Ever since I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve wondered when the promised trials were going to come. You know – the inevitable trials that come to everyone at some point in their lives. After all, even though the gospel is supposed to bring us great joy, we don’t dare get too comfortable. At least, that appeared to me to be the message. Of course, I was 45 years old at the time, and had certainly weathered my fair share of challenges – mostly self-generated – but it seemed like once I joined the church, everything in my life was smooth sailing and, to be honest, that scared me. Cliché’s like, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” or “enjoy it while it lasts” didn’t exactly soothe my fears, but they did keep me from dwelling for too long on the sense of impending doom that seemed certain to await me somewhere in the future. I even entertained the possibility that I had already endured my share of trials, and that maybe my life would be smooth sailing from here on out. Oh, the foolish entertainments of men! Those who know me, even if only through social media, probably know by now that, from a spiritual standpoint, my life has become a bit more challenging over the last few months. Where I used to say to myself, “When will the trials come,” I have recently found myself wondering, “When will this be over?”. One time recently, I said to the Lord, “Lord, this is hard”. His answer came quite clearly…“It’s not supposed to be easy right now.” O…K…! Well, I guess I asked for that, didn’t I? After all, I did say one day, “Lord – if I must face trials in order to become sanctified unto thee – in order to see your face – so be it. I trust that you will not give me any more than I can handle”. Today, on the plane, I was pondering some things (I was actually asking “just exactly what is a church” – but that’s a topic for another post), and it became very clear that our journey here is never supposed to be easy. It’s just not in the plan. We can choose comfort if we wish, but that’s not why we’re here. As a matter of fact, I expect to make the point in this post that, if life is easy – if we’re cruising spiritually – we’re probably doing something wrong, or not doing something right. Where do I begin? Perhaps we can begin with a sampling the lives of some who we’re pretty sure have had their calling and election made sure. How about Abraham? Easy life? Uh – nope! Ok – let’s see…Moses? Nope – pretty much a stress-filled life from the time he rebelled against injustice and killed the Egyptian overseer. Isaiah certainly fits the mold, as did most of the great prophets of the Old – and New – Testaments. Jeremiah, Jonah, Ezekiel….John the Baptist, Peter, James (the first of the apostles to be martyred), John…even Christ Himself. How about Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Elizabeth – John the Baptist’s mother? Were the lives of the Book of Mormon heroes “comfortable”? We need only consider the lives of Lehi, Nephi, Alma, Ammon, the people of Limhi, and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis to realize that such was not to be their fate. Great rewards came to them only at the cost of great sacrifice. Leap forward to more recent times and consider Joseph Smith’s life; even that of his brother, and fellow prophet, seer and revelator, Hyrum. Were their lives easy? Even the most cursory scan of their histories would answer that question. In summary, not only were their lives more difficult because they didn’t have Facebook, their lives were so remarkable in their difficulty that their names are household icons throughout the Christian and LDS world. Why, exactly, is the life of a true follower of Christ necessarily difficult? These are the thoughts that came flooding into my heart and mind as I pondered this question on the plane:
“…And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
To gain eternal life, we must know God. Think about that for a minute…we must “KNOW” God. I’m convinced that we are very good at assigning some of the more astounding and miraculous messages from the scriptures to a euphemistic status. I think doing this is a tool of the destroyer – one of the ways in which he orchestrated the removal of “plain and precious things” from the Bible – perhaps even from our modern scriptures. Just make sure everyone takes them metaphorically, and they’ll never even consider the possibility that they have to strive for its literal fulfillment. Thus, I suggest that, in order to gain eternal life, we must literally come to KNOW God. Can this be accomplished by cruising through our spiritual journey, without taking risks, without pushing the envelope? Do we really think that we can KNOW God without reaching out to Him in desperate thought, word, and deed?
“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.” (Lectures on Faith, 6:7)
Here again, I think, we run the risk of euphemizing (yep – that’s a word. It passed spell-check) this statement into meaninglessness. The prophet Joseph – the man revered by all Latter-day Saints as the prophet of this dispensation, the prophet of the restoration, taught that in order to obtain life (eternal life) and salvation, we must have the faith that can only be obtained by the sacrifice of all earthly things. We’ve all heard this, right? But do we really examine our lives in light of this? Are we really willing to sacrifice all earthly things in order to develop the faith necessary to obtain eternal life and salvation? Also, have we considered that these things that we are unwilling to sacrifice actually prevent us from developing this faith necessary for salvation? I know a single mother who has been, over the past 2-3 years, stripped of almost all her earthly possessions. Some she has sold; most she has simply given away. She simply has no room, either physically or spiritually, for them in her life. She has been told by the Lord to buy a travel trailer for her and her children to live in. Even though she had no income from traditional sources, she set out to do what the Lord told her to do. At times, she had to swallow her pride and ask for help. She did so. At other times, funds just miraculously appeared. She now has a travel trailer, and is preparing to do whatever the Lord tells her to do next. She exercised the faith, and he provided the means. Consider Nephi standing outside the walls of Jerusalem trying to figure out how he was going to obtain the plates. Even after all their worldly goods had been taken from them; even after he and his brothers had been forced to flee for their lives; he was still trying to figure out a way to accomplish what the Lord had commanded him to do. This is the kind of sacrifice that, according to Joseph, is required of each of us if we are to obtain eternal life and salvation. Miracles await those who are willing to make such sacrifices.
What Comes Between Us and the Lord?
I wrote in a previous post about how our possessions, or the love of those possessions, can easily come between us and the lord. If I may quote:
We humans have always accumulated possessions because we think they will protect us from the things we cannot control. In this way, our possessions often come between us and Christ, because they often serve to convince us that we do not need Him. On the contrary, we must look to Christ and only Christ to protect us. Without Him we are nothing. Furthermore, we cannot exercise faith in Christ unto salvation when we depend, no matter how subtly, upon our possessions to insulate us from the unpredictable world around us.
Consider the father who spends 12 hours a day at work, sits on the high council, and then, because he needs time to himself, plays in a racquetball league on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He may truly be a dedicated father and husband, but my life experience suggests that he may actually be insulating himself from the real responsibilities, from the real relationships, with his family – something that perhaps he is ultimately uncomfortable with. So – he comes to depend upon the things he trusts. But will he ever know his family, or has he trusted in other gods?
Christ vs. babylon
The doctrine of Christ, the teachings of Christ, the very person of Christ, is in direct opposition to the world we live in – a world that I frequently label “babylon” with a lower-case b. We live in babylon. Its influences are everywhere and are largely unescapable. Even our temples do not provide a complete sanctuary – but I won’t go into details on that. The tension that we live in is symbolized by the “war in heaven”, and the war wages on today. If anything, it is intensifying. To put it bluntly, if we are comfortable in babylon, we’re probably not living in a way that will enable us to know Christ.
A Second Meridian of Time
In Sunday School this past week, we were discussing the miraculous events surrounding the Savior’s birth. The instructor encouraged us to imagine being a shepherd in the field when the angel appeared unto them. He also pointed out that, while Joseph and Mary, she being “great with child”, were traveling to Bethlehem, the relief society sisters in the “Nazareth First Ward” were most certainly wagging their tongues about the circumstances surrounding Mary’s “condition”. Mary and Joseph found themselves as primary actors in the greatest drama in the history of God’s relationship with man. They were faithful. They accepted their roles honorably, even if they had doubts and questions. Those around them, I’m sure, did not make it very comfortable for them. I’m sure they had no doubts or questions, and were quite secure in their theological and cultural box, but ultimately, they were on the outside looking in, because the Lord had other plans. We, ourselves, are likely living on the cusp of a “second meridian of time” – the time of the second coming. We have been told that miraculous things will happen in the times before His return. There will be nothing comfortable about these times. Those who have roles to play will be required to exhibit great faith and courage. If the Lord’s patterns of the past hold true, we can be sure these players will find themselves acting outside the theological and cultural “box” of our day. Will we accept our roles honorably, exercising that great faith and courage even in the face of unimaginable doubts and questions, or will we be like the sisters of the “Nazareth First Ward”, condemning those whom the Lord has called? Will we be actors in this great drama, or will we find ourselves on the outside? Furthermore, what will the rules be as this drama unfolds? How will “the box” be defined? By whom will it be defined? I guarantee one thing. For those whom the Lord has called to carry out His will in these last days, comfort will quickly become a faint, distant memory.
Zion – Again
I have often heard it said among faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we have not been commanded to live the law of Zion. I have surmised that they consider the law of tithing to be the substitute. In other words, we have accepted the lower law. We condemn the Israelites for accepting the lower law – the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments – because they were obviously not prepared for the higher law, yet we excuse ourselves in thinking that we have been given a reprieve. I simply do not accept that. D&C 70:14 says:
“Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.”
In other words, if you don’t live the higher law, you cannot qualify for the higher blessings. Surely we have not forgotten D&C 130:20, which says:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated.”
This scripture is quoted often, but rarely in this context. Would anyone question whether we can build Zion without the “abundance of manifestations” that was once given? One could easily speculate that these manifestations were necessary if the Saints were going to build Zion, and that once it became clear that they were not going to be able to pull that off, the blessings were withdrawn. It follows, of course, that if we are going to build Zion, someone is going to have to fulfill the law upon which these blessings are predicated before they will be extended, and before we can build Zion. I think this pretty much dispels any possibility that the prophet is going to suddenly call an army to march to Jackson County and build the New Jerusalem. From whom will he draw his forces? No – I’m convinced that we must first live the higher law, and then the blessings will be extended. This is the Lord’s way, and I don’t see how it can be any other way. The question then becomes obvious…who will live this higher law? Where? When? How? When it comes to Zion, we must continue to push ourselves, to sacrifice, to re-evaluate our priorities, our needs, and our dependencies, until the following conditions exist:
- We are pure in heart (have set aside our pride, jealousies, and fears)
- There are no poor among us
- We are each and every one of us dependent upon Christ, having no other gods before us, and are guided in all that we do by the Holy Ghost. This will be the government of Zion.
Obviously, it doesn’t take much to understand that the journey from where we are today to where we must be will not be a journey of comfort. Comfort, as we understand it, will not be part of the formula.
So, I’ve stopped wondering when the trials are going to come. They have come. As a matter of fact, I asked for them. On the other hand, I’m not really wondering “when they are going to stop?” I now understand that being comfortable is just not going to be part of my future, at least not unless I redefine the word as it applies to me. I thank my God for these trials. I rejoice in them. I have come to realize that they are necessary for me to be able to return to Him. These trials, though, are not the normal trials that come with our mortal existence. Sickness, pain, the loss of love ones, these are part of life that none of us can avoid. Everyone experiences those trials. No, these are different types of trials – trials that we must learn to cherish. These are the trials that come from standing up for truth. These are trials that result when we say, “Lord, I will follow thee, and thee alone.” These are the trials that the true follower of Christ secretly longs for, even begs for; the trials that result when we “seek, ask, and knock”, pleading desperately that we might serve Him; even that we might suffer like Him; that we might truly know Him. Does not having comfort mean that I will not have joy? Most definitely not! The joy that has come so far, and that I know will continue to come, is very real. It is the joy of knowing my Savior, of learning to trust Him and of gaining His trust. It is impossible to describe, but it is real and it is priceless. I rejoice that I might be chosen to have a small part to play as this great drama of the last days unfolds. It may not be a time of comfort, but it will a time of exquisite joy. P.S. I was at a fireside last night delivered by retired BYU Professor John Hall. The topic was John – the apostle, the revelator, the beloved. He began by describing some of disagreements among biblical scholars concerning the nature of Christ; between those who espouse a High Christology (Christ is the only begotten son of God) and those who promote a Low Christology (Christ was a very moral and profoundly wise teacher, but just a man). As Professor Hall described this disagreement among scholars, I received a powerful witness that, “They don’t know Him!” I knew, in that moment, that if they knew Him the way I know Him, there would be no argument. Furthermore, knowing Him as I do, I understand that any and all labels are grossly inadequate, because they can never describe Him. These scholars can only flail about in a futile attempt to understand Him, because the only way to know Him is to go directly to the source. This knowledge with which I have been blessed is greater than words. It is real, it is precious…it is Love. It is available to all who seek Him, even if at the cost of worldly comfort.