Sunday, August 30, 2009 2 comments

How are we to understand the word “astonished” in the scriptures?

One of the fun things that has been observed by John Bytheway in his book “Righteous Warriors” and in his Education Week talk* by the same title is that in Book of Mormon you see the use of the word “astonished” to denote surprise. You also see the phrase “exceedingly astonished” and “astonished beyond measure”. The reader, when he or she runs across these phrases, gets the sense of complete and total surprise, that something completely unexpected has happened.

However, I suspected that the word was not being used indiscriminately, but was being used to convey something either good or bad.

I looked “astonish” up in the Topical Guide, but it had very little in the way of references. Most from the Bible, and it had about two from the Book of Mormon, but I knew “astonish” is used far more than two times in the Book of Mormon. I looked in the Index and they didn’t have any entry at all. Finally, I went on the church’s website to the online scriptures and did a search for “astonish”, and I got 76 results. (Actually, there were more than 76 results, because they count multiple instances in the same chapter as one result.)

What I found was that in most cases, when people are astonished in the scriptures, it is not good. It’s bad.

This is different from our modern definition for astonish--“to surprise or impress greatly”-- which is neutral and even positive. But there happens to be a much older meaning for “astonish”. Evidently in the 16th century it conveyed a sense of being stunned, bewildered, and dismayed. That idea of being dismayed is the sense that “astonish” is used for most often in the Book of Mormon.

Let’s look at some examples.

Dismay at wickedness
12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;….
19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure. (Alma 31:12,19, emphasis added)
The Zoramite we-are-saved-while-everyone-else-is-damned-and-there-is-no-Christ prayers understandably caused great dismay with Alma and company.
And now it came to pass when Lachoneus received this epistle he was exceedingly astonished, because of the boldness of Giddianhi demanding the possession of the land of the Nephites, and also of threatening the people and avenging the wrongs of those that had received no wrong, save it were they had wronged themselves by dissenting away unto those wicked and abominable robbers. (3 Nephi 3:11)
We can note that Lachoneus was dismayed by Giddianhi’s demands and threats, but later we see that he is not frightened by them.

Dismay at a different reaction that hoped for
And now when Lamoni had rehearsed unto him all these things, behold, to his astonishment, his father was angry with him, and said: Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property. (Alma 20:13)
Undoubtedly Lamoni had hoped for a more favorable reaction from his father to his story.

Suddenly recognizing the hand of the Lord
And when they had all testified to the things which they had seen, and he had learned of the faithfulness of Ammon in preserving his flocks, and also of his great power in contending against those who sought to slay him, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man. Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people, because of their murders? (Alma 18:2, emphasis added)
It might be a little difficult to understand how Lamoni might have been dismayed by the faithfulness and power of Ammon, unless we surmise that Lamoni’s idea of the Great Spirit up to that point had probably been something like “If the Great Spirit doesn’t stop me, then whatever I do is right.” He thought Ammon was the Great Spirit come down to right wrongs, which suggested to him that he had somehow done wrong to kill his servants.
And when the multitude had witnessed that he spake these things as he [Sherem] was about to give up the ghost, they were astonished exceedingly; insomuch that the power of God came down upon them, and they were overcome that they fell to the earth. (Jacob 7:21, emphasis added)
Seeing Sherem deny the things he had taught and hearing him express his fear of having an “awful case” would certainly cause dismay in those who had believed him before.

Dismay at being wrong
And now behold, when they saw this they were astonished exceedingly, insomuch that they fell to the earth; for they had not believed the words which Nephi had spoken concerning the chief judge. (Helaman 9:4, emphasis added)
Dismay at seeming disaster
And they began to assemble themselves together unto the house of the king. And there came a multitude, and to their astonishment, they beheld the king, and the queen, and their servants prostrate upon the earth, and they all lay there as though they were dead; and they also saw Ammon, and behold, he was a Nephite. (Alma 19:18)
To all the Lamanites, it must have looked like there was some sort of deadly invisible force had run absolutely amok in the king’s house. Some sort of mysterious massacre.
And behold the people did gather themselves together unto the place of the judgment-seat—and behold, to their astonishment they saw those five men who had fallen to the earth. (Helaman 9:7)
Once again, at first glance it looks like some sort of massacre.

Dismay at preparation
36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him.
37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm. (Alma 17:36-37, emphasis added)
It’s easy to see how the Lamanites would be dismayed at not being able to overpower Ammon, when it was all of them to only one of him.
8 But behold, to their uttermost astonishment, they were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi. Now they were prepared for the Lamanites, to battle after the manner of the instructions of Moroni.
9 And it came to pass that the Lamanites, or the Amalickiahites, were exceedingly astonished at their manner of preparation for war. (Alma 49:8-9)
But behold, to their astonishment, the city of Noah, which had hitherto been a weak place, had now, by the means of Moroni, become strong, yea, even to exceed the strength of the city Ammonihah. (Alma 49:14)
23 And it came to pass that on the morrow they returned into the camp of the Nephites in great haste, being greatly astonished, and struck with much fear, saying:
24 Behold, we followed the camp of the Amlicites, and to our great astonishment, in the land of Minon, above the land of Zarahemla, in the course of the land of Nephi, we saw a numerous host of the Lamanites; and behold, the Amlicites have joined them; (Alma 2:23-24)
Prophecies fulfilled
15 And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came….
17 And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth. (3 Nephi 1:15-17)
Stopped by an angel
18 And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
19 And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father. (Mosiah 27:18-19)
Dismayed by words
And they [the priests of Noah] began to question him [Abinadi], that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him; but he answered them boldly, and withstood all their questions, yea, to their astonishment; for he did withstand them in all their questions, and did confound them in all their words. (Mosiah 12:19)
And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was amore than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them. (Alma 10:12)
And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell. (Alma 14:6)
And I will also grant unto thee that thy brethren may be cast out of prison, and thou and thy brethren may come unto me, in my kingdom; for I shall greatly desire to see thee. For the king was greatly astonished at the words which he had spoken, and also at the words which had been spoken by his son Lamoni, therefore he was desirous to learn them. (Alma 20:27, emphasis added)
Lamoni’s father would have been greatly dismayed by the Ammon’s words about being cast off for murdering an innocent man. It is likely that Lamoni’s father had the blood of innocent men on his hands already and hadn’t thought anything of it until Ammon’s words.
Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them, insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers. (Helaman 5:19, emphasis added)
The doctrine that no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God is probably one of the most dismaying ideas ever.
1 And now behold, it came to pass that all the people of the land did hear these sayings, and did witness of it. And after these sayings there was silence in the land for the space of many hours;
2 For so great was the astonishment of the people that they did cease lamenting and howling for the loss of their kindred which had been slain; therefore there was silence in all the land for the space of many hours. (3 Nephi 10:1-2)
Detected in a crime
And he shall stand with fear, and wist not what to say. And behold, he shall deny unto you; and he shall make as if he were astonished; nevertheless, he shall declare unto you that he is innocent. (Helaman 9:30)
Hard-heartedness
And it came to pass that thus passed away the *ninety and fifth year also, and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen— (3 Nephi 2:1)
That is an interesting verse. It suggests that one of the functions of signs and wonders is to astonish (dismay) people so that they become willing to repent.


Now, there are some other cases where it seems that this dismay in the meaning of “astonish” does not make sense because the circumstances seem more positive. However, this is when we find that there are deeper psychological currents that are rising to the surface, and people coming to grips with inner failings they hadn’t known existed.
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness. (1 Nephi 16:10)
Why would Lehi be dismayed by the appearance of the Liahona? If we look at the context of this verse we see why. A little before the above verse, it says that Lehi had fulfilled all the Lord’s commandments thus far. Perhaps Lehi felt that he could live in peace where he was from now on. But no, the Lord has more for Lehi to do—he is told to take his family into the wilderness the next day, and just in case Lehi thinks he was imagining it, the Lord leaves Lehi a tangible gift of guidance. There’s nothing for it but to obey.
And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla. (Alma 17:1)
Why should Alma be dismayed at meeting his buddies again after 14 years? Well, think about it; he’s meeting them at the head of a crowd of Lamanites. No way of just knowing whether they were friendly or not. (With Lamanites, likely it was always safer to assume they were enemies first.) Maybe it looked like his old friends had got together a Lamanite faction to invade the Nephite lands and take over. It is once he starts asking questions that he finds out his buddies are still in the Lord and that the Lamanites with them are converted people.
And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Because this is all that thou hast desired, that I would release thy brethren, and suffer that my son Lamoni should retain his kingdom, behold, I will grant unto you that my son may retain his kingdom from this time and forever; and I will govern him no more— (Alma 20:26, emphasis added)
Why would Lamoni’s father be dismayed to find that Ammon didn’t want to kill him and that Ammon really cared about Lamoni? Because it was taking all of his deep-seated prejudices about Nephites and turning them upside down, which meant Lamoni’s father had been wrong all along. And not just sort of wrong, but totally and completely dead wrong. Being wrong is hard for any of us to take, but it’s got to be even harder for a powerful king to discover he has been so mistaken for so long.
25 And it came to pass that there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood; nevertheless, according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds.
26 And now, their preservation was astonishing to our whole army, yea, that they should be spared while there was a thousand of our brethren who were slain. And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power. (Alma 57:25-26)
Why should the preservation of the stripling warriors cause dismay among the Nephite army? This one was a poser for me. Maybe.. maybe the stripling warriors had been completely underestimated and looked down upon by the rest of the Nephite army. (“Those little whippersnappers, they’re still wet behind the ears; what good are they ever going to do us in a battle?”) Maybe the Nephite army thought the stripling warriors would suffer the greatest casualties due to their youth and inexperience. And then to find out after battle that none of the stripling warriors had died (though all wounded multiple times) and instead a thousand of the Nephites had died? Humiliating! They would have to realize how powerful faith in God truly was.
And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom. (Alma 15:11)
Why might Zeezrom’s miraculous healing cause dismay? Perhaps the people had pidgeon-holed Zeezrom as an unbeliever and thought his feverish torment a fitting punishment and rejoiced to hear of it. (Perhaps a number of the people were refugees from Ammonihah and knew that Zeezrom had been instrumental in hardening hearts to have the righteous women and children burned.) Hearing of Zeezrom’s miraculous healing would cause dismay if they didn’t want him to be healed. Hopefully it also impressed the lesson upon them that the Lord’s mercy is for EVERYONE that repents.
And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure. (Helaman 3:25)
Why would many blessings cause dismay among high priests and teachers in the church? Sometimes church leaders are so intimately aware with the weaknesses of their people that it can begin to seem to them as if there’s no way for their people to rise above the level at which they struggle so desperately. Then when the miracles of the Lord’s tender mercies occur, and a huge jump in progress happens, the leaders can feel dismay at their own lack of faith. They are humbled.

Conclusion: The word “astonished” can be interpreted as “dismayed” in the Book of Mormon.

*If you want see John Bytheway’s Education Week talk “Righteous Warriors: Lessons from the War Chapters of the Book of Mormon” (which is very entertaining and enlightening), you can find it here. I recommend it for a good Family Home Evening.
Friday, August 21, 2009 2 comments

Common and Uncommon Types of Believing, Desiring, and Willing

The following is taken from George H. Brimhall’s “Doing Common Things in an Uncommon Way: A study for the Advanced Senior Class M. I. A. 1922-23” in the 1922 Improvement Era, which I found very instructive and enlightening:
Belief is the product of evidence, interest, and will.

There is a psychological truth wrapped up in the saying, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." We are often deceived as to the honesty of our beliefs. We find ourselves believing in the direction of our interests right against evidence, and by applying a little common thinking to our believing we find that interest is the predominating element in some of them.

Three Kinds of Believing

1. Believing with a reasonable doubt. This kind of believing is unfinished and may be called hope-believing, as hope temporarily fills the place of evidence not yet produced. This incomplete believing is unsafe as material upon which to base an important decision. It should always be put on the waiting list as an applicant for a leading role in the drama of our lives. Courts of justice bar it as unfit for any part of a final verdict.

2. Believing with the possibility of a doubt. Here the mind is in a state of unsatisfied certainty. The possibility of error somewhere causes a hesitancy, and shadows of doubt hover in the mind, and we are at the point where we can say, "In all probability this is true, but there is a possibility of its not being true." This form of belief is strong, but not safe for great issues. The possibility of a doubt is a bar to a capital punishment verdict.

3. Believing without the possibility of a doubt. At this point belief is crystalizing into knowledge. Doubt has all vanished; its place has been filled by conviction of its existence. Neither mist nor shadow remains, and one can say, "I cannot doubt in this case." On such a belief only can important issues be safely decided.

Special Fields for Uncommon Believing

1.Believing against immediate interests. It is uncommon for employers to believe that profiteering on the toil of men should be reckoned with, as a form of human enslavement, and it is very uncommon for employees to believe that loafing on the employer's time should be dealt with as down-right dishonesty.

2. Believing in doing what is right and letting the consequences follow. This high grade, uncommon believing is specific; it is not a blanket form of believing, it is a conviction that fits the events of each hour. The person who believes this believes it for himself now. Now, now all the time. Not simply sometime, and for somebody else; he believes it without the possibility of a doubt, i.e., he cannot doubt if he tries.

3. Believing in ourselves in the midst of failure. What this means is wonderfully set forth in Kipling's "If." The whole poem is worth a place in the memory of anyone who believes in doing common things in an uncommon way. When courage dies, we are dead within ourselves. Self encouragement is an indispensable tonic for the stricken soul.

4. Believing in humanity in spite of its weakness. To disbelieve in humanity is to disbelieve in oneself. To doubt that the world is getting better is to show an ignorance of history and a doubt in destiny. It would be difficult to find a group of more disobedient children than that of the first family. (See Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 5:13-27.) A much larger percent of the inhabitants of the earth are worthy of a place in the ark than was saved in the days of Noah. Where would we find a city containing less than five good people?

5. Believing in God's promises when their fulfilment seems impossible or delayed. Holding the belief in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, made it possible for the Israelites to raise large families. Their belief in the promised gathering has held them intact as a race during the long years of their dispersion while deprived of national existence. Holding to a belief in our blessings is part of holding to the faith.

Counting one's blessings should go farther than remembering those we have, and have had; it should include a faith and a recollection of those officially promised to us. Firmly believing in promises, even if it should not prolong life, will make it fuller and stronger while it lasts.

6. Believing that "virtue is its own reward." We may miss being rewarded for doing good, but we cannot fail to be rewarded by the good we do.

7. Believing that vice is its own penalty. We may evade being punished for our sins, but we cannot escape being punished by them.

8. Believing that heaven-making is better than heaven-hunting. A life of "Here am I, Lord," has much more spiritual enjoyment in it than one of "Where art thou, Lord?"

9. Believing that the only way to ever have peace is to stop preparing for war. Paved roads, good schools, public parks and reclaimed deserts are pathways to heaven. Battleships, big guns, army outfits, are highways to the other place.
Some things I would add are the following:

10. Believing that God is fully aware of everything we do. A person who believes they are under constant examination by a holy Supreme Being will be in constant alertness to be their best self, even when they are completely alone.

11. Believing that God is holy and cannot look on sin with any allowance or approval. A person who believes in God’s complete distaste for sin will seek to repent of all sins committed, will be highly resistant to temptation, will work to avoid situations where there is a high likelihood of difficult temptations being presented, and will seek for a change of heart so that temptations become abhorrent.
Lesson V.—Desiring

What Desiring is and Does

Desiring is the soul's reach for enjoyment, and that reach may be low or common, or it may be uncommon or high. Common desiring leaves us, at many points, on the border line of animality, where man is "sensual, carnal, and devilish." Uncommon desiring lifts us to the borderland of Divinity in fulfilment of the Beatitude (Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God). Our desires reveal ourselves to ourselves. A man is as he thinks. A man is as he remembers. A man is as he imagines. A man is as he believes; but more still, a man is as he desires.

A Classification of Desires

Desires may be, as to their origin, placed in three groups:

1. Desires of physical origin.

2. Desires of intellectual origin.

3. Desires of habit origin.

Physical Desires. The desire of physical origin (or body-born) are the natural appetites or cravings for physical preservation, growth and perpetuity. They are good servants but cruel masters. They are capabilities, without which we should cease to live; under which we would live basely, and over which we shall live gloriously.

Intellectual Desires. Desires of intellectual origin include our ambitions for power, position, possession, and condition—the yearnings for the good, the true, and the beautiful, are among the highest desires. As the thinking, remembering, imagining and believing are constantly expanding, the desires of intellectual origin are constantly being modified and multiplied. Every new belief brings with it some modification of an old desire or a newly created one.

Increase of intelligence means extension and elevation of desire.

Habit Desires. All artificial appetites, the desire for company, relatives, associates, and friends, are of this type. The lone man on the island is fittingly made to say, "Society, friendship and love, I long for your charms, but in vain. O, had I the wings of a dove, how soon I would taste you again." The desire for locality comes in this class. So intense is this yearning in some cases that, if not gratified, it causes physical decline and even death. Homesickness is no imaginative ailment. The desire for a return of the good old times is one of habit origin. The desire for recurrence of pleasurable experiences might claim admission into all three of these classes, but habit has the strongest claim upon it. Uncontrolled, it hurts happiness to death, and pursues joy to its destruction.

Controlling our desires. Desiring beyond the law is all too common. Our first step then in control of desire is a mental refusal to desire beyond the law of righteousness. Desiring beyond this law is breaking the Tenth commandment, which contains the psychological essence of the four preceding ones. No one deliberately lies without coveting something. Stealing is always antedated by an unlawful desire. To desire sex relationship out of wedlock is mentally robbing someone of chastity.

Some Uncommon Desiring

1. Desiring to have righteous desires. Upon this desire is based the possibility of meriting the promises in the Beatitude, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

2. Desiring the power to control our desires. This desire is one of the ascending steps toward the rank of greatness. (See Proverbs 16:32.)

3. Desiring for faith. The faith that brings with it the comfort depicted in the 23rd Psalm; the faith that brings the assurance expressed in Job 19:25; the faith that enabled a veteran Latter-day Saint always to say in the face of seeming unfairness and dark misunderstandings, "God is just, and 'Mormonism' is true."

4. Desiring to serve. (a) To serve God by yielding to him the obedience of confidence, as did the first man after the Fall. (See Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 5:6). (b) To serve humanity by helping persons and institutions with kind words and courageous work.

5. Desiring that other peoples' joys may be equal to those I enjoy. That they may have just as good possessions, just as much popularity, just as good opportunities, just as good everything, as I have.

6. Desiring to do common things in an uncommon way. Desire to make the self uncommon where it is common, by being at one's best and doing one's best.


Lesson VI—Willing

Explanation and Definition

The word willing in this lesson is not a participle, it is a verb. It means something more than assent or acquiescence, or compliance. It means striking and holding to some purpose. It is more than purpose, it is purpose plus determination to execute or accomplish. It is the self, or I, commanding or directing the self as me. When one says "I will," it is equivalent to saying to himself, "you shall."

Willing is free agency in action.

Some Common Forms of Willing

1. Willing with an impulse. This is a method which characterizes an explosive will. Like the "hasty spark" that calls it forth, explosive willing is short lived. The explosive will never hesitates. It calls into lines the executive forces either to help, hinder, or hurt, on dangerously short notice. It waits not upon deliberation, but rushes off at the call of snap judgment. Willing from impulse is uneconomic as it wastes times and energy by making retraction and reparations unreasonably necessary.

2. Willing without a sense of responsibility. This is careless willing—a sort of half-hearted determination. The expression, "I guess I'll do it," has behind it this state of mind, it indicates mental flabbiness.

3. Willing with an interest. There is a kind of common willing that is wed to some special interest, in which case real will is only fifty percent of the procedure. The sentence, "I will do it just because I want to", expresses the state of mind in this kind of willing.

4. Willing with a habit. When a person can give no other explanation for a choice of action than that he is in the habit of it, it is plain that he willed with a habit, that the habit has him instead of his having the habit.

5. Willing with the crowd. Who has not had the I-will-if-you-will state of mind. This is a sort of social willing, lacking in courage. It is a kind of mental leaning on the other fellow. In it there is a lack of erectness and self-rootedness that marks a strong character.

6. Willing for convenience. This form of willing is little more than wishing. It may contain intention, but real determination is absent. Persons with wills of convenience will pay a debt if the bill is presented just when they have plenty of money, but at no other time, unless compelled. They will keep a promise if something does not make it inconvenient to do so. They are partly weak and partly wicked.

7. Willing against belief. This kind of selfish willing is not only common or low grade, it is contemptible. It is a form of self treason. One who does it needs reminding that " a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." Self confidence is impossible where willing belief is permitted, though there may be in evidence as a substitute an abundance of self conceit.

This is the kind of willing that says, “I don’t believe in it, but I’ll do it.”
Uncommon Willing

1. Willing to claim no privileges at the expense of the rights of others.
Are you willing to be fair, even though you could get ahead by taking advantage of others?
2. Willing to subordinate one's will to a superior will. The very highest kind of free agency is the agency that can subordinate itself with light and love and liberty.
This one was very helpful to me. There is always the Christian challenge of saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” And by “superior will”, I don’t think Brimhall means the more forceful or more charismatic will, but the most righteous will.
3. Willing against material interests. A hotel keeper in California said, "I will vote for prohibition because I believe in it, though I know it will cut down my patronage one-half." This was a case of willing against material interests and revealed a character that lived above self-bribery.

4. Willing to fight doubt and foster belief; my belief in myself, in my fellowmen and in God. A resolution full of determination in this direction clears the way for the high and safe standing of one among his fellows and puts one in line for election to the favor of God. (See Compendium Gems, page 269).
This is resistance to the soul-shrink that comes of entertaining doubts. Though we might have questions that could cast doubt, we refuse to feed those doubts and instead seek for more information and experiences that can confirm beliefs with certainty, or replace false beliefs with truth.
5. Willing in the direction of honoring, sustaining, and obeying the law. We honor the law when we speak well of it. We obey the law when we conform to its provisions, we sustain the law when we advocate and help its enforcement.

6. Willing to overcome evil with good. (a) In the inner world by talking good thoughts when evil ones intrude, by recollecting the pleasant when unpleasant memories come, by turning to ideals in the presence of evil imaginations, by getting rid of doubt through business with belief, by escaping low desires then fleeing to high ones.

(b) In the outer world, by turning away wrath with a soft answer, by smiling when things go wrong, by acting bravely when seized by fear, by giving more than half way to make peace with an enemy.

7. Willing to do less common willing and more uncommon willing. Of all mental operations, willing is the greatest. It is the apex action of the mind. The person of strong willing has the consciousness of being in the care and under the supervision of something safe.
Isn't this great stuff? What an insight on the formation of character! I found the part about "will" especially helpful. It showed me that in many ways my will was weaker and more common than I thought and that I needed to develop it more.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009 1 comments

Toward Expertness in the Scriptures and the Gospel.

Yesterday I read an interesting article that asserted that in order to become good at something it requires about 2,000 hours of concentrated study and practice, and expertness requires about 10,000 hours.

This got me thinking about how we have been encouraged to become gospel scholars and familiar with the scriptures. I began to wonder just how many hours I had spent studying the scriptures in my life. I decided to try to calculate how much time I had spent.

And as I began trying to calculate, I realized how wonderful it was that I had been so consistent because it made it pretty easy to figure.

I could calculate pretty well how much time I had spent in the scriptures in Sunday school and gospel doctrine, in seminary, and summer institute classes.

I could also calculate pretty well how much time I had spent in the scriptures due to my parents holding family scripture study while I grew up, my parents sending me to EFY, my parents allowing me to go to BYU where I could take religion classes, and my husband and I reading together.

I could also calculate pretty well how much time I had spent in the scriptures on my own in daily study, in working on my book about Isaiah, and in writing my posts for this blog.

I’m not going to put the numbers up because I don’t want to provoke some kind of statistics comparison war on the Mormon blogosphere. We compare ourselves to others so much as it is. But I will tell you that it showed me that as members we will obtain a certain amount of knowledge and familiarity with the gospel simply by showing up at church and being where we are supposed to be. (Many of us acquire knowledge through teaching callings as well.) We will also acquire a certain amount of knowledge beyond that through the faithfulness of our parents and maybe even our spouses in having scripture study. But obtaining anything beyond that is completely and totally up to us.

Did you know that if you only dip into the scriptures in gospel doctrine class, in 80 years you will have gotten 4160 hours? That’s certainly a pretty good level of competence. But if you read the scriptures every day for 80 years without fail for half an hour, you will have gotten 14,600 hours! That’s more than 3 times as much practice with the potential for 3 times as many insights and more! And those two together (and nothing else) is over 18,000 hours!

It is plain to me that Heavenly Father wants us to become experts. (And not just experts, but gods and goddess.)

Here are some verses I found about the importance of studying the scriptures and what it can do for us:
And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. (Alma 32:40)
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:
11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. (Titus 1:9-11)
And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived, for the Son of Man shall come, and he shall send his angels before him with the great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the remainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Joseph Smith Matthew 1:37)
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:20)
Sunday, August 16, 2009 1 comments

Why is the salvation of the dead necessary for my salvation?

And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect. (D&C 128:15)
I’ve read over this verse a number of times and I have always wondered why Joseph Smith said that the salvation of the dead is necessary for our salvation and why the dead can’t be made perfect without us and we can’t be made perfect without them. I wonder about this because I am used to thinking of salvation as an individual affair subject to the grace of God and the willing agency of each person. I can’t control other people and what they do, so why is it that my salvation hinges upon someone else long dead receiving salvation? And why does their salvation hinge upon me receiving mine? And why and how does our attainment of perfection depend upon each other?

I read over these verses:
17 And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. (D&C 128:17-18)
I found the answer in verse 18:
…for it is necessary…that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time.
This suddenly suggested to me that the work for the dead is about welding together the various gospel dispensations that were separated from each other by the unbelief, apostasy, and ignorance of the various generations of children (or parents) throughout the history of the earth.

And then again, in verse 18 I read it again:
It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other… For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.
I realized that it isn’t just the perfection of individuals we are seeking. As Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother want us to become like them, exalted fatherhood and motherhood is the pinnacle of celestial attainment and perfection. We’re also seeking perfect marriage so that we can have a perfect family (or rather a perfected family). Neither the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman in the Lord.

We know this, yes?

But along with this, you can’t have a perfect family without children. You also can’t have a perfect family without parents. Neither the parents without the children, nor the children without the parents in the Lord. There has to be a welding link between generations, otherwise the earth would suffer the eternal curse of having some without parents and others without children. There must be a complete establishment of the patriarchal order so that those who are worthy to have righteous parents (whose parents may have broken their covenants or refused them) can have the satisfaction of being sealed to righteous and worthy grandparents or other ancestors. And those with wayward children can receive to themselves their worthy grandchildren and great-grandchildren while the wayward children stand as ministering angels. And those who suffered childlessness can receive the spiritually orphaned through adoptive sealing.

Conclusion: The family is of God. The full family.
Friday, August 14, 2009 1 comments

Similarities and Differences between the Stories of Lehi and Mormon

I think it is interesting to compare and contrast the family at the beginning and the family at the end of the Book of Mormon.

The level of information we know about Lehi’s family and Mormon’s family is different.

We know a lot more about Lehi’s family than Mormon’s. We know names, attitudes, and family incidents. Family happenings loomed large as they left Israel society.

Concerning Mormon’s family, all we know is that he had a father who relocated their family from the land northward to the land southward, and a son (Moroni) who was called to the ministry and who was eventually the ending voice of the Book of Mormon. The national backdrop was high in Mormon’s concern as a prophet, general, and record-keeper.

Lehi’s Jerusalem and Mormon’s Nephites were going to be destroyed.

Lehi’s Jerusalem
For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. (1 Nephi 1:4)
Mormon’s Nephite civilization
14 And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying:
15 Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth. (Mormon 3:14-15)
Both Lehi and Mormon had profound spiritual experiences

Lehi’s happened in manhood.
5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly. (1 Nephi 1:5-6, see also verses 7-13)
Mormon’s happened in boyhood.
And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus. (Mormon 1:15)
Both Lehi and Mormon were prophets to their home culture.

Lehi
Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard. (1 Nephi 1:18)
Mormon
I did endeavor to preach unto this people (Mormon 1:16)
2 And it came to pass that the Lord did say unto me: Cry unto this people—Repent ye, and come unto me, and be ye baptized, and build up again my church, and ye shall be spared.
3 And I did cry unto this people… (Mormon 3:2-3)
4 Behold, I am laboring with them continually….
6 And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation... (Moroni 9:4,6)
The reaction of the people to the preaching seems to have been different.

Lehi

Lehi preached to the people and they mocked him and wanted to kill him.
19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him [Lehi] because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away… (1 Nephi 1:19-20)
Mormon

Mormon preached to the Nephites and they forbade him from speaking, or ignored him, or were angry with him, or tried to put down authority from God.
And I did cry unto this people, but it was in vain; and they did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance. And behold they did harden their hearts against the Lord their God. (Mormon 3:3)
…when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them. (Moroni 9:4)
…in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 8:28)
Could the apathy-or-anger response of Mormon’s Nephite culture be what we are seeing today?

What Lehi and Mormon did after the rejection of their message was different.

Lehi

Lehi was told to take his family and leave.
2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.
3 And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.
4 And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness. (1 Nephi 2:2-4)
Mormon

Unlike Lehi, Mormon stuck with the Nephites until the end, even when their wickedness exceeded that of the Lamanites, although he noted that the Lord took His disciples away from the wicked Nephites (Mormon 1:13) and that the Lord told him “vengeance is mine and I will repay”. Mormon led the Nephites in battle, then swore off involvement when he saw they were only intent on revenge, but after a number of years he then repented of his oath when they were being driven from place to place.

Both Lehi and Mormon became caretakers of records from their peoples.

Lehi

The Lord told Lehi the brass plates were needed.
…the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.
3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.
4 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness. (1 Nephi 3:2-4)
Mormon

Mormon was given charge of the plates by the prophet Ammaron. Mormon actually inherited hidden records as the Holy Ghost had already prompted Ammaron to hide them. Mormon moved them several times, abridged them, and added to them until they were placed in a hill and delivered the abridgment to Moroni.
And now I, Mormon, seeing that the Lamanites were about to overthrow the land, therefore I did go to the hill Shim, and did take up all the records which Ammaron had hid up unto the Lord. (Mormon 4:23)
And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni. (Mormon 6:6)
What are we doing with the records in our possession?

Their knowledge of their people’s destruction was different, but they knew about it.

Lehi

Lehi wasn’t there for Jerusalem’s destruction, but he was apprised of it by God;
For, behold, said he, I have seen a vision, in which I know that Jerusalem is destroyed; and had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have perished. (2 Nephi 1:4)
Mormon

Mormon was there to witness the Nephite’s destruction.
7 And it came to pass that my people, with their wives and their children, did now behold the armies of the Lamanites marching towards them…
8 And it came to pass that they came to battle against us…
9 And it came to pass that they did fall upon my people with the sword, and with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the ax, and with all manner of weapons of war.
10 And it came to pass that my men were hewn down, yea, even my ten thousand who were with me, and I fell wounded in the midst; and they passed by me that they did not put an end to my life.
11 And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people save it were twenty and four of us, (among whom was my son Moroni) and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, [insert recital of 230,000 people that died]….yea, even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me, and also a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites, had fallen; and their flesh, and bones, and blood lay upon the face of the earth, being left by the hands of those who slew them to molder upon the land, and to crumble and to return to their mother earth.
16 And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people… (Mormon 6:7-11,15-16)
Questions that come to my mind after this comparison are the following:
Why didn’t Mormon take his family and leave the Nephites? Was it because there was no greater chosen land to be led to?

In finding the scriptures for my comparisons, I happened upon a possible answer. It seems that the Lord required Mormon to be a witness that the prophecies of destruction were being fulfilled.
…I did even as the Lord had commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the Spirit which had testified of things to come. (Mormon 3:16)
Do you feel like Lehi or Mormon? I can’t really decide how I feel. I sometimes feel like Mormon when I try to share the gospel with people or suggest that they pray when they are in trouble and they don’t listen to me. I sometimes feel like Lehi fleeing to safety when I remember the prophets’ counsel to stand in holy places, go to the temple, live providently, hold onto covenants, strengthen families, etc.

Nephi Elaborates on Isaiah’s Words about the Precepts of Men

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men—
26 Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder, for the wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid. (2 Nephi 27:25)
..Yes, we know that the Lord will do a marvelous work and a wonder that causes the wisdom of the learned to perish. But what does this have to do with the precepts of men? What are the precepts of men?

In trying to get my mind around what “precepts” meant, I decided to look in the Topical Guide to see how the scriptures generally used the word. It turned out that it meant commandments and laws. My dictionary widget says it means “a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought”.

Being newly alert to this meaning, I happened to look into the next chapter and right away I noticed the word “precept” was used a lot. (The next chapter contains the well-known “eat-drink-and-be-merry” false doctrine that Nephi skewers with such aplomb.) And that’s when I realized that Nephi was probing into what these false precepts were and dragging them out into the light of day. (And likely he had seen them in his vision of the future as well.)

9 false precepts of men Nephi warns against:
  • There is no God today because the Redeemer has done his work and given his power to men. (2 Nephi 28:5)
  • Teach with learning; the Holy Ghost doesn’t give utterance. (2 Nephi 28:4)
  • Deny the power of God (2 Nephi 28:4)
  • Don’t believe stories of miracles because God is not a God of miracles today and he’s already done his work. (2 Nephi 28:6)
  • We have the word of God and we don’t need anything more. We have enough. (2 Nephi 28:29)
  • All is well in Zion; Zion prospers. (2 Nephi 28:21)
  • Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. (2 Nephi 28:7)
  • Eat, drink, and be merry, but fear God. He will justify committing a little sin. If we are guilty, God will punish us a little bit and at last we’ll be saved. (2 Nephi 28:8)
  • There’s no devil and no hell. (2 Nephi 28:22)
So what happens when denominations don’t believe in the power of God and the Holy Ghost to teach and convince, don’t believe in miracles, don’t believe there will be any more scripture or revelation, think God has already done His work, think everything is just fine, believe its okay to sin, and think there is no devil and no hell? From looking at the list that Nephi cited, it is easy for me to see that they gradually cut themselves off from good, and gradually embrace more and more evil, all while thinking they are doing okay. There’s no direction they can really go but down.
…there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. (2 Nephi 28:9)
Do we see false precepts today? You bet we do. I recently read a blog entry of a commentator on the economy who maintains the dubious idea that deliberately walking away from one’s upside down mortgage is not a moral issue, thereby implying that a person is justified in not paying the debt they incurred. WHAT!!? What happened to telling people to pay their debts and avoid excessive debt? Another case: we have all heard those who argue that having premarital sex is okay as long as protection is used. WHAT?! What happened to the commandment to be chaste? In ASU’s Career Prep Center on the Polytechnic campus I saw a poster that advocated making sure there is a designated driver when going drinking. WHAT?! Why not say, “Don’t drink”? How about the idea that you have to live together in order to know whether someone would be a compatible spouse? Why don’t they tell people to be more observant when with their dates and talk things over?

So, we see that when the precepts of men are taught, gradually society becomes completely corrupted, thinking that good is evil and evil is good. This means that God has to set things straight again. And you can now see how the restored gospel, when it comes among such corruption meets with a violent reception. “…at that day shall [Satan] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (2 Nephi 28:20)

At best, a corrupt society totally dismisses the commandments of God. “Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth!” (2 Nephi 28:16)
11 Yea, they have all gone out of the away; they have become corrupted.
12 Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted… (2 Nephi 28:11-12)
When people take their corrupt ideas and precepts to church, they try to remake the church in the image of those ideas, and that’s how churches become corrupted.

So what happens to a corrupted society? Isaiah has the answer (as quoted by Nephi).
27 And wo unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord! And their works are in the dark; and they say: Who seeth us, and who knoweth us?
And they also say: Surely, your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay.
But behold, I will show unto them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that I know all their works. For shall the work say of him that made it, he made me not? Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, he had no understanding?
28 But behold, saith the Lord of Hosts: I will show unto the children of men that it is yet a very little while and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field; and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest. (2 Nephi 27:27-28)
This scripture used to puzzle me, but I’ve started getting some ideas about what it means and why it is said when it is (after the marvelous work and the wonder is declared). Here we see two faults of the corrupt society—they secretly do evil thinking that no one will know it was them, and they also think a certain work (the marvelous work and the wonder) is turning things upside down, but they think it won’t last and things will easily revert to what they were before as easily as soft clay in the hands of the potter can be mashed from the form of a new jar into a lump again. (But this is only because they had turned things upside down and the marvelous work actually puts it all right side up again.) As an example of this, many people thought that killing Joseph Smith would kill Mormonism too and it would all fade away, but they were wrong.

The Lord knows these faults and gives two perfectly matched decrees to address them.

For those who secretly do evil, the Lord will show them that He knows their works. Nephi prophesies this:
16 Wherefore, the things of all nations shall be made known; yea, all things shall be made known unto the children of men.
17 There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed. 2 Nephi 20:16-17)
I think the internet is a manmade way that this prophecy gets fulfilled, but I think also that the Spirit can inform of secret things that couldn’t be known otherwise. An example of this is in the Book of Mormon when the prophet Nephi (in Helaman) learns through the spirit of prophecy about the murder of the chief judge. Not only does he learn it happened, he learns who did it, he learns why, he learns the relationship of the murderer to the murdered, and he learns that they were both affiliated with Gadianton robbers.

All of this is meant to teach that the Lord knows about those secret and evil works and that He doesn’t approve.

For the people who think the marvelous work and wonder is turning everything upside down, the Lord makes an interesting analogy. He says that in just a short period of time,
Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field;
and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest.
Lebanon was a place of great forests in Isaiah’s day, so Isaiah was using Lebanon to represent the idea of forest.

The forest shall become a fruitful field
And the fruitful field shall be considered a forest.

This used to confuse me; I thought it was talking about a forest turning into a fruitful field then back into a forest again. A while ago I realized that wasn’t it at all. Isaiah is saying that things will switch places. What was a forest, becomes a fruitful field. What previously was a fruitful field becomes less and less fruitful until it has gone wild like a forest.

Further, as I was writing about this, I realized something else; the forest was supposed to represent a natural environment (or the natural man), and the fruitful field was to represent a domesticated environment (or the spiritual man who yields the fruit good works). These are meant to symbolize peoples. In this way, Isaiah tells us that through the Lord’s marvelous work, the people who were previously considered unfruitful, or those people often referred to as “the unchurched”, would become converted, become saints, and begin to bear fruit (good works). On the other hand, those who were previously considered the most fruitful or religiously devout would soon be considered unfruitful in comparison to those who were now truly converted. In essence, the unchurched would learn the true gospel of Christ, become converted, and would overtake and far surpass in spirituality and good works those who had previously been considered religious (but who were really corrupt).

Isaiah continues this thought using other images to convey the idea of turning things upside down (or right side up).
29 And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.
30 And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
31 For assuredly as the Lord liveth they shall see that the terrible one is brought to naught, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off;
32 And they that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of naught….
35 They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine. (2 Nephi 27:29-35)
Did you catch those changes?
Deaf …. hear
Blind …. see, no longer in the dark
Meek …. increase (in Christ)
Poor …. rejoice (in Christ)
Terrible one …. brought to nothing
Scorner …. consumed
Those that watch for iniquity/those that are offended by a technicality/trap setters/those who deny people their rights on the grounds of little technicalities …. cut off (meaning they are excommunicated)
Those that make spiritual mistakes …. come to understand
Murmurers …. learn doctrine

That idea that murmurers will learn doctrine I think refers to those people who are dissatisfied with the false doctrine they have been fed and who murmur against it. (I don’t think it means those who murmur against true doctrine.) Those who are genuinely dissatisfied with false doctrine and want the truth open themselves up to the influence of the Holy Ghost and eventually will learn the truth.

I’ve seen all of this happen. It’s happening now. Do you see it?
Sunday, August 9, 2009 2 comments

House Hunting and Zeniff’s Over-zealousness

My husband and I have been renting since 2005. My husband really wants to buy a house. I’d like to buy too. We started looking at houses in December of 2008 but couldn’t find anything we really liked in a decent price range. So we decided to give it another year before we started looking again.

But our realtor still sends us emails of houses coming on the market. And we keep opening those emails.

On Friday I caved and asked to look at a particular house I had had my eye on—house #1. The realtor showed me three. All of them were disappointing. I actually liked house #2 better than house #1; it had a brand spankin' new upgraded kitchen and master bathroom. Too bad it also had three enormous roof leaks, interior water damage, and a certain parfum de mildew. I could fill a page describing all the things that were wrong in that house, and I could fill another page describing all the things that were right about that house. (I won’t subject you to these pages, though.) Yesterday I kept thinking about it, wondering if we should just cave and buy it and put in the money to get it fixed and livable.

Then, in my scripture study, I happened upon these verses. King Limhi is speaking.
21 And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—
22 And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage. And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives. (Mosiah 7:21-22)
The thing that always gets me whenever I’m reading about Zeniff’s over-zealousness is how he could have possibly have been deceived by the Lamanite king. These are LAMANITES he’s treating with! These are the people who have historically sworn in their wrath to wipe out all things Nephite! Does anyone else think it’s a really REALLY bad idea to set up living quarters near Lamanites, or is it just me? I mean, come on! Surely we can all see the problems coming!

Zeniff was so excited about settling in at Lehi-Nephi that he minimized the seriousness of the Lamanites’ dangerously close proximity. He was willing to overlook that “minor” detail to get what he wanted.

Now, as I think about my house hunting in light of this story, I am not going to go so far as to say that our realtor is trying to enslave us with cunning and craftiness. (He’s LDS, after all, and he’s a really nice guy. (And he’s not paying me to say that.)) But it seems to me that if I want to be smarter than Zeniff, I should keep my zeal for home ownership in check before I do something foolish like minimize the problems that could result from buying a house with significant water damage. Something better will come along.

When you haven’t heard from someone for a while

I noticed some interesting things when I was reading the scriptures a few days ago.
1 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings.
2 And it came to pass that *king Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi, to inquire concerning their brethren. (Mosiah 7:1-2)
Some phrases that struck me as significant were:
  • “his people had heard nothing from them [the people living in Lehi-Nephi]”
  • “he [King Mosiah] was desirous to know concerning the people”,
  • King Mosiah sent men to “inquire concerning their brethren”.
I think that this act of inquiring shows a certain amount of charity toward people who haven’t been present for a long time. We think about people we haven’t seen in a while. We haven’t heard from them in a while. So we want to find out what’s going on with them and we have to take action. This can be applied in our families, and also in the church. When we notice we haven’t seen someone in a while, we can inquire about them. Christ calls this “searching out the lost sheep”.

As it happened in this story in the Book of Mormon, it was a good thing that King Mosiah didn’t say something like, “Oh, they’re probably doing fine. Maybe they don’t want to hear from us; if they wanted to talk to us, we would have heard from them by now. We’ll just wait for them to send us news.” We know that those people in the land of Lehi-Nephi were in bondage to the Lamanites and having a very difficult time of it. They had even tried to send men to find Zerahemla to appeal for help, but they hadn’t been able to find it, so they were stuck. The first thing King Limhi said when he found out who Ammon and his party were was:

…Now, I know of a surety that my brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla are yet alive. And now, I will rejoice; and on the morrow I will cause that my people shall rejoice also.
15 For behold, we are in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne. And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites. (Mosiah 7:14-15)

Limhi had been wondering the same things about the people of Zerahemla! It was a good thing that King Mosiah decided to take action by sending those men to try to find Lehi-Nephi.

I wonder how many people who are inactive really want to come back and need us to inquire after them and go find them?

I can think of at least three people who I want to inquire about.

(And isn't nice that the application Facebook exists now so that we can check someone's status? We just have to make sure we also send messages too and actually make contact. Knowing a person's status was never intended to be a substitution for having a real conversation.)
Friday, August 7, 2009 0 comments

King David’s Deadly Census (cont.)

In a previous post, I examined a story about King David and how pride leads one to count things. The verses I quoted ended with the Lord smiting Israel. The rest of the story is how the story of smite-age worked out.
8 And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing [in numbering Israel]: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.
9 ¶ And the Lord spake unto Gad, David’s seer, saying,
10 Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.
11 So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Choose thee
12 Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.
13 And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the Lord; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man. (1 Chronicales 21:8-13)
What a terrible choice David had to make!
  • 3 years of famine or
  • 3 months of being destroyed and beat by his enemies or
  • 3 days of pestilence in the land.
At first it seems like David made what seemed to be the most faithful and trusting choice as he said it was better to depend upon God’s mercy than man’s. He already had plenty of experience with being a fugitive of King Saul’s implacable jealousy, and I don’t blame him for not wanting to go through something like that again. And three years is a long time for famine. Perhaps he also thought it was best to get the punishment over as quickly as possible.

The trouble was, David still made a mistake. “I am in a great strait” “let ME not fall into the hands of man” “let ME fall now into the hand of the Lord” He was making a choice that would affect his whole kingdom (mass starvation, or mass war casualties, or mass disease) and he was still only thinking about himself.

It took him a while to figure that out.
14 ¶ So the Lord sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.
15 And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
16 And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. (1 Chronicles 21:14-16)
Only when David sees the angel of the Lord with the sword of pestilence, only when he sees the painful and tragic effects of his choice does it truly start to sink in.
And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O Lord my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued. (1 Chronicles 21:17)
Here’s where David finally begins taking responsibility and acting like a king by pleading to the Lord on behalf of the people. “It’s all my fault. I was the one that sinned, not anyone else. Kill me and my family, but not Israel.” David realized that the right answer to the choices that the prophet Gad had given him should have been to plead that the people not be afflicted and that he only be punished.

This suggests that he also became a type of Christ. He remembered that he had responsibility over the kingdom to keep it safe, just as he had once had responsibility over his father’s flocks of sheep, so he compared his nation to sheep in his care. (“as for these sheep, what have they done?”)

So how does this apply to us today? This seem to suggest how real concern for others (charity) motivates us to take full responsibility for our actions. Like David, we need to discern how our pride has a negative impact on others and allow our compassion for others’ suffering (suffering that we cause) to move us to take responsibility and change.

So how did David change? In order to change, David had to sacrifice.
18 ¶ Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the Lord in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
19 And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of the Lord.
20 And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat.
21 And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshingfloor, and bowed himself to David with his face to the ground.
22 Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the place of this threshingfloor, that I may build an altar therein unto the Lord: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague may be stayed from the people.
23 And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all.
24 And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.
25 So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.
26 And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.
27 And the Lord commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof. (1 Chronicles 21:18-27)
David’s change required him to sacrifice, and in his day, that was done according to the law of Moses by making an animal sacrifice. In our day, changing still requires sacrifice; we sacrifice the animal in us by offering a broken heart and contrite spirit. We also have to sacrifice the problem behaviors.

“And it came to pass that Michaela offered up her nagging and resentful speeches as a sacrifice to the Lord, and prayed fervently for forgiveness, and the plague of arguments and bad feeling in the Stephens household was stayed.”

What would you write in your journal?

“And it came to pass that _______ offered up his/her ___________ as a sacrifice to the Lord, and prayed fervently for forgiveness and the plague of ____________ was stayed.”
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 0 comments

You’ve GOT to listen to this!

I heard a really neat audio broadcast about why the Book of Mormon is so unique and necessary for us to read. It’s called “Book of Mormon: An Ancient Book with a Modern Message” by Richard Holzapfel, and you can listen to it >> here << from BYU Broadcasting.

The reason why this talk was so special to me was that it answered some deep questions that I had had wondered about for quite a while—faithful questions, I hasten to add—about why the Book of Mormon is said to contain “the fullness of the living gospel” when we all know that many things that we believe are not mentioned in it at all.

When I finished listening to this talk, I felt that my eyes had suddenly been opened. I felt that I was much more empowered to bear witness to the Book of Mormon’s absolute necessity in our world. I strongly encourage you to follow the link and watch this for yourself so you can enjoy the profound ideas Brother Holzapfel presented. If you want to jump to where he really gets going, start around the 8 minute 15 second mark. (The first 8 minutes discuss evidences that Joseph Smith could not have invented the Book of Mormon.) Be sure to reserve 50 minutes, but it is well worth every second.

How exciting was this? This was so exciting to me that I HAD to share the ideas the next day with one of my nonmember friends with whom I have been having religious discussions over the past few weeks. The excitement and enthusiasm I expressed must have been striking; my friend immediately wanted to know what it was the doctrine said that he had to do. I told him. Now his sticky point is that he thinks he is already okay, having been baptized in a different church; somehow the Spirit has to get through to him that it is necessary for the saving ordinances to be done with true priesthood authority, but it was still exciting to me that he wanted to know what he needed to do.

Once again, you’ve GOT to listen to the talk! There’s so much great stuff! I'm going to watch it again myself so that I can truly impress it on my mind.