Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When do you get mad at the word of God?

There are a few subjects that I can't listen to without cringing and getting a little perturbed. I will refrain from saying what they are. I've noticed that there are other people who have at least one aspect of the gospel that gets their goat. I suppose this is natural, but it is also worrisome.

At various times in the scriptures it is recorded where people don’t like the message preached to them. There’s the Zoramites..
And it came to pass that after the more popular part of the Zoramites had consulted together concerning the words which had been preached unto them, they were angry because of the word, for it did destroy their craft; therefore they would not hearken unto the words (Alma 35:3, emphasis added).
These peoples’ jobs were on the line; the word of God threatened to put them out of work, possibly because they were paid to make the idols for people to bow down to. (Alma 31:1) They probably made a lot of money at it.

The Nephites also sometimes got angry when preached to…
…the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word... (Alma 35:16, emphasis added)
And of course there is Laman and Lemuel…
And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. (1 Nephi 16:1-2, emphasis added)
It is helpful to know what disturbed Laman and Lemuel so much. I surmise that it was probably that Nephi had just got done saying that no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God. (1 Nephi 15:34)

This is certainly a strict doctrine. If no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God, it means we have to repent of every single one of our sins. It also means we have to be way more alert and watchful of ourselves to resist sin and temptation. This is a tricky thing, because King Benjamin noted that there are numberless ways of sinning. (Mosiah 4:29) (He may have been thinking of Leviticus in which the Lord lists and forbids a lot of the worst ones, and the list is quite long.)
But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.
(Mosiah 4:30)
That caution and watchfulness and strictness takes a lot of spiritual energy and that is one thing we shy away from—all that effort.

We’re don’t tend to want to look for something that is more strict; we want something with fewer and looser requirements. It is a good thing that we have Christ telling us that we need to look for a stricter way.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matt 7:13-14)
How did we get into those lax, broad roads in the first place?
And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost. (1 Nephi 12:17, emphasis added)
It seems that we are tempted into those lax ways. Satan tempts us when he whispers that we don’t need to be so cautious or concerned about whatever we do. “Just once won’t hurt”…”It’s no big deal”…..”It’s just a movie”…..”Stop being so uptight”…..”There’s nothing wrong with it”…..”It’s only a little bad part”…..”You’re different; that commandment doesn’t apply to you”... It’s hard to resist that kind of thing unless we have something to hold to.

That’s why Heavenly Father gives us scriptures and prophets, the vehicles of His word, so that we have guidance. They lead a straight, undeviating course to eternal life. No wonder the word of God is likened to an iron rod.
And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. (1 Nephi 15:24)
So why do we complain when the word of God doesn’t deviate when and where we want it to? If it deviated like that, it would become an iron slinky instead of an iron rod! That wouldn’t keep us very safe, would it?

Now, what is this narrow way that is so strict?
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me…and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. (3 Nephi 11:31-33, emphasis added)
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:38-39)
So we need to:
  • Believe in Christ (that He atoned for our sins)
  • Repent of all our sins
  • Be baptized
  • Become as a little child
Then after Christ says this, He starts giving the Beatitudes—the higher law—and in the middle he says something which throws greater light on the narrowness of the way we have entered.
Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (3 Nephi 12:20, emphasis added).
I remember when the meaning of this first became clear to me. I was astounded. Suddenly the Beatitudes weren’t optional, they had become required! But you can see why, because they are certainly a recipe for a celestial character.

This seems to say that not only must we avoid sin of all kinds, we must become celestial. That seems to double the strictness, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, we have help. When we have truly repented of our sins and had a change of heart, our very nature is changed so that we have no more desire to sin. It certainly would keep us from sinning if sin seems icky. The same change of heart causes doing good things to become attractive. That would certainly make it more palatable and enjoyable to be good, wouldn’t it? It would also mean we would like to hear the word of God, instead of dreading it.
And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us. (1 Nephi 16:3)
Now, just because we have become converted to the truth and are in the way does not mean that we can become completely obedient on the instant. Neither does it mean we will suddenly have the desire to do EVERY good thing. It also doesn’t mean that our character flaws are suddenly eliminated. As our faults meet temptations they bring out sin, and so we must continue to repent and seek the Lord’s help in recognizing and exorcising our faults and adding to our strengths. It is a continuous process of cleansing and improvement. Multiple conversions.

I have recently realized that one of my flaws is being controlling of other people. I am tempted at various times to reduce people’s agency, and each sin of coercion that I commit I have to repent of. I have finally come to the realization that this is a pattern of behavior that demonstrates a flaw in my character and unless I address the flaw itself, I will continue to commit sins of coercion. I need to be changed so that I have no more desire to coerce. I make the first step by praying for the change. Then I ask for help in learning to protect agency. Then I go to work on it. I know this pattern works for eradicating weaknesses because I have used it before.

What about adding good that I previously haven't done before?

I used to tune out talks about family history, because I was intimidated by the idea and it never sounded very fun to me. But when I learned that I had to learn to control my desires and figured out that Heavenly Father could help me want to do good things that previously I had no desire to do, a little seed of faith was planted in my heart, and I said to myself, “I am not yet good enough to want to do family history, but someday I will be, and when I get to the point that I want that desire, I will pray for it and Heavenly Father will help me.” Eventually I did get to the point of wanting to do family history, so I took a class on it and learned a lot. Now it is really fun! The commandment doesn’t seem strict anymore.

Now there’s one more thing that I want to mention in this post. There will be times that we may be called “narrow-minded”. If we earn this epithet for sticking to the strait and narrow way, we can say, “Actually I prefer the word ‘focused’”, because we have to concentrate completely on living those gospel principles to the extent that there is no room for anything else. If we earn this epithet for not opening our eyes to more truth, well, then we have a problem…