I have been quite occupied lately with thoughts of Zion. I wrote recently of the impressions I received after my study of D&C 78. My wife and I read together John Pontius’ account of “Spencer’s” visions of Zion in the book “Visions of Glory”. Most importantly, though, I was prompted to re-read Hugh Nibley’s “Approaching Zion”, a collection of essays in which he boldly calls the church and its members to task for rejecting the United Order and the Law of Consecration. One should understand that this is a 600+ page book written by one who is considered by many to be one of the greatest LDS scholars who ever lived. While this book demonstrates that he is not only a world-class scholar, but also a spiritual giant, it is not something most sane people would subject themselves to once, let alone twice, yet I have been devouring it again with a sure knowledge that it contains a message that is quite pertinent to my salvation.
One night not too long ago, while lying in bed having read D&C 42 that morning and having read some from Professor Nibley that evening, I was casually praying as I often do while falling asleep. I kept repeating to the Lord, “You commanded us, and we rejected it! You commanded us, and we rejected it!” I just can’t get over that thought! I feel so saddened and helpless, and I don’t know what to do about it! The early church rejected it, but I don’t have to, right? Yet, how can I begin to truly live the law of consecration the way the Lord commanded? There is no system set up for me to just give all my “surplus” to the church; the bishop would probably laugh at me, or tell me that he simply has no place to store it. I continue to be haunted by that thought…You commanded us, and we rejected it! I just do not want to be part of a people or a church who outright rejected the Lord’s commandment.
I feel compelled to make it clear that my purpose in writing this is not to criticize anyone. I do not know how I would have reacted in those circumstances. I am not criticizing the saints, the church, or its leaders, either then or now. So when I say, “I do not want to be part…..”, I am simply expressing my honest thoughts and feelings, not declaring an open rebellion. I am declaring, though, that I don’t want to perpetuate this less-than-optimal situation by exclaiming “All is well in Zion” and going merrily along my way. I am declaring my intent to search diligently for an understanding of what the Lord would have me do under the circumstances that exist today.
As one might expect, I began praying, and I actually received a measure of comfort. I felt the Lord saying, “Don’t worry about it…..you don’t have a problem”. I can accept this – my wife and I live in a very modest home, we drive old cars, we are fairly generous in helping our family, and there is nothing about us that would give any indication that we have our hearts set on riches. We served a full-time mission while we were in our mid-50’s and far from retired or financially “secure”. Yet, I remain decidedly uncomforted. Instead, I want to shout to the world, “Don’t you see! All of our problems – the economy, the temptation and burden of debt, the wars, the environment, the blatant attacks on liberty – it’s all because we are living by Satan’s system – a system that was initiated through Cain and which is perpetuated with increasing boldness by the secret combinations of our day.” It is a system into which are sown the seeds of “death, decay, dirt, diabolism and despair” (Frederick Warburg, “Publisher’s Report,”, All Authors Are Equal, as quoted in “Approaching Zion” by Hugh Nibley).
Our current economic system, even capitalism, carries in it the seeds of self-destruction! Unless tempered by charity – true charity, the pure love of Christ – capitalism necessarily leads to exploitation of the poor by the rich. The “distribution of wealth” unavoidably begins to assume the model we see today, with roughly 90% of the wealth in the United States being held by 10% of the people. I recently came across this study showing that 40% of the wealth in the US is held by 1% of the population. Pareto’s law, the famous 80/20 rule, dictates that, statistically, unless acted upon by outside forces, 80% of the wealth in any system will naturally gravitate into the hands of 20% of the people. Yet, the scriptures repeatedly tell us that in Zion there shall be no poor – that there should not be any who are above another. D&C 78:5-6 says:
“That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;
Money is popularly described as “the root of all evil”, but this is actually derived from Paul’s statement that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). I’m starting to realize the extent to which both statements are true – even that money itself is evil. Satan himself revealed his hand when he said, “You can buy anything in this world with money”. Why is money such a problem? I think I have figured it out. In the current movie, “Oz, the Great and Powerful”, there is a scene which depicts what has become cliché over the centuries – that of a poor man coming across a treasure of unimaginable magnitude. In this case, Oz is introduced into a cavern full of gold which is promised him if he is indeed the great and powerful wizard of prophecy. This humble, if not entirely honest man became, of course, immediately ecstatic over it – literally swimming in the piles of treasure; but why? (He is ultimately redeemed, for anyone who is concerned). One cannot eat gold. Gold doesn’t help one gain love or true respect. Gold cannot clothe or shelter you. Gold certainly does not in any way make one more comfortable. In a world without money, only possessions that are useful have value, and they only have value if they are being used. All the gold in the world doesn’t do one any good if one is cold and hungry and alone. Likewise all the money in the world does no good except as it allows one to acquire those needed things. A person can hoard possessions all they want, but it does them no good. One only receives value from possessions that bring them comfort and enjoyment. But if a person hoards money…especially if it is in limited supply (or a controlled supply – think Federal Reserve), that person can bribe others to do his or her bidding because he has the money and they don’t, and they need the money to acquire the goods that bring them comfort and enjoyment. The person who has the money thus has power over others. Money makes it easier to acquire power and gain. Oh the cunning of that evil one! It is so obvious to me now, yet we all buy into it. One might say we are, in our world today, trapped by it.
So, if capitalism is not the answer, then what is? Some foolishly suggest that socialism, or some form of socialism, is necessary to achieve Zion, but this is simply forced distribution of wealth – a blatant attack on agency. You see, Satan has us coming and going. Both systems are designed to give the few power over the agency of the many. With capitalism, he has the few setting their hearts on riches and getting them, thereby turning away from God, and everyone else being covetous of the rich. Socialism is simply a variation on the same theme. The result, from a spiritual standpoint, is the same. Either way, agency is compromised. Note 3 Nephi 6:15:
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.
15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this-Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
16 And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.
I am convinced now that the answer is explained in “Work We Must, but the Lunch is Free”, Professor Nibley’s talk given in 1982 before the Cannon-Hinkley Club. In it, he reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God. We own nothing – we are merely stewards. In other words, there is a free lunch. The Lord tells us in D&C 104:17-18:
…for the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
I’ve heard it said many times that this scripture declares that we don’t need to be concerned about preserving the earth’s resources, because there will be plenty. But this self-serving interpretation fails to take into account those who are taking more than is needful. Professor Nibley comments:
Who can be “agents unto themselves” if they are in bondage to others and have to accept their terms? The abundance of supplies is not placed here as the reward for which we are all striving – that is Satan’s decoy trick, that is what he promises those who serve him – the famous “pact with the devil” by which Mephisto supplies you with all the wealth and power you could dream of as long as you are here…. (Approaching Zion – pgs. 402-403)
You see, those who gather riches by taking more than their share – more than what they need – are keeping those riches from others. The promise of there being “enough and to spare” is null and void. The gifts, the “lunch”, that the Lord has given us, are simply not ours to hoard. We have no right to keep more than we need – it’s not ours!
I am further convinced that every minute we spend accumulating wealth, whether it be for comfort or security or protection or power (they’re really all synonymous – we acquire them because we don’t truly trust the Lord and His promises) is time we are stealing from our eternal selves; it is time He has given us as a stewardship; time that he expects us to be spending becoming what He wants us to be. It is time we could and should be spending becoming Gods, and that does not include learning how to accumulate wealth and power at the expense of others. It does not include figuring out how we can best insulate ourselves from the unpredictability of this world and from the attempts of others to wield power over us.
In the title of Professor Nibley’s afore-mentioned essay, he says, “Work we must….”. What kind of work must we be doing then? Yes, Adam was told that, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19) but is that all? It is clear to me that we can all have enough to eat and to spare without working even 8 hours a day. The rest of the time I suspect we are just seeking to elevate ourselves above others or to hedge up possessions against an uncertain future. Instead, we need to be working on loving each other, lifting up the hands of those who suffer, seeking the faith to work miracles……in short – becoming Gods! And it’s not acceptable to say, “I’m going to build up my wealth and then serve the Lord. This whole issue is about trust. Zion is about being one with the Lord. How can I be one with the Lord if I don’t trust Him? How can I be one with the Lord if I don’t obey Him? And He commanded us…..but we rejected it. It still makes me sad to think about that.
Professor Nibley emphasizes repeatedly how the Law of Moses – the true Law of Moses – as documented in the Book of Deuteronomy, requires of the Israelites that they be generous with the gifts they have been given. (Scriptural references taken from “Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley, pgs 430-432) Examples:
- All debts cancelled every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)
- All slaves and servants are freed every seven years – WITH a generous endowment with which to start their new life. (Deuteronomy 15:13-14)
- A portion of the harvest is to be left for the poor, the birds, or other animals to eat. (Deuteronomy 24:19-20)
- All of this must be done with a charitable heart, for if it is done grudgingly, “…heaven will be brass over thy head and the earth will be iron beneath thy feet” (Deuteronomy 23:25)
It is readily apparent that these laws are intended to
- Prevent us from setting our hearts on our riches
- Preserve human rights and dignity
- Provide all with access to the bounteous blessings of the Lord
- Encourage us to trust that the Lord will continue to bless us if we will but trust in Him and in His ways!
It is also readily apparent to me that if we are to “know God” (John 17:3), we must take these principles to heart, obey them, and in doing so come to understand their purpose and the wisdom behind them – even if it is in opposition to conventional wisdom (the ways of the world…Babylon). We must strive to rise above Satan’s most insidious plan and keep our hearts perfectly focused on doing the Lord’s work, even as we are surrounded by a telestial existence.
Still, we live in the world. What does the Lord ask of us today? In the temple, we covenant to “accept” the law of consecration. What exactly does that mean? To me, it means to understand and internalize the spirit of the law. It means to acknowledge in the deepest level of my being that all that I have, even all that I am, is a gift from God. Yet, how do I manifest that understanding in my personal life? It means we must strive to rise above Satan’s most insidious plan and remain perfectly focused on doing His work, even as we are surrounded by a telestial existence, a challenge which I have also discussed previously. And what of Zion itself, which we already know will be built around this celestial law, and which I believe will be built only by those who have already become a Zion people in their hearts? We must be preparing ourselves and others for Zion, which will come when we are prepared to receive and sustain it.
Here I need to share a portion of a blessing I received when I was recently set apart as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple. I was counseled in the blessing that “knowledge cannot be allowed to outpace becoming”. In other words, I was told very clearly that all of my study, knowledge and understanding of the principles of the gospel, the history of the church, and the “hidden” things of the Kingdom, can easily do more harm than good if I am not becoming at the same pace that I gain knowledge. In other words, the Lord was saying that my becoming is lagging behind even what limited knowledge I do have; and that I have a lot of work to do – a lot to learn; a lot to become.
So, how do I become one who has fulfilled my covenant and truly accepted the law of consecration? How do I become one whose heart is such that the Lord would choose me to help build Zion? Well, it sure feels like consecrating 8 hours of every Saturday afternoon and evening to work in the temple is a step in the right direction. I mean, when will I party?! (Oh, yeah…we don’t party. Heavy sigh). Seriously, I can only become the person that would be chosen to build Zion through humble submission to the Lord’s will. I honestly don’t know yet how this transition will be manifested, but I know it must happen. I know I must become even more humble, even less prideful, and even more trusting in the Lord’s plan for me. I know I must become charity. Now that I can see where I need to go, I must trust in the Lord to help me get there, and I must never cease striving, because, frankly, to be turned away at the gates of Zion because my heart was not sanctified to the Lord’s will, because I had not become Zion, would be an eternal disappointment, and one which I’m not sure I could abide.