Thursday, October 30, 2014

Psalms 40-43

(October 30, 2014)
                Using the symbolism of hunger and thirst for our need for God and the Atonement is a common thing, but one that I don’t think I fully understand.  I understand the concept, but as I examine my life most of the time my desire for God falls well short of my desire for food or for water.  Especially, considering, how I desire food or water at the end of a difficult fast.

                But there have been times – they are rare, but there – when I have genuinely hungered and thirsted after God.  I can remember what they felt like, and the miracles that were associated with them.  The prayers I prayed in desperation, calling up to the Lord, were answered with a power that does not accompany my rote prayers I pray just before going to sleep.

                The question then becomes how to do continually have this hunger and thirst (and I think the answer is line upon line)?  And how do I maintain that hunger and thirst and still find and maintain peace?

Alma 56

(October 30, 2014)
                Most of us look on temporal things most of the time (and I am no different – despite my efforts to focus on the Lord, I spend the majority of my time on temporal things).  We seek to accomplish our temporal goals, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  I don’t think the Lord sees anything wrong with me trying to get in shape, or working to accomplish something at the office, or even with me enjoying myself by watching a football game.  Temporal things are gifts to us.

                The issue, though, is when temporal things become more important than spiritual things.  If I was trying to get into shape and as a result took substances that violated the Word of Wisdom, or if I was working to accomplish something at the office and engaged in deception or dishonesty to accomplish it, or if I wanted to enjoy myself watching a football game and stayed home from Church to do so – when those things happen I am putting the temporal things before the spiritual things.

                And, as Helaman points out here, when we put spiritual things before temporal things we find that the temporal ambitions are not hurt by this.  From my own life, and as a simple example, I find myself enjoying doing the things that I love far more (now that I am progressing in the Gospel) than I did when I was spinning my wheels.  I don’t have as much time to spend on the things that I love as I once did, and there are a number of issues that interfere, but because I have put the Lord first (to the best of my current ability – and I hope that I am able to better put Him first in the future) I gain more temporal satisfaction in less time than I did when I was putting my temporal satisfaction first.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Psalms 37-39

(October 29, 2014)
                As a disciple of Christ, we should not fault anyone their progress and blessings and joys in this world.  That being said, David is quite right that it is difficult at times for us to see the wicked prosper.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  In a perfect world with perfect people, our prayers would be drawn out towards our enemies – hoping that they received blessings sufficient to bring them to a knowledge of their actions and with hope of repentance and forgiveness.  But none of us are perfect people.

                That being said, the Lord is perfectly generous with us in our weaknesses in trying to forgive as He is with others in their weaknesses and wickedness.  The more that I am forgiven, the easier I find it becomes to forgive those who have wronged me.  The more desperately I need the Lord, the more I am drawn out to help and bless my fellow men.  Each time I struggle through adversity and feel the gentle and constant pull of the Lord carrying me through it, I want to reach out and help those around me struggling through similar circumstances.

                Forgiving the wicked and not being angry when they prosper has, ultimately, nothing to do with the wicked.  After all, the Lord will make His best efforts to bring them back to the Father and they will ultimately choose what they want.  Forgiving the wicked, instead, is all about each one of us – if we do not forgive those who wrong us (even if they don’t repent or even acknowledge their hurt of us), we find our souls shriveling up and lose the capacity to feel God’s forgiveness of us.  This is a miserable state to be in.  I think this miserable state – assuming it perpetuates beyond the Veil – is why the unforgiving is said to have greater sin than the person they cannot forgive.  That is hard doctrine, but as I have failed to forgive and then ultimately forgiven, I have experienced that it is true nonetheless.

Alma 55

(October 29, 2014)
                The war chapters are profound symbols for the war that is currently going on in each of our lives – the continuation of the War in Heaven.  I was drawn to the wisdom of Moroni when he took the city of Gid and immediately began making additional preparations to defend not only those cities but also Mulek and Bountiful as well.

                When we make progress in our lives, Satan will not just concede the ground.  He fights for our souls just as hard as the Lord does.  He is not idle, nor does he admit defeat (Satan is bound up in his pride).  When we take a piece of ground, in my experience, we can expect a global assault almost immediately thereafter.

                When we abandon a habit or a vice, when our minds are opened or our testimonies increased, we will find ourselves refighting battles long since won.  If we have not, in the intervening years, continually improved our fortifications, we may find ourselves disrupted or destroyed by these attacks.  We must constantly be on guard – we are never perfected, only protected, in mortality.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Psalms 35-36

(October 28, 2014)
                The longer I go in life, the more I identify with David.  This is both frightening and comforting.  It is comforting because I understand what a powerful and blessed individual he was, and it is frightening when I recognize how he threw so much of what he was away.  But, of course, the blessing that I have in comparison to David is that I have the advantage of learning from his experiences.

                As I identify more and more with David, I find the Psalms seem to be speaking more and more directly to my own life.  Chapter 35, for example, could have been drawn from a snapshot of my current situation.  There are those who hid for me a net in a pit without cause.  These people made false witness against me, and laid untrue charges against me.  Where I was trying to the utmost of my ability to do right by them, they rewarded me evil for good.

                At the same time, one of those who made the false witness against me (and who has demonstrated the greatest anger against me) has been severely sick.  I have prayed for her health frequently and fasted for her a number of times.  She does not know this, and she won’t know it (at least from me – perhaps she will hear it on the other side of the Veil).  But as bad things have happened to me, I have seen their rejoicing in it (hidden behind veiled condemnation and faux pity).

                So as I read through that chapter, you can imagine how I felt.  But I also knew that David had in his character a weakness that was ultimately destructive and which I didn’t want to emulate.  And so I read David’s desire for the destruction of these enemies as a cautionary tale – I didn’t want to see my false accusers destroyed, but rather hoped that they would recognize what they had done and the damage they had caused and to repent.  That was how I felt before reading, and after reading I was impressed all the more that this was the only right way to approach the situation.  It has taken a significant amount of prayer and effort to release the negative feelings I have for them, and that is something that I am determined to continue to do.  If they want to gnash me with their teeth, let that be between them and the Lord – I want no part of revenge.  He will judge – He has taken good care of me and that is more than enough.

Alma 53-54

(October 28, 2014)
                There is a lot in these two chapters, but I found my mind focused on geography of all things.  The geography of the Book of Mormon is wonderfully consistent, and the things that don’t seem to make sense tend to support the Mesoamerican limited geographical model (full disclaimer: I don’t presume to know exactly where the Book of Mormon events took place, but whether they happened in Mesoamerica or the Midwest or Baja, the only thing that I can say with certainty is that the book is historical).

                For example, there is the line in Alma 53:6 that Mulek was the strongest hold of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi.  This has long been pointed to as ‘proof’ that the Book of Mormon is not true, because we know that Mulek is in the east wilderness by the seashore.  First, of course, even if the phrase ‘land of Nephi’ is incorrect, that does not disprove the Book of Mormon – I have tried diligently to make my journal accurate over the course of several decades, but I have to imagine that I have carelessly including similar (and more substantial) blunders than this.  

                But my current thinking is that it is describing the Lamanites rather than the city of Mulek.  As I read the grammar (difficult to do, since the original had no punctuation), I believe that land of Nephi modifies the Lamanites rather than the city of Mulek – differentiating the source of these Lamanites (Lamanites in the land of Nephi) from the secondary group of Lamanites which invaded the south to fight Helaman.

                But for geographical insights, there is little more interesting than a three word description of the secondary Lamanite incursion – by the “west sea, south.”  That makes no sense – is it west or is it south? – but the Mesoamerican model assigns the west sea to be what was west of the land of their first inheritance.  As geography reaches the land of Zarahemla, that west sea is on the south and the east sea is to the north.  Thus ‘west sea, south’ perfectly describes where the action takes place relative to the prior battles Mormon was describing (by the east sea, north).

                None of this, of course, really matters all that much (the Book of Mormon is true regardless of whether we understand its geography, and no non-believer will be convinced otherwise by these things), but it does provide some comfort to those of us who have received a spiritual witness of the truth of these things.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Psalms 32-34

(October 27, 2014)
                It is hard to wrap our minds around the utter futility of temporal means.  The Lord has provided us with a perfect test – one in which we can believe that we can accomplish things temporally (that the king can be saved by a host or the mighty man delivered by strength) because that seems to be the way things work according to our outward view.  The first thought is to believe that David is speaking metaphorically – the king is not saved (from death and sin) by a host – but I think David of all people (considering his history) recognizes that his statement is both figuratively and literally true.

                There is the old joke that the winning football team always gives credit to God but the losing team never blames God for making them fumble – the assumption being that neither side really believes that God had a say in the outcome.  The typical religious response is that God doesn’t care who wins a particular football game, and just stays out of it.  But I don’t believe that either, as the Lord of Hosts who notes the fall of a sparrow would seem to notice a couple million people gathering around the television in early February.

                No, I think that each and every temporal or spiritual success we have is not creditable to our strength or weakness – it is solely the Lord’s doing.  The Lord, in order to make our mortal probation meaningful, often brings about the result that is consistent with the strongest and fastest winning, but that temporal success by temporal means is merely an illusion to give value to our choices to align our will with God in spite of the difficulties on the path of discipleship.

                My other thought was David’s words concerning the many afflictions of the righteous.  David’s life (and these words) clearly dispute the belief that so many people have that the righteous should not suffer, and if they do suffer something is going wrong.  We don’t teach the Gospel of prosperity (but rather the Gospel of discipleship), and it is to be expected that our road back to the Father will be difficult and painful. The difference is not that we undergo such pain and difficulty – the differences is that those who trust God receive deliverances from their pain and difficulty.

Alma 52

(October 27, 2014)
                We each have our cultural biases that are out of harmony with the Lord’s teachings – and that is no different from the prophets (ancient and modern).  Mormon clearly was biased by his understanding of proper warfare – and it shines through brightly in his description of Captain Moroni’s methods of warfare.  On the one hand, Mormon is overflowing with praise for Moroni and his capacity and effectiveness as a leader.  On the other hand, Mormon is almost apologetic in his treatment of Moroni’s tactics.  At times the Book of Mormon reads like the writings of an apologist not quite sure if the subject he is praising is deserving.

                Because of that, we get Mormon’s language about how Moroni was right to use cunning because he was protecting the Church and the Nephite families – language we would not have now because our cultural assumptions are that cunning strategies are entirely appropriate.  We have language such as Mormon all but praising Jacob – a bloodthirsty Zoramite, no less – for his fierceness and determination in battle.

                There is a lesson and good news to take from this.  The lesson is that if a prophet of God as important and accomplished as Mormon can have issues with cultural biases, then it is certain that we too have cultural biases and blinders that preclude us from seeing the truth clearly.  The good news is that Mormon was a prophet and was able to overcome his biases through the help of the Lord, and thus we also have hope that we can overcome our biases from the same source.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Psalms 29-31

(October 26, 2014)
                I felt particularly moved as I read through chapter 31 today.  There are sometimes when reading the scriptures, it really seems as though they were written just for me and my life.  I feel as though I have gone through my share of grief, and spent a fair amount of time lately in sighing.  Much of my strength was lost because of my iniquity (finally, blessedly, lessened).  I am certainly reproached among my neighbors.  I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind.

                I have felt the slander of many, and there are those who take counsel against me even now.  While I hope no one is devising to take away my life, it is certainly a large amount of adversity in my life.

                But the blessing is that I trust in the Lord, and He really is taking care of me.  The challenges that I am facing are no better than they were months ago (there are reasons to feel them worse), but I am able to handle these challenges so much better than I could a few months ago.  I have been blessed by being given significantly more strength than I had back then.

                That seems to be the lesson of this chapter – if we trust in the Lord, He will bless and take care of us.  That is something that I can testify to and confirm.

Alma 51

(October 26, 2014)
                Knowing what we know of the Gospel, is the continuation of the War in Heaven nothing more than the continuation of the battle between agency and compulsion?  We each have ideas on how best to operate a political system, run a family, and live our personal life.  But there really seems to be a general theme that interferences with another’s agency is often far more serious than the underlying sin that we might be seeking to correct in others.

                We need to be able to influence others in positive ways, but it must be influencing that respects agency.  If we are trying to control the lives of those around us, then we are wrong even if we are right as to the underlying merits of the issue.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Psalms 25-28

(October 25, 2014)
                One of the great tragedies for me, as I read Psalms, is that I can see the fall of David coming.  David is so dedicated to the Lord, so faithful, and so willing to give praise and love to the Lord.  But the undercurrent beneath that is David’s pride – he wants his enemies destroyed.  This is common to much of the time period (I don’t want to say I am judging him by a modern standard), but that same conflict between the righteous man of God and the king who takes what (and who) he wants in lingering there just beneath the surface.  It worries me, of course, out of fear of what is lurking below my surface that I don’t see.  This self-blindness is one thing that makes it vitally important that we do everything we can in the good times to build up sufficient strength to withstand our temptations in the bad times.

                The other thought I had as I read today was the wonderful language about speaking peace to our neighbors with mischief in our hearts.  I have been the victim of this quite a bit (including recently), but it is important that I not be an instigator.  One thing that I think I am learning is how important it is to give honest praise and compliments to others – to build others up rather than tear them down.  Tearing people down isn’t something that I ever thought I was doing, but my criticism of others, I have learned, is not helpful and often harmful.  But while I am trying to work on praising others it is important that I mean what I say.  Flattery differs from praise, I believe, based upon this standard – praise is honest while flattery comes with mischief in our hearts.  I find myself better able to praise others lately, but I don’t want to deviate into flattery at any point – I want to praise people when they are praiseworthy (and everyone is) rather than because I want or need something from them.

Alma 50

(October 25, 2014)
                One of the most amazing parts of the Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography (and it is important to point out that while I am convinced this model is correct, it makes no difference if I am wrong as to the ultimate historicity of the Book of Mormon) is just how exactly right it is time after time.  For example, in this chapter we had verse eight, which seems inconsistent with the Mesoamerican model until we look at it more clearly and realize exactly where the Lamanites would be in that scenario.  Or we look at the description of a sea on the east and on the west (as opposed to the East Sea and the West Sea) – the way it is written matches with the Mesoamerican model, while the East Sea and West Sea discussing the narrow passage (presumably Paso Nuevo) wouldn’t work.  Nothing proves location, of course, but there are just so many things that are so precisely correct in ways that could easily be different that I have to imagine that one or more would be different if done by random chance.

                On a more spiritual note, I was very impressed by the oath of Pahoran.  I don’t think it was an accident that Mormon included it in the Book of Mormon – I think Mormon added it because it is a good standard for each and every one of us to determine to live by.  We each are given our stewardships in mortality – some great and some small – and the oath of Pahoran would largely be appropriate for each and every one of those stewardships.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Psalms 19-24

(October 24, 2014)

                The first few verses of these chapters had enough meat to fill a sermon.  From the initial lines demonstrating how all things testify of God (and the more science discovers about the way the universe works, the more necessary God is to the process – the Teleological Argument, in many ways the strongest current philosophical argument for God, has become strong only in recent years as our understanding of the fragility of a life-sustaining universe has expanded), to the discussion of how progress is made day to day and night to night (recognizing the essential nature of time and incremental changes in bringing us into the people the Lord wants us to be), all of it is worth pondering extensively.

Alma 49

(October 24, 2014)
                One weakness that I think many people of faith suffer from is an inability to understand evil.  We accept and understand that everyone is inherently good, because were it any different they would not have kept their first estate.  But one of the blessings of this Earth life is its capacity to enact rapid and dramatic change upon each of us – for the better and for the worse.  This was why we volunteered so readily to come to this mortal experience.

                As such, our understanding of the basic goodness of our fellow men is something that must be tempered with an understanding of the potential dramatic consequences of the fall.  I cannot imagine becoming so evil that I would curse God and Moroni and swear to drink Moroni’s blood.  After all, if I am cursing God doesn’t that by definition mean that I believe in God?  Of course, he believed in God – he had just arrived at a point in his life where he hated Him.  This level of evil exists in this world, and it is often hidden from our view.

                But, of course, we are not to judge each other – even when the actions a person takes is evil.  So what are we to do?  It is wrong to naively believe that all mankind is good and it is wrong to judge our fellow men as evil.  This, of course, leads us to the only choice that we have – trust in God.  We evaluate the situation as best as we can, and we come to the decision that we believe to be the best decision we can make.  Then, having made this decision, we take it to the Lord and ask for Him to confirm.  Then, barring a negative response, we act on our decision.  Not with malice nor with permanent condemnation, but rather with hope for the change and repentance of the person that we are acting against (if such a circumstance arises).  We must never believe someone beyond the reach of the Savior and we must never act against someone without taking the matter first to the Lord – but we must also not be unwilling to stand against evil (even when that evil is found in our brothers and sisters).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalms 13-18

(October 23, 2014)

                Life, at times, seems to be so complex and so difficult.  But reading in the Psalms today it became apparent that they aren’t so difficult after all.  So many aspects of life really come down to one simple question – temporal or spiritual?  Do we rely on temporal strength to get what we want, because it is predictable and within our control?  Or do we use appropriate methods to seek out what we want, knowing that the Lord we meet our needs and trusting in Him?  Do we seek out the temporal things of this world?  Or do we seek the things of a better world, yet to come?

Alma 48

(October 23, 2014)
                To understand this idea, I have to detail a basic idea of how I mark my scriptures.  I include underlines with various colors for personal application of the scriptures, brackets of various colors for the topic of the scriptures, and a vertical line for the type of scriptural discourse (psalm, storyline, editorial comment, parable, prophecy, words of the Godhead, etc.).  

                This pattern has been working quite well for some time, and in particular there are very few times I really need to think about what vertical line I need to use – and when I do need to think about it, it serves the very purpose of marking my scriptures (causing me to pay close attention to the text to identify exactly what is being said and by whom and why).

                All of that changes in one section of the Book of Mormon, though – the writings of the prophet Helaman as edited by Mormon.  I don’t know exactly the reason why, but Helaman’s writings edited by Mormon almost defy any attempt to differentiate between storyline and editorial comment.  I suppose it could be because the great amount of editorial comment included in Helaman’s writings, but I really doubt that.  Instead, I think that Helaman was self-depreciating to a point that became problematic for Mormon as an editor, so a substantial portion of Helaman’s writings needed to be edited in light of what Mormon knew (the signs are there, if you look).

                But the reasons why aren’t really the reasons I bring this up.  Instead, the reasons I bring this up is the sheer fact that when we pass from one writer in the Book of Mormon (Alma) to another (Helaman), the text changes so much that it is impossible to ignore.  Not changes that can only be detected by wordprint studies or similar metrics, but detected by a simple test of trying to discern whether a particular line contains storyline content or editorial comments.  Once again, this is something that I could not imagine Joseph Smith had the capacity or inclination to fabricate.

                While on the subject of the writers of various parts of the scriptures, it is interesting to me to see Helaman praising Moroni for his virtue and moral character.  Then we see Mormon intervene in what can only be described as an editorial on the editorial highlighting the virtues of Helaman (another reason why I believe that Helaman was self-depricating and Mormon was trying to rectify that).

                I had two other thoughts on this chapter.  The first were on the manner in which the Nephites were able to prosper – by staying close to the Lord they were able to discern when to flee and when to prepare for war.  I am in a situation where many people are telling me to flee, but I am not certain what the Lord wants from me.  I am preparing for war (metaphorically – fighting with towards a goal rather than against), but I am constantly seeking the Lord’s guidance on whether He wants me to prepare for war or to flee.  And, most importantly, I am clinging to the Lord’s promise that if I am called to prepare for war he will let me know how to defend myself (as He promised the Nephites).

                Finally, the response of the Nephites to the destruction of the Lamanites is instructive.  The Nephites knew the suffering the Lamanites would experience in the event that they went to war.  They knew (and lamented) that the Lamanites would be entering the next world unprepared.  But the Nephites also knew that what they were doing was necessary for the protection of their family and children.  In a similar way, I am in a position where I am trying to avoid a course of action that would bring a great deal of pain and heartache to someone, but that very person at times seems committed to taking the course that will lead them to pain and heartache.  I wish that I could help them to avoid that result, and it breaks my heart to see the choices this person is making, but ultimately it has to be each and every one of us who decide for ourselves.  As much as I might regret seeing the pain these decisions bring about, I have to make the correct decision in line with the Lord and what is best for my children and rely on the Lord to take care of the rest.

Psalms 7-12

(October 22, 2014)
                I loved the psalmist’s language of not prevailing with our lips.  Sometimes we see challenges in our lives (or opportunities, for that matter) as things to be seized by our own mortal, temporal capacities.  While it is true that we are to use our mortal means to accomplish these tasks whenever possible, we are not to rely on these means – we fight the battle the Lord asks us to fight and He wins the war.

                When we achieve some temporal goal (even a worthy one that appears spiritual) through temporal means, that success is false.  It is wrong, twisted in some way, and in my experience will always fall apart in the end.  It is like the missionary who converts through the force of personality or the temporal skills of persuasion rather than introducing his investigators to a genuine spiritual conversion.  Such a missionary might have success, but their converts more often than not fall away, lose touch, and are in a worse position than before because they now know the Gospel and are judged accordingly.  Far better to do the work, serve with your might, and let the Lord accomplish His own work such that the fruits of that work are the fruits that the Lord intends.

Alma 47

(October 22, 2014)
                It seems that we, from time to time, find ourselves in positions where it would seem achieving our goals require us to bend our principles – in this case, the accomplishment of the goal of avoiding war with the Nephites depended only on the king engaging in deception in warfare (something that would clearly be seen as a moral failure in a Mesoamerican society) and appointing a known traitor as his second.  But, I am sure the king thought, it would be better to choose to align myself with this devil to avoid death.

                Of course, when we are in that position it seems that the Devil (out of his desire for glee over our destruction) gives us the very thing we thought to avoid.  The king ultimately was killed by the very man he chose to keep him safe.  So too, if we seek to avoid some difficult circumstance or bad consequence, will find ourselves face to face with what we fear if we engage in unrighteous means to avoid it.

Psalms 1-6

(October 21, 2014)
                David, for all his flaws, demonstrates a powerful truth – we can stay faithful even when things are going horribly wrong.  David was faithful when Saul was trying to kill him.  He was faithful when Absalom was trying to kill him.  He stayed faithful in the desert and in the wilderness.  He was faithful standing against Goliath.  In fact, his moment of weakness and failure happened when he was a king comfortably residing in his kingdom.

                Looking at things in this way, I am more inclined to be grateful for my struggles and adversity because I could not predict how I would handle the successes that I might envision in my dreams.  In my adversity, however, I am grounded and maintain my faith in the Lord.

Alma 46

(October 21, 2014)
                Some of the most painful situations in life are those times when things are out of our control, but which lead to pain and suffering for those we love.  The classic example of a child who chooses to leave the Gospel comes to mind as the perfect demonstration of this.  When things like this happen, our first inclination is to self-evaluate (what should we have done?  what did we do wrong?), and I think that is healthy.

                But ultimately agency is such that there will be those that we love who make bad choices – it is inevitable.  Mormon was very clear to say that Helaman taught the people well, but the people abandoned the faith in droves anyhow.  If Helaman isn’t a good enough example, let us look to the perfect Father that we have over us – He is without sin, and yet how many of us His children have chosen a path contrary to His will and which will bring us pain and misery?

Job 40-42

(October 20, 2014)

                I see it as very instructive that Job spent the first parts of the book lamenting his circumstances and calling upon God to either take his life or bring him justice.  But after speaking with him, the Lord tells Job to pray for his friends.  It is only then – only when Job sets aside his own suffering and seeks out Divine assistance for those who oppressed him – that he was healed.  I think that this is something that we should all remember.  I wonder how many times my wounds stayed open, painful, and fresh because I would not pray for the healing of those who had wounded me (maliciously or accidentally)?

Alma 45

(October 20, 2014)
                In our modern society, with the facts (and spin on those facts) available at our fingertips, we tend to think knowledge and information is always a good thing.  Thus when President Packer spoke about some things being true but not particularly helpful, there were those even within the Church who spoke out against him and sought occasion to attack him as being repressive and a fallen Apostle.

                But look at what Alma does with his son Helaman.  He gives Helaman a truth, but instructs Helaman to hold this truth back.  It is clearly understandable why he holds this truth back – seeing the destruction of our posterity (or those who do not defect) who clearly steal a great deal of hope from those on the edges of the Gospel.  In my own mind, I realize that in a couple billion years everything on this planet will be destroyed, and I find that hard to deal with at times (irrational, I know).  Something more immediate would be even harder to deal with.

                So that is important to remember in our relationship with the General Authorities and our local Priesthood leaders – there may be truths that they do not tell us because it would not be helpful for us to know them.  Likewise, there are times when we pray for information that we think we ought to know, but the answers don’t come.  Sometimes it might be because the Lord is testing us, and sometimes it might be because we are unready or unworthy of His answer, but sometimes it might be because knowing the truth would not be helpful in us becoming who we need to become.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Job 37-39

(October 19, 2014)
                Here we have the Lord’s answer to Job’s questions, and it involves a heavy dose of repetition.  As I read these chapters, I began to find my mind drifting – recognizing that I understood the concept and wondered why it had to be driven home in the manner that it was.  But then I began to think, and I realized that these were the words of the Lord and not something to be trifled with.  If He believed, in His wisdom, that repetition was important than I ought to consider why He was repeating Himself.

                As I took that different approach and went back and reread some of the Lord’s words, it really struck me that He was repeating for emphasis.  He was, in effect, trying to break through Job’s intellectual understanding of the idea that we are nothing before God so as to allow Job to really feel and understand this concept.  Job was in the same position as I was – knowing but not really knowing – and the Lord’s use of repetition was designed to change that.

                As I allowed the Lord’s words to affect me the way they were designed to, I began to better feel just what the Lord was saying when He spoke of our nothingness before Him.  His power and His wisdom are so far beyond us that we don’t even know the right questions to ask.  All we can do is to throw ourselves at Him and hope for His mercy and Grace to envelope us and bring us line upon line towards Him and towards understanding.  But we cannot understand Him while seeing through the glass darkly – much less judge Him.

Alma 44

(October 19, 2014)
                When our plans fail, and we find ourselves in disaster or ruin, do we properly recognize what brought it about?  Do we look inward for the aspects of our character and our moral failures that brought about our downfall (and, by so doing, begin to extricate ourselves)?  Or do we, like the Lamanites, blame the ‘breastplates’ of our lives – those around us, circumstances, our family, our ecclesiastical leaders, or anyone we can find for what is going wrong in our lives?

                Suffering, tribulation, failure, adversity, and sorrow are part and parcel of the human condition.  They come from any number of sources, but they all share a common goal – each of them carry with them the capacity for drawing us closer to God, increasing the presences of His Spirit in our lives, and bringing us peace and knowledge of Him.  While it is unreasonable to believe our lives will be without challenges (or to uniformly assign moral blame for our adversity), if we are not drawing closer to God in our adversity (whatever the source) that is a problem with us and not with anyone or anything else.

                When I am suffering, I can sometimes see where that suffering is coming from – and sometimes I attribute it (correctly, in my mind) with sources outside of my control.  Nevertheless, I am suffering.  But if that suffering that I am experiencing is pushing me away from God, decreasing my peace and my faith, then that is a moral failure of my own and cannot be attributable to the person that put me in the situation to suffer in the first place.

                This is a lesson that I have learned at great cost.  I was fortunate to begin to see past my desire for blame and justification and to recognize that regardless of why I am in a particular situation I am still morally responsible for how I handle the situation once I am in it.  It has led to a couple of painful months of soul searching, but the rewards on the other side (when I can honestly say that I have been through suffering and the suffering has brought me closer to God) makes it all worthwhile.  It is a wonderful thing when I reached the point where I could kneel in prayer and genuinely thank the Lord for pain that I was desperate for Him to remove only a few months ago.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Job 35-36

(October 18, 2014)
                Elihu is fast becoming one of my heroes in the scriptures – I know so little about him, but to have acquired his wisdom at his young age he must have been an impressive man.  In these chapters, Elihu highlights something that I have recently discovered but illustrates a consequence of it that I hadn’t imagined.

                After fasting recently, I went to the Lord in prayer and asked Him for a blessing I felt in need of, and in the course of my prayer told Him that I had fasted for Him and thus I had hopes that I would receive the blessing I sought (sort of a Divine quid pro quo).  The Lord gently informed me of my error in thinking – it became obvious that my fasting really did nothing to benefit God, and was instead designed to benefit me.

                Elihu builds on that and develops some of the consequences.  There is no righteous act that we can perform that benefits God – anything that we do He could have accomplished at a word (and likely far better than we did it).  Likewise, our sins do not negatively affect Him at all – if He was injured by our sins, He could simply remove us from this Earth again at a word.

                The consequence of this, however, is something absolutely amazing.  I always knew intellectually that the Lord needs nothing from me, but I felt it as I read and thought about Elihu’s words in these chapters.  And if He needed nothing from us, then why His work and sacrifice on our behalf?  Love, of course – only His love.

                It struck me how far beyond me that God is.  It also struck me how grateful I ought to be that God, with all of His power and majesty and His unlimited virtue cares enough for me to care for me (even though I am unable to help Him in any way) – I really begin to get a glimpse of Divine charity.

                I feel like I am poorly expressing something that is very meaningful.

Alma 43

(October 18, 2014)
                There were a couple of interesting things in this chapter, but my mind focused on the Lamanites fighting like dragons as they became cornered.  As I am certain I have mentioned, I see the war chapters in the Book of Mormon as an extended metaphor for our personal war with sin (they are historical as well, but I believe they were included for the principles they teach us).

                Over and over in our lives, we will find ourselves in a battle with sin and with evil.  Oftentimes we will feel, as did Mormon in his day, that the battle is unwinnable and it will take Divine intervention to survive.  This, of course, is always true.  But at other times, we will find ourselves in a position similar to Moroni – our sins on the ropes as we fight and prevail at long last.

                It is at those times when we are particularly vulnerable.  The Lamanites here began fighting as dragons – sundering breastplates and cleaving helmets.  Likewise, when we feel we have a particular vice or weakness on the ropes it is the time to become extremely cautious as that vice will often attack with a newfound strength (or we will face an attack from Satan in a different direction).  Regardless, in my experience when we are close to overcoming a flaw in our life and making legitimate progress we will suffer a significant attack that we must withstand.  I have found that by expecting and preparing for this attack I am better able to resist it when it comes.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Job 31-34

(October 17, 2014)
                Elihu is an interesting character in Job.  Of all the characters, he alone escapes the criticism from the Lord at the end.  Job is criticized for asking in ignorance (not even understanding the question he is asking).  The other three elders are criticized and called to sacrifice for their words.  But Elihu is not – lending substantial weight to the words that he is saying.

                And in that light, we see that his words are profound and important.  He points out that when tragedy strikes, our first question should not be “why me?”, but rather “where is my sin and how can I repent?”.  This is the case even with a man such as Job – one upright in all things.

                The Lord does not idly cause us to suffer.  Even when our suffering is the natural consequence of the actions (or even the sins) of others, the Lord is perfectly just and not a tear from our eyes will be wasted.  Joseph Smith was certainly innocent of wrongdoing when he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail, and his captors were unquestionably evil.  And yet the Lord promised Joseph that all of these things would work out for his good.

                Elder Holland spoke of how that happened.  He spoke of Liberty Jail as a temple-prison, and the changes that were brought about in Joseph (and the Church) as a result of his imprisonment.  Understanding that this change constituted repentance (as does all change for the better), we can take courage in our suffering to know that our pain is an invitation from the Lord to repent.

                We can, as Elihu counsels, call upon the Lord to teach us that which we see not – those defects in our individual characters that need repentance to be healed – and we are then invited, as was Job, where we have done iniquity to do it no more.

Alma 42

(October 17, 2014)
                This has long been one of my favorite scriptures in the entire scriptures, not so much because of the individual language, but rather what it signifies.  Corianton fell away about as far as a man could fall away from the faith.  He had the consequences of his father and grandfather in drawing people to reject the Gospel (and the people were thereafter destroyed for their wickedness).  He had personal sins of great significance (perhaps something he shared with his grandfather, although the record is silent in that respect).

                And yet, after all of this, Alma closes by telling Corianton that he is still called to the work.  Sometimes when I look back at my life and the missed opportunities that I have had to do something worthwhile for the Lord (missed because I wouldn’t answer the call or I was simply unworthy to do what I should have been doing), I get the feeling that my moment has passed and I will never accomplish what the Lord sent me to Earth to accomplish.  My life, I feel at times, has become a failure.

                But this is the cunning of the Adversary to try to convince me of this.  I may never be a Prophet or Apostle, but let’s face it – it was highly unlikely that I would ever hold that position anyway.  But I can bear my testimony online and in Church meetings.  I can make comments in lessons.  I can make chili for the Ward party.  I can pick up less-active members for Church.  I can teach the Gospel to my children.  The Lord can have use for me.

                The only thing that might be lost forever as a result of my sins is the pride and praise of the world that I sought in my service, and frankly good riddance to that.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Job 28-30

(October 16, 2014)

                Job rightly understands the importance of wisdom and knowledge.  The only true knowledge and wisdom is what drives us to fear the Lord and depart from evil.  Some people seek knowledge and wisdom for other reasons – to gratify their pride, or their lusts, or increase their power.  Others seek knowledge to bless and benefit their fellow men and come closer to the Lord and avoid evil in their lives.  At times, the knowledge that they are both pursuing is the exact same knowledge (think of a lawyer studying the law to oppress those around him and another lawyer studying the same law to free those around him from oppression).  While the knowledge might be universally true, the wisdom component of that knowledge is not – the knowledge only benefits us if we use it to fear the Lord and depart from evil.

Alma 41

(October 16, 2014)
                I suppose it is common to think about what the hereafter will be like, and I have my own opinions, of course.  Considering the lack of entropy that I expect in the hereafter, and the expectation that I have of infinite space (otherwise, there could be no infinite progression as eventually there would be no place for anyone), I somewhat envision the hereafter as giving each and every person what they want.  And then they will receive the blessings or suffer the consequences of their choices according to natural law.

                If I were to design my hereafter right now, it would likely include a fair amount of video games, reading, and maybe even (if I am honest) time for some vices that I haven’t parted with yet.  Were I to receive what I want at this point, I would likely be thrilled but, in the long run, likely become very unhappy.  The Lord’s pattern for eternal happiness is service, family, and work.

                If I had all power, would that be the way I would structure and spend my eternity?  Not now…not yet.  That, I think, is the applicability of Alma’s teachings that those who desire evil will be rewarded with evil.  If someone desires evil, they will be given the capacity to receive what they want and it will shrink their soul and bring about their eternal suffering.  On the contrary side of things, if we seek out good and righteousness, we will be given the capacity to bring about good and righteousness over an eternity.

                I don’t presume to know how everything will work out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something akin to what I describe took place.  It is a bit frightening (I don’t know that I would choose the right thing if the choice was presented to me right now), but it is also comforting because as time goes on and I see changes in myself, I realize that who I am becoming is someone more likely to make the right choice if, in the end, the choice comes down to me (also consistent with Alma’s statement that they would be their own judges).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Job 22-27

(October 15, 2014)
                Two thoughts on this chapter.  The first is something that Job’s friends said – everyone sins.  This keeps getting alluded to, and it is, of course, doctrinally true.  But I have seen it recognized in two ways.  Sometimes people seem to say everyone sins in order to acknowledge and recognize our humility and unworthiness before the Lord.  I have also seen it, however, as a form of self-permissiveness (yes I sin, but everyone sins).  In the latter case, I have seen it become quite destructive.

                The second thought that I had was once again on vanity.  Nothing in this world really matters – it is all going away.  You can make no permanent impact on the world.  There is nothing that will last forever.  If we set our sights on vanity, that may be what we received (sometimes yes and sometimes no), but if we set our sights on the more important things we can have faith that we will get the help that we need.

Alma 40

(October 15, 2014)
                Whenever I read about judgment following this life, my mind will often turn to wishing that I just had the capacity to see the end from the beginning.  If the Veil wasn’t there, I would find everything so much easier to handle in mortality.  But as I think about it, I realize that this isn’t a bug, it is a feature (and my mind seems to go through the same process again and again each time – when I reach the conclusion, it makes me feel silly that I went through it again).

                If I knew the end from the beginning, things would be easy.  Too easy.  What would the challenge be if I knew the end from the beginning?  The very reason I would want to know everything is the very reason that I cannot possibly be allowed to know the end from the beginning.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Job 19-21

(October 14, 2014)
                Job is very quickly becoming my favorite book of scripture.  In these chapters, I was impressed by the language describing the temporal blessings of the wicked – because they aptly described where I was only a year ago.  Some of the language seemed to precisely describe things that I was thinking.  I thought myself having “arrived,” that I now had moved into a huge and wonderful house, and was ready to just enjoy and maintain what I had gathered and to ‘eat’ of the fruit of my labor.

                In this moment, when I was preparing to eat, the Lord snatched the food out of my mouth, so to speak.  I now find myself in a much different position than I was in last year.  By objective measures, you would think that it was worse in every way – no big house, no family, no possessions.  But I am growing ever-closer to the Lord, and I have felt and am feeling His influence in my life in a manner that exceeds any other time (including my mission).

                I have become very grateful over the past short while for the calamity that has happened.  I was on the road to destruction, and the Lord in snatching the ‘food’ from my mouth also snatched me from the mouth of Hell.  I am still amazed at what He did for me – I surely didn’t deserve to be saved from the destruction that I so rightly had brought upon myself.  And yet here I am, blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.  Perhaps not temporally right now (and perhaps never temporally), but spiritually.

Alma 38-39

(October 14, 2014)
                I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Alma to deal with the transgression of Corianton (or, for that matter, Alma the Elder dealing with the transgression of Alma the Younger).  But when push came to shove, in each instance, the leader of the family chose the Lord over his family.  Alma delivered the Lord’s message to Corianton, even though he must have worried about Corianton turning away forever.

                It is hard for me to escape some of the trappings of the Gospel.  The fruits of Gospel living, as I have understood them, are happy and healthy families, children raised in the Gospel, and intact homes.  Now those fruits are in doubt, and they are in doubt at the very time when I am putting my life in order and living the Gospel the way that I should have been living all along.  It is tough for me to see that these fruits of Gospel living aren’t actually guaranteed for choosing to live the Gospel.

                Like Alma, each of us may be put in the position of choosing the Lord or choosing something that we believe is attached to or a blessing from Gospel living.  And each of us must be prepared to choose the Lord in that situation, or in the end we will lose everything else we chose no matter what.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Job 17-18

(October 13, 2014)
                When I read Job, I am always struggling to understand what exactly is so wrong with the friends that causes the Lord to criticize them in the end.  Yes, their ‘punishment’ is a sacrifice to draw them closer to the Lord, but it is also clear that their arguments are inappropriate.

                For a long time, I think my thoughts were that what they were doing was wrong because they were relying on an intellectual approach to the Gospel (not called the Gospel at the time of Job, of course).  They were arguing as sophists, such that even though their arguments were mostly correct, they had been reached the wrong way and thus were in error in minor (but significant) ways.

                But this time, I am thinking that there is something altogether different which is the cause of their error.  These men – men clearly well-versed in the Lord’s Law – sought to bring Job into compliance with what they thought was correct through confrontation rather than persuasion.  They told Job he was incorrect, and fought against him through their words.

                Knowing what we know about contention, even if we are right if we pursue that ‘rightness’ through contention the Spirit will leave us and we will be lost.  This is such a hard lesson to internalize, but I think this is the primary fault of the three friends who advise Job.  If they sat to teach (or even just to comfort), rather than sat to win, they would be in a much better place.

                The other thought that I had was on the language that he with a clean heart will grow stronger and stronger.  For a long time, when I was trapped in sin, I looked at a ‘clean heart’ as the end goal.  If I could overcome my sins and escape the clutches of my worst weaknesses, I would be good.  That was the goal.  But as I have finally escaped, I realize that being clean is not the goal, it is the starting point.  Since I have become clean, I have found the Lord working with and through me far more than at any point when I was unclean.  I have more spiritual experiences in a month now than I did in years before.  I understand the concept of righteousness bubbling up like a well, because I feel that in my life.  Rather than each day, my efforts only going towards fending off the destruction of my soul through sin, my efforts are finally building something – changing me, changing my nature, increasing my capacity, and increasing those characteristics that I have long desired to develop.

Alma 37

(October 13, 2014)
                I had a number of thoughts as I read through this chapter today.  The first was on the Plan of Salvation.  I have always looked at the plan as something perfect and inalterable – that every possible contingency has been prepared in advance and the end is inevitable from the beginning.  The Lord understands our agency and our personalities and can thus place us in position to respond in such a way that His work is accomplished.

                This is what I envisioned when Alma spoke of small and simple means bringing about great things.  There is the idea that the flapping of a butterfly wing in Mexico 7,000 years ago can set into motion a series of events that leads to a hurricane in Thailand in our modern day, and I suppose that was my understanding of the Plan – all of these small things have been perfectly taken into account and the end result is therefore assured unto the Lord.

                But that took a hit today, as I read Alma’s counsel to Helaman concerning what would happen if he were to disobey the Lord.  In the past when I had seen statements like these, it made me think that the Lord had already planned for everything, but if Helaman made one choice it would affect him one way (the Plan moving forward) or another choice would affect him a different way (again, the Plan moving forward).

                But I noted this time that Alma chooses to preface his statement here with the language that he is making the fact that Helaman could lose the plates plain by the spirit of prophecy.  A prophet, who had accomplished what he had accomplished, was speaking expressly by the spirit of prophecy.  There is no other reason for that language there other than Alma clearly indicating that the Plan could change.

                I don’t know that I understand all the implications of this, but it will dramatically affect my worldview.

                The other thoughts that I had were on First Amendment issues and following the Lord.  Regarding the First Amendment, there is the theory that the solution to bad speech is not censorship but rather more speech.  But Alma clearly shows that this principle is untrue.  I think that I have seen this very same conclusion before (maybe in this very chapter).  Regarding obedience, Alma states that it is easy to give heed to the words of the Lord.  I must be guilty, because I take that truth to be hard.  I feel at times to be desperately looking for the words of Christ so that I can know what I am to do and how I am to serve.  Then, when I find them, they are often anything but easy to heed.  I suppose that says something about me, but at the same time I can take some confidence in that the longer I pursue the Lord, the easier it has become to both find his words and heed them.

Job 15-16

(October 12, 2014)
                I love the language that he that trusts in vanity will receive vanity in return.  Knowing that vanity means temporal things, this scripture seems to be a nugget of the purest truth.  It is hard to see others who are making bad choices seem to be blessed temporally while we may be struggling temporally.  We see opportunities that we can take to circumvent certain temporal limitations – all it would require would be to deviate from the truth a little bit.  We can take a shortcut – we see those around us doing it all the time and they receive what we desire.

                But when we take shortcuts to achieve what we want – and even when we put the temporal things we want first – we are trusting in vanity.  And even if we receive what we want, it will likewise be vanity.

                This is true in a spiritual context as well.  I have seen those missionaries who have attempted to convert people through manipulative tactics.  Their trust in their persuasive force is a trust in vanity, and the net result might be baptisms but the conversions are often shallow, social, and temporary.  They trusted vanity, and they received vanity as their reward.

                I have seen this in other families where the children have gone astray – the parents have trusted in vanity to raise their children (even in the Gospel), and the children have then left the Church because their testimonies were only vanity.  What is particularly painful, of course, is how I did the very same thing (and, even more frustratingly, I am constantly slipping back into the habits of the past – fortunately less so, but it still happens).  I used techniques to achieve what I thought were righteous ends, but these techniques were nothing more than trusting in vanity – and, not surprisingly, my reward was vanity and a temporal and shallow and superficial and temporary result.  Now, having see my error and mistake, I am left to wonder if this mistake is permanent.  But whether it is or is not, the lesson learned is the same – he who trusts vanity receives vanity as a reward.  As I do not want vanity as my reward, I cannot trust vanity as a means regardless of how easy that would seem to be.

Alma 35-36

(October 12, 2014)
                My mind in my scripture study the past several days has seemed to encounter this principle of justice a number of times.  It struck me again today as I read through these chapters.  Alma explicitly states that he was saved not from any worthiness of his own.  Knowing his history, we see that this was true – he was actively trying to destroy the Church of God, and was doing a good job of it.  He participated in the destruction of souls – there are more than likely children of God who would have returned to Him but for Alma, but because of Alma’s influence these same children are precluded from returning to Him.  It is impossible to judge this with a certainty, of course, but it seems likely.

                If that is the case, what conception of justice allows for Alma to return to the presence of God?  The only reason Alma was saved was because of the prayer and fasting of his father, Alma.  Alma the Elder converted at the words of Abinidi, but Alma the Younger almost seems like a nepotism salvation.

                Of course, this isn’t the case in at least two important ways.  First, we cannot criticize the justice of God because God is merciful to each of us in ways of His choosing.  The demands of justice have been paid through the Atonement in all ways, and whomever mercy extends to deserves it through the merits of Christ.  It is a nepotism salvation, but so are the salvations of each and every one of us – we are saved because of our Brother rather than ourselves.

                The second way it is not the case is the life Alma chose to live after the angel came to him.  An angelic visitation is not a sufficient condition for repentance – see Laman and Lemuel and countless others for this truth.  I have certainly seen things that would seemingly make anyone believe, but yet I was not converted until this last year.  I had a testimony of the Gospel (not as strong of one as I thought, but it was there), but when push came to shove I found that testimony retreating in the face of opposition.  Recalling the prior miracles that I had experienced was not enough for me to turn the tide – I could have been a Laman or a Lemuel.  Fortunately the Lord helped me become an Alma instead.  But that is just the thing – Alma became an Alma as well.  He chose the right path after his experience, and that is why it is entirely appropriate based upon what we know for him to receive the blessing we expect that he is to receive.

Job 11-14

(October 11, 2014)
                Is there any truer statement in the scriptures than the fact that God exacts less of us than our iniquity deserves.  I am in a bit of a unique position (at least as I see it).  I don’t deserve some of the challenges in my current situation – I am where I am, in large part, because of a false witness raised against me.  But, at the same time, I am also in my position because of decades of personal failures that led to the false witness being effective in putting me where I am today.

                But for the false witness, I wouldn’t be in my difficult circumstances.  But for my personal failings, I wouldn’t be in my difficult circumstances.  While both are necessary preconditions for the challenges that I am facing, I think that I want to ignore my culpability for a moment as I consider this, because much suffering in the world is completely independent of moral responsibility and that is the suffering that is hard to deal with.  I understand suffering because I was wrong – it is harder to deal with suffering because someone else was wrong.

                This statement, though (God exacts less of us than our iniquity deserves) is still true, even when we suffer at the hands of others.  Leave aside my participation in the situation that has led to my current difficulties – have I not sinned in other ways?  Even if my current situation was entirely attributable to the false witness, then I still would suffer less than I deserve because the suffering I deserve is eternal damnation, along with being handed over to the Devil to sift in mortality.  One sin, one mistake, and what I deserve is horrific.

                I have struggled, and these struggles have been mostly successful, to let go of any animosity towards those who falsely witnessed against me.  I have tried to understand their point of view (while I do not believe that it was a wholly innocent mistake – it may have been in the beginning but their continued testimony against me after the evidence came in was not innocent – I do believe that they were operating under a desire to protect others and do good), and I have fasted and prayed to be able to let go of any negative feelings towards them.  They aren’t all gone, but they are far less than they used to be, and I consider that a blessing from the Lord to me.

                I would be foolish – incredibly foolish – to demand justice for them, because that would hand me right over to Satan to drag me here and there in mortality and own me in the life to come.  This would be true even if I was completely and totally innocent in this situation, because there are other situations where I am not innocent and where justice condemns me totally.  Instead of focusing on them, I choose to focus on myself.  It has been all I could do to correct myself and change myself – I leave the rest to the Lord to deal with.

Alma 34

(October 11, 2014)
                My understanding of prayer is far from what it needs to be.  On the one hand, I think I understand fairly well the process by which the Lord instructs us through prayer.  My whole life I have sought out to know the will of the Lord through prayer, and while I still have a long way to go in this respect, I think that my foundation is secure enough to continue to build upon.

                But what about praying to the Lord for a specific result?  I don’t know that I really understand that.  For example, I would love to have certain people do certain things that would resolve many things that cause me no end of worry.  But these things are impacted by the agency of others.  In fact, there is very little that I can pray for that I need that is not impacted by the agency of others.

                But reading this chapter, I think that there is nothing wrong in praying for things that are impacted by the agency of others if we both respect that agency and respect that the Lord’s will must be done.  I can remember clearly a prayer that was only recently answered where I prayed for a certain person to contact me.  That person called me out of the blue some 40 minutes later.  That person had agency, and in their agency they could have chosen not to call.  But the Lord prompted and they responded and I was blessed by my asking.

                By the same token, there are things that I think are important to have happen for both me and those that I love.  There is agency involved – I cannot simply ask for others to choose what I would have them choose.  But what I can do is ask the Lord for them to do what I see as important and necessary.  Then, with the Lord as intermediary, I do not need to worry about unrighteous dominion or inappropriately affecting the agency of others, because such unrighteous requests would simply be ignored by the Lord (hopefully with some education to me in the process so that I do not make similar mistakes in the future).

                With that understanding, I can see that there is no problem in asking for things through prayer which are dependent on the exercise of the agency of others, so long as we respect that agency and that our prayers (even if righteous) may not be answered because the agency of another is a higher value than even our desperate prayers, and because we can trust the Father to not interfere with the agency of another simply because we might ask amiss.

Job 7-10

(October 10, 2014)
                This is the first time I have read Job when I have felt like I had been in a somewhat similar position – a position where I have felt like I was losing everything that mattered.  Other than the boils (thankfully), I have felt like I have lost my family and my temporal blessings in a single moment – what happen to Job through theft happened to me through false witnessing and my own failures of the past, but the net effect is much the same.

                Unlike Job, I am not a perfectly upright man.  But having gone through my experience, I can see some of the ways that I thought being reflected in Job.  I can see the overwhelming depression that Job experiences, and how that depression affected his testimony of the Lord.  In many ways, it seems that Job has held on to his knowledge of the Lord, but struggles to hold on to his trust in the Lord – having it one moment, losing it the next.  Again, this is something that I am only too familiar with, having gone through a somewhat similar situation.

                Depression and damage to our testimonies go hand in hand.  I don’t know if it is a situation where depression causes our testimony to be weakened, or whether it is a situation where our weakened testimony causes depression.  Personally, and I can only speak from my experience, my testimony ran up against the full weight of my depression as I considered the cost of maintaining faithfulness to the Lord, and in that position my testimony collapsed.  Then that collapsed testimony only added to the depression that I suffered from, and the negative cycle built until I was on the border of being lost forever and only an exercise of my moral agency to choose to believe was sufficient to pull be back from the razor’s edge of destruction.

                Depression is a scary, scary thing.  After my experiences of the past year, I spend a large portion of my efforts maintaining my testimony in every way that I can (I never want to be in the position I was in where I was nearly lost).  I also spend time, through exercise, diet, proper sleep habits, and chamomile tea, to manage and prevent depression so that it never threatens my testimony again.

Alma 33

(October 10, 2014)
                The Gospel is truly a simple process.  It is no wonder it is compared to looking at the brass serpent of Moses.  We tend to complicate it in our efforts to learn and understand the nature of the world we live in and the nature of the eternity we hope to enjoy.  We think of ‘angels on the heads of pins’ rather than looking to the Lord and living.

                There are more things that we need to correct in our life right now than we can possibly correct.  We each have sins and weaknesses and character defects and blind spots.  Even if we put forth our full efforts to correct those things that we know that are wrong in ourselves, we would be in a hopeless position, because we cannot see what we cannot see, and we do not know what we do not know.

                Instead, our task is a simple one – we must look to God and live.  While thinking about the Gospel is productive, we must always defer to the Captain of our souls.  If we approach Him, and ask Him in humility what we should do, He will teach us, empower us, and help us to know.  If we then carry out His instructions, we will find ourselves with more capacity to follow the next time.  And line upon line we will increase our ability to walk in His footsteps, by following His guidance on what we should do and when we should do it.

Job 5-6

(October 9, 2014)
                When we face adversity, often the very last thing we think of is to be grateful.  But that is such an important aspect of mortality.  Can we be happy when the Lord is correcting us?  We really need to develop that capacity.  I have recently been hard at work to develop an appropriate spirit of gratitude for the things that the Lord has given me that I like.  He has strengthened my testimony and helped me overcome my weaknesses.  He has blessed me temporally, such that even with everything going wrong in my life I find myself safe and relatively comfortable after the manner of the world.  I have enough food to eat and a bed to sleep in.  I am blessed more than most of the world.

                But there is more that I need to be thankful for.  I need to be thankful for the fact that I am in one of the most difficult situations in my life.  I need to be thankful for the pain that I have felt in the past, and the changes to my character that this pain helped me to achieve, and especially for the reduction and elimination of this pain as I have become stronger through His Grace.  It is an important thing to acknowledge – we need to be grateful to Him for our pain and grateful to Him for our relief.

Alma 32

(October 9, 2014)
                What struck me in this chapter was the necessity of patience.  I have, in my day, cried to the Lord for an immediate answer to a desperate prayer – an answer that I thought that I needed at that precise moment, or else all was lost.  A time or two, He has even answered me immediately.  But most of the times He answered my prayer, but did so at the time and place of His choosing rather than mine.  Those times when He did answer me right away seem less about the answer being necessary to perform His work, and more about communicating to me that He hears me and knows me.

                There is no substitute for patience in dealing with the Lord.  Whether it is building our testimony or changing our nature, there is nothing that will cause us to instantly become what we want and need to become.  There is no shortcut on the strait and narrow path.  I know what I want to happen in my life in so many areas, but I am also beginning to understand that those that are even possible to receive must be received in the Lord’s time.  In the meantime, I can take comfort in the slow but inexorable growth that I feel within my soul as I take those steps that the Lord has asked me to take.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Job 1-4

(October 8, 2014)
                Sometimes we may feel that we are losing something temporally – toys, land, money in the bank, and so forth.  These things that we see ourselves gaining and losing, however, never really existed.  Job’s understanding of things was far better in his time of extremity than mine typically is – naked came we into the world and naked will we leave, the only thing that matters is our relationship to Christ and our capacity to turn our will over to Him.

                The other thought was on the importance of holding to our beliefs.  When we believe, it is inevitable that we will be tested in that belief by adversity and even by well-meaning friends or family members steeped in the philosophies of men (and we will likewise challenge our family members and friends).  But it is important that we hold to our beliefs and allow the Lord to teach us, and to allow others to hold to their beliefs and allow the Lord to teach them.

                It does no good to anyone for others to sit around and tell them how they are wrong.