Thursday, August 17, 2017 0 comments

The Suffering Alleviated by the Scriptures

Here King Mosiah teaches his sons about the sacred record on the brass plates:

And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God. (Mosiah 1:3)

That bit about how we must have suffered in ignorance struck me recently. It made me think about how I’ve made so many good choices in my life because of what I’ve learned from the scriptures. I’ve been able to resist many temptations and keep out of trouble because of what I’ve learned from the scriptures. If I hadn’t had the scriptures or the influence of the church in my life I really would have suffered so much because of all the mistakes I would have made in ignorance. There have been many pivot points when a scriptural principle I’ve learned has come back to me, and acting on instead of giving in to temptation or taking a lower way has brought blessings and safety to me.

I can’t deny I’ve also had some suffering arise out of following good scriptural principles, but it has been sanctified suffering, and knowing from the scriptures that I was right helped me persevere.

One major way we would suffer in ignorance from not knowing the mysteries of God is suffering the load of accumulated guilt for sin. Because no matter how the world will try to deny it, guilt is there. It piles up and you can’t get out from it without Christ and without repenting. The scriptures tell us about how we can escape guilt and sin and lay hold on salvation through Christ.

What a mystery of God repentance and faith is! That a God would become man and suffer for everyone’s sins to give us a chance to repent! That our belief in this God and efforts to change and prayers for forgiveness are efficacious! To a tangibly focused, material-evidence-oriented mind that would seem beyond belief.  But it’s real!
Monday, August 7, 2017 0 comments

Thinking about the info we get from D&C 77

D&C 77 is a series of answers Joseph Smith received to questions asked about the meaning of various symbols in the Book of Revelation. From time to time I have wondered why he stopped only at those questions and wished he’d asked more. However, one BYU religion teacher explained that D&C 77 gives “a key” to understanding Revelation, and that just like a key unlocks a door, while D&C 77 doesn’t explain everything, it helps orient us in a way that helps us understand the rest of Revelation better.

Recently my husband and I read D&C 77 together, and I started to wonder what it was that caused Joseph Smith to select those things to ask about.  I suppose I’ll have to ponder those things at length, but one small answer seemed pretty obvious.

Joseph Smith asked about the meaning of the book with seven seals because the book is a very important focus of the narrative. As seals are opened, significant things happen, important changes occur in conditions, both good and bad. The narrative of Revelation revolves around the book for a good part of the time, so it would be important to ask what the book represents.

Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence. (D&C 77:6)

This tells us the book contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God, the hidden things of His economy during the seven thousand years. So everything that happens revolves around the will of God, His works, and His mysteries. Thus, the openings of the seals bring new works and new mysteries and new things of His economy out, and then begins the struggle between those who want to adhere to the will of God, and those who prefer to rebel.  This suggests that we look at the opening of each seal and try to discern what the will of God has revealed and orient the human responses observed in the text according to that.

This answer gives us a view of God as one who is thinking ahead, who is at work not just in one place in the world, but in many different places, revealing mysteries, persuading those who listen to do good. What’s to come has been written; there’s a plan in place. It doesn’t come out of chance.  He’s ahead of the game, He’s the prime mover, He’s behind every inch of real progress humanity makes, and the rest of the world must follow or be left behind.

I think it might also be a fruitful course of inquiry to examine the other symbols Joseph asked about to try to understand how he decided to ask about them. We often think Joseph Smith asked questions according to curiosity, but what if there was more behind it?  Can we understand his thought process or see it?  I recognize this might be considered attempting to mind-read, but might there be an underlying logic behind the questions?
Saturday, August 5, 2017 0 comments

Some thoughts on a story of Joseph Smith’s kindness

The July 107 Ensign had an article called “Kindness” in which one of the example stories was of a time the prophet Joseph Smith showed kindness. To me this story is familiar, but I was struck by a deeper truth in it when I read it this time.

The prophet Joseph Smith showed kindness one day when two children got their feet stuck in the mud on the way to school. They both began to cry because they couldn’t get loose. When Joseph saw the predicament, he bent down and pulled each child out of the mud. He cleaned the mud from their shoes. Then he took a clean handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away their tears. The children smiled as he spoke kind words to them and then sent them on their way. (p55)

When I think about the context of this story, I imagine it was after a hard rain, and with no hard pavement, the roads were a morass of mud and this was what the children got stuck in, simply by heading for their destination at school. I noticed Joseph went above and beyond the hoped-for help. Not only did he free the children, but he cleaned them off and comforted them. He may have been thinking that if he sent them to school muddy they would get a tongue-lashing from their teacher for coming in with such muddy shoes. He probably had to scrape clods of mud off and  rinse their shoes at a pump nearby.

I also noticed this little story is a neat analogy of how Christ saves us. He finds us stuck in the mud of sin on our journey through life. He finds us crying because we can’t get loose ourselves. He pulls us out, cleans us up, dries our tears and comforts us, and gets us moving again in the right direction so we can arrive clean at our destination of eternal life.
Thursday, August 3, 2017 0 comments

A few insights about temptation from Nephite strategy in Alma 55

6 Now Moroni caused that Laman and a small number of his men should go forth unto the guards who were over the Nephites.
7 Now the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.
8 And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.
9 Now when the Lamanites heard these words they received him with joy… (Alma 55:6-9)

In Alma 55, Captain Moroni regains the prisoners in the city of Gid by offering the Lamanite guards wine by one of their own.  We prefer to consider everything Captain Moroni does as good, but I can’t help but point out some things about this strategy that echoes what Satan does.  If it helps us made better choices, I think it’s worth pointing out.

First, I notice the Lamanite guards saw these tricksters coming, and yet Laman and his small group of men still managed to lull them into a false sense of security.  How often do we actually see temptation coming, and yet when we initially refuse, the temptation (or those who present it) push back and try to convince us that we are wrong and it isn’t dangerous?  We have to stick to our guns there and not give in.  It can be particularly difficult if we’re presented with something we like. In the Lamanites' case, it was wine.  It's worth thinking about what things we individually like that might be used to lure us into temptation.

Next insight comes from a later part of this story. Once the Lamanite guards found out there was wine immediately available, they say, “We are weary, and by and by we shall receive wine for our rations, which will strengthen us to go against the Nephites.”

They are tired now, and they anticipate being stronger later.  But there isn’t going to be any opportunity to fight later if they can’t be strong now. 

To me this shows that sometimes we give in to temptation now when we’re tired, thinking that we’ll be stronger later. But that’s a lie.  If we can’t be strong now to resist temptation, how will we get the strength later?   Our strength accumulates with good choices and dissipates with bad ones.  It dissipates incredibly fast and actually give Satan the advantage over us that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

So, lessons from this story are:
--Keep refusing the temptation, even when it tries to push back.
--Giving in now will make it even harder to be strong later.  (So be strong now to stay strong later.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017 0 comments

Paul is warned, but is determined

4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed….
7 And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.
8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Cæsarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.
9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus.
11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. (Acts 21:4-5, 7-14)

In this block of verses we have a peculiar situation where Paul the apostle is headed back to Jerusalem, and on at least two different occasions and places he is warned by members that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Yet he is determined to go up anyway.

What are we to make of this? The text tells us that these warnings came through the Spirit, and yet can we say that it is proper for members to warn an apostle not to go someplace he needs to go? And of course the events that follow show us that Paul is bound as Agabus in particular prophesied that he would be.

Did Paul not know anything about what would happen and so he had to be warned by others? I personally don’t think so. I suspect Paul had inklings and warnings of his own that something difficulty was awaiting him at Jerusalem, but he pressed forward, trusting God to uphold him according to His righteous will.

So why were these impressions given to other Saints? I think they were given for the Saints’ edification and salvation, to prepare them for the news of what would happen to Paul. It was to show them that Heavenly Father knew all that would befall Paul, and that there was a purpose to it. It also gave Paul an opportunity to declare his willingness to die for the truth so that the Saints could be strengthened by his determination.

I have seen this pattern in a small way in my own life as well. On a number of occasions, the Lord has sent me dreams that have prepared me for a particular life challenge. It hasn’t happened for every challenge, nor do the challenges come immediately after the dream, but because I recorded those dreams in my journal, I remember them better. Then when the challenge comes, frequently the Spirit reminds me of the dream I had to prepare me. And by that I know the Lord knows me and that somehow that challenge is a programmed part of my life for the Lord’s purposes.  I can’t boast of these things because I know that they are not because of any worthiness of myself, but they are intended to save me and build my faith in the Lord.

Now, when these warnings come, they can be difficult to deal with. To know something bad is going to happen brings a temptation to give in to fear and surrender to feelings of impending doom. And it seems the Saints were very worried about their impressions and confided these to Paul. Thus, Paul’s declaration that he was willing to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem must have been a strong reassurance. And if you notice, the Saints finally said, “The will of the Lord be done.” (v14) They recognized the Lord would steer Paul’s life, and the Lord’s will would be done whether there was disaster or not.

So we get two more principles:
1)    Do what is right, let the consequence follow. (Where have we heard that before?)
2)    Just because things go wrong, doesn’t mean we’re doing wrong. We may be doing exactly right. And we will be much better able to bear up under adversity if we are conscientiously doing what’s right. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017 2 comments

The Test of Ease

The July 2017 Ensign had a really good article from Elder Bednar called “On the Lord’s Side: Lessons from Zion’s Camp” (p27) that had a big section in it that I want to comment on.

The leaders of the Lord’s Church clearly have identified some of the collective or generational tests we can expect to encounter in our day and generation. As the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1977, President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) raised a prophetic voice of warning in a meeting of regional representatives. I now quote extensively from President Benson’s message and invite your focused attention on his timely counsel:

“Every generation has its tests and its chance to stand and prove itself. Would you like to know of one of our toughest tests? Hear the warning words of Brigham Young, ‘The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth.’”

President Benson continues: “Ours then seems to be the toughest test of all, for the evils are more subtle, more clever. It all seems less menacing and it is harder to detect. While every test of righteousness represents a struggle, this particular test seems like no test at all, no struggle and so could be the most deceiving of all tests.

“Do you know what peace and prosperity can do to a people—It can put them to sleep. The Book of Mormon warned us of how Satan, in the last days, would lead us away carefully down to hell. The Lord has on the earth some potential spiritual giants whom He saved for some six thousand years to help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly, and the devil is trying to put them to sleep. The adversary knows that he probably won’t be too successful in getting them to commit many great and malignant sins of commission. So he puts them into a deep sleep, like Gulliver, while he strands them with little sins of omission. And what good is a sleepy, neutralized, lukewarm giant as a leader?

“We have too many potential spiritual giants who should be more vigorously lifting their homes, the kingdom, and the country. We have many who feel they are good men and women, but they need to be good for something—strong patriarchs, courageous missionaries, valiant family history and temple workers, dedicated patriots, devoted quorum members. In short, we must be shaken and awakened from a spiritual snooze.”7

Consider that affluence, prosperity, and ease can be tests in our day equal to or greater in intensity than the persecution and physical hardships endured by the Saints who volunteered to march in Zion’s Camp. As the prophet Mormon described in his magnificent summary of the pride cycle contained in Helaman 12:

“And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.
“Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity” (Helaman 12:1–2).

I invite you specifically to note the final phrase in the last verse: “and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.”

President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) likewise taught about the collective test of ease that we face in our day: “We are tested, we are tried, we are going through some of the severest tests today and we don’t realize perhaps the severity of the tests we are going through. In those days there were murderings, there were mobbings, there were drivings. They were driven out into the desert, they were starving and they were unclad, and they were cold. They came here to this favored land. We are the inheritors of what they gave to us. But what are we doing with it? Today we are basking in the lap of luxury, the like of which we’ve never seen before in the history of the world. It would seem that probably this is the most severe test of any test that we’ve ever had in the history of this Church.”

So, Elder Bednar notes that affluence, prosperity, and ease can be tests in our day equal to or greater in intensity than the persecution and physical hardships endured by the Saints who volunteered to march in Zion’s camp.

Many of us might listen or read these words and like Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” we might say, “Well, if wealth is a curse, may God smite me with it! And may I never recover!”

But that just shows we don’t understand the danger. So many of us are driven and motivated to action by the needs of the moment, driven to acquire what will enable us to live, driven by the needs of those who depend on us.  But what happens when we reach a state when our needs are all met, when no one makes any demands? It sounds wonderful. But where will you find motivation if you have no need?

That is the test. The test is to create your motivation and stay anxiously engaged in a good cause day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. The test is to keep it up, even though you don’t need to. The test is to sacrifice your comfort and ease to bring about righteous purposes. The test is to push out of ease willingly into a cause fraught with frustration, inconvenience, difficulty, challenge, persecution, pain, etc.  And it is a test.  The natural man and woman loves to loll about and will protest when you think about trying something know or doing something hard that you don’t have to do.  (At least mine does.)

It is true that ease puts people to sleep. When there’s no need, you feel like you don’t have to try too hard because the penalty for failure or laziness is low. That is how prosperity saps people of vigor.

Again, Elder Bednar points out the test of affluence, prosperity, and ease can be equal to or greater in intensity than the persecution and physical hardships of Zion’s Camp. Ponder that. Equal to or greater in intensity to mental and physical fatigue, bloody blisters, inadequate food, unclean water, disappointments, dissentions, rebellions, and threatening armies. In what way are they equal? The prophet Joseph Smith called these men to leave their comfortable homes and march to save others. In our day, the prophet will similarly call us to leave our comforts and ease and suffer inconvenience, difficulty, persecution, etc. to save others. In that way, the tests are equal.

That kind of sacrifice is the same that Moses made when he put aside his status as a prince of Egypt and chose to suffer privations with the enslaved children of Israel.

How to deal with this test? How to prepare for it? I think one way to prepare for it is to choose at least one good cause to engage in along with all the things we need to do, and keep at it. Keep at it even though there is nothing urgent about it because someday you’ll need that skill.  The labor of love will prepare you for the time when all your labors become non-urgent.

Another part of this test is that when needs are taken care of, one doesn’t quite know what to pray about. What to ask for? That puzzle may cause neglect of prayers. But if one is anxiously engaged in a good cause, then one finds more to pray about, and one realizes how much one needs help to fight the inertia of the natural man or woman.
Saturday, July 22, 2017 0 comments

Seek Spiritual Solutions

9 Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear all ye of far countries; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.
10 Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand; for God is with us.
11 For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:
12 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
13 Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (2 Nephi 18:91-13)
In these verses, Nephi quotes Isaiah. Isaiah’s situation at that time was one in which the Jews were greatly worried about the threat of being invaded by the Assyrians, who were particularly cruel and barbaric to prisoners (think torture and killing in lots of painful ways just because they could).

It would be natural for the Jews to want to seek for military allies (a confederation) and gird their armor on, and counsel together about what to do. But Isaiah said the Lord told him they needed to do something different—don’t worry about allies, or battle prep, or counsel, or whatever.  Instead, “Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (v13)  He told them to fear God and sanctify themselves for God.

Why? From a worst case scenario, repenting would prepare them for the next life if they died.  For a best-case scenario, keeping the commandments would give them the moral oomph to endure the difficulties they faced.

It’s still true today that when we face difficulties, even large-scale ones on a national level, the first best thing we can do is get our lives in order spiritually so we can have the strength to deal with it.  Repent and keep the commandments.

If we were to have some sort of crisis like the mobbings of Missouri or the invasion of Johnson’s army into Utah, it would be easy to get really worried and seek temporal solutions.  I would hope we’d be able to turn to the Lord, like Isaiah recommended.
Thursday, July 20, 2017 0 comments

Assembling the halt, the outcast, the afflicted

6 In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;
7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. (Micah 4:6-7)

When I read this, it seems to me it is talking about the gathering of Israel, but in curious terms. The halt are the lame, the “driven out” are those who were marginalized or rejected, and the afflicted are those who had some sort of physical or mental problem that was unexplainable or seemingly incurable.  Why speak of these as part of the gathering of Israel in the last days?  

Also, the blessings given to them are interesting and even a little counterintuitive.

As a first instance, the Lord promises that those who were halt will be made a remnant.  The “remnant” in battle terms would be those who make it through war and destruction that killed or scattered everyone else. You’d think that only the fit would survive, but no, the halt do--the ones too lame to run, those who aren’t seen as a threat.

As another instance, the Lord promises to gather those who were driven out and make them a strong nation.  These are the outcasts, the marginalized, maybe even the people who had to leave because they couldn’t accept what was going on.  Or they might have been driven out because they were criminals.  They are so few, so alone…  And the Lord says He will make them a strong nation?  That’s a major miracle for the marginalized to become such a strong institution that it might be called a nation.  It would have to have a justice system, so any criminals would have reformed.

And the afflicted. This could be those with physical handicaps and/or mental illnesses. They are the people who probably had heads shaken over them and hands thrown in the air, saying, “I just don’t know what to do about them! What can I do for them?”   These were often seen as people God was punishing.     But if they are gathered to Mount Zion, then they are obviously being blessed instead of cursed!

All these the Lord says He will reign over in Mount Zion forever. These are people who accept His guidance and commandments. They believe in Him.  Could it be that their handicaps and marginalization and rejections and trials have humbled them enough to listen?

I get some great principles from these verses.
1)   Handicaps, marginalization, and afflictions can prepare us to follow the Lord if they humble us.
2)   The Lord reaches out to all types of people with all kinds of challenges and has the power to make weaknesses into strength.  Once again, the halt (lame)  become the remnant (the ones who survive). The outcast (rejected) becomes the strong nation, able to create unity and social cohesion so that others won’t suffer similarly. The affliected one who previously seemed punished by God becomes the faithful adherent in Zion.
3)   Behind the Sunday smiles, all of us have some problem we need help with. Even those who look like they have perfect lives have hidden challenges. (“In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”) We are all broken somehow, all in need of healing, in need of Christ.

In a way, it also prophesies of days when handicaps and affliction would become better understood so that tools and means to cope with them would be created, and people who had these problems would be given the resources to transcend their difficulties and progress further.  Again, all of that shows the Lord doesn’t want to leave any of His children behind, and He reaches out to all.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 0 comments

Jeremiah 24 on Trials and Disaster

1 The Lord shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the Lord, after that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon.
2 One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.
3 Then said the Lord unto me, What seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.
4 Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
5 Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.
7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
8 And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the Lord, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt:
9 And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them.
10 And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers.

This is an interesting chapter. In it the Lord shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs – one good, one bad. The Lord tells Jeremiah the good figs represent the Jews who had been carried captive to Babylon, that the Lord did it for their good, and that He would build them and gather them, give them a heart to know the Lord, and make them His people.

On the other hand, the Lord tells Jeremiah the bad figs represent those who remained in the land of Jerusalem or Egypt, who the Lord will remove into all kingdoms of the earth to their hurt, to be a reproach and a curse, to suffer famine pestilence, and so on until they are consumed.

This would be a very unusual message to the Jews of Jeremiah’s day. They probably looked on those who had been carried away captive to Babylon as the cursed and unfortunate ones and looked on those who had stayed in the land as the blessed and lucky ones.

But the Lord wanted to teach the people that, contrary to what they thought, the Lord could make physical calamity into a blessing, and that avoiding disaster could be made a curse.

The question that arises then should be, “What makes disaster into a blessing?” and “How can the Lord make a tragic event good for me?”  (I think the Lord wanted the Jews to think about this.)  The answer is, if we turn to the Lord and repent and keep the commandments, He can make good things come out of disaster.

That doesn’t mean it is easy, of course.

It is neat to me that at the bottom of this odd story about baskets of good and bad figs is a lesson that is still applicable today.
Sunday, July 16, 2017 0 comments

The Cunning Plan of the Evil One

27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!
28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 27-29)

It’s a well-known scripture, memorized by many seminary students over the years.

Recently I was reading it over, and I noticed some things.

I noticed Jacob observes on the cunning plan of the evil one, but he doesn’t seem to elaborate on what that cunning plan is, but goes on talk about “the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men.”

I realized that we have to infer some things. We have to realize it is the devil who tries to use those things. He also tries to make us think our learning makes us wise enough that we don’t have to listen to the counsels of God.

Learning doesn’t automatically translate into wisdom, as I’m sure many of my readers know. “Learning” in the gospel is like knowing in your head that stealing is a sin, but “wisdom” could be represented as the point where you can realize when you’re being tempted to steal and you can resist it successfully once and for the rest of your life.

Jacob mourns over the vainness, frailties, and foolishness of men. It hit me this time reading that after having had a number of temptations recently targeted specifically at my vanity, frailties, and foolishness.  Satan really does try to use those things against us.

Vainness is our pride.  Because of our divine nature, we know we have the potential to become something so much greater…  But Satan tries to use that against us, twisting it into a desire for ascendency, hostility toward authority, notions that we are better than others.  He tries to use it to destroy any notion that we need to be humble. He wants to keep us from achieving the meekness that we need to turn to Christ, to repent, and to grow, and to learn from anyone else. 

Frailties represent our mortal weaknesses and limitations. We can’t live long without discovering we have these, yet Satan will try to conceal them from us.  Or he will try to make us think that we can’t overcome them, to make them into our prison. Or he will stress us in moments of weakness (hunger, loneliness, fatigue, discomfort) to get us to sin.

Foolishness.  Today we think this means “stupidity,” but it had a different meaning before, evoking the tendency to backslide, to err, to go apostate, to wander from the truth, or even to rebel.  Mormon observed on man’s falseness and unsteadiness, quickness to do iniquity and slowness to do good, how quick to be proud and slow to be humble. (see Helaman 12:1,4-5)  We all have a tendency to wander or divert, which we have to recognize and curtail whenever we notice it starting to take over. Satan tries to use it and exacerbate it.

Our best weapons against vanity, frailty, and foolishness are probably humility, grace, and repentance.