Ultimate Questions with Truman G. Madsen

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This looks like a wonderful video. As someone who appreciates Truman Madsen’s keen insights into the gospel and life in general, I’m looking forward to viewing this series of discussions. I haven’t viewed the DVD so I can’t comment on it but knowing past work of Truman Madsen, it’ll be enlightening.

The DVD set is available to purchase from Deseret Book.

A Charge for Memorial Day

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As we are celebrating Memorial Day here in the United States, a day that we honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country and freedom, a quote from Joseph Smith resonated with me. During the “Last Charge” meeting, Joseph Smith told those present the following, which was meant to be encouraging:

“Brethren, you have many storms to pass through and many sore trials await you; you will know what it is to be bound with chains and with fetters for this cause’s sake. God knows I pity you and feel for you. But if you are called to lay down your lives, die like men of God and pass immediately beyond the reach of your enemies. After they have killed you they can harm you no more. Should you have to walk right into danger and the jaws of death, fear no evil – Jesus Christ has died before you.” (As cited by Truman Madsen).

We all die. Whether we die old or young, in sickness or in battle, we still die. What is important is the manner in which we have lived our lives and the manner in which we face our deaths. I hope that we can all, when the time comes, die like men and women of God – faithful. If so, when we are dead we are beyond the reach of all our enemies. Jesus Christ died that we might live. All will live again; I hope that all who will might live again as Christ lives – in celestial glory.

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.

The Importance of Family and the Spirit of Elijah

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My father wrote a beautiful post about one of the great benefits of doing family history work. I’ll quote about half of his post:

“Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors…. The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples’ lives?

“Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.”

The scripture my father quoted at the end comes from the New Testament. The Savior said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). If our family is our soul, do we sell that in our pursuits of other things? Do we neglect the roots and branches of our family trees? Do we give up what matters most for what might matter at the moment? Are we gaining fleeting things by ignoring what really lasts?

One of Shakespeare’s characters contemplated,

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

By neglecting our ancestors, particularly their temple work, we are neglecting the vine and selling, or at least delaying, eternity.

In 1977 Truman G. Madsen gave a devotional talk entitled Elijah’s Mission at Brigham Young University [link to all of his recorded talks at BYU]. He notes that the first (temporally) section of the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 2, which is something that Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited on Sep. 21, 1823. He said,

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

Elijah’s mission, Elijah’s spirit and keys, are partially related to genealogy. If the hearts of the fathers and children do not turn towards each other and the promises (covenants) made, the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” So just how important is genealogy (implying also temple work)? Well, it saves the earth so it probably could not be any more important.

Truman Madsen said a lot of things pertaining to this subject in his talk [note: this is a partial transcript I did because I’m not aware of a transcribed version of this talk]:

“He [Elijah] somehow bridges some gap, some alienation, some separation that has occurred in the human family. No subject preoccupied the Prophet Joseph Smith more than this. And in his late years he spoke at least 8 times, pleading with the Saints to ponder and pray over this principle. And for example, he gave us some insight. We ordinarily say, ‘Well, Elijah did something pertaining to the dead or work for the dead.’ A half truth. In the first place, no one is really dead. Those who are in the spirit world are, we are taught by the prophets, more alive than some of us. Elder Melvin J. Ballard used to say that they have every feeling intensified spiritually. And as for their being dead and gone. No, they are not gone either for the prophets teach us that the spirit world is not in some remote galaxy, it is here, it is near. And as the Prophet [Joseph Smith] put it, speaking of their feelings for us – those who are bound to us somehow by the anxieties of their fore-bearing; he said, their bowels yearn over us. He said, they are not merely idle spectators in the last days. He said, enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us. They know our thoughts, motions – one account says emotions – and feelings and are often pained therewith – and he could have added, rejoiced therewith. When the scriptures say all eternity is pained, that is I take it a metaphor for their pain. When it says that the heavens weep in joy – the same.

“So Elijah does have something to do with them [our ancestors] but the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught he [Elijah] also has something to do with us and with the living. And there is this strange phrase that had he not come, then the whole earth would be cursed, or, in another version, the earth would be utterly wasted at Christ’s coming. Wasted I take it means at least two things. It would be in a sense, a waste, if this earth created by our Father and His Son as the dwelling place of their family turned out to be a house barren. Not a home, not a place of genuine familial love. And in that sense it would have been a waste to have created it. But secondly, it would literally be the case were there not a family welded and united and full of love for Christ, it would be the case that all mankind would be laid waste at His coming, unable to endure His presence. But thank God for the restoration of the power to prepare such a family! And that conferral came through Elijah.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said, speaking of this, ‘How will God come to the rescue of this generation?’ And answers, He will send Elijah. Well that generation may have been a difficult one, this generation in which you and I live is in some ways a worse one….

“Elijah had a revelatory function. There is a spirit that is somehow emanating through him and his work and ministry, which has reached out far beyond the pales of this Church. Turning hearts and not just heads. And one account says that it was his function to reveal to us the covenants made by our fathers and the covenants made by us with our fathers, again pointing to something that happened prior to mortality….

“Elijah has been patient through millennia to bring earth and heaven back together, to tie to together the old and the new worlds, to take the estranged and the alienated and the embittered and somehow transform their hearts and to prepare all of the family who will to be a family, welded indissolubly in order to greet the Christ.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said on an occasion to the Relief Society that he grieved that there was so little union of feeling among them – and they were marvelous! And he went on to say, by union of feeling we obtain power with the heavens. When on the other hand he introduced the ordinance of the washing of the feet among the brethren, he taught them that this ordinance, a sacred one, was essential to the union of feeling and affection among them – that their faith might be strong.

“Now we needn’t dwell on the point that the family in our culture is coming unglued and there are those that recommend it and who hold that the great wave of the future – a better future – is to totally abandon the notion of unit families….

“We’re in a real world and the alienation, the pain, the hostility, the torment, the trauma, even of Latter-day Saint homes is a long distance from Elijah who said he would turn the hearts toward and not away. Is there hope? I’m here to testify there is….

“It may be difficult to forgive your enemies but it’s even more so to forgive your loved ones who have sometimes manifested hate and you [have manifested hate], in response. It is harder to forgive your loved ones because you care about them and you have to go on living with them or struggling to and they can go on hurting you over the years and decades and it’s a little hard. But your hearts will never turn to your fathers in the way this spirit of which we have been testifying motivates you to do unless you forgive.

“See, you’ve inherited all kinds of things. There is a standard procedure for students with bad report cards – they can go home and say, ‘Look Mom’ or ‘Look Dad, which do you think it is? Heredity or environment?’…You willingly chose to come into the world, likely in this time and this circumstance and you may have had some choice as to your parentage and to your posterity….

“As you look back at the seventy men, and that’s what it would take – only 70 men – to get you back to Abraham, you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of generations. And blood might not be a correct word scientifically but it stands in the scriptures for seed, which is specifically the heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of you have them. And so you have the blood of this generation, which Section 88 says you must become clean from – that’s a strong prepositional ending. Clean, from the blood of this generation. If so, you must be clean from the blood of every generation because it is compounded and cumulated into now and that includes the blood of some degeneration.

You do have problems that you can blame on them and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family – in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it – in involvement [with your family]. And this I take it one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the Book of Mormon – Jacob’s allegory of the tame and wild tree….

“If you take a tame [olive] branch and graft it into a wild tree – in due time, if it is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification, even of your fore-bearers. Do you believe it? Does that ever sober you in moments where you suppose that either no one cares for you or whether they care or not, your life makes no difference? To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is the greatest achievement of this world! But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must be mighty! Why he must be something like a savior and that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said you are – saviors on Mount Zion. And how are you to be saviors on Mount Zion, he asked once in a discourse, and he answered – and I’m paraphrasing – by going, first building, and going into the temples of the Lord. And in your own propria persona – in your own first person presence – to go through for and in behalf of loved ones – all of the ordinances, and he [Joseph Smith] names them all – and says by the way, that Elijah’s keys apply to all ordinances, not just the final one; sealing all of them, culminating in that final linkage that binds for time and for eternity. Saviors, redeemers of your families….

The sacrifice I suggest that the sons of Levi and the daughters of Levi are to offer in the end, is the willingness to give yourself in the cause of saviorhood and to care more about family and the preservation and intensification of family than you care about anything else in this world! And that has costs. Some things have to be given up; some things have to be postponed – and the focus is sacrifice.

“I have to say, honestly, that I find that I believe that it is painful. I have to say that I believe that there are many among us who are easily pulled in other directions, and I have to say that I consider that tragedy. I occasionally hear housewives say that’s what they are – mere housewives. ‘What have you done in the past 20 years?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Ah, I just fed my family three meals a day and more or less kept them together.’ ‘Is that all?’ Pres. Lorenzo Snow said with power on an occasion, ‘If a woman did nothing more than that [faithfully take care of her home and family], she would be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.’ If she didn’t do one other thing! Our generation is making attractive every other thing but. And that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I plead with you, be forgiving and be sacrificial….

“It is our privilege and calling in our own limited way, to become redemptors of not just the human race but the human family – ours and His. It is impossible to love Him truly and not love what is His – and the Lord God assigned Him all of us. And it is not possible for you to really love yourself unless you love what is truly you, and that is whole house of Israel in which you belong….”

There is a lot there. Family is important, it is all that really matters in the end. Genealogy and family history work are part of Elijah’s mission. It is not just about building up databases of names; this work is about providing necessary ordinances to those who are waiting. It is about linking generation to generation and hearts to hearts. Our ancestors lived lives of joy and sorrow, they were people both good and bad. They can be, through their faith and ours and through the sealing power of the Priesthood, which keys Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith, forever ours.

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.

Is the Bible Infallible?

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While doing a search online to see what people say about whether or not the wise men visited the infant Jesus in the manger (they didn’t), I came across a comment about the Bible that I’ve heard numerous times – namely, that the Bible is literally God’s word given directly to man. In other words, there are those who believe that the Bible needs to be taken strictly literally. It is God’s completely infallible and perfect word. While that is a nice sentiment, it is not the case. The Bible was written by inspired men but men nonetheless. However, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon, if there are flaws in the Bible, they are the flaws of men.

So if we take the Bible literally in everything, we do get wise men who visited the young child Jesus in a house. They didn’t find the mother and infant in a manger. Jesus was as old as almost three by the time the wise men found Him. But this isn’t really the purpose of this post. I want to continue on with the topic of the literality of the Bible.

There are those who take everything in the Bible as strictly literal. They also usually take it as God’s perfect, unblemished word. These same people also balk at the LDS article of faith that states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). “How could the Bible be anything less than perfect?” they argue. I’ve heard this many times from different people. We as Latter-day Saints don’t even claim perfection from the Book of Mormon. We believe it was translated correctly but it is not without error. But again, those errors are the works of men (and are very, very minor). God uses imperfect humans to do His work (at least on this side of the veil).

So, is the Bible perfect? Should we take it completely literally? Since I referred to the wise men previously, let’s continue on in Matthew 2. After Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned from Egypt, they moved to Nazareth: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:23). With the slaughter of the children and infants in Bethlehem, a prophecy was fulfilled (see Matt. 2:17-18). With Joseph and family moving to Nazareth, another prophecy was fulfilled. The trouble is that this other prophecy is not found elsewhere in the Bible. There existed a prophecy stating that the Messiah would be from Nazareth but this is not included anywhere in the Old Testament. Clearly then, there are prophecies that are not in the Bible. There is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn from this. So is the Bible complete and perfect? Maybe that particular prophecy wasn’t meant to be in the Bible. But then why was it quoted in Matthew? Maybe the Bible isn’t complete. Maybe it isn’t perfect and infallible.

There are a number of other examples similar to this that can be found in the Bible. There are even times when writers/translators of the Bible seems to contradict one another. I won’t point out any specifics but they exist. There are numerous sites that document contradictions, some from a view of faith and others from a view of anti-faith. There are even sites that seek to point out contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Bible, which might scare some away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but are all non-issues for the believer. I’ve found that the Bible is only clarified by the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelation; any other contradictions are due to errors in the Bible (which is something that I demonstrated is possible) – the doctrines in the Book of Mormon are pure, even if the grammar or particular choice of words in some cases isn’t always perfect; that’s one of the difficulties in translation and in writing down the translation in a time before there were wide consistencies in grammar and spelling.

My point in pointing out that the Bible is not infallible is not to weaken faith, rather it is to highlight that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ more than in the Bible. Truth comes from Christ; what is in the Bible are multiple translations of that Truth. The great teacher Truman Madsen taught about faith, testimony, and prophets in this manner:

“What about witness? That leads us both to the question of authority and the question of our own testimony. Said the Prophet [Joseph Smith] again, ‘No generation was ever saved or [for that matter] destroyed upon dead testimony‘ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 159). I think he means by ‘dead’ the record of the remote past. We’re not fully accountable to that, but we are accountable to a living witness who bears living testimony to our living spirit. That’s when we reach the zenith of responsibility. We recognize that and perhaps run from it. When a child runs away with hands over ears, what is happening? Doesn’t the child already pretty well know the message? Do we cover our ears while saying, ‘I didn’t hear you’?

“Heber C. Kimball, without being grammatical, put the point elegantly after the outpourings of the Nauvoo Temple. He said, ‘You cannot sin so cheap no more.'” (Madsen, T. G. 1994. On How We Know. BYU Speeches, p. 5).

His point and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s point is that you need concurrent revelation. If we look throughout the Bible, the teachings of Noah didn’t save the children of Israel from the Egyptians. Even Christ didn’t teach all the world; He sent out His apostles after His resurrection to do that. If we put all of this together, we can conclude that not only is the Bible not perfect, it is also not complete. Yes, I am biased because I believe that we have a living prophet upon the earth – Thomas S. Monson at this time – but I’ve found no evidence in the Bible that the Bible is complete and perfect. It wasn’t even put together in its present form for many years after the deaths of the original apostles. What we have in the LDS Church are Christ’s prophets who speak to us today and teach us what God wants us to know.

Now I’m going to shift gears back to talking about whether or not we take the Bible literally. It seems that if we do, we realize that the Bible is neither complete nor perfect. However, if we don’t take it literally then we ignore a lot of important doctrines (such as the literal and physical resurrection of the Savior). Another doctrine we might miss if we don’t take the Bible literally is that of baptism for the dead: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for thedead?” (1 Cor. 15:29). Well, maybe we get to pick and choose what to take literally from the Bible. That way we can say it is something just figurative. Well, who gets to make the judgment call on what is literal or not? It sounds like something a prophet would do.

I think other Christians would find (if they give LDS Church members a chance) that we take the Bible very literally; I think to an extent that few other Christians do. There are things that we don’t take literally though (e.g., the Creation story is one because we know that the 7 days were 7 time periods of unspecified length – millions to billions of years, most likely. I’m not saying that we do not believe in the Creation, I’m just saying that LDS Church doctrine specifies that the earth was not created in 6/7 24 hour days).

So, taking the Bible literally is a two-edged sword. On it’s [the Bible’s] own, it is difficult to know what to take literally or not. This is where having the witness of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and modern-day prophets is so important; it allows us to discern what is literal and what is not. Those without this knowledge are in a bind – if the Bible is 100% infallible, why are there missing passages? Why are there some contradictions? Why is there a need for multiple translations of the Bible? Why do the Catholics have a different Canon than most of the Protestants? Further, if the Bible is taken literally, how do you account for teachings that contradict doctrines of many Christian religions? How can you pick and choose what to accept?

I know some of the things I wrote about are not entirely this simple, but I wanted to respond to those who take the Bible as “GOD’S PERFECT WORD” (again, that’s a description of the Bible I read and hear frequently). The Bible forms the foundation of the LDS canon of scriptures, we place it first in our scripture sets, we love the Bible and follow its doctrines. However, we are not limited to the Bible. We have the Book of Mormon and other scriptures; we have living prophets and modern revelation. Our canon is not fixed and closed, it is open and expanding. God speaks to us today, just as He did in Biblical times.

The Gift We All Can Give This Christmas – Part 3

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This story of forgiveness reminds me of a story Truman Madsen told about George Albert Smith, who was a prophet of God. Pres. Smith was a peacemaker who sought never to “be an enemy to any living soul” (The Presidents of the Church, Madsen, p.222). The story goes as follows, “George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have called the mayor of Salt Lake City and said, ‘What kind of city are you running? I’ll have your head if you don’t get that blanket back.’ Or he could have called the chief of police and said the same thing. Or he might have said to the guard, probably a Latter-day Saint, ‘Are you blind?’ What did he do? He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket also, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.'” (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! The situation was not as drastic as the one the Amish faced but Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him – especially those who wronged him.

Forgiveness is such an important principle and commandment that when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray He included the following phrase: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Again, the lesson is that we are required to forgive others if we want to be forgiven. That seems like a pretty good condition for forgiveness. After Jesus ended His prayer He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). That seems like a strong case for the importance of forgiving others!

I have been writing about the need we have for forgiveness and to forgive others. To help me transition back to a Christmas theme, I will quote some of the lyrics from the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament.

“As now our minds review the past,
We know we must repent;
The way to thee is righteousness—
The way thy life was spent.
Forgiveness is a gift from thee
We seek with pure intent.

With hands now pledged to do thy work,
We take the sacrament.”

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Christmas gift to each of us as we repent. Forgiveness is the gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to someone this Christmas season. What greater gift is there than the peace that comes from wrongs and trespasses forgiven? What greater gift could we give ourselves than to let go of the hurt and bitterness and pain we retain when we are unforgiving? This Christmas, give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs yours.

Truman Madsen’s Timless Questions, Gospel Insights – Notes Part 1

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What follows is a transcript of my notes of Truman Madsen’s “last lectures” called Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights. He stated that if he could give one last series of lectures, these are the lectures he would give. These notes come from the first of the lectures. The notes are quite disjointed – they are nowhere near an exact transcript of Truman Madsen’s words; however and hopefully they still are interesting.

“What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? It doesn’t matter” said the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Some philosophers speak of man as tripartite – three parts – nous, psyche, and soma: reason, spirit, and body. These three parts constitute the “soul” of man. What is manhood? According to Plato, it goes beyond this world. Truth, beauty, and good are the basis of much of Greek philosophy. These philosophies led to a change in Christian and Hebrew theology. Hamlet’s famous musing: “To be or not to be” to a latter-day saint could be phrased “to become or not to become.” This describes our potential. God is the ultimate extension of intelligence. God cannot create or destroy this – or Himself. We are all eternally self-existent. “Joseph Smith said, “God never had the power to create the spirit of man, for all intelligence is spirit…” We are beginningless. Greek notion – time is non-temporality. Joseph Smith also said [this is Truman possibly paraphrasing], “God found himself in the midst of intelligence and glory and was infinitely more intelligent. He set laws wherewith these intelligences could become exalted like himself.” This is good doctrine; it tastes good and is sweet.

If there is no God [as some people claim], we have to go to the laws of chance to get everything. Start with mere atoms and get these remarkable selves [people]. This is a sad doctrine [in that] there is nothing to look forward to. This leads to existentialism – which is a philosophy formed around human existence. One branch of this is phenomenal logicalism. Sartre was part of this movement. He said that L’homme est une passion inutile – man is a useless passion. You create you from nothing – you are responsible to no one. Sartre also said, “Hell is other people” and he may be right. Existence precedes essence – you exist before you think. Then there is the threat of non-being; this is the ontological shock – we only exist as long as we project ourselves, our nature, on that around us.

We believe that we are stuck with ourselves forever. We must be a pleasant person to live with. You have a body forever. This is bad news if you are hard to live with; good news if you can live with yourselves.

Truman Madsen Passes Away

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This morning Truman G. Madsen passed away at the age of 82 after a battle with bone cancer. He was one of my heroes. I love his lectures and his books. I was honored to have attended one of his lectures while I was at BYU a few years ago. He had a wonderful lecture style that showed his incredible depth and breadth of knowledge. I’ll miss his keen insights and his voice; there’s something comforting about his voice. I love all of his work, but one that has strengthened and touched me deeply is his biographical series about our modern-day prophets. It is available on CD and as a book. His works about Joseph Smith are wonderful as is his series of philosophical/gospel lectures called, Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights (the link goes to a site where you can purchase the audio lectures digitally {as MP3s}); I’ve listened to those lectures at least 20 times on cassette. If you haven’t read or listened to his works, I highly recommend them. I’ll copy en masse what LDS Living wrote about him. You can also read a short biography on his website.

Truman Madsen, well known LDS scholar and educator, died this morning after a long battle with cancer.

Madsen, a grandson of Heber J. Grant, was born in 1926 in Salt Lake City. He developed an interest in his Church heritage at a young age and would eventually become a recognized expert on Joseph Smith and one of the most popular lecturers among Church members on LDS topics.

After serving a mission in Canada and studying at the University of Utah and the University of Southern California, Madsen received his Master of art and PhD in history and philosophy of religion from Harvard University. Part of his legacy includes his work with leaders of other religions to better understand Mormonism.

A prolific author, Madsen has written numerous books, including Eternal Man and Christ and the Inner Life. He contributed to the five-volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of Mormonism and served as an editor for the project.

His most recent project took a similar vein his DVDs called On Sacred Ground, with this series devoted to walks in the Holy Land. The DVDs, called The Eternal Christ, include Madsen’s deep insights into and testimony of the Savior’s life. They are scheduled to be released this summer.

He served in the Church as a bishop, stake president, president of the New England Mission, and executive assistant of the Temple Square visitor’s center. Most recently, he served as the patriarch of the Provo Utah Sharon East Stake. He also served previously as director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

“Truman Madsen mastered the weighty matters, the themes of eternity, in a far-reaching range of interests: philosophy, scriptures, Jerusalem, Joseph Smith, and temples,” said D. Kelly Ogden, a friend and former associate director of the Jerusalem Center. “He has left deep impressions in ‘lives without number,’ in a worldwide context—as a professor, guest lecturer, commentator and writer, as a stake president, a mission president, as director of BYU’s Jerusalem Center, and especially in his key roles as husband and father. The legacy of his brilliant mind and fervent spirit will live on for generations to come.”

Peter Johnson, who worked closely with Madsen on several projects, including On Sacred Ground and the upcoming The Eternal Christ, recalled Truman’s unique traits. “One of the things I will always remember is his humor and compassion. Everyone who knew him thought they were his best friend. And that tremendous love just reached out and touched any individual he had dealings with,” he said. “He was such Christ-like man.”

“Truman really is an amazing man,” he concluded. “He is one-of-a-kind a man of tremendous intellect combined with faith and testimony. I’m so thankful that I was privileged to spend the intimate creative time that I did with such a profound thinker and man of God.”

Madsen and his wife, Ann Nicholls Madsen, are the parents of four grown children.