Friday, May 26, 2017

My Awakening, Part 5 - Conclusion

I started this series of posts to put down in writing some of my beliefs and the understanding that I've arrived at while studying the Gospel and praying for further light and knowledge. It began when I read Moroni 7:33-38 and realized that the course of my life was not manifesting the abundant miracles and blessings promised to believers in the scriptures. Moroni's words sunk deep into my heart and I knew that something was amiss. Moroni equates the presence of signs and miracles with faith and redemption, and the lack of these signs and miracles with a lack of faith and redemption. In Moroni's own words, the lack of these things means "awful is the state of [that] man". Over time, as I continued to interact with others at Church, it became apparent to me that I was not the only one who lacked these blessings. This is a problem that has become pervasive among members of the LDS Church, not to mention all of Christianity.

In my quest to understand why these things were missing from my life, I found Moroni's explanation in Mormon 9:15-21, which bears repeating here:
15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.
16 Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes? Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of God?
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.
Moroni wrote plainly that there are 3 reasons why God ceases to do miracles among a people, because:
  1. they dwindle in unbelief
  2. they depart from the right way
  3. they know not the God in whom they should trust
I decided to take Moroni's explanation to heart and see if these three things could be found among us. In this series of posts, I've tried to present evidence to make the case for Moroni. The evidence was by no means comprehensive. However, it was sufficient for me to accept what Moroni wrote. I believe he was correct in what he said and it has manifested itself today in myself and among the Latter-day Saints in general.

You must judge for yourself whether you accept Moroni's diagnosis. Do you see a lack of frequent miracles in your life and the lives of members of the Church you live among? Is your life full of signs such as inspired dreams and visions, angelic ministrations, hearing the voice of God, prophecy, revelation, miraculous healings, etc.? These blessings were common among the saints in the days of the early apostles as well as in the days of Joseph Smith. If they are not common now, then that should give us pause. We should be asking God why they are missing. If God does not favor us like He did them, why is that?

Our relationship with God is not a binary state. In other words, I expect none of us are perfect, nor are we inheritors of perdition. Therefore, our state and standing before God must fall somewhere along a spectrum between those two extremes. However, the Lord has provided markers or milestones along the way that can be used to give us an idea of how well He favors us. The scriptures are clear that there are some that are highly favored of Him, because of their righteousness, whereas there are others who, because of wickedness, inherit curses, wrath, and destruction. How can we know how He views us? I would never want to assume that I'm favored with Him when that is not the case.

In the sixth Lecture on Faith, we learn that one of the principle elements of faith is to obtain a knowledge that the course of your life is according to God's will.
11 All the saints of whom we have account in all the revelations of God which are extant, obtained the knowledge which they had of their acceptance in his sight, through the sacrifice which they offered unto him: and through the knowledge thus obtained, their faith became sufficiently strong to lay hold upon the promise of eternal life, and to endure us seeing him who is invisible; and were enabled, through faith, to combat the powers of darkness, contend against the wiles of the adversary, overcome the world, and obtain the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.
12 But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them. (LoF 6:11-12)
Can you say that you know, with a perfect knowledge, that the course of your life is "well pleasing in [God's] sight"? If not, then your faith is imperfect, and will not be sufficient for you to obtain eternal life.
8 It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him. (LoF 6:8)
It would be presumptuous of me to expect to inherit the blessings of Abraham without doing the works of Abraham and offering a sacrifice similar in scope to Abraham's sacrifice. Should I expect to inherit the blessings of Lehi or Nephi without being as faithful through trials as they were? If God is "no respecter of persons", then why would he bless them so abundantly with visions, ministering angels, and His own voice, and not me if I live to the same degree of faithfulness that they did?
26 For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? (D&C 38:26)
God is just. Therefore, any difference in blessings between myself (or yourself) and Nephi or any other blessed individual in scripture must be a difference in the degree of faithfulness (i.e. how full of faith someone is).
...this is the reason that the Former Day Saints knew more, and understood more of heaven, and of heavenly things than all others beside, because this information is the effect of faith-to be obtained by no other means. And this is the reason, that men, as soon as they lose their faith, run into strifes, contentions, darkness and difficulties; for the knowledge which tends to life disappears with faith, but returns when faith returns; for when faith comes, it brings its train of attendants with it—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, gifts, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. All these appear when faith appears on the earth, and disappear when it disappears from the earth. For these are the effects of faith and always have, and always will attend it. For where faith is, there will the knowledge of God be also, with all things which pertain thereto—revelations, visions, and dreams, as well as every other necessary thing in order that the possessors of faith may be perfected and obtain salvation; for God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him. (LoF 7:20)
Moroni wrote that a lack of signs and miracles means a lack of faith and "without faith it is impossible to please [God]". Therefore, what should we do? If there is unbelief among us, how do we cast it off? If we have departed from the right way, how do we get back on the strait and narrow? If we know not the God in whom we should trust, how do we begin to know Him?

The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. If you don't believe anything is wrong, then you will never take the next step to begin to fix it. The scriptures are full of examples of people who believed they were righteous even while they were ripening for destruction.

Laman & Lemuel were convinced that the people in Jerusalem were righteous, even after God had already decreed destruction for that wicked city. The Zoramites believed themselves to be a "chosen and holy people", even while Alma knew that they were a wicked and perverse people. Perhaps the point is that it is dangerous to trust in your own estimation of yourself.

If there is even a chance that what you believe and have faith in is accounted as unbelief to God, wouldn't you want to know about it? If there is a chance that your church is adrift and no longer able to help you draw nearer to God, wouldn't that be important to understand?

There are generally two ways to respond to a message like this. The most common response, unfortunately, is to harden one's heart and refuse to believe it. When the wandering Israelites were being plagued by the bites of fiery flying serpents, Moses crafted a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole. The Lord said that any who looked upon the serpent of brass would be healed. Speaking of this, Alma taught:
19 ...and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live.
20 But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.
21 O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? (Alma 33:19-21)
The other way to respond is to do as Nephi did. When Lehi decided to take his family on a permanent camping trip, at first his kids all thought he was crazy. Yet, they responded in different ways.
11 Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart. (1 Nephi 2:11)
Nephi also had trouble believing what his father said, but instead of murmuring and disbelieving, he took it to the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16)
The Lord wouldn't have needed to soften his heart (so that he could believe) if he already believed it. Thus, he must have been skeptical at first. But, because of his faith in God and his desire to know more about God, he asked in faith and received an answer. He allowed the possibility that what his father said could be true and cried unto the Lord for wisdom.

Alma taught:
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
I believe the symptoms given in Mormon 9:20 are manifest today; not only in myself, but also generally among the members of the LDS Church. I have delivered this message in good faith, not because I want to, or because I'm anyone special (I'm not), but because I believe the Lord wants me to raise a warning voice. " becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor." (D&C 88:81)

I invite you to ponder and pray about these things. Ask the Lord if the course of your life is pleasing before Him. Ask him to remove whatever unbelief you may have. Ask for faith in Him. "for God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him" (LoF 7:20)

When Moroni visited Joseph on that fateful night of September 21, 1823, one of the scriptures he quoted was the following:
28 ¶ And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:28-32)
After quoting the above, Moroni said "that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be." (JS-H 1:41) 194 years later, this prophecy has still not been fulfilled. Therefore, it must be very soon to come. Perhaps the Lord is just waiting for some to rise up, cast off their unbelief, and put their trust fully in Him again.