Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Upward Course of the Gospel

(REMARKS delivered by Bishop Orson F. Whitney, at the Box Elder Stake Conference, Sunday Afternoon, July 26, 1891.)

We murmur and complain because of the sorrows and miseries of this life, and our countenances are cast down. We lose our encouragement and feel to despond. We sometimes think that if we had the ruling of the universe and our will was being done, things would be different. Col. Ingersoll said, speaking of the trials, sorrows and miseries of the world: "If I were God and could not make a better world than this, I would not consider that I was worthy of being worshiped and adored." Doubtless this finds an echo in many men's hearts. Some people think all our sorrow and pain is of our own making, and God lends no hand in causing men to suffer. We know by Adam's transgression and Mother Eve's yielding to temptation, that sorrow was brought upon the world. We believe that the fall of Adam was foreordained and that he fell that man might be. Mother Eve rejoiced when she had yielded, for had there been no violation, there would have been no posterity.

Adam had the Gospel .... Noah had this Gospel and preached it to the world, but it was rejected. Abraham and Moses had this Gospel and strove hard to bring the people back into the presence of God by it.

We came as Jesus came; not to do our own will, but the will of our heavenly Father.

It is not to be supposed that the Lord is coming to each one of us every time we expect, and explain things. We need not all expect that we are going to see the Father and receive visits from angels. But God has His prophets and priesthood to whom He reveals His will.

We came to this earth to pass through all kinds of experiences and to become great and more like God. It is by denying self, being patient and seeking to do the work of God that we become great. The course of truth is ever upward: if we cling to it it will carry us up with it. If we cling to that whose course is downward, it will carry us down with it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Looming Great Divorce

(or When are we going to open our eyes and ears that we might SEE and HEAR?!!)

“Almost thou persuadest me [NOT] to be a Christian!”1

That was my first reaction upon reading an email forward sent by a good Christian lady. So here is my latest “whoa, woe, whoa!!!” This church sister introduced her “forward” thus:
[“THIS LADY” is allegedly Cyndy Miller, writer of a letter to AARP.2]
Cyndy’s letter followed and set forth her reasons for declining to renew AARP membership because AARP’s “Divided We Fail” and other “Socialistic politics” are viewed by Cyndy as “threatening our way of life [and] offending our sensibilities.” Cyndy declares that “when the opinions and long term goals are diametrically opposed, the divorce is imminent.” And so she divorces AARP and decries “This Presidential Administration [that] scares the living daylights out of us.” [Did the prior presidential administration scare her? She does not say!]

Then Cyndy gets to the apparent “meat” of her regrettable divorce from AARP; a part that appears to “raise the blood pressure [her] medical insurance strives to contain.” She writes:
“Your [AARP] website generously offers us the opportunity to receive all communication in Spanish.. ARE YOU KIDDING??? Someone has broken into our 'house', invaded our home without our invitation or consent. The President has insisted we keep the perpetrator in comfort and learn the perp language so we can communicate our reluctant welcome to them.
I DON'T choose to welcome them.
I DON'T choose to support them.
I DON'T choose to educate them.
I DON'T choose to medicate them, pay for their food or clothing. …”
[etc., etc. Emphasis all hers.]
Now, of course, I’m not going to jettison my faith because a Christian “forwarder” thinks there is “grasp and command” in this divorce decree.3 But it set me to thinking about the coming Great Divorce—the one many of my church and/or fellow-Americans don’t seem to realize is increasingly imperative. It is the divorce looming between their professed Christian4 allegiance and the current STATE of their politics. How the incompatibility has endured so long is already beyond comprehension!

So, for just a moment, I ask my Christian friends—many of whom are conservative Republicans: Will you honestly look at the STATE of YOUR politics? NOT your enemy’s politics, but YOURS.

What is the state of things when radio/TV pundits become more quotable, reliable, and fundamental than the Sermon on the Mount?! When ends claim to justify means? When deception and spin are strategized? When finance capital dictates governance? When extremism in the defense of “liberty” is deemed patriotic? Where sound bites substitute for informed research? When your GOP says one thing with its mouth and does another with its power?

How long can you pretend YOUR political “spouse” is being faithful to founding principles and values? Look at your record! Your documented history! Your investigations! Your subterfuges! Hear the eye-witnesses! The whistleblowers! The sworn testimonies!5

Why do you castigate only the infidelities of your enemy’s “spouse”? Is THAT helping your own degraded house? Open your eyes! Open your ears!

How long can you ignore the egregious incompatibilities between GOP words and practices? Between values and actions? Why do you dismiss with alacrity and scorn all criticisms as if they were but false and hostile smears upon a pristine conscience?

Do we imagine a professedly “chosen” people (or party, religion, nation, ideology, constitution, etc.) is immune to folly, error, deception, corruption? Perhaps a brief tour of the gifted and chosen ones of history would be instructive. Count how many were swept away in whirlpools of stiffneckedness, excess, and folly. How few died in the harness of integrity, humility, purpose, and honor.

We are not going to clean up the mess of our universal corruption and partisanship by focusing solely on the crimes and corruptions of “enemies.” We must first look to our own ways and affiliations. What did Biblical Micah caution? “… a man's enemies are the men of his own house.”6 And please, instead of knee-jerking to accuse and fault your perceived enemies in the national house, look first to the threats and offenses from within your own GOP house.

In this current state of politics, surely it is time to reject the blindness of partisanship and unthinking loyalties. It is time to demand more of ourselves than we do of our “enemies.” It is time to reject rampant, internal hypocrisies; to refuse the propaganda of PACs and the persuasions of mammon.7 It is time to seek out and support honest, wise, good, and courageous candidates free of compromising ties and dictates. It is time for self- and party-awareness. It is time to take a new moral way. It is way beyond time.

(For those who wish to know my views on the Democrats, capitalism, socialism, free-market myths, the dire state of America's democratic values and republican form of government, etc. you may peruse other Déjà Vu posts at http://dejavu-times.blogspot.com)

1 New Testament Acts 26:28
2 AARP: American Association of Retired Persons
3 Of course, Cyndy has every right to reject the philosophies and practices of the AARP, if they conflict with hers, but the tragic thing is, too many partisans utterly fail to comprehend the present chasm between professed values and opposing actions. Their focus remains unwaveringly on their enemy to the exclusion of self-awareness—a classic diverting strategy acclaimed by C.S. Lewis’ astute senior demon, Screwtape (from The Screwtape Letters, 1942).
4 Applicable to other religious faiths and ethical adherents because most acknowledge a common set of human and moral values.
5 There are hundreds of meticulously, documented studies, books, and articles that are dismissed or ignored because: 1) they do not sustain the myths of rightness, justification, and ideology; 2) they are strategized as aiding and abetting the “enemy”; and 3) it takes so much precious time to sift truth from half-truths and error when lives are already so time-and info-stressed. Perhaps one approach is to prefer confirmed and documented information over passionate denials or justifications.
6 Old Testament Micah 7:6
7 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (New Testament Matthew 6:24).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Be Not Deceived

(Essay by SMSmith, posted in 7 installments. © 2002)

One of the most persistent warnings in scripture is that we “be not deceived.”1

Deception has been, from the beginning, the chief device of the adversary in his war to destroy the agency of man (Moses 4:3). He began with a plan of redemption without risk. When his self-exalting proposal was rejected, he rebelled against God. As a result he was cast down, “And he became Satan, yea even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto [God’s] voice” (Moses 4:4; emphasis added). In his rebellion, he lost his passion to “redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1), and became obsessed with destroying the world (Moses 4:6) and the souls of men (D&C 10:27; 1 Pet. 5:8). The very agency he had once discounted became his greatest boon as his agenda refocused from compelling obedience2 to captivating free souls through sin and disobedience (2 Ne. 2:27).

Thus began the long saga of mankind’s battle with deception. In this last dispensation we can expect that the agenda of deceit will be intensified and will be our most frequent, perilous challenge. We can expect that all deceptions will be aimed at enticing men and women to choose captivity and death, and that Satan’s greatest efforts will be aimed at destroying the family.3 We can expect that his enticements will be profoundly subtle, appealing to the rational mind, and often dressed up, “even as an angel of light.” We can also expect that the Father’s plan, embraced by the Son, will have anticipated every deception and have given instruction sufficient for every eventuality.

As we examine a few scriptural accounts of the adversary’s deceptive ploys, we can “liken them unto” our own latter-day experience and be forewarned and armed. And though, in examination, these deceptions are separated out, yet in practice, they overlap and entwine, even as the chains that bind.

1 “There is a difference between being deceived and making a mistake. When you are deceived, you think you are right when you are wrong; so you are less likely to make a correction and get back on course. You go on living and doing things that are wrong, but you think they are right.” (Glenn L. Pearson and Reid E. Bankhead, Building Faith With the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), pp. 116-117).
2 Traditionally we have understood that Lucifer’s premortal plan was one of force as opposed to the self-discipline permitted by moral agency. But his plan may have also encompassed other means to compromise or deny agency, e.g., when no law is given (Alma 42:16-23; see also Daniel H. Ludlow, “Moral Free Agency,” New Era, Nov. 1976, 44-50).
3 See Spencer W. Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, at 105: “It is against the home and family life that Satan has aimed his greatest efforts to destroy.” See also, Victor L. Brown, “Our Youth: Modern Sons of Helaman,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, 108: “I believe Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy the family, because if he would destroy the family, he will not just have won the battle; he will have won the war.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Deception One: “… surely I will do it [my way]; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1)

(Essay on deception by SMSmith, posted in installments, from last to first; #2 of 7. © 2002)

This first recorded deception was twofold. First, that Lucifer could redeem all mankind so that not one soul would be lost; and second, that his genius merited exceptional reward above all others, including the Father (D&C 29:36; Isa. 14:13-14). We do not know the intricacies of Lucifer’s plan , but he sought to win allegiance to himself by promising some variance of the Father’s multifaceted Plan consisting of the plan of salvation (Alma 42:5); the plan of restoration / justice (Alma 41:2-3); the plan of redemption / mercy (Alma 42:11- 15);4 and the plan of happiness (Alma 42:8), all sustaining the eternal principle of agency.

Somehow a third part of the hosts of heaven were deceived into believing that the assured redemption promised by Lucifer was preferable to the Father’s plan (D&C 29:36). One can imagine the fear Lucifer sought to instill as he enumerated the perils attending every mortal experience, but even more alarming, the odds against a mortal Jesus remaining sinless while subject to the flesh.5 If, by some impossibility such were realized, what chance, he might have argued, was there that the Savior would then honor his commitment to suffer beyond measure and die when the power was in him to live forever? If Jesus failed on either count, then even those who had chosen righteousness would be irretrievably lost (Jacob 7:12; Alma 34:9). There had to be an easier, surer way to inherit eternal life!

And so the deception began—one that soon evolved into a theology of redemption through the grace of God without need for repentance, baptism, obedience, or endurance. Nehor taught this doctrine of reward without requisite effort (Alma 1:4, 15; 15:15), and it persists to this day—dark shadows from the premortal council.

This easier-way rationale translates into a something-for-nothing or a disproportionate-reward syndrome. This is the deception that excuses idleness; claims privilege without responsibility; and seeks happiness without obedience. It underpins gambling and sweepstakes addictions and motivates some aspects of the drug and alcohol culture as partakers attempt a chemical shortcut to a spiritual place.

The Lord’s response to this short-cut theology is the law of the harvest. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7; also D&C 6:33; Mosiah 7:30).

The “surely-I-will-do-it” attitude lives on in every oppressive personality. Deceived as to their own self-sufficiency, they or their oppressive regimes pursue visions of utopian control, trampling upon God-given rights and proscribing others in their opinions and beliefs. At another extreme, this same self-sufficiency underpins the tragic misconception of good people who strive to achieve personal perfection by their own endeavor without looking to “the great Mediator of all men.”

The “my-way” mindset leads many to reject the will of God and the missions of their life because “When they are learned [or stubborn or in love] they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves,” (2 Ne. 9:28). But those who reject God’s path will someday have to acknowledge “that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness” (Alma 38:9). The promise is sure that “whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24).

The second aspect of this first deception—the glory-seeking—still fills the world. It feeds the demand for excessive compensation, honors, powers, or privileges because of talent, ingenuity, education, wealth, position, race, social ranking, fame, and so forth. It supports the class system that was so distressing to Alma (Alma 4:12, 15) for it proves the cause of so much oppression, suffering, sorrow, excess, and poverty.

To those who seek elevated privilege, the Lord’s example is enlightening: “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 42-45); “and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33; see also D&C 38:24-25).

4 Jacob refers to a plan of deliverance (2 Ne. 11:5), but this seems to be a broader term encompassing both the plan of salvation (from physical death) and the plan of redemption (from spiritual death).
5 Jesus was also divine (see James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1970, p. 21), but the mortal aspect of his nature was that which might have been perceived to put the Father’s plan at risk.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Deception Two: “Ye shall not surely die;” (Moses 4:10)

(Essay on deception by SMSmith, posted in installments, from last to first; #3 of 7. © 2002)

This is the second recorded deception that says, God’s word does not have to be taken seriously. The heart of this rationale usually rests in one of three beliefs: 1) that ones uniqueness or circumstance falls outside the law; 2) that the law itself is passé, because it was given for a different age, circumstance, or people; or 3) that easy grace (or ones quick repentance) will take care of every matter in due course. Each belief carries with it a proviso that if some consequence does follow, it will be but a few stripes and then all will be well.

In Nephi’s words: “there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 28:8).

This deception excuses shortfalls in tithes and offerings; rationalizes Sunday shopping and recreation; excuses Word of Wisdom infractions, immodesty, worldliness, profane language, and dabblings in the occult. It justifies neglecting or robbing the poor (Mosiah 4:17), and of not paying what an employee’s labor is worth. It expects quick, easy repentance for moral violations and discounts flirtations at the supposed fringes of moral sin.6 In one sense, it is a contrary of Deception One by espousing nothing for something. It both denies significant consequence for sin and declassifies as many sins as it can.

But God’s word is clear. His law is to be taken seriously for “I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger, and fear not me, saith the Lord of Hosts” (3 Ne. 24:5; Mal. 3:5; see also 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Quick repentance and easy grace are not options. They are tenets of the adversary’s theology for the Savior has said, “no unclean thing can enter into [God’s] kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end” (3 Ne. 27:19, emphasis added; see also 1 Ne. 10:21; Alma 39:6). In short, faith, true repentance, baptism, obedience, and endurance to the end are still requisites.

Yet, there are alternate voices that say, “Believe it not” (Moses 5:13; 2 Ne. 28:6). And in believing not, the adversary wins at both extremes as the rebellious and disobedient disparage the reach of justice; while the suffering, downcast sinner despairs the reach of mercy.

Sometimes the alternate voices say, “I am also a son [appointed one] of God” (Moses 5:13). Paul warned of those who would set themselves in place of the Lord’s anointed: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15; see also Matt. 7:15). Additional warnings7 in these latter-days leave us without excuse for “the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;” (D&C 1:14).

Sometimes as believers we are not even aware of our selective unbelief—an unbelief that requires long, repetitious teaching. As case in point: “Too often we bask in our comfortable complacency and rationalize that the ravages of war, economic disaster, famine, and earthquake cannot happen here. Those who believe this are either not acquainted with the revelations of the Lord, or they do not believe them. Those who smugly think these calamities will not happen, that they somehow will be set aside because of the righteousness of the Saints, are deceived and will rue the day they harbored such a delusion. The Lord has warned and forewarned us against a day of great tribulation and given us counsel, through His servants, on how we can be prepared for these difficult times. Have we heeded His counsel?” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Prepare for the Days of Tribulation,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 34).

6 See the remarks of Richard C. Edgley, “That Thy Confidence Wax Strong,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, at 40.
7 See Boyd K. Packer, “To Be Learned Is Good If …,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, at 73; also “Follow the Brethren,” Speeches of the Year, BYU, 23 Mar. 1965, p. 1-10 (also found in Tambuli, Sept. 1979, 53-64 and on LDS Magazines 1971-1999 CDRom); and Dallin H. Oaks, “Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, 27-30.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Deception Three: “I am free” (Moses 5:33).

(Essay on deception by SMSmith, posted in installments, from last to first; #4 of 7. © 2002)

This is the deception that seduced Cain. He completely misconstrued freedom. He gloried in destroying that which annoyed him and stood in his way, and proclaimed his freedom to pursue gain, heedless of all but his own desire, without regard even for his brother’s life.

This is the deception that governs those who override decency, integrity, and the common good for the sake of profit. It motivates cheating, fraud, and theft. It underpins greed, violence, prostitution, oppression, slander, gossip, perjury, abortion, pornography, and the greatest atrocities that mankind has seen and will yet see. Gain is the pursuit, whether in fame, fortune, approval, or power, and whether pursued by one or many.

This is the deception that leads otherwise honorable people into profiting from evil, whether directly or indirectly, because “people must be free to choose.” This is to succumb to the lies Satan has woven all around and through the principles of freedom and agency. It is a telling paradox that Lucifer, who once disdained the risks of agency, should now be such a vociferous advocate for freedom and choice in this world. The not-so-subtle difference is that Satan’s version of agency is to do away with “offensive” moral laws and thus their consequences (i.e., purport to do so as the “father of lies”), whereas the Lord’s plan of agency is ringed and bounded with law and consequence (Alma 42:16-23).

Thus, when it comes to moral law, Satan would have the world believe that the law itself offends agency—a deception that has worked time and again.8 And though overburdened criminal and civil courts are proof enough that even secular law in a free society does not destroy agency, Satan’s ploy is to reach beyond the willfully disobedient to those who are otherwise restrained by law. If he can dismantle the moral law, it loses in both respect and remembrance as many become a law unto themselves. But the Lord has said, “verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment” (D&C 88:34-35).

And so Satan contorts words, ideas, and philosophies in a desperate bid to obscure the truth about agency. The truth as taught by Lehi: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil;” (2 Ne. 2:27; 10:23).

This is an everlasting principle—we choose liberty and eternal life through obedience to God’s law or we choose captivity and death through disobedience. Only obedience preserves freedom because every act of disobedience welds a link of captivity to the habits, addictions, obsessions, weaknesses, egoism, and fears that are hallmarks of the adversary’s path to destruction.

8 Boyd K. Packer, “Our Moral Environment,” Ensign, May 1992, 66: “While we pass laws to reduce pollution of the earth, any proposal to protect the moral and spiritual environment is shouted down and marched against as infringing upon liberty, agency, freedom, the right to choose. Interesting how one virtue, when given exaggerated or fanatical emphasis, can be used to batter down another, with freedom, a virtue, invoked to protect vice. Those determined to transgress see any regulation of their life-style as interfering with their agency and seek to have their actions condoned by making them legal. People who are otherwise sensible say, “I do not intend to indulge, but I vote for freedom of choice for those who do.” Regardless of how lofty and moral the “pro-choice” argument sounds, it is badly flawed. With that same logic one could argue that all traffic signs and barriers which keep the careless from danger should be pulled down on the theory that each individual must be free to choose how close to the edge he will go.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deception Four: “I am no devil.”* “There is no God.”**

(Essay on deception by SMSmith, posted in installments, from last to first; #5 of 7. © 2002)
(*2 Ne. 28:22; **(Alma 30:53; see also 2 Ne. 28:5-6)

Nephi warned of this deception: “And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Ne. 28:22).

Korihor succumbed to a parallel deception when he confessed: “But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true;” (Alma 30:53).

What better way to obscure sin than to mock the idea of a lawgiver, a tempter, and even a lawbreaker. Without a God in heaven or laws defining right and wrong, then “whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:17), and thus he was free to pursue happiness in whatever manner he might devise. This great deception is revealed in the words of Samuel the Lamanite: “ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head” (Hel. 13:38; see also Alma 41:10).

No person who discounts the reality of the archenemy of every good thing (Moro. 7:12, 17; Alma 34:49) will endure for the First Presidency of an earlier day described Satan thus: “He is working under such perfect disguise that many do not recognize either him or his methods. There is no crime he would not commit, no debauchery he would not set up, no plague he would not send, no heart he would not break, no life he would not take, no soul he would not destroy. He comes as a thief in the night; he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing” (Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 6:179, as quoted by James E. Faust, “The Great Imitator,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 34).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Deception Five: Accusing and confusing (Moses 4:10-11).

(Essay on deception by SMSmith, posted in installments, from last to first; #6 of 7. © 2002)

This deceptive pattern spans them all. When Satan cajoled Eve in the garden, through the mouth of the serpent, the undercurrent of his persuasion was deeply accusatory—not only that God had lied, but that it was done in covetous regard for knowledge (Moses 4:10- 11). To this day, every voice of the adversary has employed false accusation against God and his people. Every antichrist has recycled the accusations of a Sherem (Jacob 7) or a Korihor (Alma 30), who but recycled from accusers before them. It is a ploy that has deceived countless numbers through the ages, causing them to "turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth!" (2 Ne. 28:16).

But this is not just the ploy of antichrists. It is the ploy also of those who become so attached to positions, agendas, plans, patronage, or secrecy that they endeavor to destroy all opposition and to elude every exposure. This is the ploy used to marginalize or silence whistleblowers and to disparage those who speak out in defense of moral issues. It is often the device of revenge and bitterness. It is sometimes employed even in good causes when advocates lose their way through adopting the adversary's way (D&C 10:28). This relentless assault upon every good thing will persist until, as John the Revelator writes, "the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night" (Rev. 12:10).

The adversary also delights in confusion—the confusion that keeps men and women halting between two opinions (1 Kgs 18:21). Halting because of fear ("What will become of me?") or because of blindness caused by the philosophies, traditions, or honors of men. Satan feeds the fear that keeps one silent in the face of corruption and wrongdoing; and the fear that keeps one from fully trusting in God's promises. He nurses the blindness of those who wrest the scriptures (D&C 10:63; 2 Pet. 3:16) and of those who look to the stars of the world rather than to the Son for their doctrine. But we have been warned: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:8).

In the words of President Hinckley: "We have nothing to fear when we walk by the light of eternal truth. But we had better be discerning. Sophistry has a way of masking itself as truth. Half truths are used to mislead under the representation that they are whole truths. Innuendo is often used by enemies of this work as representing truth. Theories and hypotheses are often set forth as if they were confirmed truth. Statements taken out of context of time or circumstance or the written word are often given as truth, when as a matter of fact such procedure may be the very essence of falsehood" ("God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear," Ensign, Oct. 1984, 4).

In pursuit of confusion, the adversary fosters compromising entanglements. The Lord cautioned the early latter-day church against such entanglements, counseling trust in His way and means, "That through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world;" (D&C 78:14).

A form of entanglement and perhaps the most cunning device of the adversary is to mingle virtue and vice, subtly building tolerance for that which is evil until many fall into either confusion or complacency. Either will do in the adversary's agenda. President Spencer W. Kimball warned that Lucifer "will use his logic to confuse and his rationalizations to destroy. He will shade meanings, open doors an inch at a time, and lead from purest white through all the shades of gray to the darkest black" ("President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality," Ensign, Nov. 1980, 94).

How often in literature and entertainment do we find good stories mingled with the "normalcy" of profanity, immodesty, immorality, and graphic violence?9 How often do anti-heroes take center stage, glorying and being glorified in sin? How often are touted good works employed to filter lifestyles of transgression?10 And though the wheat and tares are allowed to grow together until the harvest (Matt. 13:30; D&C 86:7), yet if the wheat wraps or entwines itself in tares, how long can it retain its identity as wheat? How long can one halt between two opinions? And how long before lukewarm becomes cold? (Rev. 3:15-16).

But the Lord has not left us in confusion about good and evil. Amongst his parting words in the Book of Mormon, Moroni wrote: "For behold, … it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. And now, … seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully;" (Moro 7:15-19, emphasis added); "that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil" (Moro. 7:14).

To know, then, with a perfect knowledge that something is of God, we ask: Does it invite to do good? Does it persuade to believe in Christ? To know the reverse, we ask: Does it persuade men to do evil? Does it induce men to believe not in Christ, to deny him and to serve not God? To repeat Moroni's words, "the way to judge is as plain … as the daylight is from the dark night." (Moro. 7:15). We ask the questions, we answer with integrity, and then we choose—the way of life or the way death (2 Ne. 2:27; 10:23).

9 Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stand True and Faithful," Ensign, May 1996, 92: "We cannot afford to be tainted by moral sin. We live in a world where temptation is constantly being thrown at us, particularly at you young people. It is on television. It is in magazines. It is in books. It is on videos which are readily available. Stay away from these things. They will only hurt you." Joseph B. Wirthlin, "The Priesthood of God," Ensign, Nov. 1988, 36: "Satan has made the television and film media among his most effective tools to destroy minds and souls."
10 This seems a ploy that Satan recommended to Cain (Moses 5:18-23).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ways to avoid deception

(Essay on deception by SMSmith, to be posted in installments, from last to first; #7 of 7. © 2002)

Besides the examples, and cautions already mentioned that forewarn and arm us, the Lord has also given express instructions with promises on what we can individually do to avoid deception. The counsel is not new; it has been clearly and repeatedly expressed.

1. Study the scriptures. "And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived," (JS-Matt. 1:37, emphasis added). What better example have we than of the Savior during His temptation? Having treasured the scriptures, He knew them and could quote them, and after three encounters with such unanswerable resistance, Satan fled (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; James 4:7).

2. Develop a pattern of prayer, humility, obedience, gratitude, listening to the Holy Ghost, and seeking earnestly the best gifts.11 "I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations— Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances" (D&C 52:14-15, emphasis added). And "ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils. Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;" (D&C 46:7-8, emphasis added).

3. Look to the prophets. "Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory" (D&C 21:4-6; see also D&C 132:7; 124:84; 43:1-7, emphasis added). [Note: When first writing this, my 3rd point was titled, "Look to the living prophet," but I have come to believe that a vital benchmark to avoid latter-day deception is to test all present matters against the "words and commandments" given to and through the many prophets, ancient and modern; a personal witness of the Holy Ghost being paramount in assessing when a prophet is speaking for God. For greater elaboration on this see three other posts Skimmed Milk, Using Our Heads, and Lesson from an Old Prophet.]

4. Strengthen the family. In introducing "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," President Hinckley said: "With so much of sophistry that is passed off as truth, with so much of deception concerning standards and values, with so much of allurement and enticement to take on the slow stain of the world, we have felt to warn and forewarn. In furtherance of this we of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history" ("Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World," Ensign, Nov. 1995, 100). This proclamation now stands as an enduring witness to the world. It testifies of the sacred, eternal nature of the family and sustains the test that President Kimball set forth over twenty years before—a simple question that cuts through all the sophistry of the world: "for the well being of the community; for the very existence of the nation, one of the first questions asked about any proposed change in the culture should be, 'Will it strengthen the family?'" ("The Family Influence," Ensign, July 1973, 15).

5. Attend the Temple. “The need for temples all over the world is great. This is because they are spiritual sanctuaries. Those who attend the temples can find protection against Satan and his desire to destroy them and their families” (James E. Faust, “Opening the Windows of Heaven,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 59). President George Q. Cannon said: “Every foundation stone that is laid for a temple, and every temple completed … lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of God and Godliness” (Logan Temple cornerstone ceremony, 19 Sept. 1877; quoted in Nolan Porter Olsen, Logan Temple: The First 100 Years [1978], 34). “… a pattern against being deceived by Satan or by false spirits is to obey the Lord’s ordinances—that is, not only the ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and temple ordinances, but also, as understood anciently, the other decrees of God, such as rules, regulations, and instructions” (Roy W. Doxey, “Accept Divine Counsel,” New Era, Jan. 1978, 34).

6. Trust in the Lord (Prov. 3:5-8; D&C 6:36). Though "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3:13); and though "there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matt. 24:24, emphasis added); yet "God's wisdom and knowledge and power are greater than all the combined forces of evil. He is able to do His work and His purposes cannot be frustrated. He has not left you and me to make our way alone in these perilous times" (M. Russell Ballard, CES Fireside, Mar. 3, 2002, Church News, March 9, 2002, 5).

We are surrounded by all that is expedient for us (2 Ne. 2:27) to stand prepared at the last day, our vessels filled with oil. Latter-day revelation sets forth the difference between the wise and the foolish. "And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived— … shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. For the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver" (D&C 45:56-59, emphasis added).

Such is the promise to all those who are not deceived.

11 See Marvin J. Ashton, "A Pattern in All Things," Ensign, Nov. 1990, 20-22.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Finding God!

In a recent magazine article,[1] the concluding sentence read: “In a world where trouble and temptations seem to find us so easily, it is reassuring to know that our greatest source of strength [our Heavenly Father] is so easy to find.”

This may be true—sometimes. And maybe, dear reader, your experience (or unwavering belief) is that He is always so. But from my experience, from my study and witness (and the déjà vu) of the lives and writings of many, God has NOT been so easy to find—or perhaps more accurately, to re-find.[2]

In the trenches of life, countless striving people endure an excruciating path of seeking to find God in the midst of His extended silences; His apparent contradictions; His seeming abandonments; His apparent deafness to fervent prayers and priesthood promises; His tendency to inflict[3] Job-like challenges upon His children.

Why does He NOT, in this “game of life,” always manifest the easy-to-find presence idealized in the article? Is it to prove us—to see if we will choose good and God in the midst of inexplicable pain, confusion, and “every excuse and temptation” to do otherwise?[4] Is it to test our endurance in seeking Him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Is it to bring us to wisdom and divine priorities through suffering?

Of course, God wants us to find Him. But if finding Him were so easy, where would be the trial—the proving—that is integral to the Plan; each according to need? Yes, sometimes, God will pursue us and be amazingly easy to find. But MORE times, I believe, He will require us to pursue Him through mists of darkness till we are exhausted and sometimes, almost hopeless, like Job.[5]

I believe God works along a continuum of possibilities—again, each according to need. God said we should expect opposition in all things,[6] so why not opposition to the way we perceive Him and the ways we expect Him to be and to bless?

What I find painful about latter-day variations of the comfort Job had to endure from his friends—is how alienating such “comfort” remains. Already, many of us feel too frequently estranged from our oft-silent God and confused by contraries and unfulfilled promises and expectations. Then, as we seek for understanding and peace, we encounter voices that seem to say, “You do not rightly feel what you feel. You do not truthfully experience what you experience, because that is not how God is.” Job’s friends were confident in their fervent defense of the character and ways of God, but surprisingly, God did not come to their defense. Rather, Job’s passionate swings between testimony, railings, questions, and accusations proved more acceptable.[7]

If only we could get to the point of pondering the ENTIRE book of Job and acknowledging not just his enduring testimony,[8] but also his heartbreaking questions, struggles, terrors, and confusions![9] And admitting as well, our own unfortunate tendencies to recycle as “gospel truths” the unhelpful convictions of Job’s friends. How much comfort, understanding, and compassion do we forfeit for ourselves and deny to others when we reference only a minutia of Job’s story and acknowledge only a fraction of God’s ways and means?

[1] “I Will Be Found of You” by Aaron L. West, Ensign, January 2010:80
[2] In some instances, finding God may indeed come in easy, transcendent ways, such as for many new seekers in search of His path; or when He goes in search of lost lambs (those who have left the fold). But for those who have made commitment to His path, the finding and re-finding of God in daily struggles and longings is seldom an exercise in ease. I also know that for me, seeing God is not the same as finding God. I can see God in nature, in the faces of children, in the compassion of good people, even in the survival of so many sinners who seem sustained for the chance that they might repent (which includes most of us); but many times, I cannot seem to find God in the translations and explanations of men. I wonder if God tires of us always trying to translate Him and our lives into tidy explanations when what He really wants is not our translations, but our transformation.
[3] Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19 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 (emphasis added).
[4] Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3:24-25 ... 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; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (emphasis added); Doctrine and Covenants, Section 98:12, 14 … 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 (emphasis added).
[5] Old Testament, Job 19:10 He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.
[6] Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, ..., righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; …
[7] Old Testament, Job 42:7 And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.
[8] For example, see magazine notes to “Judgments of Job” by Joseph Brickey on the inside front cover, Ensign, January 2010
[9] “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Old Testament, Job 7:11); “I am full of confusion” (10:15); accused God of breaking him with a tempest and multiplying his wounds without cause (9:17), of being cruel to him (30:21); charged God with removing his hope like a tree [tearing it up by the roots?] (19:10); stood up to God and demanded to be judged in truth and justice (chp. 31); suffered immense despair (6:2-4) and terrifying dreams (7:14) and railed against his own birth (3:11).