Just in case

I catch myself daydreaming from time to time.  Although the scenarios vary, the thought at the core is persistent; I imagine that God wants me to be rich.  I think about all the good things I could do with a bunch of extra funds.  I think about ways He could make it happen.  Maybe a super wealthy friend will gift me a large sum.  Maybe the Lord is going to lead me to employment with outsized compensation.  The scenarios are many and varied.  Eventually I remember that as my God is all powerful, if He wanted me to be rich, I would be.  This sometimes leads me to be thankful for the exact situation in which I find myself; not richer or poorer.  This is where I think He wants me to be; legitimately thankful for whatever my present circumstances happen to be, regardless of whether they’re what I’d request for myself if I could.

I am not a gambler.  One time as a kid I found myself playing poker in my friend’s basement.  We were using chips, not money.  While playing I remember receiving the distinct spiritual impression to leave.  Personally, I find poker with chips equivalent to Monopoly or any other game, so I’m not condemning it per se.  But I got the impression to leave and did.  I still don’t know why.  But I did.

Recently I was traveling for work in a state that operates a lottery.  I felt the unusual urge to participate.  When the guys I was traveling with pretended to drive away from the gas station without me, I went back into the mini-mart and bought a lottery ticket.  It was my first ticket ever.  I’d heard the logic about how lotteries are effectively taxes on the ignorant, but was undeterred.  The lady asked me which game I wanted to play; I had no idea there were multiple options.  I quickly chose one with a potential payout of only a few hundred thousand dollars that would be drawn that evening.  As we drove to the airport I realized the folly of my ways; if I was going to be a sinner and buy a lottery ticket, then I might as well go for the PowerBall payout valued at over $60 million, which was also to be drawn that evening.  So I was thrilled when I found out I could buy another ticket at the airport before coming home.  Once I had my $60 million ticket, my mind started to race wildly along the same lines I described at the beginning of this post.  What would I do with all the winnings?  Would I share them?  If so with whom?  Would I work?  Would I move?  Would I have to pay tithing since the Church would probably not take tithing “earned” from a lottery?  The considerations were enthralling.

In opposition to the “lottery-as-taxation-on-the-ignorant” view, there is another school of thought that compares not just the economic implications of buying a lottery ticket, but the emotional ramifications as well.  This school posits that the incremental hope/joy that comes into a person’s life from the time they purchase the ticket until the time the find out they lost is worth way more than the dollar they paid to participate, and as such, represents a significant value.  I have to say I fall into this latter camp.  My life was, in a telestial sense, far more hopeful from the time I bought the ticket until the next day when I checked online to find out my numbers had not been selected, than it had been over the previous 24 hours.  All that hope for a dollar.  It was by far the best money I’d spent the entire week.  And yet I don’t think I’ll be doing it again.

See, the greatest benefit I got from playing the lottery was the absolute assurance that God does not want me to be rich.  If ever you find yourself daydreaming about Him making you wealthy, you can spend a lot of time and effort and energy worrying about if He’s going to do it or how He might do it or what you might do with it if He does or a million other related questions.  Or you can just go buy your ticket, get the results that night, and let it go.  Buying a single lottery ticket is the most cost-effective way I can think of to banish the “what if He wants me to be rich” temptation quickly and definitively.  That’s the beauty of believing in an all powerful, all knowing God; whatever my present circumstances are must be what He wants for me.  Thankfully embracing reality is thus a sign of faith.

By this test

“Through supernatural means, by the power of the Holy Ghost, devout persons are permitted to have visions and to see within the veil. They are enabled to see spiritual personages and to view scenes hidden from ordinary sight. These visions are gifts of the Spirit. (Seventh Article of Faith.) They come by faith and vanish away when faith dies out. (1 Sam. 3:1; Isa. 29:9-14.) Thus they stand as an evidence of the divinity of the Lord’s work in any age. If the Lord is giving visions and revelation to a people, such group constitutes the people of God. If visions and revelations are not being received by any church or people, then that group is not the Lord’s people. By this test the identity of the true Church is known. (Moro. 7:30-38.) … And visions are to increase and abound in the last days, for the Lord has promised to pour out his ‘spirit upon all flesh,’ so that ‘old men shall dream dreams,’ and ‘young men shall see visions.’ (Joel 2:28-32.)”

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, 1958: (Mormon Doctrine, see pp. 745-747)

Where can you find the man of God?

“It has seemed good unto the Almighty to reveal to His people, in all ages, many glorious and important principles, through different gifts. Sometimes these revelations are given…through heavenly visions and dreams…The Christians of the first century were continually led by dreams and visions. By revelations given in this manner, they were forewarned of many dangers; they escaped many calamities; and their lives were often very miraculously preserved. The great revelation given to John on the isle of Patmos was manifested to him by a vision. … Having, in this chapter, treated upon several of the most prominent Spiritual Gifts, the reader will be able to clearly discover the vast difference between the religion of heaven, as revealed in the Bible, and the false religions of the nineteenth century…Where can you find the man of God who, by the power of the Holy Ghost, can see visions or dream dreams, or interpret the same by inspiration? …Modern Christianity answers, NOWHERE…All are as dead in regard to the promised Spiritual Gifts, as the putrid carcases, mouldering in their cemeteries.”

Apostle Orson Pratt, December, 1856 in “The Gift of Visions and Dreams,” Spiritual Gifts, pp. 76–77, 80.

Judge ye

“That part of the work of the Holy spirit in the salvation of men, which consists in giving them vision, forms one of the most important parts (of the Spirit’s work) in the salvation of men, and it is one that was always performed by the Spirit, as far as we have any account of the people of God in his revelations. There is no society of which we have an account in the revelations of God, that he acknowledged as his own, except they had visions among them, and that as long as they continued to walk according to the directions of the Holy Spirit: indeed it was essential to their character as saints; it would be a marvelous thing to find a body of saints on earth and yet there would be no visions among them; we will venture to assert that such a thing was never seen since the world began. We readily admit that a corrupt religion can exist, and false prophecies exist, and sectarian dogmas abound; men-made worshipers increase, and the world abound in a religion that the Lord was not the author of, and yet no visions be among them; but wherever the truth of heaven abounds, there will visions abound also; for it is a part of heaven’s scheme to save men, and without it, we are not authorized to say there is salvation; for all the people who were saved of whom we have an account, were of the number who saw visions; and such was the importance which the sacred writers attached to the seeing of visions, that Solomon says, in Proverbs, chap. 29: ver. 18, that where no vision is, the people perish. But in direct opposition to this, the people of this generation say, that where no vision is, there truth reigns and prevails; and where vision is there error and delusion abounds; but whether we should believe God or man, judge ye.”

Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in First PresidencyMessenger and Advocate, vol. 1, no. 9, June 1835.

Animals

Years ago, while working in Detroit, I went to lunch with an LDS colleague.  When I ordered chicken, he asked, “Are you really going to get that?” A bit confused, I confirmed that I had indeed intended to order the chicken, and asked him why it mattered.  He responded, “Don’t you believe in section 89?”  I thought he was kidding.  He wasn’t.  I had never really considered taking the don’t-eat-meat part seriously before.

“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;  And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” (D&C 89:12-13)

Subsequently I had a conversation with a friend who was both a seminary teacher and dedicated carnivore.  He cautioned me against taking the verses cited above literally, as he had heard that there was a possibility that the comma in the phrase “used, only” might not have been there in the original.  Plus, he reasoned, the General Authorities ate meat at the catered meal served in between sessions of general conference.  As with many of the restored doctrines, he cautioned me against a non-mainstream interpretation of the verses.

Subsequent study led me to conclude that the comma had not been misplaced, as the following verses in section 89 clarify:

“All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.” (D&C 89:14-15)

I eventually decided to try out the advice, and I stopped eating red meat.  At the same time I stopped eating things made from white flour, white sugar, hydrogenated oils, and dairy.  I didn’t limit my overall caloric intake, I just stopped eating stuff that included any of those things.  Over the course of a few month my weight decreased by 10%, I slept better, and I felt far more alert throughout the day (particularly in the afternoons).  I find when I don’t eat red meat the voraciousness of my apetite decreases significantly.  But this is not why I think it matters.

I had always associated health benefits with Word of Wisdom compliance; live longer, live better, etc.  But after trying to live the simple law described in section 89, I came to the realization that for me the greatest blessing was not physical in nature.  The Lord began to open to my heart and mind deep mysteries, that had before remained hidden from my view.  While it may simply have been happenstance, it started to happen after I began to take section 89 seriously:

“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;” (89:18-19)

I want to become eligible to participate in the Millennial Zion, in which the enmity between man and beast will have ceased (see D&C 101:26).  How can I dwell in peace with the lamb and lion if I, in the back of my mind, am continually thinking about slaying them for food?  What does that imply about millennial life?  I think the Lord has a special place in His heart for animals.  The JST of Genesis 9 clarifies Father’s direction regarding the use of animals for food in this telestial state:

“But, the blood of all flesh which I have given you for meat, shall be shed upon the ground, which taketh life thereof, and the blood ye shall not eat.  And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST Gen 9:10-11)

If the effect of the Holy Ghost is pure intelligence, might willful obedience to this principle be an unlikely gatekeeper to receiving greater light and knowledge in these latter days?

the one true orthodoxy

How could so many of the Jews in Jesus’ day not have recognized Him for who He was?

It appears it was due to placing too much confidence in their religious leaders. In Jesus’ day the leadership of the true Church was active, organized, and very much involved in the religious and social life of the Jews. In studying the Sermon on the Mount, I was reminded of Jesus’ direct and open criticism of Church leadership in His day:

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

Who were these “scribes and Pharisees”?

In terms of the role they played in the Church, we would most likely consider them the general authorities of their day.

From the LDS Bible Dictionary we learn the following:

“Scribes are frequently mentioned in the N.T., being sometimes called lawyers. It was their business to develop the law in detail and apply it to the circumstances of their time; hence grew up the oral or traditional law side by side with the written law… The scribes never taught on their own authority (contrast with this the Lord’s method, Matt. 7:29). They taught either in houses of instruction or in the temple courtsThey formed an influential part in the supreme court of the Sanhedrin. Rabbi (my Master) was the title usually given them. As a rule they were Pharisees (Mark 2:16Acts 23:9), though there were also Sadducean scribes. In theory they received no pay for their workAs a class they offered a determined opposition to the Lord mainly because he disregarded the ‘traditions of the elders’.

[Pharisees] upheld the authority of oral tradition as of equal value with the written law. The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules, and to encourage self-sufficiency and spiritual pride. They were a major obstacle to the reception of Christ and the gospel by the Jewish people.”

I often encounter the orthodox LDS view that General Conference addresses carry the same weight as scripture. The belief is that talks delivered from the pulpit during Conference, particularly those given by apostles, provide authoritative doctrinal interpretations and guidance for our day. If statements from general authorities are in conflict with the scriptures (or with other general authorities), this approach provides a mechanism by which ultimate orthodoxy can be determined based on the chronological recency of competing utterances. In effect, he who speaks last wins. For all intents and purposes it forms an LDS oral tradition; once spoken from the pulpit, teachings become part of the latter-day canon–at least until the next Conference. It is a handy tie-breaking mechanism by which a singular, ultimate orthodoxy can be established.

As mentioned above we are not the only ones to have created such a system. The Jews developed questions around their scriptural canon, the Torah, and its perceived limitations which necessitated the creation of their own oral, orthodoxy-seeking, tie-breaking process. The Jewish Virtual Library describes it as follows:

“The Written Law is another name for the Torah. The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life. For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, ordains, “Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy” (Exodus 20:8). From the Sabbath’s inclusion in the Ten Commandments, it is clear that the Torah regards it as an important holiday. Yet when one looks for the specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing and harvesting. Would merely refraining from these few activities fulfill the biblical command to make the Sabbath holy? Indeed, the Sabbath rituals that are most commonly associated with holiness-lighting of candles, reciting the kiddush, and the reading of the weekly Torah portion are found not in the Torah, but in the Oral Law.

Without an oral tradition, some of the Torah’s laws would be incomprehensible. In the Shema‘s first paragraph, the Bible instructs: “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes” (see Deuteronomy 6:4­8).

“Bind them for a sign upon your hand,” the last verse instructs. Bind what? The Torah doesn’t say. “And they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” What are frontlets? The Hebrew word for frontlets, totafot is used three times in the Torah — always in this context (Exodus 13:16Deuteronomy 6:811:18) — and is as obscure as is the English. Only in the Oral Law do we learn that what a Jewish male should bind upon his hand and between his eyes are tefillin (phylacteries).

Finally, an Oral Law was needed to mitigate certain categorical Torah laws that would have caused grave problems if carried out literally. The Written Law, for example, demands an “eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). Did this imply that if one person accidentally blinded another, he should be blinded in return? That seems to be the Torah’s wish. But the Oral Law explains that the verse must be understood as requiring monetary compensation: the value of an eye is what must be paid.

For these three reasons-the frequent lack of details in Torah legislation, the incomprehensibility of some terms in the Torah, and the objections to following some Torah laws literally — an Oral Law was always necessary.

Strangely enough, the Oral Law today is a written law, codified in the Mishna and Talmud…”

They have the Mishna and Talmud, we have the Ensign and Liahona.

———-

Lest you think this comparison unfair, remember that considerable effort has been made over the years to clarify the specifics of our doctrine.  Consider Joseph Fielding Smith’s three-volume work Doctrines of Salvation, or some of the official-sounding names of the works by his son-in-law, Apostle Bruce R. McKonkie: Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, and Mormon Doctrine.  By the way, current Church hierarchy is so concerned about the contents of Mormon Doctrine that they, not too long ago, pulled all new copies out of circulation. Try to find one for sale in any of the Church’s bookstores. They are no longer available.

Can a religion, even a “true” religion, ever pose a legitimate threat to one’s salvation?  Cast your mind back to Jesus’ day. Was there an organization on the earth in those days that had possession of, referred to, taught from, and focused on following the teachings of the holy scriptures? Did not this group also legitimately possess priesthood authority, handed down from generation to generation? Is there any reason the Jews in Jesus’ day would not have proudly considered themselves members of the only true Church on the earth at the time?

In Jesus’ day it appears the orthodox approach to Church leadership was to consider them above reproach. The respect with which Jewish religious leaders were held was apparently so high that when Jesus responded to the high priest in a way that was considered disrespectful, the reaction was to violently strike the Savior of the World in the face:

“And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?” (John 18:22)

Do we run the same risk in our day?

Progression

I used to view progression as a series of steps.  In my former view, once I had learned to overcome a specific weakness, I would leave it behind, not to be bothered by that sin again as I moved on to conquer new and more sophisticated temptations.  But, there was a problem.  When I would fall to that temptation again, whether it was immoral thoughts or pride or anger, resentment, jealousy or whatever, I would become frustrated–to the point of giving up–because I had fallen back to the bottom of the steps I had just climbed.  How could I have fallen so far after having climbed so high?

My view is different now.  I now see progression as more of a continuum.  It is an upward sloping hill, but it’s not so much the sins that I leave behind as I ascend, as it is the light I gain.  The bottom of the hill is darkness, the top is pure white light.  As I go up, which requires that I willingly face the light and make efforts to move forward, I gain more light.  But what has changed most about my view is the role of opposition in progression. Previously I viewed opposition associated with any specific sin as static–it was a fixed temptation associated with a specific sin to be overcome and left behind.  Now I believe that as I move up the hill of light, Heavenly Father allows Lucifer to intensify his temptations in direct proportion to the light I have acquired.  So rather than getting frustrated that certain temptations keep coming, sometimes with significantly increased intensity, I need to understand that such intensifications (which require significantly more faith to overcome than similar temptations related to the same sin previously) are an indication of spiritual progression, not regression.

I was frustrated yesterday when some feelings of enmity toward somebody who had hurt me kept coming into my heart and mind.  I was frustrated, because I really felt like I had honestly forgiven that person, that the Savior had healed my hurt, and that His light had replaced the resentment that had initially welled up in my heart after the injury occurred.  And then I realized, the thoughts and feelings weren’t originating in me.  They were being sent to me from the devil to see if I would accept them.  It was this experience, in part, that helped me understand the role of increased opposition as we ascend the hill of the Lord.

As we progress we must expect the intensity of temptation to increase, requiring consistent spiritual exertion and trust in the Lord.  The beautiful part is that all of this occurs under the watchful eye of the Lord.  He is the one that allows temptation’s intensity to increase in direct proportion to the light we acquire.