Tuesday, May 08, 2018

“Obedience is the first law of heaven.” Where did that come from?

There is a sentance that is sometimes quoted by members of my faith, though few know where it came from.  It is this:

“Obedience is the first law of heaven.”

It was spoken by Joseph F. Smith in a conference talk on October 7, 1873.

It is often used to advocate for compliance with laws that one does not see the reasons for, and therefore is disinclined to obey, intimating that if you don’t agree, or don’t understand, then just obey anyway, because obedience is that important.

But.   In that same talk.  Joseph F. Smith explains what he means by obedience.

“We talk of obedience, but do we require any man or woman to ignorantly obey the counsels that are given? Do the first Presidency require it? No, never. What do they desire? That we may have our minds opened and our understandings enlarged, that we may comprehend all true principles for ourselves; then we will be easily governed thereby, we shall yield obedience with our eyes open, and it will he a pleasure for us to do so.”

He is advocating an obedience that is very different from obedience for the sake of obedience.  He is speaking of an obedience that is based upon an opened mind and the understanding that we have aquired of the heavenly principles behind the law and how they play out when we live them and a clear desire on our part to live those principles because those principles are ones we want to make a part of who we are and part of the world in which we live.   It is an obedience that is totally different from “obedience just because obedience is super important.”

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Numbers 20:8-12 Thoughts on the saying “Obedience brings blessings and exact obedience brings miracles”

I’ve already posted on the origin of that saying that was quoted in a talk given by Russell Nelson several years ago at the MTC.   He clearly thought it was a helpful way to look at things, but he was not the author of it.  Which is actually reassuring, because it’s problematic for the following reasons.

1.  When is a blessing not a miracle?    When you get right down to it, a huge percentage of the blessings we receive are pretty miraculous in and of themselves considering the nature of the universe and the state of mankind.   I believe that delineating a difference between a blessing and a miracle is simply a matter of subsets, not a matter of two different things.  Blessings are good things that happen .  The scriptures teach us “that all good things cometh from God”.   Miracles are a subset of those good things; they are the good things that come from God that are unexpected, surprising and inexplainable to us.

2. If exact obedience was required for a miracle (an amazing, unusual blessing) to occur, then when Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20: 8-12, no water would have come out of it.  His action on that occasion was not exactly obedient (and God points that out to him) and certainly the Israelites were not exactly obedient at that time either.  Hence, this story belies the assertion that exact obedience is required for miracles.

I think it’s an excellent idea to try to obey God.  But reducing the possibility of miracles to situations where our exact obedience comes into play as an essential prerequisite to the unfolding of the miracle is not a spiritually healthy way to view our relationship with God.  It is a pattern of thinking that reduces our sense of His amazing mercy and long-suffering towards us, and can reduce our view of His interaction with us to an earned merit system, which it is definitely not.

So yes, seek to know and love and obey God and his commandments and to work daily under the guidance of his Holy Spirit, but don’t believe that His love and power and will to do amazing things are dependent upon your exact obedience.  They aren’t.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Meek, Matthew 11:29

I read Elder Bednar’s Conference talk today.  It is a well constructed treatise on the quality of “meekness”.

I decided to look into the way the word "meek" has been understood and translated in recording what Jesus said in Matthew 11:29, “for I am meek and lowly in heart”.

So I looked up the translation of that verse in a the few languages I know.  The variety in the translations was interesting.  And I looked it up in an English dictionary.

One entry in the latter caught my eye.  It was an “obsolete” definition; a definition that was understood long ago, but has been dropped long since.  It was “gentle, kind”.

That made sense to me.  That definition of meek in the context of that verse would make a great deal of sense.  Probably more sense than the other traditional definitions in religious discourse: submissive, obedient, humble, inclined to righteous responsiveness or given to restraint.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am gentle and kind and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your soul.

So I looked up the that passage in Greek.  The word there is  “πραύς (praus)
And that word is defined in three different Greek dictionaries as “meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, mild, benevolent, humane”

You can find that same word also in Matthew 5:5,  (The meek shall inherit the earth.) Matthew 21:5, (Where Jesus describes his final entry into Jerusalem as “meek”) and 1st Peter 3:4. (the quality of meekness and quietness of spirit being highly valued by God)

Being gentle, kind, forgiving, benevolent, humane qualifies you as trusted by God to inherit the earth.

Kindness, forgivness, benevolence and a humanitarian response were the qualities of Christ at the time when he received the loudest acclaim and could have been, instead, proud and pleased and flattered.

When you are gentle, kind, forgiving, benevolent and humane, you are acting in a way that is highly valued by your Father in Heaven, the amazing Father who will be our ultimate judge

Obedience that comes from a way of being that includes kindness, gentleness, benevolence, forgivness and humane response (meekness) is different in quality and depth from the obedience that comes just from the other linked attributes of submission or humility or willingness to do good or self-restraint.  There is a power of goodness that is profound when the lost definitions are restored to the existing one.

I think that the contraction of and change in the word “meek” over the centuries has robbed us of something valuable in our reading of scripture.

Interestingly, I think that the men that Elder Bednar referred to in his talk,  Amulek and Pahoran, did incorporate some of those elements; Amulek in his willingness to take in and feed and help Alma when Alma was being persecuted, Pahoran's amazing response to Moroni's scathing remonstrance.

Elder Bednar didn't cover that though, perhaps because the language has changed.  I think that our language has left us with a loss.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sometimes a spoken paragraph or two leaps out at you and you always remember it.

There have been a few times when someone has said something in a General Conference address and it has stayed with me for the rest of my life.  Something I needed to know and remember.  Here are two of them.  Nearly two decades old in my brain and my brain cells continue to bring them up into my consciousness on occasion.

“The adversary will attempt to thwart your mission, and you will face spiritual and physical danger. But if you will focus on the assignments [that the Lord has given you], if you will heed [His] voice, and if you will refuse to reduce mortality to a sight-seeing or a shopping trip, you will return safely home...
“The adversary is delighted when we act like sightseers... or shoppers...preoccupied with the vain things of this world that suffocate our spirits. Satan baits us with perishable pleasures and preoccupations—our bank accounts, our wardrobes, even our waistlines—for he knows that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (see Matt. 6:21). Unfortunately, it is easy to let the blinding glare of the adversary’s enticements distract us from the light of Christ.”
Sheri Dew, “We are Women of God”, October 1999

“Measure whatever anyone else asks you to do, whether it be from your family, loved ones, your cultural heritage, or traditions you have inherited—measure everything against the teachings of the Savior. Where you find a variance from those teachings, set that matter aside and do not pursue it. It will not bring you happiness” 
Howard W. Hunter “Counsel to Students and Faculty,” Church College of New Zealand, 12 Nov. 1990), quoted by Richard G. Scott in “Removing Barriers to Happiness”. April 1998
I suspect that those struck me because I, personally, either needed them then and/or needed them later.  Either way, they have been very helpful counsel to me over the years, and I am glad that they were said in my hearing.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Parental Praise and Finding Fault

What I have learned about what can happen when parental praise is both superlative and also accompanied by faultfinding:

The bar for being acceptable to the parent is set near perfection.

In your mind, your sense of being worthy of love becomes dependent upon having performed at a high level of what is expected.

If you believe the superlatives, there is a sense of being exceptional.   If you believe the fault-finding there is a real sense of distress at failing to live up to what is expected.   Believing both parts of the dichotomy creates a confused feeling of both pride, and also an enduring sense of dissatisfaction with self.

The combination of being regularly told that it is anticipated that you will be intrinsically amazing but also regularly being reminded that you have been in the past, and still are, annoyingly flawed reinforces the sense that you have failed.  It creates distress at the thought of having those flaws discovered and increases self-recrimination over them.

You become unwilling to express personal feelings that are less than perfect, believing that they will be dealt with judgmentally.

Praise from others ultimately becomes hollow and meaningless to you.

And appreciation, when received, though pleasant, and well meant, ultimately just triggers private dissatisfaction with self because of the past automatic coupling of both praise and fault-finding in the communication patterns that you heard so often as a child.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Moroni 7: Characteristics of actual faith

“Wherefore...[a man] cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek and lowly of heart.  If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God save the meek and lowly in heart;

In the New Testament, when Jesus says that he is meek and lowly, the words there are  “πραΰς” (praus) andταπεινὸς”  (tapeinos)  Which translate as “gentle” and “lowly”.

I think that means that there is no room for assumption or cockiness in the kind of faith and hope that God desires.  I think that means that whenever our faith becomes focused on achieving certain, hoped for outcomes or recognition of the rightness or our desires, to the detriment of our gentle awareness and treatment of others, our faith is not of God.  And whenever our faith fails to include humility and a willingness to receive, graciously, something that is given that is not what we wished for, we’ve got some learning to do.

Positive mental attitudes and focused confidence on desired outcomes, can be helpful sometimes to some people.  
But they are not faith.

I believe that you can save yourself a lot of confusion if you understand that.