Sunday, July 24, 2016 0 comments

Seeing Astronomical Bodies is like Seeing God

45 The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.
46 Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?
47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.
48 I say unto you, he hath seen him; nevertheless, he who came unto his own was not comprehended. (D&C 88:45-48, emphasis added)

In what way is seeing astronomical bodies like seeing God moving in His majesty and power?

It’s a strange irony that the further away a planet is, the less awesome it seems. The moon is the closest other astronomical body to us, and yet we take it for granted. The further we are, the less we see of all the fascinating individual features and the more likely we are over-simplify our understanding of it.  But the closer we get, the greater it becomes in our view until we get so close that our finite minds can no longer grasp its vastness and all its characteristics.

It’s the same with God. The further we are from Him spiritually, the less we understand of Him, the less awesome He seems (to the point He seems not awesome at all), the less we see of His character. Thus, we greatly oversimplify His idea, and that distorts our knowledge even more.  But the closer we draw to God, the greater and more majestic His perfections become until our finite minds simply explode, unable to comprehend Him fully.

Another case in point: we’re so close to this earth we stand on, and can we fully comprehend its size and complexity and elegant systems? No. In the same way, mortal man was completely unable to grasp the full majesty and power of Christ during His mortal ministry among them.

 (Scroll down to see some related animated GIFs)


Friday, July 22, 2016 0 comments

To be Quickened by a Portion of Glory

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.
29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
30 And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received. (D&C 88:28-32)

This has been hard for me to wrap my mind around, but some things I have learned about the fiction-writing process have helped me gain a better understanding of how this happens.

I’ve learned that there are certain kinds of stories that excite me. When I read their back blurbs, I recognize them as something I would want to read. When I write my fiction, I try to put in my current work-in-progress the kinds of things that give me that zing of excitement. What gives me a zing is not going to automatically give a zing to everyone else.

D&C 88 talks elsewhere about how everything is given a law and that which keeps the law is sanctified by it.  There are celestial, terrestrial, and telestial laws.  And I think that the level of laws we choose to follow are like the laws that we want to give us the zing of excitement.  We are striving to live the celestial law so that it gives us the zing, so that becomes the thing that most resonates with us and who we are.  Then it will be the glory that quickens us in the resurrection. 

Once upon a time, the idea of service did not get me excited.  Now it does, though certain kinds of service zing me more than others.  A decade ago, family history used to leave me cold, but since then I’ve definitely warmed up to it.  I can see I’ve made some progress, but I have more to do.

What if we’re not zinged by all the celestial principles?  Obviously that means we still have changing and repenting to do, sanctification to undergo.  And that’s what the Atonement is for. None of us are stuck where we are unless we give up. 
Wednesday, July 20, 2016 0 comments

Christ as the power by which the Sun was made

Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. (D&C 88:7)

If we look at this only scientifically, it seems absurd. Suns form with gravitation that pull all that hydrogen together, and suns shine because of nuclear fusion.

But looking deeper, I think I can see spiritual principles hiding in the science.

What is gravity, but greatness attracting others into itself over greater distances? The spiritual force of gravity comes from the commandment to “Love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength” and “draw near unto God.”

What is fusion, but the process of achieving unity between two separate things in such a way as to produce synergistic energy?  That sounds to me a lot like reconciliatory atonement. It says something about what marriage could be too.

Not that all the mathematical details are revealed in above verse, but in its masterful summary, it gives a way we can orient the science toward the gospel, according to a divine pattern.

Also we get this little statement—“which truth shineth.”  To me, this says something about truth as information, and how it acts.  It shines. It also says to me that the shining is the medium or way truth is transmitted.  To communicate truth, you need the message and the medium.  Truth is the message, light is the medium, and it acts so as to increase the energy of the destination system by little packets.  With reference to suns, light is the medium that gives us the message that that fusion is taking place there.  Light is the sign (or message) of energy release.

But what about other truth? We get truth from little marks on a page. The medium is the marks—their shape and order—and the message is the thing they communicate. If it increases the energy and edification in your system, it’s truth.

All of this can get very philosophical pretty quick and go over our heads. Explanations can get more difficult to follow than the plain words of the scriptures. (Heck, when I read over what I wrote above, my mind is a bit boggled too.) But I think we each have a duty to try to unpack the meaning for ourselves and test how far the patterns fit or don’t. 

And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; (D&C 88:11)

Just like light comes in little packets (quanta), we are enlightened in packets of truth, which eventually show us patterns of how things are.  Everything we read, everything we see adds or diminishes our knowledge of how things are. Every word on the page adds up to a thought that enlightens us or darkens us.  And it seems that is why God wants us to learn so many things—so we can grasp the underlying patterns and learn the laws of nature and choose to live the celestial laws so we can receive celestial glory.
Monday, July 18, 2016 0 comments

Tried so as by fire

This is a part of a larger section of the JST about Melchizedek.

34 And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world;
35 And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire. (JST Genesis 14:34-35)

I was struck in particular by v35. In what ways might the heavens and the earth come together, and how does this try the Sons of God?

The context makes me think of the day when Zion will come down out of heaven to Zion on the earth, but that seems like it would be a glorious day, not one that would try the Sons of God as by fire.

And trying “so as by fire” evokes mental imagery of the second coming of Christ, but that time should be a reward for faithfulness, not necessarily a trial. So somehow my assumptions must be off.

It may be that heaven and the earth coming together describes the test of the latter days to live side by side among people of the world and still live God’s laws. So many times in history the Lord has separated the righteous from the wicked in order to preserve His people. But when the church is mixed among everybody else, living true to our faith is a challenge. It’s a test of our integrity and our charity. The more wicked the world is, the more it tests us. In order to stay faithful, we have to be fully committed to following the Lord. In the experience of living out that decision and letting the consequence follow, the wrong desires have to be consumed, almost as if it were burned out of us.

And too, the heaven and the earth coming together could just as easily describe continuing revelation.  Continuing revelation tests us as more of heaven’s ways are revealed to us. Can we meet the challenge to keep the commandments given? Can we choose the ways of heaven over that of the world? Will we choose to attain to more than the modicum of social niceness that the world calls goodness?

And it also may be that I still don't really know what this is talking about. But the above is what I think until I learn more.

Meantime, each of us has some aspect of our lives that is trying our faith. Let’s choose heaven’s ways over the world’s.
Saturday, July 16, 2016 0 comments

Thinking about D&C 27: Revelation on the sacrament

Historical background on D&C 27 from History of the Church 1:106:
Early in the month of August Newel Knight and his wife paid us a visit at my place in Harmony, Pennsylvania; and as neither his wife nor mine had been as yet confirmed, it was proposed that we should confirm them, and partake together of the Sacrament, before he and his wife should leave us. In order to prepare for this I set out to procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone only a short distance when I was met by a heavenly messenger, and received the following revelation, the first four paragraphs of which were written at this time, and the remainder in the September following:
1 Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful.
2 For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.
3 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies;
4 Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth. (D&C 27:14)

This is so interesting to me that Joseph Smith was told that it didn’t matter what was used for the sacrament as long as it was done with an eye single to the glory of God in remembering Christ’s sacrifice.   It’s a good thing this was given by angelic to Joseph Smith, otherwise the church would have changed the ordinances and would be in danger of the same penalty as Cain, who tried to offer a sacrifice with the fruits of the ground instead of the firstlings of the flock.

I remember sitting in a seminary class when the teacher asked the students if they’d ever had unusual things used in place of bread and water. One person said watermelon and root beer had been used. 

While I’m sure part of the priesthood responsibility is to ensure that proper ingredients for the sacrament are provided, it is nice to know that we are not kept from partaking of the sacrament in the event of an unavoidable scarcity.

5 Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim;
6 And also with Elias, to whom I have committed the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days;
7 And also John the son of Zacharias, which Zacharias he (Elias) visited and gave promise that he should have a son, and his name should be John, and he should be filled with the spirit of Elias;
8 Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron;
9 And also Elijah, unto whom I have committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse;
10 And also with Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, your fathers, by whom the promises remain;
11 And also with Michael, or Adam, the father of all, the prince of all, the ancient of days;
12 And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;
13 Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;
14 And also with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world. (D&C 27:5-14)

Next we are told there will be a great culminating sacramental feast to be given when Christ comes, when a great number of prophets and Saints will partake of the sacrament together. This fits very well with the account in 3 Nephi when Christ instituted the sacrament among the Nephites and had it distributed to the multitude on two separate occasions.

Can we read of the prospect of taking the sacrament with Christ, Moroni, Elias, John the Baptist, Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Adam, Peter, James, and John, and all those the Father has saved from the world without feeling this sacrament will be a grand and solemn experience?

I think by telling us this, the Lord elevates the sacrament’s importance by showing us it is something the ancient prophets would not hesitate to participate in. Perhaps we take for granted the ordinances and priesthood rites we have and think the old ways of the Old Testament would be more solemn and significant and awake our awe better.  But if the ancient prophets will appreciate the sacrament for what it is, then we must strive to do the same.

And isn't that event something to look forward to and work toward? Wouldn't it be a tragedy if we were unable to attend and partake because we felt unworthy?

15 Wherefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all, that ye may be able to stand.
16 Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, which I have sent mine angels to commit unto you;
17 Taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked;
18 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you, and be agreed as touching all things whatsoever ye ask of me, and be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also. Amen. (D&C 27:15-18)

These verses seem to review the admonition from Thessalonians to take upon us the armor of God, as all the parts of the armor are listed. 

Why put this here?

I believe it is to show us that taking the sacrament worthily allows us to put on the armor of God. All the parts of the armor are spiritual blessings I can trace back to taking the sacrament. It describes how the Spirit can help us if it can always be with us as we keep our part of the covenant.

I know when I take the sacrament, I feel more spiritually prepared to live the gospel, I feel ready to exert my faith, I feel shielded from the temptations that so easily beset me before.

In what ways do you feel the armor of God in your life from taking the sacramant?

Thursday, July 14, 2016 0 comments

Thoughts on President Eyring’s April 2016 talk :Where Two or Three Are Gathered

When I read through President Eyring’s talk “Where Two orThree Are Gathered,” my heart went out to the two individuals whose problem he described of wanting to feel nearer to God:

I know of at least two people listening today who want that blessing with all their hearts. They will try earnestly to draw nearer to the Lord during this conference. They each wrote to me—their letters arriving at my office in the same week—pleading for the same kind of help.
Both of them are converts to the Church and have previously received clear testimonies of the love of God the Father and of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. They knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Church by direct revelation from God and that the keys of the holy priesthood were restored. Each felt a witness that keys are in place in the Church today. They bore to me their solemn testimony in writing.
Yet both lamented that feelings of love for the Lord and His love for them were lessening. They both wanted, with full heart, for me to help them regain the joy and the feeling of being loved that was theirs as they came into the kingdom of God. Both expressed a fear that if they could not regain in full those feelings of love for the Savior and His Church, the trials and tests they faced would finally overcome their faith.
They are not alone in their concern, nor is their test a new one.

I noticed that President Eyring’s talk is full of helpful doctrine and admonitions for those who might be going through this same difficulty.

Note that he says they are not alone in their concern and their test isn’t a new one.  I would almost say the problem is endemic to the fallen mortal condition. We are prone to wander and leave the God we love. Even as members of the church we are still liable to relax and forget the Lord.  And on top of that, we have the challenges of mortality, as President Eyring lists elsewhere in his talk:

All of us have had our faith tested by precious blessings delayed, vicious attacks of those who wanted to destroy our faith, temptations to sin, and selfish interests that reduced our efforts to cultivate and soften the spiritual depths of our hearts.

--Blessings delayed (These can make us feel forgotten by God. Our resentment can rise and it takes faith and patience to overcome this.)
--Vicious attacks (These can make us feel unsupported by God. We want God prove we are right or defend us. Or we might wonder where we can find answers to sudden questions.  It takes courage and trust and patience to overcome this.)
--Temptations (These can make us feel like God’s way is unattractive or not enticing. It takes trust and the capacity to sacrificially mortify the flesh to overcome this.)
--selfish interests  (These can make us feel like God doesn’t want us to have our way or that He doesn’t care about our individuality. It takes humility and sacrifice to overcome this.)

Probably the main point President Erying wanted to make about how we can overcome the tendency to stray and lose our connection to our Heavenly Father comes even before he mentions the problem:

Where and when we feel the closeness of the Savior depend on each of us. He gave this instruction:
“And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near—
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:62–63).

President Eyring included a quotation from Christ’s parable of the sower about the four different types of ground receiving seed. The seed is the same; it is the ground that is ready to receive it or not.  Likewise, the word is the same, it is our hearts that are ready to receive it or not.

What I really liked was that in his talk he outlined some very quick and immediate steps that everyone could take during conference to soften our hearts and receive and nourish the word.  He suggested we pray throughout conference:
--Pray with those who are praying
--Pray as a speaker approaches the pulpit to receive the Spirit of truth
--Pray as the choir is about to sing
--As speakers are about to end talks, pray that God would give them of right words of testimony to lift everyone

I remember when he suggested this I was very touched, and I tried to do that throughout conference. It did help me feel increased closeness to God.  It also helped me pay extra attention to the speakers’ ending testimonies, and I appreciated them much more than I had done before.

I learned through this experience how important prayer is to increasing our closeness to God.  I extrapolate that this practice of personal, silent prayer can be used not just during general conference, but at all our church meetings as well.

But prayer isn’t the only way that we can do our part to draw near to the Lord. While I was reading this talk, I ended up making a quick list of things I have found help me draw nearer to the Lord:
--Taking the sacrament
--Remembering Christ at various times and places
--Daily scripture study
--Diligent service to others
--Temple worship

Drawing closer to God takes effort on our part. We can’t just drift and wish He were closer. We have to take action and move closer ourselves.

At a very young age (in late elementary school) I noticed the pride cycle pattern in my life, though I didn’t know enough to call it that. I noticed that after a period of trying hard to be good, I would start slacking off and then my spiritual life would go downhill.  With that slacking off would come a feeling of apathy that made church activity annoying.  I didn’t like being in that spiritual condition. 

Each time I noticed this, I had to make a choice to try to live right again.  When I did, I felt closer to the Lord, I felt I was progressing, I felt better about life, I felt happier.

As I got older, this cycle continued in my life, and I began to look for ways to avoid falling into the negative part of the cycle.  When I was in high school, I stumbled across a scripture that said “Weary not in well-doing” and I knew that was the key to escaping the pride cycle and staying on the good side.

President Eyring says something really insightful about our condition when we notice we’re feeling distanced from the Lord:

Those who are saddened by the loss of the joy they once had are the blessed ones. Some do not see the withering of faith within themselves. Satan is clever. He tells those he wishes to be miserable that the joy they once felt was childish self-delusion.

Satan tries to make us think that losing that closeness to God is irreversible. Or he tries to make us think that we’re progressing beyond the need for it.  Both of those messages are lies.

If we notice we’ve lost what we once had, we’re blessed because seeing the problem is the first step toward fixing it.  But to fix it, we have to do our part seeking after the Lord.

We’re more in trouble if we don’t see our own faith withering or if we think we’ve outgrown faith or joy from the gospel. 
1)   The only way we outgrow faith is if we know for certain the truth of the things we once simply believed. 
2)   Since the eternal destiny of Heavenly Father’s righteous children is eternal joy, it is not possible to outgrow joy.  A fullness of joy is our coveted end, not a temporary waystation.  There is nothing childish or self-delusive about true joy.

This talk has been a good reminder for me how much I need prayer in addition to the other practices for drawing closer to God.

Suggestions for teaching:

Read class members the account of the two members writing letters to President Eyring.  Ask them if they have ever gone through that kind of challenge.  Ask them what they would advise those two members if they had been in President Eyring’s position.

Ask class members to brainstorm lies that Satan tells us about our lessening feelings of love from the Lord.  What is false about those thoughts, and what is the truth?

Ask class members what life experiences or circumstances have challenged their faith or made it more difficult for them to feel the love of the Lord in their lives.

Have class members look up the scriptures that Elder Eyring quoted in his talk. What do those scriptures teach that can help with the problem of feeling distanced from the Lord and His love?

Ask class members to share what things they do that help them draw closer to the Lord.  How do these things help?

Ask class members if they followed President Eyring’s counsel to pray for those speaking, singing, praying, or testifying in conference.  Ask them to share what they felt when they did.  Challenge them to try praying at other church meetings similarly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 2 comments

If you want stories behind the D&C sections

One of my difficulties with reading through the D&C has increasingly been a sense that I am only getting part of the story.  The section headings are quite short and I know there is more to it than that. 

But where to go to get more perspective?

I want to share with you two sources that I’m using recently. None of them are official sites, but they have their uses. has a section-by-section commentary on the all of the D&C, and it includes historical background quoted from a variety of sources, including church scholars and the published History of the Church.  Sometimes it has extended descriptions of particular individuals mentioned in the D&C that are quoted from a Who’s Who book about church history.  Then it includes commentary from prophets and apostles on various parts of the sections. I feel like it is useful because it pulls together so much from a number of different sources.

The other source I found is the History of the Church as posted online by the BYU Studies website.  In the edition of the D&C published before 2013, you’d often see at the end of the section headings something that looked like “HC1:346.”  This was a reference to this History of the Church. I always wondered where one could find these volumes and read them, so I was excited to stumble upon them at the BYU studies website.  There are seven volumes to read through. 

When I started reading, I was interested to see that they began with the familiar Joseph Smith History that is in our Pearl of Great Price.  Then it continued onward from there, with revelations from the D&C included more or less in the order received and neat little dollops of background church history in between. 

One of the reasons why I really like reading the History of the Church is because it gives me a better sense of how the revelations were given to address a problem or question faced by the prophet Joseph Smith or other members.  It also helps me see how the Lord really would give intelligence liberally without upbraiding to those who lacked wisdom and asked of God. 
Sunday, July 10, 2016 0 comments

Not up to it yet

And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. (D&C 78:18)

This is a wonderful scripture to encounter when I am feeling discouraged with my efforts (which are too often pathetic and half-hearted) and how little I can accomplish compared to what I wish I could do.

I ran into it recently when I was much cast down over my own faults and foibles and how I seem to become so easily entangled in them.

“Ye cannot bear all things now”  -- Amen; preach it, Jesus.  I am not ready for the weight of worlds to be placed on my shoulders.

“nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along” – Thank heaven, God hasn’t forsaken me! Even after all the suffering my sins cause Christ, His mercy endures.  I can expect future personal revelation to guide me along the way I should go.  I can expect to grow into my potential by little steps as I exercise my faith.

“The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours” – Yayy! As a Latter-day Saint, I’m still part of the kingdom of God, and I have a share in all those blessings, helps, supports, gifts, ordinances, callings, etc.  All those things are the riches of eternity, intangible things that can’t be physically stolen from me.
Friday, July 8, 2016 0 comments

An Amalekite’s Unbelief and Attempts at Self-justification

While the four sons of Mosiah are on their mission to the Lamanites, Aaron has this interesting experience while trying to teach the Amalekites and Amulonites about the need to repent.

5 Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?
6 Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.
7 Now Aaron said unto him: Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?
8 And the man said unto him: We do not believe that thou knowest any such thing. We do not believe in these foolish traditions. We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come, neither do we believe that thy fathers and also that our fathers did know concerning the things which they spake, of that which is to come.
9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.
10 And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake. (Alma 21:5-10)

I thought it was interesting that Mormon included this little conversation between Aaron and the Amalekite because the rest of the chapter greatly summarizes Aaron’s teaching. So it seems there was something about the Amalekite’s objections and Aaron’s responses that Mormon thought worth recording.

I think the Amalekite represents a pattern of unbelief that is very entrenched and will not receive the gospel. Perhaps Mormon met people in his day that expressed the same sentiments. Probably we will see the same in our day, if we haven’t already.

The Amalekite starts out with incredulous questions about why his people don’t have angelic visitations, while at the same time he contends his people are as good as Aaron’s people.  Then he asks a bunch of “How do you know” questions challenging Aaron’s knowledge:
--How do you know the thought and intent of our hearts?
--How do you know we have cause to repent?
--How do you know we’re not a righteous people?

Then the Amalekite tries to prove the Amalekites’s righteousness on the grounds that they have build churches and gather to worship God and that they believe God will save all men.

But when Aaron asks him if he believes in Christ’s redemption, then the Amalekite spouts a torrent of “we don’t believe” statements!
--We don’t believe you know God will redeem mankind from their sins.
--We don’t believe these foolish traditions.
--We don’t believe you know of things to come.
--We don’t believe your fathers or ours knew what they were talking about concerning things to come.

Then when Aaron tries to show through the scriptures that there is grounds for belief in the redemption of Christ, all his listeners get angry, mock him, and don’t want to hear.

So the Amalekite essentially answers his own questions, even though he doesn’t realize it: The Amalekites don’t see angels because they don’t believe in the prophecies of what’s to come that angels and scriptures would give.  (Much of what angels do is quote scripture and prophesy, after all.)  If a person has made it clear that they don’t believe in Christ when a mortal messenger declares it, is that message going to be any easier to swallow if an angel gives it?   The Amalekite has grounds to repent because he doesn’t believe Christ will come to redeem men. He’s cut off from the atonement. His people have cause to repent because their unbelief is the same.

It is quite fascinating that the Amalekites believe God will save all men, and yet they don’t believe Aaron or their ancestors could know of things to come.  But then, what grounds for belief do they have that God will save all men, something that would require revelation and prophecy to know at all?  To affirm a belief in a future event while denying the future can be known is contradictory.  Beliefs based on that kind of thought process seem more like wishful thinking.

The Amalekite seems insulted by Aaron’s teaching the truth, which hints he feels rebuked and insecure in his own spirituality. So he tries to cover it by painting Aaron as a sort of religious imperialist and by arguing that church attendance makes the Amalekites as good as the Nephites.  But if that is all the Amalekite can point to, he doesn’t understand the full extent of what righteousness is, since it goes far beyond just going to church.  In trying to justify himself as righteous, the Amalekite actually reveals that he is not.  Again, if he doesn’t believe Christ will redeem humanity from their sins, he is stuck in his sins and can’t escape them.

There are several principles that can be got from this exchange.

1)    A dearth of spiritual gifts and privileges arises out of unbelief.  We may not even know what we disbelieve until someone challenges us on it. 
2)    When unbelief is challenged, it easily turns into noisy self-justification. 
3)    Self-justification tends to be contradictory, and it is obvious to others. (It’s also pathetic.)
4)    Self-justification is not possible.  (Christ is the only one who can justify us through His grace, and that can only happen when we repent.)

Aaron knew that he couldn’t force the Amalekite to believe differently, so after trying to present his grounds for testimony and being rejected, he simply left. Likewise, when people around us reject our testimonies, we can’t do anything to change that. 

But looking at it from a different perspective, what if we find that in some respect we are like the unbelieving Amalekite?  Thinking about how the Amalekite should have responded if he had been meek is an interesting exercise.  How could this Amalekite have turned the exchange into a learning experience?

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016 0 comments

Living Water Versus Only Dreaming You Quenched Your Thirst

I ran into two different scriptures in different places that I felt provided a really interesting contrast when juxtaposed, so I wanted to point them out.  One is on blessings of keeping the commandments, and the other is on the consequences of fighting against Zion. They are linked together with imagery about water.

But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life. (D&C 63:23)

I love that image of a well of living water springing up. I can’t remember where I learned this, but somewhere I heard that “living water” is a term the ancient Jews used to refer to fresh water that hadn’t been stored in cisterns. Living water was river water, well water, and rainwater. It’s moving and alive, not stagnant.  If you have a well of living water that springs up, you essentially have an artesian well.  You don’t have to let down a bucket; the water presses to the surface and comes to you.

My dad has an artesian well in the basement of his second orthodontic office. The office was built over the top before he bought the building. There is a bowl-like basin in the cement basement floor about two times the size of a wedding-reception punch bowl, and no matter how he tries to pump it out, water keeps trickling in because the pressure on the ground water from surrounding stone forces it up.

It’s rather troublesome for him in reality. But if you think about this spiritually, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we could each have a well of living water springing up in our lives with refreshing mysteries of God to instruct us?  The above verse promises we can have that. We can have these amazing revelations come to us if we will just keep the commandments of God.

Now, contrast that with this other verse:

And all the nations that fight against Zion, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision;
yea, it shall be unto them, even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty;
or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite;
yea, even so shall the multitude of all the nations be that fight against Mount Zion.
(2 Nephi 27:3)

This is a little difficult to parse because first it seems like those who fight Zion will be like the dream itself (and dreams end), then it seems like they will be like a person having a dream who thinks they have eaten and drunk, but then they awake and find they are still hungry and thirsty.

So which is it? 

It’s probably both, depending on the degree of opposition to Zion.  Those who are wicked will be ended like the dream.  But then there are those who have tried to nourish themselves with falsehoods or even lower-priority pursuits who will find when the dream ends that the satisfaction they thought they had ends too.

But too, I think this also gives us a warning about empty time-wasting pursuits of this life—that they aren’t a real source of satisfaction.  We need wholesome recreation, yes, but we should also beware when on a regular basis some semi-addictive activity pull us into a dream-like flow state for hours, but leaves us feeling vaguely unsatisfied and with nothing actually accomplished that makes the world better.

That kind of thing doesn’t fight against Zion like a screaming mob with torches and pitchforks would. But on the level of choices between alternatives—good vs. better vs. best—we could be fighting against Zion indirectly simply by a regular, deliberate turning away from “best” for a while. 

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if there is anything we’re doing that feels real while we’re involved in it but leaves us feeling unsatisfied. I’m not free from these problems myself. For a curious person (like me), the internet represents a massive temptation to learn and read about all kinds of things, for hours and hours..  Heck, I used to browse encyclopedias for fun when I was a kid, so you can imagine what happens when I get into Wikipedia..  One way I deal with it is by trying (emphasis on “try”) to confine my searching to real problems I need to solve in my life.  I have to be very careful on Facebook.  And Pinterest?  I haven’t gotten into that because I know it would suck me in.

Anyway, there you have it—two different scriptures that tell us the consequences of different choices.  We can keep the commandments and have a well of living water springing up in us of the mysteries of the Lord’s kingdom, or we can get caught up in what Isaiah (as quoted by Nephi) might warningly call “living the dream,” thinking we're quenching some sort of thirst and then wake up to discover we’re unsatisfied.

Living water spring up sounds a whole lot more attractive.