Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Teleological Argument for God

Of all the arguments for God, this one is probably the most persuasive to many who don't want to believe in God.  Hitchens and Dawkins, both advocates of the "New Atheism," have admitted that this is the hardest argument to refute.  And it is really true, because you quickly get absolutely silly results when you believe that life appeared spontaneously.

The teleological argument is the argument that the universe seems created for the purpose of life -- that there appears to be a design, or fine-tuning in the creation of a universe.  This becomes a probabilistic argument, meaning that it quickly becomes far more likely that God exists and created the universe than that it arrived in its present form accidentally.

The atheist will typically argue that given enough time and space, eventually any coincidence is possible and there would be some place somewhere ideal for life.  But the fact is that there is a limit to the amount of matter in the universe.  There are differing opinions on this, but the general consensus is that there are around 1.0 x 10^80 atoms in the universe.

In comparison to that, we can conduct something known as a Fermi estimation.  This is a process where we do not attempt to be precise, but we choose orders of magnitude to estimate just how probable an event is.  It turns out that the result of a Fermi estimation might be off my 25%, but it can still be highly instructive when discussing large numbers in comparison.  If the odds of natural formation of, say, Earth in a Fermi estimation is 1.0 x 10^40, then we can safely say that the Earth could have happened naturally.  If, on the other hand, it is 1.0 x 10^100, we can safely say that it is very unlikely the Earth could have happened naturally.  After all, even if we are off my 25%, it still only makes the probability 1 in 7.5 x 10^99 (in comparison to the number of atoms in the universe, which is much, much less).

For the Fermi estimation, we take those things that we know are necessary for life and we calculate how likely they are.  Mathematically, we can show that only G-class stars such as the Sun can support life (other stars either have too much UV radiation or no liquid water -- it is impossible to have a place that has both elements of life for non-G-class stars).  That eliminates 80% of the stars in the universe, but because it is a Fermi estimation we will look at that like an order of magnitude of 0.1.

We then start collecting these orders of magnitude.  Only certain masses of stars work (0.0001).  Only certain locations work (0.1).  Only certain distances from supernovae (0.01).  Only certain distances from the star work (0.0001).  Only certain surface gravities work (0.001).  Only a certain axial tilt of the planet works (0.1).  Only a certain rotational period works (0.1).  The separation between water and land (to support life) required a collision in the ancient past (0.1), but of something with a certain mass (0.001) at a certain time (0.01).  Just these few elements give us a number 1.0 x 10^21, but this is really just the beginning.

When all of these things are collected, the Fermi estimation for a planet like Earth developing is 1.0 x 10^105.  That means that if every atom in the universe was actually a planet, Earth would naturally form by accident (according to our best current understanding) in only 1 universe out of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  Long odds, indeed.

And that is just for the conditions for life to have formed with the underlying physical constants of the universe being what they are.  In reality, even those constants are all in a position favorable to life (arbitrarily -- a great mystery to the secular materialist), and the likelihood of that happening by chance is more unlikely than a planet such as Earth forming on its own.  And then we get to abiogenesis, which requires an equally long series of unlikely events to have happened.

So the question is, what is more believable?  We have an intricate series of physical laws and constants (arbitrarily established, to the best of our understanding), a wildly improbable set of coincidences to establish a planet such as Earth, and even after Earth is established a fantastically unlikely set of circumstances to generate life.  Is it more likely that God established this?  Or is it more likely that it was chance?  Keep in mind, the universe has an age and limits, so it isn't just a matter of enough time and enough space.  In fact, to put things in perspective, the odds on the universe having a planet such as Earth form at any point in its existence is approximately the same as the odds of winning at roulette.  53 times in a row.  Then winning another 49 times in a row for abiogenesis.  Then another 180 times in a row for the fundamental physical constants.

Hey, maybe the atheist feels lucky and should go to Vegas.  But given the choice between a universe where the dice were rolled at the very beginning and somehow we managed to luck into the most improbable situation that defies comprehension, or a universe established by God for the creation of life, I know which one seems more likely to me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

2 Nephi 9

(July 29, 2014)
                My thoughts, as I read through this chapter, were focused on the Gathering of Israel – which seemed a bit odd to me, as there is very little in the text that would seem to push that idea to the front of my mind.  But nevertheless, that is where my mind went and where it remained as I read.

                I had long understood that the Gathering was both a temporal and a spiritual Gathering, but I didn’t (until today) realize how literal the spiritual Gathering was.  After all, we who are of Israel have been carried away into Babylon.  There, we are tempted to fall astray – to go native, so to speak – as were the people of Israel.  Ultimately, though, we will be physically gathered back to the Lord if we maintain our loyalty to Him despite our current circumstances.

                C. S. Lewis used the phrase frequently that we are behind enemy lines or in enemy territory.  I always thought that was appropriate, but now I think that I would change it.  Instead of merely saying that we are behind enemy lines, it is appropriate to say that we are currently prisoners of war – held by the enemy in his prison camps of Babylon as prisoners of the War in Heaven.  Some (many, perhaps) will go native and will side with the enemy in order to gain extra privileges.  Others will become passive – not making waves so the enemy won’t notice them and hoping to get out alive.  But the third group will actively be involved in trying whatever is within their power to damage the enemy to assist the Kingdom to return.

                Like saboteurs held in enemy camps, sometimes those who fight in this way find themselves confronted and badly damaged by their captors.  Some may even be killed.  But when the Kingdom arrives, they too will be gathered in and none will be lost.  We know the day of our liberation is coming – may it come quickly and may we be found on the correct side.

Monday, July 28, 2014

1 Kings 15

(July 28, 2014)
                I was struck by this chapter once again by the complete and all-encompassing nature of the commandments of the Lord.  They applied to the kings on both sides of the war, and they applied to Asa, and Asa even correctly applied them to his mother.  Sometimes, I think that there is a temptation within each of us to believe that for some reason the law does not apply to us.  We become a ‘special circumstance,’ because of what we have been through.  Maybe this has happened that provokes us, or that has happened that hurts us.  As a result, the general rules of the Gospel do not apply to us in these circumstances, as we suppose.

                This is a great deception that we pull on ourselves.  The Lord’s commandment to be perfect is not limited to only a class of people (‘Be ye perfect, unless you are kings in which case sin some but not too much’), or people with only certain life experiences (‘Be ye perfect, so long as you grew up in a happy home and are part of a nuclear family’ or ‘Be ye perfect, so long as no one has done anything to hurt or offend you’).  We must escape the desire to believe that we are the exception rather than the rule – Satan works with this desire to pull us into his clutches.  It is best to always believe that we are not the exception – that each of the commandments applies to us and the counsel we receive is meant for us, no matter how difficult or how much it may hurt.

2 Nephi 7-8

(July 28, 2014)
                As I read these chapters, for some reason my mind fixed on the thought of turning to Abraham and Sarah.  I thought about the sheer lifetimes of effort and work required to get me to the point where I was in my progression.  I thought of those who struggled that I knew of – my grandfather, who converted to the Gospel and worked to provide opportunities for my Father.  My Great-Grandfather, who was the first member of the Church in my family.  My Father, who struggled over the course of a lifetime to provide for me.  My Mother, who sacrificed everything she had or could have had so that I would have the best chance at success in life.

                I then thought of those I didn’t know who did likewise.  The ancestors who survived on meager food, so as to scratch out an existence and have a family.  The centuries of progress, backwards in time, culminating in who and what I was.  It was simply awe-inspiring to realize the untold millions of sacrifices required to make of me what I was today.  I felt overwhelmed by a sense of my own ingratitude for my failures to live up to those who had come before me.

                I also turned my mind forward.  Was I living in a way that I was passing on these blessings to my children, and their children?  Certainly there was more that I could and should do in that regard.

1 Kings 13-14

(July 27, 2014)
                There is a hierarchy to the Lord’s Kingdom that we sometimes need clarifying in our mind.  This hierarchy is traceable all the way upward, and we are instructed to follow the highest instruction that we receive.  First, there is our own wisdom.  Then, we have the counsel of those in direct stewardship over us (Quorum President, then Bishop, then Stake President, and so on).  Up the chain we go in mortality until we reach the Prophet.

                On any given issue, we are to follow the highest hierarchical counsel we receive.  If the counsel of our Bishop is contradicted by the counsel of an Apostle, we follow the Apostle.  If the wisdom of our hearts is contradicted by our Stake President, we follow our Stake President.

                But the highest authority is always the Lord.  When we receive revelation on any issue, that should be the end of things no matter whatever else people may say or do.  Even the Prophet’s counsel does not exceed direct revelation from the Lord.  We must be very wise and very careful to be certain that we are receiving revelation in such instances, but when we are sure we must act on it.

                In these chapters, we see a righteous man who dies for failing to follow that counsel.  He receives instruction from the Lord, but he follows a prophet instead of following the Lord’s words.  As such, he is torn and killed.  While it is likely extremely rare to have the Lord contradict a prophet in our lives (maybe once or twice in a lifetime) and while it is certain that receiving such inspiration does not authorize us in any extent to argue against the prophet’s counsel in any application except to our own in our particular, individual circumstance, we are still obligated to follow the orders of our King even when those orders contradict the orders of our Generals, the Prophets.

2 Nephi 6

(July 27, 2014)
                I was struck by how this must have felt to hear this sermon by Jacob.  On the one hand, they were hearing that the promised disaster had occurred and the destruction and captivity of their people was accomplished.  On the other hand, they were also hearing that the Messiah would still be coming to the land that they left.  I wonder if hearing that worried or upset any of them?  I wonder if they thought that perhaps they had lost opportunities of seeing the Christ for their descendents by their choice to follow the Lord.

                I bring this up because of some of the struggles that I am dealing with in my life currently.  I see certain avenues that I feel are righteous and good, and I recognize that these paths might be closed to me regardless of what I may want or how much effort I may make.  And it has been a difficult thing for me to accept – after all, if my desired ends are righteous (not only good but commanded), should it not be something that I am able to accomplish?

                And yet, I see promised blessings that I looked forward to for now and in the future (and even into the eternities) slipping beyond my reach.  I see no mechanism by which I can restore that which is quickly being lost.  And I feel a profound sadness at that, much as the Nephites at this time must have felt sadness.  I believe that I am doing the right thing, to the best of my ability.  But I also feel that doing the right thing should accomplish the right result, and in that I find that I am not correct.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

1 Kings 11-12

(July 26, 2014)
                I had three smaller thoughts as I read through these chapters, and one rather more significant thought.  First, though, the minor thoughts.  The first was the blessing of equality that exists in knowing that rules and laws apply to kings as well as servants (Solomon’s violation of the Lord’s law brought condemnation on him despite his status).  Second, seeing God and hearing His voice is no ultimate solution – we still must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (a fact which makes me feel less horrible about losing my testimony for a short while, despite the miracles that I had seen in my life prior to that time).  Third, I have always wondered about fighting prophesy.  If Solomon didn’t believe the prophesy about Jeroboam, why fight him?  If he did, then surely he knew it would come to pass – so again, why fight him?

                But the central thought in this chapters has to be the approach by Rehoboam in relation to the pleas of Israel.  The advice of his wise counselors, experienced in the world, were correct.  Instead, however, he turned to the new philosophies of his contemporaries – persuasive, but ultimately untempered by experience and wrong.  I see this around me a great deal right now.  It is just as important in these days, as in the days of the Rehoboam, to remember the lessons of the past and the wisdom of those who have been through it all before (Priesthood leaders, for instance).  We ignore their counsel, and the tried and true principles they espouse, at our peril.

2 Nephi 5

(July 26, 2014)
                We live in a time of unparalleled luxury and ease in our modern society.  Do we realize that this capacity that we have for idleness is a cursing, rather than a blessing?  When we have an evening off, that is a blessing.  When we have every evening off, that becomes a cursing.  As we become idle, we find ourselves losing the Spirit and falling away from the Lord.

                The good news is that the removal of this curse is available to each of us.  Whatever our situation is, there is something that we can be doing right now to be productive and useful.  In the last few weeks, I have found myself in the position of having far more free time than would probably be good for me, but I have been able to fill that time with productive and meaningful activities – and, by so doing, I have received protection and a great deal more happiness than I believe I would have had if I had wasted that time in idleness.

Friday, July 25, 2014

1 Kings 9-10

(July 25, 2014)
                The Lord’s promise to Solomon, while important, is no different in many ways from the Lord’s promise to each and every one of us.  Like Solomon’s temple, our souls may be hallowed, and the Lord may put His name there forever if we are willing to accept Him.  If we are willing to walk before Him in integrity of heart and do according to all He commands us, we will be established on a throne in Israel forever.  But, if we turn from Him, then will we be cut off from His sight.

                One of the glorious factors of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is a true meritocracy even though it is also a monarchy.  Most monarchies only permit advancement according to birth, but the Lord’s perfect system of government avoids the chaos of democracy through a perfect hierarchy while simultaneously avoiding the stagnation of a monarchy through temporary callings and an ultimate judgment based upon our personal worthiness and His Grace.  Were I to sit down for years to consider a better system, I doubt I could come up with one.

2 Nephi 4

(July 25, 2014)
                I felt a great deal of comfort in reading the Psalm of Nephi today.  I can feel like Nephi, right now – pushed to my breaking point, condemned by those who are around me, wondering why some things bother me when I have been blessed so abundantly.  I feel like, with everything the Lord has given me, that the trial I am currently facing should be of no consequence to me – I should be able to overcome it, since I know that He is there and all things happen according to His will.  And yet, I find myself struggling to understand and accept the course of events that has happened recently and to put my trust in the Lord the way that I should.

                I have read this chapter dozens of times, and yet this psalm has never struck me with the force that it strikes me with now.  Only now, when I feel I am in a similar position to Nephi, do I feel the force and see the nuance that Nephi included in this psalm.  Once again, I am struck by how clear it is that Joseph Smith could not have written this book – if I could only understand the psalm when I was in the position of Nephi, only someone in his position could have written the psalm.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

1 Kings 8

(July 24, 2014)
                Solomon’s dedicatory prayer was a fantastic example to me of teaching through prayer.  As I read through that prayer, I could easily identify times in my life when I found myself in various positions – times of famine because of sin, times when I was a stranger calling on God, and so forth.  Noticeably, the text of the prayer is almost always focused on how we approach God when we have sinned – after all, that is the condition that we always find ourselves in (sinners trying to approach God).

                At this point in my life, I feel as though I am a captive held in a foreign land.  To a certain extent (but not as totally as some believe), I am a captive because of my sins and my mistakes.  As I have turned and continue to turn from those sins, I find myself not being released from my captivity.  And that mirrors the words of Solomon, amazingly enough.  The repentance rectifies the transgression (including the temporal consequences) in most of the prayer – rain falls when the people repent, for example.  But with captivity, the freedom is not necessarily the consequence of repentance – just compassion from your captor.

                In the past month or so, I have diligently tried to make the best of my time ‘captive’ in a foreign land.  For a long time now, I have been trying to repent, and I have been calling on the name of the Lord for forgiveness.  While I have not been released from my captivity, I have felt this compassion.  Whereas only a month ago I felt utterly destroyed by the matters that I had no control over, now I find myself at peace.  I can only do the very best that I can do, and things beyond my control are in the Hands of the Lord.  As I grow closer to Him, I trust Him more and am more willing to allow Him to do His work.  Doing what He has asked of me is more than enough, and maybe when I have mastered that I can look to Him with requests.  For now, though, my repentance has brought peace and understanding and a willingness to trust (along with the comfort that comes with that).

2 Nephi 3

(July 24, 2014)
                There is the sense, in what I know of modern times (speaking from about 35 AD onward), of seeing us in the last days.  The Apostles thought, as best as we can tell, that the end of the world was just around the corner.  The early Christian fathers definitely had those ideas.  From what I understand, most of the early Mormons thought the Millennium was just around the corner.  And there is the temptation to think that things are just about ready to end here as well.

                While I doubt the end of the world comes in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, that sense that things are coming to a close seems pretty persistent.  It makes me wonder whether that was true during Lehi’s days.  Is it possible that Lehi might have thought that the prophesied Joseph (son of Joseph) might be his grandchild?  That would explain why Lehi was telling Joseph all about it – to let him know what to name his son and what he might expect from him.  It puts a human context on why this was included here.

                Of course, in retrospect, it is clear that the Joseph being spoke of was Joseph Smith – but Lehi would not have known that and might, through confirmation bias or different thinking, have missed the indications in the text that would have clearly indicated that it was not his grandson that was being spoken of.  Or he might have seen his grandson as a type of the future Joseph.  In any event, that thought sheds new light on why this would have been included in the Book of Mormon.

2 Nephi 2

(July 23, 2014)
                I have spent the better part of my lifetime thinking about the nature of reality – most specifically, why there is something rather than nothing.  In the terminology used by philosophy, I have been considering the cosmological argument (before I knew what that was) – contemplating infinite regress into eternity, infinite extension into eternity, causality (and how our understanding of it cannot be right), and so forth.

                That is why this chapter fascinates me so much.  I don’t claim to be a philosophical genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel I am just now (at almost 40) coming to grips with some of these questions.  This chapter, though, was written by Joseph Smith when he was about half my age, and it has more depth in it than I have been able to plumb in my life.  I feel like I could easily get lost in verse 13, and spend a lifetime just considering that one particular verse.

                That is a great testimony to me of the translating role of Joseph Smith.  Joseph couldn’t have written this chapter at his age, packing it with the depth and wealth of information and ideas which it has (especially not in such a short period of time).  Lehi, on the other hand, could have.  This chapter is a work of such genius and such depth, that Joseph (no matter how clever) couldn’t have worked these things out over a lifetime.

                With 25 years of thought on these issues (I really started considering them at around 14 or so), and with a few months to work, I think I could write something of consequence on the subject.  At 23, and with only a day to complete, my writings on the subject would be garbage.  And yet, what we have here is a masterpiece.  There is no earthly way Joseph Smith could have written this short of Divine intervention, and considering his assertion that the Divine intervention was an assist to translation rather than authorship, I am left with no choice but to believe him.

1 Kings 7

(July 22, 2014)

                Reading this chapter, I was struck by the level of care and attention that was devoted to building a house to the Lord.  It came to me that each of us is building our souls as a temple to the Lord (after all, do we not want Him to come and dwell with us?).  When we build our souls to the Lord, do we exercise the same care and consideration as did Solomon?  Do we build with the finest materials, or do we use shoddy imitations?  Do we build according to the plans laid out by the Master Architect, or do we throw things together by happenstance and whatever we figure looks right at the time?

2 Nephi 1

(July 22, 2014)
                As I read this chapter, particular the discussion of the chains of Hell and being led captive by the Devil, it again prompted me to think on why Satan behaves the way that he does.  After all, he must know that he is going to lose.  Perhaps he could have thought to have had a chance at winning (if he could induce Christ to sin, and thus fail at His mission), but when the veil of the temple was rent and Christ called out that it was finished, and God received Him back, then the War in Heaven was over.  Victory was assured.

                And yet, like some of the islands in the Pacific at the end of World War II, there are still those pockets of resistance that seek to overturn the end result of the war.  Just as with those islands, the fighting that goes on today has no capacity to affect the outcome of the entire war, and yet the battle rages on.  The foot soldiers (you and I) in this war on both sides perhaps cannot always see clearly the end of this course of action, but the generals (Satan) must.  He must know not only that he is going to lose, but that he has already lost.  So why continue fighting?

                The only reason that I can see for this behavior is that Satan has reached a point of such hatred that he is willing to destroy himself just to bring sorrow to those around him.  I can remember when I was a moody, obnoxious teenager.  My parents had yelled at me for something (almost certainly my fault), and sent me to my room.  I can recall laying on my bed, full of rage, and thinking to myself, “I know – I could commit suicide.  That would show them – they would really feel guilty after that.”

                That was how irrational my anger was.  I didn’t care what happened to me, so long as I hurt my ‘oppressor.’  Satan, I imagine, must be in a similar mental condition as I was in that day – all he has left is hate and anger and the desire for revenge.  I think we make a mistake when we apply to Satan rationality – he is intelligence, but I do not believe that he is rational (or, at least, not pursuing his rational self-interest).

                Of course, this is all theoretical and means little until we apply it to ourselves.  In what way, then, are we the same as Satan?  Do we seek to hurt our enemies, even when doing so hurts us or those we love?  Another name for Satan is the “Accuser” – do we level accusations at others, ignorant (or uncaring) about the damage that our unwillingness to forgive causes our own souls because of our overwhelming desires to hurt others?  In some ways, I think that is the reason why our unwillingness to forgive is such a profound and significant sin (no matter what has happened to us, unwillingness to forgive that sin places a greater sin in us – a huge, huge statement).  When we do not forgive, we emulate Satan in willing to destroy ourselves in order to damage (as we suppose) another.  We become his children because we walk his path.

                There are other ways this happens, I am certain.  It is therefore important when we consider what we do whether we are emulating the path of Christ or of Satan – because that will determine who’s future we will also receive.

Monday, July 21, 2014

1 Kings 5-6

(July 21, 2014)
                The highlight of these chapters was the voice of the Lord speaking to Solomon.  Sometimes I think that we feel that the scriptures tell of a time much different than our own, when the voice of the Lord came readily to the prophets, but I doubt that is true.  We have the voice of the Lord recorded frequently in the scriptures, but that is because we are reading scriptures.  It is both a highly spiritual record and compresses decades sometimes in a few chapters.  If we were to count the number of times the Lord spoke to Solomon, my guess is that it would likely be in single digits.

                Is that not consistent with our own lives?  Do we not have the voice of the Lord come to us that often?  Maybe not every day – we get the feeling that it should come every day from the scriptures – but enough to keep us on track, and doing what the Lord wants us to do.  In my life, I have had enough miraculous events happen that if I were to condense the whole of my experiences into a chapter or two in the Old Testament, I think I could fit right in – and some future reader likely would wonder whether things were just different in my day or whether I was gullible or superstitious to think the Lord would speak to me like this.  I don’t think I am that different in my experiences from others – I  wonder whether we all have miracles enough to make us live lives as the prophets of old, but we forget or don’t notice or downplay them because they are only occurring every few years (as if the Lord was on Solomon’s speed-dial).

                Anyhow, the Lord’s words were the highlight here.  Notice what he said to Solomon – Solomon was the build the temple, but the building of the temple (while necessary) was not sufficient.  He also had to live righteously and keep the commandments.  I think that we in the Church sometimes believe that our membership in the Church is enough – we avoid serious transgressions and sins, and given enough time we will reach Exaltation.  But just having the temple in our lives is insufficient as well – we must also be continually striving to live the commandments, so the Lord will dwell with us, as He did with Israel.

1 Nephi 22

(July 21, 2014)
                I have long thought that this chapter was the single most optimistic chapter in the entire Book of Mormon, and short of the scriptures detailing Christ in the garden, on the cross, and the empty tomb this chapter is the chapter that fills me with the most hope.  There is the language of hope for the righteous – that they will be protected and gathered in, but that isn’t the language I am talking about.  There is also the language of Divine intervention – sending down fire to protect the righteous, but that, too, isn’t the language that I am talking about.

                No, the language I am talking about, and the most hopeful verse in the scriptures (save, possibly, my favorite verse in the scriptures [Mosiah 26:30]) is verse 26.  We see Satan being bound, and we imagine Michael and his legions with flaming spears tying Satan in chains and thrusting him into the pit.  But note what this verse says – that isn’t the way things are going to happen.  Satan is going to be bound because of the righteousness of the people of God – people like you and me, should we choose to be those people.

                At times it seems hopeless to achieve the level of righteousness that we feel we need to achieve, but this scripture gives us hope.  If we persevere, we have it within our capacity to build our lives and our love through Grace to the point where Satan no longer has power over us.  Then, as we each do that, over time we will have Wards were Satan likewise has no power over us, then communities, cities, States, and eventually the world.  We understand better than most the calamities that are headed our way, but we also know from the scriptures (including this one) that we will through Christ overcome.  What a blessing of hope that provides!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

1 Kings 3-4

(July 20, 2014)

                I don’t know that we give proper credit to the wisdom of Solomon because we have already internalized so many things that he came up with.  For example, his act in threatening to ‘split the baby’ seems like such common sense to us in these days (we even have a term for it – splitting the baby), that we have trouble imagining why it would be such an impressive thing that it would be included in the scriptures.  But it is only common to us because for around 3,000 years we have been beneficiaries of that wisdom (and the wisdom of the Proverbs) – slowly filtering into our collective understanding of the world.

1 Nephi 21

(July 20, 2014)
                Sometimes I think we allow ourselves to be confused by the commandments of the Lord.  Very rarely, in my experience, does the Lord command us to do things that are beyond our control.  He instructs us to obey the commandments, He gives us our stewardships and we are to magnify and fulfill them.  But most of the time there is not a result prescribed by the Lord.  We are to do what He has asked and to leave the results to Him.

                So, for example, if we are called as Home Teachers, we are given the commandment to give our best efforts to meet with our families, teach them, inspire them to pray as a family, and so forth.  If, in the end, they choose not to come to Church then that is something I do not believe will ultimately be something that we are judged on.

                Rarely, however, we are given results-based commandments from the Lord.  These commands are the ones where Nephi’s bold words in 1 Nephi 3:7 are applicable – if there is a particular result that we have been commanded to achieve, then the Lord will provide a way for us to achieve that result.

                I bring this up because this is the understanding that resolves the apparent conflict between Nephi’s words and Isaiah in this chapter speaking of how ‘though Israel be not gathered,’ yet Isaiah would be blessed.  I think that Isaiah’s formulation is more common by far, but because we lose sight of what we have actually been commanded to do (because we think we are commanded to achieve results rather than take actions or magnify callings while respecting agency), we think we are going to be provided a way to accomplish things the Lord never asked of us.

1 Kings 1-2

(July 19, 2014)
                The actions by David, in how he instructed Solomon, are very much out of character from what we saw of him during his lifetime.  Those he had forgiven, he commanded Solomon to kill.  Those who had served him well, he ordered struck down.  How many times did Joab save the kingdom?

                But as I think about it, there is a certain logic to absolutely everything that took place.  Joab never repented of his actions when he killed those who David promised peace.  Adonijah was fine until such time as he sought out David’s young virginal comforter (a demonstrated aspiration to the throne).  Shimei (the one who openly repented) was given strict commands, and if he followed them he would have died of old age.  Abiathar, as a priest, was not struck down even though there was justification.

                As shocking as this appears to me to be at first glance, the longer I look at it the more I realize that my shock is an issue of culture and perspective, rather than one of eternal law.  And that, as much as anything else, is truly surprising to me.

1 Nephi 20

(July 19, 2014)
                The highlight of this scripture is the bookend verses of 18 and 22.  In 18, the people of Israel are taught that peace is always available to them if they keep the commandments.  In verse 22, they are taught that peace is forever withheld from them if they do not keep the commandments.  These two promises are operable regardless of what the external circumstances might be.

                I have learned, now, both halves of this lesson.  For a long time, I had everything that you could argue a man could want in mortality.  And yet, despite what I had I was not living the way that I should live.  And I had no peace – I thrashed back and forth in a desperate attempt to find peace, but none was forthcoming.  Now, I have lost almost everything that I once had.  But I have also made significant progress in keeping the commandments and excised out of my life my worst vices.  I find myself missing the things that I once had, and sorrowful for the loss, but likewise at peace in a way that I would not have thought to be possible only a year ago.

                I hope that things ultimately resolve themselves in a positive way for me, but so long as I keep the commandments, I know that my peace will be as a river (flowing continually).  And that is a comforting feeling in a time of uncertainty.

Friday, July 18, 2014

2 Samuel 23-24

(July 18, 2014)
                Is there anything more painful to deal with than recognizing that others are suffering for your sins?  David, seeing the death and destruction around him because of his mistake, hints at the anguish and calls upon the Lord to afflict him rather than his people.  Particularly as a parent, this is difficult for me to deal with.  I see that I have made mistakes, and as a result of the mistakes that I have made my children are put into positions where they are being hurt.  I never would want my children to be hurt, and it breaks my heart that it is a situation that I cannot simply step into and fix on their behalf.

                The only thing that alleviates that pain even slightly is to constantly keep before my mind the truth – that they are His children, too.  They were His children before they were mine, and He loves them with a love that exceeds mine.  If I, with my imperfect love, would step in and make everything better if it were in my power, then I can trust that He (with His infinite love) would likewise step in.  But with Him, He is held back not because of limitations in His scope of power but rather in an increased understanding of what His children (me and my children) need in order to achieve our greatest potential.

                And so I am left to strive to take care of my children.  I am left in anguish, and I am left like David to call on the pain and suffering to be put upon me rather than upon them.  And then I am left to wait upon the Lord and trust that He will take care of us all according to His perfect love and Divine will.

1 Nephi 19

(July 18, 2014)
                Likening the scriptures unto ourselves is not an idle pursuit – in fact, one of the great testimonies of the Book of Mormon is that this phrase is included within.  There is the desire among all of us to use the scriptures as either a rule book (occasionally for ourselves, but probably more often for others), or a proof-text to support whatever intellectual theory that we might happen to endorse.  In both cases, what we are truly doing is following the philosophies of men, and mingling them with scripture.

                For the longest time, that was the way that I read scripture.  I would turn to scripture the way that I turned to case law – arguing a point and pulling text that supported my position (even when I was just reading for myself).  But as the years have gone on, and I have abandoned proof-texting, I have seen the scriptures open up to me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.

                No matter what is going on in my life, I find that the scriptures are there as a source of comfort and a source of answers.  I see how Nephi or Lehi or Alma dealt with their challenges, and I find myself recognizing how my challenges are really not so different from their difficulties.  I find the Lord answering me in the same way that He answered them.

                When I go to the scriptures looking for what the Lord wants to tell me in my life at that point (rather than what I want to find, or tease out through reason), I discover an entire world of inspiration opening up to me.  Truly reading the scriptures has been one of the greatest joys that I have experienced – especially these past three weeks or so.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2 Samuel 21-22

(July 17, 2014)
                It is difficult to read the psalm David sings in the second of these chapters knowing that David has already forfeited his Exaltation by this point.  It is heartrending, knowing what David could have been and to instead see him as he is – how he cannot see himself.  Reading through the words, you see hints of the pride that ultimately had him place his own selfish interests ahead of the life of his longtime friend, whom he murdered to protect his dalliance with Bathsheba.  “Strangers shall submit themselves unto me.” “It is God…that bringeth down the people under me.”

                It is a cautionary tale for each of us.  We each – all of us – have our own blind spots.  We may feel, as does David, that we are right before the Lord.  Yet lurking just behind our professions of piety is our tragic flaw – that defect that threatens to destroy us until and unless we are willing to give that flaw up to the Lord.  For none of us are ever righteous enough to make it on our own, and to the extent we try we are destroyed.  We must give everything to the Lord, and we must be prepared to continue to do so each and every day of our lives.  Then Grace can overcome our flaws such that we can overcome these weaknesses and escape the pit that David could not escape.

1 Nephi 18

(July 17, 2014)
                I had a number of disconnected thoughts as I read through this chapter, but by the time that I came to the end of it I realized that a good portion of what I was thinking ultimately led back to submission and Priesthood authority.

                First, I was struck by the fact that Nephi stated that he was shown how to build the ship “from time to time.”  I think that there is something important to be discovered there.  After all, in periods of uncertainty or times when we feel we are being pulled beyond our limits, we can and often do go in one of two counterproductive ways.  We will either leave the Lord and rely on our own devices, or we will become too dependent on the Lord and abandon our own initiative.  Here Nephi shows us the proper way to go about things – he continually works, but remains open to directions from the Lord from time to time (as the Lord may choose to give those directions).

                Second, after Nephi had built this great ship I imagine that he could have been proud about things.  He could have, therefore, been upset that the command to go down into the ship came to Lehi rather than to him.  After all, I have seen this in similar situations where a quorum or auxiliary leader puts significant time and effort into a project, only to have the Bishop change something, and to find the quorum or auxiliary leader become offended because the final word came to another despite their efforts along the way.  Nephi, though, wasn’t like that.  He understood the manner by which God speaks to man and recognized that structure.

                Third, we see an example of the opposite from Laman and Lemuel.  They would not that their younger brother should be a ruler over them.  When they were confronted by someone pointing out their weaknesses, they became stubborn in their behavior – looking to the hierarchal nature of the patriarchal order as a shield to protect them in their iniquity rather than a demand to humble themselves.  Laman’s understanding of the order was only a fa├žade, as seen by the fact that he refused his father’s entreaties to release Nephi.  

                So many of the problems that we face in the world and in the Church can be summed up by Laman’s words.  People want gay marriage and are upset that the Church is actively pushing for recognition of the traditional definition of marriage?  Isn’t that nothing more than those proponents of gay marriage saying “we would not that the Brethren should be a ruler over us.”  Those feminist movements that seek the advancement of women by destroying or supplanting the Priesthood?  They are, in effect, saying, “we would not that our brothers should be rulers over us.”  Of course, in their hearts they understand that everyone ultimately has a ruler over them – President Monson has to account for his life to his Priesthood Leader and is responsive to the instructions of his Master.  Furthermore, it seems to follow like night and day that when someone refuses a leader over them that they don’t like (because that leader is telling them something that they don’t want to hear) it is only a matter of time before that same person is abandoning the entire hierarchical structure of the Church.  First they turn against the Nephis in their lives, and before long they have abandoned the Lehis as well.

                Finally, I was struck as I read with some similarities with my own life in what was happening to Nephi.  Like Nephi, I feel I have been placed in bondage right now, because of errors that I have been accused of that were not legitimate (in Nephi’s case, that he was seeking control or domination over his brothers).  Like Nephi, I am feeling the pains of the cords which have me bound and I see the suffering of my children, now and in the future,  that have come as a result of what is happening.  The key for me right now, though, is to be like Nephi in that I do not murmur against the Lord in this time of difficulty, but rather that I continue to praise Him.  I don’t know what His plan is, but I can only trust that He has the best interests of me and my family in mind and He will make all things right in the end.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Entropic Argument for God

The second law of thermodynamics is as close to an absolute law that we have in the physical universe. This law states that the entropy (disorder) in an isolated system will always increase rather than decrease. Over time, this isolated system will become more and more disordered, and energy will become more and more evenly distributed until such time as the isolated system reaches a completely constant state of temperature and disorder.

To put in perspective just how absolute this law is, there is a quote by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington that seems instructive. "The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation."

So what is an isolated system? It is anything beyond which matter and energy cannot pass. Where this get interesting, of course, is when you recognize that everything ultimately is an isolated system. Look at our universe. Can matter and energy pass beyond our universe's borders? Not according to any scientific principle we know. What caused the organization of matter and the high energy state of the Big Bang? Again, nothing that we know from science.

But this isn't arguing God in the gaps -- it is something more important than that. Whatever caused the Big Bang, and whatever caused that, and so forth backwards through an infinite duration, eventually we define the system large enough whereby everything that ever was and is becomes our isolated system. Whether that is the Branes of Stephen Hawking, or something different, ultimately isolation is the end result of our digging.

What does that mean for the second law of thermodynamics -- the law that always holds, and any theory in opposition to it is destined to collapse in deepest humiliation? What it means is that you have an isolated system that has been operating for an infinite period of time. Because entropy will have been increasing, but for something upon which entropy does not apply this universe should have been form and void and at a constant background temperature. This world that we live in and the universe in which we live could not exist according to the second law of thermodynamics if cause and effect happen the way we currently envision them happening.

We are left with only one option. Someone or something must not be bound by the second law of thermodynamics. Someone or something must not increase in disorder over time, but rather roll forth in order and increase in energy over time. The Someone sounds a lot like God, and the something sounds a great deal like Heaven. But for this Someone or Something, nothing could exist except as background radiation. Our understanding of the scriptures and the doctrine, however, gives us the a better understanding and ability to see the truth that science is prepared to reveal to us.

One thing that repeatedly shocks me as I examine the scientism behind atheism is the continually self-refuting philosophies of those who seek to piggyback science into supporting a view of the universe that is simply impossible. It is so often a result (atheism) in search of evidence.

2 Samuel 20

(July 16, 2014)
                It is so easy for us to find ourselves in a destructive mindset when we see others as our enemies.  Joab teaches an important lesson here (one, I gather from reading the history that we have, he picked up from David over time).  Instead of seeking his enemy through destruction, and therefore seeing the city as the enemy, he sees Sheba alone as his enemy.  He is content to excise out the problem and leave the rest in peace.

                Do we fall short of that counsel in our dealings with others?  After all, we can easily consider that each of us is a city.  Within that city are some who are aligned with God (good habits and good intentions) and some who are opposed to God (bad habits, weaknesses, pride).  When we are confronted with the evil – especially when that evil hurts us directly and painfully – do we recognize that it is only a part of the city that is bad, and destroying the city to eliminate the part that is bad is evil in and of itself?

                I am currently facing a situation where I am struggling to forgive some very good people who are doing some very bad things which are causing me a great deal of hurt.  Some of my life’s ambitions and some of the most important things in the world and eternally to me are potentially being put forever out of reach.  It is so tempting to give myself over to the anger and the self-righteous judgment that I feel pulling at me.  But I have to remember that, like Abel of Beth-maachah, they are largely good but with an element of bad within them now that does not justify the destruction of the whole.  By keeping that in mind – by reminding myself how good the people are who are hurting me – it allows me to not be consumed by the anger and resentment that continually threatens me.

1 Nephi 17

(July 16, 2014)
                I find it very interesting that the moment Lehi and his family arrived in Bountiful, they found themselves rejoicing (notwithstanding their sufferings in the wilderness).  That seems to be a common human response to suffering – when we go through it, it is all too easy to forget all about the good times (and, if we are not careful, forget about the Lord as well).  When we arrive at our Bountiful, it is all too easy to forget about our suffering (and, if we are not careful, we can forget about the Lord here too).

                In this period of intense uncertainty in my life, my strongest comfort is the fact that I absolutely know that the Lord will bring me to a place of security and comfort.  I hope that the path back and the end result is the one that I want, but that is a matter beyond my control.  All I can truly control is to live according to the commandments to the best of my ability and trust that the Lord has something in store for me.  I cannot even honestly answer whether my Bountiful will come next month, or in six months, or even if I will need to wait until after mortality comes to a close.  All I can say is that I trust the Lord.  And that, uncomfortable as it is, is enough as I put one foot in front of the other sojourning in the wilderness of my life.

                After all, I will be in this position regardless.  My only choice is whether to allow the fires of adversity to consume me or to refine me.

2 Samuel 19

(July 15, 2014)
                I am, sadly, well acquainted with people who will curse you when you are down.  There are two things that dominate my thoughts in my current days.  First, how do I put back together things that were broken (at least in large measure) because of the actions of people like Shimei.  And second, how do I respond to those people in the event that I am able to undo the damage that they have caused and restore that which was broken.

                Once again, David provides a powerful example.  Shimei apologizes, but I don’t even believe that is necessary.  Instead, David simply recognizes that he is king and therefore has no need to consider the accusations of Shimei.  Likewise, I know where my accusers are right, and I know where my accusers are wrong.  I can accept that, regardless of how they may be behaving now, I can at least conceive of good intentions on their part.  Whether I am able to undo the damage or not, I can look on myself as having kept true to the things the Lord showed me not very long ago, and set aside my hurt feelings and humble myself.

                It seems almost counter-intuitive, but the way to humble myself in these situations is to remind myself of my position in the Lord’s Kingdom.  To paraphrase David, “do not I know that I am this day a prince in Israel?”  And that is enough, and let the Lord judge between me and the Shimeis in my life.

1 Nephi 16

(July 15, 2014)
                Has there ever been a better example of following a Priesthood leader than Nephi?  This was a young man who was led by the Spirit to get the Brass Plates, who had just come back from having a vision where he was taught in greater detail the interpretation of the superlative (at least in the record we have) vision of his father.  In any mortal, worldly sense Nephi had already surpassed his father.  Add to that the fact that Lehi was also complaining against the Lord at this time, and in our modern society we would have many who would claim that Lehi was a fallen prophet, and Nephi should have just taken over or gone to the Lord directly.

                Yet what does Nephi do?  He goes to his father.  He goes to the Priesthood.  He asks this leader, who is complaining about the Lord, to go to the Lord and give Nephi direction.  He humbles himself, and remembers his place.  He follows the counsel he was given (does anyone believe that Nephi would have been successful if he had gone somewhere other than where Lehi sent him?).  He takes what steps he can, in fashioning a bow, but at no point does he abandon the hierarchical structure of the Lord’s pattern.

2 Samuel 18

(July 14, 2014)
                Once again, we see how David is a Christ-figure.  Absalom rejected David, and sought to take away his kingdom.  David’s reign was put to flight, and he was in exile.  And yet, Absalom’s death (while justified) was heartrending to David and he mourned over what could have been.

                Christ is the rightful king of this world, but each of us in our daily actions reject Him and seek to take away His Kingdom and His Divine right of rulership.  And so, rather than destroy us, Christ reigns in exile.  The day will come when each of us will willingly submit to Christ again, or we will be destroyed (as was Absalom).  When that time comes, Christ will not be rejoicing in the conquering of His enemies, but rather will be mourning the loss of His friends who rejected Him.

1 Nephi 15

(July 14, 2014)
                It is stunning to me just how frequently I will fail to inquire of the Lord.  I have been going through a period of trial in my life, and I am struggling to understand why some things have happened the way that they have happened.  I have knelt in prayer for long periods of time, telling the Lord how I didn’t understand and don’t understand.  And yet, somehow and someway, in all of those prayers I never got around to asking the Lord to help me understand.  It astounded me when I read this chapter and realized that.

                Since then, I have felt an increase in comfort (though not understanding) as I have poured out my heart to God and then listened for His response.  It is amazing what such a simple change can do and I am disappointed in myself that I failed for so long to pray as I ought to.  I looked to be understood by God, and not to understand God.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2 Samuel 16-17

(July 13, 2014)

                Ahithophel’s story is an interesting one in today’s political climate.  Ahithophel was looked at as a highly intelligent man – the language of the scriptures is particularly evocative when it described him as a person who’s counsel was as if the counsel of God.  There are certainly those who we also look to in order to replace the counsel of God.  Do we look to scientists, or experts, or politicians, or commentators with more deference to their opinions than we are willing to give to the Prophet?  If so, what does that say about us and who is our God?

1 Nephi 14

(July 13, 2014)
                One of the things that comes out frequently is the great divide between light and darkness that accompanies the Restoration.  But that is something that I really haven’t ever experienced in my life.  Instead, I find myself torn between light and darkness, striving to embrace the light and feeling the inertia of the darkness.  I grow stronger in my efforts (I am a better man than I was a decade ago, or even a year ago), but I still struggle with so very much.

                But I suppose that is part and parcel of the Gospel.  If we are willing to continue to try to live it, eventually our efforts (combined with Grace) will allow the Atonement to overcome our natures.  If, on the other hand, we turn away because of the pain or the difficulty of the road we are obliged to travel, we will condemn ourselves to the blindness and hardness of our hearts.

                I am very often blind, and my heart is often hard, but it is my hope that I will not be delivered up to that blindness and hardness because of my desire to receive peace.

2 Samuel 15

(July 12, 2014)
                It seems that the urge to supplant the king is one hardwired in our DNA, but I really don’t think that is the case.  Instead, rather, I think it is one of Satan’s primary attacks against us – after all, this is a line of reasoning that he used himself once not so very long ago.  We see it in Absalom, but in him it is really just a type of the same behavior that we see among so many who claim to be members of the Kingdom of God today.

                It begins as it did with Absalom.  First, those opposed to the Kingdom sit in judgment of the judges.  If only the Brethren were like them, then everything would be fine (they say).  Oh how we would do justice for the poor and downtrodden (they say).  And bit by bit, they seek to turn the members away from the Kingdom so that they can, as they see, rebel and bring about the destruction of Israel to replace with something ‘better.’

                We see in the death of Absalom the end of all such schemes.  Absalom dies, Satan is cast out, and Judas hangs himself.  There is one King, and He will take His Kingdom with or without us being there in the Heavenly throng.  But it is our choice whether to serve Him or attempt to supplant Him.

1 Nephi 13

(July 12, 2014)

                History has shown us that there is no substitute for Divine Favor in the progress of any conflict or endeavor.  The greater the conflict or endeavor, the more important and meaningful the intervention.  So many things are entirely beyond our control, and even the best of people engaged in the best of preparations find that they are unable to accomplish what they need to accomplish without a healthy dose of serendipity along the way.

2 Samuel 14

(July 11, 2014)
                I don’t know what to make of Absalom.  On the one hand, he clearly loved his sister Tamar (I doubt it was an accident that he named his daughter after her).  On the other hand, he would turn against his father and seek the throne which he was not entitled to.  At one point in my life, I figured that people could be fairly easily divided into ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked,’ but the older I get the less I feel that way.  On the one hand, it may be because the collection of mistakes that I am making over the course of my life make it more difficult to add myself to the ‘righteous’ category, but honestly I don’t think that is it (the Lord is so kind and generous to me that I do not think that I am cut off even with all my mistakes).  Rather, I think I am like President Faust, in that the older I get and the more I see of myself and others, the less interested I am in justice and the more interested I am in mercy.  I have developed a greater love of people than of principle (a shocking development for me, if you know my history), and I love principle only insofar as it has the power to bless the lives of the people who follow it.

1 Nephi 11-12

(July 11, 2014)
                C. S. Lewis proposed the theory that any miraculous event could have likewise have been accomplished through natural means by a God who knows all things from the beginning (a true conclusion that I agree with).  This meant, to Professor Lewis, that each miracle that was and is performed is performed for a reason other than the end result.  A healing could be achieved through the body’s natural processes, and so forth.  So we should look to each miracle (and, by Professor Lewis’s definition, they are rare) and study to gain understanding of what this miracle was to teach us.

                After reading these chapters, I spent some time thinking of the healings that Christ performed.  If they were not performed because the leper needed cleansed, for example, but rather that each such miracle performed was for us to gain some understanding of the Kingdom of God, there is a wealth of knowledge that we can gain.  Like the leper, we can be cleansed even when we see no way to be cleansed.  Like the man born blind, our eyes can be open and we can see – even if we have never seen before.  Like the child struck with palsy, even when all seems hopeless Christ still provides us with hope.  Someday we will pick up our bed of suffering and carry it with us – glorifying His Name as we do so.

                In dark and hopeless times, His miracles provide hope because they show us what He can do.  The Lord, I trust, could reach down and in an instant put all my cares to rest, heal all of my wounds and calm my pained soul.  His touch could open my eyes, relieve me of the burdens of my mistakes, and even raise me from spiritual death.  I know this, and I know that He loves me.  This gives me faith to trust that if He is not interceding in my life in the way that I may want Him to, it is not because of powerlessness or lack of love.  It is, rather, that He sees He can achieve His purpose for me (and for those I love) without the need of resort to supernatural means.  That leaves only the question of whether I trust Him enough to allow Him to direct my life.

2 Samuel 13

(July 10, 2014)
                The story of Amnon, sadly, is the story of each of us.  Amnon, the son of a king, had a desire that he wanted to be satisfied.  But rather than petition his father for the desires of his heart, he took it upon himself to claim what he wanted regardless of the consequences or the hurt he caused.  Once he had claimed his prize, he found that it had no capacity to provide real and lasting happiness and it turned to ash in his mouth.  Finally, his own wickedness resulted in his ultimate destruction.

                Can we not see the analogy in our own lives?  Each of us has desires of our hearts.  Like David, our Father “will not withhold me from” us these desires, so long as they are kept within His righteous limits.  If we are patient and petition our Father, we can find happiness through the realization of these desires.  If, on the other hand, we seek to use our own will and resources to achieve these desires in opposition (or even circumvention) of the Father, we will find even the satisfaction of these desires will provide no joy and we will achieve only our own destruction.

1 Nephi 9-10

(July 10, 2014)
                When we face challenges in our lives, it is not uncommon to feel completely lost.  I know as I have struggled with the difficulties of my previous several weeks, I have certainly felt like I was lost and alone – and, in my darkest moments, I have felt hopeless.  The irony is, of course, that the feelings of being lost are not the mistaken feelings – rather, it is the comfortable feelings that we have when things are going well that are deceptive to us.

                We are all lost, and there is nothing that we of ourselves can do about that.  All we can do is strive to live the Gospel and hope in the Atonement of Christ.  We are all lost, and no amount of comfort or stability will “find” us.  Only He can bring us real peace (instead of the illusion of peace we so desperately strive for), and we can only receive that in accordance with His will. In that sense, the turmoil that threatens to destroy us is often a gift because it reminds us of our desperate and hopeless circumstances and of our need to rely on Christ.

2 Samuel 11-12

(July 9, 2014)
                The story of David and Bathsheba is a tragic one for so many reasons, but it also teaches so many lessons.  For example, I was struck by my reading this time of the phrase “for she was purified from her uncleanness.”  As I understand it (and I do not claim to be an expert in Jewish law), this means that David was willing to commit adultery (and later murder to cover up that adultery), but he drew the line at committing adultery with a woman who was menstruating.

                I have had experience in my life when I have been blinded by sin and my own unrighteous desires.  That strikes me as one of the most illustrative sentences in the scriptures.  When I was consumed by my unrighteousness, I would draw arbitrary lines and defend them vigorously.  I believe that I did this because defending such arbitrary lines was less hurtful than acknowledging my sinful nature.  I would swallow the camel whole, but I would carefully strain out the gnat.

                Since that time, I have learned to look for that mentality in myself.  I am all for trying to be strictly obedient, but when I find myself straining at gnats, I have learned to look for where I am swallowing camels.  And I have found that I am often stuck there with a mouthful of camel that I never even noticed until I went looking for it.

1 Nephi 8

(July 9, 2014)
                As you might imagine, based upon my experiences on July 3rd, my mind was drawn to the mists of darkness.  What I find dramatic and interesting is that the mists of darkness, like so many challenges we face, overwhelmed both the righteous and the wicked.  By grasping on to the Rod of Iron, the righteous were able to persevere until they reached the fruit, but they were not immune to the mists of darkness that are covering the world.

                That, to me, teaches two important points.  The first of these points is that it is not unexpected for even believing members, firmly grasping to the Rod of Iron, to have moments of trepidation and uncertainty or even confusion.  Not only is it not unexpected, it would be surprising if it were not so.  We are all to be tested by these mists, and were there no mist there would be no challenge (as much as I hate saying that, based upon my current situation with the mists surrounding me and threatening to overwhelm me, I cannot deny that it is true).

                Secondly, there is the common debate on the Internet between Liahona Mormons and Iron Rod Mormons.  Liahona Mormons, according to the common definition, supplant scripture and Priesthood authority with personal revelation, while Iron Rod Mormons look to scripture and Priesthood authority, which they supplement with personal revelation.  It is clear from this which camp I find myself in.  I believe that there are a number of people who proudly carry a Liahona which they can no longer see because of the mists that surround them when instead they could be safely walking the path that leads to salvation by grasping on to the Iron Rod.

2 Samuel 9-10

(July 8, 2014)
                Understanding intent is a difficult thing to do.  Here, we find messengers of David – pursuing peace with a pure intent – being ascribed bad motives.  In an attempt to protect themselves, they opened themselves up to the very destruction that they ultimately received.  How often do we do the same thing?  How often are there people who aim to help us or to serve us, but who we reject because we don’t trust them?

                Of course, there are people who we are wise to not trust, and there are those who mean us harm.  But I think that it is important to remember that the majority of people in the world are people who have fought valiantly for the Kingdom of God (even if they don’t remember it now), people who genuinely want to do the right thing (even when they fail), and people worthy of our love and respect.  Yes, perhaps we might need to protect ourselves from time to time, but we should never disrespect our brothers and sisters who might be bearing different burdens and challenges to our own.

1 Nephi 5-7

(July 8, 2014)
                My mind, as I read through these chapters, got stuck on the Brass Plates for a while.  Who originally engraved them?  And, more to the point, why were they continuing to be engraved?  The fact that they had a portion of the prophesies of Jeremiah is not a problem, because by this point Jeremiah had only written about 40% of his prophesies.  But the question is, who was the person with access to the Brass Plates who put that on them?

                These are the sorts of issues that can scramble a testimony if we look at it the wrong way.  If we choose to look at this as a problem, we can talk ourselves out of a testimony very quickly.  But the proper way to approach these issues is with the starting point of what the Lord has revealed to us.  In my case, the Lord has shown me that the Book of Mormon is true.  Knowing that, it then becomes a puzzle and a piece of interest rather than a stumbling block.  Was the record kept by priests, and only controlled by Laban because of his position?  Was Laban himself somehow associated or contained within the religious hierarchy?

                These questions, though, just show how essential it is to have the spiritual testimony rather than a logical testimony.  A logical testimony is good, and feels very comfortable, but a spiritual testimony is necessary to work out our salvation.

2 Samuel 7-8

(July 7, 2014)

                We tend to think that we need to live our spiritual lives in houses of cedar.  We want to be perfect, and free of iniquity (an admirable goal).  But we also want the trappings of righteousness – the perfect calling, the perfect image, the perfect family, the perfect history.  When these things are messy and difficult, we find ourselves feeling discouraged or stressed.  But what we must remember is that while we should strive to build a spiritual house of cedar, the temporal things (even important temporal things, or temporal things related to our spirituality) can get along quite well in a tent.

1 Nephi 4

(July 7, 2014)

                There are things that don’t seem plausible to our modern ears, and which would not have seemed plausible to 19th Century ears, but which ring true to what we know about ancient Israel.  For example, why didn’t Zoram recognize Nephi?  Was it because Nephi’s face looked like Laban?  Not likely.  Far more reasonably, Zoram had likely never seen Laban up close, but rather only from a distance.  When Laban needed something from the treasury, he didn’t walk down and get it himself in the usual course of things, but rather he would send a servant on his behalf.  Zoram might have seen Laban at some function or another from a distance, but never close enough to make out Nephi in the darkness.  He may have had his suspicions, which might have prompted the number of questions (an odd fact), but he clearly couldn’t be sure Nephi wasn’t Laban.

2 Samuel 4-6

(July 6, 2014)
                I cannot help but wonder what happened between David and Michal to cause such a rift.  At one point, she stood by him and even defied her father in order to protect and save David.  And yet, by this point she hates David and condemns him for being pleased at the return of the Ark.  What intervening event explains this?  The only thing that I can imagine is that she cared for her second husband (whether he could rightfully be called that or not), and hated David as a consequence.  

                Such hatred of David, of course, had consequences that were not to her benefit.  But it is sad to see when a person becomes so angry that they choose to condemn someone for trying to follow the Lord and rejoicing in Him.

1 Nephi 3

(July 6, 2014)
                When we read this chapter, our minds tend to be drawn to Nephi’s statement of faith (“I will go and do”).  But equally interesting is Lehi’s reaction to this display of faith (“for he knew that I had been blessed of the Lord”).  Notice the tense of the verb – not that Nephi would be blessed, but rather than he had been blessed.  Do we see that in our own lives?  As we struggle with our challenges and as we face up to difficult trials, do we see the faith and confidence with which we approach those trials as the blessing and the gift that it is?  Facing an impossible situation, Nephi bravely trusted in the Lord.  This trust was the blessing that he “had been blessed” with and the Brass Plates became the blessing that he was ultimately blessed with in the future.

                Sometimes, and I am struggling with this now, we face a set of circumstances that seem to tax us to the very limits of what we feel we can do.  In those circumstances, our ability to go on in faith is a blessing, and in following the commandment to remember the Hand of the Lord in all things it is important that we express gratitude for that gift.

2 Samuel 2-3

(July 5, 2014)
                As can be expected, my mind was drawn to the accusation against Abner.  Whether it was false or not, I don’t know.  But it is clear that Ishbosheth was wrong to condemn Abner for pretentions to the throne (which was clearly his worry in regards to Abner) – after all, had Abner truly set his sights upon the throne he could have acted well in advance of this time period.

                But what struck me was the destruction that this caused.  As a direct result of Ishbosheth’s accusations against Abner, the kingship of Saul’s line came to an end, and additionally Abner and Ishbosheth were also killed.  I have learned in the last several weeks how destructive accusations can be – there is a reason why Satan is described as the Great Accuser.  I can only hope the Lord protects me and my family from a similar destructive fate.

1 Nephi 2

(July 5, 2014)
                As I read this chapter, I was impressed by the thought that every bad thing that Laman and Lemuel feared would happen actually happened.  They were dragged out into the wilderness, where periodically they starved.  They were forced to leave their riches, and lived a life of hardship and deprivation rather than one of comfort and ease.  Whether they were righteous or wicked, they would have had that difficult life.  But because of their lack of faith and personal righteousness, they suffered through all of those trials in a way that did not lead to personal growth.  They had the trial, as each of us will, but they did not receive the blessings that are available for going through the trial in faith.

                In our lives, we are going to face trials and struggles regardless of how we live our lives.  Do we face these trials and struggles with faith and with a dedication to do what we can to be righteous?  Or do we curse our fate and turn away from the Lord?  That is what it means to be Nephi or Laman.  Both were starving in the wilderness – the challenges came to the righteous and the wicked.  But only Nephi was humble and faithful enough to profit from his trials.

2 Samuel 1

(July 4, 2014)
                My reading of this chapter indicates to me that the Amalekite wasn’t the actual killer of Saul, but rather thought that he would be rewarded for claiming to be.  David’s example here is instruction – our enemies will be destroyed in the own due time of the Lord, but there is no reason for us to either rejoice in that destruction nor to contribute to it.  David, justifiably, protected himself but beyond that he did not lash out at his enemies and he protected and worked to preserve his enemies.  Even the death of his enemy (and we see this again with Absalom, although there was a family relationship there) causes him a great deal of grief.

                David was a good man.  I know he has fallen from his Exaltation, but I hope that he was able to find some measure of peace in the hereafter.  What’s more, the fact that David was such a good man only gives me greater pause to know that vigilance is absolutely necessary at all times to keep from falling – no matter how well or poorly we feel we have been living our lives to that point.