Honesty: The Worth of a Peso

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What is the worth of a peso? How much would one be worth to you? A peso is not worth much to most people but there is one in particular that is worth a lot to me.

When I was young my family and I visited an old Spanish mission in Arizona. There were a lot of coins in the fountain. Many of the coins were pennies, nickels, and dimes; all glittered and sparkled in the sunshine and through the water. But some of the coins were different, some were from Mexico, which was not unexpected because we no more than an hour from the Mexican border. I liked one of the pesos and took it. I remember looking at it in the car on the way home. Within the next couple days my parents discovered I had the coin and asked where I got it. I told them I had taken it from the fountain. I guess I knew what I had done was wrong because I remember hiding the coin from my parents but it also did not seem like a big deal. However, my father sat down with me and had me send the coin back to the director of the mission. Sometime later I received a letter from the director of the mission. In the letter he thanked me for my honesty in returning the coin. Within the envelope and in addition to the letter he included a few coins – including the one I returned – from around the world that had been tossed into that fountain. I was rewarded for my honesty (or at least the honesty of my parents). This was the start of my small collection of coins from around the world.

What is the worth of this coin to me? It is worth a lesson of the importance of honesty. It was a powerful lesson at the time and still is. The Lord blesses and loves those with honest hearts: “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” (Psalm 32:2). Jesus was heartened (and still is) by those who were without guile and lies, in part because He faced so many who were full of deceit: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). This was a man to be trusted! This was a pure man. Jesus loves the pure in heart. Honesty is a building block of purity.

I love this description of the honest in heart: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). The honest are like good gardeners who watch with patience until their efforts bring forth good fruit. Honest hearts are good hearts; honesty and integrity imply a lack of spiritual cardiac disease. For those who do suffer from spiritual cardiac disease, there is hope – the Lord promises a heart transplant to those who need it: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekial 36:26). Continued honesty and integrity bring the Spirit, which serves as anti-rejection medicine for this new heart.

The Lord expects His people to be honest and upright in their dealings with Him, others, and themselves. Of one group of righteous people in the Book of Mormon it is written: “And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27). These were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, those whom were converted by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the sons of Mosiah, rebellious and wicked youth turned righteous and powerful missionaries to the Lamanites. So righteous were these new church members that they were described as “perfectly honest…even unto the end.” They lived their lives in righteousness and holiness because they were perfectly honest.

We can similarly be perfectly honest in all we do and inspire honesty in others. Elder James E. Faust told the following story of the power of honesty:

“I wish to speak to you frankly about being honest. Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives. You young men are under great pressure to learn the technology that is expanding and will continue to expand so rapidly. However, the tremendous push to excel in secular learning sometimes tempts people to compromise that which is more important—their honesty and integrity.Cheating in school is a form of self-deception. We go to school to learn. We cheat ourselves when we coast on the efforts and scholarship of someone else.
A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. ‘Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.’

The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician and in later years received special recognition from the Utah Medical Association for his outstanding service as a medical doctor. He also served as a General Authority and is now the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.” (Ensign, Nov. 1996).

What courage that man had to stand up to his classmates and demand their honesty! What integrity and honor! There were blessings because of this honesty – more medical students graduated in that class than previous classes had graduated. Without cheating, the students had to work harder, which meant they learned more and could do better. The world would be a much better place if more people were like that man. The pain and suffering caused by dishonesty in our world is great.

The summer after my mission I needed a summer job before I went back to BYU to resume school. I got a job as a car jockey at a dealership. I drove cars that people brought in for repairs from one lot to another and back. It was not hard work but I was out in the sweltering Arizona heat much of the day and it seemed like most of the cars needed air conditioning repairs. One car I got in was a 1980s minivan with a mattress on its side in the back, which meant I could not see out the back on the passenger side of the car. As I backed up I heard and felt a crunch. I thought, “Oh no! What did I hit?” as I pulled forward back into the parking space and got out of the car. There was a new gray Corvette with a gash in its front driver’s side wheel well. Corvettes (at least this 2001 one) have fiberglass bodies, which means the car body tore instead of denting. The minivan was not even scratched (not that it was really possible to tell anyway – it was old and a bit beat up). I thought of my options: I could go tell my boss or I could drive away and not tell anyone. The second choice was not an option so I went and found my boss. When I told him about the accident his first question was, “What color was [the Corvette]?” I said, “Gray, it wasn’t the yellow one [a fancy Z06 in for a tune-up].” “Oh, that’s good then. Thanks for letting me know.” And that was it. I went back to work driving cars around. Later that same boss went out of his way to find me as a driver for his wife’s car (a BMW) that was in for repairs because he trusted me. I am always glad I told the truth. It is always better to tell the truth, regardless of consequences.

There is an interesting scripture in the book of Moses. It reads, “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; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4: 3-4). The interesting thing is Satan is called “the father of all lies”; he could have been called many other things (and he can be called many things) but the Lord chose to call him the father of all lies. Satan’s self-proclaimed work is to deceive and blind men and lead them down to captivity, pawns to his will and whims. All lies come from Satan; he is their creator. Those who lie preach the devil’s gospel and spread his bad word. Those who are dishonest become Satan’s children. Is not it better to become sons and daughters of God?

Continuing on in Moses 4 we read the following (I will add some commentary in brackets):

“6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world. [Satan thought his lying to Eve would frustrate God’s plan when in fact it furthered God’s plan].
7 And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)
8 And the woman said unto the serpent: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
9 But of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
10 And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; [a lie].
11 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. [This is true].
12 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
13 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig-leaves together and made themselves aprons.
14 And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
15 And I, the Lord God, called unto Adam, and said unto him: Where goest thou?
16 And he said: I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I beheld that I was naked, and I hid myself.
17 And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?
18 And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat.
19 And I, the Lord God, said unto the woman: What is this thing which thou hast done? And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
20 And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life;
21 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; and he shall [crush] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Moses 4:6-21).

Satan tried to lie to Eve. He tried to destroy God’s plan but he didn’t know that he was actually furthering God’s plan; what Satan did was without authority or permission but Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit was part of God’s plan – whether they eventually partook of it by themselves, or someone else gave it to them. In any case, when Satan realized that he was cursed for what he had done (he already was cursed but in this case he was upset he had not actually frustrated God’s plans but furthered them). Satan became very angry and has been ever since. He rages against God and all of us. He tries to cause the nations to rage furiously together, brother against brother, father against son, daughter against mother, neighbor against neighbor, and people against people. I do not believe that Satan is so angry that He cannot think properly – to the contrary, he thinks very clearly – but he is angry because of what he lost and angry at us mortals on earth who have opportunities for progression he will never have. And so Satan lies and deceives and encourages dishonesty in others. He knows that when we are dishonest we are not godlike or godly. He knows the pain and suffering lies cause and so he encourages them and laughs at the suffering of others. He rejoices in our failures and sins and sorrows. God does not.

[The image at the top of the post is the coin I took from the fountain].

Judging Without Hypocrisy

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The Apostle Paul in teaching the Romans preached against a multitude of sins.

“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:26-27).

People wanted to be wicked so God allowed them to use their agency and choose to do wicked behaviors, in this case, homosexual behaviors. This condemnation was particularly appropriate for Roman society as homosexual behaviors were occurred with some frequency. This is not all; next comes a list of other sins.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Romans 1:28-32).

Homosexual behaviors are grievous sins, so are all sexual sins, murders, envyings, deceits, covetousness, and so forth. Those who sin in ignorance are not without blemish but those who know “the judgment of God”, those who know that doing such things are sinful behaviors yet still do them and take pleasure in doing them are particularly condemned.

Then comes a statement even more condemning of certain people:

“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3).

Paul said that we have to be careful in judging others. It is okay to judge in truth but we better not be hypocritical and judge and condemn others when we secretly do what they do – not necessarily the same sins but sins that fill us with wickedness. If we can judge without hypocrisy, then such judging is allowable, as long as we try not to stand in the place of God without authority. In general, we need to worry about beams in our own eyes but it can be appropriate to judge others at times, as long as we do so without hypocrisy.

Chronic Pain

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Here are brief and powerful words of wisdom from Pres. Boyd K. Packer about not needlessly suffering through chronic pain of sin:

“Guilt is spiritual pain. Do not suffer from chronic pain. Get rid of it. Be done with it. Repent and, if necessary, repent again and again and again and again until you—not the enemy—are in charge of you.” (Packer, How to survive in enemy territory, Ensign, October 2012).

The Problem of Korihor

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In a time of relative peace, a man called Korihor went among the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla. He started preaching against Christ and the prophecies of the prophets and thus was called Anti-Christ. His being anti-Christ was not just because he preached against Christ and God but also because he did so dishonestly (I’ll expound on this later).

The Nephites were living in a time with considerable political freedom. Instead of kings, the Nephites were ruled by judges who were not appointed with lifetime tenures. They served for a time and then retired. The judges received compensation for their time but it is likely that at least a substantial portion of them worked other jobs (including running their farms) to have the necessary resources for survival. In other words, at this point the judges did not receive outlandish amounts of money for their time. This will be an important point later.

In this society with considerable political freedom, there was the freedom for people to believe and worship what they wanted to. A person was only punished for immoral and otherwise wicked behavior and crimes: “But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished. For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.” (Alma 30:10-11). However, with the freedom of this society came the potential for great abuse. Having the freedom to believe and do wrong gives us the greater responsibility to believe and do right.

Now that we have context, let’s move on to Korihor. I’m going to take Korihor’s arguments and counter them, poking holes in his logic; this is not something that any of the judges to whom Korihor was taken did (and is not usually recommend in similar situations – it can just lead to arguing), although Alma corrected Korihor on one point; Alma responded to everything else by bearing his testimony to Korihor.

Korihor said, “O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.” (Alma 30:13). What’s wrong with this? First, Korihor commits the informal logical fallacy of begging the question when he assumes that hoping for Christ is “foolish”, “vain”, and a “yoke.” He offers no proof that such a hope (faith) is vain, foolish, and a burden. What is worse is that Korihor makes the following statement a foundation of his arguments, “no man can know of anything which is to come.” If this statement is true, the Nephites could not know if Christ would later come but more importantly, Korihor could not state that Christ will not come because that means that he (Korihor) knows of something to come (i.e., that Christ will not come to earth). He destroys his argument himself.

Korihor goes on to attack the prophecies in the scriptures, calling them “foolish traditions” (verse 14). This is not a new argument, just a continuation and restating of his previous one.

His next argument is one of the foundational philosophies of modern science (I’m not attacking science; I am a scientist): “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.” (Alma 30:15). This is materialism – if we can’t see (or measure) something, it cannot exist. What about the other senses? They are implied in his statement but not stated. Even so, his statement is still untrue. There are many things we cannot see that still exist (e.g., gravity, atoms, sounds, smells – not all these were known in Korihor’s day but his argument still is not valid). Korihor also makes the assumption that we cannot see Christ (something that we know is not true – we all did see Him before our mortal lives and many people have seen Him at various times). Even if we do not believe that people have seen Christ (or ever will see Him), Korihor’s logic is, at best, incomplete (and that’s being generous).

Next Korihor gives what is a common argument – that faith and religion (seeking for a remission of sins) are nothing but the “effect of a frenzied mind” or the result of the “derangement of your minds” (Alma 30:16). This is a viewpoint that I read frequently in online discussions where religion comes up. Sigmund Freud put it this way, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. […] If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.” (Source). In other words, religion is an infantile neurosis that hopefully people will outgrow. Freud believed that if people only understood the world (science, naturalism, and materialism) then they would give up on using religion to explain things they do not understand. Korihor essentially made the same argument – religious beliefs are nothing but a “frenzied mind” – a neurosis. Religious people are therefore deranged. The problem with this argument is that labeling someone as crazy or neurotic or suffering from unresolved psychological problems just because you do not agree with their beliefs does not make your beliefs about others correct. What is worse is that I’ve already shown that the foundation of Korihor’s argument up to this point is fatally flawed so at best he is condemning others for using faulty logic that is different from the faulty logic he uses (although matters of faith do not always rely on logic; I have to add that that being said, I’ve yet to find anything as logically consistent and complete as the gospel of Jesus Christ as found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

I want to interject something Alma taught that counters what Korihor taught. Even though Alma was not responding to Korihor (he was dead at this point), his sermon that we have starting in Alma 32 seems like a general response to Korihor’s teachings. One thing he said is particularly pertinent at this point: “O then, is not this [faith and spiritual knowledge] real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?” (Alma 32:35). Alma directly counters Korihor’s belittling of faith; Alma states that faith is real and it is discernible. While we might not always see faith directly, we can understand it in a way that is at least as good as and usually better than sight.

Now back to Korihor. Korihor then moved into the realm of philosophy called humanism and its cousin relativism (not relativity): “And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men [again, what an interesting statement to make given that Korihor said that we cannot know the future], but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength [humanism]; and whatsoever a man did was no crime [relativism].” (Alma 30:17). While there is much to commend about humanism – it’s a philosophy that people can and should improve themselves – the problem of humanism is that there is no room for God in it. People do well because they do well on their own, not because they have a Father in Heaven who blesses them. Humanism is found in many other philosophies and fields – psychology, political science, sociology, literature, business. For example, a particularly extreme form of humanism is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The problem of humanism is that it is ultimately self-centered and selfish. Korihor also taught relativism (this could also be a form of moral nihilism) – that there is no sin, there are no set rights and wrongs – “whatsoever a man [or woman] did was no crime.” How common both these philosophies are today!

Then Korihor (who was particularly a hit with women – see verse 18) continued with his form of nihilism: “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof” (Alma 30:18). Korihor preached against morality and meaning in life. People were to live life however they wanted to and then die, which was the end of their existence. Korihor would have got along splendidly with some of the major philosophers of the 20th century.

We’ll skip ahead a bit. Korihor finds some successes in his preachings but he is taken before local judges in a couple of the lands (the Anti-Nephi-Lehis would have none of his teachings nor would most of the people in the land of Gideon). Then Korihor, before the judge Giddonah, just becomes confrontational, saying essentially, “You say this but I say this instead. You say you are free, I say you are in bondage” and so forth. He also shows his conceit: “Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.” (Alma 30:24). He said, “You think you know this but you really don’t.” He had the audacity to tell Giddonah what he did or did not believe.

Korihor then goes back to one of his favorite arguments (it’s getting old by this point): “[You believe in] God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.”(Alma 30:28). So much for not being able to know of things to come! That’s quite a prophecy that Korihor makes: “No one has ever or could ever see God and no one ever will. In fact, He doesn’t exist!” It’s impossible to defend a universal negative categorical proposition like that though. So Korihor demonstrated that at no point in the universe is there a being who exists who we refer to as God? Of course he didn’t! That’s one of the problems with universal negatives of that nature.

Eventually Korihor is taken before Alma because no one else knows what to do with him. Korihor starts getting angry, going on and on about how the judges and priests “glut themselves” upon the labors of the people; he basically says they are like the wicked king Noah (who really did that). But they are nothing like Noah, especially Alma. Korihor starts blaspheming and then verbally abusing Alma and the other political and religious leaders. This is where Alma directly refutes what Korihor is saying. Korihor says that Alma and the other religious leaders are becoming wealthy by living off the people. Further, those who are judges are also doing the same.

Alma replies: “Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people. And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time. And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren? Then why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain?” (Alma 30:32-35).

There is not much to say more than this. Korihor was lying about Alma (and other church leaders) – it was an obvious lie – so Alma countered Korihor on this point.

After this, Alma and Korihor go back and forth a bit. Korihor denies there is a God. Alma doubts his assertion and bears his testimony of God and Christ (which is the best thing to do in circumstances like this). Korihor remits a bit, stating that he will believe Alma if Alma shows him a sign. Alma states that God gives enough signs if only we take the time and effort to see them.

Now we start to see changes in Korihor. He goes from being atheist to agnostic (he’s still lying though, as we will discover): “Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.” (Alma 30:48).

So Alma consents; he’ll give Korihor a sign: “This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.” (Alma 30:49). It’s not usually wise to ask for a sign because you might just get one and you might not like it! Korihor was struck dumb, not being able to speak any more (thus also not being able to lead away more people in wickedness).

Now comes the great confession from Korihor – the confession that shows why he is called Anti-Christ. In writing or sign, Korihor admitted: “Yea, and I always knew that there was a God. 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). So Korihor always knew there was a God. He deliberately preached against this knowledge. He stood out in the light of the sun and denied its existence. That is why he was Anti-Christ. He preached against God and Christ. He saw Satan and listened to him, teaching what he said instead of what he knew was right. After teaching it enough, Korihor started believing it himself but he had gone against the light.

Korihor then begs the curse be taken from him. Alma refuses saying that he brought it upon himself and that Korihor had not repented. Korihor was cast out and went house to house begging for food. People took care of him until he wandered over to the land of the Zoramites, who it turns out had apostatized from the church. The righteous Nephites treated Korihor well; the wicked, not so much: “As [Korihor] went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead. And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” (Alma 30:59-60).

We can see the callousness of the Zoramites – they trampled him to death. Our faith in God is manifest in how we treat others – the Zoramites were wicked. But Korihor’s ignominious death at the feet of the Zoramites served as an object lesson of Satan’s character. He’ll have someone help him with his work and then will cut them off as soon as they are no longer useful. All he wants is for more people to be miserable with him. He will do whatever it takes to hurt others in the worst way possible – to get them to knowingly sin against God. Satan is a coward and without loyalty. He doesn’t even care that his arguments are often so full of holes that if they were buckets, we’d call them colanders. He only needs to get people to believe him as mindless followers (which is not what God wants – mindless followers; God wants faithful followers but not mindless). Korihor’s tragic death shows that Satan does not care for his supporters, all he cares about is how to do the most harm to the most people.

Thus ended Korihor! A long chapter is devoted to him, which might indicate its importance for us to understand. His teachings are alive and well in our day. We need to recognize the Korihors around us and not follow their insidious doctrines. We need to recognize these philosophies of men (and Satan) for what they are and listen to and heed the living prophets of God.

He Lives!

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“He is not here: for he is risen” (Matt. 28:6) – never were more powerful or hopeful words spoken! With His resurrection, Christ shattered the bonds of death, freeing all from that dark prison. He set the captives free, blessing all who lived with immortality after their deaths: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Prophets in our day testify of Christ’s resurrection. In 2000, the Lord’s living apostles and prophets testified:

“[Jesus Christ] rose from the grave to “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life. He also ministered among His “other sheep” (John 10:16) in ancient America. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).

Of the Living Christ, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

“I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C 110:3–4).

Of Him the Prophet also declared: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).” (The Living Christ).

I add my witness of the Living Christ. He lived, atoned, died, and was resurrected in propitiation for our sins and to help us overcome death. He overcame death and hell so that we might be able to have physical and spiritual life. Jesus is my Savior and King. He has come and will come again to the earth!

Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked

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14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue [from the Greek vomit] thee out of my mouth.

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Rev. 3:14-22).

John covered a lot of doctrine in these verses. I want to focus mainly on verses 17 and 18: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

The church members in Laodicea were prideful. They believed they were wealthy because they had worldly riches. They are oblivious to the fact that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. How can they [we] not know that they are wretched?

The prophet Alma taught his son: “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.” (Alma 41:10-11).

When we are doing things that are contrary to the nature of God, when we are not striving to like a godly life, we are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. We cannot be happy, at least not truly happy. It is simply not possible. Now, we might lack insight about our unhappiness but we, in our sinful states, are unhappy all the same. The converse of this is not true – not all sorrow or unhappiness or depression is caused by sin – but if we believe the scriptures, we know that those who sin (particularly if they are not sinning in ignorance) are living in a state contrary to the nature of happiness and are wretched and miserable.

What does all this have to do with the Laodiceans and their worldly wealth? The prophet Moroni watched his civilization crumble because of wickedness. He watched culture and religion decay into wildness and anarchy. Why did this happen? Pride. “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Moroni 8:36-37).

We learn in the New Testament a similar connection between pride, money, and wickedness: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).

The cure for this cancer of pride and wickedness is to flee from the love of money. We must flee from pride just as Joseph fled from Potipher’s wife. We do not just run away, we run towards Christ and His Atonement; we run from evil towards good. That is the only way to avoid being “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” even if we have worldly wealth. Sin blinds us to our condition. We, as I wrote earlier, in our sinful states do not realize that we are blind. We follow blind guides instead of reaching for Christ, who can heal our blindness. Those who repent, those who follow Christ will overcome the world just as He overcame the world. Those who are righteous will be able to sit with Christ in His throne, which is His Father’s throne. Those who overcome can become like Christ and inherit what He has inherited. Do we sell this eternal inheritance for a worldly bauble? Do we give up a throne for a minute of amusement?  The only true and happy way is through Christ.

Two Brothers

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A farmer and his wife had two sons. They lived in a modest home on a modest parcel of land. They worked hard from first light to dusk, clearing their land, plowing, planting, watering, and harvesting. As the sons grew older, their eyes started searching beyond their farm fences. There was a whole world out there that they longed to see and experience. They enjoyed the farm but both were curious and inquisitive. By the time they were old enough to strike out on their own, the elder brother staying around longer to help their parents, the father had many workers to help on the farm. The parents encouraged the brothers to go off and gain experience in the world, to get an education, and to learn and grow. The sons, while caring of their parents, knew that their parents would be able to manage the farm without them. So one day they struck off for the nearest big city.

The two brothers decided to rent a house in the city together. The elder brother found employment in a hospital during the day and went to school during the evening. The younger brother was restless. He bounced from job to job and had a difficult time holding on to his money. He began to become involved in risky behavior and began to interact with questionable people. The younger brother soon began drinking, using drugs, and dealing drugs. He knew what he was doing was wrong, and his older brother counseled with him about his choices, but he felt he was having too much fun. He felt like he was finally breaking free from the shackles of his parents and their prudish ways. He felt that he found a fast track to success – in dealing and using drugs.

For a time, the younger brother enjoyed his riches; he drove fast cars and wore fancy clothes. He still visited home on occasion, hoping, in his twisted view, that his success would please his parents; he found them only grieved. His older brother still lived with him because he hoped he could be an influence for good. One day, the younger brother did not come home. This was not unexpected, but the older brother began to worry. He called the police and asked them to search for his brother. They had dealt with the younger brother many times but said that they did not know where he was.

The next day, the brother still did not come home. After a week of searching, the elder brother began to give up hope of seeing his brother again; though he did not agree with his brother’s lifestyle, he still loved him. Then one day the police showed up at his home; no, they had not seen his brother but they announced that they were there to arrest the elder brother.

He was shocked; why arrest him? He kept every law and always did what was right. The police put him in a room and interrogated him, wanting to know where his brother was. They stated that his brother had beaten and murdered a whole family – parents and children; they assumed the motive was related to drugs and they had unimpeachable evidence that his brother had murdered the family. After the interrogation they locked the older brother away, declaring that because they could not find the younger brother, they were going to hold the older brother in his stead. The police said this was only fair because the two were brothers. They said the guilt of the younger brother would be placed on the elder brother because the younger could not be found. Even though the elder brother protested stating that it was not fair to punish him for the sins of his brother, the police would hear none of his arguments and, working with the courts, they sentenced the older brother to death for the crimes of his brother. The sentence was only reversed when the voices of many pointed out the injustice of guilt by association and a higher court overturned the charges.

A common complaint I hear about Mormons is that they believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. Some even casually remark this fact to others, eliciting the obvious response, “What!? Jesus and Satan are brothers? That’s heresy! Mormons believe in a different Jesus; one who is the brother of Satan!” While the statement (that Jesus and Satan are brothers) is strictly true, the use of it is often for nefarious reasons. We read in LDS scripture:

“And there stood one among them [spirit children of God] that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.” (Abraham 3:24-28).

The first who stood up was Jehovah, our Savior Jesus Christ. The second was Lucifer, who wanted to God’s glory but on Lucifer’s terms. We read in 2 Nephi 24 (quoting Isaiah 14):

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! Art thou cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms? And made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, and opened not the house of his prisoners? All the kings of the nations, yea, all of them, lie in glory, every one of them in his own house. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and the remnant of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land and slain thy people; the seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned.” (2 Ne. 24:12-20).

One interesting aside from these verses: Satan does not let his prisoners go free (“opened not the house of his prisoners”) but Christ does. Christ provided a way for the captive to go free.

Lucifer had a lot of pride and lust for power. He was cast out of God’s presence and became Satan. Lucifer is brother to Christ and every human on the earth for that matter but Satan is the antithesis of Christ. He sold his birthright, whatever birthright he might have had, for a mess of prideful pottage. He sinned great unpardonable sins against God.

Do his actions diminish the glory of his Father or elder Brother? Are the sins of the siblings answered upon the heads of their siblings? Is it just or right to condemn the elder brother for the murders of the younger brother?

My allegory at the start of this post was meant to drive home the point that we are not responsible for the actions of our siblings. We are not guilty simply by association. Yet, when individuals ask or declare the seemingly innocent question or statement about Mormons believing that Jesus and Satan are brothers (which again, is strictly correct; however, Lucifer has also been disinherited; he gave up his family membership through his evil choices and is left without root or branch) are usually trying to imply guilt by association.

I state usually because I have heard people ask the question honestly because they had heard it from a preacher or from someone else and thus they were simply wondering if we Mormons do believe that. But I have had people condemn me because I believe that Jesus and Lucifer are both spirit children of God (as are all of us). They view this as heresy because in their minds they create a link of guilt by association. They believe that if Lucifer is Jesus’ brother, that that somehow reflects on the Savior and even means that He could no longer be who He is and have the power He does. Who Lucifer is no more reflects on Jesus than who Stalin was reflects on you or me or any other person. Just because one individual is perfectly good and the other perfectly evil does not mean that either are responsible for the actions of the other.

Those who declare such things, even if they are true, are creating straw men and attacking them with rubber arrows of logical fallacy. They misuse LDS theology – with or without malice – to scare people away from what they view as the cult of Mormonism. I say again, the sins of the brother do not diminish the glory of another. Christ is not tainted by Satan.

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.

A Wilderness of Sin

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I’ve written this before but I love Truman G. Madsen’s talks and books and videos. You probably don’t want to get me started talking about them or else I might not stop for a long time. I, like so many other people, first discovered him while I was a missionary. I heard his talks about Joseph Smith. I purchased his Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights talks. I purchased his audio biographies of the Presidents of the Church. By now I’ve listened to just about every recorded talk of his out there. I even once had the privilege of attending one of his talks at BYU; I wasn’t going to miss it for the world and I didn’t.

I’ve been listening to some of his BYU addresses again. I’m always struck at his insights into the gospel. There are very few people who have his mix of speaking abilities, knowledge, intellect, and faith. One thing he said in his talk The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength was striking.

Whatever diminishes our relish for spiritual things, whatever we cannot consistently invite the Spirit to attend, is not for us. Sin and selfishness are furtive, they are half-hearted, and they are self-dividing. But Christ’s way is whole-hearted, and the wholeness becomes holiness. Sin cannot sing. The music of sin is a dirge. It is a wilderness crying in a voice. But Christ’s way is song–a new song, a lifting song. Sin loves darkness and covers up. It is darkening. But Christ’s way is light. And light cleaves to light. Sin and the defiant defense of sin is ugly. Christ’s way is beautiful. And everlastingly so. There is no joy in iniquity and, contrary to the world, there is no joy in inequity. We are promised that one day, should we be faithful, we will be equal in heavenly things and even ultimately in earthly things.

That’s some amazing imagery and word play. It’s even more impressive if you know that he speaks extemporaneously. I really love the line about sin being “a wilderness crying in a voice.” Truman Madsen’s phrase is a reference to Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” That verse is quoted or alluded to a number of other times in the scriptures. It is a reference to John the Baptist, who cried as a voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. What did John teach? Repentance and baptism.

So Truman Madsen’s calling sin a “wilderness crying in a voice” is a very fitting reversal of a reference to John the Baptist and thus to repentance and baptism. The solution for sin is repentance and baptism. That’s an entire sermon in a sentence.

There’s more but I’ll let you read the rest of his talk(s). Or, better yet, listen to them.

Lessons from Life Part 5 – The Beach

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Yesterday as a family we went to a nearby beach. With three children ages 5 and under, going to the beach is quite a production. Packing the car, preparing meals and snacks, making sure we have sunblock and sources of shade, and, most importantly, making sure we have our swimming suits, is a daunting task. Successfully getting to the beach with everything we need sometimes feels like a Pyrrhic victory. After a 90 minute drive we spend another 30 minutes getting swimming suits and sunscreen on everyone. Then there are the inevitable diaper changes, baby feedings, and child chasings. But then we make it down to the beach and everyone has a great time running in the sand, building sand castles, and playing in the waves.

The one thing we usually forget to do is reapply sunscreen after a while. Being quite fair skinned, our family tends to turn crimson with relatively little exposure to the sun; this means that regardless of how much sunblock we apply we invariably return home with some sort and size of sunburn. They are usually mild but the burns are there. Another thing we often bring home from the beach is a lot of sand – sand from the shoes and clothes of all of us and sand in the folds and crevasses of the children’s bodies. Sand, especially the fine sand of our beaches, seems to get everywhere. It covers our bodies with a fine dusting, stuck to the sunblock that protects our bodies. Today (after two showers and a number of hours) I discovered more sand trapped in the crevasses of my ear (am I the only one who occasionally misses cleaning out some of the grooves in my pinna?).

All Latter-day Saints have been charged with remaining free from the sins of the world: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The world is a dirty place – there is sand and grit that gets you dirty. This sand can stay with you even though you shower and get clean. Then there is the sun. It gives life but too much sun can result in burns and, eventually, cancer. So we slather ourselves up with protection – we don our whited armor, our helmets and breastplates and shields of titanium dioxide, in order to protect ourselves from the fiery darts of the sun. It works well, most of the time, but if we are not careful and make sure we cover every exposed part and then reapply our armor as needed, we will still end up burned. Over time, the sun can have lasting effects – wrinkles, spots, and cancers (I wrote about this topic of sunburns previously). But with well-applied sunscreen we can be protected and safe in the sun.

We can protect ourselves and we can wash ourselves when we get dirty but sometimes there is still residual dirt. But over time we can become clean again. There is a story told about a dream Joseph F. Smith had while serving as a missionary in Hawaii. Here is his dream as told by Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley in the April 2007 General Conference:

“I was very much oppressed [when I was] on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except [for] the friendship of a poor, benighted . . . people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a . . . man in the face.

“While in that condition I dreamed [one night] that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize . . . what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion. . . . I thought I knew that was my destination.

As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice [which read BATH], ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was [some] white, clean [clothing], a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my [clothing was] clean, and I put [it] on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and [replied]:

“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’

“He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, and Brigham [Young] and Heber [C. Kimball], and Willard [Richards], and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted. . . .

“[When I had this dream,] I was alone on a mat, away up in the mountains of Hawaii—no one was with me. But in this vision I pressed my hand up against the Prophet, and I saw a smile cross his countenance. . . .

“When I awoke that morning I was a man, although only [still] a boy. There was not anything in the world that I feared [after that]. I could meet any man or woman or child and look them in the face, feeling in my soul that I was a man every whit. That vision, that manifestation and witness that I enjoyed at that time has made me what I am, if I am anything that is good, or clean, or upright before the Lord, if there is anything good in me. That has helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 542–43; emphasis added).

Being clean gives us power to face any trial that might come our way. Being clean allows us to have the Spirit of the Lord with us. Being clean allows us to face opposition knowing that we have integrity and fidelity to God. We can walk with our heads held high knowing that the blessings of God attend us. As we remain unspotted from the sins of the world – whether because we do not sin or because we repent and become clean – we will have increased faith in Christ and increased power from God.