It is the Modern Scripture by which we are Judged

Sometimes a single sentence or thought found in a conference talk can stand out as worthy of further study and exploration. And sometimes this can happen completely out of the context of the talk itself. I felt that way when I read a portion of Marion G. Romney’s talk entitled Caring for the Poor and Needy. This was a good talk about welfare principles and caring for those in need but the rest of the talk didn’t resonate with me in particular. But one part really did. After Elder Romney recited scriptures from the Old and New Testaments and the Book of Mormon about welfare he said: “These ancient scriptures are impressive and edifying, but it is the modern scripture by which we are bound and will be judged. It is therefore imperative that we know what these modern scriptures teach.”

As I read this, I was struck by the notion that God has given us everything we truly need to know to be disciples of Jesus Christ in modern revelation. The ancient scriptures are powerful tools of testimony and conversion. But God does not leave us to rely on his words to Moses or Mormon. He does not make us depend on ancient ambiguities, lost texts, or difficulties of translation.

One of the best examples of this is the fact that in the Doctrine and Covenants we can find a recitation of modern day versions of pretty much all of the ten commandments. Looking at D&C 42 in particular we can find a modern day iteration of these eternal commandments. But there are certain additions that are particularly suited for a contemporary audience such as the injunction to “love thy wife with all thy heart, and . . . cleave unto her and none else.”  (D&C 42:22).

In our day, God once again laid down the foundation for his Church just as he did in times of old. But he has promised us that there will be no more apostasy and that the Church will remain on the earth. So the Doctrine and Covenants and other declarations from the living prophets will provide a sure foundation for our life and membership in the CHurch.

Every six months we get to hear the will of the Lord expressed for our day and time. We find the modern prophets frequently quoting from ancient prophecy and scripture. But they do not need a scriptural source or hook for their words. And modern day utterances such as the Family Proclamation are as inspired and revelatory as anything found in the Book of Mormon or New Testament.

At times, I have seen bloggers questioning the authority of the Family Proclamation and other modern day teachings by arguing that there is no clear scriptural proof for some of the teachings. These criticisms miss the point. We should be grateful that we live in a day when “those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (D&C 128:18). We live in that day when truth is flooding the earth. God has given us so much more than he has ever given his people before.

So many close their eyes to these new truths and instead blindly focus on the old. This is tragic. Nephi warned that in our day people would reject modern day revelation with such an attitude.

God does not wish for us to be unsteady or uncertain in modern times. He has given us all that we need to know in order to succeed. And if we hearken to the words of the modern day prophets we cannot be led astray.

 

 

 

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Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 20 (I will not)

15 But Lamoni said unto him: I will not slay Ammon, neither will I return to the land of Ishmael, but I go to the land of Middoni that I may release the brethren of Ammon, for I know that they are just men and holy prophets of the true God.

I love the story of Lamoni and his father. In particular I admire Lamoni’s faith. I imagine how difficult it must have been to stand up to his father and to reject all of the cultural doctrines that he had grown up with.

As someone who had to face familial opposition to join the church, I could relate to his struggle. It is hard to stand against history and tradition. But Lamoni truly understood that there were somethings more important than tradition or even family. He realized that the Gospel of Christ was true and that this was all that truly mattered.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 20 (Sons of a Liar)

13 And now when Lamoni had rehearsed unto him all these things, behold, to his astonishment, his father was angry with him, and said: Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.

King Lamoni’s father was gripped by a powerful cultural understanding of the wickedness of the Nephites and so he was not ready at that time to listen to the gospel. His hatred for the messenger blinded him to the message. Therefore his bias had to be broken down by seeing Ammon’s goodness and genuine desire to help his son. For similar reasons, Ammon had to show his goodness through serving Lamoni. And he also had to teach him n alternative take on Nephite history.

Serving in Russia I saw this at work. Some were so full of anti-American sentiment that they were simply unwilling to listen to anything we had to say. It was only when we broke through these barriers and helped those we spoke to see us as fellow human beings that we could begin to teach them. Ammon moderation this principle masterfully.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 19 (Light of the Glory of God)

6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness–yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God–
I love this description of the operation of the Holy Ghost on the individual. When we let the Holy Ghost work on us, it begins to transform us. It lifts the dark veil of unbelief. It lights up our mind with the light of the glory of God. We become very aware of his great goodness and mercy. And we are filled with great joy because we are secure in the guarantee of eternal life.

I have experienced the beauty and joy of the Holy Ghost working in life. It’s an amazing experience. But it’s very difficult to preserve this feeling. The natural man wants to reject the operation of the Holy Ghost. He wants to focus on the things of the world rather than the thing of God. The eternal and more meaningful joy of eternity is crowded out by the carnal pleasures of the moment. We are more in love with the flesh than our love of God.

It is difficult to retain the Holy Ghost in our lives, but it is essential. We need to do more to try to keep its operation flowing in our life. We need its power and influence in our relationships. We need its influence on our selves.!

Nephi and the Categorical Imperative

Philosophical theories of ethics are typically divided into two great categories: consequentialism and deontologicalism/categoricalism. Consequentialist argue that an action is moral or immoral based on the consequences of that action. So a certain action, such as murder, may be moral or immoral depending on whether that action produces more good or bad consequences. On the other hand, a categorical/deontological approach would say that certain actions are inherently good or bad regardless of situation or consequence.

The bible appeals to both sides of this ethical divide. On the one hand, God sets strict and rigid commandments with very stark consequences for disobedience. On the other hand, in certain cases God appears to encourage gross deviations from those norms.

I believe that the scriptures of the restoration can teach us much about resolving this philosophical tension. 

One of the places that is most often pointed to as an example of consequentialism is the Lord’s instruction to Nephi to kill Laban. The spirit famously tells Nephi, “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” This is at first blush highly consequentialist thinking. Killing can be justified if the utility is high enough.

Yet, it would be a mistake to take away such a simplistic message from the story. I believe that Nephi’s struggle and process for reaching his decision is illustrative. Nephi when first told by the spirit to commit this killing recoils in horror. He declares that he and never killed a man and has no intention of doing so. It is only after repeated and unmistakeable instruction from the spirit that he listens and kills Laban. It was his certainty that God spoke to him which led Nephi to act.

Compare this story with a scriptural counter example–this one found in the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith has given the 116 pages to Martin Harris who subsequently loses them. The Lord reveals in D&C 10 that wicked men have acquired the plates and seek to alter them. What is truly fascinating is why these men have decided to do so.

Verse 13 notes that these individuals were strongly convinced that the Book of Mormon was not of God, and so they decided to lie in order to say that they had caught Joseph Smith in a lie. They had come to believe that the virtue of stopping Joseph’s deception justified egregious conduct in their part. The Lord’s declaration about these men is stark and decisive:

23 And thus he has laid a cunning plan, thinking to destroy the work of God; but I will require this at their hands, and it shall turn to their shame and condemnation in the day of judgment.

24 Yea, he stirreth up their hearts to anger against this work.
25 Yea, he saith unto them: Deceive and lie in wait to catch, that ye may destroy; behold, this is no harm. And thus he flattereth them, and telleth them that it is no sin to lie that they may catch a man in a lie, that they may destroy him.
26 And thus he flattereth them, and leadeth them along until he draggeth their souls down to hell; and thus he causeth them to catch themselves in their own snare.
Even though they have come to believe that their conduct is justified in order to prevent what they believe is an evil, they are deceived. And it is Satan who leads them and plants in them the false idea that they are justified in sin. But God will make it clear in the last day that they were not justified.

The message that I believe we can take from these two stories is this: 1) When we truly understand the eternal consequences of our conduct, it is true that the ends can justify a violation of a commandment, but 2) We as human beings are really really bad at truly understanding the eternal consequences of our conduct. It is easy to come to call good evil and evil good. It is easy to fall into an ends justify the means mindset to rationalize away sin. This is especially true since there is an adversary that seeks to destroy us and deceive us.

So, 3) Commandments provide guidelines that keep us safe from falling into the consequentialist trap, and 4) unless we clearly and unmistakenably are directed to break a commandment, we should keep it. Finally, 5) as Nephi did, when we are told to break a commandment we should be very careful to verify that it is truly from God and not from the adversary.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 18 (He Looketh Down upon All the Children of Men)

32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.
I love this simple and profound explanation of the power of God. Ammon emphasizes a couple of comforting and essential truths. 1) God personally created all of us (by his hand. 2) He is an active presence in the world and knows what is happening (he looketh down) 3) he knows us intimately and personally (he knows our thoughts and intents). Ammon makes clear that God is not an aloof Great Spirit, but an active personal and loving deity. This is the foundational truth upon which all other gospel truth builds. This is why missionaries today always begin by emphasizing that God is our loving Heavenly Father. If that truth is not understood, everything else about the Gospel is incomprehensible.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 17 (Patient in Long-Suffering)

11 And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be  patient in long-sufferingand afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.

These verses reach an important truth, namely that missionary work requires great patience and faith as well as a willingness to “dwell among” those that we serve and care about. We must be willing to truly live with those who do not agree with us and show our faith through patience and long suffering.

This is really hard work. It’s much easier to expect miraculous conversions and great miracles. It’s much harder to instead have enduring faith and patience. Long suffering is much less glamorous than miracles. But that faith and patience is what cements and proves our discipleship.