Having Hope in a Darkening World

At times, as I look at the upheavals and changes in the world, it is easy to get dispirited or lose hope. As I read of the calamities and destruction foretold by Prophets both ancient and modern, it is easy to be filled with fear. As the positions the Church holds become less and less accepted, I wonder what the future will hold. Will I lose friends or jobs or opportunities because of my faith? WIll I one day be called to sacrifice even more?

Yet, this weekend I had an incredible opportunity that reminded me of the importance of keeping hope despite all of these trials. I was able to meet with an influential church leader (whose identity I will not mention) and to discuss some of the current challenges facing the family. Throughout it all, I came away impressed that despite his keen awareness of the difficult issues facing the church and the nation, his message was one of hope. He felt impressed that the message that our generation needs to hear is one of hope. Despite increasing trials, the family, the church, and society will endure. 

I reflected on this message after my meeting, and came away impressed of its truthfulness. In the scriptures there are copious examples that provide us a reason to hope. Satan thought that he had triumphed when he convinced Eve and Adam to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The scriptures teach that ” he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world.” (Moses 4:6). For a moment, it seemed that Satan had triumphed. Adam and Eve were driven from the garden and shut off from the presence of God. Darkness, murder and wickedness spread across the world. Satan had great power and dominion over the world. And yet the fall contained the very seeds of rebirth that would culminate in the flourishing of the atonement. 

Adam and Eve understood this truth and therefore rejoiced even in a fallen world.

“And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:10-11).”

Another powerful example is found in Mormon’s final epistle to his son Moroni. The total destruction of the Nephites was before them. They would be hunted until none remained. Yet, even in this moment of despair Mormon urged his son to have hope:

“My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever. And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen. (Moroni 9: 25-26).”

The atonement of course represents one of the most poignant examples of this phenomenon. As Christ suffered in the garden and on the cross, the forces of darkness seemed in complete control. One of the apostles had betrayed him another denied him and the rest had scattered. The very elements seemed to shudder in pain and the sky was darkened on at least two continents. Yet, without Christ’s death there could not have been an atonement. In his sacrifice lay the seeds of rebirth and resurrection. 

All of these examples in the scriptures should give us great hope. Despite trials and challenges, good will triumph over evil in the long run. Christ has overcome the world. We need not fear. Even though evil will at times have small victories, Christ will be the victor. We are called to play our part and to declare a message of hope to a darkened world. We may at times wish we lived in a different times, but truthfully we live in the greatest of all dispensations. As the world darkens, others will be drawn to the light of the Gospel. 

I love President Packer’s words of hope from a recent conference

“Sometimes you might be tempted to think as I did from time to time in my youth: “The way things are going, the world’s going to be over with. The end of the world is going to come before I get to where I should be.” Not so! You can look forward to doing it right—getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren.”

 

 

Faith, Politics and Charity: Worshiping an Awesome God

I have lately been doing research on the connection between Religious Freedom and other liberties that we treasure in society such (especially Freedom of Speech). In doing so, I have come across a lot of really interesting quotes highlighting the connections between the “first freedoms.”

I was quite pleasantly surprised to read some of the words of President Obama at a recent prayer breakfast. President Obama gets a lot of criticism from many religious individuals on a wide range of issues from the contraception mandate to abortion, but I was pleased to hear him give a strong defense of religious liberty and to talk personally about how his belief in Christ animates his values. Each of his speeches has been quite beautiful. Here’s one from 2011 for instance.

One particular part stood out to me:

“Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.  And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.  Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights. “

 

For me, this was a beautiful reminder that religious liberty has allowed this country to flourish and that religious motives have been behind so much of the progress in this nation’s history. Religious ideals brought many of our ancestors to these shores and helped them to build up a city on a shinning hill. For all of our nation’s flaws, these ideals have been its guiding force. And they continue to be so today. And that is true on both sides of the aisle.

I think it’s really valuable to remember that we can read the same scriptures and truly believe in God and yet reach different conclusions. Some read the saviors call for charity and seek to construct government programs to alleviate suffering. Others, see the focus on agency and aschew such efforts focusing instead on private choice. Some seek to protect unborn children, while others focus on lifting women out of poverty by offering birth control. 

I was also reminded of a part of President Obama’s 2004 convention speech: 

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. . We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

It’s been really a dispiriting time to be a defender of socially conservative positions. Every time one makes an effort to advocate for traditional notions of marriage, one is tarred with the brush of bigotry. The comparisons with Jim Crow instantly sunk efforts at a moderate expansion of religious liberty in Arizona.

Yet, on the other hand I have personally witnesses pro-choice or pro-same sex maarriage or pro-Obamacare members of the church called hypocrites and shunned. This is completely inappropriate. 

We are all brothers and sisters. We are all seeking to follow our conscience and to do the best we can in attempting to translate our beliefs into policy. 

I make a plea for charity on both sides of the political isle. We can all be a little bit more humble. We can all chose to not second guess the motives of those on the other side. To not assume that those that believe in God differently must secretly be Muslim rather than Christian (as conspiracy theorists have labelled Obama), or that they must truly be racist bigots. 

I will continue to fight for what I believe to be true. I will fight for the religious liberties which I hold dear. But as I do so, I will make an effort to not impugn or question the motives of those with whom I disagree. Those fighting for the dignity of gay couples or those fighting for the impoverished women’s access to birth control deserve my respect even though I may vehemently disagree with the means and tools they use to achieve those ends. 

Ultimately, I am reminded of Elder Holland’s stirring words in a CES devotional last year:

“My young friends, there is a wide variety of beliefs in this world, and there is moral agency for all, but no one is entitled to act as if God is mute on these subjects or as if commandments only matter if there is public agreement over them. In the 21st century we cannot flee any longer. We are going to have to fight for laws and circumstances and environments that allow the free exercise of religion and our franchise in it. That is one way we can tolerate being in Babylon but not of it.

 

I know of no more important ability and no greater integrity for us to demonstrate in a world from which we cannot flee than to walk that careful path—taking a moral stand according to what God has declared and the laws He has given, but doing it compassionately and with understanding and great charity. Talk about a hard thing to do—to distinguish perfectly between the sin and the sinner. I know of few distinctions that are harder to make, or at least harder to articulate, but we must lovingly try to do exactly that. Believe me, brothers and sisters, in the world into which we are moving, we are going to have a lot of opportunity to develop such strength, display such courage, and demonstrate such compassion—all at the same time. “

 I know that this is a hard path to walk, but it is the path of the true disciple. 

Thy Will Be Done: Prayer and the Lord’s Plan

This week, in a e-mail group that I participate in, the current situation in the Ukraine came up, and members of the group encouraged each other to pray and fast for those suffering in Ukraine.

This request got me thinking about the propriety of praying for specific outcomes in our prayer. 

I thought back to a particular experience that taught me a great deal of humility in regard to both prayer and politics:

When I was an undergrad at Brandeis University, I was very liberal and very strongly opposed to the War in Iraq and war generally. I actually signed on to a conscientious objectors list at one point. I also participated in anti-war rallies and peace vigils. At Brandeis, the various chaplains (Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish) organized a weekly prayer circle. They would get together weekly and pray that the war would end and that the U.S. would realize its mistake. In 2006 at the time when President Bush announced the surge, I remember joining them as they prayed that the surge would end. I also heard very specific prayers critical of other U.S. policies at various events. 

For me, the results of the surge changed my views on politics and also my views on prayer. Something that I had fought so hard against and even prayed against (though I wasn’t really a strong believer at the time) had turned out to be the right policy at the right time. Although it was dramatically unpopular, the surge helped turn around the war and helped turn an unmitigated disaster into a potential victory. 

From this experience, I specifically learned that sometimes we do not have the whole picture. I am of course not suggesting that any particular conflict is God’s will. But this experience helped me realize that governments, political parties, and ultimately each of us tend to see things “through a glass darkly.” 

God on the other hand sees the big picture. He knows what good a particular trial can bring about on both a global and a personal level. One deeply personal example for me is the Holocaust. So many of my ancestors died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Such unspeakable human suffering is painful and difficult to fathom. I know many whose faith in God was irrevocably shattered because they could not understand how he allowed such suffering. And yet… one sees the state of Israel emerging as a result of the war. One sees the gathering accelerating as God’s hand moves. One sees the spread of international human rights and the increasing protection of liberty throughout the world. I don’t claim to know the full answer to “why,” but I have the humility to accept that it is part of God’s plan.  

Because of this experience with the Iraq war peace vigils, I am very reluctant to pray for specific favored policy outcomes. In 2012 I heard some pray that Romney would win the election and others pray that Obama would win. I found this prayer to be akin to sports fans cheering that their prospective teams would win the Superbowl (and equally futile). God sees the bigger picture and he knows in what direction this country should head. Likewise, I don’t think its appropriate to pray that the Supreme Court side with Hobby Lobby in the Contraception mandate cases or take a particular stance on gay marriage.

This isn’t to say that prayer isn’t worthwhile in these areas. However, in praying for our leaders, or for social policy our prayers should be tempered with humility. I have heard several general authorities and leaders of the church for instance pray that the hearts of our leaders be softened that they may be able to listen to the light of Christ that is within them. I find this to be a much more appropriate prayer than wishing for a particular result.

In doing so, I believe those leaders are modeling their prayer after the Lord’s manner of prayer. In all that he did, he prayed that the will of God be done. Christ prayed that those around him would be strengthened and comforted, but not for particular outcomes in their trials. If Christ–the Son of God, the Messiah and the God of Israel–had such humility throughout his mortal ministry, then so should we.

I also am also not suggesting that believers simply sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happens. Far from it. Disciples of Christ should act vigorously to change the society around them. Disciples should speak out for what they believe to be true and not back down in the face of opposition.

But in prayer, our attitude should be one of submission and humility:Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.