Friday, October 9, 2009

To those afflicted with riches*

(*and to the rest of us who, too often, wish we were.)

Despite the “neon” warning that:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,[1]
most of us, in our fondest dreams, wish we were “smitten with riches and that we should never recover”—in likeness of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

The strange thing is—if we go by scripture—there is probably no greater risk to man’s eternal prospects than to have riches. The failure rate is nigh 100%! And we should wish such a test upon our self?!

Strange too, when we consider the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man.[2] At their sequential deaths, the beggar finds himself carried into the bosom of Abraham and the rich man finds himself raising pleas from hell. Where are the justice, merit, and conservative thinking in that scenario? From a trans-world perspective, it would almost seem safer to be a beggar than a rich man! Is that a contradiction or what, to our current capitalistic, individualistic, blessed-driven paradigm?!

What is it about riches that so afflicts mankind with failure? Is it the sense of merit? Of entitlement? Of ownership? Of self-sufficiency? Of freedom and power? Of basking in glory and honor taken unto oneself?

What does God say about these attitudes? Who deserves the credit/blame for riches and poverty?[3] By whose gifts and graces does man draw breath, move, think, plan, and endure from day to day?
▪ The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. (Old Testament 1 Samuel 2:7)
▪ Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. (Old Testament 1 Chronicles 29:12)
▪ For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? … 22 … your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; (Book of Mormon Mosiah 4:16, 22; see also Book of Mormon Jacob 2:13; New Testament 1 Timothy 6:17; Doctrine and Covenants Section 38:39)
The word of God—particularly The Book of Mormon—details how, time after time, when the people were blessed (or perhaps it was afflicted) with prosperity, they turned to pride and to despising the poor—repeating cycles of falling away from faith, hope, and charity. Riches, it seems, comes coupled with a susceptibility to deception.
▪ And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Bk of Mormon Jacob 2:13; see also Bk of Mormon Alma 45:24)
▪ Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (New Testament Revelation 3:17-18)
▪ He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. (New Testament Matthew 13:22; see also Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14)
▪ But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (New Testament 1 Timothy 6:9-10)
▪ Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world. (Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 6:15)
▪ Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: (New Testament 1 Timothy 6:5)
God warns that there is only one safe way to pursue riches:
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. 18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. 19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Bk of Mormon Jacob 2:17-19)
God also warns, in starkest language, of the consequences of failing the purpose of riches:
▪ Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (Doctrine and Covenants Section 56:16)
▪ But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 9:30)
▪ … and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 9:42)
▪ Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. (Book of Mormon Mosiah 4:17-18)
▪ GO to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. (New Testament James 5:1-4)
And last but not least, God also warns the poor (with application also to the rich and to those of us who fall inbetween):
Wo unto you poor [and rich and inbetween] men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men's goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands! 18 But blessed are the poor [and rich and inbetween] who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs. (Doctrine and Covenants Section 56:16-18)
Nonetheless (and alas!), even with all the warnings and déjà vu of life and scripture, most of us desire to be rich, believing we would surely prove the exception to the eye-of-a-needle forecast. If only God would just trust us enough to prove it!!
[1] New Testament Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:24-25
[2] Luke 16:19-31
[3] A note of explanation to the meritocrats: Yes, of course, most people play some part in the condition of their riches or poverty, but that is NEVER the whole story. God always has both the upper-hand and the higher view.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

To the sick and the afflicted

(which includes most of us, in some way or other)

Do we attract our sicknesses? Do we unconsciously choose our afflictions?

I have begun to hear intonations of such even in gospel discussion—how everything bad (as well as good) that happens to us, we have brought on ourselves—the bad, being a sort of shadow side of the Law of Attraction. But to me this sounds oddly déjà vu: as in “cause (i.e., thought and/or action) equals effect (i.e., consequence)”—a tidy formula of blame and responsibility. In times past (and even now, for some) the alleged cause was personal sin that brought God’s punishment.
AND as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? (New Testament John 9:1-2)
Today, we don’t openly question, “Who did sin?” Rather, our philosophies intone, “Your pain, suffering, poverty, illness, trauma, etc. is a manifestation of personal choice/thought/action (conscious or unconscious) that brought those things into your life. (Déjà vu, the friends of Biblical Job?!)

But I suggest we run this idea of meritocracy (of the bad and of the good) through the full gospel prism. Jesus’ reply to the above query was
… Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (New Testament John 9:3)
And what is the work of God?
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Pearl of Great Price Moses 1:39)
And how does He intend to do it?

…We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; 25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them (Pearl of Great Price Abraham 3:24-25, emphasis added);

... I will try you and prove you herewith. ... for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy (Doctrine and Covenants Section 98:12, 14, emphasis added).

And how does He prove us? Through tests and trials. Tests and trials that He determines as best suited to our personal needs.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam,and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Bk of Mormon Mosiah 3:19, emphasis added).
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (New Testament Hebrews 12:5-11)
By descending into this world of testing, trial, and tribulation, we are subject to things we never desired, thought, expected, or deserved.* Warnings abound in scripture of the ubiquity of tribulation:
▪ These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (N.T. John 16:33, emphasis added).
▪ Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (New Testament Acts 14:22)
▪ For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. (New Testament 1 Thessalonians 3:4)
▪ And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (New Testament Revelation 7:13-14)
There are warnings too, that not all promises will arrive during mortality:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (New Testament Hebrews 11:13)
So, to the sick and the afflicted, perhaps:

1. We should not judge ourselves or others as necessarily meriting these so-called cursings, failings, sorrows, traumas, etc., or as bringing them upon ourselves. As I have written before, we shall be tested in the three necessities of faith, hope, and charity; and many of those tests will break our hearts:
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 2:7; see also Doctrine and Covenants Section 59:8; Section 97:8)
2. We should consider the company we hope to keep and all their trials and tribulations. Consider Adam & Eve, Noah & Naamah, Moses & Zipporah, Abraham, Sarah, & Hagar, Job & wife, Mary & Joseph, Jesus the Christ, Apostles Peter & Paul, Roger & Mary Barnard Williams, Joseph & Emma Hale Smith, and Mother Teresa, to name a few, plus countless other good and great people throughout history. How do we reconcile their desires to love and serve God with ALL the trials they endured if the notion of meritocracy governs all?

3. We might ask this question: “What are the works of God that He would have manifest in my life as I endure provings, trials, and tribulations?”

*Now a final note of caution. This criticism of meritocracy does not deny the law of the harvest, or that justice must have its due, or that our thoughts and actions reap consequences. God has warned us that they will and do—and that in His final judgment, there are irrevocable laws and consequences (tempered only when repentance or incapacity triggers mercy). Often we know when we have deserved disagreeable consequence. By the same token, we also know when justice seems turned upside down. Rather, this criticism of “meritocracy” is aimed at the pre-judgments we make about seeming blessings and cursings before the final judgment; and at our tendency to ignore what God and His witnesses have said about this life and the process by which man is refined and perfected. Man’s trials may not always be “merited” (as in being a direct consequence of thought or behavior), but they are often necessary for the exercise of moral agency, for growth and perfection.

Once again, we are faced with allowing divergent views—sufferings through consequence and sufferings through appointment. In my view, the monocle of meritocracy distorts the nature of tribulation and places blame in cases where there should be only understanding, compassion, comfort, and generosity.