Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and rely upon his God."

10. Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their God.
11. Behold, all you that kindle a fire, that encircle yourselves with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled. This shall you have of my hand; you shall lie down in sorrow.
Isaiah 50:10-11  

Matthew Henry was a Presbyterian minister (1662-1714) born in Wales.

His comments on this passage:

Those that truly fear God, obey the voice of Christ. A sincere servant of God may for a long time be without views of eternal happiness. What is likely to be an effectual cure in this sad case? Let him trust in the name of the Lord; and let him stay himself upon the promises of the covenant, and build his hopes on them. 
Let him trust in Christ, trust in that name of his, The Lord our Righteousness; stay himself upon God as his God, in and through a Mediator.
Presuming sinners are warned not to trust in themselves. Their own merit and sufficiency are light and heat to them. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived, and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they  last, seek to warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with bitterness in the end. A godly man's way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. 

It seems that Isaiah understands something that we sometimes forget; that following God does not necessarily mean that we should expect to feel that we are walking in light while we do so.  Sometimes following God feels like walking in darkness.  The whole chapter is written from a perspective of "this discipleship is hard" and "the Lord will not abandon me" and "this will take true grit to get through."  Which is understandable, given what we know about Isaiah and his circumstances.

The warning in verse 11 is a warning against manufacturing a substitute light (be that a belief, or a method of feeling validated, or a way of measuring, or whatever) which we may make on our own, trying to beat back the darkness and gain a sense of progress.  The light we or others create in such situations may feel like it is making our path easier to see or more positive, but Isaiah's pretty sure that living by such light will, eventually, lead to more sorrow than joy.

What is interesting to me is that, in the version in Isaiah, the warning seems to be aimed at those who do not fear the Lord and obey his servant, which might make a believer feel smug and safe. Certainly, Matthew Henry switches pronouns, using the pronouns "they" and "them" when he talks about those "presuming sinners" addressed in verse 11.

However, in the version in 2nd Nephi (chapter 7), those verses are worded so that verse 10 makes it so that verse 11 is clearly aimed at those who do fear the Lord and obey his servant. 

"Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light...that compass yourselves with sparks..which ye have kindled"    

It's not "them", it's "us", the ones who do fear the Lord and are trying to obey his servants, that the warning to not self-manufacture light amidst the darkness we experience is aimed at. And considering that the rest of that chapter talks about how tough and daunting discipleship can be, that makes some pretty good sense to me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lehi, Opposites, and Nihilism, 2 Nephi 2: 1-13

It occurred to me, while reading 2 Ne. 2: 1-13, that "opposition" here does not mean conflict between good and evil as much as it means "the existence of opposites" and the existence of meaning in reality at large.

I think this part of Lehi's instruction to Jacob is not a discussion of "how God set up the world" but, rather, a discourse on the very nature of reality, and, in  sum, how that relates to the reality of God.

Lehi's "God ceases to be God" and if "God is not then we are not" statement there reminded me of Nihilism.  It's been ages since I've read nihilistic literature, so I did a quick review and discovered that there are varieties of it.

So, in more modern philosophical jargon, this discourse of Lehi's would well fit into a discussion on the philosophies of  Nihilist Romanticism and Metaphysical Nihilism and how the adoption of those philosophies affect a person's life experience and disbelief in the idea or existence of God.

(Lehi does not address Fundamental Nihilism, but then  Nietzsche  pointed out Fundamental Nihilism's inherent inconsistencies that make it pretty impossible for anyone to put it into actual practice, so I'm not surprised.)

For further elucidation on the subject of Nihilist Romanticism, Metaphysical Nihilism, Nihilism as a form of religion and other variations on the theme, try this post written by a self-defined ethical skeptic.  (To find out what an ethical skeptic is, read through the contents of the right sidebar on the site--pretty interesting.)  And see if 2 Ne. seems to be related to that to you too.

Saturday, January 09, 2016


So today I read a 100 hour board query in which the questioner said about a decision to get drunk recently:

"It was somewhat impulsive but also not, because I did think about it and chose to do it anyways. ... I obviously feel guilty, but probably not as guilty as I should because I want to do it again. It felt good to do something "wrong," since I've been this rule follower my whole life. Not that it's an excuse for me breaking the word of wisdom. I will probably drink more because I honestly feel like I need to get this urge out of my system. ... I still believe in the church and I know it's true. Honestly. but I couldn't fight the urge to drink anymore. Doesn't help that I liked it, either. Such a confusing feeling right now."

The questioner's main question was about how that would affect his standing in the church, but that's not what I was interested in when I read the question.  What struck me was his relationship with the principle of obedience.

"It felt good to do something wrong."  

"I've been this rule follower my whole life."  

Obedience is such a tricky principle.  It can prevent a lot of sorrow and regret by preventing us from doing things that bring sorrow and regret.  But, at the same time, it can become poison when we make it the virtue we live and identify ourselves with.  

Obedience for the sake of obedience is simply conscious, determined self-control for the sake of self-control.   The virtue goes out of a virtue when it becomes a source of self-identity or pride or a way of being able to see oneself as acceptable.  And when a virtue loses the qualities that make it virtuous, and instead, ever so unconsciously to us, it becomes an idol or a standard that we worship as we proximate it's outward characteristics in our actions, it becomes a prison rather than a liberation. 

A virtue lived and loved because of a comprehension of an understanding of the divine nature of that virtue and a deep respect and gratitude for the light and love and peace that comes from incorporating that virtue into your life will free you.  

A virtue lived and loved because it makes you feel competent, "good" or admirable, and which is maintained by sheer will-power or by the desire for respect from others will eventually feel like a strangle hold.

Some respond to that sense of strangling by abandoning that virtue.   And then they are confused by the fact that they enjoyed that abandonment.  Not having learned the light, love and peace that comes from living a virtue, but only understanding the sense of mastery or self-worth or pride that may come by living the outward patterns of it, they are confused.  They are confused by the fact that feeling less strangled feels good.  Isn't this virtue they've been practicing supposed to feel better than abandoning it?

"Honestly. but I couldn't fight the urge to drink anymore. Doesn't help that I liked it, either. Such a confusing feeling right now."

The truth is, if my embracing of a virtue is simply a deliberate, determined, self-focused practice of self-mastery, then yes, abandonment of it will likely feel like a liberation.

Others will respond to that sense of strangling, not by abandoning, but by denigrating others who they think do not live that virtue, thereby propping up the sense of being worthy of the self-respect or respect of others that they so desire as they try to focus on that in order to mask their sense of restriction. You probably know people who do that too.

And then this:
I still believe in the church and I know it's true.

But spiritual confirmation of a question posed is not what brings light and freedom.  Just obeying for the sake of obedience doesn't either.  Neither does alms-giving for the sake of giving alms, or testifying for the sake of testifying, or any number of freely given spiritual gifts, practiced for the sake of practicing them.  

It reminds me of the parenting mantra that L. and I learned
"The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship."

Loving relationships are, ultimately, what make life most worthwhile, free, and light-filled.  

So, the purpose of living virtues is not to make us have the self-control or sense of positive self-identity involved in living a virtuous life.  The purpose of living virtues is to strengthen our relationship.

The relationship with whom?

I have found that if you wish to find freedom, light and peace in virtues, you will need to establish a relationship of love, understanding and communication with the source of those virtues, however you understand that source. 

It seems that simply living by the standards of a virtue while focusing on the virtue and yourself, instead of your relationship with the source, will likely hinder you, usually in ways that you will sense but not understand. And whether you understand why or not, will lead to real frustration or confusion or anger or alienation from others at some point down the road.

So how to teach the relationship with the source of the virtue as opposed to the rightness of the virtue itself in order to help people enjoy that light and freedom?  A good question for me to consider.