Saturday, January 30, 2016

Our Relationship With God

Though I have many questions and have yet to understand many things about my faith, there is a fundamental belief or testimony that I have, that is the foundation for my entire spiritual life: that God is my Heavenly Father; that He is keenly aware of my life, my worries, my struggles, and my desires; and that He loves me. Here are some quotes:
If you are reverent and prayerful and obedient, the day will come when there will be revealed to you why the God of heaven has commanded us to address him as Father, and the Lord of the Universe as Son.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

What man among you, having a son, and he shall be standing out, and shall say, Father, open thy house that I may come in and sup with thee, will not say, Come in, my son; for mine is thine, and thine is mine?

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

He who rules the universe is our individual Father to whom we may speak as a son speaks to his father.
I believe my faith in God as my Heavenly Father comes from an experience I had while I was in the Missionary Training Center in Provo in 1991, while preparing to go to Japan as a missionary. The moment we accept the idea that God lives, that He is real, that He has all power, and that He loves us; we start to pray to Him, and acknowledge His hand in our lives. When things go "right" (according to our view and understanding), we are grateful to God. But when things go "wrong," God can seem absent, and there is a temptation to blame and accuse God of not caring, or to feel like He cares about others but not about us. Enter the hard doctrine:
For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
1 Nephi 20:10

Friday, January 29, 2016

Righteousness, Charity, or Both?

As I study the scriptures, I find passages that are hard to reconcile with each other - and sometimes even directly contradict each other. I conclude that the word of God is not designed to be understood solely by the mind; words alone are utterly inadequate to pin down spiritual truth; and that precious truth is often hidden in the balance, tension, or paradox between two seemingly opposite, contradictory concepts. The one I'm pondering now is the tension between love and righteousness.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Matthew 5:6
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3
To be continued...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

We Are Hungry and Our Bows Are Broken

17 And after we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time, that we might again rest ourselves and obtain food for our families.

18 And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.

19 And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.

Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 16:17-19

At this point, this is what I wish would have happened. I wish they had all knelt in prayer (united in heart, knit together in love), and prayed, "Heavenly Father, we are tired and hungry, and so are our families. Our best hunting tool is now broken. The temptation to murmur against Thee and become discouraged is strong.

"We know that Thou seest fit to chasten Thy children, to try their patience and faith (see Mosiah 23:21). We have left Jerusalem, and having been following Thy commands as best we can. Sometimes, to our limited understanding, our best just doesn't seem good enough. After all our effort, the blessings/protection/providence we expected have not been realized in the time frame we anticipated (now).

"We are now faced with a choice: hungry and tired as we are, the easy choice would be to doubt and to murmur against Thee, squabble with each other, and to become discouraged and upset. But there is a better choice. We can 'submit cheerfully and with patience' to Thy will (Mosiah 24:15) and trust that in Thy good time, as we continue to do what we can, Thou wilt deliver us and provide for us. Until that time comes, help us not to murmur. Help us exercise and strengthen our patience and trust in Thee. Though we suffer, may our sufferings be swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Help us to wait upon thee (Isaiah 40:31), with utmost assurance (D&C 123:17) that as we continue faithful, we shall see Thy arm be revealed. May our afflictions be consecrated for our gain (2 Nephi 2:2).

"Surely, Thou hast not brought us this far only to let us perish in the wilderness, save it be that we lack even the faith of a grain of mustard seed" (Matthew 17:20).

Friday, January 22, 2016

Proceeding Without Guarantees

Being able to proceed when the specific outcome is not assured is one of the great tests of life.
Peggy S. Worthen, The Allegory of the Wedding Cake
[video] [text]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What We Obtain Too Cheap, We Esteem Too Lightly

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
I bear you my solemn testimony that the Lord opens the heavens to his servants today. He will answer your prayers for help beyond your human understanding. But I also bear you my testimony that the words study it out mean a degree of patience, of labor, of persistence commensurate with the value of what you seek.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he [does not understand the cost or the value of] the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
We could say that our entire life is merely a quest or an exercise to come to understand and appreciate the value of God's love and God's gifts to us.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Facing the Giants

This evening we again watched the movie Facing the Giants. It is a feel-good and faith-promoting film. However, it made me consider the pitfalls of "telling the happy story." Lest we be overly critical of the film, there are many similar accounts in the Bible, where people are healed, blessed, and even raised from the dead.

It is important for people to know of the power God has to work great miracles in our lives. But it becomes problematic when people try to exercise faith, as Jesus counseled, and yet do not receive the blessing or miracle they seek. Then there is a real risk that their faith may turn sour, and they stop believing in a God who loves, cares for, and blesses them. Perhaps worse, they may believe that God indeed loves and blesses others, but does not similarly love and bless themselves.

What to do? What is the truth? and how shall we teach it?

Stick with the Brethren

It has been my experience that it is wisdom to stay with the Brethren—don’t lag behind them, and don’t try to get ahead of them.
LeGrand Richards, quoted here

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hide and Seek

Hide-and-seek is a universal game that children play.  When I was young, the ultimate goal was to hide in a place so that no one would find me.  Now I play hide-and-seek with my own children, and my goal is different.  Yes, I could hide in a place where they would never find me, but that would only frustrate and discourage them.  Now I hide in places that are out-of-sight, but apparent when they search for me.  For instance, I will hide behind a curtain with my feet still visible, or behind a piece of furniture that they just have to look behind.  This way, it is much more fun for all of us.

Is God playing hide-and-seek with us?

Sometimes when reading scripture, a verse seems to jump out of the page and causes me to marvel, to see the world in a new way.  I had this experience when I read Isaiah 45:15:

Verily thou are a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
To be continued...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Dealings of God

And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 2:12

What are 'dealings?' Here are some definitions from the dictionary appropriate for the above instance:

  • a personal connection or association with someone
  • the particular way in which someone behaves toward others

We are children of God. His dealings with us are the dealings of a loving father toward his children. His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes we hear faith-promoting stories of miraculous healings, blessings, guidance, and protection from above. At other times I read accounts of suffering, privation, and loss where God seems absent. My own experience is in between these two extremes.

In the above case of Laman and Lemuel, the account goes on to show that God was leading them out of a wicked and sinful populace, to miraculously guide and provide for them in the wilderness, to grant unto them beautiful and virtuous brides, to teach and empower them to build a fine seacraft to cross the great ocean, and to bring them to a beautiful land of promise. They were not without trials at times: hunger, hard work, and the normal, daily grind that we all face in providing and caring for our families. We could say their biggest trials were a direct result of their own pride, wickedness, and forgetfulness of/blindness to all that God had done for them. However, affliction came to all of them, both the wicked and the righteous. Their afflictions served to chasten them. Let's look at some pertinent definitions of chasten:

  • to bring to a state of submission; subdue; restrain
  • to discipline or correct by punishment
  • to rid of excess; refine or purify

To the wicked, trials are a punishment to subdue or restrain them, hopefully so they will learn and make better choices in the future. To the righteous – who are among the wicked (and sometimes switching places with them) – trials test their faith ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"), to further sanctify them, and to shape them and help them become more like Him whose children they are.

This is easy to say, but what about the situation of the woman in the story below?

Elder Benson and Brother Babbel later recounted, from a testimony they heard, the experience of a Church member who found herself in an area no longer controlled by the government under which she had resided.

She and her husband had lived an idyllic life in East Prussia. Then had come the second great world war within their lifetimes. Her beloved young husband was killed during the final days of the frightful battles in their homeland, leaving her alone to care for their four children.

The occupying forces determined that the Germans in East Prussia must go to Western Germany to seek a new home. The woman was German, and so it was necessary for her to go. The journey was over a thousand miles (1,600 km), and she had no way to accomplish it but on foot. She was allowed to take only such bare necessities as she could load into her small wooden-wheeled wagon. Besides her children and these meager possessions, she took with her a strong faith in God and in the gospel as revealed to the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith.

She and the children began the journey in late summer. Having neither food nor money among her few possessions, she was forced to gather a daily subsistence from the fields and forests along the way. She was constantly faced with dangers from panic-stricken refugees and plundering troops.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Each day, she stumbled over the frozen ground, her smallest child—a baby—in her arms. Her three other children struggled along behind her, with the oldest—seven years old—pulling the tiny wooden wagon containing their belongings. Ragged and torn burlap was wrapped around their feet, providing the only protection for them, since their shoes had long since disintegrated. Their thin, tattered jackets covered their thin, tattered clothing, providing their only protection against the cold.

Soon the snows came, and the days and nights became a nightmare. In the evenings she and the children would try to find some kind of shelter—a barn or a shed—and would huddle together for warmth, with a few thin blankets from the wagon on top of them.

She constantly struggled to force from her mind overwhelming fears that they would perish before reaching their destination.

And then one morning the unthinkable happened. As she awakened, she felt a chill in her heart. The tiny form of her three-year-old daughter was cold and still, and she realized that death had claimed the child. Though overwhelmed with grief, she knew that she must take the other children and travel on. First, however, she used the only implement she had—a tablespoon—to dig a grave in the frozen ground for her tiny, precious child.

Death, however, was to be her companion again and again on the journey. Her seven-year-old son died, either from starvation or from freezing or both. Again her only shovel was the tablespoon, and again she dug hour after hour to lay his mortal remains gently into the earth. Next, her five-year-old son died, and again she used her tablespoon as a shovel.

Her despair was all consuming. She had only her tiny baby daughter left, and the poor thing was failing. Finally, as she was reaching the end of her journey, the baby died in her arms. The spoon was gone now, so hour after hour she dug a grave in the frozen earth with her bare fingers. Her grief became unbearable. How could she possibly be kneeling in the snow at the graveside of her last child? She had lost her husband and all her children. She had given up her earthly goods, her home, and even her homeland.

In this moment of overwhelming sorrow and complete bewilderment, she felt her heart would literally break. In despair she contemplated how she might end her own life, as so many of her fellow countrymen were doing. How easy it would be to jump off a nearby bridge, she thought, or to throw herself in front of an oncoming train.

And then, as these thoughts assailed her, something within her said, “Get down on your knees and pray.” She ignored the prompting until she could resist it no longer. She knelt and prayed more fervently than she had in her entire life:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I do not know how I can go on. I have nothing left—except my faith in Thee. I feel, Father, amidst the desolation of my soul, an overwhelming gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot express adequately my love for Him. I know that because He suffered and died, I shall live again with my family; that because He broke the chains of death, I shall see my children again and will have the joy of raising them. Though I do not at this moment wish to live, I will do so, that we may be reunited as a family and return—together—to Thee.”

When she finally reached her destination of Karlsruhe, Germany, she was emaciated. Brother Babbel said that her face was a purple-gray, her eyes red and swollen, her joints protruding. She was literally in the advanced stages of starvation. In a Church meeting shortly thereafter, she bore a glorious testimony, stating that of all the ailing people in her saddened land, she was one of the happiest because she knew that God lived, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He died and was resurrected so that we might live again. She testified that she knew if she continued faithful and true to the end, she would be reunited with those she had lost and would be saved in the celestial kingdom of God.

This question is: could I handle it if God chose to deal with me in the same way He saw fit to deal with this sister? I am grateful for this story. Most of the stories we hear in church are about miracles and savings and healings. There is no such "happy ending" in this story. It is simply a woman lost absolutely everything, but kept on believing anyway. Even Job's story ended with him receiving twice as much as he had in the beginning. We are not told what this woman shall or did receive. Perhaps the very greatest blessing of it all, is her peace. I mean, what could she ever again be afraid of? She lost everything, and still persisted in faith.