Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

Today my wife and I taught Sunday School in our ward. Our subject was Isaiah 40-49. As I read the material, I was struck by the beautiful words of compassion and comfort that Isaiah offers to Israel (“Comfort Ye, O Comfort Ye” is the first verse of Chapter 40). I loved that Isaiah speaks so powerfully of the Lord’s never ending compassion and care for his people. A couple of verses in particular resonate with me each time I read these chapters.

13 ¶Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.

 14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.

 15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.

 16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

I love the powerful image that these verses invoke. When I think of the nails driven into the saviors palms and wrists, it is almost overwhelming to think that it was done for me and for each of us. Yet, God literally engraved each of us on the plan of his hands. When Christ appeared to his disciples and to the Nephites, he showed them the wounds on his hands. Those wounds remain as a tangible symbol of the atonement. As a tangible reminder of how much Christ gave up for each one of us.

Having a young child (3.5 months) helps me to really connect with verse 15 as well. As I have seen my wife feeding my daughter, I have witnessed the incredibly powerful bond that has formed between them. Yet, were we not nurtured at our Heavenly Father’s side in the pre-earth life? Does he not love us and care for us with the same level of devoted compassion as a mother feeding a child.

I testify that the Lord truly does love us with that same devoted love. He loved us so much that he sent his firstborn and beloved son to die for us. Christ loves us so much that he suffered the atonement and forever engraved us on the palm of his hands. I am so grateful for that love and bear my witness of it.

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A Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Today, I read American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church which is written by Alex Beam and non-Mormon writer. It was a competent history of the martyrdom (and a somewhat more flawed account of early Church history) and a highly enjoyable read.

As I put the book down, the spirit strongly confirmed to me once again that Joseph Smith truly was Prophet of God. Although he was imperfect and deeply flawed, he was an instrument in the hands of God for the restoration of his Church and many many doctrines vital for our salvation and exaltation.

I was reminded of Elder Anderson’s masterful talk on the Prophet from General Conference. Elder Anderson recounted the prophecy that Joseph Smith’s name would be known for both good and ill across the world, and warned that “The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish.” While Beam’s book was not what I would categorize as negative commentary (indeed, for a history written by a non-member it was mostly quite fair), I was reminded as I read how important it is to have a firm testimony of the restoration when reading of the history of the early church. Without that firm foundation, it would be easy to allow small imperfections to grow and to distort the magnificent fruit of the restoration.

Elder Anderson emphasized that “Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.” This is a moral imperative for each of us. No matter how strong we think out testimony is, we should continually seek to strengthen or testimony of the savior, the restoration, and the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I also loved Elder Anderson’s depiction of the process of acquiring that vital testimony:

“A testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith can come differently to each of us. It may come as you kneel in prayer, asking God to confirm that he was a true prophet. It may come as you read the Prophet’s account of the First Vision. A testimony may distill upon your soul as you read the Book of Mormon again and again. It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet or as you stand in the temple and realize that through Joseph Smith the holy sealing power was restored to the earth. With faith and real intent, your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith will strengthen. The constant water balloon volleys from the sidelines may occasionally get you wet, but they need never, never extinguish your burning fire of faith.”

I remember how I first acquired a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Soon after I first gained a witness of the truth of the Church, my ward had a camp out at the Joseph Smith birthplace in Shanon, Vermont. As we camped out there, I reflected on the stories I had heard of Joseph Smith and was filled with a sweet confirming spirit. I knew then, and know now that Joseph Smith was truly called of God. Over the years, I have sough to strengthen my witness of that truth through personal study and prayer. In the Sacred Grove in Palmyra for instance, I felt especially strongly that Joseph had truly seen the Father and the Son. Like Elder Anderson suggests, my testimony has also been strengthened through reading the Book of Mormon again and again.

If your testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith has weakened due to critical accounts of his life, I urge you to follow Elder Anderson’s advice and go straight to the source of all truth. If you diligently seek it, God will distill upon your soul truth from on high. As Elder Anderson mentions, your burning fire of faith will be inextinguishable.

Gay Marriage: Looking Back and Moving Forward

I recently looked back at some articles that I wrote in my undergraduate campus newspaper on the topic of gay marriage. At the time, I wrote the first of the two articles, I was strongly in favor of gay marriage. By the time I wrote the second, my position had become far more nuanced. You can see however in both posts my efforts to seek ways that religious believers could work together with supporters of gay rights to achieve common purposes.

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to reject Cert. on several appeals from Circuit Courts that struck down gay marriage bans, I have again been thinking a lot about how and where to move forward from here. I strongly disagree with the Court’s decision as well as the constitutionalization of gay marriage. Court imposition of gay marriage violates both my moral conscience and my judicial philosophy. And yet, in the aftermath I have reflected on Elder Oak’s truly inspired words delivered just this past Saturday:

Like the Savior, His followers are sometimes confronted by sinful behavior, and today when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called “bigots” or “fanatics.” Many worldly values and practices pose such challenges to Latter-day Saints. Prominent among these today is the strong tide that is legalizing same-sex marriage in many states and provinces in the United States and Canada and many other countries in the world. We also live among some who don’t believe in marriage at all. Some don’t believe in having children. Some oppose any restrictions on pornography or dangerous drugs. Another example—familiar to most believers—is the challenge of living with a nonbelieving spouse or family member or associating with nonbelieving fellow workers.

In dedicated spaces, like temples, houses of worship, and our own homes, we should teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them from the plan of salvation revealed in the restored gospel. Our right to do so is protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and religion, as well as by the privacy that is honored even in countries without formal constitutional guarantees.

In public, what religious persons say and do involves other considerations. The free exercise of religion covers most public actions, but it is subject to qualifications necessary to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others. Laws can prohibit behavior that is generally recognized as wrong or unacceptable, like sexual exploitation, violence, or terrorist behavior, even when done by extremists in the name of religion. Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable to some believers, may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called “the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).

On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).

When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.

One sentence in particular stood out to me… “We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.” It is my sense that conservatives that oppose gay-marriage have failed to “be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. We failed to be wise by failing to seek to actively promote compromise legislation that would more fully protect both gay rights and religious freedom (as the Church did in Salt Lake City). We failed to be wise by not speaking out more fully at times against anti-gay rhetoric that alienated would be supporters. Most importantly in my opinion, we failed to be wise by failing to define ourselves as anything but anti-same sex marriage.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have often tried to label themselves as “pro-traditional marriage.” And yet, most people would be hard-pressed to say anything that those who are pro-traditional marriage stand for rather than against.

I hope that those who have fought to defend traditional marriage will continue to do so. We should not give up the fight for something that is a moral truth and defined by God. I know that I will continue to speak out in favor of the privilege status of marriage between man and woman. I will do so even if the Supreme Court or the people decide otherwise, because God’s truth is not up for popular vote.

And yet, given that gay marriage seems almost a foregone conclusion at this point, it is time to move beyond the single issue of gay marriage and towards more comprehensive pro-family policies. Some conservatives have already realized this necessity. For instance, Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have spoken out in favor of tax code reform to make out tax system more pro family. Senator Lee in particular has consistently spoken out on issues concerning pro-family policy. We need more conservatives like Mike Lee willing to stand up for family interests.

I also think we need to be bolder in our vision. We need to brainstorm state and federal policies that can truly be pro-family. For instance, we should consider progressively increasing tax credits for couples that remain together for a certain number of years, interest free pell-grant like loans for those seeking to start a family, increased protections for women seeking to take maternity leave (including requiring paid maternity leave- we are the only western country that does not do so). I mention these policies not as specific requirements, but as potential ideas. Certainly, others might be preferable, and one can disagree on the details. Regardless, I think it is clear that much more should be done to actually stand up for pro-family policies.

It is my firm conviction (one could even say my testimony) that pursuing more aggressively pro-family policies is how we can be “wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.” If we do so, we will have greater moral authority and persuasive power when we speak out about the sanctity of marriage and defend God’s truth. We will be able to truly say we are “pro-marriage” rather than merely “anti-same-sex marriage.”