Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Repentance Is Worth It

Time to get back to General Conference talks, at least for one or two nights. Sister Linda S. Reeves' talk The Great Plan of Redemption is mostly about repentance, and it touches on a point that I feel is well worth pointing out. Repentance is and was a worthwhile endeavor.

It's worthwhile for us mostly because of a truth Elder D. Todd Christofferson shared in a talk titled The Divine Gift of Repentance: “… Whatever the cost of repentance, it is swallowed up in the joy of forgiveness.” Repentance can be hard, and it often takes a lot of work, but the blessing of having that weight of sin off our conscience and having it replaced with a divine and purifying light is well worth what it takes.

Thankfully, Jesus Christ felt similarly.

Repentance is only possible through the Atonement, and the Atonement was much harder to endure than any amount of repentance ever was. This sacrifice on our behalf  was so intense that it caused Jesus an amount of pain that probably would have killed anyone else. Having some idea of how painful it was going to be, He was tempted not to go through with it. But as one of Sister Reeves' grandchildren said concerning repentance, “I feel that Jesus feels it was worth it to do the Atonement, and He’s happy that we can live with Him again.” 

The Atonement was much harder on Jesus than repentance is on us, but it makes repentance possible, and that fact makes the Atonement worth it. And repentance, though sometimes difficult and/or painful, makes it possible for us to live with God and Jesus Christ again, which makes repentance worthwhile as well. Both repentance and the Atonement are painful parts of God's plan, but they are also essential parts, and I think that almost everyone involved can agree that the results of repentance and the Atonement are and were well worth the pain and effort.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Easy XP

In many roleplaying games, characters earn XP mainly by defeating monsters. The tougher the monsters the characters defeat, the more XP they earn, and that XP helps them to "level up" and become stronger. It's like exercising. Generally speaking, the heavier the weights a person lifts, the more strength they gain from lifting that weight. However, in some games, it's possible to gain a significant amount of XP for surprisingly little effort. For example, I know of one D&D adventure module in which a group of characters can "earn" a fair chunk of XP by merely opening a door and staying out of the way of the creature that passes through that door.

Life isn't that easy. In life, gaining experience takes real effort. If we want to get stronger in real life, we need to face real challenges. This is true with spiritual strength as well as physical strength. There is no easy way to gain the strength to resist temptation and choose the right. We can and should pray for such strength, and God will help us develop it, but the process will still take a good deal of effort on our part. There is no "easy XP" in the gospel.

A D&D character may gain easy XP by exploiting cheap tricks, but we won't get off so easily. If we want to gain spiritual experience and spiritual strength, we have to truly earn it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"As I Have Loved You"

This evening, I had a conversation about the commandment "As I have loved you, love one another," in which we discussed what it meant to love others as Jesus loves us. It was determined fairly quickly that we can't love others to the degree that Jesus loves us. It would be impossibly difficult for us to feel that infinite an amount of love. However, that doesn't mean that this commandment is impossible to keep. Even if we can't love others as much as Jesus loves us, we can still love them in the same manner as He loves us. So, then the question became "How does Jesus show His love for us, and how can we show our love for each other?"

As I was typing that, my fingers accidentally changed "does" into "doesn't," which I believe is appropriate. How doesn't Jesus show His love for us? He loves us in so many ways. He heals us, He teaches us, He strengthens us, He provides for us, He sacrificed Himself for us, He forgives us, He advocates for us, and I could go on. Jesus loves us in an uncountable number of ways.

When we consider all that He does for us, loving others as Jesus loves us simultaneously becomes both harder and easier. It's harder in that it would be difficult to love everyone in all of those ways. Thankfully, we don't have to. At least, not all at the same time. Jesus' love manifests as mercy at some times and as justice at others, and it manifests in healing some and comforting others. We don't have to love everyone in all ways at all times.

Given that, loving others "as I have loved you" becomes easy, if only because Jesus loved us in so many ways. We can love others by serving them, or being kind to them, or by being patient with them, or in any other way we can think of, and we'll still (probably) be loving them in one or more of the ways in which Jesus loves us. It still takes effort, of course. Love always does. But at least we can spend that effort in almost any loving way we see fit. There are many, many ways in which Jesus has shown His love for us. Thus, we have many, many options for how we can show our love for others.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Choosing the Moral

The story of the loss of the 116 pages is basically a parable, and one thing that's both good and bad about parables is that many different lessons can be drawn from them. The good news is that, as we learn the story, we can learn whichever of a variety of lessons we need most. Whether the story is about trusting the Lord, the dangers of peer pressure, the consequences of sin, or the hope of reinstated blessings, is completely up to us. The bad news is that, as the teacher, I need to pick which lesson to focus on. Which, of the many possible lessons we could learn from this story, should I try to convey to the kids? At first, I thought I should pick whichever lesson I need most, but this lesson isn't about me. Unlike this blog, I'm teaching this class for others' benefit, not mine. But which lesson do the kids need? I don't know any of these kids well enough to make a logical guess.

But I know Someone who does.

I've decided that I'm going to pray about it. God knows which lesson(s) these kids need, and if I listen hard enough, He might be able to tell me which specific lesson I should teach. Of course, no matter what lesson I try to leave with the kids at the end of the class, the basic information will be the same. I'll tell the story mostly the same way, no matter which moral we're supposed to learn from it. I might emphasize some details over others, depending on which lesson we're going for, but the basics of the story won't change, which is fortunate, since the raw facts are what I've been studying about this lesson so far. Now, it's time for me to decide on the specific focus of the lesson, and I hope that the guidance of God can help me make the right decision.

God Plans Ahead

Before 592 B.C., the Lord commanded Nephi to make a record of the ministry of his people, separate from his record of the history of his people. One thousand years later, Mormon abridged the record of the history, and then found the record of the ministry, which he decided, perhaps as a result of a prompting, to add at the end of his abridgement. One thousand four hundred years later, the abridgement of the record of the history was translated and subsequently lost, but the record of the ministry remained intact, was translated, and now accounts for the first several books of The Book of Mormon.

God knew the 116 pages would be lost.

God knew that Martin Harris would want to show his family some of what he had translated. God knew that Joseph Smith, at Martin Harris's insistence, would ask again and again for permission to let Martin Harris borrow the 116 pages. God knew that the pages would get lost or stolen and that conspiring men would use them for evil intent. God knew that the first part of the Plates of Mormon wasn't going to make it into The Book of Mormon.

So He made a buffer. He made sure Nephi and his descendants kept an historical record and that Mormon included at least part of that record, so that when Martin Harris lost the 116 pages, all he would end up losing (besides blessings) was a summary of a history book. The ministry of Nephi, his teachings, his testimony, and the rest of the record Mormon would later include and abridge, would remain intact and ultimately get published as The Book of Mormon, partly because God made sure there would be something there that Martin Harris and Joseph Smith could translate and then lose without losing anything too terribly important.

Because God knew, more than two thousand years before it happened, that Smith and Harris would lose the first part of whatever they translated, and He planned ahead to account for that.

I think that now I might understand what God meant when He said that His plans cannot be frustrated (D&C 3:1). No matter what's going to happen next, God knew it was going to happen, and He already accounted for it in His master plan. Now, this raises a few interesting questions, which I should probably explore later, but first, I just want to appreciate the fact that God plans ahead, even multiple millennia in advance.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Was On the 116 Pages?

In studying my lesson on the story of the 116 pages, I began to grow curious about what was actually lost. I vaguely remembered having heard something about "the Book of Lehi," but I wasn't sure whether that was validated, or just speculation. In my search for answers, I found D&C 10: 44, which describes the lost pages as "only . . . a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi."

Mormon expands on this in Words of Mormon 1:3:
And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
The "small account" Mormon found seems be referring to what we have now as the first part of the Book of Mormon, from 1 Nephi through Omni, and possibly a little bit into the Book of Mosiah.

So, then, the 116 pages contained an abridgement of the account of Nephi, taken from the plates of Nephi. But then, where did the rumor of the Book of Lehi come from? Was it just a logical step that Lehi, having been the prophet before Nephi, would have kept some records, which should have been the first part of the Book of Mormon, perhaps even the first 116 pages, which were lost?

As it turns out, that wasn't just a guess or some educated speculation. The Doctrine & Covenants and Church History  Seminary Manual, Lesson 12, says that "the lost document contained the translation of the book of Lehi, which was in Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi." So, there was a Book of Lehi, and it was in the lost 116 pages as part of Mormon's abridgement of the large plates of Nephi, which, according to 1 Nephi 9:4, contained "account of the reign of the kings."

What we lost seems to have been a summary of the historical record of the people of Nephi from Lehi to King Benjamin. The good news is that that doesn't sound terribly important. History tends to be somewhat boring, and what we really need to know about Nephite history, we can pretty much gather from the resources we have. The bad news, as Elder Holland told a group of religious educators on August 9, 1994, is that "We do not know exactly what we missed in the 116 pages." There may have been snippets or insights that would have been really nice to have. Still, we can be satisfied with the records we do have, just as I am reasonably satisfied with the answers I found about what was on those 116 pages.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Accepting and Receiving Answers (In That Order)

I previously puzzled over what the possible difference could be between two consecutive Primary lessons: "Joseph Smith Begins to Translate the Gold Plates" and "Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates." What, besides the word "begins," is different about these two lessons? After reading through both of the lessons, I think I have a rough idea about what sets them apart. The first lesson includes the story about Martin Harris and the 116 lost pages, while the second lesson includes the story of Oliver Cowdery's failed attempt to translate the plates. Through these stories, the two lessons convey their practical messages. The first lesson is about accepting the Lord's answers, while the second lesson tells us how we can receive answers from the Lord in the first place.

I wonder about the order of these two lessons. I understand that these stories are being told chronologically, but I wonder if there's a reason we're taught the importance of accepting the Lord's answers before we're taught the best method for how to receive such answers. Actually, come to think of it, the answer is actually fairly clear.

In order to receive guidance from God, we need to have something called "real intent," which basically means "willingness to act on the answer we receive." Given that that's true, it makes sense to learn the importance of accepting the Lord's answers before we learn how to receive them. When Joseph Smith asked the Lord for permission for Martin Harris to show the 116 translated pages to his family, the prophet was told "No." However, Joseph Smith ultimately disregarded this answer, with disastrous results. Joseph Smith learned the hard way that it's important to listen to the Lord when He answers our questions and gives us guidance. Perhaps part of the reason we learn this lesson first is to help us learn from his example so we can avoid making the same mistake.

When God gives us answers and instructions, it's important for us to obey them. Once we receive guidance from God, it becomes important to follow it. Thus, praying to God for instructions without a personal commitment to follow those instructions is a spiritually-risky endeavour. If we receive counsel and act against it, it would probably be better if we hadn't received any guidance at all. For that reason, it makes sense to learn the importance of obeying God's counsel before we learn how we can get it.

Of course, the real reason these lessons are in this order is probably to keep the stories in chronological order, and the reason "Joseph Smith Begins to Translate the Gold Plates" and "Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates" are two separate lessons is probably because there is too much material in these two stories to cram them both into one lesson, especially when teaching children. Still, it was fun to speculate about these two lessons, and it taught me a lesson that might be important later: Don't seek out Heavenly guidance until you're ready to commit to act on it. That's probably not the best lesson to take from this, or at least it's not the best way to phrase it, but it's an important lesson nonetheless.