Sunday, June 28, 2015 0 comments

The Societal Trend of Shaming

I ran across an interesting book called Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool by Jennifer Jacquet that talks about the rise of shaming in society, particularly online through social media. 

Since online shaming seems to be on the rise in society, I wanted to understand shaming better, what causes it, what its uses are perceived to be, and whether there were ways to avert it or recover from it.

Call it what you like—shaming, bullying, persecution, trolling, whatever—the internet has lowered the costs of gossip and shaming and increased its scope and speed like never before.  The power to shame has been distributed to the people and is not longer just the exclusive privilege of opinion leaders and government. 

Shaming involves exposure in front of a crowd in order to damage reputation and incur other negative consequences, such as encouraging others not to cooperate with the shamed individual.  Pillories, dunce hats, branding, tarring and feathering, and other acts were types of shaming used in the past.  Today, Twitter attacks, trolling, online gossip, nasty reviews, angry websites, and other such techniques are forms of shaming.  Backlash of this kind can extend to job loss as companies try to jettison individuals they perceive to be a liability to their reputation.

One reason shaming is used against systemic corruption of companies and large organizations is that the large groups have limited their liability through legal structures and the moral compasses of individuals in the group are undermined, usually by profit motive.  Shaming is used when there seems to be no legal alternative that brings punishment on offenders.

The author was guardedly enthusiastic toward shaming as a technique for social control and policing with respect to ecological and environmental concerns, and seemed to put faith in shaming as a tool for social change.   However, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I found the enthusiasm for shaming rather alarming.

There is a dark side to shaming that we are probably already aware of—its use over trivial matters, shaming in measures far disproportional to the offense, shaming as contempt for the individual rather than just focusing on the offense, and attacks on human dignity, the permanence of the evidence of digital shaming, the lack of clarity on who is doing the shaming, especially with anonymous attacks, and the real debilitating effect it can have on individuals.

The dark side means that it is far too likely and easy for shaming to become unjust.  While the dogpile happens to the offender, there is no one standing by to blow the whistle and say, “That’s enough; any more would be unjust.”

People may perceive Mormons as having high group cohesion and group mind—meaning the group has intentions and makes plans—more than individuals that merely share an identity (like blue-eyed people or basketball players).  Therefore the church may be seen by others as being more responsible for their collective actions, and thus a more worthy target for shaming for behavior that violates perceived norms.

The church has received its share of shaming in the last few years, especially in the debate over marriage.  Those trying to protect traditional marriage have had their names published in newspapers (to shame and expose them to more shame and attacks), some have had property defaced, some have been attacked online, some have lost jobs.

From another perspective, the church’s practice of refraining from publicizing member excommunications and other disciplinary actions shows that the church does not want ex-members or dis-fellowshipped members to be publically shamed at church.

Considering how innovations in communication bring revolutions to society and considering the growth of the internet, I think shaming as a wider practice is probably not going to go away any time soon. If anything, it will get bigger until it saturates the limited economy that competes for human attention spans.  

The risk of disproportional and trivial shaming makes me think that it would be best for us to stay away doing from any shaming ourselves, since we may not know the full facts, we certainly won’t know how much the offender has already been punished by others.  We don’t want to unknowingly contribute to injustice. It would be awful to face the Lord on judgment day and be confronted with the truth that we had ground the faces of our brothers and sisters in the dust.

When I was reading this book, some scriptures came to my mind and gained new significance with reference to shaming.

3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.
6 For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Malachi 3:3-6)

The Lord may use the shaming of His people to refine them, to confront them over their sins and oppression. 

But then, of course Satan uses it too for coercive purposes, in which case we just have to stick to our guns.

¶The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
¶For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up. (Isaiah 50:5-9)

Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed; neither be thou confounded, for thou shalt not be put to shame; for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more . . . .
14 In righteousness shalt thou be established; thou shalt be far from oppression for thou shalt not fear, and from terror for it shall not come near thee.
 15 Behold, they shall surely gather together against thee, not by me; whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.
 16 Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.
 17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord. (3 Nephi 22:4, 14-17)

For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them. (Isaiah 61:7)

These scriptures, especially the ones of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon by the Christ show me that Heavenly Father knows all about the rise of shaming and wanted to give us reassurance.

Friday, June 26, 2015 0 comments

A lesson from the worshipping beasts and elders around the throne in Revelation 4

Revelation 4 is kind of an odd chapter because it doesn’t seem to have anything happen in it except the worship of God by twenty four elders and four beasts.

So I started to ask myself what I could learn from it. 

Then I realized that since all that worship was the most notable thing in the chapter, that was probably where the lesson is. 

8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:8-11)

What does this tell us about what heaven is like?  It tells us that the inhabitants closest to God are absolutely enthralled with Heavenly Father’s holiness. Their gratitude and worship is insuppressible, and each time someone starts into praising the Lord, the others can’t help but go into fresh paroxysms of worship themselves.

I have thought these endless rounds of worship excessive, but this time when I was reading it the thought came to me that perhaps it is me who is out of step and that I need to learn much greater humility and gratitude than I now have or have ever had before.

And there’s another factor to consider: if we were to come into a court of a mortal ruler and it was full of people praising the mortal king endlessly, we would think the place was full of yes-men and flatterers. We would have doubts as to whether he fully deserved all that praise.

But the elders in this chapter here say to God “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power.”  Heavenly Father really deserves all that praise and credit anyone gives Him here and forever because He lives up to it.  (When you think about it, just the way He can get His work done with imperfect people such as us, all while allowing us all our agency, is a miracle.)

If we are ever to achieve that heavenly worship and gratitude, I think we’re going to have to become much better at noticing and remembering what the Lord does for us. 

It is so much easier to glorify God when the things He has done for us are recent and when our memories stay fresh.  Now, I suppose the inhabitants of heaven have improved memories, having a perfect knowledge of their blessed and happy state, but we mortals need memory aids, so I suppose that the personal journal is an important tool for achieving this heavenly state of worship and gratitude.

Let’s see, wasn’t it Elder Eyring who counseled us several years ago to try to write daily in a journal what the Lord has done for us today?
Wednesday, June 24, 2015 0 comments

The desires of King Noah’s heart

1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.
2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness. (Mosiah 11:1-2)

King Noah started lots of bad stuff, but I want to highlight one part of v2 that shows the relatively simple beginning of it, a beginning that looks so benign.

..he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart..

King Noah’s wickedness started with following the desires of his own heart.  That’s kind of startling, especially since our culture makes “doing what you want” into a big virtue and a goal and a privilege. It should cause us to realize that it isn’t good for us to go after everything we want all the time.  And it makes us consider whether what we want is good or not. 

As Noah went after what he wanted, he undoubtedly came into conflict with the commandments of God, and he chose to break those commandments rather than sacrifice what he wanted. And we learn from reading the rest of his story that doing that ultimately led to his destruction.

So what we can learn is that the commandments of God are meant to be an obstacle to doing whatever we want.  (That’s the whole point of the “thou shalt nots”)  God put them there for that purpose to help us learn to regulate our desires, appetites, and passions so they wouldn’t destroy us.  When the commandments get in the way of our doing what we want, it is because they are protecting us from ourselves when doing what we want would be self-destructive.  They are even more helpful when effects of breaking them seem invisible or when the consequences are a very long time in coming and affect whole societies.

I’m grateful that the Atonement of Christ and being born again makes it possible to have my desires educated and changed and sanctified over time.
Monday, June 22, 2015 0 comments

King Laman as an analog of Satan

I ran across these verses as part of Zeniff’s record in the Book of Mosiah where Zeniff summarizes the trouble with living by the Lamanites:

17 And thus they [the Lamanites] have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.
18 For this very cause has king Laman, by his cunning, and lying craftiness, and his fair promises, deceived me, that I have brought this my people up into this land, that they may destroy them; yea, and we have suffered these many years in the land. (Mosiah 10:17-18)

If you substitute “Satan” in place of “King Laman,” you can see how appropriate this is as a lesson about what Satan tries to do.  He will use cunning, lying craftiness, and fair promises to deceive us, to bring us into a dangerous place so he can destroy us, or else cause as much suffering as possible.  He will also teach his children to hate, murder, plunder, and do all kinds of destruction to the children of light.

The trouble is, Zeniff, who is in this predicament, was the other part of the equation.  He contributed to his own beguilement because he wanted to live in the land near the Lamanites. He saw something he thought was good among them, and he thought that would preclude the Lamanites from trying to destroy him and his people.  But it didn’t.

So, this tells us that we, like Zeniff, also contribute to our own beguiling. We see something we think is good in Babylon, and we think that will preclude Satan from hating us and trying to destroy us. But it doesn’t. In Satan’s case, the good is a deception, a counterfeit. Any good he offers is only a fair promise given with lying craftiness to draw us in.

Today let’s pray for discernment to see Satan’s fair promises as the lies they are, and pray for the power to resist.
Monday, June 15, 2015 0 comments

The Strict Law as a Type

30 Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.
31 But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come. (Mosiah 13:30-31)

Abinadi asserts that the daily performances and ordinances of the Law of Moses were all types meant to prophesy of the future, and I suspect of Christ.  (I wonder if anyone has studied how those things typified Christ?)

In a way, the daily performances (separate from their symbolism) were a type of Christ and anticipated how He would be perfectly faithful. If the people made mistakes as they lived the Law, it was to remind them of their need for a Savior and lead them to repentance.

We could also say that the Law of Moses daily performances were a kind of all-encompassing sacrament, and just as the sacrament today instructs us to always remember Christ and keep His commandments, everything in the Law of Moses was supposed to remind the people of Christ.  I suppose the Lord wanted the people to imagine a day when they would keep the commandments constantly on their own and always remember Christ and His sacrifice.

Today, let’s think about every duty we do in terms of how it might remind us of Christ and His sacrifice.
Saturday, June 13, 2015 2 comments

New perspective on the prodigal son Luke 15:11-18

I was reading the Sunday school manual on the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 and some of the questions asked in it set me on a whole different train of thought that I’d never considered before.

“In the parable of the prodigal son, what did the younger son do with his inheritance?”

Obviously he wasted it, but this got me thinking about how this parable was supposed to be analogous to our brothers and sisters who are lost from the kingdom of God.  I started to wonder, “What does the inheritance really represent?”  In what way do our lost brothers and sisters take their inheritance and run off?

Let’s look at v11-12:

11 ¶And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

An interesting thing we can see here is that the father doesn’t just give the younger son his portion; he seems to give a portion to the older son as well.  We’re used to thinking the younger son was wrong to demand his inheritance, but what if he wasn’t?  (Odd thought, I know, but hear me out.)

On earth, inheritance is distributed upon the death of the father, so a request for inheritance before death is like a request that the father just lay down and die.   But in terms of our Heavenly Father, we can’t receive our inheritance upon His death because He is immortal. So there has to be a distribution of inheritance upon some other basis besides death, so in that respect, the parable is quite analogous to spiritual realities.

The fact that the father divided the living between the two sons makes me think that the younger son’s request might have been a good one and the younger son’s fault lay in not staying. 

It is also interesting to me where the italics are in that verse. The italicized portions represent words that were added by translators to make the translation flow better according to English grammar.  But occasionally it is interesting to try to read the verses without those italicized words and see if the meaning changes ways that have significance.  Without the italics we get “give me the portion of goods that falleth. And he divided unto them living.”  It suggests that the younger son was interested in the less important part of the inheritance.  It also suggests that part of the inheritance was living, or life, which makes me think of eternal life.  (Is eternal life part of our inheritance as members?  Yes..)

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

Wasting can happen when one spends profligately, but it can also happen if property is neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair until it is in no condition to be used.  I think this coincides with how our lost brothers and sisters neglect their testimonies and neglect to obey the commandments such that their faith slowly decreases until their knowledge is only a ghost of what it was before.

I’m also intrigued by the repetition of that word “living” in that verse and the contrast between the father’s living and riotous living.  It suggests we compare what we know of the quality of a faithful life with a life completely devoted to the pleasure of the flesh. Which one renews and which one wastes the substance of eternal things?

The next few verses are very interesting because of how the focus is so much on hunger and food and the quality of food.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, (Luke 15:11-18)

What does this hunger represent?  Could this be a famine of hearing the word of the Lord?  Did the famine just conveniently arise once all his substance had been wasted or was it actually there all the time and he never knew until all his own resources were exhausted?

I suspect that the job of feeding the swine was meant to represent something like teaching the commandments of men mingled with scripture, since they aren’t very wholesome or filling.  The swine may represent the unclean gentiles who are content with empty platitudes and what we might call doctrinal twinkies, but notice that the younger son can’t fill his belly with those things.  The pigs might be perfectly happy with that stuff, but having tasted the real nourishment, the younger son can’t stomach it.

Thus, we see what really brings the prodigal son to himself. He realizes he is starving, starving for the truth that he can’t get anywhere else but from his father.  We learn from this parable that some of our lost brothers and sisters leave because they think there are other ways to be saved, other gospels with efficacy besides that of Christ’s, other ways to live fully.  Sooner or later, they are brought to realize the spiritual poverty of all other ways in comparison and then they have a reason to make their way back.  But they have to have tasted the goodness before they left.

Now, the prodigal is not the only one who has trouble.  Remember the elder son?  He got his inheritance too, but even though he stayed, it hasn’t done him much good either. His complaint to his father upon the return of the younger son is “these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends” (v29).

Who prevented the elder son from using his inheritance?  Would his father have gotten irked at him if he had asked for a goat or a fatted calf every so often?  The eldest son’s trouble is that he thinks his father is too stingy to let him use his inheritance. The eldest son has wasted his inheritance in a different way by never using it.  From a spiritual perspective, how many feasts on the word and celebrations could he have enjoyed but didn’t?

For those of us who stay faithful, the eldest son is a warning to us to beware of ingratitude. In the midst of our service we must not forget the privileges we have inherited by becoming sons and daughters in God’s kingdom.  It is worth it to ask the question “When do we inherit and how early can we begin enjoying our inheritance?  Are we only limited to enjoying it after our resurrection or can we begin enjoying it and rejoicing over it earlier than that?”

Also consider the things we learn about our inheritance from what the father does in the parable to reinstate the younger son – he tells his servants to bring the best robe and put it on, to put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.   The robe might symbolize being clothed in temple robes. The ring may have been a signet ring that gave him authority to transact business for his father and therefore might symbolize the priesthood. What might the shoes represent?  All this the elder son would have a right to enjoy too, if he would.

We have the privilege of feasting on the word, of making use of the inheritance our Heavenly Father has divided to each of us, even a piece of eternal life we can feel through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost.  We all have spiritual gifts, we all have a portion of the Spirit, we all are given access to priesthood blessings, and more.  These are all reasons to rejoice and celebrate with our friends in the gospel.  And too, there is the rejoicing we can feel as we repent and feel the forgiveness that comes from God.  Also, consider the father tells the eldest son “you are ever with me.”  To be with the Father is no small blessing. Again, to have the constant companionship of the Spirit is a big part of our inheritance.  So how much do we appreciate that?

Thursday, June 11, 2015 0 comments

How the scriptures build our faith

I ran across these verses that I think perfectly capture the process by which reading the scriptures regularly builds our faith and testimony.

Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things. (Jacob 4:6-7)

So first, we read the scriptures and search the prophecies in them.  In the process of doing that day after day, the Holy Ghost gives us daily revelation and even prophecies of Christ (testimonies of Christ).

Those revelations and prophecy join with the scriptures to become a cloud of witness to us, certifying that those things are true. Then we obtain a hope of a future day that we will be rewarded if we diligently obey God’s commandments as written in the scriptures.  We also hope for something better than the present.

With this hope, we act with faith and over the process of time our faith becomes unshaken through our diligence.

And with unshaken faith, anything becomes possible, even (according to Jacob) commanding the elements that they obey.  Verrrrrrrry intriguing.

And yet, our reading (and revelation) shows us also our weaknesses and we realize that we still have so much to learn. We see that none of these things is possible without the power of Christ.

It is neat to see this process all laid out for us in black and white.  Without it, we have a hard time articulating exactly what the blessings of studying the scriptures are. And in fact, we can see that there is much more to be gained than simply a knowledge of the gospel or a testimony.  We see hope, faith, and even power over the elements through the grace of God.  Those are blessings to look for and strive for.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015 0 comments

Looking at Jacob’s quotations of Isaiah

Looking at 2 Nephi 8 in which Nephi quotes Jacob’s quotation of Isaiah, I noticed there were different sections that started with “Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness,” or an equivalent, and that each section had its own principle that Isaiah was trying to get across and which Jacob (and Nephi) wanted their own people to internalize.

I want to look at the first of these sections:

1 Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged.
2 Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him.
3 For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody. (2 Nephi 8:1-3)

First, what does Isaiah mean when he tells the righteous to look to the rock they were hewn from and the hole they were dug from?  I suspect this is a metaphorical expression similar to saying someone is a chip off the ol’ block.  It’s exhorting them to look to their parentage.  In the second verse, Isaiah confirms this with an elaboration, “Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you.”   Isaiah wanted to encourage his people to follow the righteous example of Abraham and Sarah, Israel's great ancestor and ancestress.

But follow their example how?  I think Isaiah wanted his people to consider a particular feature of Abraham and Sarah’s example and the third verse gives a clue—that the Lord would turn Zion’s wilderness into an Edenic garden and make it a happy, thankful place.  Something can’t become a garden unless it first was a wilderness.  So we might ask ourselves what part of Abraham and Sarah’s life this promise is analogous to.

I think Isaiah is hinting at the Lord’s command to Abraham (and Sarah) to leave their families and the home they were used to and sojourn in the wilderness in a strange land.  We take it for granted that Abraham obeyed the command to leave, and we don’t think too carefully about what obstacles, fears, and real dangers they faced to obey.  The Book of Abraham tells us they left an idolatrous family after Abraham came into conflict with idolatrous priests who tried to kill him.  But to leave the family network and go someplace totally different was stepping into the unknown.  Would they find peace?  Would they find good pasture for their animals?  Would they find friends?  Would they be safe?

I think the principle Isaiah was trying to teach was that although it probably looked to Abraham like he was walking into a desert, and although it looked to others as though he would have a terrible, hard life, the Lord helped Abraham so that he had a very good life (although it was also criss-crossed with trials).

Thus, by extension Isaiah wanted to teach Israel the spiritual lesson that while calls to repentance seemed to require them to leave all the pleasure behind and go into an ascetic desert, denying themselves of all ungodliness, the Lord would make that wilderness into an Edenic garden, with much that is good and beautiful and holy to be happy about.

That promise continues for us today.  From Babylon’s viewpoint, Zion always looks like a cheerless waste, a desolate solemn place where no one has any fun at all.  But the Lord makes Zion a garden, a place of joy and thanksgiving, which none but the holy can enjoy.  So we should never be afraid to give up our favorite sins and vices because there are much better things awaiting us, things that we will not be able to appreciate without the sacrifice.

So what will you leave behind?  I’m going to give up certain media choices that haven’t been very uplifting.  I’m going to trust that the Lord will help me find better things with which to entertain myself.
Sunday, June 7, 2015 0 comments

John chastises the Pharisees and Sadducees

As John is baptizing, we get this little bit:
¶But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: (Matthew 3:7-8)
The question John puts to the Pharisees and Sadducees—“who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”-- has always puzzled me.  It seemed so odd.  I couldn’t get a grasp on what he was trying to say.  It is obvious he is trying to persuade them to repent, but what exact argument he was making seemed garbled.

Eventually I realized John was demonstrating great discernment about their spiritual state.  John knew they knew they had been called to repentance.  He also knew they knew they would suffer the wrath of God if they didn’t repent.  He also knew they were uncertain about whether their sins were that serious and whether they really needed to be concerned about them.  (Of course we know the answer to that—all sins require repentance.) He also knew they were uncertain about the source of this message.

The warning to repent was an opportunity to flee from the wrath (of God) to come (at judgment day), and John asked them to consider what source would want them to repent and escape God’s wrath.  It’s an easy answer—it’s God.  Satan doesn’t encourage repentance; only God does.  So they needn’t hesitate to repent and worry about the source of the message.

It’s a good message today.  Who tells us we’re fine how we are and we don’t need to change?  That’s a message Satan would like us to swallow.  Who instead warns us to repent?  God.  

Friday, June 5, 2015 0 comments

Joseph Smith’s revelation on Revelation 8

Q. What are we to understand by the sounding of the trumpets, mentioned in the 8th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things, except that which he hath not put into his power, when he shall have sealed all things, unto the end of all things; and the sounding of the trumpets of the seven angels are the preparing and finishing of his work, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years—the preparing of the way before the time of his coming. (D&C 77:12)

Upon running into this verse, I noticed it said that on the seventh day God finished his work and formed men from the dust, and I said to myself, “Wait!  That’s not what Genesis says; Genesis says God formed man in the sixth day and rested on the seventh!”

And I thought, “Did Joseph Smith get his creation days mixed up when he was writing this revelation down?” It certainly seemed like it.  And I was embarrassed by this.

But then, I realized something else.  In this verse, the bit about creation is being used as an analogy to explain the bit from Revelation 8 that Joseph Smith was interested in learning about.  So I began to wonder if maybe the “mistake” was actually meant to teach something.  What was really being compared?

Our idea of the seventh day of creation is that God rested and refrained from creation.  But the “mistake” of Joseph Smith tells us that on the seventh day God was finishing his work and sanctifying it and forming man out of the dust.  So maybe this is supposed to hint to us that during the beginning of the seventh thousand years (as described in Revelation 8) it will seem like God is resting, but that He is really finishing His work, sanctifying and refining and forming man—those who have faith in Him—into the kind of perfected beings He meant them to be.  This is supported by the imagery in Revelation 8—the silence in heaven for half an hour as though heaven were at rest, and then the angels sounding trumpets, which bring great tribulations on the earth (and which would certainly refine those who remain faithful throughout).
Tuesday, June 2, 2015 2 comments

A thought from Renlund’s talk “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying”

I wanted to share a thought I had while studying Elder Dale G. Renlund’s talk “Latter-day SaintsKeep on Trying”:

“This statement—“a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying”—should reassure and encourage members of the Church. Although we are referred to as “Latter-day Saints,” we sometimes flinch at this reference. The term Saints is commonly used to designate those who have achieved an elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well that we are not perfect.

Our theology does teach us, though, that we may be perfected by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly upon” the doctrine of Christ: exercising faith in Him, repenting, partaking of the sacrament to renew the covenants and blessings of baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant companion to a greater degree. As we do so, we become more like Christ and are able to endure to the end, with all that that entails.” (emphasis added)

I want to look at that word “iteratively” and tease out the richness of the meaning for you with a story.

For two years when I went to BYU, I took classes from the Electronics Engineering Department and some of them involved learning how to program in low-level languages.  I didn’t get much of a background in software design before having to do these assignments, so I essentially had to hack my way through them.  (The teaching assistant insisted that I draw flow charts of my programs in my lab book, but I didn’t know enough about design to do that, so I would end up drawing the flowchart in at the end when I finally got the program to work. The flowchart was an afterthought, instead of the design aid it should have been.)

When I was starting to program, I would write a list of things the program had to do, I would try to write code that would do it, and then I would try out the program to see if it worked.  And it would fail and then I’d have to figure out where I’d gone wrong.  This was the iterative process.  I spent a lot of hours in the computer lab trying things.

Some years later, I took more programming classes at a different college and this time there was a significant unit on program design and flowcharting before any coding was done.  This made such a difference in my ability.  I was able to complete the programming assignments much faster and with far fewer iterations.  I was so excited about this that I dove into future assignments and ended up getting about three or four of them done far in advance of when they were actually assigned.  I also had time to help classmates who were stuck.

Again, as you can see, programming is an iterative process.  You design something, you test it, and it fails, and then you figure out what went wrong and you try something different to fix it.  Or it might work, but only partially, so you analyze to figure out where the bug might be and then you try to figure out how to fix it. 

But you don’t keep trying the same thing over and over if it doesn’t work.  You have to think about what happened and analyze it.  You have to ponder what happened and make changes.

In the same way, as Elder Renlund says, we are perfected gradually as we have to iteratively rely on the doctrine of Christ.  It is as though our lives are the program that we are designing.  When we make mistakes, we need to take time to analyze what happened and ponder what needs to be different and make plans to change.  That work is part of the “all we can do” to receive Christ’s grace and forgiveness.  Each iteration should help us become a little better than we were before.  

Also, I think we make faster progress if we approach the iterative perfecting process with an eye to designing our life to become like Christ rather than just winging it, or making haphazard efforts.