Tuesday, October 7, 2014

That We Be Not Confounded

I recently came to the Book of Ether in my personal scripture study. Though the book is packed full of sweeping history, epic battles, successions of kings, cycles of righteousness and wickedness, and insightful gospel lessons and observations, the story I have been thinking the most about comes right at the very beginning. Moroni, who condensed and summarized the writings of the prophet Ether into the 15 chapters we have in the Book of Mormon, sets the stage by taking us back thousands of years to when the world was young and the peoples of the Earth spoke one common tongue. As punishment for their wickedness, the Lord confounds the language of the people, causing chaos and confusion and putting an end to their blasphemous tower-to-heaven project. But there were a few faithful among them who seemed to have known this curse was coming. Perhaps they had been warned by prophets. One of the faithful was Jared, who approached his brother, Mahonri Moriancumer, evidently a man he looked to as a leader and man of God. He asked his brother to petition the Lord on their behalf that he spare them from the curse and not confound their language. When that request was granted, he asked his brother to include their friends in the petition, so that they would have a cluster of comrades able to communicate with one another. This became essential, as there was an important undertaking on their horizon: a trans-oceanic exodus to a promised land on the other side of the world.

Thousands of years later, in our day, I find significant parallels to this account. With all the confusion of issues and the persuasive rhetoric flying around, there are many times that I feel like praying for myself, and likewise for those I love that we may not be confounded, that we can see clearly and perceive truth. The prophets past and present have warned many times that in the last days perilous times would come (2 Timothy 3:1), that Satan would rage in the hearts of men (2 Nephi 28:20) and that his cunning would be so great that even the very elect would be deceived (Matt 24:24). Not one of us is immune to this danger. In the early days of the restored church, the prophet Brigham Young saw first hand the apostasy of formerly stalwart church members, leaders, and even apostles, who may have seemed incorruptible at one point but sadly succumbed to the temptations of the world. He wisely said that he personally would never declare, "I will never fall away," because he knew that no one is immune to that possibility, and to make such a claim is practically throwing down the gauntlet at the feet of "old scratch" and setting yourself up for failure. Having a strong testimony is a wonderful blessing, and certainly a goal worth striving for, but even the strongest tree can die if it doesn't get the nourishment it needs. A testimony is a living thing, and likewise must be cherished and nourished and protected if it is to stay strong.

I love what President Deiter F. Uchtdorf shared recently about the apostles at the last supper, how each one examined himself and asked if they might be the traitor whom the Savior prophetically declared was among them. In humility and sincere self-evaluation, they looked inward rather than pointing fingers and suspiciously accusing each other. True disciples are not afraid to give their hearts a good long looking at to see what is there, or ought to be there. They are not afraid to ask the Lord to help them look and see with His eyes, and they are not afraid to hear the Spirit whisper that all is not right and change is necessary. In fact, they expect it, and even relish it, because it means they have the chance to work side by side with the best partner, master, and friend ever. Why would we want to look at our hearts and say to our Lord, "All good here. You can move on to the next person. In fact, let me tell you who needs your help..." Why would we want to pass up the opportunity to embark on a lifetime journey to self betterment at the side and with the help of the master of the whole universe?

I can't say it any better than President Uchtdorf: "...None of us likes to admit when we are drifting off the right course. Often we try to avoid looking deeply into our souls and confronting our weaknesses, limitations, and fears. Consequently, when we do examine our lives, we look through the filter of biases, excuses, and stories we tell ourselves in order to justify unworthy thoughts and actions.

"But being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us." ("Lord, Is It I?" Priesthood Session, October 2014 General Conference)

It seems to be getting harder to discern truth from error, both in ourselves and in the world at large, but I still believe truth is there to be perceived. Just like the ancient Jaredites, there is an important work for us to do. We may not have to build barges and sail across an ocean, but we do have metaphorical oceans to cross as we prepare for the coming of our Lord. We have to speak a common language, or we cannot work together. And I believe it will take much earnest prayer and diligent living of the principles that have already been given to us in order for us to succeed. We can't waste any time debating about tangent subjects or passing the blame for our personal and collective failings. We have a world to prepare, and the instructions have already been given. Press forward saints!

Image credit: Jaredite Barges, by Robert T. Barrett, from the Gospel Art Library