Lessons from Life: Cockroaches – Part 2

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We can and must fight the encroaching evils that try to enter our lives. Killing one cockroach is much easier than trying to root out a nest of them if they become established. There is an oft quoted poetic verse by Alexander Pope that explains why we must root out sin in its infancy:

Sin is a vice of such frightful mean
That to be hated has but to be seen
But seen too often, and familiar with the face
We first abhor, and then endure, and then embrace (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man {1732}, epistle 2, lines 217–20, in The Complete Poetical Works of Pope, ed. Henry W. Boynton {1931}, 144.).

This may sound like a slippery slope fallacy but that pattern is demonstrable repeatedly throughout history. It does not take much reading of the Book of Mormon to see people have a cyclical relationship with good and evil. We see this also in the Bible – righteous Adam and Eve who then have descendants quickly turn to evil. Similarly, in secular history we see countless civilizations rising, waxing, waning, and dying only to have other civilizations fill the void. I am sure that if we had a clear understanding of history we would see that the destruction of civilizations would in many cases be tied to the wickedness of the people. That might be a gross generalization and we know that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people and with nations, sometimes the destruction of a civilization is due to the wickedness or ineptitude of the leaders and not necessarily the wickedness of the people; however, I am sure that if we correctly understood history (like we will in the next life) we will see how the wickedness of civilizations usually led to their destruction. What I think we will see is that every wicked civilization was or will be destroyed but not all destroyed civilizations were necessarily wicked.

The light of Christ is given to all that they might know good from evil. The light of Christ provides inspiration – both spiritual and secular. When people en masse reject this light, their righteous progress as civilizations and individuals slows, stops, and even reverses. Knowledge can be lost. The ancient American civilizations knew much about astronomy and math and science – things that their more modern descendants had lost. The same goes for the ancient Egyptians – they understood much about architecture and mathematics that future generations lost. Fortunately in our day we have better record-keeping and access to knowledge so knowledge is less likely to be lost but it still can be lost. The overwhelming amount of information and knowledge to which we have access can be a problem, however. Things that are most important and useful can be lost in the shuffle of what is most flashy and trendy.

I’ll close by quoting the prophet Jeremiah. He said that the wars and evils that came upon the Israelites was “because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger, in that they went to burn incense, and to serve other gods, whom they knew not, neither they, ye, nor your fathers” (Jeremiah 44:3). When we worship and serve other gods (which will be the topic of an essay to follow) and let sin come crawling into our lives like cockroaches, we are speedily heading toward destruction – whether in this life or in the next.

The Curse of a Broken Law

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“Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.” (Moroni 8:24).

As I read this scripture recently it really stood out to me. “For repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.” When we sin we go against our Father; we choose to disobey Him and follow ourselves, someone else, the world, or the devil. In sinning we are placed under condemnation. Condemnation is related to damnation but is often used euphemistically and temporarily. For example, we use the word condemned to refer to people who have been found guilty of committing a crime whereas we use the word damned more often in religious contexts. Condemnation thus usually refers to a temporary state of existence whereas damnation is long-term or even permanent (damnation could be short-term but most people tend to view it as chronic and not acute).

By sinning we are condemned; we broke a law and are made to wear cursed shackles. By sinning we turn away from the Lord and become a law unto ourselves. We reject our Father’s plan; however, we can correct these errors through repentance. We can turn again unto the Lord. It is only in repentance that we break free of the curse and remove the shackles. Through repentance we no longer are condemned because we show our willingness to keep the commandments, which includes repenting of our sins. Through repentance we invite the Spirit back into our lives; by the Spirit we are justified – we are brought back into alignment with God (see Moses 6:60). Then through the blood of Christ – His Atonement – we are able to become pure and holy, losing even the desire to sin. We can pray for this purity; like Nephi of old we can plead that we might “shake at the appearance of sin” and have “the gates of hell be shut continually before [us].” (2 Nephi 4:31-32). What qualifies us for these blessings? Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 2 Nephi 4:32).

Through repentance we can sing with Nephi, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Nephi 4:28). We have great reason to rejoice in the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ and in repentance of our sins.

We came to earth to see if we would be faithful to the truths we accepted in the pre-earth life even though we do not remember that life. Heavenly Father knew we would sin and fall short. He prepared a way through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. It was agreed that the Savior would provide the way to return to our Father in Heaven provided we repent in this life. “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4). We are all on probation to see if we are faithful to all we are commanded to do. “Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state” (Alma 42:13)

For what do we need to prepare? We need to prepare to live with Heavenly Father again. Even more than that though, we need to prepare to live the type of life God lives. In order to do so we need to be spotless and pure. We need to be sanctified and holy. I’ll rephrase what I wrote earlier because it is important. Repentance puts us in a position to be purified by the Holy Ghost and sanctified through the blood and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Moses 6:60). That’s the wonder of the Atonement – it allows us to become pure and holy like Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father are pure and holy. We can be perfect as They are perfect (see 3 Nephi 12:48).

Perfection seems such a lofty and unreachable goal for us, imperfect people. Perfection is just that though – a lofty goal. It is a process of becoming as our Lord Jesus Christ is. It is important to understand that although Jesus, when living as a mortal on earth, was sinless and divine, He was not perfect – not yet. He only became perfect after His death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven. While we should strive for perfection we need to realize that we will not and cannot be perfect in this life. Perfection is a holy goal to be achieved in the next life through the grace of Christ. As we repent, we can move out from under the curse of a broken law into the blessing of freedom and fullness that comes in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lessons from Life – Part 1 – Spiritual Sewage

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Originally uploaded by Billy V

I’m starting a series of articles in which I will turn various circumstances and objects of life into spiritual lessons. Most will be brief; hopefully all will be informative and helpful. This first in the series is about spiritual sewage.

Last week the group of townhomes we live in had a sewer blockage that caused sewage to start to come back up out of our downstairs toilet. While we did not have much come out of the toilet, thankfully, I thought about the symbolism of the event. What kind of spiritual sewage are we letting into our homes and lives? Is our spiritual plumbing blocked? If sewage is getting into our homes, how is it getting there?

Unlike the external sewer line blockage that caused the sewage to trickle out of our toilet, having functional spiritual plumbing starts with the individual and within the home. The Book of Mormon king Benjamin cautioned against letting our homes overflow with spiritual sewage: “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

King Benjamin prescribed the way to prevent a spiritual plumbing blockage – remember and observe the commandments of God. Further, we must have and continue in our faith in Christ. It is not enough to flush out a sewage system once, we need to prevent blockages from occurring. However, when we do have spiritual sewage seep or pour into our homes, we can have it cleaned out. We can call a spiritual plumber and get our system cleaned. We can remove the filthiness and be clean. “Though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

I ask again, “What sewage are you letting into your home?” Do you have or watch inappropriate movies? Do you have or listen to inappropriate music? Are your thoughts impure? Are you letting in sewage inadvertently? Are you allowing your neighbors’ (friends, family) actions overwhelm your spiritual plumbing?

Let us watch ourselves – our thoughts, words, and deeds – and keep our lives and homes free from gushing or seeping spiritual sewage.

Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time

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For any who are struggling, who feel despondent and hopeless, for those who suffer or sorrow because of sickness, sin, or loss, for those who seem surrounded by stormy seas without lifeboat or lighthouse, the new Mormon Messages YouTube video with a selection from a conference talk given by Elder Cook can provide solace.

Even in our pain and suffering, we can find comfort by helping others in need. The Savior atoned for our sins and sorrows, He provided a Balm in Gilead to heal our infirmities. He showed us the way to hope and happiness. In our trials we can follow the Savior and find the comfort in serving others.

Do Good and Love God, Part 2

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Those things that are best in our lives are the things that lead us to do good, love God, and serve Him. This does not mean that we have no time for things that might simply be good, but we do not have time to do every good thing; we need to prioritize and put the best first, as Elder Oaks said. There are many good works of art – books, music, paintings, sculptures, and so forth – that are worthwhile to read and listen to and view. There are many good activities but if they do not lead us to do good continually by serving God and loving Him, they are not directly inspired by God. Should we avoid doing and partaking of these things? No, but we should be wise consumers. “O be wise. What can I say more?” as the great teacher Jacob stated (Jacob 6:12).

Quoting Elder Oaks again: “Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best. When the Lord told us to seek learning, He said, ‘Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom’ (D&C; 88:118; emphasis added)” (Source).

One thing I think is important about goodness being somewhat independent of the direct inspiration of God (i.e., not all that is merely good is directly inspired by God), is that it supports the notion of the innate goodness of humankind. I believe that people are inherently good. Whenever I look at a baby, I see that goodness and innocence. There is no sin or depravity. God created man – Adam and Eve – and saw that they were good. Adam and Eve made a brave choice in choosing to enter the mortal and dark and dreary world; they transgressed but they repented of that transgression and the Savior’s Atonement freed all humankind from the blame of that transgression. As Joseph Smith wrote in the Wentworth Letter, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (Articles of Faith 2).

Mankind is in a fallen state but we are not fallen creatures. We all have a spark of divinity within us. Further, all humans are given the light of Christ to provide guidance. We all know, even if it is only deep down, what is right and wrong, in part because we’ve been given this light to guide us. It isn’t until we willfully rebel against the light and force it out of our lives through sin and other wrong choices, that we become evil and depraved – not before. We are not born blind because of any sins of our parents, we blind ourselves by our disobedience (see John 9:2-3).

Link to part 1 of this essay.

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 1

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There is a myth about a bird that lives hundreds of years. When this bird approaches the end of its lengthy life it builds a nest, then sits upon the nest. This bird then erupts into flame, leaving an egg – surrounded by ashes – in its place. This egg then quickly hatches and the bird is reborn. The new bird is not a child of the old bird – it is the same bird. The bird is known as a firebird, or, more commonly, a phoenix. Its plumage is usually described as gold or purple or other royal colors. It’s a bird of beauty and purity. The phoenix is not only known for its miraculous rebirth cycle but also for its ability to heal others with its tears. When it dies, this bird arises, reborn, out of the ashes. It awakens to a new life.

The great Book of Mormon prophet and teacher, Jacob, pleaded with his brethren. “O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death” (Jacob 3:11). Many times throughout the scriptures we are commanded to awaken, to stop mindlessly sinning. We need to get up, rub the sleep from our eyes, cleanse ourselves, and get ready for the dawn of a new day of righteousness. We should arise and be ready to greet Him who is the Son of God, the light of the world.

The prophet Isaiah also preached using this theme. “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion” (2 Ne. 8:24-25; see also Isaiah 52:1-2). Nephi, in his beautiful psalm, similarly pleaded, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Ne. 4:28). Lehi pleaded with his wayward sons: “Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men” (2 Ne. 1:21).

Again Lehi pleaded with his sons, “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:23). Not only did he command his sons (and all of us) to awaken, but also to array themselves in battle armor. We need to remove the bonds of sins and step into the light. We need to shake the dust off ourselves and be “clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C; 133:5; see also Isaiah 52:11). All of us, who have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost or the priesthood or any responsibility within the Lord’s kingdom, need to be worthy of the vessels, the responsibility, we bear.

Lessons from David – Part 2

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Solomon was a great prophet and king, one of the greatest. He was wise and just. The Lord appeared to him multiple times (e.g., 1 Kings 9:2). Solomon was wealthy and well-respected by all. However, Solomon “loved many strange [non-covenant] women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had many wives and concubines. In his old age “his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, and it became as the heart of David his father” (JST 1 Kings 11:3-4). David’s heart was not perfect either but he was repentant, or at least came across as repentant in the scriptures. Solomon worshiped false gods and forsook the Lord. The Lord then took away Solomon’s blessings but retained some for his children (and so on) because of “David thy father’s sake” (1 Kings 11:12). That’s why, even though David did evil in the sight of the Lord, I believe his heart was more repentant than Solomon’s was.

David’s words comprise some of the most beautiful passages in the scriptures. His psalms contain beautiful words and beautiful themes. His words also focus heavily on the role of the Lord as Redeemer, largely because David is seeking forgiveness. Here are a few of his words: “For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28). “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). David also wrote some prophecies that told of events and teachings from the Savior’s life: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring [the Lord as Lion is not an infrequent metaphor for the Savior]…. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pieced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me [foretelling the Savior on His way to Golgotha and upon the cross]. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalm 22:1,16-18). David’s Psalms contain many more prophecies of the Savior, referring to Judas’ betrayal (Psalm 41:9), cleansing the temple (Psalm 69:9), the suffering of the Savior in Gethsemane (Psalm 69:20), and how He was offered vinegar while on the cross (Psalm 69:21).

One of my favorite scriptures is found in the 84th psalm. “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:10-11; emphasis added). David made mistakes. He made very grievous mistakes but he tried to do good. He is one character I admire and respect for many reasons, in spite of his faults.

Lessons from David – Part 1

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David was a young man when he stood up in defense of the armies of the Lord and faced Goliath. He was not a warrior but he was courageous and humble. David was a shepherd, a watcher and protector of sheep. He chased after a lion that had taken a sheep. He saved the sheep, grabbed the lion by its mane, and killed it. He also killed a bear (1 Sam. 17:34-36). David was courageous; he was humble. He stated that it was the Lord who delivered him from the paws of the lion and bear (1 Sam 17:37). When faced with Goliath, David did not wear Saul’s heavy armor. He was adorned with the armor of God – faith and righteousness and truth. He grabbed his sling and some stones. He then ran toward Goliath as he sent his rock into the forehead of Goliath. David knew the Lord would deliver him. He made the choice to stand up and fight the man who defied the armies of the Lord and blasphemed His name. David was an impressive young man who impressed the king of Israel. He was a man after the Lord’s own heart: “[The Lord] raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will” (Acts 13:22).

Later, as king, David looked upon the bathing Bathsheba and lusted after her. Here was the start of this great man’s fall. He did not avert his eyes when he should have looked away. This led to an act of adultery. However, David’s greater sin was placing Bathsheba’s husband in harm’s way so that he would die to cover up the sin of David and Bathsheba. David’s fall is not the focus of this essay though. David’s story is tragic but I still look up to him and respect him. David spent the rest of his life trying to repent for what he did. He spent many hours pleading in prayer and in song for forgiveness. His story is especially striking in the context of Saul’s and Solomon’s. Both of them faltered and never seemed to try to stand back up and dust off the dirt.

Saul was condemned for offering a burnt offering without proper authority (see 1 Sam. 13). Later, when David gained popularity, Saul become jealous to the point where he tried to kill David many times (see 1 Sam. 18-19, 22, etc). However, David was forgiving. Just like Hamlet spared his uncle when he had an opportunity to slay him, David spared the life of his father-in-law Saul on multiple occasions. Eventually, after a defeat in battle by the Philistines, Saul killed himself to prevent some unspeakable death at the hands of the Philistines (see 1 Sam. 31). Saul had been the Lord’s anointed but he fell and never tried earnestly to repent.

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering – Part 9

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Conversely, with sin we suffer the pains of hell by being separated from the Spirit and from Heavenly Father. It is in separation that we suffer. When we ignore or shut out others in this life, when we place ourselves ahead of others and view others simply as objects that help or hinder us, we suffer. In doing so we cut the cords that bind us to others; we selfishly turn inward and refuse to connect with others. In this manner we force others away, even subconsciously, and make ourselves alone. It is in this aloneness, this separation from others, that we truly suffer. Even if we serve others, if we do not do it in the proper attitude, one of love and honest concern for the Other, then we can suffer because of that service. Being selfish separates us from others.

Being separated from others makes us suffer. Sartre once stated, “Hell is other people.” There might be some truth to that but I believe he is wrong. I believe that hell is isolation from other people. Hell is complete focus on the Self with no regard for the Other. Or, in other words, hell is being completely alone without connection to the Other. When we turn inward, disregarding others, we experience hell – we suffer. Hell is being with and only with the one person we ever learned to love – ourselves. The irony is that it is not possible to truly love oneself without loving another. Thus, those who are in hell or experience hell are alone and can’t even truly love themselves. Again, this is because love of Self only survives or has meaning when love is Other-directed. Those in hell have been cut off without root or branch. The Savior came to redeem humankind from death and hell – both of which are separations. Physical death is the separation of the body and the spirit. Spiritual death (which, without the Atonement of the Savior would require the sufferings of hell), is separation from God caused by sin. God is the one Other to whom a direct connection is vital. The Savior provides the reconnection between our bodies and our spirits and between our Father and us. He gives us both root and branch.

Through the gospel of Jesus Christ we find strength and power to overcome suffering. We suffer when we sin. We suffer when we are selfish. We are strengthened when we have faith and serve others. We overcome suffering when we love. God is love and only in truly loving others do we find solace from the storms through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We have a choice to not suffer. Viktor Frankl – a Jewish man who endured the unspeakable horrors of a Nazi concentration camp – wrote: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Those who chose to love others and share, even in their need, did not suffer even though they were in some of the worst situations imaginable. It is in forgetting ourselves and serving others that we become truly happy. There is an end to suffering, there is an end to pain. That End is reached by taking no thought for ourselves and following the Savior as He beckons and carries us Home.

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering – Part 6

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Even though we do not seek suffering, in some instances suffering may be essential. Elder Ballard stated, “Pain and suffering [serve] a necessary purpose in the process of healing” (M. Russell Ballard, A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, Ensign, Sep. 1990). When we sin, we experience the loss of the spirit of the Lord. The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s suffering was essential so that we all had a way to be resurrected and to be forgiven of our sins. Without His suffering, we could not be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer to some degree we won’t fully learn the impact of our sins or the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve were taught that they would understand the bitter so that they could appreciate the sweet. This is why we should not be scared of suffering – it is a natural part of life and helps us learn to appreciate the good in our lives. We do not seek it, but we can find meaning in it. We can also turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find that Balm in Gilead.

Many years ago there was a great military leader named Naaman. He was not only a good leader but also a good man. However, he was a leper. A maid to Naaman’s wife was an Israelite. She told Naaman’s wife that there was a man in Israel who could cure Naaman. Naaman went to his king (the king of Syria) who then sent a letter in the hands of Naaman to the king of Israel. The king of Israel was distraught because the king of Syria had asked the king of Israel to cure Naaman of his leprosy, and the king couldn’t do it; he thought the king of Syria was seeking offense – looking for a reason to start a war. However, the prophet Elisha heard about the request and stated, “Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). In response, the king of Israel sent Naaman to Elisha.

The story continues: “So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:9-13).

Naaman was firstly offended that Elisha did not come out to great him personally. Then he was offended that the way to be cleansed seemed so minor. He was like the Israelites who did not believe they would be healed by looking upon the snake on the staff Moses held up. However, Naaman was a good man and he listened to his servants; he repented of his initial pride and did as Elisha said.

“Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14). Naaman washed himself in the river Jordan (where, incidentally, the Savior was baptized) and not only was cured of his leprosy, he came forth effectually reborn with skin like that of “a little child.” By following the counsel of the living prophet, Naaman was reborn and made a new man. By following the prophet, Naaman was relieved of his suffering. It was not the water that cleansed Naaman but the power of the priesthood and his faith in God (or at least his faith that Elisha might be a representative of the One True God).

Naaman had the desire to believe and was blessed. From this we learn that the desire to believe is a sufficient start to having our sufferings washed away in Christ. “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27).