Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ezekiel 23

(February 26, 2015)
                There is a very important principle hidden in this chapter, and it is a principle that is not just limited to this portion of the scriptures but is found throughout (particularly mentioned in Alma).  Ultimately, the Lord will give us what we want.  The trouble is, what we want generally speaking leads to our damnation because we are a lost and fallen people.

                That is why our concern with justification is misguided at times.  Being justified by the Lord is an important and necessary first step, but it is ultimately just the first step.  Being justified will not be sufficient to get us where we need to get to in order to partake of Exaltation.  As long as we want wickedness, in any form or fashion, we are unfit for eternity because we will ultimately get what we want.

                That is why it is so necessary that we allow the Atonement to change our fallen natures.  Being justified allows us to have sufficient interactions with the Spirit to apply the Atoning Grace of the Savior into our lives and allows Him to sanctify us (with our continuing effort).  But just being clean means nothing if we are only going to get dirty again tomorrow.  While in mortality, that is inevitable.  But we need to be constantly progressing so that we stay cleaner longer, get dirty less often (and less badly), and most importantly that we learn to love and want to be clean.

Mosiah 7

(February 26, 2015)
                Discouragement in myself is a constant challenge.  C. S. Lewis (if I may paraphrase) said that true humility comes when we have put forth our best efforts to be righteous and find how very far we fall short of that aspiration.  While I cannot speak to the humility aspect of this, I can say that I am only too aware of how far I fall short despite my best efforts.

                And yet, there was a line that struck me in my reading in this chapter that I hadn’t noticed before that I recall.  Limhi, speaking to his people, stated that “notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.”  I don’t know how I read that so many times and didn’t analogize it to personal repentance before now.

                Notwithstanding my many attempts to attack bad habits, character weaknesses, and so forth (not all of which have been in vain – I am grateful for the progress which the Lord has given to me – but some of which have been in vain), nevertheless I trust that there remains an effectual struggle to be made against those weaknesses, failures, and habits.  The Lord’s arm is not shortened by my failures of the past, and He still has the capacity to help me through to the extent I am willing to turn my will and live over to Him.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The MWI (or Anthropic Principle) Corollary Argument for God

Lately I have been going through some of the basic arguments for the existence of God.  I have thus far gone through four of them:

The Mechanical Argument for God
The Cosmological Argument for God
The Teleological Argument for God
The Entropic Argument for God

Today I am going to refute one of the major counter-criticisms to these arguments and show how the proponents of them unknowingly bolster the case for the existence of God.

There could not be anything without a cause (the Cosmological Argument).  Whatever existed should have deteriorated into background radiation at a constant level (the Entropic Argument).  And everything has been precisely fine-tuned for life in this universe (the Teleological Argument).  There is very little disagreement about any of these points even among reductive materialists.  This is why atheists rarely provide arguments for their positions -- instead they usually bring up Russell's teapot or Flying Spaghetti Monsters (both almost uniformly raised incorrectly) to distract from the absence of evidence in support of atheism.

Some atheists do, however, attempt to create counterarguments.  One way atheists often seek to get around these inconvenient facts is by positing the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics.  This states that there are an infinite number of worlds such that all possible histories and futures exist.  This is then combined with the anthropic principle, which states that only a universe observable by an intelligent observer would be observed and thus the fact that we are observing the universe makes its existence, however improbable, a mathematical certainty.

There are a number of problems with this argument.  It shows the desperation among many to remove God through any mechanism possible, but even worse it is religion passed off as science.  Those who adhere to the Many Worlds Interpretation do so with no empirical evidence (indeed, such evidence would be impossible).  They really give the game away a bit -- the atheistic advocates of such an argument are willing to cast off any notion of being scientists, and instead have engaged in mental gymnastics to interpret the data in any way that they can conceive of to deny the existence of God.

But therein lies the irony -- they have not disproved God at all.  In fact, a basic corollary of the anthropic principle is that God must exist.  The Many Worlds Interpretation insists that any possible past and any possible future are both existent.  The formation of a perfect being (God) who then sets out to create mankind is just such a possibility.  The sacrifice of His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, is likewise such a possibility.  The resurrection of this perfect Son is a possibility.  As possibilities, then they are certainties in some universe under the Many Worlds Interpretation.

You can see the awkward position that this puts the atheist into.  They attempt, through a non-disprovable hypothesis, to answer data that leads via Occam's Razor to the conclusion that God exists.  This answer requires acceptance of a conclusion for which evidence not only is absent, but for which evidence is impossible.  Then, assuming that they are correct, they will have only demonstrated that somewhere God exists.

To be clear, I don't ascribe to the Many Worlds Interpretation myself, and thus I do not think this is a conclusive proof of the existence of God.  What I think it does show is that one of the only ways an atheist has of avoiding the evidence for God (which, despite was you might read or hear, is overwhelmingly in favor of His existence) is to prepare a different theory which, if true, even then proves the existence of God.

Ezekiel 21-22

(February 25, 2015)
                I had a couple of thoughts when reading through these chapters.  The first was on the perspective of Babylon through this time period.  They were engaging in divining (false divining), but they though that the gods were on their side.  They conquered Israel, which gave them every reason to think that they were on the right side of the conflict (the right side of history?).  I dare say that very few citizens of Babylon would look at the captives from Israel and recognize that their God was the One True God and the Savior of the world.

                And yet He was.  The people of Israel, in their misery and captivity, had something that Babylon did not.  For all of her wealth and power and influence, Babylon was destined to fall and her people were destined for destruction (spiritual as well as physical).

                This is something that is important for me to remember at this time in my life.  I am in a point where my enemies (and it is hard to admit that I truly have enemies – sadly) who seek my destruction are ascendant in many ways.  They believe that they are in the right, and have rationalized their behavior to themselves to the point where they could do just about anything to me (however painful) and feel they were still justified.

                But I have been blessed with perspective that the children of Israel did not have – I am fortunate enough to have their story before me.  And I know that, in an eternal perspective, the children of Israel should have looked upon their Babylonian captors with pity instead of anger.  And I am trying my very best to do the same (with varying levels of success).  And I know that the children of Israel should likewise have been grateful for their captivity for the blessing that it brought to them and future generations, and in that respect I am again doing my best to do the same.

                The other thought that I had was about the purpose of the Babylonian captivity and dispersion.  God acknowledged that He was doing what He was doing to destroy the wickedness out of His people.  So many times our fiercest challenges amount to nothing more than God working to destroy the wickedness out of us.  The only question is whether our hearts can endure and our hands be strong, or whether we will turn from Him and not allow Him to do His work with us.  He loves us completely, and He has provided us a perfect Plan.  Thus anything that goes wrong, regardless of the cause (those around us, the weather, or even an approaching Babylonian army) will all work out to our benefit if we continue to love God.

Mosiah 5-6

(February 25, 2015)
                I cannot speak for everyone, but for myself I have a massive capacity for self-deception.  I am clever enough to rationalize myself into any situation I choose and make myself feel like I am morally justified.  It is only in the past couple years that I have genuinely become aware of the depth of this issue and begun to fight it tooth and nail (and, by so doing, come to see just how common such self-deception is amongst all of us).

                So knowing the truth is an important skill.  The scriptures are one tool, and prayer is another.  But this chapter highlights another way that we can know the truth and avoid self-deception – the truth will always fill us with a desire to do good.  When I am lying to myself, I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of rationalization and justification which leaves me willing to ignore the obvious consequences of my actions (that they lead to less charity, less forgiveness, less kindness, and so forth).  But when I am facing the truth squarely, even if that truth is uncomfortable or painful, I find it provides me with a great deal of power and desire to do good for those around me.  Thus this desire to bless others, escape from selfishness, and do good becomes a key of sorts to show me when I am being honest with myself and others.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ezekiel 20

(February 24, 2015)
                There is a common refrain from those antagonistic to religion that religion destroys self-esteem and lowers our capacity to act positively on our own behalf.  But this chapter illustrates that there really are only two ways of looking at our souls (deep down).  We either see ourselves in our own nothingness before God or we are filled with regret and self-loathing at our own unrighteousness.  There is no middle ground.

                I know (from experience, sadly) that we can lie to ourselves to the point where we can believe that there is a middle ground available to us.  We cover our regret and self-loathing with any number of ready-made, satanic blinders – anger, fear, self-righteousness, pride, lust, and so on.  But these are numbing agents, or serve only to distract us from the pain that our self-loathing brings in our heart.

                In contrast, recognizing our own nothingness before God would seem to be destructive to our self-esteem and our happiness.  But this recognition is a recognition of the truth, and the truth is a blessing rather than a curse.  Because when we recognize that we are nothing before God, and when we understand that despite the enormous gulf between Him and us, that He still loves us and will empower us to accomplish His work for us, we suddenly acquire true confidence – not self-confidence, but confidence in God.  This is the confidence that brings peace and brings power.

Mosiah 4

(February 24, 2015)
                There are certain truths that we encounter over and over again and which we struggle to truly recognize in our lives.  Charity for the less fortunate is one of those for me – I read this chapter and my conscience justifiably condemns me.  When this happens, there are two choices we each are given – do we repent, or do we rationalize.  I hope that I can repent.

                Knowing the right amount to give is a difficult matter, but I think that there is a good rule of thumb in the writings of C. S. Lewis.  Recognizing this difficulty, Professor Lewis stated that regardless of how much we have we must be in a position where there are things which we very much want to have or to do which we cannot have or do because of our charitable giving.  I give when it is convenient, but I don’t give to this level an it is something that I need to work on.

                The other thought that struck me, and it strikes me just about every time I read this chapter, is the importance of wisdom and order in our progression.  I so want to take giant steps forward in my progress, and I have been blessed to take those giant steps a couple of times.  There have been sins that were holding me back, and I have been able (with the Lord’s help) to abandon those sins and by so doing have felt a huge leap in my relationship with the Lord.

                But, in my experience, the feeling of abandoning a specific sin holding us back is different than the steady, incremental growth in our character.  Both are necessary, but the growth is something that we almost never see because the more we grow towards our Savior the more we recognize our insignificance before Him (our sole value is that He loves us).  While it would be nice to be the person that I want to be all at once, that is not the nature of the Lord’s plan.  Instead, I am called to do what the Lord wants me to do today, and by so doing I will be a little better prepared to do what the Lord wants from me tomorrow.  If I can do this long enough, and often enough, I can become what He wants me to ultimately become.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ezekiel 18-19

(February 23, 2015)
                Some people read the Old Testament (or, more particularly, don’t read the Old Testament but rather read about it) and spend their time criticizing the Lord for being evil, vengeful, and so forth.  They talk about the ‘terror texts’ and how the God of the Old Testament is not a God that they want to serve.

                Of course, this either shows their unfamiliarity with the workings of the Lord or their anger at the Lord for daring to tell them what to do.  The God of the Old Testament is the God of Ezekiel – a God that longs for His people to accept Him and live according to His commandments because He loves them and wants them to be happy.  He does not delight in the destruction of His people (even when it is necessary), but rather He strives to give those people opportunities to repent.

Mosiah 3

(February 23, 2015)
                It continually amazing me how I can read a scripture over and over and over and still miss basic pieces of it.  For example, I had read this scripture I don’t know how many times but it never dawned on me that the verse on the natural man being an enemy to God was not prepared by Benjamin – it is still coming from the language of the angel.

                I don’t know if that makes any particular difference in the grand scheme of things, but I feel somehow that it does.  Rather than a mortal (albeit a prophet) talking about how our basic nature is in conflict with God, we instead have a Heavenly Being communicating that to us.  It seems to give the statement more power, in some respect, because the angel is freed from this mortal nature and thus able to more directly comment on that nature and its antagonism towards Divinity.

Ezekiel 17

(February 22, 2015)
                Trusting in the arm of flesh is a weakness that we all seem to fall into sooner or later.  The phrase is one that we traditionally look at as trusting in our own strength, rather than trusting in the Lord.  This is certainly valid, but there is a great deal more to the phrase than that.  Just as the ancient Jews trusted in Egypt instead of the Lord, we today look to the arms of others instead of the Lord.

                When we are unhappy, we choose to look to life coaches, psychology, or entertainment rather than repentance.  When we are sick, we may go to a dozen doctors before a single prayer is uttered.  When we need professional help we hire marketers or accountants or whoever we think that we need.  It is not that there isn’t a place for all of these, but they should never be our primary source for strength – God must remain the sole Person that we trust.  To the extend we put an ‘expert’ before the Lord, regardless of that expert’s qualifications, we are trusting in the arm of flesh.

Mosiah 2

(February 22, 2015)
                King Benjamin must have been a remarkable man.  The description he gives of himself and his determination to live the Gospel is impressive in its own right, but made even more impressive by comparison with the culture that existed around him.  Sometimes we may feel as though we are prisoners of our cultures – the perceptions and expectations being too much for us to overcome in our lives.  But Benjamin is an example that this isn’t always the case.  Whatever the sins of our culture (and they certainly are many), they don’t include human sacrifice and the illusion of divinity of our kings.  This is what Benjamin had to deal with, and he responded as a man of God.

                It is almost cliché that the child actor will fall into drugs and sex and destroy their lives because it is impossible to have that level of power and not be twisted by it (especially at such a young age).  But the rulers in this time period had not only that power, but the literal power over life and death.  It is no wonder that so many kings of Judah lived unrighteously.  And yet Benjamin shows us that even this is not determinative – if we choose God, we are given that ability to make that choice any time in any culture under any set of circumstances.

Ezekiel 16

(February 21, 2015)
                It is easy to point the finger of shame at Israel and to think of ourselves as wiser and more righteous than they were.  In part, I would expect, that is true – after all, we have the benefit of history to see the result of many of their mistakes.  But we make our own set of mistakes today that must be comparable to the ones that ancient Israel made.

                The Jews used to seek out strength by adopting the practices of other nations.  But now we find that the modern children of Israel (us) seek out strength through the philosophies of men.  We seek to accept our politics as our guide and use our religion to bolster those political ideas.  Or we seek to take our professional or philosophical ideas as our gods and use religion to bolster them.

                It takes a great deal of effort to accept that regardless of what we might think intellectually, professionally, politically, or philosophically all of these things must ultimately be secondary to the truth that has been revealed to us spiritually.  If the Bible and Book of Mormon are true (and they are), then that leads to certain uncomfortable, unpopular, and almost unpalatable consequences that we will need to accept in our lives.  Because the truth is the truth, and we have a culture that had gone astray from that truth.  No matter how much we might think we are isolated from that culture, we have accepted much of it unquestioningly and our best hope for freeing ourselves from this self-imposed blindness is to recognize that when those cultural assumptions crash headlong into the doctrine it is culture that must bend.

Mosiah 1

(February 21, 2015)
                There must be a great deal of significance to the fact that the Brass Plates were written in Egyptian.  For a long time, this was considered a demonstrable flaw in the Book of Mormon (because no self-respecting Jew, the story goes, would write sacred text in Egyptian).  But this record traces back to at least the time of Joseph in Egypt, and the particular passages that he wrote likely exist in this record but not the Bible in part because this record traces its history back to Egypt.

                There has always been a connection between Egypt and the Gospel – both good and bad.  Egypt was the host of the covenant people several times in her history.  Christ came out of Egypt, and that cannot have been an accident.  But Egypt is also the prime example of false Priesthood and the modern (comparatively speaking) example of the sins of Babel – Pharaoh set himself against first Abraham, then Moses.  I think there is a deeper significance there that ought to be examined, and the Brass Plates being kept in Egyptian is a part of that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ezekiel 13-15

(February 20, 2015)
                I was struck by a pair of ideas from these chapters.  The first of these was the reinforcement of the idea of idols within our hearts.  I can only judge myself, but it is apparent to me that I spend far too much time dedicated to the idols in my heart and not enough time and energy worshipping the living God.  Whether those idols are sports or games or even anger and resentment and bitterness and fear (or any other negative emotion) – each of these are also idols, because we carry them in our heart when the Lord has asked us not to.

                The other thought was the idea that allows us to be free from these idols – that, given time, we will see that things were not done without cause.  The day will come, we understand, that every knee will bow and every tongue confess.  But a necessary part of that is that each of us must recognize that each and every thing that happened was done for a reason.  We will ultimately reach the point where we understand that, but in the meantime this is something that we can accept by faith – and by accepting by faith we become empowered to trust the Lord and let go of the idols of our hearts.

Words of Mormon 1

(February 20, 2015)
                One thing that is important, as we look for evidences in the text of the Book of Mormon, is to not become so enamored with a particular apologetic argument that we lose the capacity to discard it when it is no longer convincing.  The Book of Mormon is divine scripture, even if each and every evidence that we now believe we have for the book turned out to be wrong.  The danger of holding on to intellectual arguments for the book is that we can often be placed in the position of either irrationally holding on to false beliefs based upon that evidence or appropriately discarding the evidence and being left weakened in our testimony as a result.

                The middle ground must be our place of refuge.  We can take comfort from the evidences that we find, but must remember that these evidences are ultimately all manifestations of the arm of flesh and do not substitute for a testimony.  For example, I have frequently looked at the Words of Mormon as a bridge based upon where it is in the text and where it was on the plates.  As far as we can tell, it was the tail end of the entire plates (right before the Title Page).  I thought that what we now look at as the Words of Mormon were, in fact, a portion of Mormon’s epilogue combined with a bit of a prior chapter of Mosiah that we did not have in totality (because of the loss of the 116 pages).

                But as I read through the tail end of the chapter today, I could not find any spot that seemed to be a logical break between Mormon’s summation and the return to his editing from earlier in the plates.  What I thought was a potent evidence for the validity of the Book of Mormon now leaves me wondering what exactly was up here.  Is there a break and I am just missing it?  Do we switch to Mosiah about the time Mormon stops talking about the small plates?  Or is this summation contained in the epilogue of Mormon (and why would he include it)?

                The blessing of a spiritual testimony is that it can be benefitted by the arguments that can be made on behalf of the Book of Mormon, but are not hurt when, like today, one of those arguments (and the underlying passage) doesn’t seem to make sense.  It is also aided that experience demonstrates that these things that don’t make sense now generally end up making sense later.  But even then we don’t learn anything if we cling to arguments that don’t seem valid or are not persuasive.

Ezekiel 12

(February 19, 2015)
                The Lord’s language here is certainly true – we know He is the Lord when He scatters us.  When we go through trials, and when we reach the point where we have nothing to cling to any more but Him and Him alone, and when we find Him there, we know that He is the Lord.  The challenge for each of us (for me in particular) is to remember He is the Lord when He is not scattering me.  When things are going well, I still have the tendency (after all He has done for me) to become slow to remember Him, to listen to and for Him, and to give my will over to Him (relying solely on Him).

                I suppose that is just human nature, but that is not an excuse.  The Atonement and His Grace gives us the opportunity to have our human nature changed – and I still have a ways to go in that respect.

Omni 1

(February 19, 2015)

                I have long loved Orson Scott Card’s talk on the Book of Mormon as artifact or artifice.  No where does that show more than the transition between the small plates and the large plates.  We miss it because everything is so seamless when we read it, but this chapter was either the last (or next to last – depending on when Words of Mormon came in the plates) chapter to be translated.  And yet it fits chronologically and narratively perfectly in the book.  This is something that would have been difficult to do with a created book, but with a compilation of histories it becomes much more realistic and easier.

Ezekiel 9-11

(February 18, 2015)
                I think there is a pretty valuable lesson contained here.  The Lord, speaking to His angels, tells them to go out and  mark those who sigh and mourn for the wickedness of Israel.  He doesn't send them out to mark the righteous, or those who only sin a little bit.  Nor does He send them out to destroy the wicked.  He sends them out to mark those who sorrow for sin and destroy those who do not.

                I found this interesting because I have been in the different groups at various times in my life.  I have been in the position of sighing and mourning for sin even as (and perhaps because) I struggled under the burden of sin myself.  Likewise, I have been in a position of not committing any egregious sins, but likewise not sorrowing for the sin of the world -- a detente with sin, if you will.

                But I find that the closer I come to the Lord, the more my sorrow for sin grows independent of my own keeping of the commandments at any given time.  Thus I think it was precisely appropriate what the Lord asked of His angels at this time.  He wants a people that actively hate sin, and are willing to fight against it in general (not just avoiding the worst sins in their own lives, but also mourning for sins of all people).

Jarom 1

(February 18, 2015)
                Sometimes it is hard to deal with the clear language of prophets.  In this case, Jarom is clear that all of the people of this time who were not stiffnecked, and who had faith, had communion with the Spirit.  This seemingly indicates that if we are not having communion with the Spirit it is a pretty strong indication that we are either stiffnecked, lack faith, or both.

                Of course, we don't follow ancient prophets so much as we follow modern ones.  And in our case, there seems to be some language than not everyone who lacks a spiritual witness likewise has a character defect.  But I don't know of any particular language that directly contradicts the words of Jarom, either.

                I think the takeaway from this (rather than trying to judge ourselves and others by this standard) would be to realize that we can lay claim on this blessing.  If we work to have faith, and to not be stiffnecked, I think we can be justified in going to our Father in prayer and asking Him to fulfill this promise of a prophet to grant us communion (or greater communion) with the Spirit.

Ezekiel 7-8

(February 17, 2015)
                It has always been essential that we place our faith in God, and Him alone, rather than on any particular mortal man or institution.  I have a firm testimony of the Church and believe it to be the Lord’s Kingdom on Earth.  I believe that my Priesthood Leaders are both called of God generally, and in my particular case are good men trying to do what is right (I understand that isn’t always the case, but I am fortunate enough that it is the case in my situation). 

                But good men can make mistakes.  And bad men can be called.  The Lord is teaching us that through Ezekiel by showing us idolatry being performed even within the temple.  There are, I have no doubt, some leaders somewhere who are actively working against the Lord.  There are some leaders somewhere who are mislead by the influence of the adversary into making mistakes.

                In both cases, though, our responsibility is clear.  Our relationship has to be with the Lord, not with our leaders or the Church.  And yet, we must be willing to submit to our leaders (even if they make mistakes or have fallen) unless the Lord clearly tells us otherwise.  Regardless of the leader, the Lord put them in that position for a reason and that reason almost certainly includes lessons for each of us to learn.  And if not, following a mistaken or unrighteous leader will be turned to our benefit if we do so as evidence of our willingness to submit to all things the Lord sees fit to inflict on us.  Add in the final element – we may never truly know if the leader is making a mistake or we are mistaken ourselves (unless the Lord tells us directly) – and there is not a good reason to disregard Priesthood Leadership.  Nor, however, is it safe to rely on it to the exclusion of our relationship with the Savior.

Enos 1

(February 17, 2015)

                Preaching destruction has a unique power to keep people from sin, but it is somewhat less-effective in many ways.  When you preach destruction as a consequence of sin, you keep someone’s focus solely on themselves – they are thinking about not wanting to be destroyed.  While focused in that way, they are not focused on the glory of God or love for their fellow men.  It is a useful tool if it is the only thing keeping us (or others) from sinning, but only to allow us to remain worthy of the Spirit so that we can be taught the better and more important reasons for obedience.  Sadly, we often get ourselves mired in this worldview and never progress beyond it.

Ezekiel 5-6

(February 16, 2015)

                We sometimes don’t seem to understand the things that the Lord asks of us, but we are in good company in that regard.  The Lord has a purpose for what He is telling us to do – whether that be how He asks us to approach our calling or the way in which we are called to groom ourselves (including, I suppose, burning a third of our hair).  And, for those like me who chaffed at the grooming restrictions while at BYU, we can see that the Lord truly does have an interest in the way we handle our hair and shaving.

Jacob 6-7

(February 16, 2015)

                The striking thing to me is the similarities that exist between the record of Jacob’s confrontation with Sherem and Alma’s confrontation with Korihor.  It seems clear that the record on Korihor is informed by the record on Sherem, which is a great evidence of the validity of the Book of Mormon.  What many people don’t understand is that Jacob was one of the last parts of the book to be translated, and thus the record of Sherem was translated by Joseph Smith long after the record of Korihor was translated.  If Joseph Smith was writing this book, we would see fingerprints of Korihor on Sherem rather than seeing fingerprints of Sherem on Korihor.  But we see what we would expect -- Korihor presenting refinements of the arguments raised by Sherem and Alma responding with refinements of the arguments raised by Jacob.

Jacob 5

(February 15, 2015)
                One question that I have often had as I read this chapter (and others with similar points being made) is whether we truly have the capacity to persuade God.  The servants begged the Lord to spare the tree a while longer, and He consented.  I have always struggled to understand that because a perfect plan, by definition, should not be amenable to the petitions of a silly and unrighteous creature such as myself.

                The resolution that I came to (and I still don’t know that I am right on this) is that though the Plan is perfect, we need to approach our prayer as though we maintain the power of persuasion.  God knew what He would do, but the servants needed to feel as though praying helped bring about the result that they desired – not so much for the participation but so they knew that they were loved and heard.

                Judges, when dealing with pro se litigants, will often let them talk for a long time about whatever they want.  The reason is that it is important for them to feel as though they are being heard.  So too with each of us – even though the Plan is perfect, we need to understand and believe that we are being heard.  If we don’t, we will not become the people we need to become.  So while our prayers are already factored into the perfect Plan, acting in accordance with this truth (and, as President Packer said some things that are true are not helpful) is not as useful as acting as though are prayers truly are a petition to the Lord with the capacity to change the Plan.

Ezekiel 2-4

(February 14, 2015)

                The Lord’s counsel to Ezekiel is valuable counsel for each of us as well.  We are called not to bring a rebellious people to repentance (though that would be ideal).  We are called to speak the words of God to a rebellious people.  The Lord can and will do His own work, but we are given the opportunity to participate in that work if we are obedient to Him.  Too often, though, I get caught up trying to get the result that I think is correct that I lose sight of the fact that I am really only called to complete the process correctly.

Jacob 3-4

(February 14, 2015)
                I wonder how Jacob and the people of Nephi knew that things not written on plates would pass away.  They obviously had seen other writing mediums before (otherwise why reference them), but I suppose those mediums were not similar to the mediums that they knew of from the Old World.  But wouldn’t carving into stone be permanent as well?

                There is something tickling at the back of my mind when it comes to this – there is something else here that I am not getting.  There is an experience, or a cultural situation, or something that would make it clear why they came to this conclusion.  I don’t know what that is (perhaps I never will in mortality), but there is something here.

Ezekiel 1

(February 13, 2015)

                One of the challenges in reading of visions of this sort is to distinguish in our own minds what Ezekiel is actually experiencing.  Is he simply seeing a vision, in that the things he witnesses are not real (and are thus meant to teach us symbolically)?  Or is he seeing something beyond his comprehension (and nonetheless real) and his descriptions are his struggling effort to put this description into words? 

Jacob 2

(February 13, 2015)
                There is an interesting balance that exists in the understanding of sin.  On the one hand, it is clear that even one sin is capable of irrevocably separating us from our Father – ating us from our Father -- from our Father -- we must be perfect to return to Him.   it is clear that even one sin is capa we must be perfect to return to Him.  On the other hand, there are clearly sins that have the capacity to draw us away from God (or separate us from His presence) faster than others.  We intuitively seem to understand that, but it was interesting to see Jacob confirm it.

                Thus, there is the sin of pride (which President Benson made clear was a significant sin), and yet Jacob would be content if he was only obligated to bring up the issue of pride rather than needing to deal with the weightier issues of violations of the law of chastity.

                I think the thing that we need to keep in mind individually is that the judgment of the weight of various sins in not ours to make.  Jacob was a spiritual leader of his people at this point – we are not.  Instead we need to look inward and recognize our own weaknesses rather than dwelling on the weaknesses of others.  And we need to know that in our personal lives no matter how far gone we are we are never too far gone and no matter how righteous we may think we are we are still fully dependent on the Lord.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Mechanical Argument for God

Several months ago, I began going through some of the basic arguments for the existence of God.  I prepared a couple of them:

The Cosmological Argument for God
The Teleological Argument for God
The Entropic Argument for God

Today I am going to return to this, adding what C. S. Lewis believed was the most conclusive response to atheism (if not a proof of God) -- the Mechanical Argument.

The basic premise is this.  Imagine a powerful supercomputer, with more computing resources than all the computers on the planet combined.  Imagine this supercomputer has the capacity to draw inferences, made and test hypotheses, and come to conclusions which are then able to be used to create more complex and accurate hypotheses.  Eventually this computer would come to a full (or fuller) understanding of the nature of reality the longer this computer was kept running.

But let us imagine, say, that because of a simple mechanical flaw in the system this computer had a basic mathematical error.  Whenever this computer divided a number by two, it came up with a result one greater than it should have.  So if the supercomputer attempted to divide eight by two, it would come up with five instead of four.  If it tried to divide 32 by two, it would come up with 17.  And so forth.

Now this mechanical error would not make reality any less predictable for the supercomputer.  The computer could still make accurate predictions for the world around it, test those hypotheses, and accept or reject them based upon the data.  But the view of this computer as to the very nature of reality would be fundamentally skewed.  It would necessarily need to develop complex rules to explain why the world functions the way that it functions (why two divided by one is two and two divided by two is also two), but it would establish its own version of the transitive property of mathematics that would justify the results that it achieved.

In fact, over time this computer could probably get just about everything in the world predictable, rational, and be able to establish and perfect any technology that we humans have crafted.  The one thing that it couldn't do would be to evaluate its own mechanical structure to see where the error is, and correct it.

Let's leave computers at this point and move on to us.  Here is the problem: if our brains are nothing more than mechanical computers (however effective), then the results that our brains produce can be considered nothing more than arbitrary.  We cannot think our way to atheism (particularly reductive materialistic atheism), because if the conclusion of atheism is correct then the mechanism that justifies that conclusion (our minds) are merely arbitrary mechanical constructs incapable of self-evaluation.  Like the computer, if we cannot properly perform a function because of our mechanical defects, we can form a predictability around such a defect that will be effective, allow us to develop technology, and ultimately be wrong.

Our minds only have value and trustworthiness insofar as they are derived from something trustworthy.  If we are the accidental happenstance resulting from eons of evolution, then we cannot trust our minds because if we are wrong we cannot know it.  If, on the other hand, our minds are fashioned by God (through whatever means) and God is perfect (including perfectly reasonable) we can trust that our minds can lead us to an understanding of reality that is not absurd.

Thus using reason to understand reality is a reasonable activity for the theist and yet an absurd activity for the atheist.

Lamentations 3-5

(February 12, 2015)
                One of the best things I ever did in my life was to establish my scripture reading schedule.  Once I established it and demonstrated that I would stick to it, the Lord has used that schedule to teach me over and over again the things that He would have me learn.  I would find that so often my reading in the Book of Mormon would completement my reading in the Bible, or vice versa, and that was always a blessing to me when that occurred.

                But, even more than that, I found that the Lord would teach me the lessons that I needed to know based upon where I am in the scriptures.  Sometimes, like today, I would receive a thought or experience over and over again, only to have it solidified when I read that same idea in the scriptures.  Or, sometimes the scriptures gave me the idea or preparation to properly interpret what I would experience during the day or coming days.

                I have been having, over the past 24 hours or so, the constant reminder that the Lord is enough.  I have been making further changes in my life that threaten to propel me forward in meaningful and beneficial ways, but I have been concerned that I maintain a firm understanding that despite the positive changes I am making in my life it is the Lord that is in charge.  I am learning to let go of my goals and focus on my actions (leaving the bigger picture, once considered, to the Lord for Him to do as He wishes).

                Shortly before reading in my scriptures today, I sat thinking on this very subject – how the Lord is all that I need.  When I accept that fact, and when I can properly sacrifice all other concerns to Him, then I can find a place of peace permanently because all other plans and goals may turn to dust (or, as is even more common, I may achieve them and yet find that I remain unfulfilled) but He will always remain with me so long as I welcome and surrender to Him.  Thus if He becomes all that I need, I can find permanent peace.

                With this thinking in mind, I read Lamentations 3 and found a reiteration of the very thoughts that I have been having about the subject – confirming unambiguously to me that these thoughts were of the Lord and represented what I need to be working on right now.  The scriptures are such a blessing in how they affect our lives, if we are willing to allow them to do so.

Jacob 1

(February 12, 2015)
                Krister Stendahl is credited with authoring Stendahl’s Three Rules of Religious Understanding.  The third of these rules is that we should always leave room in our hearts for ‘holy envy’ or the idea that we look to other religions for those aspects which they understand or practice that are, in fact, superior to our own.

                We in the Church should have no problem with this idea.  While it is true that the Church is the only Church on the Earth that holds the Priesthood Authority allowing valid saving ordinances to be performed (and the only Church with Priesthood leadership with stewardship to speak in the name of the Lord), we also readily admit that the Lord has spoken to all people on the Earth according to their understandings (our scriptures make that clear), and that there are elements of truth found in each of the religions that trace their origins back to the voice of the Lord (which is likely most of them).

                This thought came to me as I read Jacob speak of our need to view Christ’s death, suffer His cross, and bear the shame of the world.  We understand the necessity of doing this in the Church (perhaps more so than most), but at the same time I think our Church might be able to suffer a little holy envy for the understanding of some of the Christians that I grew up around.  It seems that they, from time to time, lived a life more in keeping with this requirement than we do in our faith.  Of all people on the Earth, we should be most Christ-centric, and we should be willing to suffer with gladness the shame of the world.  And yet, at times I find more of that in others than in myself.

                Of course in saying this, I am not justifying the silly attacks that we worship Joseph Smith or President Monson or believe that we will be saved by our works or any of the other ideas thrown against the Church by her enemies.  I merely note that, for myself, sometimes the structure of the Church for me becomes more important than the Christ-centered purpose of the Church and that is something that I feel holy envy for those who are able to avoid this particular weakness.  I long for an increased capacity to do all that I do (including my Church service) with an eye focused on His glory, His cross, and His death.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lamentations 1-2

(February 11, 2015)
                The heartbreak that Jeremiah feels for Jerusalem is one that I can easily understand – it is the heartbreak that each of us feels for the missed opportunities, the mistakes, the wreckage that we have each left in our lives at some point or another from the mistakes that we have made.  I know in my life I can see some disastrous choices that I have made and I wonder how things can ever be made right.

                But somehow, some way, the Lord always makes things right such that they work out in the end.  I am seeing that in my own life even now – the Lord is taking my willingness to be made whole despite my failures and turning that into something that I could never have imagined.  Just as Jeremiah saw the ruins of Jerusalem and wondered how it could ever be made whole, there was a time when I looked at my life and wondered the same thing.  And just as Jerusalem was again made into a mighty city, I see my life coming together in ways I could never have predicted but can only be explained as Divine Providence.

                There is a piece of Mormon history that has always brought me a great deal of comfort.  President Hickley, shortly after acquiring the ownership of Rock Creek Hollow in Wyoming, stated that this location is the most sacred piece of land the Church owns.  He told only a few people why (I was not one of those people), so I can only speculate as to the significance of that place.  But having been there, I can attest to the Spirit that is there.

                The remarkable thing to me, and the source of the great lesson to me, is that only a few dozen years ago Rock Creek Hollow was a place that was being used for strip mining.  Growing up in West Virginia, I can attest to the damage caused to the land by strip mining – it is about the most destructive thing you can do to land short of making it a landfill or dump of some kind.  And yet, despite having spent a portion of its existence as a strip mine, Rock Creek Hollow retains its sacred character and the Spirit is still felt there strongly.  I take comfort that if Rock Creek Hollow can be healed from the strip mining of its past to become the most sacred piece of land the Church owns, then the Lord can likewise heal me from the strip mining I have performed on my soul.

2 Nephi 32-33

(February 11, 2015)
                Nephi's words here are remarkably informative towards those who reject the Book of Mormon and speak harshly against it.  There seems to be several different groupings of people when it comes to the Book of Mormon – those who accept and strive to follow the teachings of the book, those who accept but then ignore the book, those who reject the book and yet try to follow Christ, those who reject the book and largely ignore it, and those who are angry at the Book of Mormon.

                You would think that the greatest hostility would come from those who accept Christ but believe that the Book of Mormon is leading people astray but in my experience that isn’t the case.  The greatest hostility (and current events somewhat demonstrate that) comes from those who reject the Book of Mormon after having believed in it.  Once they become hostile to the book, it is only a matter of time before they allow themselves to be lead completely away – there is no halfhearted departure that I have seen in my lifetime.

                Those who attempt to follow Christ and yet don’t believe in the book are dealt with in verse 10 – they cycle through that position until the time comes when they either accept it (and Christ) or reject it (and Christ).  But that process seemingly takes a long time – I can only imagine they are about the work assigned to them by the Lord and other things will be dealt with in time.  But hostility towards the Book of Mormon never seems to end well for the one hostile.  They end up kicking themselves out of the Church and ending up in a commune in New Mexico where no one ever cleans the toilet.

Jeremiah 52

(February 10, 2015)
                I must admit that I am not disappointed to come to the end of Jeremiah this time through the scriptures.  But one thing becomes apparent as I read through the last chapter in this book – Jeremiah lacked a prophetic redactor.  Having written a journal for years (of which these scripture postings make a small part), I have learned the way that my life (including spiritual experiences) is presented.  There is a flavor to journal text that is different from narrative or legend.  Too many irrelevant details are included, because we don’t know what will be relevant and what won’t be relevant at the time we write.  Their is an Author of our life, but it isn’t us and when we are writing we are not privy to the Author’s full Plan.

                There are elements of contemporaneous journal writing in the Book of Mormon, but they have clearly passed through the filter of a redactor who (1) knows the history, such that less irrelevant detail is included; and (2) is able to receive revelation and inspiration as to what to include and what not to include.  The underlying journal aspect of the Book of Mormon is still there (despite being a lineage record, which it certainly is, it is also clearly a composite journal), but in a fashion more readable and profitable.  We don’t have to sort through the chaff for the precious Gospel wheat.  That is something that I am very grateful for.

2 Nephi 30-31

(February 10, 2015)
                Throughout human history, we have received few words of the Father in our records.  The vast majority of the words of God are in fact the words of Christ – Jehovah in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament.  So when God the Father speaks, it is a really big deal.  He has spoken rarely to man, and His presence almost uniformly invokes a new dispensation of time.  When He does speak, He rarely says much beyond testifying as to the truthfulness of the words of Christ.

                So when we have words of the Father, above and beyond validating the words of the Savior, it is a really big deal that we sometimes miss.  And in this chapter we have the Father saying three related things: “Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son,” “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved,” and “Ye shall have eternal life.”

                The middle of these three caught my attention the most.  When we are going through trials and difficulties, it is easy to get discouraged and to think that we have somehow been cheated out of the easy life that we feel we must have been promised somewhere, somewhen (although we can’t quite remember when we were promised an easy life).  But God the Father, in one of His few pronouncements to mortal man, specifically promises us that if we endure to the end we will be saved.

                Enduring to the end, then, is not something to be feared or despised, but rather when challenges come our way we can recognize them as an opportunity to bind the Father Himself based upon His promise to us (for He cannot lie).  If we endure to the end, we shall be saved.  Without our trials, we could not endure to the end (for what would we endure?).  Thus the very trials that we fear are in fact the blessings that open the door for us to partake of salvation.

                In my own life I have experienced this.  For a long while, I dodged challenges and weakened myself as I avoided doing the hard, painful things that discipleship required.  But I have discovered that I experience so much more joy when I lean into my challenges, with gratitude in my heart for the painful moments in my life.  I don’t necessarily know what the Lord is teaching me at any given trial, but I have been through enough with Him to know that no matter how much it hurts it is for my benefit.  Since the day will inevitably come that I thank Him for my trials, I have started to go ahead and thank Him in my trials – for I know that one day I will see them as a blessing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Jeremiah 51

(February 9, 2015)

                I loved the imagery in this chapter of the Lord doing His own work in the destruction of Babylon, and the prophet Jeremiah interjecting with his admonition to each of us to grab a weapon and join in the fight.  Christ has won the war with sin, and Satan is cast down.  There is no hope for ultimate victory for Babylon.  The only question is whether we will fight for the Savior and take Him as our God, or whether we will seek to become gods to ourselves (and thus take Satan as our master).

2 Nephi 29

(February 9, 2015)
                Nephi’s love for Isaiah clearly shows in how he acts as the Lord’s mouthpiece.  There is such a similarity between their writings that it becomes impossible to ignore.  Even the passage between the words of Nephi and the words of the Lord are consistent with the way Isaiah moved from his own words to the words of the Lord.  Isaiah is a book of scripture studied for thousands of years written over the course of the life of one of the greatest prophets who has ever lived.  It is absurd to think that Joseph Smith could not only write language to rival it, but to write a fictional character who writes prophecy to rival it – and to do it in such a short period of time.

                I understand that the only way to truly gain a testimony is through the Spirit (which I have been blessed to receive), and I understand each of us has the capacity for self-deception, but the verisimilitude of the Book of Mormon screams to me from every page in a manner impossible to come from a construct.

Jeremiah 50

(February 8, 2015)
                There is something to be said about Jeremiah prophesying against Babylon at the height of the Babylonian Empire’s prosperity.  Babylon undoubtedly (especially to the Children of Israel) seemed to be mighty and beyond the capacity of any nation on Earth to destroy.  Now, of course, Babylon is a footnote – one that would have been almost completely forgotten but for her interactions with Israel.

                So too in our modern society – it may appear that sin is ascendant, and will remain so entrenched in perpetuity.  But just as Jeremiah foresaw the destruction of Babylon, our prophets have foreseen the destruction of sin and the blessings in store for the righteous.  Even if we cannot see a way for society to recover from the damages inflicted on it by sin, or even if we cannot see a way for us to recover from the damages we have inflicted on ourselves through our sins, the Lord has promised each Child of Israel (including us) deliverance from their own Babylonian Captivity.

2 Nephi 28

(February 8, 2015)
                It is certainly intimidating to recognize that we must pursue perfection, and nothing short of that perfection will be permissible.  The further I attempt to go down that road of discipleship, the more I realize how imperfect, broken, and weak I am.  But I think that a large portion of that is mitigated by the paired recognitions that we are obligated to pursue, not acquire, perfection.  And secondly, that we will ultimately acquire perfection, if we pursue it, only through the Grace of Christ.

                Where my problems come in are when I think to myself that I can aspire to be really good, and that will somehow be enough.  I tell myself that I can eliminate this sin and this vice, but hold back this minor sin or vice and still be pretty righteous (and righteous enough, in my estimation).  When I allow my thoughts to operate in that manner, I find myself quickly losing the Spirit and falling apart – leading to far more sin than I ever really considered allowing into my life.

                No, the power of God and the Grace of Christ make themselves manifest in my life only during those times when I really want to give my whole soul to Him as an offering.  I am not to the point where I can make good on that offering yet, but I want to be there.

Jeremiah 48-49

(February 7, 2015)

                It was likely a surprise for the Israelites that the Lord was speaking to the whole word.  We tend to become tribal and to think of ourselves as the chosen people, and lose track of the fact that everyone are children of God.  Likewise, the Lord speaks today through people all around the world in all different faiths.  There is one Church representing the Kingdom of God on the Earth and which holds the Priesthood Authority and the capacity to perform essential saving ordinances, but we do not have a monopoly on either truth or righteousness and it is important for us to remember that.

2 Nephi 27

(February 7, 2015)
                Verse 15 is fascinating for a number of reasons.  In fact, the whole story of Charles Anthon is fascinating – that Anthon changed his story so many times, that nothing Anthon later wrote is consistent with Martin Harris selling his farm, and so forth.  But seeing as how this was translated after the events in question, I can see of no way in which Joseph Smith (if he were an author rather than a translator) would have written that the Lord told Joseph to take the words not sealed.

                There would have been, if Joseph had written this verse, some reference to the distinct set of circumstances that arose prior to the Lord instructing Joseph – some reference that Joseph asked multiple times, and some mention of the condemnation of the Lord for losing the manuscript.  In fact, this section contains nothing about the missing pages!  If Joseph were writing this, he would have necessarily written it differently.  Instead, there are countless tiny indications that Joseph was a translator rather than an author.

Jeremiah 45-47

(February 6, 2015)
                Looking at the big picture, the Babylonian Captivity seems to have been a key moment in the knowledge of the Lord going forth out of the nationalistic religion it had been and into becoming the worldwide religion it became.  I can’t imagine the people at that time could have understood it if you had told them that because of their captivity, the knowledge of the Lord would go forward into all the world, the world would progress to the point where just about every man and woman alive had heard of the Messiah, or that the most well-known book in the world began with “In the beginning…”

                So too with each of our lives.  Sometimes, looking back, I recognize that the greatest moments for my life were the moments that were the worst moments of my life (when I was going through them).  Having experienced that enough now in my life, I find myself better able to accept that when difficulties come I can trust the Lord to handle things and simply work on learning what He would have me to learn.

2 Nephi 26

(February 6, 2015)
                Sometimes we like to fool ourselves into thinking that the Lord works through darkness.  The most common way that I find myself thinking this, is when I consider that the Lord has taught me something through my mistakes and my sins.  Recognizing that the Lord has brought goodness out of my evil and weakness, I then try to make the leap of logic that my sin and my weakness are therefore ‘good’ because of what I have learned through them.

                The reality, of course, is that our lives are never made better through sin.  Instead, the Lord may teach us in our sin and weakness because that is the only way we will allow ourselves to be taught.  We would better learn if we could open our hearts to Him and be humble, but if we cannot manage that on our own He will teach us where we are.  Our lessons will be more painful, and likely not as good, but it is still better to be taught in our darkness than to linger in our darkness.  But it is not our darkness that teaches us, but His light that reaches us in our darkness.  

Jeremiah 44

(February 5, 2015)
                One rather frightening part of our pathway to return with God is our human capacity to derive the wrong lessons from the events of our lives.  Here we have the Israelites deciding that when they were sacrificing to the queen of heaven, things were going well for them.  It was only once they stopped sacrificing to the queen of heaven that things went downhill.

                This is a remarkably difficult logical position to be in, and it has the capacity to trap each of us if we are not careful.  On the one hand, anecdotal evidence is truly necessary in acquiring an understanding of the world in which we live (after all, the Lord is teach each of us through our experiences, and our individual educations will be unique).  On the other hand, if we allow our sins to teach us Satan can corrupt that process and lead us astray binding our minds so tightly to false propositions that we find ourselves having a great deal of difficulty escaping them.

                The secret, as with most things, is humility.  We need to be ready and willing to accept whatever lesson the Lord has ready to teach us, but if we come to a conclusion as to what that lesson is that was wrong we have to be willing to let that go and allow the Lord to better instruct us.  Much like President Packer’s talk on Candle of the Lord, if we draw the wrong lesson the Lord will gently instruct us where we went wrong.  If we honestly drawn the wrong lesson, but remain humble enough to change what we have learned at the prompting of the Lord, He can then guide us back where He wants us.  If, instead, we allow ourselves to harden in the pride of our righteousness we enter dangerous ground where we become attached to our false ideas – perhaps ideas merely correlated in time or perhaps ideas deliberately used to mislead us by our adversary.

2 Nephi 25

(February 5, 2015)
                Nephi states that his words are sufficient to teach any man the right way.  As a lawyer, I believe I have mentioned, absolute language always draws my attention.  And this section has very interesting absolute language – words sufficient to teach any man the right way.  

                Of course, as we examine Nephi’s words it becomes apparent that this absolute reading of his words is both legitimate and understandable.  If we read his words seriously, the Spirit will instruct us to bow to Christ (spiritually and physically).  If we do that, Christ will begin to teach us, and lead us along the way of discipleship.  Only if we reject Nephi’s words will they not teach us the right way – and then the problem is not his words but our choices.

Jeremiah 42-43

(February 4, 2015)
                A couple of thoughts from this chapter.  First, when Jeremiah (a prophet) needed an answer, he didn’t retire to his study and come out an hour later with the words of the Lord.  No, it took him ten days to receive the message the Lord wanted delivered to His children.  Why is it that we can see this and still think that though a prophet took ten days to get an answer for someone else (an answer where, presumably, Jeremiah had less internal desires to work through) we can somehow be frustrated if our five minutes of prayer on a subject don’t yield a clear response (or even our five minutes a day for a week don’t yield a response! – as if that is a significant time to carry a question before the Lord).

                The other thought was on the people at this time.  They didn’t want an answer from the Lord – they wanted their answer confirmed by the Lord.  It is very easy to see that behavior in others around us (our current society, even within the Church, makes such behavior apparent) but it is more difficult to see that behavior in ourselves.  And yet, it is essential that we open our eyes to the way in which we are doing just this.  We have our vision of who the Lord is, and so long as the Lord is acting consistent with that vision we follow Him.  But the moment He varies from what we expect, we don’t look at it like an opportunity to learn of Him better.  This is a mistake on our parts.  We must open ourselves to fully follow Him – and, by so doing, we can come to fully know Him.

2 Nephi 23-24

(February 4, 2015)
                I wonder about the process of collecting names – I think there is significance there that we might not realize.  Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, Diablo, the Accuser, the Adversary, the Tempter, and so forth – Satan has acquired a large number of names during the duration of this Earth.  Likewise, Christ is known as Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and so forth.

                Are we acquiring names in our mortal journey?  Is this an element that is somehow lost in our modern society?  It is so hard to discern when we are abandoning the foolishness of the past and when we are allowing our present foolishness to blind us to the wisdom of the past (and this is probably a more significant issue than the idea of names).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Jeremiah 40-41

(February 3, 2015)
                One thing that is hard to do with the scriptures is to know when not to take larger meanings from them.  Everything in the scriptures tends to take on an exaggerated level of importance and leads us to believe that there must of necessity be a moral message in each and every recorded story from history.

                The governor’s refusal to take proactive steps against Ishmael, I think, demonstrates the danger of viewing the scriptures in that way.  There is no discussion at any point in this narrative of the Lord (or even of Jeremiah, who by this point was part of the governor’s household).  Instead we have a governor – a decent man, from what we know – who did not believe what was a true report and it ended up getting him killed.

                Can we draw any other moral lessons from this?  Should we take affirmative steps to destroy those who would harm us?  I don’t think we can take any such message out of what happened.  In fact, if there was one moral message to take (and this might be a stretch), it would be that if you have a prophet living in your house and someone says that another person is out to kill you, take the time to stop by and discuss the matter with the prophet.

2 Nephi 20-22

(February 3, 2015)
                It seems clear that salvation will not be something that is accepted by the majority of those who kept their First Estate.  I understand the reasoning behind those who envision a more general or universal Exaltation, but I don’t think that the scriptures support such a view (and, in fact, that view seems to have been one of the hallmarks of Priestcraft).  The question then becomes why that is the case, and the answer to that question has to consider the arguments (persuasive ones, in my opinion) for a more general or universal salvation.

                The best understand that I can come to about the subject is that the difficulty of the road to Exaltation is such that many or most will chose not to walk it. They will resolve to accept (with a certain degree of joy) a lesser path to a lesser destiny.  And, consistent with our agency, this makes sense.  If the character changes that would need to be made to help us to achieve Exaltation are too painful, in our minds, then the Lord will not force us through them.  We need to be willing to accept of our own free will and choice the obligations and necessary chastening that will serve to bring us to where He is.

                It would be wonderful if we were all to eventually make it back to live with the Father some day, but I just don’t see it happening.  I don’t see the scriptural backing for that position.  Instead, the scriptures seem to consistently say that we must be careful and watchful because many who believe they are going to return to the Father will not because of their sins. 

Jeremiah 37-39

(February 2, 2015)

                Zedekiah asking Jeremiah whether there was any word from the Lord was astonishing.  After all, this is the wicked king who turned from the Lord – and yet, he believed enough to go to the Lord’s prophet for information.  I think there is a deeply-ingrained sense of the right and wrong in each of us.  I have certainly demonstrated a capacity for self-deception in my life (likely continuing – if I am deceiving myself now almost by definition I wouldn’t know where), but even in those times of self-deception there was a part of me that knew.  There was an eternal portion, beyond reason and passion, that seems to know the truth.  And it seems that Zedekiah has a similar portion of himself that knew the truth regardless of how little he wanted to follow the truth.

2 Nephi 18-19

(February 2, 2015)

                The leaders of the people causing them to err is something that has to be a worry for any Latter-Day Saint.  This is not so much a problem with the leaders of the Church (we are in a unique position in that we know that the Church will not apostatize this time, which is distinct and different from the past), but it is still an ever-present danger when it comes political and, more importantly, cultural leaders.  They who sing to us cause us to err, and destroy the ways of our path.

Jeremiah 36

(February 1, 2015)

                I am so impressed by how Jeremiah responds to what happens here.  I can imagine what it must have been like for Jeremiah to have had his work tossed on the fire by someone in power.  Discouragement, doubt about whether what he had dedicated his life to would make a different (something, considering his prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, must have been a constant struggle).  But Jeremiah never waivered.  The Lord told him to write, and he wrote.  When it was destroyed, and the Lord told him to write again, he wrote again.  This is certainly something worth emulating in our lives.

2 Nephi 15-17

(February 1, 2015)
                I was always a bit befuddled about Ahaz when he was speaking with Isaiah.  On the one hand, it would appear that he was doing the right thing in refusing to demand a sign of the Lord – after all, we are told to not be sign-seekers.  On the other hand, it is pretty clear that Isaiah at least is frustrated by Ahaz refusing to ask for a sign.  Considering that the Lord inspires Isaiah to then give a Messianic prophecy, we can assume that the Lord’s opinion is consistent with Isaiah’s.

                But as I think about it, I realized what was really going on here.  It had nothing to do about sign-seeking or anything else.  The Lord told Ahaz to do something.  That should have resolved the matter.  Whatever the Lord tells us to do, we must be ready to do immediately and without question.  Ahaz put his understanding before the word of the Lord as communicated through His prophet – even if he did so with the best of intentions (and I don’t think it is clear that we can give Ahaz that benefit of the doubt), he was still not being strictly obedient to what the Lord had asked Him to do just then.

                When the Lord calls on us, do we respond with obedience or do we try to compare the Lord’s instructions to us with our own limited understanding of the law and what is morally right.  We have been given reason for a purpose, but it is not to outthink the Lord.

Jeremiah 34-35

(January 31, 2015)
                I think that I am far too casual with covenants with the Lord.  I understand my own weaknesses and limitations, and that I have made covenants that I cannot keep.  I understand that the Lord will be forgiving of me when I fall short of keeping my covenants, because of His perfect mercy and love towards me.  All of that is well and good, but the problem comes in that I think that based upon those two things I give myself far too much latitude with my failures and I don’t properly recognize the magnitude of falling short in a covenant with the Lord.

                In this chapter, we have a people who made a covenant to finally get around to keeping a commandment that they were under obligation to keep.  And they kept this covenant for a short while, but they then returned to their own ways – and, predictably, destruction came.  A central theme of Jeremiah is the very idea of backsliding – the Lord will be patient with us so long as we are moving forward, but when we move backwards (especially against a covenant) then we are in serious, serious danger.

                As a result of this, it is a reminder to me how seriously I need to take my covenants – both those that I have made as part of ordinances and those that I have taken upon myself in my communications with my Father.

2 Nephi 13-14

(January 31, 2015)
                Reading through chapters like these, it makes me wonder about some of the gender issues that surround us today.  It is clear that the Lord through Isaiah is approaching gender issues in a matter entirely contrary to the way we view them today.  But that leads to the obvious question of whether the Lord was speaking to the people of Israel where they were then (speaking to their understanding) or whether He was giving timeless truth that we have since gone astray from.

                There is no intellectual way that I can see to come to a proper answer to this question.  That is why continuing revelation is so vitally important.  We can look to our leaders, to modern revelation, and to the whisperings of the Spirit as we seek to know more about this (or any other) cultural issue. The hope, of course, is that if we approach all of these things in a spirit of love that even when we make mistakes we will not cause too much harm and the Lord will be able to do His work through us even when we imperfectly understand the truth.

Jeremiah 32-33

(January 30, 2015)

                It is still somewhat amazing to me that no matter how bad matters get, we among all people can be optimists.  Jeremiah buying land is just one example of this truth – no matter how badly things seem to be in our lives, we know things will be fine if we live the Gospel.  By the same token, no matter how well things seem to be going in our lives, we can know that they will end poorly if we don’t live the Gospel.  Remembering this truth is a near constant struggle, but one that is certainly a source of great comfort when I cam keep it in the front of my mind.

2 Nephi 11-12

(January 30, 2015)
                For a long time, I didn’t really understand why Nephi and others found the words of Isaiah so great.  They seemed confusing to me at times, and though I was able to learn and remember the symbolism it still seemed like the messages would have been better conveyed in clear language.

                Then I read through Isaiah with the idea of identifying the speaker of each portion of the book (as I am doing with all of the scriptures).  The vast majority of the book of Isaiah is not the words of Isaiah, but rather the words of the Lord.  He is the one who is speaking throughout the book – the words of Isaiah are, for the most part, just Isaiah repeating the words that the Lord puts in His mouth.  The sheer volume of teachings directly from the mouth of the Lord in Isaiah must rival what we have from even the New Testament.