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Joseph Smith: Astronomer and Scientist

For our final paper in my Cultural Astronomy class we were asked to write about an individual who we feel has greatly impacted the field of astronomy.  I chose a farm boy from Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont.

Joseph Smith: Astronomer and Scientist

            Upon considering which astronomer and culture to write about, my mind was drawn to the constant ongoing discord between science and religion. This disagreement has been serious enough to lead many Christians—who conclude that one or the other must come out conqueror—to choose to abandon their faith, and embrace the doctrines of so-called science. Modern astronomy has its own reserved front row parking space, right next to evolution, inside the protected “academic” garage for faith destroying ideologies, and hence finds direct relevance in this discussion. In observing this continuous debate, I find great satisfaction and reassurance in belonging to a Church that not only embraces all truth, but whose founder has so beautifully harmonized religion and science that they have become circumscribed into the same circle of truth. Joseph Smith has done this by teaching scientific principles, gained by the farm boy not through experiments or observations, but, according to him, by direct revelation from God. I would like to focus on three of these concepts, and their impact on the school of astronomy in light of the science vs. religion debate—the indestructibility of matter, our sun gets its light from Kolob, and the indestructibility of energy.

Indestructibility of Matter

In his 1908 work Joseph Smith as Scientist Apostle John A. Widtsoe noted, “It was believed by the philosophers of ancient and medieval times, especially by those devoted to the study of alchemy, that it was possible through mystical powers, often of a supernatural order, to annihilate matter or to create it from nothing. . . Naturally enough, the systems of religion became colored with the philosophical doctrines of the times; and it was held to be a fundamental religious truth that God created the world from nothing” (Widtsoe, p.10). He then contrasts this observation with the radical, conflicting teaching of the Mormon prophet: “No doctrine taught by Joseph Smith is better understood by his followers than that matter in its elementary condition is eternal, and that it can neither be increased nor diminished. As early as May, 1833, the Prophet declared that “the elements are eternal,” and in a sermon delivered in April, 1844, he said ‘Element had an existence from the time God had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end’” (Widtsoe, p.12). While a theory such as the big bang may have fit in to the religious doctrine of churches in medieval times, Joseph Smith left no room in his doctrine for such a notion. In the same 1844 sermon quoted by Elder Widtsoe, the Prophet said that the supposed biblical support for the idea of God creating the world out of nothing was due to a mistranslation, stating that “the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as man would organize materials and build a ship” (HC 6:302-317). So, according to Joseph Smith, God did not create the world, he organized it.

This idea of matter never being created or destroyed leaves no room for the big bang, because the big bang requires a beginning, a time when the universe suddenly came into existence by expanding from a singularity. If matter has always existed, there can be no beginning or end. Moreover, matter cannot act for itself, it is inert and can only be acted upon. It requires energy for it to be put in motion, and someone or something to apply that energy. Consider the wristwatch; when functioning properly with a charged battery, the hour, minute, and second hands on this device move in a set motion to tell time. But without the energy from the battery, the watch is nothing more than a collection of inanimate raw materials—which could not have organized themselves into a watch.  And the battery itself did not provide the energy, it had to be collected and harnessed by someone, then put inside the battery, thus allowing it to be applied to the watch. It is inconceivable for the watch to have suddenly expanded out of a singularity into a fully organized and functioning tool to wear on our wrist, complete with charged battery and all. Clearly, there must be an orchestrator in this process—the same with the universe. Inert matter cannot organize itself into galaxies and solar systems, to be moved it requires energy, and energy must be harnessed and applied by someone or something.

Joseph Smith’s teachings in this field of creation—or rather organization—are simple, easy to understand, and respect laws of physics. On the contrary, the big bang is confusing, illogical, and mysterious. Engineer Wallace Thornhill posits that “the big bang was not ‘discovered’ but contrived by mathematicians following the proposal of a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and astronomer, George Lemaitre, for the origin of the universe from a ‘primeval atom’ or ‘Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation.’ The theory defies physics principles and is unrealistic, needing most of the matter in the universe to be invisible (not even dark) and a mysterious ‘dark’ energy…… when you believe in theories like the big bang, logic has no dominion and any observation can be accommodated” (Thornhill, 2009).  Similarly, the plasma cosmologist Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened, says: “one of the most destructive features of the methodology of the big bang is that it conveys the idea that only people versed in extremely complicated mathematics can understand the universe… This is, of course, the argument of the emperor’s new clothes. If you can’t see the emperor’s new clothes you must be either stupid or incompetent” (Thornhill, 2009). With ex nihilo creation being disqualified by physics, many people, including many Christians, submit in this argument; admitting—by virtue of having no other explanation—that they can’t see the clothes, and therefore are incompetent in debating creation. On the other hand, we have the harmonizing voice of Joseph Smith which comes thundering through that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes—there never was a beginning, God’s course is one eternal round.

Our Sun Receives its Light from Kolob

            The following picture is Facsimile No. 2 from the Book of Abraham. In his explanations of this hieroglyphic, Joseph Smith taught much about the structure of the galaxies. facsimile 2Perhaps most intriguing is his description of Figure 5: “Called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.” (Kolob represented by number 1 in the center)

Mainstream science teaches that the sun is a giant self-sustaining body of gas that generates energy by nuclear fusion reactions in its core. On the other hand, Joseph Smith taught that our sun, which the Egyptians called Enish-go-on-dosh, is not self-sustaining. Rather it borrows its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is a governing body that receives its light from two other stars, who in turn receive their light directly from Kolob. What Joseph described is a connected circuit, where each star does not produce its own power, but receives power, or light, through the medium of another star, all the way back to Kolob, which J. Reuben Clark Jr., an apostle in the Church’s first presidency, taught in 1951 was the center, or hub, of our galaxy (Clark, 1951).

This system of lighting stars through a series of power lines described by the prophet squares well with an idea that many plasma cosmologists subscribe to called The Electric Universe. In this structure stars are charged by a series of continually flowing electrical currents called “Birkeland currents,” named after the Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland who associated the magnetic effects of aurorae with electrical currents flowing between the sun and the earth. “The Electric Universe recognizes that charged particles permeate all of space as electrically conductive plasma. Unlike the protons and electrons that make up neutral atoms, the charged particles in plasma are not bound by atomic structure. These freely moving charged particles are much more strongly affected by electric fields than by gravity. The aggregate movement of charged particles is an electric current” (thunderboltsinfo). Wallace Thornhill notes, “Engineers find it easy to light our cities with electrical power generated at some distance from the city. It never occurs to astronomers that Nature uses the same simple method of lighting galaxies. They have never considered that stars might be a cosmic electrical phenomenon, like streetlights tracing the path of power lines” (Thornhill, 2009).

This is relevant to the science vs. religion discussion because we have Jesus telling us in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, “I am the light of the world.” And Latter-day Saints read in the Book of Mormon account of Christ’s visit to America, “I am the light and the life of the world” (3Nephi 11:11). Scientists would tell us that the light and life of the world come from the sun, not from Jesus. However, if the universe is electric and the sun receives its light through a series of mediums that lead back to the throne of God, then Jesus truly is capable of being the literal light and life of the world. Which leads to our final concept taught by Joseph Smith.

The Indestructibility of Energy

Elder Widtsoe stated, “Joseph Smith taught, and the Church now teaches, that all space is filled with a subtle, though material substance of wonderful properties, by which all natural phenomena are controlled. This substance is known as the Holy Spirit” (Widtsoe, p.16). What he is referring to by the words ‘Holy Spirit’ is not the personage of the Holy Ghost, but rather the Light of Christ; which is defined as “the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things” (Guide to the Scriptures). The Mormon prophet taught in as early as May 1833 that this divine energy, the Light of Christ, also known as the Light of Truth, was indestructible. We read in the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants “… the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” Elder Widtsoe observes that “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the energy of the universe can in nowise be increased or diminished, though, it may manifest itself in various forms.” He also notes that Smith did so “ten years before Dr. Joule published his famous papers on energy relations, and fifteen or twenty years before the doctrine was clearly understood and generally accepted by the learned men of the world” (Widtsoe, p.18).

Joseph Smith taught that the Light of Christ, which “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space,” is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God” (D&C 88:12-13) He also explained that it is manifested in the light of the sun, the moon, the stars, and the earth, and is the power by which they were made. (D&C 88:7-10) Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a Mormon apostle, further expounded Joseph’s doctrine of the Light of Christ in this way: “There is a spirit—the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the light of truth, the light of Christ—that defies description and is beyond mortal comprehension. It is in us and in all things; it is around us and around all things; it fills the earth and the heavens and the universe. It is everywhere, in all immensity, without exception; it is an indwelling, immanent, ever-present, never-absent spirit. It has neither shape nor form nor personality. It is not an entity nor a person nor a personage. It has no agency, does not act independently, and exists not to act but to be acted upon” (McConkie, p. 257).

These teachings coincide nicely with Wallace Thornhill’s description of plasma: “Almost the entire visible universe is composed of plasma. . . However, unlike the gases we are familiar with on Earth, plasma reacts strongly to the presence of electromagnetic fields and is a better conductor than copper. Its behavior has been described as complex and “life-like.” That should be a clue! The universe is principally an electrical plasma phenomenon” (Thornhill, 2009). These agreements lead one to a faith-promoting conclusion that what Joseph Smith identified as the Light of Christ, very well could be the same thing identified by cosmologists as plasma. Leading one to further conclude that those who put forward the idea of an electric universe, could really be onto something, which should grab every Latter-day Saint’s attention.

This concurrence is not so much an indicator that Joseph Smith lined up his religious teachings with principles of science and astronomy so that people could find a compromise and get along, but rather it signifies that scientists and cosmologists many years later are finally beginning to catch up with the Mormon Prophet. The big takeaway here for Latter-day Saints is, that if something in the field of science destroys faith and contradicts the word of God, it more than likely isn’t true; and if we wait faithfully for further understanding, trusting in that which has been revealed, eventually the truth will come forward; and we will observe, as many have before us, that time always vindicates the prophets.

 

Works Cited

Widtsoe, John A. Joseph Smith as Scientist: A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy. Salt Lake City: General Board, Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations, 1908. Print.

Roberts, B. H. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Vol. 6. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1902. Print.

Thornhill, Wallace. “The Simple Electric Universe.” Holosciencecom The Electric Universe. 6 Sept. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Clark, J. Reuben, Jr. “What Was This Jesus.” BYU Selected Speeches (1951). BYU Extension Publications. Web.

“Chapter 3 — What’s Different about the Electric Universe?” Thunderboltsinfo. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Guide to the Scriptures. “Light, Light of Christ.” Light, Light of Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/light-light-of-christ?lang=eng>.

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City, UT, U.S.A.: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. Print.

McConkie, Bruce R. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1985. Print.

Enduring Instructive Waiting

I recently found an article online that caught my attention. A pop-culture site was giving their ranking of the twenty most common pet peeves. A few of them may have been a little out there, but for the most part I thought they were notably common. A few of the things the list included were open mouthed chewers,  people who don’t return things, foot tappers, pen clickers, being interrupted, and getting your headphones caught on things. I thought this was interesting, but I felt they left out what, to me, may be the biggest, most common pet peeve in our society, and in the Church today – waiting.

We all have things in our life that we are presently waiting for. These things can  be spiritual or temporal, they can range anywhere from waiting to get married, waiting for an opportunities or a promotion, waiting for direction or peace, waiting for answers to prayers, or waiting to receive promised blessings from God. Whatever it is, each of us  likely struggles with waiting for something, and this can be difficult. As President Uchtdorf has said, “Waiting can be hard. We live in a world offering fast food, instant messaging, on-demand movies, and immediate answers to the most trivial or profound questions.” Hence the observation, “We don’t like to wait. Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.” He goes on to note that as rare and unpleasant as this virtue may be, it is a necessity. “Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell plainly stated, “When you and I are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we like our timetable better than God’s.” Sometimes in the moment it can look as if our timetable makes more sense. President Uchtdorf noted, “We wait for things which at the time may appear so right and so good to us that we can’t possibly imagine why Heavenly Father would delay the answer.” We convince ourselves that if we could control the lever that unlocks the blessings of heaven, and pull it at a time that we deem suitable to our needs, we’d have greater happiness, alleviated suffering, and less discomfort. This just isn’t true. God, who knows all things, has our best eternal interests in mind. In fact, he knows and understands those interests better than we do, which is why he instructively requires us to wait. There are reasons for this, but usually “the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after the trials have passed.” (Uchtdorf) In the meantime we can look for lessons from the experiences of others. The scriptures are replete with examples of people who had to wait. As we examine their stories, we find apparent reasons behind their waiting, and considerable blessings that were gained as they were patient.

Jacob had to wait seven years before he could marry Rachel as he served her father. “And they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Gen 29:20) Along with a greater capacity to love, he likely gained a greater work ethic than he had before, and greater appreciation for the marriage when the time came. These things would lead him to be a better husband and father to his own family.

The Israelites had to wait 40 years before they could inhabit the promised land. It did not take long for the Lord to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, but expunging the Egypt out of the Israelites was another, much longer, story. They were put through a character development process in the form of tests and tutorials that led them to change. Perhaps during the waiting periods of our lives the Lord is trying to remove the false ideologies, habits, and practices that represent the Egypt in us, preparing us for our own future ‘promised land.’ Elder Maxwell remarked, “Faith likewise includes faith in God’s developmental purposes. . . Still, some of us have trouble when God’s tutoring is applied to us! We plead for exemption more than we do for sanctification, don’t we, brothers and sisters?” If we can bring ourselves to humbly plead for sanctification and knowledge rather than exemption, waiting will begin to be instructive, and even edifying.

In Alma chapter 52 we read of a time when patience worked out in Teancum’s favor.

16 And it came to pass that Teancum had received orders to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and retake it if it were possible.

17 And it came to pass that Teancum made preparations to make an attack upon the city of Mulek, and march forth with his army against the Lamanites; but he saw that it was impossible that he could overpower them while they were in their fortifications; therefore he abandoned his designs and returned again to the city Bountiful, to wait for the coming of Moroni, that he might receive strength to his army.

18 And it came to pass that Moroni did arrive with his army at the land of Bountiful.

Teancum was asked to do something, and had to wait because it wouldn’t work at that specific time. His patience for the correct circumstances led him to receive additional strength beyond his own army’s capacity. With the help of Moroni and the reinforcements they took the city of Mulek by stratagem. It may be that the timing and circumstance for the blessing we seek are not yet right. We may not be spiritually or emotionally strong enough to figuratively retake the city of Mulek.

Helaman and his stripling warriors faced a similar dilemma in Alma chapter 58 when they were directed to take the city of Manti.

And they were so much more numerous than was our army that we durst not go forth and attack them in their strongholds.

Yea, and it became expedient that we should employ our men to the maintaining those parts of the land which we had regained of our possessions; therefore it became expedient that we should wait, that we might receive more strength from the land of Zarahemla and also a new supply of provisions.

And it came to pass that I thus did send an embassy to the governor of our land, to acquaint him concerning the affairs of our people. And it came to pass that we did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla.

And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months, even until we were about to perish for the want of food.

They waited until they couldn’t wait any longer, and finally received provisions accompanied by an army of a mere 2,000 men, which they felt was inadequate “to contend with an army which was innumerable.”

And now the cause of these our embarrassments, or the cause why they did not send more strength unto us, we knew not; therefore we were grieved and also filled with fear, lest by any means the judgments of God should come upon our land, to our overthrow and utter destruction.

The trial of waiting, and not receiving the assistance they felt they needed and deserved, caused them to feel embarrassed. However, this led them to pray and receive assurance from the Lord.

10 Therefore we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions, for the support of our people.

11 Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.

What Helaman and his men ultimately gained by waiting longer than they thought they could wait, and receiving less than they felt they should have received, was increased faith in the Lord. They learned that they could rely on Him. Helaman records: “And we did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with a determination to conquer our enemies.” This result came because they chose to pray. Perhaps we have been waiting for reinforcements and provisions in the form of a specific blessing or answer, even to the point of embarrassment, and what finally came was less than we felt we deserved. The Lord may be trying to teach us, as with the stripling warriors, not to rely so much on the reinforcements, whatever they may represent for us, but to rely on Him and to have faith in Him.

Joseph Smith had to wait three years after his first vision before being visited by Moroni, and another four years before he was allowed to obtain the plates. This instructive waiting period was likely given for him to overcome his weaknesses and sufficiently mature. He recorded that between 1820 and 1823, “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God.” Admittedly, one of the weaknesses or foibles he was guilty of was levity, defined as “lightness of mind, character, or behavior; lack of appropriate seriousness or earnestness.” He repented, and eventually grew into his prophetic calling. But it took time. It is true, as Elder Maxwell taught, that “so many spiritual outcomes require saving truths to be mixed with time, forming the elixir of experience, that sovereign remedy for so many things.” It may be that we, like Joseph, just aren’t ready to receive what we’re waiting for yet. We may be guilty of levity and need to repent and grow, this requires time.

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by then Elder Gordon B. Hinckley to students at Brigham Young University in 1977. The comments are specifically addressed to young adults waiting to get married, but the principles that are taught apply to everyone.

If you are complaining about life, it is because you are thinking only of yourself. There was for many years a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” The most effective medicine for the sickness of self-pity is to lose oneself in the service of others.

There are some girls on this campus who are worrying themselves almost sick over the question of whether they will have opportunity for marriage. Of course marriage is desirable; of course it is hoped for and worked for and sought after. But worrying about it will never bring it. In fact, it may have the opposite effect, for there is nothing that dulls a personality so much as a negative outlook. Possibly some of you will not be married; but don’t forget that there are other things in life, other pursuits to be followed. I would like to suggest that you read the story of Dr. Anne G. Osborne in the March issue of the Ensign magazine. Here is a highly trained instructor at the University of Utah medical school, an eminent specialist in her field, and a member of the Sunday School General Board. I like the title of her short article. She calls it, “The Ecstasy of the Agony: How to be Single and Sane at the Same Time.” Speaking candidly of her age as thirty-three, she mentions marriage as a promised blessing, but she soon makes it clear that there is a stimulating and productive life for those single young women who will get interested in serving the needs of others. Says she,

As single Church members we can either engage in morose personal recrimination and self-flagellation, bemoaning our single status and living on the edge of desperation, or we can use this interim period in our lives as a time of active, creative waiting. . . . [She continues,] When discouragement weighs heavily, look around. . . . I have found that a sure cure for depression is to realize someone out there needs me. In blessing someone else, my needs and problems are quickly consumed in the warm glow of knowing that I have brightened another’s life and that what I have done is pleasing to the Lord.

[She concludes with these words:] Let us then rejoice in this precious treasure, time, and thank the Lord for a special gift. We truly have time to become interesting because we are interested.

These thoughts seem to coincide with the remarks of President Uchtdorf, who learned for himself “that patience was far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience required actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results didn’t appear instantly or without effort.” He went on to state, “There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!”

Just about every time Elder David A. Bednar has spoken in a public setting since being ordained an Apostle, he has taught the principle that “we are agents who act for ourselves and not objects to be acted upon.” For agents who act, waiting can be instructive; for people who allow themselves to become objects that are acted upon, waiting can be irksome, dragging, and even annoying. The responsibility to act as an agent and turn waiting into ‘instructive waiting’ is our own. We can do this by choosing to be patient, choosing to pray for assurance, looking for the lesson, using the time to learn and better ourselves, and losing ourselves in the service of others. This is important because as Elder Maxwell has declared, “Without patient and meek endurance we will learn less, see less, feel less, and hear less. We who are egocentric and impatient shut down so much of our receiving capacity.”

Years down the road, when the necessary building blocks have been put in place, the needed lessons have been learned, and the essential experience has been gained, we will likely feel like crying out to our former selves, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland did: “Don’t give up boy. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead, a lot of it. You keep your chin up. It will be alright in the end. Trust God, and believe in good things to come.”

In the same address, Elder Holland asserted, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. Of that I personally attest.”

I wish to emphasize a final principle here, and it is this – God is never late, His timing is perfect. When we are waiting on the Lord, we are really waiting for Him to be done waiting for us.  If the blessings are late, or seem late, it is not that God is late; it is instead likely that we have not yet been obedient to the necessary commandment upon which the specific blessing is predicated, or we are still yet to learn the lesson(s) found in the waiting process leading up to that blessing. If there is a postponing on His part of the bestowal we seek, no matter how long or how miserable we may feel, it is for our benefit. As President Henry B. Eyring observed, “The Lord’s delays often seem long; some last a lifetime. But they are always calculated to bless. They need never be times of loneliness or sorrow or impatience.” We can press forward with faith in the understanding, as President Uchtdorf taught, that “in your patience you win mastery of your souls. . . knowing that sometimes it is in the waiting rather than in the receiving that we grow the most.”

Smoke Signals and the Grace of God

While traveling on our life’s journey, we all face times of testing and trial; times when things don’t go the way we want or expect them to; times when we find out if our faith and trust in God is real or imagined. In such instances no one is immune to the disappointment, discouragement, and despair that can accompany these things.

A few years ago a dear friend of mine shared a story with me that I have never forgotten. It taught me that not only do I not always know what is best, but that even in my darkest, most trying moments, God is near, and He is at work in my life.

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and everyday he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, alone, and discouraged he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements. He also used the hut to store his few possessions.

But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. The man was stung with grief and anger.

“God, how could you do this to me?!” he cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him.

“How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked of his rescuers.

“We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.

It is easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn’t lose faith. God is at work in our lives. The next time you feel like your little hut is burning to the ground, it may just be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” This was clearly the case for the man in the story. However, like many of us, it was difficult for him to recognize that truth in the midst of his tribulation.

The counsel of President George Q. Cannon is helpful in such situations:

“The saints should always remember that God sees not as man sees; that he does not willingly afflict His children, and that if He requires them to endure present privation and trial, it is that they may escape greater tribulations which would otherwise inevitably overtake them. If He deprives them of any present blessing, it is that He may bestow upon them greater and more glorious ones by and by.”

The man was required to endure the trial of his hut burning to the ground, but that privation allowed him to escape the greater tribulation of trying to stay alive while remaining on the island alone. He was deprived of the blessing of sleeping in the hut that night, but it was that very deprivation that allowed him to receive the greater blessing of being rescued.

The principles put forward by President Cannon represent a theme that can be observed in the scriptures, as well as in our lives. Trials and tribulations serve as smoke signals that summon the grace of God. These smoke signals can invite boats in the form of opportunities, friends, lessons to learn, or greater blessings than we were presently enjoying. Viewing our trials this way gets easier as we remember Heavenly Father’s character and become more familiar with this pattern.

This pattern can be seen in many examples in the scriptures. Ammon may have felt his hut was burning to the ground and all was lost when he was imprisoned for two days upon reaching the land of Nephi, but that trial allowed him to meet and teach King Limhi and his people, as well as lead them out of bondage back to the land of Zarahemla.

Alma was very discouraged after being  withstood, reviled, spit upon, and then cast out of the city of Ammonihah. But this smoke signal summoned a boat in the form of an angel who told him to return to the land of Ammonihah where he met Amulek. If this had never happened, he would not have witnessed God’s hand as “they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them.” (Alma 8:31)

Joseph likely felt like his hut was burning to the ground when he was sold into Egypt by his brothers, or when Potiphar’s wife had him put in prison. But these hardships gave him the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream which led to his promotion, enabling him to temporally save many people, including his own family, from the coming famine.

Brigham Young taught, “If you possess the light of the Holy Spirit, you can see clearly that trials in the flesh are actually necessary.” Perhaps it was his possession of that Spirit, and understanding of the necessity of trials, that led him–after being driven out of Nauvoo, and crossing the plains to the Rocky Mountains–to make this statement: “We are infinitely more blessed by the persecutions and injustice we have suffered, than we could have been if we had remained in our habitations from which we have been driven – than if we had been suffered to occupy our farms, gardens, stores, mills, machinery and everything we had in our former possessions.”

Joseph Smith braved many hardships and tribulations during his life. Possibly the most trying of those experiences was the four months in the middle of winter he spent unlawfully confined in a dungeon, ironically named, Liberty Jail. In his letters he spoke of the jail being a “hell, surrounded with demons. . . where we are compelled to hear nothing but blasphemous oaths, and witness a scene of blasphemy, and drunkenness and hypocrisy, and debaucheries of every description.” He wrote, “We have . . . not blankets sufficient to keep us warm, and when we have a fire, we are obliged to have almost a constant smoke.” “Our souls have been bowed down” “and my nerve trembles from long confinement.” “Pen, or tongue, or angels,” Joseph wrote, could not adequately describe “the malice of hell” that he suffered there. (Holland, Lessons From Liberty Jail)

To make matters worse, in the midst of this imprisonment, the Saints were being driven out of their homes in Missouri via an extermination order signed by Governor Boggs. These conditions drove the prophet to cry out, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (D&C 121:1) Surely Joseph could relate to the man watching his hut burn to the ground who cried out “God how could you do this to me?!” But Joseph’s burning hut of adversity sent up a smoke signal that would summon a boat in the form of some of the most powerful lessons ever taught in the scriptures contained in Doctrine and Covenants sections 121-123.

As challenging and profound as each of these stories are, none match the affliction and distress endured by the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. As described by Jesus himself, so great was the suffering it “caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” The culmination of the suffering consisted of the Father withdrawing His Spirit, causing the Savior to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” These flames of anguish burning down Jesus’ hut summoned the greatest gift of grace this world has ever known – the atonement. It is through this figurative rescue boat that we are endowed with the strength to not just pass through our trials, but to allow our trials to “pass through us in ways that sanctify us.” (Elder Maxwell)

President Thomas S. Monson proclaimed:

“There are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were – better than what we were, more understanding than what we were, more empathetic than what we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before.”

Linda S. Reeves has offered this perspective thought, “What will it matter, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God.” In other words, what will it matter how many huts we watch go up in flames if, in the end, those smoke signals are the very things that beckon the rescue boats – the grace of God – to come to our aid and take us to where we need to go.

Whatever the hut that is in flames represents for us, we can rest assured with the knowledge that God is not maliciously burning it to the ground for his own satisfaction, nor will he allow it to burn to the ground without sending a smoke signal summoning a rescue boat. He is at work in our lives orchestrating the experiences, challenges, and trials that will bring us the greatest amount of knowledge, experience, and eternal progression.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

“The tests of life are tailored for our own best interests, and all will face the burdens best suited to their own mortal experience. In the end we will realize that God is merciful as well as just and that all the rules are fair, we can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed, and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way.”

Whether we recognize it in the moment or not, He does have our best interests in mind. With our limited vision we may be satisfied for the moment with figuratively living in a hut on a deserted island, because it is better than drifting away aimlessly in the ocean. But God sees the bigger picture, and knows that we can accomplish much more if He can rescue us from where we are. Even if it requires us to experience some frustration and despair as our circumstances are altered. So remember, the next time you feel like your little hut is burning to the ground, it may just be the smoke signal that summons the grace of God. In the words of George Q. Cannon “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, God will never desert us, He never has, and He never will.”

From Self-Doubt to Moving Mountains

At some point in our lives we each become acquainted with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Often times these feelings sprout from focusing solely on our personal weaknesses and imperfections. The danger in zooming in exclusively on these, is our strengths and our individual potential can then fade out of sight, causing our self-image to be blurred by negative shadows of self-deprecation.  This can be difficult to avoid though, because life is challenging. When hard things are asked or required of us, our initial response may be to think we are not good enough. To make matters worse, there may even be forces outside of our control that appear to carry our tasks up to a level of seeming impossibility. When such situations arise I find comfort in this truth taught by Elder Richard G. Scott, “Learning, pondering, searching, and memorizing scriptures is like filling a cabinet with friends, values, and truths that can be called upon anytime.” As the characters in the scriptural stories become “stalwart friends that are not limited by geography or calendar,” they can be pulled out of your memory cabinet to teach useful truths in a moment of need. One of my best friends when I need self-worth is Enoch the prophet.

The story of this friend picks up in Moses chapter 6:

26 And it came to pass that Enoch journeyed in the land, among the people; and as he journeyed, the Spirit of God descended out of heaven, and abode upon him.

27 And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off.

Enoch was asked by the Lord to go prophesy unto the people and tell them to repent, this was no small task considering how wicked they were. Remember Enoch was the great-grandfather of Noah, so these were some of the darkest days in the Earth’s history. And unfortunately for him, it is very rare that you find people who enjoy being told to repent, especially iniquitous people guilty of grievous sins. Now, we might not be chosen to call a civilization to repentance like Enoch, but just as he was asked to perform this difficult assignment, we are repeatedly asked to do hard things.  These could be things asked of us by God, by our parents, friends, family members, church leaders, teachers and professors, or even employers. These things could range from keeping a certain commandment, fulfilling a demanding calling, going on a mission, forgiving someone, lending a helping hand or listening ear, being overworked at your job, finishing assignments, dating, or enduring irony or loneliness. In short, Enoch’s task may be generalized to include anything that requires more of us than we feel we are capable of giving.

We look now at Enoch’s response:

31 And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?

He replied the way we often reply when asked to do something difficult, by reciting a list of every reason we’re not good enough. “I’m just a boy I’m not old enough for that, the people hate me, I can’t talk.” In other words, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy! I suggest you find someone else, because I can’t do that.” Similarly overwhelmed with self-doubt, we give this same response to those asking hard things of us, and maybe even worse – to ourselves. The oddest thing is the moment someone tries to convince us to believe in ourselves, we somehow feel obliged to defend our doubts and offer an attack on our self, disguised as a counterargument just like he did. We, like Enoch, often listen to the wrong spirit. Brigham Young candidly advised, “If you have a bad thought about yourself, tell it to go to Hell because that is exactly where it came from.” I don’t believe we come into this life with low confidence and a bad self-image, I believe that comes from letting those thoughts that come from the adversary stay in our mind instead of sending them right back where they belong.

The very fact that God is asking Enoch and not someone else shows that God believes in him. But Enoch is too focused on his weaknesses and imperfections to see that. He is struggling to see himself as God sees him. The words of Elder Bruce C. Hafen offer comfort in such seasons of doubt, “So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, and stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away.” As Elder Hafen says, struggling with problems in the form of imperfections or inadequacies is at the very core of life’s purpose, and as we move nearer to God, our weaknesses become more detectable. This is because the closer we get to the Lord, the more often he gives us opportunities to have stretching experiences – experiences that require us to do things we’ve never done before, and to become better than we’ve ever been. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell has put it, “God as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times. The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched.”

So, we are in the business of making spiritual music in the form of progression. However, like Enoch we may not feel good enough or even worthy, to play the song that is requested. Hope can be found in this principle taught by Cecil O. Samuelson, “One can be fully worthy in the gospel sense and yet still be growing while dealing with personal imperfections. . . Worthiness is vital, but it is not the same as perfection. . . It may reflect more upon your current direction than on your final destination.” Enoch might have been under the impression that he needed to be perfect in order to perform the task of calling the people to repentance. If so, that is a troubling conclusion. If perfection was a prerequisite to being worthy of having the opportunity to perform difficult, soul-stretching tasks, not only would Jesus be the only one worthy of doing anything hard, but that would be counterproductive to the very work Jesus himself is engaged in, namely our eternal improvement. Remember, God is more concerned with our direction, we may feel weak as we ascend the upward climb toward him, but at least we know that we are moving up. And as we will learn in the Lord’s response to Enoch, we are not alone in our effort to climb.

32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.

34 Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.

How interesting the Lord does not just tell Enoch to walk, but to walk with Him. In essence the Lord is saying here, “Enoch, go forth and try. All I need is your best effort. If you really feel like you can’t talk very well, then I will speak for you. I will justify whatever effort you put forward with my grace. And I will move any outside forces beyond your control, like mountains or rivers, out of your way.”

 As the story of Enoch is pulled out of the memory cabinet, it must be accompanied by this truth taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Lord does not ask about our ability or inability, but only about our availability. And if we prove our dependability, the Lord will take care of our capability.” The Lord is not asking Enoch if he is able or not able to call the people to repentance. That’s simply not what He is asking. He is asking him if he is available – if he is willing to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands by trying. Then, as Enoch proves his dependability by giving his best effort, the Lord will take care of his capability and make up where he lacks. The Lord did not ask if five loaves and two fishes were able or not able to feed five thousand people, he only asked if they were available for Him to use. And as their dependability was proved by being brought forward and given to the Lord, their capability was taken care of.  Likewise, when we are given soul-stretching opportunities He is not asking us whether we are able or not able to do those hard things. His concern is our availability. And just like Enoch, and the five loaves and two fishes, if we make ourselves available and prove our dependability by trying our best, the promise is the Lord will take care of our capability.

37 And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.

38 And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here and keep the tents, while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.

39 And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.

Enoch was endowed with power from on high as he proved his dependability and did as the Lord asked by testifying with boldness. The people feared him because they knew he walked with God. He was referred to as a “wild man” and “a strange thing in the land.” The transformation gets even better in the next chapter when armies are fleeing from Enoch as he moves mountains and bends rivers just as the Lord had promised.

12 And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent;

13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

14 There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea.

The Lord was true to his word in taking care of Enoch’s capability, but it was more than just effort that made the difference for Enoch in this transformation from self doubt to moving mountains. If we jump back to chapter six we read:

35 And the Lord spake unto Enoch, and said unto him: Anoint thine eyes with clay, and wash them, and thou shalt see. And he did so.

36 And he beheld the spirits that God had created; and he beheld also things which were not visible to the natural eye; and from thenceforth came the saying abroad in the land: A seer hath the Lord raised up unto his people.

What was the result of Enoch anointing his eyes with clay and then washing the clay from them? He was able to see with spiritual eyes rather than just his natural eyes. Seeing things with spiritual eyes included seeing himself as he really was. Surely this allowed Enoch to see that he was foreordained before this life to perform this task. It likely awarded him the ability to see himself as God saw him, which is enough to boost anyone’s self-worth.

What might the anointing the eyes with clay and then washing them represent for us? Each week we have a significant opportunity to anoint and wash our eyes, and be filled with the Holy Spirit as we partake of the sacrament. Over the course of the week our vision of our self and the world around us can become blurred and distorted by many things, but as we take advantage of this ordinance and participate properly, a renewal of the spirit will better enable us to see things as they really are. This will capacitate us not only to change our focus from our weaknesses to our strengths, but to zoom in on the Savior as he converts those weaknesses into strengths.

As our focus is altered, the way we pray will change. We will desire to follow the counsel of President Thomas S. Monson, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.” We will stop praying for tasks that are equal to our abilities, and will begin to pray for our abilities to be made equal to our tasks. Then the progression and growth will occur. As he puts it, we will be the miracle. This is an important adjustment because life will not be full of tasks that are equal to our abilities, remember struggling with problems (hard tasks) is at the very core of life’s purpose. But we agreed to these.

In the gospel reference book True to the Faith we learn:

“In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. …

“The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women were given certain responsibilities and faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood duties. Although you do not remember that time, you surely agreed to fulfill significant tasks in the service of your Father”

The fact that opportunities to accept responsibility for such significant tasks were offered to us means Heavenly Father believed in us. The fact that we committed to them means we believed in ourselves. It is easy for God to carry on that belief, he does not have a veil placed over him. He never forgets our real identity or our eternal potential. I believe the reason He entrusts us with hard things to do and overcome, and gives other people opportunities to require much from us, is so we can learn things about ourselves that He already knows. Enoch needed to learn something about Enoch. He needed a chance to become who he had committed to become. That never would have happened if he had not been asked to do something he felt overwhelmed by. It is the same for us. Therefore, as we go forward, the encouraging words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell hang before us, “It is extremely important for you to believe in yourselves not only for what you are now but for what you have the power to become. Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now but that will unfold later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time where instead of sometimes being fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit.”

I know that if we will stay close to the Lord, make ourselves available, and continue to faithfully anoint and wash our spiritual eyes every week, we, like Enoch, will go from self-doubt to moving mountains. We will become “a strange thing in the land.”

The Vain Things of the World

In a 1976 message that Hugh Nibley said was “given the instant deep freeze” by the Latter-day Saints, President Spencer W. Kimball shared a sobering story to demonstrate the dangers of setting our hearts on the things of the world.

I am reminded of an article I read some years ago about a group of men who had gone to the jungles to capture monkeys. They tried a number of different things to catch the monkeys, including nets. But finding that the nets could injure such small creatures, they finally came upon an ingenious solution. They built a large number of small boxes, and in the top of each they bored a hole just large enough for a monkey to get his hand into. They then set these boxes out under the trees and in each one they put a nut that the monkeys were particularly fond of.

When the men left, the monkeys began to come down from the trees and examine the boxes. Finding that there were nuts to be had, they reached into the boxes to get them. But when a monkey would try to withdraw his hand with the nut, he could not get his hand out of the box because his little fist, with the nut inside, was now too large.

At about this time, the men would come out of the underbrush and converge on the monkeys. And here is the curious thing: When the monkeys saw the men coming, they would shriek and scramble about with the thought of escaping; but as easy as it would have been, they would not let go of the nut so that they could withdraw their hands from the boxes and thus escape. The men captured them easily.

And so it often seems to be with people, having such a firm grasp on things of the world—that which is telestial—that no amount of urging and no degree of emergency can persuade them to let go in favor of that which is celestial. Satan gets them in his grip easily. If we insist on spending all our time and resources building up for ourselves a worldly kingdom, that is exactly what we will inherit.

The nut may represent something different for each of us, and the angle Satan takes to capture us may vary, but the monkey typifies us all at some point. Regardless of the level of urging or persuasion we refuse to let go of the things of the world, and are converged upon. To make matters worse, we are not the only losers here. While we are preoccupied with grasping the nut in the box, there are plenty of friends and family who could use a helping hand. An understanding of what the nut truly represents, and what is wrong with holding onto it, reaching for it, and even making sacrifices for it, might motivate us to let go.

“But exactly what are the things of this world? An easy and infallible test has been given us in the well-known maxim: “You can have anything in this world for money.” If a thing is of this world you can have it for money. If you can’t have it for money, it does not belong to this world.” (Hugh Nibley, Leaders and Managers)  Why are we all so focused on money all the time? Because it can get you anything here! The key word though, is here, in this world. Money, and anything you can get for it, does you no good in the other world. In fact, few of the things we value here are of any merit there. “Look around you here, do you see anything that cannot be had for money? Is there anything here you couldn’t have if you were rich enough? Well, for one thing you think of intelligence, integrity, sobriety, zeal, character, and other such noble qualities. But hold on, I have always been taught that those very things the managers are looking for bring top price in the market place… Does their value in this world mean then that they have no value in the other world? It means exactly that. Such things have no price and command no salary in Zion. You cannot bargain with them because they are as common as the once pure air around us. They’re not negotiable in the Kingdom because there everybody possesses all of them in full measure. And it would make as much sense to command pay for having bones or skin as it would to collect a bonus for honesty or sobriety. It’s only in our world that they are valued for their scarcity.” (Hugh Nibley, Leaders and Managers) 

This world has it backwards. “To seek ye first financial independence and all other things shall be added, is recognized as a rank perversion of the scriptures and an immoral inversion of value.” (Nibley) God says, “Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the Kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good – to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18) The telestial world says, “Before ye seek for the Kingdom of God, seek ye for riches.  And after ye have obtained a hope in your wealth and substance, ye shall obtain the Kingdom of God if ye desire it. Then ye will seek the Kingdom of God with the ability to do good. But for now, focus on the fortune.” It is one thing to support yourself and your family’s needs. It is another thing entirely to forego opportunities to serve or bless the lives of others in order to reach like a monkey for things in a box. Not to mention, money and luxuries only bring fulfillment to a certain level which lies just above the meeting of our needs.

This concept is taught in Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin’s book titled “Your Money or Your Life.” It is called the fulfillment curve.

fulfillment-CURVE

They noted that as they climbed up the levels on the graph toward luxuries, they began to believe that money = fulfillment. Then, eventually they report: “We hit a fulfillment ceiling and never recognized that the formula of money = fulfillment not only had stopped working but had started to work against us. No matter how much we bought, the Fulfillment Curve kept heading down. But there is a very interesting place on this graph –it’s the peak… At the peak of the Fulfillment Curve we have enough. Enough for our survival. Enough comforts. And even a little ‘luxuries’.” What I find even more interesting, is their description of passing by the ‘Enough’ climax. They state that at length “we slipped beyond amenities to outright luxuries–and hardly noticed the change… While each one was a still a thrill, it cost more per thrill and the ‘high’ wore off more quickly.” It seems that Satan starts with a small nut in the box that we can grab, and still remove our hand easily. Slowly the nut gets larger until we can hardly manage to squeeze our hand out through the whole with the nut, until not at all. Sometimes it takes being converged upon to get us to stop reaching.

Whether we are willing to learn from the scriptures and the mistakes of others, or have to learn from our own sad experience, eventually we will all come to understand as Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “There is no lasting happiness in what we possess. Happiness and joy come from what a person is, not from what he or she possesses or appears to be.” This can be a difficult principle to grasp in our society with the cultural conditioning that goes on in the media. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has observed, “Some days it is as if we have been locked in a cubicle of a great and spacious building where the only thing on the TV is a never ending soap opera entitled Vain Imaginations.” There is no season or series finale to that TV series. It doesn’t end.

Keeping up with this attainment of the latest and greatest thing you can have for money is like trying to go up on an escalator that is quickly coming down. You never get anywhere. There is a never ending set of next steps required to get to the top floor where at last you can allegedly purchase the esteemed product of euphoria. In reality, such a trek is not only misplaced zeal, but a downright waste of energy. At some point one comes to the realization that the trudge up the telestial trail is not worth it. “All the quick fixes do not really cure the emptiness and boredom of secularism. Further, some who laboriously scale the secular heights find, after all, that they are only squatting atop a small mound of sand! They have worked so hard to get there!” (Neal A. Maxwell) Furthermore, the things we store in our conquered sand hill will be corrupted anyway. The Lord has said, “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 will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Setting our hearts on the things of the world will always lead to pride or coveting. Pride when we obtain the vain things we desire, and coveting when we don’t. Both these, in turn, can cause us to forget God. “O, how could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you? But behold, it is to get gain, to be praised of men, yea, and that ye might get gold and silver. And ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world.” (Helaman 7:20-21)

“The traits and the behavior Isaiah denounces as the worst of vices are without exception those of successful people. The wickedness and folly of Israel do not consist of indolence, sloppy dressing, long hair, nonconformity, (even the reading of books), radical and liberal unrealistic ideas and programs, irreverence toward custom and property, contempt for established idols and so on. The wickedest people in the Book of Mormon are the Zoramites, a proud, independent, courageous, industrious, enterprising, patriotic, prosperous people who attend strictly to their weekly religious duties with the proper observance of dress standards. Thanking God for all he had given them, they bore testimony of his goodness. They were sustained in all their doings by a perfectly beautiful self-image. Well, what is wrong with any of that? There is just one thing that spoils it all, and that is the very thing that puts Israel in bad with the Lord according to Isaiah. The Jews observed with strictest regularity all the rules that Moses gave them – “and yet… they cry unto thee… and yet” they are really thinking of something else. “Behold, O my God, their costly apparel… all their precious things… ; their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say – We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.” (Hugh Nibley, Great Are the Words of Isaiah)

The world may not notice that we are walking around with our hand stuck in a box resolutely clinching a nut we are particularly fond of, but God does. He knows what we are really thinking about. He also knows what firmly holding onto these vain things leads to. Ultimately we will begin to make sacrifices for them.

In chapter 1 of The Book of Abraham in The Pearl of Great Price we read an account of false priests trying to sacrifice Abraham to pagan idols.

My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice;

He tried to get them to stop, but they wouldn’t listen.

For their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt;

 Therefore they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice, but endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah. The priest of Elkenah was also the priest of Pharaoh.

Why dumb idols? “The daring illusion of the schoolmen is that as modern, enlightened, rational thinkers they have made a wonderful discovery: that wood or metal dolls or images cannot really see or hear, and so on. They labor the point to death. But the ancients knew that as well as we do. That is exactly why they patronized the idols. There is the famous story of the Eloquent Peasant from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt that tells how the rascally manager of an estate, when he saw a peasant passing by on his way to the market with a load of goods, cried out, “Would that I had some idol that would permit me to rob this man’s goods.” A dumb image would offer no opposition to any course he chose to take. That was the beauty of idols: They are as impersonal and unmoral as money in the bank – the present-day as well as the ancient equivalent of a useful idol.” (Hugh Nibley, Great Are the Words of Isaiah) There are a plethora of useful idols today. The benefit of worshiping such things is they don’t get involved in our life. They don’t require us to become any better than we are, or to make any changes within our self.

 Now, at this time it was the custom of the priest of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to offer up upon the altar which was built in the land of Chaldea, for the offering unto these strange gods, men, women, and children.

Has it become a ‘custom’ in our day to sacrifice men, women, and even children to strange gods? We are doing exactly that. Satan does not change. “The adversary steadily promotes all the ancient sins, not because he is uninventive but because his harvest is so great.” (Neal A. Maxwell) We may not be sacrificing someone’s life to the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, or Mahmackrah. But what about sacrificing their time to the god of entertainment; their feelings to the god of popularity; their attention to the god of celebrities or sports teams; their confidence to the god of self-image; their feelings to the god of “i’m always right”; their needs to the god of video games; their friendship to the god of our career; their spiritual welfare to the god of wealth? We constantly sacrifice that which is of worth for that which is of no worth. “Seduced by our culture, we often hardly recognize our idolatry, as our strings are pulled by that which is popular in the Babylonian world.” (David R. Stone) We could apply verse 6 to our day and read it like this: “For their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to the god of personal fulfillment, and the god of political correctness, and the god of money, and the god of public figures, and the god of social media.” In that same deep frozen address cited earlier, President Kimball also taught, “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.” What are our hearts really set on? Who do we really put our trust in?

The sooner we give these things up the better. “Hearts set so much upon the things of the world may have to be broken. Preoccupied minds far from Him may be jolted by a “heads up”. Many individuals preoccupied by the cares of the world are not necessarily in transgression. But they certainly are in diversion and thus waste “the days of [their] probation”.” (Maxwell) Let’s not waste the days of our probation making sacrifices to reach for Satan’s strategically placed nuts. We have too much to do, the Lord has tasks for us to perform and lives to bless.

The sole aim of this article can be summed up in the principle taught by George Albert Smith in this statement, ““We may have given to us, in this life, a few things that will give us satisfaction, temporally; but the things that are ‘worthwhile,’ are those eternal things that we reach out for, and prepare ourselves to receive, and lay hold of by the effort that we individually make.” After all, “what does the world really have to offer us? One round of applause, one fleeting moment of adulation, or an approving glance from a phantom Caesar?” (Maxwell) The vain things of the world are not worth the price required to pay for them. Let go of the nut!