the approach of certain of the Apostles (for which semi-Members and non-Members have been critical) of saying that certain things may be true but not helpful.  It is a funny state that we in the world find ourselves – there is an almost fetishistic love of ‘truth,’ when it comes to breaking down morality.  To hide truth that damages morality is considered a sin.  But despite their protestations on the preeminent role of truth, many of these same people scream foul whenever the truth of gender differences are raised, or whenever a study comes out showing that children do better raised in a mixed-sex, two-parent home (as opposed to a same-sex home or a single-parent home).  These truths, to them, are well worth suppressing all while they clamber to claim that the Apostles are anti-rationality and hiding for not sharing every negative truth about, say, Church history at the start of each General Conference talk.

                Of course, this only makes sense if the purpose is to tear down the Church and the claimed love of the truth is only the nearest convenient club with which to use.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

1 Samuel 7-9

(June 19, 2014)
One of the blessings of the scriptures is that they are constantly changing (or, rather, our reactions to them are constantly changing as we progress through life).  As I read this chapter, I viewed what was written through the prism of the Ordain Women controversy that is dominating the attention of some members of the Church right now.  I read of the worship of Ashtaroth, and how many of the claims of divine femininity are so very similar to what we know about that ancient pagan religion.  I also read about how the people of Israel were not rejecting Samuel, but were rejecting the Lord.  That is likewise clear with the modern efforts of some to condemn the Brethren – they do not reject the Priesthood leaders, but rather reject the Lord.

The next time I read these chapters in two years, I will almost certainly have an entirely different reaction to them.  But that is one of the blessings of the scriptures – if we continually read them throughout our lives they will, through the power of the Holy Ghost, remain relevant and continue to teach us.

Ether 2

(June 19, 2014)
With all the times that I have read this scripture, I discovered something new today (by looking at the situation backwards).  In the past, I have always focused on the Brother of Jared, and his actions towards the Lord.  But this time, I found myself focused on the Lord’s actions towards the Brother of Jared.  Not the standard ones I had thought of in the past (letting the Brother of Jared figure out a solution to his own problem), but actually a step back from that.  The Lord had the power to solve the problem completely.  He had the power to make the oceans dry up, and yet He did not.  He could have given them a window that would never break.  But He didn’t do that either.  Not only did He allow the Brother of Jared to solve his own problem, but He did so in a manner that allowed for the most natural solution to his problem possible.

The Brother of Jared heated the stones, and presumably they glowed with the heat.  The Lord touched the stones, and they remained glowing (presumably without the heat).  But throughout the Lord allowed natural effects to have their way to the greatest extent possible.  There seems to be a recurring truth to that – the Lord rarely deviates from natural cause and effect, even though He can.  Whether this is because of complexity and unintended consequences of deviation or whether it is because we are to work through our mortal challenges, it is something to think about.

1 Samuel 3-6

(June 18, 2014)
If there was a terror that I think I face, it is this – that there will be a loss, and the loss will be caused by my wickedness and folly.  I trust that the Lord can protect His ark (symbolically) in my life.  But what if I live in such a way that the ark is lost, and it was a result of my carelessness or wickedness or so forth?  I think we can see that this could happen, and it is terrifying.  I try very hard to do my best in so many areas, but the worries come as I find myself failing to measure up in this area or that.

Ether 1

(June 18, 2014)
Not surprisingly, the idea of being compelled to go elsewhere is on my mind right now (and if you knew my situation, you would know why).  Change, at least to me, is almost always uncomfortable.  It is, however, comforting to know that the Lord often will force change upon us even when we don’t want it, but in the end that change will be for our betterment.  It hope that, like the Jaredites, this change will likewise result in a positive ending (the trip, mind you, and not their eventual apostasy).

1 Samuel 1-2

(June 17, 2014)
There are a number of events in my life that are consistent with what happens here with Hannah.  We choose to give the Lord a gift (even though it is actually something that He has given to us first).  And, if we give Him that gift, He in return blesses us so much more than the gifts that we have given Him.

Mormon 9

(June 17, 2014)
It has always struck me about Moroni the contrast between him and the modern semi-Mormon and non-Mormon atheists.  There are those within and without the Church who simply do not believe in miracles any more.  Of course, if you know my history you understand why I know that to be simply untrue.  But it is a common thought among certain groups of people – they have not seen a miracle, and thus the days of miracles must have ceased (or, more often, miracles were just natural events that the superstitious ‘primitives’ believed in.

Contrast that with Moroni.  Moroni did not see any miracles that we have reference to in our scriptures (although his and his father’s survival might qualify).  He saw the destruction of his entire civilization, and no miraculous Hand reached down to save it.  He was left all alone to wander the world with no comfort and constant danger.  If there was ever a man justified in asking where the miraculous God was located, it was Moroni.

In fact, this is yet another testimony to me of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  After all, who other than Moroni would have thought more about the significance of the absence of miracles?  Who other than Moroni would have sought and learned what the Lord’s opinions were about the days when miracles are no longer common and the Heavens seem closed?  Moroni sought the truth, even when he was not blessed to see those miracles in his own life.  That, in my mind, is extraordinarily praiseworthy.

Ruth 3-4

(June 16, 2014)
Once again, my focus was on Boaz.  Here we learn the lesson from him the importance of not taking shortcuts.  Boaz clearly would have appreciated the opportunity to take Ruth under his care, but he was not in the position of choosing to do so.  Rather than circumvent that rule and tradition, he met it head on and did what he needed to do in making the nearest kinsman aware.  And he didn’t hide any information that might have adversely affected his desired outcome, but was rather open and honest about what the benefits and drawbacks were – trusting the right result would ultimately occur if he made correct decisions.

And, through that, he was able to participate in the line that raised up David, and – ultimately – Christ.

Mormon 8

(June 16, 2014)
I was struck by Moroni’s comment that he was the one who would hide the records up to the Lord.  This, to me, brought up the obvious question – how much did Moroni know of what was going to happen?  I wonder when this chapter was being written – was it written before or after Ether and Moroni?  With the rings, it would be easy to move plates from place to place.  Or did Moroni know very early on what he was going to be charged to do?

If that is the case, and I think it likely, what would that have meant?  Can you imagine what it would have been like to have known that your purpose in life was to wander the Earth before burying records that hopefully someone would find in centuries to come (considering my dedication to journaling, I suppose I do understand that in a sense)?  I wonder whether it gave Moroni strength to know of his singular task, and what he did with the years of his life both before and after burying the plates (and how he managed to get out of the battles with the Sword of Laban and the Liahona).  Fascinating, fascinating stuff.

Ruth 1-2

(June 15, 2014)
Each time in the past, to my recollection, my attention has always been focused on Ruth and her commendable actions when I read this story.  But this time through, I am more drawn to the actions of Boaz.  Boaz is clearly smitten with Ruth, and yet his actions are completely appropriate.  What’s more, when he determines to help her, he does not help her by giving her a handout, but rather gives her protection and subtle blessings along the way given a handful at a time.

It seems clear to me that, apart from its own merits, this is also a parable of Christ and us.  Like Boaz, Christ wants to help and bless us.  But He does not simply give us a handout.  Instead, He gives us subtle aids to our efforts – simple things that we would miss if we were not grateful – and these add up to enough to provide for whatever it is that we need.

Mormon 6-7

(June 15, 2014)
It is impossible for me to read Mormon’s lament without thinking of the number of people who are right now preparing to leave the Church to follow Kate Kelly or John Dehlin.  Like Mormon, we see their destruction coming towards them, and like Mormon we cannot save them.  They were so blessed – they had the Gospel of Jesus Christ! – and yet they turned away from it.  How many people would have given their lives to know what many today turn away from in derision?  Oh ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Burden of Proof

In the law, there is a concept known as burden-shifting.  The idea is that some things are difficult to prove (or prove completely), and thus it is a benefit to be the side that doesn't need to prove something.  There are a number of cases where the decision is simply a matter of who has to prove what -- the evidence is so inconclusive that if you don't have to prove anything you will win and if you do have to prove something you will lose.

The thing that is striking me, the more time I spend on message boards, is the burden-shifting that is taking place constantly (knowingly or unknowingly).  I look at the Priesthood leaders and say that, while they are fallible, I will not believe they have made a mistake until it is proven to me.  So, for instance, take the issue of blacks and the Priesthood.  It has been shown to me that the rationale for why blacks could not have the Priesthood was in error.  I accept that.  It has not been shown that the denial of the Priesthood to the blacks was in error.  Until that is shown to me, the burden of proof of a mistake is on the people claiming the mistake (in my approach to the Gospel).

Others take the opposite approach.  The blacks were denied the Priesthood, and therefore it was an issue of a racist Brigham Young.  Evidence?  None, really, other than that the Church has acknowledged that the rationales were incorrect and there is no record of revelation on the subject.  So the absence of evidence, in their mind, is proof that the policy (and the leadership) were in error.

It is the same thing with my particular pet peeve -- those who claim to be atheists and their arguments for their position is just that theists cannot prove the existence of God.  This is the ultimate in burden-shifting -- and no amount of discussion of a mythical, mystical teapot will change that.  On the contrary, there is ample evidence for God and no evidence for the absence of God.  Science frequently can correct dogma, but has never changed doctrine.

As I thought about this, I realized just what this meant.  In a case where the standard is preponderance of the evidence, a scale balanced 50/50 has the case decided in favor of the side without a burden of proof.  That, in a little way, is like our mortal lives.  Things tend to work out that the issues (where ever we are on the continuum, whether the issue is the existence of God for one or following the Prophet for another) are pretty well evenly balanced.  In that situation, we choose where to place the burden of proof.

We choose whether to believe or to disbelieve.  There is evidence sufficient to hold to any position, the question is what standards are we going to use to interpret that evidence.  Over the course of my lifetime, I have never been disappointed (and subsequent experiences have always confirmed) when I held to a few, simple burdens of proof:

1)  God is a loving God, and He loves all of His children -- even when bad things happen, and even when He might directly cause those bad things to happen (or, at best, allow them to happen).  Any evidence indicating otherwise would need to be sufficient to wholly disprove this.

2)  A Priesthood leader acting within their stewardship is correct, despite being a fallible man, and I will be blessed for following my leadership (unless their counsel violates the directives of someone higher in the ecclesiastical hierarchy or unless I receive specific revelation otherwise [which is the same thing]).  Any evidence indicating otherwise would need to be sufficient to wholly disprove this.

3)  Doing good results in good results.  Doing evil results in evil results.  Any evidence indicating otherwise would need to be sufficient to wholly disprove this.

4)  The Church is the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the Earth.  The Lord has called His leaders.  The Book of Mormon is a historical record.  The Book of Abraham is a historical record....etc., etc.  Any evidence indicating otherwise would need to be sufficient to wholly disprove this.

I have found, over the course of my life, that this framework of burden shifting has never let me down.

Judges 20-21

(June 14, 2014)
I have to say, I am not sad to see the end of Judges on this time through the Bible.  It is one of the most difficult books to read, and while I have heard of people calling the writings of Moses and the stories of the Exodus ‘terror-texts’ (a claim I disagree with), I think that term is rightly applicable to Judges.  It is all summed up in the last verse – when every man does that which is right in his own eyes, destruction and devastation is inevitable.

That being said, there are some other things to take away from these chapters.  The first is in the Israelites, and how they approached the attack on the Benjaminites.  The immediately committed, resolving not to return or delay until they had accomplished their task.  I think that resolve is something that is missing in our modern society – we can get away with countless options and so many diversions that we often don’t say of anything that we will get it done no matter what.  This is something that we have lost, and not to our benefit.

Secondly, there is a profound lesson to be drawn from the decision of the tribe of Benjamin to side with the sons of Belial rather than siding with Israel.  The wicked were part of their tribe, and they placed the tribe about principle.  Likewise, we each are members of various tribes (including, for instance, political parties, social groups, sports fanbases, neighborhoods, and so forth).  There is always a temptation to excuse the misdeeds of those within the group, because there is the fear that exposing or condemning them will strengthen the ‘other.’  But as covenant children of God, we must remember that (1) there is no ‘other;’ and (2) we must always hold to principle rather than tribe.

Finally, I note that the Lord sent Israel in multiple times to their destruction.  Sometimes it is difficult for our mortal minds to comprehend that the things which the Lord sets us out to accomplish might not succeed in the way we think that they should (or that they might result in our destruction).  It is hard doctrine, to be sure, but ultimately our purpose is to push forward the Lord’s work – even if that is to be the first wave in D-Day or the first group slaughtered by Benjamin.  Mortal life is so very short, and while the Lord’s Plan is robust, our participation in it is very fragile and can easily pass us by.  We should be grateful for any part within it.

Mormon 5

(June 14, 2014)
Two thoughts struck me powerfully in this chapter – one at the beginning of the chapter and a second at the end.  At the beginning of the chapter, I was struck by the language of Mormon speaking of the people struggling, but struggling in vain, because they would not call upon the Lord.  I couldn’t help but think of the countless times I had been in the same position – perhaps not struggling for my life, but struggling nonetheless.  And yet, even in those positions, I didn’t call on the Lord the way that I should have.  And worse, even now, I see the biggest challenge that I am facing and I am not calling on the Lord to help me the way that I should.  I recognize my failures and the difficulties inherent in this task, so why am I reluctant to call upon the Lord?  Of course, I sadly know the answer to that question.

The second thought that I had was on the fall of the Gentiles.  I think we are seeing that coming about before our very eyes.  The post-modern, deconstruction society that exists among the Gentiles now is a society that seems to be ripening for destruction (even in the Church).  We are a society that truly does not know that we are in the Hands of God.  I don’t know what form it will take, but I would not be surprised to see this happen in my lifetime.

Judges 19

(June 13, 2014)
This is such a difficult chapter, that it is hard to know what to write about it.  But, after thinking about it for a while, the thing that seems to be the most striking to me is this – the man was a Levite.  He was a servant and inheritor of the Lord, and he was so careless towards the person in his care that he never considered the pain that his poor management caused those under his care.  He left the house and thoughtlessly told his concubine to be up and about, never realizing the damage that he had caused by handing her over to the mob the night before.

May that never be us in our stewardships – whether in our Priesthood callings or within our own homes.  If we are thoughtless, and if we are careless, those we are set on this Earth to serve will instead be hurt, and hurt badly.  They may even be killed (physically or spiritually).  We may not always know what to do, but we must always be caring in doing the very best that we can.

Mormon 4

(June 13, 2014)
This is certainly one of the most distressing periods of the Book of Mormon.  We see here the final turning point, where the people of the Nephites (once the more righteous part of the people) have become so overwhelmingly evil that they are about to be destroyed.  And we know the end result.

We likewise see around us today a similar societal decay that frightens us.  Even within the Church, we see the infection of false teachings, immorality, and wickedness slowly creeping over us and those we love.  We fight this as diligently as we can, but we cannot help but think that we are seeing a repeat of the destruction of the Nephites in our day.  Only our trust in the Lord and His plan affirm that we are not.

What does that mean for those of us who are struggling to follow the Lord in a time when others are turning from Him.  We cannot focus on a societal goal, because this is beyond our capacity.  Mormon, righteous man though he was, could not save his people in their wickedness.  So too we cannot hope to save a society that does not want to be saved.  And, like Mormon, we may find ourselves being destroyed in the calamities brought about by this wickedness.

No, our hope lies with Moroni (and presumably Mormon).  We know that Moroni, despite having been ultimately left alone as the world he knew collapsed around him (and, eventually, his death alone) was ultimately resurrected into his eternal reward.  If we seek for hope in the world around us, we may hope in vain.  But if we properly remain focused on the world hereafter, our hope is founded on a more solid foundation.

Judges 16-18

(June 12, 2014)
The story of Sampson and Delilah is a fascinating one – mostly because of the fact that Sampson continues to stay with her after she has three times tried to betray him.  The only thing that I can think of for why he would do that is to say that Sampson did not understand why he was given the power he was given, and he did not think that it could be lost.  He thought that he could tell her a thousand ideas, and each time he would mock her.

What is even more interesting to me, though, is how the Lord used Sampson.  In the end, Sampson ultimately succeeded in destroying the strength of the Phillisitines (including most of the leaders).  But because Sampson was wicked, he was also destroyed.  That is so often true – the Lord can accomplish His work without us (or even through us despite our rebellion), but we can choose to be part of that work or not.

Mormon 3

(June 12, 2014)
The contrast in this chapter is striking between the mindset of the Nephites and the mindset of Mormon.  The Nephites sought out blood, vengeance, and destruction against their enemies the Lamanites.  Mormon, on the other hand, though he had seen the same events, wished that every person upon the Earth would repent.  Sometimes we forget, in our struggles to move forward the work of the Lord, that we are really just being blessed to handle minor stewardships given out by Him.  We are, to put it symbolically, ‘emptying the dishwasher’ in the Plan of Salvation.  Like little children in the home, we have each been given our chores.  And regardless of which chore we are given, and how significant we believe that it is, our Father loves us and our siblings far more than the chore.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t do what He has asked us to do, and to do it to the best of our ability.  It does mean, however, that we don’t claim superiority or hope for the destruction of those who don’t get in line.  We just hope for them – we hope they come back.

Judges 14-15

(June 11, 2014)
Sampson’s story is a rich one, with man things to learn from.  But nothing shows the personality of Sampson more than the close of this reading.  Sampson is given power from the Lord, and with that power he is capable of bursting his bonds and slaying a horde of his enemies.  When he is done, does he turn to the Lord with thanksgiving?  Does he even bear a thought of gratitude?  No, he immediately goes to demanding the next thing the Lord is to give him.  When he receives it, he again is not thankful.

We are blessed to live in a time and place when the poor among us eat and live better than the kings of old.  And yet all too often, we are angry with the Lord, or demanding of Him.  When He blesses us, we turn on Him and demand even more.  When He gives us our hearts desires, we cannot be bothered to take a moment to tell Him we thank Him – and the reason for that is we have become so ungrateful that the thought of thanking the Lord is something we just never consider.

Mormon 2

(June 11, 2014)
We talk about heartbreak frequently in our modern society, but we use the word carelessly.  It was a heartbreaking loss.  It was a heartbreaking reversal.  It is a heartbreaking financial situation.  To a certain extent, that is a good thing – we are to mourn with those who mourn – but in a different light it just again shows our unwillingness to understand how blessed and privileged we are.

Heartbreaking is a people who knew the Lord turning against Him.  Heartbreaking is those same people being cut down in open rebellion against God.  Heartbreaking is the people sorrowing, but not repenting (a topic worthy of an extensive discussion in and of itself).  We don’t often experience heartbreak at the things that should break our hearts, and the things which do break our hearts are often trivial and meaningless.

Judges 12-13

(June 10, 2014)
Manoah and his wife were both, from what we read of them in the scriptures, good people.  Manoah was devout, and his wife was righteous enough to be ministered to by angels.  They prayed for guidance on how to fulfill the Lord’s will, and did so with enough faith that they were able to call upon a second Heavenly visitation.

And yet, their son (whom they tried to raise properly) was Sampson.  The same Sampson who never lived up to his birthright.  The same Sampson who squandered his power in dalliance with Delilah.  The same Sampson who had his eyes destroyed and eventually committed suicide.

Sometimes I think we might be too judgmental of ourselves and others when our children do things we don’t agree with.  After all, righteous parents have unrighteous children from time to time.  We hope and we pray for our children, and we try to give them the best environment we can, but ultimately they have their own agency. I hope that my children, as they grow, use that agency wisely.

Mormon 1

(June 10, 2014)
It is troubling to read through this chapter in light of the world we are currently living in.  On the one hand, we have the miracles of miracles and healings having been taken from the Earth.  We aren’t fully to that point (I have seen miracles and healings in my life), but they are rare.  Perhaps they were always rare, but it seems like they are less common than they were in previous ages.  If that is the case, what does that mean about us as a people?  Yes, we are not to be a sign-seeking people, but if we are not seeing miracles in our lives shouldn’t we be a bit concerned about that?  Doesn’t that give indication that, at the very least, wickedness was prevailing upon the land?

Added to that is the fact that sorceries and witchcraft and magics wrought upon the face of the land and you have to wonder about what you aren’t seeing in the world around us.  And just because I have never seen or experienced sorceries and witchcraft and magics doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that I can discount them.  After all, there are many who would discount miracles because they have not experienced them – while I can state with assurance that they are wrong based upon my experiences.  If a person is wrong in claiming miracles are no more because they haven’t seen them, doesn’t that make me wrong if I try to claim that sorceries are non-existence because I have not experienced them?

That leaves me with the understanding that miracles are very rare (undoubtably real, but rare) and a belief that sorceries and other such things are happening but hidden.  That is uncomfortable to consider.

Judges 11

(June 9, 2014)
The book of Judges, to me, seems to be a perfect description of what happens in a world without order and hierarchy.  The Lord’s house is a house of order, but order and hierarchy is something sorely missing among the Israelites of those days.  Now that doesn’t mean that the people were correct to call out for a king (although that might be what the author is trying to demonstrate), but rather that the people – when they abandoned their Heavenly King – brought only sorrow and misery to themselves and those around them.  This is worthwhile to think about as we see the attacks by atheists and others against the hierarchical structure of the Church.

The other thought was similar – the end result of those who fight against the Lord and His people are almost always tragic.  Who has fought against God and prospered?  The Ammonites, in this chapter, were still recovering from their decision to fight against the Lord’s people.  Moses and Joshua did not seek out a battle against them, but they were determined to fight against Israel and were punished accordingly.  We see that as well in our modern days, with people who are fighting against the Lord’s Church when a simple Internet search would show what has happened (even in modern days) to those who have fought against the Church in the past.

4 Nephi 1

(June 9, 2014)
4 Nephi is really a very unique book in the Book of Mormon.  But, in retrospect, it seems entirely appropriate.  After all, most of us live in the times similar to Mormon rather than the times similar to 4 Nephi, so it is only appropriate that we spend more time in the war chapters or the contentious chapters than we do in the peaceful chapters.  It is important that we know that such peace can occur, and will occur through Christ’s coming, but beyond that we struggle in a world of chaos and sin and that is what we (unfortunately) need education on how to do.

Judges 10

(June 8, 2014)
It is almost shocking how often we turn away from history.  In this chapter, we see that in a very short time the Israelites forgot their history and the miraculous deliverance of the Exodus.  I wonder what sort of counter-myths they created to justify their return to idolatry?  Did they presume that the parting of the Red Sea was figurative, and that Moses was just a myth?

We see the same thing in our day.  Those aware of history could have easily told you the end result of some in the Ordain Women movement (for example) – history has shown that, independent of anything else, those who engage in attacks against the Church or establishing themselves as external sources of authority find their lives coming apart at the seams.  Sonia Johnson, of course, is the prime example of this.  Kate Kelly, on the other hand, seems to have only a passing understanding of this history – she is aware of the September Six and has heard of the Mormons for ERA movement, but does she realize the end result may be living in a commune in New Mexico having lost everything?

3 Nephi 28-30

(June 8, 2014)
I used to wonder about the choice of the Three Nephites – not that they made it, but rather why it was commendable.  After all, it sounds pretty good to be able to live forever (essentially) and just go around doing good all the time.  But as I get a little older, I realize just what a sacrifice they were making.  I must admit that I am, to a certain extent, looking forward to passing through to the other side of the Veil and leaving portions of the struggles of mortality behind.  I am looking forward to the rest that comes from departing the chaos of this mortal world.  Not that I plan on leaving any time soon (and I hope to stay for a long time), but rather that when my time comes I won’t be sad to go – and I don’t think that I would want to stick around for a millennium to get to the other side.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Judges 9

(June 7, 2014)
This chapter is one that I think you could just about get lost in for all of the depth to it.  My mind felt pulled this way and that, as one topic and other pushed its way forward.  What are we to make of the fact that Gideon had a child with his concubine (and that a non-Israelite)?  I think that it shows that even such a good man as Gideon, with experience in so many miraculous events, can get lost if he allows his baser instincts to overwhelm his judgment.  He understood the law prohibiting taking a concubine that was not a daughter of Israel – and his failure to follow this commandment nearly extinguished his line.

What about the tribalism of Shechem?  It is all too common now to see something similar to what they did – supporting someone because they are on the right side of the aisle rather than on the right side of the issue.  Now we don’t say that he is our brother, we say that he is a Republican, a Democrat, or something similar.  If we support someone who is nakedly ambitious for power – regardless of whether they are on our side or the opposing side – we are supporting the ascension of another Abimelech (to their destruction and our own).

And what to make of Jotham?  What made him a prophet, if he was so young that he was able to hide from Abimelech’s purge?  It would appear that what Jotham did was call out in impotent fury and rage, and yet we see that the Lord honored and magnified what he prophesied.  Why?  I would love to have more information about Jotham, but I suppose that will have to wait until the next life.

3 Nephi 26-27

(June 7, 2014)
I wonder what the Lord’s purpose for giving the extensive quotations of Malachi were for.  Looking at it, I could see three obvious reasons.  First, to provide it in a format that was error-free (whether the errors were Malachi’s, or were innocently or maliciously altered by subsequent redactors).  Second, to reiterate them to communicate their importance.  And finally, they were of use for the Nephites in their day.

Of those three, I think that the most likely is option one.  After all, if it was just provided for the Nephites, Mormon would not have included them on the plates.  Christ explicitly said that they were in existence elsewhere (of course, that presumes Mormon understood that there would be subsequent contact between the Old World and the New World).  As I think about it, if this was important enough for Christ to provide and for Mormon to write, it is probably worth my time to go back and very carefully examine the differences between what Christ provided and what is in the Old Testament.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Judges 7-8

(June 6, 2014)
We speak of Gideon, and rightly so, but I have never stopped to consider the faith and trust in the Lord of the 300 that followed him.  After all, they did not (presumably) hear the voice of the Lord.  They did not see the two miracles with the dew.  They did not hear the interpretation of the dream.  So they were part of an outnumbered army (outnumbered four to one), and from that the bulk were sent home.  Now they were outnumbered 13 to one.  From that group, the bulk were again sent home and they were outnumbered 300 to one.  And yet they not only willingly went to war, but after the enemy was put to flight they chased after them.  I would be afraid chasing the army that I might accidentally catch them!

But not the army of Gideon.  A mere 300, they chased their enemy, they eventually caught them and defeated them (I would love to have read more about that, because there must have been a miracle there because they were still vastly outnumbered).  To have seen each of the groups peel away and still be willing to serve God and fight on His behalf is impressive, and a worthwhile example for us each to follow.

3 Nephi 23-25

(June 6, 2014)
It is not uncommon to see individuals who take the position that the Lord is not keeping tabs on sin like a heavenly scoreboard.  They take this position as a preliminary position for their ultimate position that sin is not as big of a deal because the Lord cares who we are and not so much what we do.

While I agree with that, in general, here is where I think that people go horribly wrong.  We are, to a large extent, what we do.  I for years deceived myself that I could do wrong and still believe myself to be righteous and good.  That ultimately hit the brick wall of (spiritual) reality when I discovered that despite my scripture-reading habits, and prayers, and my desire to do good, I was a genuinely bad person.  My sins, which I allowed to persist, had consumed me to the point where I had become evil.  I never wanted to be evil, and I never considered myself evil, but I became the accumulation of my bad actions.

Fortunately we are able to repent, and the Atonement allows us to escape not only the “scoreboard” aspect of our sins, but also the “accumulation” aspect of our sins.  But the Atonement, for me at least, didn’t kick in until I was ready and willing and able to abandon my prior bad acts and hold myself to a different standard.

This ties back to the Lord’s words through Malachi – calling the proud happy and those who work wickedness set up.  The truth is, they who are wicked are not happy because by definition they cannot be happy.  I thought I was happy in spite of (or because of) my sins, but the comparison is really no comparison.  I was miserable, and had only managed to fool myself.  So too is the case with each of us, to the extent our behavior is evil.  Wickedness really never was happiness.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Judges 6

(June 5, 2014)
The story of Gideon is a fantastic one in the Bible.  There were two thoughts that I took away from my reading today.  The first of these was that even among the children of Israel, worship of the Lord was not a common thing.  I suppose that I understood, in general, that they had gone astray but it had never hit me like it did today that the majority of God’s people didn’t even worship Him.  I found comfort in that, because in our current day we are such a minority who try to follow Him as we should, and it sometimes seems that culture and political powers are doing everything they can to squash those attempts.  If the Lord can raise Gideon out of such a set of circumstances, then He can likewise raise us out of our current circumstances if we will let Him.

Secondly, of course, we have the miracles that were performed by the Lord to the convincing of Gideon.  There are two elements at work here.  First, Gideon was prepared to be obedient.  Second, there was a work that Gideon had to accomplish.  I have been blessed to have participated in a supernatural, miraculous event and for a long time I never considered why.  But the older I get, and as I look back on that event, I realize that it was because I was obedient and trying to be obedient, and that the Lord has reason for me to be there to witness it.  Without that miracle as an anchor-point for me to base my clear belief in the supernatural upon, I don’t think that I would have been able to carry out some other obligations that the Lord has placed upon me.  So the miracle was not to be consumed on my lusts, but rather to prepare me for the next task the Lord set out for me to do for Him.

3 Nephi 21-22

(June 5, 2014)
I am convinced that one of the biggest problems that we have in mortality is our inability to see past mortality.  We see a lifetime of suffering, for example, and we think that it is so very hard to bear.  But we don’t fret when a child skins their knee.  We comfort the child, surely, but we also have the perspective that this will pass in time and skinning a knee is just a part of growing up.

I think many of our devastating trials, that we struggle so desperately with, are nothing more than skinned knees in the grand scheme of things.  But because we cannot see past the mortal experience we just don’t recognize it.  We suffer more because we don’t see how small our sufferings actually are.  This doesn’t mean we are relieved from the obligation of comforting others, of course, any more than a parent would be excused not hugging their child with a skinned knee.  But, when it comes to our own suffering, we should do what we can to keep things in perspective.

I bring this up because of the Saviors words in describing His servant (which I believe to be Joseph Smith – although I could be wrong).  The Savior said that he would be marred, but they would be unable to hurt him.  What are the implications of that?  That, to me, seems to say that they could throw him in prison, torture him, starve him, and ultimately kill him in cold blood, but they would not be able to hurt him.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Judges 4-5

(June 4, 2014)
I don’t think we give Barak enough credit for who and what he was.  We certainly tend to focus on Deborah in the reading of this story, and that is important.  But Barak was a man living in a time when everything his culture seemingly aspired to would have caused him to reject (1) following a woman; and (2) losing the honor or credit of victory.  And yet he, knowing he would not get the credit and knowing that he followed a woman, chose to be obedient and to deliver Israel nonetheless.

3 Nephi 20

(June 4, 2014)
I had a thought occur to me as I read through this chapter today on what it meant for the House of Israel (“remnant of the house of Jacob”) to scatter the Gentiles.  I always assumed that it was talking about a racial/familial sense of the House of Israel, but this time I read it as talking about a spiritual House of Israel, and the spiritual remnant of the house of Jacob.  It was one of those moments when everything that I was reading changed in perspective to me.  I am not certain that this new perspective is correct, but it is intriguing nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Judges 3

(June 3, 2014)
It is so apparent, in light of the history that we now know, that the Lord was preparing His people (through their bondage and deliverance) for the Lord when He came.  But the people, while they recognized the pattern of deliverance, clearly saw the deliverance in a political sense.  They were so intent on being delivered from the king of Mesopotamia that they didn’t recognize what they were really being delivered from was serving Baalim and the groves.  The political situation was just a shadow or a type for the true bondage in sin they were under.  The political saviors, likewise, were only shadows of the Savior who would save them from the true cost of their disobedience.

Of course, it is easy for us to say this now – we know that Christ came and we know what He did.  The bigger question to me, though, is what is going on in the world and in the Church that is designed to teach us truth that we are likewise not seeing?  What is happening around us that our descendants will look at and easily see because of hindsight that we are missing happening right around us today?

3 Nephi 19

(June 3, 2014)
As I have taken some steps to try and testify online, I run into a consistent refrain from those who do not believe in God.  Why, they ask, doesn’t He make Himself known if He really exists?  Why does He show Himself to some but not to others?  Doesn’t He love all of His children?  Why does He let so many perish in unbelief?  This, they argue, does not make sense and indicates to them that there is no God.

Christ addresses that argument in this chapter (and what better response can you have from the Lord?), when He states that the Jews could not experience the things experienced by the Nephites because they lacked the faith of the Nephites.  It is not that He chooses not to show them these miracles, but it seems to be an actual issue of capacity – “wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.”

I don’t presume to know why believing is a necessary prerequisite for the miracle, but I can testify that in my life I have experienced enough that I can say that when you have faith (living faith, not simple, passive belief) the miracles follow.  The answers to the skeptical inquiries are there, but the skeptic will never find them because they declare the results of the experiment as certain though they are unwilling to follow the procedure in good faith.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Cosmological Argument for God

The first of the logical arguments for God is the Cosmological argument.  This is one that is commonly misunderstood by both believers and unbelievers.  Since the standard presentation (which I believe leads to the standard misunderstandings) can be found elsewhere, I am going to take a different approach in how I explain this argument.

Before I begin, I want to clarify some terms.  I will be using, throughout these posts, the term atheist in a particular way.  Atheism can be defined as an affirmative belief in no God, as a strong opinion that there is no God, or as a belief in a religious philosophy that has no God.  I am going to be very particular in how I present the term, though, to encompass exactly the meaning that I am going for.  When I speak of atheism, I am not speaking of a particular type of atheist, but rather the world that would exist if atheism was correct.  The atheism worldview is the way the world would have to work if there was no God.  It is more closely akin to reductive materialism (that everything in the universe is nothing but the matter and energy that make it up, and that with a sufficiently good computer and algorithms we could have predicted everything that would ever have happened thereafter).  This type of atheism is far more common among scientists than among philosophers -- a scientist becomes so enamored with science that they begin to believe that science, cause, and effect are all that exists.

Atheism requires a cause for every effect.  Science can explain why the billiard ball, when struck just so, rolls into the corner pocket.  It can explain why the cue had to be hit in a certain way.  It can explain the force used by the player.  It can explain the birth of that player, and the origin of the materials that created the table.  Science is truly amazing in that regard.  It can continue to track backwards on and on -- each effect related to the cause that preceded it (presumably -- I disagree but that is not relevant to this discussion).  The effect of the planet's formation arises from the cause of a nearby supernova some time ago.  This effect was caused by the stellar formation, which was caused by two other stellar formations before it.  Atheism can trace it all the way back to the Big Bang bang.

That's where things get murky, but we are going to ignore that murkiness.  Instead, we will push beyond that arbitrary boundary and state that somehow science could explain the effect of the Big Bang by its preceding cause.  And that effect by another cause.  And so on and so forth.  Do you see where this is going?  Even assuming science could answer every question -- there were no 'gaps' in knowledge, so to speak, there would still need to be an infinite number of causes to result in any effect.  Blame the Big Bang on the many worlds and branes bumping into each other just leads to the question of where the branes came from, and where their cause came from, and so forth.  To put it more bluntly, why is there something rather than nothing?  An infinite past of infinite causes is logically inconsistent with atheism.  Atheism, at its heart, cannot answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing.  They must take the existence of something on faith.

Compare that with the theist (or, more particularly, the LDS) view.  We believe that there has always existed certain things.  Matter, spirit, intelligence.  These things are eternal, and because they are eternal they are uncaused.  Nothing need cause something that always existed -- it just always existed.  This seems very counter intuitive to us, because we live in a materialistic world that follows a pattern of cause and effect.  But the doctrine as revealed to Joseph Smith clearly indicates that it is true.  The wider Christian world also believes in an eternal, uncaused God (they just differ on our natures).  Note that we are not talking about multiplying Deity here, as it is true for us and for Him and for every uncaused, eternal being.

Look at the result of that.  Atheism makes sense to us in a world of cause and effect, but we can run it against a simple experiment.  If atheism is true, and there cannot be an infinite regress of cause and effect (because how else would the first cause occur), then there should be nothing.  If there is nothing, then atheism is right.  If there is something, then atheism is wrong.  This is what is known as a self-refuting hypothesis.  The presentation of the belief is contradicted such that it cannot be true on its own terms.

But wait, says the atheist, that is no different that what the theist argues.  It is all word games and logical tricks.  Not so.  The theist says, 'we don't understand it, because God hasn't explained it, but we know from God that certain things are eternal and uncaused.'  This is a worldview consistent with the evidence that there is something rather than nothing.

To present it as a logical argument:

1)  In a reality that is controlled solely by cause and effect, there could never be a first cause because nothing would exist to cause the first cause;
2)  Therefore, in a reality solely controlled by cause and effect, nothing would exist rather than something existing;
3)  Something does exist, therefore reality is not controlled solely by cause and effect; and at least one uncaused cause must exist from which all other effects and causes were derived;
4)  An uncaused cause is impermissible and contrary to atheism, while an uncaused cause is permissible and mandatory to theism;
5)  Therefore atheism cannot be right on its own terms and theism may be right on its own terms.

Judges 1-2

(June 2, 2014)
One of the techniques for reading the war chapters in the Book of Mormon is to recognize that the war is a shadow of the War in Heaven that is raging in each of our souls.  But a similar thing is happening in the Bible, here.  The apostasy of the children of Israel is a shadow of the apostasy of each of us in our failures to follow the Lord.

For example, how many of us call upon the Lord and then complain when He does not answer our prayers (or does not answer them the way we would like)?  And yet, are we not like the children of Israel, in that we have purged ourselves of wickedness, but not fully?  Rather than root out all wickedness in our lives, we arrive at a comfortable point of non-wickedness (wherever that happens to be in our lives) just like the Israelites came to a comfortable point of occupation of the Promised Land.  Do we, like them, reach that point and stop our personal fight in the War in Heaven?  Does the Lord, like He did to Israel, at that point test us by refusing to grant us the deliverance we have requested?

3 Nephi 18

(June 2, 2014)
I love the language of the Lord, as He talked about the importance of what we need to do.  Most particularly, the Lord was clear that when (not if) the rains descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon us, we would stand if we were righteous.  There was nothing there about the righteous being spared – the calamities would find the righteous as well as the wicked and they would suffer equally.  The only promise was that if we are in line with the Lord, we would be able to stand.

Joshua 24

(June 1, 2014)
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, but it is one that is not always correct.  Joshua, in this chapter, points that out to his people.  They were returning to freedom and returning to the land that they had been promised.  It was important to look to the past, but it was likewise important to look to the right past.  If they focused on the deliverance of the Lord of His people, they would be blessed.  If, instead, they focused on the past for the past’s sake, they could easily be drawn into the same idolatry that beset Terah and others.

The key is not that the past has any value in and of itself.  The blessing of remembering the past is to learn the dealings of the Lord.  If we are nostalgic, it should be because we have been so very blessed and we remember those times.  This nostalgia should be tempered by a desire to see a return of those blessings in our lives.  The past is the past for a reason, and we should always focus on the things in the past with meaning (our dealings with the Lord) and continue those into the future.

3 Nephi 16-17

(June 1, 2014)
The Lord’s willingness to heal everyone is one of the most touching events recorded in the scriptures.  He reached out to each and every one who was present, and alleviated their suffering.  C. S. Lewis argued the point that each and every miracle was performed not so much for what it accomplished (the Lord could have arranged things to accomplish the same result without the supernatural means), but rather for the teaching that was accomplished by each miracle.

I believe that he is correct.  The teaching that we learn from this miracle is two-fold.  First, the Lord loves each and every one of us, and is willing to devote His time and attention towards lifting each of us in our burdens.  Secondly, the Lord heals not only our sickness or our lameness, but any affliction.  If we hurt (and do we not all hurt to the limit of our endurance), He is there to heal us.  We as the multitude go towards Him, and He receives us one by one.

Joshua 22-23

May 31, 2014)
I don’t know that we recognize the importance of these chapters (particularly the last one).  There are any number of religious texts that exist, including a few from this time.  There are a number of quasi-secular texts as well.  But here we have a religious text that takes the unique position of prophesying the captivity of the people of Israel (and this was clearly written pre-exile), and provides the reason for the captivity.  It is a moral text – if you do not serve the Lord, you will be taken.  It is given at a time when the children of Israel were ascendant.  It remained part of the sacred writings when Israel ruled over and dominated the lands under the kingship of David.  If a secularist had read these chapters then, what issues they could have raised.  But, in the end, the Lord’s words are true and fulfilled.

So, too, it is with each of us.  We may be in a time in our lives when things are going well, or we may feel on top of the world.  We may think, at times like these, that we can rely on the arm of the flesh (after all, in our imaginations that is what brought us to this point).  But, in the end, we stand or we fall on the strength of our loyalty to our Lord.  He alone can save us, and without Him we will be destroyed.  If we ascend to heights during our mortal life without Him, it will only serve to give us a greater distance to fall from when the inevitable consequences of our unrighteousness occur.

3 Nephi 14-15

(May 31, 2014)
Once again, the lawyer in me readings scriptural texts somewhat differently.  I don’t know if I am proof-texting (I hope I am not), but still words like all, none, every, never, and so forth attract my attention.  For example, the Lord says “[f]or every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”  This language is very absolutist, and I think that the implications that the Lord means what He is saying are implications that we must consider.  After all, what would it mean if every one that asketh, receiveth?  Speaking only for myself, I think I am far too cavalier in my prayers.  I ask for what I should not ask for, and I seek what I should not find.  When I do as for the right thing, I do it without the faith that I should have.