November 17, 2013
Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name. (Alma 26:35)
From time to time I struggle with depression and I need to hear an encouraging word. I believe the scriptures are the best place to find such encouraging words, and there are many of them. Over the years I have marked many such passages and now intend to add them to The Iron Rod blog. I will call them “Encouraging Words.” This is my first.
November 17, 2013
I’m not a pessimist even though I have been told otherwise from time to time. I am highly optimistic about the future of the righteous and already in mourning for the wicked who refuse to repent. The scriptures include both promises of blessings for obedience, and warnings of highly painful consequences for those who turn against God. In fact, the blessings and warnings are fairly well balanced in scripture because “Wickedness never was happiness,” and God wants us to be happy because we are his children and he loves us. That is why he gave us the scriptures, so that we would better understand the consequences of our behavior. He knows all the consequences of every action, every word and every thought because he is omniscient. We are not. When we try to foresee the future, we are often surprised by the unintended consequences of our thoughts, words and deeds.
I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life, just as most of us have. And while some of us have suffered more than others, we have all suffered. Some suffering is unavoidable, and we have done nothing to bring it upon ourselves. But some of our suffering is avoidable, and we could have done better if we had been wiser. There is no reason in this life for pessimism. The Plan of Salvation is also called the Plan of Happiness. And we can have great happiness in this life if we follow the path to it. On the other hand, if we follow the road to ruin, we will finally reach that destination too. Keeping both outcomes in mind, and our ability to choose the right, is not pessimism. It is just realism. Optimism, genuine optimism based upon realism, comes from understanding the Plan of Happiness and finding ways to effectively utilize it in our daily life. If we aren’t saying our prayers, studying the scriptures, attending church, loving and serving others, repenting of our sins and keeping the commandments, we do not have enough faith to live the Plan of Happiness, and we will end up living the Plan of Misery by default.
Here is one of the most important scriptures for me in understanding the Plan of Happiness:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people. And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. (2 Nephi 5:26-27)
The reasons I rejoice in the gospel of Jesus Christ is in part because this passage gives me hope that I can make things better for myself and those I love. What could be more optimistic than that belief and hope?
August 22, 2013
I once read a literary critique by T.S. Elliot of William Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was highly critical. Basically, Elliot said that Shakespeare was a lousy poet. I was reminded of an ant crawling up the leg of an elephant. By what rationale could a literary pipsqueak like Elliot criticize the greatest writer in the history of the English language? He simply was not qualified.
Today I see the same hubris coming from many of the crusading atheists such as Richard Dawkins and his faithless admirers. They claim that we who believe in God have no evidence to support our belief. Well, what is the evidence for their disbelief? There is none that I am aware of. The whole discussion reminds me of the dozens and perhaps hundreds of verses in scripture that proclaim that man’s wisdom is foolishness to God. Or in other words, man’s wisdom is no such thing. Man’s wisdom is actually foolishness.
If there is no God, then either there is no universe, or the universe created itself. And whenever in all human history has anyone, believer or atheist, ever seen anything create itself? Does a tree create itself? A rock? A person? A mathematical formula? A poem or novel? What? Joseph Smith said that there never was a man who didn’t have a father, and there never was a father who was not first a son. Duh. How can there be anything spring into existence out of nothing whatever? It has never happened. It has never been witnessed or observed. And should it happen, it would violate every known law of physics.
Here are two verses from the Book of Alma in which he explains the truth of the matter to Korihor:
And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only. (Alma 30:40)
But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. (Alma 30:44)
But my personal favorite is this one:
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:19)
All of mankind’s knowledge is less than a single drop in the vast ocean of our ignorance. Were it not so, we could not continue to progress as rapidly as we do because there would be little left to learn.
August 4, 2013
Many years ago in 1968 someone at Church told me how to tell whether a teaching is “personal opinion” or “revelation.” If you agree with the opinion, then that is revelation. If you don’t agree, then it is personal opinion. And so it is with following the prophets, at least for many. If you agree with the prophet’s teaching, then he is “speaking as a prophet.” If you do not agree, then that is his personal opinion.
And of course, the Church has let MORMON DOCTRINE by Elder Bruce R. McConkie go out of print. Why? Other doctrinal works that have had far less impact on the Church have continued in print throughout the fifty years that I have been a member. I think it might be the result of this difference between personal opinion and revelation. A lot of saints were offended by Elder McConkie’s book because he included his personal opinions? So? What else could a person put into such a book? Unless he is authorized by God to bring forth scripture such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, it has to be personal opinion. Elder McConkie included a disclaimer stating as much in the beginning of his book. Maybe we don’t agree with him about evolution. Maybe he was wrong about blacks and the priesthood. So what? Wasn’t he as entitled to his opinions as much as the next man?
Of greater interest to me is the assumption that a “personal opinion” on the part of a prophet means that it is not true. Who would have a better informed opinion than a true prophet of God? I know that on the matters of evolution and the black priesthood ban, McConkie’s opinions were not popular. Are all of mine? Are all of yours? Are we not entitled to a personal opinion even though others don’t agree with it?
Besides, cannot a person have a personal opinion that is also true? The fact that it is merely an opinion does not automatically make it false, does it? In my opinion, most of the personal opinions of Bruce R. McConkie and his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith were correct opinions, that is, they were true. Does that make them “official Church doctrine?” No, but so what? I’m not aware that the Church has much “official Church doctrine,” just the opinions of true prophets. “But they are not binding upon the Church,” some say. Hey… the truth isn’t binding either, not on most of us, and not on most churches. You can say that whatever is in the standard works is official Church doctrine, but what does that mean? A hundred different scriptorians will tell you a hundred different meanings for the same verses. Isn’t that supposedly why we need living prophets? Isn’t that why we rely upon personal revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost?
I think that the personal opinions of Elder McConkie and President Smith are more likely to be true than not. And even if I am wrong about that, I think they are entitled to have such opinions regardless. In fact, that is one of the best ways to learn whether your opinions are good. Voice the opinion, and listen carefully to the reasons people give you that they are wrong. I learn from that, on occasion.
May 13, 2013
While reading the Book of Helaman with Esperanza this morning, I ran across a verse that jumped off the page at me. I’ve read it many times before, but I did not notice it. It is Helaman 12:19, and I think it might explain why archaeologists and other diggers have never found any proof that Zarahemla and other Book of Mormon sites existed. Here is the verse:
“And if the Lord shall say–Be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever–behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever.” (Helaman 12:19)
The rest of the chapter includes important context for understanding this verse. It explains that when a wealthy man or a blessed people offend God by turning against him, he can curse their treasure so that when they bury them up in the earth, they can never be found again. He reminds the reader that the earth moves and mountains cover up cities according to his mere word. Could Zarahemla be buried deep beneath the earth because it was cursed by God at the time of the final destruction of the Nephites? The scriptural record does not record everything that God does. But these passages do indicate that God works in this way. It would explain a lot.
March 27, 2013
31 And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.
32 But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. (D&C 45:31-32)
What does this mean? It is a prophecy in the 45th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. And I am not sure what it means. Some possible interpretations are pretty scary. Years ago while I was living in Ketchikan, Alaska, I attended a fireside in the Ketchikan Ward meetinghouse and the speaker was Elder Bradford of the Seventy. After the meeting, I asked him about this scriptural passage and he said it had already been fulfilled by the AIDS epidemic. I have also thought it might refer to the growing problem of anti-biotic resistant diseases and infections. Or it might refer to biological weapons of mass destruction used in some future war and perhaps an attack on our nation. Or possibly “all of the above.” I have heard others insist it refers to the drug problem in our world, or the pornography problem.
What do you think? What is this “desolating sickness?” Is it still ahead? Has it already happened? What other scriptures could help us understand this one?
February 3, 2013
Through his prophet Alma, Jesus Christ taught:
And he said: Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. (Alma 45:16)
We know that God loves us. And so he must possess the virtue of tolerance to a degree that we do not. But from this passage we learn that there must be things he does not tolerate. What are they?
God does not tolerate sin. Why? It is because he loves us. Sin causes us pain. It injures us. It brings failure and disappointment. Ultimately it destroys us. We should not marvel that Jesus Christ is intolerant when it comes to sin. He is intolerant because he loves us. He wants us to be happy, and he knows better than any of us where the path is that leads to happiness. Hence, Jesus Christ loves us, but he is intolerant of our sins. We must repent of them or we will suffer.