Monday, April 18, 2011

I've Moved To a New Blog!

Hello, Friends!

I've had a wonderful time blogging these past few years. And this blog has been good to me. At this point, though, I'm afraid I've outgrown it. This blog, that is, not blogging in general.

I've created a beautiful, shiny, brand-new blog, with a little help from my favorite web designer. I even managed to export all my old posts over to the new blog--indexed and fully searchable.

Please, go on over there and check it out! And if you're a blog follower, or you have a link to my blog in your sideblog, livefeed, or RSS reader, please update your links. The new address is:

While you're over there, check out some of the great new features. Tabs along the top of the page will take you to different topical areas. There's a great video that a friend and I made about Passover and the Last Supper, along with a Hagaddah booklet and instructions for holding your own Passover Seder. There's a section with essays on Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Morning. And there's a compendium of all my essays from my time in Jerusalem. I plan to put up many more things, including book reviews and guest posts, and maybe even a few lesson plans, as soon as I can talk someone into doing the web design for me.

From now on, all my new posts will go on my new blog, which I've called "To Everyone That Believeth," a nod to Paul's statement in his epistle to the Romans, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth." I, like Paul, believe that the gospel of Christ really is the power of God unto salvation, and that God embraces all who believe in Him and seek to do His will.

Happy Holy Week, everyone!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Stones Cry Out: Hosanna in the Highest!

This is a powerful and poignant week in the larger Christian community. This week, Western Christians celebrate the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry, beginning with His triumphal entry, and encompassing his powerful teachings and parables of that week, the Last Supper He held with His disciples and friends, His Atonement, trials, and death, His burial, and His glorious Resurrection.

We begin with the day known as Palm Sunday, which marks Christ's triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. It is a day of great joy.
Two centuries ago, a healer and teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth rode into the city from His night residence in Bethany, in the home of Simon the Leper and his children Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, his dear friends. He rode on the back of a donkey, in the manner of the ancient kings of Israel as they went to be crowned. The symbol did not escape the notice of the people, who, having heard of His arrival, "spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:8-9). Hosanna, they cried--literally, "Oh, save us now!" They recognized Christ as the king He was, and quoted (and sang, perhaps) a Messianic Psalm (Psalm 118) to greet Him.

The scene was enough to interest the rest of the city's inhabitants, whose numbers had swelled tremendously in anticipation of the Passover, which would be celebrated in just a few days. Newcomers wanted an explanation, and Matthew records that "all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee" (Matthew 21:10-11). The disciples were not shy about proclaiming the greatness of their Master, as Luke records, "the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen" (Luke 19:37).

All this adoration bothered the Pharisees immensely, as Luke records: "And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples" (Luke 19:39). But despite their plots against His life, and the harm He knew would come from so much publicity, the Savior refused to rebuke those who acknowledged the truth: that He who then descended the Mount of Olives was about to descend below all things, to rise above all things, that He might be in and through all things, the light of truth (Doc. & Cov. 88:6). He was and is the "light [that] shineth in darkness; and thedarkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5). And though that week did not end as the disciples then expected, by the end of it they knew even more powerfully that Christ was the Lord, "for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me" (Isaiah 49:23).

Instead, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, and testified that He was the promised Messiah: "And he answered and said unto them...if these [disciples] should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40).

I feel driven to echo the testimony of these disciples, and to speak for the mute stones that would cry out if I were silent. Like the disciples, I praise the Lord for the mighty works that I have seen. Like them, I cry Hosanna!--Oh, save me! My heart shouts praises to the Holy One of Israel. I praise Him for His light, which pierces the darkness of my heart. I praise Him for His healing power and mercy. I praise Him because He weeps, and because He laughs, because He smiles and sings and loves and teaches and heals me and the whole world. I praise Him because He died and because He lives. I love Him. I have given my life to His service.

Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a season of penitence, reflection, and preparation for the week of Christ's Passion. In many traditions, disciples "give up" something for the duration of Lent, as an exercise in self-control and in fulfillment of Christ's admonition to "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).

Last evening I attended a lovely service at a Presbyterian church in the area. At the conclusion of the service, we were invited to come forward and receive a blessing and the imposition of ashes. It was a beautiful and humbling experience to be reminded of my own mortality, my own fallen nature and need for a Redeemer. As the priest gently drew an ashen cross on my forehead, she called me by name and quietly intoned, ‎"One day through Christ we may live eternally with God. But in this sphere we are mortal, and must remember that we came from dust, and to dust we shall return. We are made from ashes, and ashes are all that will remain." Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. The life cycle of mortals continues. The eternal soul lives on.
After the service, I went to a meeting with friends. It was interesting to me to watch people's puzzled double-takes when they saw my appearance. I watched as their eyes darted to my forehead, quizzical, then to my eyes as they attempted to ignore it, then distractedly back to the black smudge above them, their lips twisted in a bemused smile. It was hard to see past the ashes. Conversation was awkward initially. The ashes came between us all evening.

Now, I don't fault my friends at all--outside of chimney sweeps and coal miners, ashes aren't a typical adornment to faces. But it made me think about how we treat others who walk around in this world with ashes on their foreheads--with something we see that makes them strange or fallen or dirty. Kristine wrote a beautiful essay at By Common Consent about feeling "marked" living as a divorced woman in the church. Divorce is certainly one thing that can make us feel unworthy or broken--and I bet you can think of several other circumstances that might cause you to recoil from the company of another--or that have caused others to recoil from yours.

Sometimes it can be hard to see past the ashes on the foreheads of those around us. It's so easy to see the brokenness and fallen-ness of our fellow mortals, so easy to forget that we, too, are fallen, that we, too, are broken, that we, too, sin. It has changed the way I view others as I have come to understand that Christ's Atonement is enough for my sins--and that it also applies to everyone else around me, that Christ's grace is sufficient for me, AND that it is sufficient for everyone else, that I don't have any business judging others, because they are saved by the very same power that saves me, healed by the very same Lord who heals me, and redeemed by the very same atoning sacrifice that I rely on to redeem me. But when I fall victim to that all-too-common tendency to judge others, to see in the faces of my fellow men only the ashes, and not the glorious immortal beings of eternal potential behind the ashes, it humbles me to realize that I, too, am but ashes and dust, but that the Lord sees past all that, and invites me to "awake, and arise from the dust" and "by the grace of God...become holy, without spot" (Moroni 10: 31,33).

This Lenten season, I'm going to work on extending that same grace to others. I'm going to try harder, in my interactions with others, to see past their failings to their great potential, past their mortality to the glorious fact of our mutual redemption, past the ashes to the spark of divinity within.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lord, How Is It Done?

I was asked to speak in my ward today on the topic of exaltation. Big topic, I know. This is the talk I gave. It was fairly well received, I think. The best comment I got was from a friend who asked me, "What business does an engineer like you have using a word like 'soteriology?'" I just laughed. Enjoy.

Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. I take as my text today a statement of Enos, who spent the whole night in prayer to God for the remission of his sins. Somtime during the night, he tells us, “And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. And I said: Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:5-7).

That’s the question I’d like to try to answer today. When we’re talking about redemption, about salvation and exaltation, “Lord, how is it done?” It’s a central question to all religions, what scholars call “soteriology”--what does salvation consist of, and how is it accomplished?

I’d like to argue that there are three conditions necessary for salvation and exaltation: First, we must have a divine potential. Second, those who are saved must be obedient to God’s laws and enter into a covenant relationship with Him. And third, we need the enabling, saving, and exalting power of Christ’s atoning grace.

I’d like to elaborate on each of these in more detail.
1. Divine potential (theosis)
First, in order for exaltation to be a possibility, we must each have a divine potential--that is, there must be something in us able to be exalted.. Mormon theology is very vocal in affirming that we are spirit children of God, with the potential to become like Him. This doctrine of theosis--of divinization--of man-becoming-like-God, is a strange one to those of other faiths--but it gives us hope. The idea that, as Paul says, “we are the children of God. If children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” gives us something to strive for, gives us a limitless view of our possibilities. (Romans 8) The Christian theologian C.S. Lewis wrote,

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship...There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses...for in him also Christ...Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

When we understand our divine origin and divine potential, it changes the way we act towards others and towards God. John said, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the [children] of God...Beloved, now are we the [children] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

When we have hope that we are the children of God and can become like Him, it leads us to Godly living, to purify ourselves as God is pure.

This leads us to the second condition necessary for exaltation--Godly living, faith, repentance, obedience, and entering into a covenant relationship with God.

2. Faith, repentance, and obedience to covenants

The Prophet Joseph wrote, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21) If this is true for everyday laws--for instance, if keeping the word of wisdom allows us to run and not be weary, and walk and not faint, and if paying tithes and offerings opens the windows of heaven to us, then surely the bigger things like exaltation are also predicated upon keeping God’s laws.

Obedience isn’t the end of our obligation, though. We also need to make and keep covenants with God.

In the sacrament we just participated in, we each renewed a covenant we made to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to be called His people. This covenant relationship with God requires certain actions on our part--mourning with our brothers and sisters, comforting the afflicted, visiting the sick and the widowed and the fatherless--being God’s hands in doing his work.

The establishment of this covenant relationship demonstrates our obedience to God, but it also increases our desire to obey the Lord in anything He will command in the future. It means that our dedication to the Lord is not temporary or for as long as it is convenient, but that we are ready, as was Peter, to go with our Savior “both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33).

C.S. Lewis said, ‎"The work of devils and of darkness is never more certain to be defeated than when men and women, not finding it easy or pleasant but still determined to do the Father's will, look out upon their lives from which it may seem every trace of God has vanished, and asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey."

The Lord said of His covenant people, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” By making and keeping covenants we become Christ’s “sheep,” we become His people--He comes to know us, and we come to know Him. We hear His voice and learn to follow it.

Our personal righteousness, covenant-making and covenant-keeping, are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions of exaltation.

Or, in Abindai’s words, “Salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people...they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law” (Mosiah 13:28).

This leads us to the third, and most important, condition of exaltation: the mercy, grace, and love of God as manifest in the Atonement of Christ.

3. Christ’s grace, mercy, and love

Mormons have historically been uncomfortable with the concept of grace. Maybe that’s because it sounds too Baptist to us, or perhaps it’s because we would prefer to emphasize the more concrete concepts--all the things we need to do, and not do, in order to be good enough to return back to God.

But the scriptures repeatedly testify that while our works are necessary, we can never be good enough to deserve exaltation. You can never do enough home teaching, you can never deliver enough casseroles, you can never go to the temple enough or read the scriptures enough or turn down enough alcoholic beverages to be good enough to merit God’s presence. Or, as King Benjamin would say, “if ye should serve [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21).

Well, that sounds depressing. But it turns out that that’s okay. Because ultimately we’re not saved by our works. We don’t work our way to heaven. Christ was the only one who managed to work His way to heaven, and I promise you’re not going to be the second. We are saved, not on our own merits, but on the “merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh” (2 Nephi 2:8).

Paul put it simply, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Eternal life is “the greatest of all the gifts of God,” and it is a gift, not a salary. If we are exalted, it will be because of Christ, not because of us.

Now by this point, some of you are probably thinking, “Hey, wait a minute!” and quoting the other half of the couplet we like to use when we talk about grace, Nephi’s statement that “by grace we are saved after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

It’s an intruiging statement. In context, Nephi says, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law...and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ...wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith.” (2 Nephi 25:23-25). It’s clear his emphasis is on salvation through the grace of Christ, irrespective of the law, which he says is “dead.”

But we’re still left with an interesting problem. That couplet hasn’t fully been explained. “By grace we are saved after all we can do.” What does he mean, “after all we can do?”

Well, let’s rule out some things he doesn’t mean. He doesn’t mean “after we keep every commandment perfectly, after we do all that is possible for us to do, then grace will save us,” because if he meant that, none of us would qualify--there is no one in this room who has ever done “all they could do,” who has ever kept the commandments perfectly, who has NOT “sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.”

OK, so if “after all we can do” doesn’t mean that, what does it mean?
Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the king of the pacifist converted Lamanites, gave us some insight into that phrase. He spoke to his people, uring them not to go to war, “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.

“And now behold, my has been all that we could repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:10-12).

“All we can do,” it seems, involves repenting of our sins and allowing God to take them away from our hearts. “All we can do” is to repent sufficiently before God that he will take away our stain. And when we have done “all we can do,” the grace of Christ saves us, according to what Moroni calls “the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins.” And that, brothers and sisters, is a covenant that cannot be broken.

In order to meet the conditions of that covenant, we have to repent. And in order to repent, we have to be humble, to recognize our fallen nature and our need for an atonement. It’s a very human tendency, among Christians who are trying to live good lives, to think, “Of course we all need the Atonement, I just need it a little less than most, thank you very much. I’m doing pretty well on my own.” But in order to repent we have to have the attitude of King Benjamin’s people, who “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mosiah 4:2). Only when they were humble and recognized their need for an Atonement did the “mighty change of heart,” joy, and “peace of conscience” come.

So now let’s recap. We’ve talked briefly about each of the three conditions for exaltation--Divine Potential, Obedience and Covenant Relationships with God, and the Atonement and Grace of Jesus Christ. Moroni wraps all these conditions into a few short verses in his last charge to us: he takes for granted that we are perfect-able beings, with divine potential, and that we can be saved and exalted by obedience, repentance, and relying on the grace and mercy of Christ. He says: “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot" (Moroni 10:32-33).

Brothers and sisters, I add my witness to Moroni’s that when we repent, deny ourselves of all ungodliness and love God with everything that we have, then His grace is sufficient for us, and we can be exalted, that we can become holy, without spot, because we will be perfect-in-Christ. I bear testimony that we can come boldly before the throne of grace, and receive the promise that Enos received when the Lord told him, “thy sins are forgiven thee.”

I have felt his reassuring promise and have known, like Enos, that God could not lie. I have tasted the beautiful peace and wholeness that comes from Christ's Atonement. When I felt that same "peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), I have been led to say with Enos, "Lord, how is it done? How is it possible that I could feel this wonderful, this complete, this joyous? How can You take pain away so completely and replace it with such exquisite joy?" And the answer, as was the Lord's answer to Enos, is simply, "Because of thy faith in Christ... wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

I bear witness that through the Savior’s Atonement we can be forgiven of our sins, and can be exalted, becoming “holy, without spot.” I testify that the Atonement has the power to heal, because it has healed me, and I do so in the name of my Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

From The Archives: Tell Me Why These Things Are So

A discussion of Job in Relief Society today prompted me to dig up this old essay and re-post it. This essay, with a few edits, was written in February of last year.

As mortals, whenever we run up against things we don't understand, we tend to start asking questions. Chief among these is the simple request for an explanation, "Why?" This inquisitiveness has led to countless scientific discoveries, as curious observers have sought to understand and explain their world.

We have the same tendency in other areas of our lives--we want life to make sense. We want events to fit into nice little boxes with the proper "Cause" and "Effect" on the labels. We want to understand our world's many complexities. Maybe then we can have more control over our lives. Maybe understanding all the reasons would help us feel less like our lives are meaningless conglomerations of random chance. Maybe we would feel less powerless in the face of history's fateful unfolding.

When a child dies or a plane crashes, when we're diagnosed with a debilitating illness or suffer a devastating blow, our anguished cries to the heavens often begin with, "Why?"

Why? Why me? Why this? Why now? Why, God, why?

I've noticed that God doesn't seem particularly interested in answering my "Why?" questions. A quick poll of some close friends indicates it's not just me. And when I turned to the scriptures, I realized that it's a long-standing habit of God's.

When God showed Moses a vision of the world, Moses' question was also, "Why?", and it went unanswered. "And it came to pass that Moses called upon God, saying: Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so?...And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me" (Moses 1:30-31). To paraphrase, God was saying, "I created the world for my own reasons, and I'm not inclined to share them with you just yet."

Isaiah quoted the Lord, who told His people, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways...For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). He doesn't think the way we think, and doesn't feel bound to explain his thought processes to us.

The book of Job records the story of a man who "was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). Cursed with the loss of all his earthly possessions, his children, his health, and finally, the loyalty of his friends, Job pleaded with God for answers, demanding an explanation for his suffering. Certain of his righteousness, and sure that his punishment was undeserved, Job used legal language in his fierce insistence on an explanation, wishing "that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us...I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me" (Job 9:32-33,10:2, NIV). Job noted the unfairness of his treatment, citing examples of wicked men who live in peace and wealth, undisturbed by the God they mock, while Job, who kept the law with exactness, was left with a life in shambles, rejected by his community and bereft of his children and all his property. He pleaded for understanding, for the Lord to point out his sin, asking the Lord, when he could find no answer within himself, "Why?"

"Summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply. How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?" (13:18-25) "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say" (23:3-5). "Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing" (31:35).

For thirty-six chapters of the book of Job, Job's friends rebuked him for his supposed sins, and Job defended himself against their accusations and bemoaned his fate. And through it all, Job searched for an explanation, declaring each law he had kept, each commandment unbroken, repeatedly asking the Lord why he had been punished, while all around him the wicked prospered--Why, God? Why this? Why now? Why me?

I read his story again not too long ago, and found myself rooting for Job. Even though my mind knew that Job's trials were the Lord's way of testing his faithfulness, I still found myself sympathizing with his pleas--Why, God? Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous mourn? Why all the suffering in the lives of the innocent? Why have you structured the world this way? Why do my prayers go unanswered, my petitions unheeded? Why did you heal the centurion's son but not my loved one?

I found myself straining for the answer. Surely, God would answer Job, the "perfect and upright" man? And perhaps, in that answer, I could find some modicum of peace in the painful confusion of my own world.

In the last chapters of the book of Job, God spoke to Job "out of the whirlwind" (38:1), saying, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone... Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth...when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?

"Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place... Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?... Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.

"What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!" (Job 38:2-22, NIV)

The Lord went on, speaking of His omniscience, which stood in stark contrast to Job's feeble mortal understanding: "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail?...What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm?...Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?... Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth?... Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, 'Here we are'?

"Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?" (Job 38:23-36).

Throughout the rest of His discourse, the Lord listed many natural phenomena, asking Job if he could explain or control the forces of nature, the animals, the planets, and the stars. The Lord's demonstration of power is impressive, and in the end, Job repented of his folly, and recommitted himself to serve the Lord. The Lord chastised Job's friends, who had condemned him, and declared that Job had been righteous, an affirmation that must have been reassuring to a man condemned by his brethren. The story ends with Job living "happily ever after," when "the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10).

And yet...

And yet, most strikingly, the Lord never answered Job's question. In the end, all that Job had and more was restored to him, but Job never got to know the Lord's reasons for inflicting his punishment. Job's wife bore more children, but God never told Job why his other children had to die.

The Lord never answered Job's plea for understanding, and Job and his audience are still left wondering, "Why?"

It's a singularly unsatisfying conclusion to the account of a righteous man with a profound, heartfelt, plea. And yet it's instructive for all of us, when our prayers go unanswered. We can know, when the heavens are silent, that we are in good company.

Christ, on the cross, marveled that His Father would leave Him alone during His time of greatest need, that the God He had served would abandon His Only Begotten Son to die a shameful death in utter loneliness. His last plea on the cross was a cry for an explanation--"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Why, God, why?

But at that anguished cry, the heavens again were silent, and the Son of God, the Creator and Redeemer of worlds without end, died without an answer.

And yet we continue to ask. Why should we expect what our Lord went without? "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (Doc. & Cov. 122:8). Do we think ourselves greater than the Master we serve?

So why doesn't the Lord answer our "why?" questions? That's a bit of a circular inquiry, to be sure, since it is also a "why?" question. But let me take a crack at it anyway.

A friend suggested to me a reason, and as I’ve thought it over, I’ve recognized the merit in his idea. He observed that if every part of life made perfect sense, if we could see the end from the beginning, if we could have a perfect understanding of the Lord's purposes in shaping us as He does, it would eliminate the need for us to exercise faith in Him. It would be too simple. We would already see the wisdom in the Lord's plan, and the only rational thing to do would be to submit willingly, with a perfect knowledge of the outcome. Faith would be lost, and spiritual growth would go with it. In the words of Alma, "there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it" (Alma 32:17-18).

The Lord denies us this knowledge so that we have the chance to rely on Him in faith, a chance only available to us if our "why?" questions are left unanswered, for "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21).

When we walk by faith, and not by sight, the emptiness of soul we experience when a perfect knowledge is denied us is filled by a “perfect brightness of hope,” which leads to “a love of God and of all men” (2 Nephi 31:20). This hope “groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doc. & Cov. 50:24), a day when we will see the things we have hoped for, and rejoice in the knowledge that comes, not as a sign to convince us, but as a reward for our patience and a natural consequence of our faith. In that day, “God shall wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8), and we will kneel before the Lord and, with perfect understanding, acknowledge that His judgments and His purposes are just, that His plan was perfect and His love complete.

Until that day, let’s trust Him. Let us go forward in faith, with confidence in the Lord’s plan for each of us, trusting in “the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mightyto save” (2 Nephi 31:19). As we do so, our power will increase and we will come to know the Savior for ourselves, "that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure" (Moroni 7:48).

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Friday, December 24, 2010

From The Realms of Glory

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is entitled "Angels From the Realms of Glory," and tells the story of how groups of people throughout the ages would look to the birth of Christ as the singular event in human history, and would see the Christ child as more deserving of their worship than anything else. It speaks of angels, shepherds, sages, saints, and sinners, who would leave all that they had, to come to the Savior and kneel at His feet, to praise Him and love Him and acknowledge His majesty and be healed by His mercy and love.

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light:

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down.

Christmas is a time of rejoicing at the good tidings of great joy delivered to all people by an angel millenia ago. It is a time of singing with the heavenly hosts, proclaiming, "Glory to God in the Highest." It is a time to re-dedicate ourselves to "peace on earth, goodwill to men." It is a time to leave our contemplations, to bend before the altar, to be filled with wondering awe. For the Savior, the Lord of heaven and earth, condescended to be born into the world He had formed, to walk among us as a humble child. He, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords, was born to a young girl and her betrothed, laid in a feeding trough, visited by shepherds, and sought by kings. At Christmas we remember that Christ came to sanctify not only the great houses of worship, not only temples and cathedrals and palaces, but also, and ever, the simple, humble places where the pure in heart dwell. He came to redeem. He came to exalt. He came to heal. He came as Emmanuel--God with us. May God be ever welcome in our homes and in our hearts.

For God with us is now residing--Mercy calls you, break your chains.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Light of the World

Tonight is the fifth night of Hanukkah. In honor of the holiday, I decided to overcome the writer's block that has dogged me for past several months and just sit down and write about this festival. So here I am, at my kitchen table with my laptop, the room illuminated by the six candles burning low in the silver menorah beside me.

Today in sacrament meeting I bore my testimony about Hanukkah. Pretty unconventional, I know, but iconoclasm isn't something I shy away from. Those of you who know me, or have heard me speak in church, are not at all surprised by this admission, I'm sure. But I digress.

I love celebrating Hanukkah. I light the candles, fry the latkes, spin the dreidel, and sing the songs, and I love it all. I don't do it to be politically correct--that has never been a priority. I do it because it's a religiously meaningful holiday, and because it's a great way to prepare for Christmas, and to feel the Christmas spirit.

Hanukkah, as you probably know, began with the account of a miracle in the 2nd century B.C. A small group of Jewish nationalists, known as the Maccabees, were victorious in battle against the Selucids, who had overrun their temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. The Selucid king, Antiochus IV, who blasphemously called himself Epiphanes, "God manifest," decreed an end to the Jewish ritual practices, effectively abolishing Judaism. When this Jewish guerilla group re-took the temple and proceeded to re-dedicate it, they found that the casks of specially prepared olive oil for the temple's eternal flame had been smashed, and only a small amount of oil remained, enough for one day's use. As the story goes, the cask of oil burned for a full eight days, enough time to prepare and consecrate more oil and to re-dedicate the temple so that the Jewish people could worship God as He had commanded.

So why do I celebrate Hanukkah, as a Christian? Well, apart from harboring a not-so-secret desire to be Jewish, I find the imagery and symbolism of Hanukkah appealing--moving, even. It's especially appropriate during Advent, the liturgical season that prepares us for Christmas. Hanukkah, after all, is a holiday that celebrates miraculous light--a light that God caused to burn for those who lived in a troubled time, when foes beset them on every hand, when worship of God was a dangerous act, when the world was a scary place. It celebrates a God-given light in a dark world. It is a feast of dedication--then, of the temple; now, of ourselves. It is a season of re-dedication to God, with the promise of a heaven-sent light to illuminate our lives as we worship God, the source of all light.

It was on this occasion that Christ stood in the temple and declared His Messiah-ship, for He is the "light that shineth in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). He is the light of the sun, moon, and stars, for it was by His power that they were made (Doc. & Cov. 88:7-9). "And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him...which light proceedeth forth from God to fill the immensity of space" (v. 11-12).

May the light of the Lord illuminate our lives, our homes, our temples, and our hearts as we worship God in them this season. May we, at this feast of dedication, find renewed desire to follow the Lord, the Man of Miracles, the Light of the World.

Happy Hanukkah!