Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More on Loving the Sinner

I have in my heart a love for all of God’s children. I have no ill feeling toward any human being. With you, I hate sin, but I love the sinner. We all have need to repent.
-Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (1988), 75.

My special assignment as a General Authority is to assist the First Presidency in bringing people who have committed serious sins back into the Church. I receive, organize, and summarize information for the First Presidency to use in making decisions. I must read the background material to make certain that all pertinent information is available to them. As I read the heartbreak contained in letters of people pleading for forgiveness, I realize the truth of Alma’s statement: “Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10.) My heart goes out to those sufferers in a spirit of forgiveness. And instead of dwelling on the wickedness and grief of those who have sinned, I rejoice to read how many have abandoned their sinful practices and are now on the road back to righteousness and happiness. People can and do change.

When people are disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the Church, it is done not to punish but to help them. Church discipline requires this action, but we should remember that the word discipline has the same root as the word disciple. A disciple is a student or follower—one who is learning. Church discipline, then, must become a teaching process. When a person is disciplined, he should not be thrust out and abandoned by his associates. It is exactly at that time that we need to show increased love for such people, to teach and show them the way back to God. It is wicked to reject a child of God simply because he made an error. We need to teach him how to start anew, to change evil practices into righteous deeds, and thus to transform his life. With repentance through service to others, he can be reinstated into fellowship or washed clean in the waters of baptism and brought back into the family of God.

To teach people to overcome sin and change their lives for the better is the sum and substance of Christian service. We must do everything in our power to help sinners to change their lives for the better. Otherwise, as the scriptures warn us, we will have to shoulder their sins ourselves. Our obligation is to teach and help them, and the sinner’s obligation is to listen and learn. He will have to bear the whole burden himself if he refuses. But regardless of his present attitude, we must never abandon him nor think his reformation is hopeless. There is hope for everyone, and we must never cease trying to help people understand that through the atonement of Jesus Christ not only the sins of mankind in general but also their personal sins can be forgiven.
-Theodore M. Burton, "To Forgive is Divine," CR April 1983.

President Spencer W. Kimball often said that we should hate the sin but love the sinner. We should fellowship him who has gone astray and love him back into the fold.

Recently I interviewed a young lady who needed clearance from a General Authority before she could go on a mission. As she came in, I could see that she was very concerned about the interview. I assured her that she could go on this mission that she had been working toward for the past few years. Then she burst into tears, and they flowed freely down both cheeks. I asked her to tell me about her concerns. She started by saying that during her young teenage years she left home and started a life with her peers, thinking this was what she wanted. After about two and a half years she became involved with drugs and all kinds of worldly ways and was living a life of sex and loose morals. One day, as she groveled in self-pity, like the story of the prodigal son, she decided to return home because she realized that nothing good could come from her life-style.

Humbly, she returned home to her parents. To her surprise, they took her in and blessed her with medical help and the love that she never appreciated before. After four years of rehabilitation, she had a desire to serve the Lord as a missionary and worked closely with her bishop and stake president to qualify for this calling.

I told her that when she received her call as a missionary, she would bring into the hearts of her parents unspeakable joy, for their daughter who was lost had come alive again. I told her that all of the years of heartaches she had caused her parents, especially when they knew she was living close by and was steeped in drugs and doing all the things they had taught her were wrong—all of those heartaches would melt and swiftly disappear because now she had straightened herself out and desired to serve her Father in Heaven. When she received her call, there would be no higher honor paid to her parents, especially her mother who brought her into the world and nursed her and nurtured her. I told this young lady that missionary work is not easy, but the joy that she will receive from her labors as a missionary will be an eternal blessing that she will cherish forever and ever.
-Adney Y. Komatsu, "Keep His Commandments," BYU Fireside February 2, 1986.

A person’s ability to love unconditionally can have powerful effects. Seeing another person in an eternal perspective, knowing that he is of infinite worth, helps us to look beyond his weaknesses. However, if we criticize his behavior, he may see the criticism as a personal attack. Likewise, when a family member makes a mistake, and we find fault or strike back, that person may feel justified in acting as he did. Our challenge is to reject the sin without rejecting the sinner, to reach out and treat him with dignity and respect when he seems to deserve it the least.

. . .

Elder Jack H. Goaslind, Jr. related the following story about a mother whose daughter chose to go against Church standards:

“A good friend shared this story about how she learned the deeper meaning of love. Their family has always been active in the Church, trying their best to live the commandments. They were shocked and disappointed, however, when their daughter became engaged to a nonmember. The next day the mother was telling a good friend about her feelings. She knew her daughter’s fiance was a fine young man, but she felt angry, hurt, betrayed, and numb and did not want to give her daughter a wedding or even see her. She said that the Lord must have guided her to talk to her friend because she received this reply:

“‘What kind of a mother are you that you only love her when she does what you want her to do? That is selfish, self-centered, qualified love. It’s easy to love our children when they are good; but when they make mistakes, they need our love even more. We should love and care for them no matter what they do. It doesn’t mean we condone or approve of the errors, but we help, not condemn; love, not hate; forgive, not judge. We build them up rather than tear them down; we lead them, not desert them. We love when they are the most unlovable, and if you can’t or won’t do that, you are a poor mother.’”

“With tears streaming down her face, the mother asked her friend how she could ever thank her. The friend answered, ‘Do it for someone else when the need arises. Someone did it for me, and I will be eternally grateful.’” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1981, p. 79; or Ensign, May 1981, p. 60.)
-"Unconditional Love: The Key to Effective Parenthood," Family Home Evening Resource Book, 238.

Guardians of the Law

Yesterday I picked up my copy of the Clark Memorandum and read Judge Sheila McCleve's speech at last year's JRCLS Founders Day dinner, entitled "Guardians of the Law." You can read the full text here, and I highly recommend it. There are a very few choice moments that have defined to me why my Heavenly Father wanted me to be a lawyer. One involves the feelings I had when I decided to go to law school. Another came as my Constitutional Law professor spoke to us about the need for us as representatives of our faith to be able to articulate our position to the outside world. And yesterday, reading this speech became another. Here is a pertinent excerpt (excuse all the ellipses, I wanted to just paste the whole address, but settled for trying to keep all the key parts for me):

On that founding day President Romney addressed the question of the reason for the Law School. He didn't explicitly say the reason for the Law School. Instead, he talked about a few things that would prepare us to understand the reason. First, and I think most important, he began to outline gospel "verities," as he termed them. One, we are children of God. Two, this life is about more than mortality. . . Three, God's purposes for this life are our immortality and eternal life. Our Father in Heaven gives us the opportunity to choose to be with Him and helps us get there. Four, the only way back to our Father is through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Five, the Church is here to teach and administer to all the world--to all the world. Finally, six, we have been given the ability to choose our own destiny.

These six things in actuality explain the plan of salvation.

. . .

When he gave the dedicatory address and prayer two years later at the dedication of the Law School building, President Romney further explained what Heaven expects of us. He said, "And Father, help the lawyers trained in this law school to remember that they are to be the guardians of the law Isaiah spoke of three thousand years ago, when he said, 'Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.'"

. . . 

What was the law Isaiah spoke of? . . . A partial fulfillment of the law going forth was the establishment of our constitutional form of government and its influence throughout the world.

. . . 

The purpose of the Constitution is, through the law, to allow us to choose our own destinies. That is the law that Isaiah spoke of. In other words, it is the law that enables and protects moral agency.

 I don't know to what extent or in what field I will eventually practice law, but I do know that my Father wanted me to understand the purpose and importance of the law, and gave me gifts to be able to articulate those purposes when the world is largely rejecting them. It is something I need to develop even now that I feel so far removed from the legal world.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hate the Sin

A while back someone who left the church in recent years made a comment on Facebook to this effect:  "I don't buy the idea of 'hating the sin but loving the sinner' because you can't meaningfully separate the person from the things they do and how they live their life." She said this mostly in reference to the church's position on gay marriage, but with broader application, and it sat in the back of my mind for a while until I got thinking about it the other night and made a note to ponder and write some thoughts.

First I wanted to see if there was scriptural verification for the phrase. I went through the Topical Guide under the heading "hate," and here are a few pertinent passages:

Ye that love the Lord, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.    Psalm 97:10

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.     Psalm 101:3

These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.    Proverbs 6:16-19

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.     Proverbs 8:13

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.     Proverbs 10:12

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.   Proverbs 13:24

He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.    1 John 2:9-10

If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.     Doctrine and Covenants 95:12

Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.    Romans 13:10

A few things I noted as I studied:

There did indeed seem to be a distinction between "hating your brother," which was roundly decried, and "hating sin," which was wholly encouraged. This phrase seems to be borne of the ever-necessary attempt to do both.

I also got the feeling that the injunction to hate sin isn't so much a command to look for it in everyone else, but to hate it in ourselves, to cast it away from us so that it doesn't "cleave" to us, in the words of the Psalmist. This does require us to avoid society that would draw us in, but doesn't require us to seek to find it in everyone around us.

Love was spoken of as a cure-all, as we see in Proverbs 10:12 and 1 John 2:9-10, but that latter scripture was cross-referenced to Doctrine and Covenants 95:12, making clear that the kind of love that covers sins and keeps us in the light is charity, the pure love of Christ, and requires that we keep God's commandments if we want to possess it. It is more than just a happy feeling towards our neighbors, as Christ so poignantly showed in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In that parable, we learn that love means helping and binding up the wounded and not walking by mute. Perhaps if the traveler didn't think that he was in need of help, he would have seen the Samaritan's actions as offensive or hateful, but the Samaritan saw a wound and strove to bind it, and his loving motivation wouldn't have been changed by the interpretation of it.

The thought that originally prompted me to study the topic was this: To me, hating the sin doesn't seem to mean only that I hate that a person does something wrong in my opinion. That is not what it is about. I hate sin because I love people. I hate that it separates them from the God that I know and love. I hate that it binds them and keeps the Spirit of truth and light at bay. I hate that it robs them of joy and of becoming the person God could make them into. I hate that it is a struggle that we have to go through. I hate that for some reasons, certain sins present especial trials for certain people. I hate that it breaks hearts and causes heartache. I hate it because I wish that all could see and feel the truth and light and joy that I've found, and sin stands as a barrier that must be overcome.

And finally, as we are all sinners, I think a simplification of the phrase clarifies my feeling towards it somewhat:

Hate sin; love everyone.

I think I will probably be studying more on this topic, since hate has become such a catchword these days.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Praying with Real Intent

President Eyring's description is truly the kind of prayer I need to emulate more often.

In the evening you will get on your knees and thank God for the blessings of the day. You will thank Him for parents, for teachers, and for great examples to follow. You will describe in your prayers specifically who has blessed your life and how, during that day. That will take more than a few minutes and more than a little thought. It will surprise you and change you.

As you pray for forgiveness, you will find yourself forgiving others. As you thank God for His kindness, you will think of others, by name, who need your kindness. Again, that experience will surprise you every day, and over time it will change you.

One way you will be changed by such fervent prayer is, I promise you, that you will feel truly that you are a child of God. When you know that you are a child of God, you will also know that He expects much of you. Because you are His child, He will expect you to follow His teachings and the teachings of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. He will expect you to be generous and kind to others. He will be disappointed if you are proud and self-centered. He will bless you to have the desire to put the interests of others above your own.

-President Henry B. Eyring, General Conference, Priesthood Session, April 5, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Portion of that Spirit

I love how new things can strike me each time I read the scriptures, no matter that I've lost track of how many times I've read this portion of the Book of Mormon. Today I was really struck by how Ammon describes the gift and power of the Holy Ghost that he had as a missionary:

I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;

 And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.

-Alma 18:34-35

I do remember regularly that I have the Gift of the Holy Ghost and recognize it as it guides and teaches me, but it is so powerful to think that truly a portion of the Spirit of God dwells in me. I needn't be so sheepish about sharing what I know or acting on any good and uplifting thought that comes to me, because, as Ammon says, I have power according to those desires which are in God and according to my faith in Him. It is an amazing, amazing gift that I sadly take for granted more often than not.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Meekness, Pride, and Taking Counsel

I am reading another Neal A. Maxwell Book, called Meek and Lowly. Heads up for a round of quotable Maxwell quotes.

In moments of truth, when meekness matters, other forces, including pride, flow into the chemistry of that moment. Take, for instance, the matter of receiving correct counsel, whether given by a spouse, a family member, a friend, or a church leader. Often the counsel, even when spoken in love, is resisted by the recipient who--chained by pride--focuses instead upon the imperfections of the person giving the counsel.

In another situation, the recipient may have much pride in the position he or she has already taken and refuse to deny himself or herself the continuation of that conduct, lifestyle, or attitude, which denial is at the heart of the solution. However, those who fear losing face cannot have His image in their countenances. (Alma 5:14.)

-Meek and Lowly, p. 57, emphasis added.

Oh my do I love this quote. Witty, poignant, classic.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brigham Young on Imperfect Scriptures

...I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, groveling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities. . . .

If an angel should come into this congregation, or visit any individual of it, and use the language he uses in heaven, what would we be benefited? Not any, because we could not understand a word he said. When angels come to visit mortals, they have to condescend to and assume, more or less, the condition of mortals, they have to descend to our capacities in order to communicate with us. I make these remarks to show you that the kingdom of heaven is not yet complete upon the earth. Why? Because the people are not  prepared to receive it in its completeness, for they are not complete or perfect themselves.

The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little today and a little tomorrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive; if they do not, they are left in the shade, and the light which the Lord reveals will appear darkness to them, and the kingdom of heaven will travel on and leave them groping. Hence, if we wish to act upon the fulness of the knowledge that the Lord designs to reveal, little by little, to the inhabitants of the earth, we must improve upon every little as it is revealed.

-Journal of Discourses, 2:314

More Scripture Study Quotes

And now... an old Sunday School handout!  (I am really trying to purge things, and it's a good opportunity to review and record the ones I want to store in my brain and in my heart.) Beware, it is lengthy.

Russell M. Nelson:
Truth given by revelation can only be understood by revelation.  (CR Oct 2000)

Ezra Taft Benson:
The scriptures are called 'the words of life' (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.

. . .
The Book of Mormon was written for us today. God is the author of the book... God, who knows the end from the beginning, told [Mormon] what to include in his abridgment that we would need for our day.

. . . 
If they saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, 'Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record?'  (CR Oct 1986)

Joseph Fielding Smith:
Our attitude..toward the scriptures should be in harmony with the purposes for which they were written. They are intended to enlarge man's spiritual endowments and to reveal and intensify the bond of relationship between him and his God. (Juvenile Instructor, April 1912, 204)

Bruce R. McConkie:
Each pronouncement in the holy scriptures...is so written as to reveal little or much, depending on the spiritual capacity of the student. (NWAF 1985, 71)

In the final analysis, there is no way--absolutely none (and this cannot be stated too strongly!)--to understand any Messianic prophecy, or any other scripture, except to have the same spirit of prophecy that rested upon the one who uttered the truth in its original form. Scripture comes from God by the power of the Holy ghost. It does not originate with man. It means what the Holy Ghost thinks it means. To interpret it, we must be enlightened by the power of the Holy Spirit. (The Promised Messiah, 44)

Cheryl C. Lant:
When we read the scriptures we are hearing the voice of the Savior. He is not absent from our lives. He is actively positioned in the verses of these holy books. (CR Oct 2005)

Dallin H. Oaks:
Our belief in an open canon also includes private revelations to individual seekers of the meaning of existing scriptures.  (Ensign Jan 1995, 7)

The idea that scripture reading can lead to inspiration and revelation opens the door to the truth that a scripture is not limited to what it meant when it was written but may also include what that scripture means to the reader today. Even more, scripture reading may also lead to current revelation on whatever else the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each of us to receive personal revelation. (id., 8)

We need ot know that the Lord rarely speaks loudly. His messages almost always come in a whisper. (Ensign, March 1997, 12)

Russell M. Nelson:
Motivation for scriptural guidance comes when important choices must be made--even between options that are equally right. The Brethren are often faced with these kind of decisions. On such occasions, we turn to the scriptures. We may read all of the standard works afresh, looking for insights relative to a specific issue.

Time for scripture study requires a schedule that will be honored.

. . . 
To feast means more than to taste. To feast means to savor. We savor the scriptures by studying them in a spirit of delightful discovery and faithful obedience.  (CR Oct 2000)

Boyd K. Packer:
While we may invite this communication, it can never be forced! If we try to force it we may be deceived.

. . .
No one of us survive in the world today, much less in what it soon will become, without personal inspiration. The spirit of reverence can and should be evident in every organization in the Church and in the lives of every member. (CR Oct 1991)

There isn't a major problem we face that we can't be immunized against if we know the revelations. ("Teach the Scriptures," [address to religious educators], 14, Oct. 1977, 7)

For His own reasons, the Lord provides answers to some questions, with pieces placed here and there throughout the scriptures. We are to find them; we are to earn them. In that way sacred things are hidden from the insincere. (Cr Oct. 1983)

Henry B. Eyring:
Going to the scriptures to lkearn what to do makes all the difference... We will find answers in the scriptures. The Lord seemed to anticipate all of our problems and all of our needs, and He put help in the scriptures for us--if only we seek it. (Ensign, July 2005, 24)

David A. Bednar:
The scriptures, in essence, are a written 'recording' of the voice of the Lord--a voice we feel in our hearts more than we hear with our ears. and as we study the content and feel the spirit of the written word of God, we learn to hear His voice in the words we read and to understand the means whereby the words are given to us by the Holy Ghost. (New Era, April 2006, 5)

Sheri L. Dew:
Some of the clearest promptings I have ever received have come while being immersed in the scriptures. They are a conduit for revelation. They teach us the language of the Spirit. (CR Oct 1998)

D. Todd Christofferson:
I see you sometimes reading a few verses, stopping to ponder them, carefully reading the verses again, and as you think about what they mean, praying for understanding, asking questions in your mind, waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more. Studying in this way, you may not read a lot of chapters or verses in a half hour, but you will be giving place in your heart for the word of God, and He will be speaking to you. (CR April 2004)

Richard G. Scott:
There is a power that can change lives in the specific words recorded in the standard works. That power is weakened when we paraphrase or alter the actual wording. I therefore suggest that you encourage students to cite scripture content with precision. ("Four Fundamentals for Those Who Teach and Inspire Youth," OT Synmposium Speeches, 1987, 5)

I suggest that you memorize scriptures that touch your heart and fill your soul with understanding. When scriptures are used as the Lord has caused them to be recorded, they have intrinsic power that is not communicated when paraphrased. (CR Oct 1999)

Brigham Young:
Stop! Wait! When you get up in the morning, before you suffer yourselves to eat one mouthful of food, . . . bow down before the Lord, ask him to forgive your sins, and protect you through the day, to preserve you from temptation and all evil, to guide your steps aright, that you may do something that day that shall be beneficial to the kingdom of God on the earth. Have you time to do this? . . . This is the counsel I have for the Latter-day Saints to-day. Stop, do not be in a hurry. . . You are in too much of a hurry; you do not go to meeting enough, you do not pray enough, you do not read the Scriptures enough, you do not meditate enough, you are all the time on the wing, and in such a hurry that yu do not know what to do first. . .l Let me reduce this to a simple saying--one of the most simple and homely that can be used--'Keep your dish right side up,' s that when the shower of porridge does come, you can catch your dish full. (Journal of Discourses, 15:37-38)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Knowledge and Spiritual Death

I had noticed this verse before, but it struck me again this time what a unique clarification of the meaning of spiritual death Alma gives to the people of Ammonihah:

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

. . . 

And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death, then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.

-Alma 12:10-11, 16

Joseph Smith taught, "A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge." I find it really interesting that the process Alma describes captivity as losing knowledge of God. It makes sense that if knowing Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ constitutes life eternal, that losing knowledge of them would constitute spiritual death, or hardening the heart such that there is no room for righteousness. More than the quantity of our studies, the condition of our hearts will determine the portion of eternal knowledge that we will have the capacity to receive, and that in turn will determine our eternal destiny.