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.