A Jealous God

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Abinadi the prophet lamented over the wickedness of King Noah and his priests. In a short chiasmus Abinadi prophesied:

And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies. And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people. And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.((Mosiah 11:21-23))

To see the chiasmus more clearly, refer to note.((A. And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God,
B. behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.
C. And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.
B. And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage;
A. and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.))

Abinadi also expounded on the Ten Commandments:

And now, ye remember that I said unto you: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of things which are in heaven above, or which are in the earth beneath, or which are in the water under the earth. And again: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.((Mosiah 13:12-15))

In both these quotes, Abinadi referred to the Lord as a “jealous God”. This is a concept familiar to the ancient house of Israel((see the list of Old Testament references to God as “jealous”)).

The Hebrew word translated into English as “jealous” is qinah (also of the form qanah or other derivative words). When applied to humans, jealous, as used in the Bible, typically refers to envy((e.g., Numbers 5:14)) and thus sin. It can also refer to zeal((e.g., Psalm 69:9)), which could be both positive or negative, depending on the circumstance and usage.

When referring to God as “jealous” the best interpretation is that God is fiercely protective of Truth, covenant, and His covenant people. A jealous God is a God Who defends right with zeal. A jealous God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.((Doctrine and Covenants 1:31; Alma 45:16)) A jealous God knows that wickedness never was happiness.((Alma 41:10)) As a jealous God, the Lord requires faithfulness and commands that we should have no other Gods before Him.((Exodus 34:14)) This is a harsh reality but it is a reality that provides safety and countless blessings. It is a harsh reality that leads to eternal life, an inheritance as an heir like Christ.((Romans 8:17)) God’s commands are not forced; all His children are able to express will and act independently, if they desire, from God.((There are some who are without mental/emotional capacity to understand choices or fully express moral agency. In some way or another, this is true of all of use because we do not fully understand the consequences of our actions or inactions. God, as a perfectly loving and just God, will weigh all in the balance with the intent to bless His children to the extent He is able.))

A jealous God is not filled with petty envy but rather with charity. God loves us enough to set firm boundaries. We can wander through life or we can travel the strait road of the jealous God, a road that leads to unimagined heights and countless blessings. God is jealous because He zealously protects His covenant children, particularly as they are faithful unto their covenants. This does not mean they are without suffering but their sufferings will be for their good.((Doctrine and Covenants 122:7))

Liberty and Adversity

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Near the end of 1776, the American colonies were entrenched in a war against Great Britain. This was part of the war for independence. Things at that time were not going well for the Americans who were seeking freedom. They had lost a number of battles, forts, and cities, including Fort Washington and New York City. While he watched the battle of Fort Washington, General George Washington was dismayed at the loss of life. At the end of the battle he wept openly. It was a hard loss. The war was a series of defeats for the Americans. The cold fall with so much adversity might have seemed bleak and hopeless. Indeed it was for a number of people but many Americans found new resolve in their adversity. They strengthened their desires for freedom from what they saw as an oppressive government. In the midst of this adversity Dr. Benjamin Rush said, “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to posses most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” (Source: David Hackett Fischer. Washington’s crossing. (2006). Oxford University Press, USA). To quote David Fischer, “It was a time when many Americans resolved to act in a way that made a difference in the world.” The revival in the resolve and hearts of those fighting the war of independence came from their defeats, not their victories. It was in the Americans’ responses to calamity and tragedy that their greatness grew. We don’t show our strength and character in times of ease, we demonstrate it by how we respond when all the world seems to be falling down around us.

How do you cope with adversity? Do you turn tail and run? Do you break down on the side of a highway and abandon your car? Do you end up shattered upon the jagged rocks of adversity? Or do you fight? Do you face the adversity and move forward? Fighting is not always the solution – there are some fights that are beyond us – but when faced with adversity we should strive address it as best as we can. Sometimes that might be by running away, like Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife. For Joseph, his running from adversity led him into greater adversity – being cast into prison. How did he deal with this potential tragedy? He remained true to who he was and became the most important man in prison. Through his righteousness and faith he faced adversity and overcame it, eventually rising to the second most powerful man in Egypt. We can say that Joseph was successful because of his adversity, not in spite of it. His liberty only came through his adversity.

Adversity is an eternal principle. We read in the Book of Mormon: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” (2 Nephi 2:11). Opposition is adversity. It’s part of the gospel. It’s important for liberty. We also read in 2 Nephi: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27). Opposition gives us the ability to choose eternal life or eternal death (spiritual, not physical). Choosing God brings happiness; choosing the devil brings misery. Our choices are important. We need to remember that adversity is necessary, even if it is difficult and painful. Jesus has been there. He understands all our pain.

“If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea; if thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb; and if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:5-8).

All our adversity is for our good, even if in the midst of it that might seem like a cruel sentiment. I have to add that there is plenty of adversity of our own making that comes from sin or unwise choices but if we repent and if we persevere and if we overcome that adversity, it will be for our good. Not sinning would have been better, of course, but all adversity can be for our good. Having faith in Christ gives us the strength to maintain this attitude and knowledge through even our darkest, most difficult adversities. We can hope against hope. Instead of becoming shattered upon the jagged rocks of adversity we can survive the shipwrecks in our lives. We might be stuck on an island for some time, even the rest of our lives, but we can build a new home there and make the best of whatever situation we are in. That is what the Americans did during the Revolutionary War. It was a war that looked like it could not be won. It was a war between a raw, weak army and a battle-hardened one. The Americans persevered through the dark days and won their freedom. Liberty truly came through adversity.

Human Anguish and Divine Love

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Truman Madsen gave a talk entitled Human Anguish and Divine Love as part of his Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights lecture series. In this talk he covered the age-old question of “Why do we suffer?” What follows is a partial transcript of his talk.

“[The book of Job] speaks of a man who had not been unrighteous in any way and yet loses everything; his flocks and herds, his family, and finally his health – and is covered with boils. His comforters come, with the presupposition that there is no other explanation [for suffering] except sin, and ask him, ‘Alright Job. Be honest. Out with it! What have you done wrong?’ And Job replied, “I haven’t done wrong and yet I suffer.” And that’s the dilemma we still face. What about innocent suffering?

“So we go down to the other side of the triangle and ask ‘Well what can we say about the power of God?’ Do we – must we – acknowledge that God does not have all power? And therefore, that some evils are irremediable? Now I enter at least hip deep into deep water, which is in some ways unique to us [Latter-day Saints], to our tradition. See, it isn’t sufficient to ask, ‘Could God have prevented the blindness that afflicts that newborn child?’ ‘Could God have healed such and such a person who was born without a spine?’ ‘Could God reverse the ravages of disease in those who are suffering from all these forms of terminal cancer?’ Of course He has the power to do those things! Then, why doesn’t He? Ah, because we don’t ask the right question, which is, ‘Can He do compossible things? Can He achieve the purposes of mortality in our lives and at the same time eradicate all suffering and evil?’ And the answer is, ‘No, He cannot.’ When the famous dam broke up north in Idaho. An earthen dam first cracked and then broke. Then a huge wave of swirling water swept down and in that incredible turmoil destroyed houses, barns, drowned cattle and some human beings. When it’s all over and people go back and find just a chimney left or a frame, they sit down and ask the hardest question, and it’s not academic, ‘Why us? Why did this happen to us?’

“Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Boyd K. Packer went up and held a meeting with these people who literally had been wiped out. Brother Packer’s reported to have said something like this, ‘You have been asking the question, ‘Why us?’ Well I’ve come to tell you.’ By the way they [those affected] had said the things most of us would have said, ‘Well, I’ve tried to live a good life, I certainly have faith in the purposes of the Lord, and etcetera.’ ‘I’ve come to tell you the answer,’ said Brother Packer, ‘It happened to you because the dam broke.’ Now you may consider that a fairly superficial answer but he was saying something really quite profound. We elected – you and I, and that’s a unique view [to Mormons] – we elected, prepared for, even were trained for the experiences of mortality. And we knew very well as best we could as mere spectators – and now we are participants – we knew very well it would involve the kinds of things we face every day including sacrifice, suffering, service.

“If the question then is raised, ‘God, why did You get me into this?’ The Mormon answer is, ‘Why did you get you into this?’ You elected and we are told we shouted for joy at the prospect. Imagine that! Shouting for joy! But couldn’t God being all powerful have arranged a plan of redemption that would enable us to become what we really have it in us to become without going through such a struggle? And the Mormon answer to that is, ‘No, He couldn’t!’ To achieve the growth and the overcoming that are essential to a condition like unto His, we have to submit to the operation. I repeat, our understanding is: God Himself is powerless to get us to total fulfillment except through the operation we call mortality. And that involves freedom, and much of the evil of the world derives from freedom, but not all of it. And furthermore, apparently in the spiritual world, we faced the same realities we do in the physical; namely, suppose you want muscle. You want to develop strength. You’re too young to have known the ads that used to appear, not just in the sports and athletic magazines but in others. Uh, it was always a picture of Charles Atlas. Charles Atlas, uh, with his barrel chest, flexing the biceps. And underneath it said, ‘I was – stress was – a 98 pound weakling.’ Well, that got your attention if you were like myself, a 45 pound weakling. And you see his fine physique. And so he had a course called Dynamic Tension. Well, imagine writing to Charles Atlas and saying, ‘Send me the equipment.’ And then 6 months later writing, ‘Dear Charles, I am returning your equipment and there has been no change but please send muscles.’ Can you put muscles in boxes?

“The U.S. Army tried during the period of the Second World War to find a way of quickly enhancing muscle and strength without exercise. Maybe we can do it with pills. Maybe we can do it with nutrition. Maybe we can do it with sun lamps, but somehow we’ve got to build an army and we haven’t got time to go through all these logistics of exercise. Well, they failed. The only way you can develop muscle is stress. And apparently, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way you can build character and sanctify souls is through distress and pain. No woman has ever given birth to a child, I submit, without some pain. We call them labor pains. My suspicion is that all the books on painless childbirth have indeed been written by men. Jesus takes that exact simile and says, ‘When a woman is taken in labor and travail, she hath sorrow because her hour is come.’ He said again and again in His life, ‘Mine hour has not yet come’ but then it did come.

“The sequel to the verse is, ‘But when she is delivered of a child she hath great joy because a son is born into the world.’ Strange thing to call up a woman who is 8 months pregnant as I did once and said, ‘Uh, any labor pains yet?’ She said, ‘No, darn it!’ Here’s a woman who wants to have the pains. Why? Because beyond them is deliverance and not only that – new life! That’s exactly the analogy of the purposes of mortality and Jesus talks about our being reborn. Who paid the price and went through the labor pains so we could be reborn? He did!

“I turn to a related point that I suppose no one else in the philosophical and religious world would affirm. You remember the story of the three Nephites who, having known great frustration and failure earlier in their attempts to bring others to meaningful lives, now yearn to stay, to endure further and longer in the world in order to help. There’s something like that, by the way, in the Buddhistic notion of the bodhisattva, the fully enlightened one, who has now the right and the power, if you will, to enter into the condition of Nirvana but deliberately chooses to stay behind and help others, thus to postpone his own fulfillment. That is a Christian motif. Three Nephites ask and receive. The key line in our context is, we are told that they will be spared – by some sort of transformation – any more of the pains of mortality with one exception: they would still have sorrow for the sins of the world. And we read later, so they did.

“Well, you can take another approach. You can argue – some have – that the whole point of life is to become indifferent to the condition of others. Don’t get involved. Do not think about, do not witness. Build as it were a moat around yourself and care only for your own ataraxia, which means a kind of calm resignation. That’s avoidance! And you can make a life. But what happens, really in the end? Well, I’m suggesting to you to consider that perhaps contrary to the standard view, which is when Jesus said on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ And that meant that forever His suffering was over; contrary to that notion the pronoun ‘it’ referred to His submission to death and the end of His mortal sojourn but even as a resurrected and glorified Being in the image of His Father, He is still super-sensitive to the sins of this world! And is still sorrowed and is still capable, as is the Father, of weeping when His children deliberately, sometimes ignorantly, but always tragically run away from Him instead of toward Him. Even now His sorrow is in some respects greater, precisely because He paid the infinite price to enable us to avoid needless suffering. There is needless suffering as well as suffering. That is a solemn thought and yet there is such a thing as pure joy even in the midst of affliction. And that leads me to my last two points.

“There is a movement in our time, I’ve referred to it twice before, known as Existentialism. The term is hard to pronounce. But what is held by all of them together is a negative assessment of life to the point of maintaining that it is finally absurd. So you have the phrase of Sartre: life is a useless passion. You have the expression of Camus who reviews all of the ills of life and then concludes, there is only one problem: suicide. You have the view expressed by Heidegger, whatever we then do in our life, in his view, is authentic, otherwise merely superficial, temporary, and fleeting. As Søren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher and theologian was for most of his life unhappy, as he made clear in his writings. But ended by saying that all this is necessary; somehow, he wants to hold onto something of the Christian message. It’s as if you become most free, and for him, redeemed only when you acknowledge that there is nothing! That everything is absurd and then somehow you accept Christ. Well I submit that in some ways that’s exactly upside down. It is only, ultimately through Christ that we find and hold on to meaning. Not only in life but in death.

“To dwell on, to exaggerate suffering to the point of holding that life is meaningless – you see if it is, if it is totally absurd, I just point out in passing, if it is totally absurd then it cannot be meaningful to say so. And by the way, existentialists usually look pretty happy when they get literary prizes. Celebrating despair becomes heroism – passes for, at last, complete honesty and I suggest to you, on the contrary, it is the most sophisticated form of cowardice. That it is the hallucination of sick minds, and therefore Freud and Marx both had it exactly backwards. The healthy-minded sees for health what the sick cannot see at all. And the sick are incapable at this point of seeing meaning.

“Excuse me but there’s another phrase from Herman Wouk that haunts me. He observes that, ‘Many say that life is not worth living and many say that they would much rather die than be crippled or have a long stay in the hospital’ but Wouk’s point is that we notice that most of them still hold on after they’ve said that; not all, but most. In a wheelchair a dear friend of mine is coming down the hall of the hospital, troubled that she’s had to spend a week in the hospital. And then she, uh, out of the corner of her eye sees a women in bed; her hands are not exactly folded because she has crippling arthritis. She stops, rolls in, notices something about the woman’s face – serenity, calmness, even beauty. ‘How long,’ she asks, ‘have you had crippling arthritis?’ ’25 years.’ ‘How long have you been in this condition, in the hospital?’ ’12 years.’ ‘How can you stand it?’ She had faith and she had found meaning.

“I have here the handwritten note of one of the finest philosophers of our time, Prof. John Cobb, Jr. I have a P.S. to a letter after he and I together wrote an article for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. I say to him, ‘Is not the Atonement of Jesus Christ the most acute and sensitive problem of theodicy? Here, meaning in Christ’s life, innocence is subjected to incomparable suffering. In your own heart-thinking, how is this reconciled with a God who, if He has all power could surely have coped in another way, sparing His Son and/or Himself?’ And in his own pen he writes, ‘My heart-think is, that God does not have all power. John.’ That’s also the Mormon view. He has all the power it’s possible to have in a universe that self-exists and amidst intelligences that are free. The minute you acknowledge that Man is free, you have to say that evil is possible. And the minute you observe around you the use of freedom, you have to say, it is actual. But now to Brother Brigham.

“This is the year we have talked a great deal about the plains. Here are two glimpses that have not only impressed me but shaken me, deeply. Brigham said, he’s looking back, this is 1860, so not yet 2 decades being in the valley. Said, ‘The sufferings of the wicked in crossing the plains have been far more severe than what had been endured of the Saints of the Most High. And when we talk of the difference in regard to the pangs of death, there is no comparison.’ Stegner observes, in comparing the Mormons who faced ever West, who sometimes had their hands frozen to the crossbar of the handcarts, who some of them died in each other’s arms, were not the same as the Donner party, who facing mountains of snow at Donner Pass finally lapsed into cannibalism. The sufferings of the wicked, he [Bro. Brigham] says, were much greater than the sufferings of the Saints. Why? Well, he then says, ‘In speaking of the paths of the righteous and the wicked, in the right hand there is joy, peace, comfort, light, and life while in the left hand there is nothing but darkness, misery, sorrow, and death. And while it is joy and peace to be a servant of God, it is sorrow and affliction to be wicked.’

“Another quote, ‘The faith I have embraced has given me light for darkness, ease for pain.’ He doesn’t say total removal. ‘Joy and gladness, for sorrow and mourning. Certainty for uncertainty, hope for despair. We talk about having grace to endure and we pray, ‘Oh, Lord. Give me grace to endure the pains I receive in this thorny path.” William Clayton’s phrase, remember? ‘Grace shall be as your day.’ Enough, each day! ‘This thorny path, which leads to heaven. Help me endure the scoffs and snares of the unfriendly world that I may bear the name of Jesus honorably while I live. It is right to pray for grace. But let me shape this prayer a little differently and ask God, my Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ to open the eyes of my understanding and teach me the truth as it is. Then I shall see that I am walking in the light and not in the darkness.’ Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, ‘I am the Light of the World. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.’ The true people of God are far removed from that pain, which the sinner and ungodly constantly endure.’

“There was a moment when the 3rd company west, in 1847, led by Jedediah M. Grant, had first lost nearly 30 of their horses and cattle to an Indian raid and then comes the returning company of Brigham Young from the valley going back to Winter Quarters. And they learn from first-hand witnesses that there is a valley, and you’re getting close, and we’ve started to build our city, and it’s beautiful, and they rejoice! In their very rejoicing they let down their guard and Indians raid and 40 more of their horses and teams are driven off. They spend a day and travel 30 miles to try to recover them. They fail. And then it’s very clear to Brigham, that the only way Jedediah’s company is going to reach the valley is if they, every one of his party, surrender their animals. And so he stands up on a wagon and in his own account says, ‘I didn’t look at their faces. I said, ‘Brethren, give all of your horses to Jedediah Grant’s company.” And I remind you that we are only about 900 miles at that point from Winter Quarters, while shows he also a sense of humor, he says, ‘At 9 o’clock, we saw Jedediah’s hundred’ – and it wasn’t just a hundred bodies, it was a hundred, including families – ‘we saw them heading for the valley. And then I invited my brethren to take a walk with me to Winter Quarters.’ This is the same man that Elder Neal Maxwell’s quoted to whit, ‘I say God is the author of life and of all joy and comfort. He is the author of all intelligence and of all good to us. Then become satisfied to obey Him. Seek to get more and more of His nature and learn more of Him. This will give us greater sensibility and we shall know how to enjoy and how to endure. I say, if you want to enjoy exquisitely, become a Latter-day Saint! And then live the doctrine of Jesus Christ. The man or woman who will do this will enjoy and endure most. And if they will be humble and faithful, they will enjoy the glory and the excellency of the power of God and be prepared to live with gods and with angels.’

I bear my witness that evil is real. I bear my witness that God is good. I bear my witness that He does all within His power to enable us to avoid needless suffering. And finally, I bear my witness that He will be with us as our companion in the suffering of which, in the fulfillment of our missions, is unavoidable.”

I transcribed this portion of Truman Madsen’s talk – it’s only about half of it – because he said much about why God allows us to suffer. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do people die prematurely? Why is there so much suffering? It’s because there is freedom. I should also add that perhaps, we are not as good as we might think we are. Is there really any good but God? [Yes, but we are not good apart from God]. We have agency, we can do what we want to do. God allows it because He has to. There is no other way for us to grow and progress in order to become more like Him. I’ll repeat the key line: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way you can build character and sanctify souls is through distress and pain.” That doesn’t mean we should seek out distress and pain, it just means that we should persevere through the pain and distress, knowing that God is good, knowing that some day, like a mother in labor, we will be delivered and experience a rebirth into a glorious world of light and peace. Peace amid suffering comes from faith in God and in His purposes. Strength of character comes from resisting the distress and pain – not necessarily fighting it but in not letting it take over our lives. Just like lifting weights. The strength comes from the resistance, not from giving in.

Suffering is very real but we need not despair. We can have faith and hope in Christ. That – He – is our salvation! He is what gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. That is what the Existentialists have correct – life would be meaningless without, and this is key, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But Christ did atone for our sins and sorrows and sicknesses. We all will overcome death and can overcome Hell. Thus, life is not meaningless. All suffering can have purpose and meaning. If we can find the meaning in suffering, then it has a purpose. If we do not find meaning in our suffering, but instead let it overwhelm us and cause us to despair, then it is needless suffering. Suffering caused by sin is also needless but it happens. It is up to us to try to make the best situation we can wherever we are. That’s not easy but prayer, righteousness, and faith in Jesus Christ will give us the strength we need to overcome all trials and sorrows. The light will come; it always comes to those with faith and with endurance.

BYU Speeches – The Sacred Gift of Agency

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Today I listened to Dr. David Dearden’s BYU address given on 31 March 2009. He is a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University. As a fellow scientist (although I am in the neurosciences and psychological sciences) I appreciated his views on science, faith, and agency. His talk is entitled The Sacred Gift of Agency. He states that all he sees in science affirms his faith in God; in other words, all he learns about nature, chemistry, physics, and the universe strengthens his faith and belief in God. He believes this way because he chooses to: “Well-meaning people may honestly disagree with my interpretation of how the universe is put together. Agency allows and requires this possibility. But for me, as I noted above, science is faith affirming because I choose to believe, and everything else follows.”

That is exactly my experience. Everything I learn about the brain or behavior or other sciences, strengthens my faith in God. I look at someone’s brain and I see God’s work. My faith in God is strengthened by science because I too, “[first] choose to believe, and everything else follows.” However, science is not sure; it is never sure. What I mean is that science is not perfect – our methods of science are not perfect. Even more than that, being completely, 100 percent sure goes against the very fabric of the method by which we conduct science. This does not mean that we can never trust science but it also means that through science we can never be entirely sure of what we learn from science. We can be reasonable sure about most things we learn from science but fully trusting all science is placing ‘blind faith’ in a fallible knowledge system. Science is the search for knowledge, it reveals little about Truth. I love science, it is what I spend most of my time doing; I love research and discovering knowledge and learning but I recognize the limitations of science.

There is something about which we can be sure. That is God. Those who have not felt the influence of the Holy Ghost (or at least did not recognize it) might not understand this principle. Those of us who have felt this Spirit and recognized it for what it is know this principle – certainty only comes from God. There are other things we can know for certain – we can know of someone’s love for us or our love for them. We can know other things but even with my love example, how often have you heard someone say, “I thought I loved them” or “I thought they loved me.” Even love can be deceiving some times (but thankfully, not all the time).

There is something about the influence of the Spirit that is absolute. What I mean is that His influence is certain. This is not to say that we can not deny it – we certainly can, that is part of our agency – but by denying it we are only lying to ourselves and to God. An example of someone who knew the truth but chose to deny it is Korihor. Here is part of the exchange he had with Alma:

“37 And then Alma said unto [Korihor]: Believest thou that there is a God?
38 And he answered, Nay.
39 Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
40 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.
41 But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?
42 Behold, I know that thou believest, but thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and ye have put off the Spirit of God that it may have no place in you; but the devil has power over you, and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.” (Alma 30:37-42).

Alma knew Korihor believed in God and have felt the Spirit. Korihor was simply lying to himself and others. He acknowledged as much after he asked for a sign from God and then lost his power of speech.

“52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.

“53 But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” (Alma 30:52-53).

Korihor used his agency to choose to not believe in God, even though he always knew there was a God. His actions stemmed from that lie. I choose to believe in God, to not deny the feelings I have felt; I try to let my actions follow from my belief.

I’d like to share an experience from Dr. Dearden’s BYU address. It strikes a melodic chord with me because in many ways, I’m in a similar situation as he was in this experience.

“One of the great experiences of my life came as I was beginning my independent career as a faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington. Paul had a great experience on the road to Damascus, and I had my own on the road to Dallas. No, I did not see the Savior as Paul did, but I did experience His love, and I got to see how many little, seemingly less-important choices added up to bless me.

“I was trying hard to raise a family and to serve faithfully in the Church. It is challenging to do this as a young assistant professor. I had taken the job planning to pursue a certain course of research that appeared to have good opportunities for funding. I set up my lab and needed a test problem to check whether or not my instruments were working. I wasn’t quite ready to do what I had originally planned, and I remembered some work I had done years before as an undergraduate at BYU. This gave me an idea for a new experiment. It wasn’t a big deal, but I tried it, and it worked.

“I wanted to attend a scientific meeting I thought would further my career. I needed something to present at the conference because the university required me to present in order to fund the trip, so I took the results of my test experiment and drove 700 miles from Dallas to Nashville to attend the meeting. It was just a poster presentation, one among hundreds, but I was shocked at the strong positive response I received.

“I had to drive the 700 miles home by myself, and that was when the revelation began. All
the way home it was as if I heard a voice saying over and over, ‘Drop your original plans and pursue this other course of research.’ I did, and that choice laid the foundation for my entire subsequent career. In part, that is why I am here at BYU today. It may not have won a Nobel Prize, but the choice was a good one. It came after much thought and hard work and led to much more thought and hard work. I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot. It has blessed my life.”

Let me repeat my favorite part: “I still don’t know if the Lord cares about the science I did. I doubt it matters at all to Him, but I do know for sure that He loves me and my family, and that matters a lot.

God loves each of us. We can know Him beyond doubt, even though we do not see Him (at this time in our existence). “All thin
gs denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call 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). All things denote there is a God to those who choose to believe and serve Him. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). We all have agency; what is important is that we use that agency to believe in God and do His will.

C.S. Lewis Quote du Jour

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“Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled…. It follows that this Bad Power…must have things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them…. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things – resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself…. Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.” (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. HarperCollins, 2001, pp.44-45).

There was a war in Heaven between Jesus Christ and Lucifer. Satan rebelled against God and God’s plan of salvation. At one point, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, Lucifer was good. He had intelligence, light, knowledge, and free will. He had the moral agency to choose right from wrong. These are the good things Lucifer received from God. He took these gifts and used them to become evil. It is only in this manner that God created evil. There are eternal principles – God’s laws – that are not breakable. Agency is one of them. God gave Lucifer – and all of us – agency, which agency Lucifer used for evil. Lucifer rebelled and was exiled to the earth. “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down” (Moses 4:3).

With this agency we all have been given comes the responsibility to choose that which is right. “That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” (D&C; 101:78). With this agency – the same gift that made Lucifer’s fall possible – we can choose good or evil. Do you choose good?

Selected October 2009 General Conference Quotes and Thoughts – Sunday Afternoon Session

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Elder Jeffrey R. Holland – Witness of the Book of Mormon


Elder Holland’s talk was one of the most powerful testimonies of the Book of Mormon you will likely hear in your life!

Prophecies regarding the last days often reveal calamities – political and economic.

The Savior warned that even the very elect could be deceived in the last days. Think of the heart as the poetic location of our loyalties and values. Heavenly Father knows all of our troubles of the heart and soul. The Book of Mormon begins with a great parable of life – hope vs. fear, salvation vs. destruction, etc. Mists of darkness arose to make the hard way even harder. There was a rod of iron that led the way – it was a manifestation of God’s love – it was His word.

The power of Christ [will counter] all troubles in all times, including the end of times. That is the safe harbor God wants for us in public or personal despair. As we are faithful, we can be made strong.

Elder Holland told of the martyrdom of Hyrum and Joseph. Many testify of the truth of the Book of Mormon and of the truthfulness of Joseph’s calling as a prophet of God. Joseph and Hyrum were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon has been denied and attacked since its publication and no attack has ever held.

“No wicked man could write a book like this [the Book of Mormon] and no good man would write it, unless it were truth and he had been commanded of God.”

The Book of Mormon is a stone of stumbling and rock of offense to the unbeliever.

“My testimony is as binding and unequivocal as [Joseph’s]…I give my witness to the world [that the Book of Mormon is true…I lie not.”

God always provides safety for the soul and with the Book of Mormon He has again done that.

Elder Quentin L. Cook – Stewardship

We have the freedom to choose our course in this life…but we will be accountable for our choices.

We are stewards over our minds, bodies…

Stewardship for ourselves and family.

“We live in a time when virtue and chastity are not safeguarded.” The wellsprings of life are to be kept pure. This is one of the reasons why virtue and chastity are so important in our Father’s Plan. When our thoughts or actions are impure, we violate His standard.

Those who rationalize, remind us of little children who cover their eyes convinced that they can’t see us and we can’t see them.

All can repent and return to a state of cleanliness. “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is repented and I remember them no more.” We have a duty to secure the physical and spiritual well-being of our children. Having religious observance in our home is as important as having food, shelter, and clothing.

Stewardship for the poor and needy.

We are accountable as stewards over earthly blessings.

Story of 80 year old Sarah who was one of first to give service or donations. He also spoke of the Church’s humanitarian efforts, including fast offerings.

We should be diligent. Because of contributions, the church can respond quickly without fanfare to needs/disasters around the world. In all our stewardship actions, we try to follow the Savior.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson – The Principle of Discipline

We all possess the God-given gift of moral agency. For positive outcomes, moral agency must be coupled with moral discipline.

The root of the word discipline is shared with the word “disciple.” Our moral discipline is rooted in loyalty and devotion to the Father and Son. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that provides the foundation of moral discipline.

The world sees moral as relative. This leads to lack of internal control, which requires external coercion by governments. We rely on external laws to regulate behavior, which shows how uncivilized we have become.

We need an internal moral compass within each individual that can deal with the root causes of personal and societal ills. Moral discipline is learned at home. We can’t dictate what others will do [but we can what we do]. There must be constant teaching, mostly by example [of the gospel]. The intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of truth to see things how they are.

Satan and his followers are not promoting objectivity. We should not have to learn by sad experience that wickedness never was happiness. Early discipline [of children] can bring an abrupt end to crime [or prevent it outright].

“While therapy can support a person’s will, it cannot substitute for it.”

Pres. Thomas S. Monson – Closing Remarks

We live in a time when many in the world have slipped from the moorings of safety. Many are routinely disregarding the laws of God.

May we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. “I love you my brothers and sisters. I pray for you. I ask that you would remember me and all the general authorities [in your prayers].” Jesus guides and directs His church here upon the earth.

Lucifer’s Insidious Plan – Part 3

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Heavenly Father chose Jehovah. In response, Lucifer rebelled. Many rebelled with him. But the majority of spirits did not join with Lucifer; they understood his lies. They saw through his orations and discerned his pride. However, those who followed Satan fought hard for his plan; Lucifer drew the support of one third part of the hosts of heaven (see D&C; 29:36). Heavenly Father let Lucifer fight and gain supporters because He could not take away His children’s agency. He would not force them to follow His plan. Michael led God’s armies to victory and Heavenly Father cast Satan out of heaven and down to the earth through the power of His Beloved Son (see Moses 4:3). Lucifer became Satan and the heavens wept over him. God wept over Lucifer’s fall; all wept for him and those who followed him. He had been a choice spirit but instead chose the path to perdition. His path left him nothing more than spirit. He is bitter about the loss of glory but he is still prideful; he wants to draw away as many children of God as will follow him.

Satan continues to wage his war against the Savior and all of God’s children. He wants to deny us what he was denied – the opportunity to return to live with God again. The war he commenced in heaven continues today. Satan’s prophets preach sermons that are merely gaudy imitations of godly principles. They preach relativism, hedonism, and humanism. They build false temples and gain faithful followers. His disciples buy up power and influence with the riches of the earth and with promises of happiness. Any happiness or mirth that comes from living as a citizen of Babylon is ephemeral. His followers prance about in gaudy clothing, walking with a mincing step (see Isaiah 3:16), and speaking with tongues of tinkling cymbals and sounding brass (1 Corinthians 13:1). They compass themselves with sparks, thinking they are the lights of the world (see Isaiah 50:11 and 2 Ne. 7:11). Yet their evanescent sparks will sputter and die. Some of Satan’s followers even preach his gospel while denying his existence. They create whitewashed facades to hide their inner decay. Instead of being filled with truth and light, they are filled with dead men’s rotten bones. Satan’s lies are so insidious yet so appealing, that many do not realize the deleterious effects of heeding them. Those ensnared by Satan’s deceptions often, like the anti-Christ Sherem who stated at the end of his life that “he had been deceived by the power of the devil” (Jacob 7:18), do not know that they are living his plan of damnation and not the Lord’s plan of progression. Satan lives a plan of misery and desires all of us to forget and stop following the plan of happiness.

We should use our agency to reject Satan’s plan of misery. We need to cleave to the good and reject that which is bad. We need to clasp the iron rod and ignore the scorn of those dwelling in Satan’s architectural marvel – the great and spacious building – even as beautiful or impressive an edifice it might be. It was built by the master of pride, and like Lucifer, will have an exceedingly great fall. The time is now to choose to endure to the end where we partake eternally of the sweet fruit of the tree of life and where we will be forever clasped in the loving embrace of the Savior through His atoning blood.

We must press on keeping the encouragement of the Prophet Joseph in our minds: “Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren [and sisters]; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free. Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons [and daughters] of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!” (D&C; 128:22-23).

As we fight on in righteousness we will be victorious! We can, and will, win the war that was started in the pre-earth life. In righteousness we will stand victorious, surrounded by the army of the archangel Michael, and be reunited with our Eternal Father in a world of endless light and love.

Lucifer’s Insidious Plan – Part 2

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The day came for an official presentation of the plan of salvation. God had prepared His plan from the beginning; I believe that many and even all of His spirit children already knew the plan but God needed to give His children the opportunity to accept it or reject it. He needed to let Jehovah exercise His agency and publicly propose and accept His role in the plan. Our Father also wanted to allow Lucifer to exercise his agency and put forth his own plan. A great conference was called in Heaven; we all gathered there as siblings, friends, and families. We waited in eager anticipation for the announcement of the next step in our eternal progression. Heavenly Father explained to us the Plan of Salvation and called for a Savior. Jehovah stepped forward and said he would go in accordance with His Father’s will and that the entire honor would go to the Father. This was the plan we knew and accepted. Many shouted for joy at the prospect of coming to earth (see Job 38:7). Not all were thrilled though. Then Lucifer stepped forward and revealed his plan.

Some likely knew portions of his plan but he had not let his plan be widely known – he waited for the right moment to present what he deemed a superior plan to his Father’s. What was his plan? It was similar to the Father’s plan but with insidious differences. With all the power and persuasion of his rehearsed oration, he began to unfold his plan. “I propose that we will send everyone to earth to receive a body. However, I will be the Savior.” Murmurs arose from the crowd. “Lucifer will be our Savior?”

He continued his speech, “But only on one condition – we will require everyone to be good. We will make sure everyone makes only good choices. Then they will not sin and they can return to live with Father. We will make sure everyone makes it back to heaven. With my illustrious plan there will be no suffering, no sin, and no sorrow. Everyone will be perfect. All will live in Heaven on earth and be as Zion. We will not lose any to the dredges of sin or the pain of despair! I will save all my brothers and sisters; I will exalt them!” People started nodding in approval. “Lucifer’s plan sounds fair. It sounds good to me.” Others saw his plan for what it was: “If everyone will be forced to be perfect, then we don’t need a Savior. Satan wants to usurp Jehovah without actually doing anything!”

As Lucifer listened to some express their approval, he smirked. He knew something those who liked his proposal did not know; some understood Satan’s motives instantly. Satan knew the fatal flaw of his plan but he was not going to tell anyone. The flaw in Satan’s plan was that no one would be able to return to Heavenly Father’s presence. Without agency and thus a time of testing, God’s children could not make the required growth that would enable them to be like their Father. All Lucifer wanted was Heavenly Father’s honor (D&C; 29:36), in fact he demanded all of Heavenly Father’s honor.

That was the most insidious part of Lucifer’s plan – he knew that his plan would not work; he knew it would relegate all of God’s children to eternal damnation. However, he believed he could be granted God’s power through his plan; that only shows that he did not fully understand the process and nature of exaltation. Why did Lucifer desire to take what he deemed to be the easy road to exaltation? Satan might have been frightened of what earth life entailed. He wanted the easy way out. He wanted the reward (and all of the reward) without any effort. In what would have been the most selfish act in eternity, Lucifer was willing to sacrifice the eternal progression and eternal lives of all of his brothers and sisters, just so he could be like God. Ironically, Satan’s plan that would deny people their agency resulted from him exercising his agency. God allowed the presentation of this plan because agency is an eternal principle. In his perversity and knowing that agency was essential for people to become like Heavenly Father, Satan proposed a plan that removed agency—only he would reap agency’s benefits while all of God’s other children would be denied its blessings. Lucifer wanted to usurp Jehovah’s role as God through divine investiture of authority. While his plan might have started out innocently in the beginning, it was not innocent in the end.