Friday, May 13, 2016

My Awakening, Part 1 - A God of Miracles

I have noticed that strange things happen when I begin to take the Book of Mormon seriously. It causes me to want to repent.

Several years ago, I was reading the Book of Mormon early one morning when I came across this passage:
 33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
 34 And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.
 35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
 36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
 37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
 38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made. (Moroni 7:33-38)
Though I had read this passage many times before, this time as I read my eyes were opened and I saw myself in my own awful state. I think I may have felt something like Joseph felt when he wrote about reading James 1:5,  "Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart." (JS-H 1:12)

I had been raised in the Church, and tried to be obedient to the principles that were taught me. I certainly had my flaws and struggles, but I had tried to be faithful to what I had been taught. Yet, it was forcefully driven home to me that I had never seen an angel, or witnessed a great miracle like those wrought by the ancient apostles. Even the Holy Ghost, from what I could tell, had only been a rare visitor in my life. The alarming thought that I remember very clearly was that something was wrong. I determined to find out what it was.

There are other scriptures that drive home the same point. For example:
 64 Therefore, as I said unto mine apostles I say unto you again, that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost.
 65 And these signs shall follow them that believe—
 66 In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
 67 In my name they shall cast out devils;
 68 In my name they shall heal the sick;
 69 In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf;
 70 And the tongue of the dumb shall speak;
 71 And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them;
 72 And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them. (D&C 84:64-72)
These same signs are promised to believers in many other places of scripture. (Mark 16:17-18; Mormon 9:24; Ether 4:18; D&C 68:10D&C 124:98-99). They are not limited to those in authority, but are promised to all who believe. (From a New Testament perspective, to believe and to have faith are the same thing, since they are translated from the same root word in Greek).

As shown by the scriptures, these signs have been promised to the saints in every dispensation of the Gospel and every age of the world. They are an integral part of the Gospel, showing God's approval upon his righteous children. If these signs were promised many times before, would God decide now that they are no longer necessary? Would He change His mind?
 18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. (1 Nephi 10:18)
As I look at my own life and listen to the testimonies and teachings of other members in my ward, I have to conclude that there is a great lack of these signs among us. God has not been showing forth His promised works among the Latter-day Saints.

I've heard some say that these miracles are happening among many, but they do not talk about them and so they remain hidden to the general membership. Given the nature of the signs listed above, I cannot believe that. If a blind man in your neighborhood had his sight restored through faith, who could keep that a secret for long? Consider this story from the book of Acts:
 1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
 2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
 3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
 4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
 5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
 6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
 7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
 8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
 10 And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
 11 And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering. (Acts 3:1-11)
Was there any attempt by Peter and John to keep the miracle a secret? How many witnessed this miracle? A casual reading of the book of Acts will reveal that such signs and miracles were commonplace among the Christians in the early days of the New Testament church. Likewise, there were many public instances of signs following Joseph Smith and other believers in the early days of the restored church. Here is one example:
The following account of a miraculous healing is to be found in Hayden' History of the Disciples (Campbellites); and is the statement of witnesses hostile to the prophet and the work in which he was engaged: 
"Ezra Booth, of Mantua, a Methodist preacher of much more than ordinary culture, and with strong natural abilities, in company with his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and some other citizens of this place, visited Smith at his house in Kirtland, in 1831. Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith, partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview the conversation turned upon the subject of supernatural gifts; such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said: 'Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men on the earth to cure her?' A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: "Woman, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole; and immediately left the room. The company were awestricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke. The sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well attested fact—electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain." (Joseph Smith/Healings and Miracles;
Again consider, was there any attempt on Joseph's part to conceal his use of the power of God to heal Mrs. Johnson? How many witnessed the event?

Having been raised my entire life within the LDS church, however, I can honestly say that I have never seen such signs or the power of God manifested during church meetings. Instead, congregations have often been asked to fast for the sick and unwell. We are asked to pray for doctors and surgeons to be able to do their job effectively on behalf of those being attended to. At times, those prayed for recover. Other times they do not. Regardless, we put more trust in the medical establishment than in God.

In saying this, I do not mean to say that there are none among the members of the church who have faith and are able to work with the power of God. I sincerely hope there are some who can do these things. Yet, my lifelong experience tells me that such must be the very rare exception and not the rule among us. In general, the gifts of God are no longer being manifest among the Latter-day Saints. This recognition fills me with dread.

If you disagree, it may be because you have expanded upon the definition of miracle. Serendipity or "beating the odds" is not a miracle by the scriptural definition. Miracles have always been intended to be public displays of God's power "...for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts." (D&C 46:9)

Why have the signs ceased? Has God ceased to be a God of miracles? I've heard some say that such miracles are no longer necessary in our day. God has blessed us with science and technology. Because of great advances in medicine, ailments that were once life-threatening are now quickly and cheaply treated or cured. Certainly, these things are blessings. Yet, these blessings have been given to the whole world, and not just to believers. Also, given that medical care is predicated upon ability to pay, it is the wealthy, instead of the poor, who receive the most benefit from these advances. How can these things be attributed as the signs that follow believers as detailed in D&C 84?

What, then, is the problem? Moroni, who saw our day, diagnosed our problem.
 7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
 8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
 9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
 10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.
 11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.

 17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
 18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
 19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
 20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
 21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth. (Mormon 9:7-11, 17-21)
Here, then, are the reasons why miracles have ceased among the Latter-day Saints:
  1. We are dwindling in unbelief
  2. We have departed from the right way
  3. We know not the God in whom we should trust
Seeing all this, I feel like mourning for my own unbelief and that of my fellow LDS members. Speaking of His return, the Lord asked: "...when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)

Indeed. Will He?

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