In 1Samuel chapter 8 the Israelites gathered themselves together before Samuel, and insisted that a king be appointed over them. We read in verse 5:
“Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
There are a few dangers here. Obviously the first danger is the fact that they want a king, the threats of such a choice are explicitly outlined in Mosiah chapter 29 in The Book of Mormon. However, what might be even more dangerous than their desire for a king, is the reason they give for why they desire a king. It has nothing to do with politics. They motioned for Samuel to give them a king so they could be “like all the nations”, so they could “be like everybody else.” They did not want to be different. At it’s core, the principle that is guiding this behavior is – it is important to be like other people. Ultimately, beliefs determine desires and desires determine destiny. The root of the problem is the false belief. Because, if they believe it is important to be like all the other nations, they will desire to be as other nations are and behave accordingly. The same is true for us, if we believe it is important to be like other people, we will begin to desire to be as they are and behave as they behave. In contrast, the principle that should take precedence, due to its ability to lead us to spiritual safety, is – it is important to follow the prophet.
Unfortunately, though we may see the folly in the decision of ancient Israel, we find ourselves making the exact same mistake. Spencer W. Kimball said:
“Samuel called the people together and explained to them that the people of the Lord should be different, with higher standards. “We want to be like other peoples,” they demanded. “We do not want to be different”…
Not so different are we today! We want the glamour and frothiness of the world, not always realizing the penalties of our folly…. Others… indulge in their social drinking—“we must have a king like unto other nations.”
Styles are created by the vulgar and the money-mad and run from one extreme to the other to out-date our present wardrobes and create business for merchants. We cannot be different. We would rather die than be “not up to date.” If the dress is knee length, we must go a little above the knee. If shorts are short we must have the shortest…. If bathing suits are skimpy, we must have the skimpiest. “We must have a king like unto other nations!”
The Lord has said that he will have a peculiar people but we do not wish to be peculiar…. If intimate fondling is the pattern of the crowd, we will fondle. “We must have a king like unto other nations!”…
Others have Hollywood marriages with finery and glitter and ostentatious pomposity. We also must have candles, gowns, best men and ladies in waiting, often dangerously near immodestly dressed. “We must have a king like unto other nations!”
The world has a queen in every industry, business, factory, school and social group. She must dress immodestly, display her figure and appear in public places to further the financial interests of business, entertainment and social groups…. Ours, also, must have a beautiful face, a little talent, and a well-formed body for public exhibition. We can do little else for “we must have a queen like unto other nations!”
When oh when, will the Latter-day Saints stand firm on their own feet, establish their own standards, follow proper patterns and live their own glorious lives in accordance with Gospel inspired patterns…. Certainly good times and happy lives and clean fun are not dependent upon the glamorous, the pompous, the extremes. (“Like All the Nations,” Church News, 15 October 1960, 14)
Are we really any different? The sad truth is we as a people do not wish to be peculiar. Yes this statement is from 1960, but we seem to be following the same pattern. “We cannot be different.”
We watch movies and TV shows that glorify violence, immorality, and vulgarity because “we must have a king like unto other nations.” We don’t wan’t to be ‘that guy’ that doesn’t follow the latest hit TV series or is out of the loop as to which movies that have come out lately are the best.
We listen, and sing along to music that celebrates profanity, pride, greed, and sexual sin because “we must have a king like unto other nations.” How embarrassing it would be not to know the words to the top fifteen songs that the radio plays over and over and over again.
We have to look and be dressed according to the latest fad, no matter how expensive the clothes may be because “we must have a king like unto other nations.” We would rather die than be “not up to date.”
We engage in social drinking, social drug abuse, social crude humor, social money spending, social ridicule of the policies and standards of the church because “we must have a king like unto other nations.” We have to fit in and be accepted, to laugh at what others laugh at, we want the “glamour and frothiness of the world”, we have to view things a certain way because its the 21st century and everybody views them that way now.
It often seems the real driving force in taking part in any of these things – to watch this show, to listen to this music, to play this game, to wear these clothes, to do and say these things – is not even the things themselves, but the desire to “be like everybody else.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell has observed, “It’s interesting that those who have eyes single to the glory of God are those who see the most of reality.” In the scriptures we learn “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36) “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” (D&C 93:24) Reality, is a synonym for truth. Those who have their eyes single to God’s glory can discern between truth and error. The Israelites had their eyes single to the glory of “all the nations.” They were looking at what the other nations had done, rather than what God had done. Their focus was elsewhere. Sometimes our eyes shift from focusing on the example Jesus has set in all things, to focusing on what the people around us are doing and saying. When we do this, our eyes become single to their glory instead of His. We should remember that He has promised, “If your eyes be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light . . . and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (D&C 88:67) We need our eyes to be single to his glory, so we can discern and comprehend all things.
Jesus prayed that we might be “one” or “agreed” with him and the Father. Elder David A. Bednar has taught, “True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God.” Becoming converted to or agreed with someone involves observing, analyzing, applying and practicing their beliefs, desires, and actions. We become converted to the Lord when we align our beliefs, desires, and actions with his. Likewise, we become converted to “all the nations” or the people around us, when we align our beliefs, desires, and actions with theirs. President Kimball boldly declared, “Whatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.” The Israelites in 1Samuel 8 set their hearts and trust in “all the nations”, rather than in Jehovah. Little wonder in the same chapter, the Lord explains, “they have forsaken me, and served other gods.” Are we setting our hearts and our trust in the people around us and laboring in idolatry by striving to become converted to them? Our actions are always the clearest indicator of our desires and beliefs. Sometimes to find the “other gods” we are serving, or other “nations” we are emulating, we may not need to look any further than our own friends, families, or co-workers.
One other point I would like to make is the Lord will respect our agency and allow us to become what we would like to become. This was taught by President Ezra Taft Benson:
Sometimes [God] temporarily grants to men their unwise requests in order that they might learn from their own sad experiences. Some refer to this as the ‘Samuel principle.’ The children of Israel wanted a king like all the other nations…. So God gave them a king and let them suffer….
Sometimes in our attempts to mimic the world, and contrary to the prophet’s counsel, we run after the world’s false educational, political, musical, and dress ideas. New worldly standards take over, a gradual breakdown occurs, and finally, after much suffering, a humble people are ready to be taught once again a higher law. (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 17–18)
So, why is it important to avoid the belief that being like everybody else is important? Why do we need to understand that being different or peculiar, though difficult, is right?
We are responsible for ourselves, and if our eyes are single to the glory of other people, and we set our hearts on adopting their beliefs, desires, and actions, then we will be allowed to become just like everybody else. The problem with that, as Elder Maxwell has stated, is “we cannot improve the world if we are conformed to the world.” We have been invited by the Lord, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate.” (2Corinthians 6:17) “And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” (D&C 25:10)
Joseph Smith said “I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down.” Are we willing to do the same? Do we wish to be peculiar?