23 December 2006

Malachi, Horeb, and the New Old Testament

"Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Malachi 4:4-6)
As long as I can remember, it's been pretty clear to me why Elijah is mentioned at the end of Malachi: the appearance of Elijah (and others) to Joseph Smith is pretty central to my religion. But what does Moses and Mount Horeb have to do with that?
"Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children." (Deuteronomy 4:10)
Moses and Horeb are like Joseph and the Grove: the prophet and the place where religion originated. We could view Horeb as the place where the "Old" Testament began, in the sense that it is where the LORD establishes his covenant (in writing) with Israel (Deuteronomy 5:2).

But another prophet also went to Horeb:
"And [Elijah] arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

"And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him.... And he said, 'Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.' And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." (1 Kings 19:8-12)
Elijah's experience on Horeb was different from his forebear's: Moses received the Law, establishing a covenant with a nation; Elijah's was a personal manifestation of the LORD, renewing his prophetic calling---or, in a way, his personal covenants.

(How fitting that both prophets were translated and would later appear together on another mount.)


03 December 2006

What Is My God?

I've been thinking about a common theme in the Old Testament: The Israelites are constantly straying to other gods. The common application to us today is to ask, "Who/what is your god?"
But how should I understand the question? How do I know whether something has become my god, replacing the true God?

The Book of Hosea gives one definition: My god is whatever I trust:

"For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, 'I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.'

"Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, 'I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.'" (Hosea 2:5-7)
Some verses in Isaiah may give a slightly different definition: My god is whatever I credit:

"Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, 'He made me not?' or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, 'He had no understanding'?" (Isaiah 29:16)
There is also the popular definition: My god is whatever I focus on:

"And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions...they will not remember him. O how foolish...are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!" (Helaman 12:3-4)
Any additional definitions (with accompanying scriptures) would be appreciated.

Mocking the False Gods
However we define our false god(s), Isaiah has something quite humorous to say about it:

"Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

"He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, 'Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire': And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, 'Deliver me; for thou art my god.'

"And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, 'I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?'" (Isaiah 44:15-19)
In other words: "Wake up, you fool! The thing you reverence so deeply is the very thing you yourself created. It should be serving you!"

(And some people think that only Elijah knows how to irreverently mock.)

Speaking of Elijah...
There is an interesting difference between what Elijah teaches and what Joshua demanded. Joshua famously demands a choice:

"Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
Elijah, on the other hand, shows that there is no choice:

"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, 'How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.'" (1 Kings 18:21)
Now that may sound a lot like what Joshua said, but look at how Elijah follows up on his question:

"And they...called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, 'O Baal, hear us.' But there was no voice, nor any that answered.

"And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, 'Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.'

"And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

"And it came to pass...that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, 'LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.' Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

"And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, 'The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.'" (1 Kings 18:26-39, emphasis added)


30 November 2006

Xmas Gift for My Daughter -- Please Help

I know this is a silly abuse of your time and my blog, but please help me if you can.

There is a commercial running lately, which I haven't seen, that advertises a toy that my daughter (3) wants. My wife has seen the commercial but--in her own words--is sooo captivated by the little girl in it that she doesn't remember the name of the toy. She just remembers the song she is singing:

"At six o'clock in the morning I wake up..."

The toy is some kind of microphone/karoake/playback thingy. My wife is certain that it is made by Fisher Price. And no--I cannot find it on the Fisher Price web site, nor was their customer service at all helpful when I called them.

If you know the name of the toy, please tell me. Thanks!

(And if you must know, I am completely wrapped around my daughter's finger and I like it there very much.)


28 November 2006

Husband, Santa, Business Partner, or John?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but I haven’t had the time to refine it; however, a recent post by Jim F urged me to publish “as is.”

One of the themes I have been developing throughout the year as I study the Old Testament in preparation for teaching Sunday School is that God is not a vending machine. You can read some of my posts on the subject here:

Commandments as Rewards
Taking in Adultery
Prostituting Oneself Before God

A brief summary of my point: A relationship with God is developed through obedience and faith; the ultimate purpose is oneness with him; obedience out of a desire for blessings (health, wealth, etc.) rather than a desire for oneness ignores the greater reward and is an attempted abuse of God.

Jim F calls this believing in the Santa-God; I call it treating God like a vending machine, a business partner, or a john. This perspective reminds one to pray for forgiveness, guidance, and mercy, and not for "rewards."

The problem I have with this is embodied in Nephi’s emotional prayer:

“O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy. O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever… Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee.” (2 Nephi 4:33-35)
Nephi is clearly asking for temporal blessings (and curses) and he implies that his own righteousness and trust in the Lord give him reason to expect to be accommodated. But wait! we're not supposed to ask God for anything—make a xmas list, feed quarters into the vending machine—because that is not what God wants our relationship to be.

What to do then, with Amulek’s teaching?
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:20,25)
Is there a paradox? God wants us to focus on the eternal relationship we can have with him, thereby dispensing with the cares of the world—what’s a few missing sheep in the eternal scheme, right? But at the same time, he seems not only to want us to ask for temporal blessings, he also seems quite mindful of our worldly concerns (Matthew 10:29) and indeed wants us to be attentive as well (Gospel Principles, Ch 27).

Personally, I feel like God really wants me to care about my job and my health, my car and my Frisbee game, the loss of a loved-one, family vacation, and so on. And I believe that in some ways those blessings are contingent upon my righteousness. I can’t reason why I feel that way—just that when I pray I feel that I should pray for those things and when I sin I sometimes notice how I miss out. That’s “an ‘n’ of one,” as they say, but that’s my “n.” Still, I can’t resolve my two beliefs.


26 November 2006

Art for Art

A reason commonly given for the importance of early music education is that it enhances a child’s test scores in other areas, most notably math. I haven’t cared to look up the data because the whole idea seems utterly misguided. I see these findings employed chiefly in three ways:

1) By companies trying to sell “learning enhancement” products
2) By music teachers desperately fighting for funding in high schools (or other institutions).
3) By concerned parents who bought what was being sold by those in #1.

The problem is that the argument ignores the value of music in and of itself, focusing instead on how music makes us better at other things. The message many people get, consciously or subconsciously, is that, “Music is good because it makes you better at things that actually matter.” With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why people decide to strip funding from music and redistribute it to math and science—because, after all, math and science are actually useful.

Even if funding were not reduced, there is still the problem that making “brain power” the goal will inevitably cause people to overlook the cultural benefits of the humanities. Imagine what would be lost if the entire focus of a reading of Hamlet was to expand one’s vocabulary, rather than to experience the angst of a man torn between loyalty and love. I think the better solution is to promote music for the good that music directly provides.

An obvious parallel exists in the Church. Bishop Brown spoke about this years ago:

“Brethren, sometimes Aaronic Priesthood work is misdirected. Sometimes when leaders see young men losing interest in the Church, they redouble their attempts to devise major events week after week, including super-activities, teen-age parties, and visits to exotic places, hoping thereby to compete with school activities, clubs, or television for the attention of our youth. ‘Entertaining activities are what our young people want’ some leaders seem to think, and ‘we have to give them what they want if we are going to keep them active.’ Even though young people may attend such activities for a time, they experience no conversion through them, often consider it no special honor to hold the priesthood, and then move into adulthood immature and poorly prepared for service to the Church and mankind.” (Ensign, Nov 1975, 66)

For a somewhat related post from another blog, please see here.


18 November 2006

Why Favor (or Even Have) Israel?

Why does Israel seem so favored by the Lord? We are all God's children, so he should love us (ie. treat us) all the same, right? Then why do we find promises like this one throughout the scriptures:

"Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." (Exodus 19:5-6)
The answer is also found in the scriptures:
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.

"Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.

"I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it." (Isaiah 41:10...20, emphasis added)
Israel is a special witness of or example before the Lord. That means they are greatly blessed and sorely cursed:
"Even all nations shall say, 'Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger?'

"Then men shall say, 'Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers: For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them: And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.'" (Deuteronomy 29:24-28)
The House of Israel is a light to the Gentiles. Many, of course, do not recognize that light and persecute the Jews and pay no attention to the covenants God has made with them. Others, however, will be introduced to Jehovah through the witness of the Jews in Jerusalem:
"Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, 'We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.'" (Zechariah 8:22-23)
I like how Max I. Reich puts it:
"The nation of Israel was chosen to be the trustee of the divine self-revelation, culminating in the Messiah." (The Messianic Hope of Israel)

(As a side note: a Jewish friend commented on the difficulty of becoming a Jew. They don't seek converts and they make it very difficult to convert---the process may take years. My friend summed up by saying, "You'd have to be crazy to want to be a Jew anyway. Life is so much easier not being a Jew and you can still get all of the same blessings in the afterlife.")


14 November 2006

God’s Promises

The Book of Job offers many lessons, and one is that conventional wisdom about God is often wrong. As an example, read Eliphaz’ claim:

"Call to mind now: Who, being innocent, ever perished? And where were upright people ever destroyed? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same." (4:7-8)
This may sound good, unless one reads the first and last chapter of Job. In the first, we learn that "[Job] was pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (1:1), so hardly one deserving of destruction. In the last, we read God’s own rejection of Eliphaz: "My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right" (42:7). The Book of Job leaves us with a God who blesses and curses whomever he pleases.

So what should we make of these verses:
"And keep the charge of the LORD thy God...that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest" (1 Kings 2:3)
"The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy" (Psalms 145:20)
"He that is righteous is favored of God" (1 Nephi 17:33-35)
"Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?" (D&C 58:31)
"I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say" (D&C 82:10)
With the Book of Job under our arm, we might be reluctant to enter into any agreement with the Lord, fearing that we are either mistaken in our theology (God does not strike bargains) or misplacing our trust (God is too unpredictable). In regard to the latter, we turn to Alma’s words:
"For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers" (Alma 37:17)
Alma makes something very clear: God will fulfill the promises he makes to you, the individual. By including this phrase, Alma reminds us that promises are non-transferable; a promise made to one person or group does not necessarily apply to another.

Numerous examples support this idea. One is found in the Book of Mosiah. King Mosiah’s sons decided on missions in hostile Lamanite lands, and their father understandably feared for their lives. The Lord comforts Mosiah with a promise that he would "deliver [Mosiah's] sons out of the hands of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 28:7). While parents today would like to have that same promise as they send their sons and daughters around the world, tragically some missionaries in recent years were not brought home safely.

While this may seem like "harsh doctrine," it is important to understand. The alternative incorrectly assumes participation in certain promises, only to be discouraged or disbelieving when results fall short of expectations.

It is far better to identify which promises have actually been made. Many promises found in the scriptures are available to anyone who complies with the requirements—we could call these "opt-in promises." Notice the inclusive terms "all" and "every":
"For every one that asketh receiveth" (Matthew 7:8)
"sanctification...to all those who love and serve God" (D&C 20:31)
Additionally, modern prophets extend promises on behalf of the Lord:
"Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will...[read the Book of Mormon]..." (GBH, A Testimony Vibrant and True, Ensign, August 2005)
Lastly, while the promises made to King Mosiah may not be ours, we can certainly follow his example. He sought and received a promise specific to his need, and so can we. Patriarchal blessings are one source of these "personalized promises," as are personal prayer and priesthood blessings. Furthermore, King Mosiah brings out an important point often lost in discussions of Job: God is open to ideas. We see this with Abraham, Alma the Younger, and John, among others.

The bottom line is that God is a God of promises. He retains complete control over the terms and the participants, but once he makes a promise he is bound. So why include all those stories in the scriptures if the promises only apply to the people in the stories? Because they demonstrate that God has a habit of making and delivering on his promises:
"For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers." (Alma 37:17)


26 October 2006

The Weakness of the Book of Mormon

Those who attend Gospel Doctrine class are by now nearly through the Old Testament. To many this has been...chore, but hopefully it has also been enlightening. The Old Testament has so much to offer, not simply due to its length, but also to its complexity.

Here are a few characteristics of the Old Testament, some that make for truly superb study, others that that make it indecipherable, and some that do both:

  1. Complex Structure: most everyone loves a good chiasmus, especially when someone else works it out for you—and the Old Testament has chiasmi within chiasmi.
  2. Rhetorical Style: Hebrew poetry employed repetition, parallelism, grammar, and word-plays; western poetry is more about rhymes and meters. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of the "poems" in the Old Testament, and the emphasis they anticipate; are missed by most readers.
  3. Unidentified Redactors: much of the Old Testament was written, edited, and revised by unknown or unidentified authors. Were they wise, righteous, inspired, vengeful, manipulative, or perverse? One thing is probably certain: they were well educated.
  4. Oral Tradition: many of the stories and events were passed down orally from person to person until much later some scribe captured them in ink. The benefit: the stories were adapted to sound good to the ear, not just look good on papyrus.
  5. Culture Context: when we say "ancient" Hebrew, we often mean "very ancient." In the western United States, any building over fifty years old is considered ancient; go to Israel, however, and one hundred, five hundred, even one thousand years might still be considered recent. And throughout that history Israel sat in the center of the world: it knew Sumeria and the birth of Egypt, the long reign of Assyria and the relative flash of Babylonia, it neighbored Phoenicia and traded with the Greeks—and every page of the Old Testament is soaked in the richness of that history and changing culture.
  6. Birth of a Religion: we get to follow God’s continuing struggle to establish not only a nation, but a religion. The Israelites were really all converts—surrounded by other religions—and we learn line upon line as they struggle to learn the basics and the intricacies of God.

Certainly there is more, but the title of this post indicates that this is not what I wanted to talk about—so let’s move on.

Two Book of Mormon authors, Nephi and Moroni, lament what they call a "weakness" in writing:

"And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking...And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness." (2 Nephi 33:1,11)

"And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them. (Ether 12:23-24)

Many of us read that, then read one of our favorite verses (eg. 1 Nephi 3:7) and think, "What? They're just being modest!"

But if we remember to what they compared themselves (viz. the Old Testament), we see that they have a point. The Book of Mormon lacks much of what makes the Old Testament such a pleasure—and a challenge—to study:

  1. Structure: yes, the Book of Mormon has chiasmi, but they are not only rare, they are also simple. That is not to sat that they aren’t beautiful, but compared to Deuteronomy 11, chiasmi in the Book of Mormon are amateur. I don’t doubt that the Nephites were intelligent, I just think that Mormon tended to focus less on "the finer points of language" and more on "the finer points of swords."
  2. Language: whatever linguistic devices the Book of Mormon authors used in their reformed Egyptian was probably fairly basic, given that it was not their native language. In any case, much of it would be lost in translation to English and, unlike the Hebrew of the Old Testament, unavailable as source material for us today.
  3. Authorship: conspicuously, every word in the Book of Mormon can be attributed to a known author. There are a couple of cases when it is difficult to distinguish between two candidates (eg. when Moroni inserts his comments in Ether), but we always know the names of the two possibilities. Furthermore, it is always clear who kept the plates and who abridged what. (This point is not weakened if you insist that Joseph Smith influenced the wording in the translation process.)
  4. Permanent Medium: the Book of Mormon authors employ the complete opposite of oral tradition: they write their words in unchanging gold. Not paper that rots, stone that erodes, or iron that rusts—they use gold. As a result, there is no changing over the years the things that Nephi wrote; ie. even if he had wanted to, Helaman couldn’t have modified or edited something Nephi wrote in order to make it more beautiful or correlated.
  5. Unknown Culture: we know almost nothing about Nephite civilization and culture. I know that statement might upset many FARMS fans, but in comparison to the archeology in the Middle East, it is true. We can assume that certain aspects were similar to ancient Israelite culture, but even that is speculation: how many of us would claim that our families accurately and completely capture all aspects of our nation’s culture?
  6. Maintenance of a Religion: Nephi clearly had a deep understanding of his religion, and he effectively taught it too, as evidenced by his brother Jacob’s speeches and writings. Their focus, however, was on strengthening people in their faith, not to establish a novel religion.

(By this point I fear that most readers will have either stopped reading this post due to lost interest or are close to leaving due to being offended by my critique of the Book of Mormon. To the former I say, "The winning numbers for tomorrow’s lottery are 4-3-6-9-7." To the latter, I say, "Read on.")

The Book of Mormon authors who worried so much about their weak writing were promised by the Lord that it would be made strong:

"And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people. And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them...." (2 Nephi 33:4)
"Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness....

"And I, Moroni, having heard these words, was comforted, and said: O Lord, thy righteous will be done, for I know that thou workest unto the children of men according to their faith." (Ether 12:28-29)

I can imagine that Nephi and Moroni might have pictured the Lord rewriting and embellishing their words to make them more like the Old Testament, but what actually happened is even more profound: the past weaknesses of the Book of Mormon are actually its strengths today. We struggle through the Old Testament because:

  1. We don’t "do" chiasmus, so any that exist in the Book of Mormon go undiscovered by most readers. We do "do" climax-resolution-explanation, and that ("thus we see") is how the Book of Mormon is written.
  2. We don’t "get" Hebrew. We "get" English, and we tend to prefer "straight talk." With a limited language and limited time and space in which to write, the Nephites played right into our strength. Mormon, a military man, must have thought and wrote like a military man, not like a poet, philosopher, or intellectual.
  3. We want sources and trust authority. One result of Nephite recordkeeping is that every word is attributable to someone we identify as being a prophet (except for a few cases when the person writes very little or even admits their unworthiness; eg. Omni).
  4. We don’t read aloud. We each have our own set of scriptures—something unimaginable even a few hundred years ago—and we read to ourselves. So we don’t really need or want our scriptures to read like a sermon; we just want them to be readable.
  5. We have trouble defining our own culture, let alone relating to someone else’s. The benefit of an obscure and barely referenced Nephite culture is that we get to—sometimes have to—ignore it.
  6. Here’s where the Old Testament would have an advantage over the Book of Mormon in our day: the Old Testament is a story of conversion—and what better story to give to an investigator. But that storyline is often missed, not only because of the complexities mentioned above, but because members and most investigators already know the general Judeo-Christian story, we read the Old Testament not as a conversion story but as an illustration of stubbornness and ignorance. The Book of Mormon, in contrast, is addressed to Nephites who had some understanding of God but needed to repent and draw closer to him—which is exactly the message members and investigators need as well.

In summary, I love the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, but in some ways for different reasons. Imagine our missionaries around the world handing people the first ten books of the Old Testament to read as an introduction to our faith. I think it would be a disaster. In contrast, the Book of Mormon, thanks to its weaknesses, is actually pretty easy to follow and makes a very clear statement: "that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL God, manifesting himself unto all nations."


24 October 2006

God as a Woman (Isaiah 49:15)

The Bible likens the Lord to many different things in order to illustrate his relationship with us. In those comparisons, the Lord is usually represented in a masculine form: bridegroom, king, husband, warrior, father, tradesman. (Each of these is used often enough that I don't feel that they need citations.)

As far as I know, there are only two* scriptures that cast the Lord in a feminine form:

"Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." (Isaiah 49:15)
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37)
Nevermind any speculation on what this might mean concerning the nature of God, Heavenly Mother, etc. I want to point out three things:

  1. In both cases, the relationship is Mother:Child, with the Lord in the dominant role.
  2. Both use very tender imagery, but illustrate two different aspects of our relationship with God.
  3. The comparisons are beautiful.


* The following is an addition after posting made in response to Julie M. Smith's comment:

Deuteronomy 32:11:
"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:"
The problem with this example is that the eagle in many translations is neuter; ie. "its wings" instead of "her wings." (My Israeli friend confirms that the Hebrew reads as either "him" or "it.") Perhaps KJV translators erroneously assumed that an eagle hen is abandoned by the cock and alone must care for the young?

Deuteronomy 32:18:
"Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee."
I read this as a masculine reference. Compare Isaiah 51:1-2, where Abraham is a rock and Sarah is a quarry.

Job 38:29:
"Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?"
Thanks for the addition.

Psalms 22:9-10:
"But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly."
The way I read this verse, the speaker (David?) is referring to his actual mother, not comparing God to a woman. He is saying, "I have had faith in you since the day I was born."

Psalms 91:4:
"He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler."
This is an example of God as a bird, but not as a hen. It reads "his feathers."

Isaiah 42:14:
"I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once."
Good example. Thanks!

Isaiah 66:9:
"Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God."
I am intrigued by this one. Is the LORD giving birth or is he acting as midwife? The verse on its own reads as the former, but the context points to the latter. Either way, it is a female role.

Isaiah 66:13:
"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
Beautiful! Thanks for the addition.


23 October 2006

Forcing Peace (Isaiah 2:4)

In the past, whenever I have read Isaiah 2:4, I have read it as a time when the Lord would live on this earth and "fix all its problems," specifically that he would bring about world peace:

"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
As I read it this year, something stood out to me: the verse doesn't say anything about the Lord establishing peace. He will "judge" and he will "rebuke," but it is the people that will abandon war, thus ushering in a time of unprecedented peace.

(Of course, the Lord's judgments and reproofs will undoubtedly play an important role in bringing about the necessary changes of heart.)


17 October 2006

Abraham Part VII: A Strange Definition of Rest


"...finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me..."
We end how Abraham began—a phrase I have always found humorous. What could Abraham possibly mean by "greater...rest"? If we look at Abraham’s life, we see that this is both an understatement and a very strange definition.

As an understatement, we have to look at the context of the verse: Abraham has chosen to leave his father’s house in Ur and pursue a path that will lead him to Jehovah. If we remember that Abraham had narrowly escaped being sacrificed to his own father’s gods—a fate that apparently Abraham’s brother suffered—then we might say that for Abraham, things could only get easier. So "greater happiness and peace and rest" might simply mean "getting away from my filicidal dad."

But this is not how Abraham is thinking. First, he takes his father with him. Second, he is clearly not referring to getting away from a rotten former life but instead he is describing how he views the life that lay ahead. What I find so interesting is that Abraham makes this statement after living the post-Ur life; i.e. this is Abraham looking back over his life and calling it happy, peaceful, and restful.

A reminder of some of the events in Abraham’s life will show why this is noteworthy. During Abraham's life he:

• Flees from drought
• Wanders as a stranger in Canaan
• Fears he will be killed in Egypt
• Goes to battle against a huge army
• Sees his son-in-law’s family get nearly destroyed
• Goes without children until he is well over 60 years old
• Is told to sacrifice his own son
• Toils to make a living where he owns no land
• Expels one of his own sons from his household

Abraham’s life was filled with events that we would normally call hardships, trials, or challenges, yet he remembers the walk up the mount with Isaac and the expulsion of Ishmael as "happy"; he looks back on the conflicts with Pharaoh, Abimelech, and the conquerors of Sodom and calls it "peace"; he recalls the miles and miles of travel, travel, travel in search of the land of his inheritance and he calls it "rest." Was Abraham crazy, or was he just blessed with wisdom to see the good in the bad he had experienced?

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).
Incidentally, there is only one other verse in the scriptures that uses this combination of words (Alma 40: 12):

"And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow."

This concludes my series on Abraham 1:2. If you followed the series and liked the way it was published, please let me know. If you found it annoying (ie. you would have preferred to have it all at once) let me know as well. Thanks.


15 October 2006

Abraham Part VI: Defining the Priesthood


"...sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same..."
Abraham states what he desires, but it is not the same as what he seeks. This is not a foreign concept for those who have read Matthew 6:23:
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
In this manner, Abraham does not seek learning so that he can "possess a greater knowledge," he does not seek personal enrichment so that he can be a "greater follower of righteousness," and so on. In order to obtain the blessings he desires, he seeks the priesthood.

This gives us interesting insight into how Abraham viewed the priesthood and its effect on those who exercise it. If asked to define the priesthood, Abraham might agree with some of the answers we commonly hear: The power of God, An eternal principle, A form of government, An opportunity to serve. But this verse suggests that Abraham might give a different definition: The means by which God’s blessings are realized.

Thinking of the priesthood in this way brings new understanding to the promise made to Abraham in the following chapter (Abraham 2:9,11):
"And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;

"And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal."


13 October 2006

Abraham Part V: Commandments as Rewards

...continued from Part IV:

4) Abraham understands the purpose of commandments: Many people mistakenly think that a relationship with God should progress in the same way as a relationship with parents; ie. in childhood there are numerous rules to follow, but as one grows older and proves oneself more responsible, fewer and fewer rules are imposed as they eventually become unnecessary. Abraham, however, desires to more "instructions." Rather than view commandments as restrictions, Abraham sees them as rewards for good behavior.
Adam and Eve exemplify this pattern (Moses 5:1-11):

"And it came to pass that after I, the Lord God, had driven them out, that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him. And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth."
They were obedient to the commandments they had been given (Moses 4:22, 25, 28) and then pray to God:
"And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord..."
And what did they pray for? We do not know, but we see how they were rewarded for their obedience:
"...And he gave unto them commandments..."
Once again, Adam and Eve were obedient:
"...that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord."
And how were they rewarded this time? With knowledge:
"And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam…saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth."
...and more commandments:
"Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore."
Which ultimately leads to the greatest (in my opinion; because it was without precedent) moment of revelation in human history:
"And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam...saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.

"And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.

"And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient."


11 October 2006

Abraham Part IV: Order One of Everything

...continued from Part III:

3) Abraham is ambitious: or some may say, "audacious." Abraham—without qualification (stipulation)—wants to be "a father of many nations" and "a prince of peace." Several questions come to mind, none of which I have answers to: Was this the standard dream for men in ancient times, or was Abraham really thinking big? Was Abraham the exception, or should all of us ask for truly great rewards? What does Abraham mean by "prince of peace"? Was Abraham promised this before or because he desired it?

Alma 29:3 seems relevant:

"But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me."


06 October 2006

Abraham Part III: Obedience & Righteousness

...continued from Part II:

2) Abraham seems repetitive (again): he wants to be a "follower of righteousness" and also “to keep the commandments”. This may not seem repetitive until one tries to define “righteousness”—which must include some mention of keeping the commandments. The difference between the two can be explained by Matthew 24:45-46:

“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.”
...and D&C 58:26:
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.”
Abraham sees the difference between patiently serving by one’s actions (keeping the commandments) and taking the initiative to serve with one’s whole heart, mind, and body (following righteousness).


05 October 2006

Abraham Part II: Depth & Breadth of Knowledge

...continued from Part I:

Abraham tells us, in reverse order, what he desired, how he went about obtaining it, and what it brought him:


"…desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God…"
There are several interesting points here:

1) Abraham seems repetitive: he mentions "great knowledge" and then "greater knowledge." The difference Abraham saw between these two gifts is possibly explained in D&C 42:61:
"If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal."
In other words, Abraham wanted to understand what was already understood by the prophets of God and the sages of the world, but he also wanted to extend his understanding beyond what was already known. (We see in Chapter 3-5 some of the fulfillment of this wish.)


04 October 2006

Abraham Part I: Desired -> Sought -> Found

The Book of Abraham begins with a personal statement from the patriarch himself. In a single verse, Abraham teaches an incredible amount:

“And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.”
The verse could be broken into three parts: what Abraham desired, what he sought, and what he found. What is the relationship of these three terms? I have hinted at my answer in the title of this post. “Desire” implies craving, yearning, or wishing, but does not necessitate any action on the desirer’s part to obtain the object of his attention. “Seeking” means that action is being taken to reach the goal. Finally, “found” means that the efforts were successful. Abraham tells us, in reverse order, what he desired, how he went about obtaining it, and what it brought him.

continue to Part II...

Over the next several days, I will post the remainder of my thoughts on this verse. Please feel free to jump ahead of me in your comments; if I don't want to discuss something "early" I will say so.

If this format seems a bit "Moggetish" (a la Faith-Promoting Rumor), that's not entirely accidental. Which is not to say that it was intentional or that it remotely approaches what Mogget would publish.


01 October 2006

Apologies (during upgrading)

I am upgrading my blog and as a consequence there will be some nuisances (in addition to those regularly encountered) here:

1. Visitors will notice a number of changes that may leave them momentarily disoriented---please use the buddy system during this time.

2. Users of Mormon Archipelago (MA) will notice many of my old posts showing up. This happens because that site looks for newly published posts, but does not distinguish between updated and totally new posts. So if I make a spelling correction on an old post, it shows up on MA as a new post. Again, my apologies to the users of MA and the bloggers with whom I share the lowly "barely-if-ever-frequented blogs" box.


11 September 2006

St Paul Caught Winking?

Blogging makes one's mind sick. I'm sure there is ample proof of this, but I offer just one piece of evidence:

As I was studying the Epistle to the Hebrews on Sunday, I noticed something strange—and very distracting—in Ch 10:23:

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

Perhaps you don't think anything is weird here. If so, consider yourself healthy and quit blogging before it's too late. But if you are tainted like me, you immediately noticed that Paul winks at the end of that verse. "Why is he winking?" you're asking yourself. "Did he not really mean what he said about the Lord being faithful?"

Now, you may think this is an isolated occurrence and keep reading, only to find Paul up to it again in Ch 11:37-38:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:)

What?! Now Paul thinks that martyrdom is something to smile about? (At least he's not, you know, double-smiling;)


10 September 2006

Warning Label for The Lamb of God

I thought I'd share a little warning about one of the Church's videos, The Lamb of God.

The Background
My daughter A*, 5, loves this video. She watches it just about every Sunday and has for the last couple years. My 2-yr old often joins her.

The Setup
A* has a friend, S*, whose family is not religious, and as far as we know has had no exposure to Christianity. A* and S* play together often. S* came over to play last Sunday, and A* asked, "Do you want to watch Lamb of God?"

The Joy
Oh, what proud parents we were! "There's our little missionary," we thought, as we overheard an occasional word. A* was explaning all the various parts of the story: "...and after we die we will live with him and be happy and never be sick." My wife and I went about preparing dinner, half-listening the way parents do when nothing is the matter.

The Alarm
Something started to prick my attention. I thought, "What is it? No sounds of trouble—just the girls watching the video. The video...what was it about that video...?" It had been some time since I watched the video, but I remembered loving it. It was very emotional. "Yes," my brain warned, "it was very emotional."

The Tragedy
I went into the livingroom just as the story was depicting Jesus being raised on the cross. This is, as most readers will know, just after he has been flogged, slapped, spat upon, mocked, and nailed to the cross. S* was wide-eyed but expressionless on the couch, saying nothing. In other words, she looked petrified. (A*, of course, looked as content as ever.)

I shut off the television, at which point S* looked up at me and began to cry. Then wail. Then cry out with fear.‡

The Catastrophe
I tried to comfort S*, letting her know that she would not be hurt and Jesus was okay in the end and—! A* tried to explain more to her friend, only to get things mixed up in her excitement and—! I tried to get A* to leave S* and me alone, so I could explain things slowly, calmy, but—! A* felt like she had done something wrong and also started to cry.

The Clean-up
I took S* home, still sobbing, and tried to explain to her mother what had happened. Her mother was familiar enough with the story of Jesus to understand what her daughter had seen. "Was it animated?" she asked, then added reluctantly, "or was it...?"

"Not animated," I replied, disheartened. "Film." Her mother's face went a little pale.

The Aftermath
Her mother was very understanding, S* and A* still play together each day, and S*'s family has not brought it up. A* watched The Lamb of God today and didn't even mention last week.

The Lesson
No harm no foul, right? Maybe, but I worry that there was some harm. For one, how will S* respond emotionally the next time she hears the "good news" of the Christian message?

I also learned to think about our stories a little differently. A* grew up hearing about the cross. She saw paintings and cartoons and talked and sang songs about it before she ever saw the movie version. But what a terrifying, brutal, awful story it is if you don't know what to expect!

‡minor edits since first published


06 September 2006

Three-fold Expression of Patience

A few months ago, a woman in my ward gave a talk on patience that I found enlightening. I have been meaning to post a summary ever since.

Patience is demonstrated by how we act toward others, oneself, and God:

Patience with others: Patience with others manifests as love or charity. We await their repentance, assist throughout trials, and walk the “extra mile.”

Patience with oneself: When we recognize our weakness and our seeming inability to change, we show patience with ourselves by maintaining hope. Moroni said that we can “hope for a better world”; patience despite our weakness reveals a hope that we will one day prevail.

Patience with God: Through times of trial we may doubt God’s promises or morality. By being patient, we show that we have faith in him—in his power to deliver, his integrity, and his wisdom.

So there you have it: the three enduring gifts of the Spirit spoken of by Paul—faith, hope, charity—each expressed through patience.


03 September 2006

Taken in Adultery, In the Very Act

Hosea uses the analogy of a husband and his adulterous wife to illustrate the unfaithfulness of Israel to its covenants with the Lord. One of the consequences of Israel’s wayward worship was that they contaminated Judaism with elements of paganism.

As I studied Hosea this week, I thought about another story of adultery, this time from the New Testament. Jesus is in the temple and some scribes and Pharisees bring him a woman “taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The men challenge Jesus to judge what should be done with her, seeking an opportunity “to accuse him” (8:6). Jesus’ response is famous: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (8:7).

We see the men slowly disperse, none of them willing to cast a stone, “being convicted by their own conscience” (8:9). The question I have is, of what were they convicted?

I had always assumed that each of them recalled his own particular sin before walking away. But can’t help but wonder if any of them, masters of the writings of the prophets themselves, remembered the writings of Hosea. Had they considered its teachings, they would have understood the accusation Jesus made of them elsewhere: that the brand of godliness these men practiced and taught was an adulterated version (Matthew 23:13-15,23,25,27,29 ) of the one taught by the prophets.

The scribes’ and Pharisees’ willingness to misuse the temple as the site to lay their trap, heartlessly using the woman as bait, is representative of their abuse of the gospel in general. To them, the law and the prophets were useful for personal gain, not personal righteousness. Jesus’ answer to them disarms the trap in the manner it had been set: they had been caught adulterating the law, in the very act.


02 September 2006

Prostituting Oneself Before God

In another post, I wrote about the neurological basis for monogamy in animals. One of the findings of this research is that by producing strong sensations, sex sends powerful messages to the brain that, in species capable of monogamy, create a strong association between the good feelings and the mating partner; thus, a pair bond is formed.

We often think of sex between humans as serving at least two purposes: reproduction and strengthening the bond between husband and wife. In the book of Hosea we see another purpose: prostitutes use sex to get money (Hosea 2:5).

The difference between how a faithful spouse and a prostitute use sex is important for recognizing one of the messages in Hosea. Gomer, who works as a prostitute despite her marriage to Hosea, represents the Israelites, who were worshipping other gods in addition to Jehovah.

While this divided loyalty was itself a problem, it reveals an even more serious defect in the Israelites’ concept of God. To them, the acts of worship—prayer, sacrifice, temple rituals—were performed in order that God would give them such things as rain, abundant crops, or protection in war. Just as to a prostitute, for whom the consummating act of marriage does not serve to increase the “pair bond” but rather to get money, the Israelites viewed worship as a means of obtaining material blessings rather than bringing them closer to God. Gomer and the Israelites were not merely unfaithful, the way someone in an adulterous relationship looks for love from an illegitimate source, they were prostitutes, meaning it was not love they were after.

This attitude changes the purpose of religious worship and wrongly supposes that God wants this kind of relationship. If Israel is like a prostitute when they act this way, then any god who accepts such a proposition is a john—or, a prostitute’s client. A john wants gratification and pledges a financial reward; this kind of god wants sacrifice, supplication, etc. and pays with blessings.

Jehovah rejects being portrayed this way...

14 Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.
16 And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me [Husband]; and shalt call me no more [Master].
19 And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.
20 I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD.

...just as elsewhere he rejects the notion that he gets any satisfaction from the actual acts of worship (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11; especially Psalms 40:6-8; 51:16-17). Instead, God hopes that our religious service will bring us closer to him.


29 August 2006

"I'm Quitting the Bloggernacle!"

That's what I said to myself last night as I read this post and the comments on this post. Frankly, I wanted to cry.

Anyone reading, and especially anyone posting, blogs quickly gets an opportunity to be offended. The opportunites to give offense come just as often. Worse still, the opportunity to unintentionally offend comes all the time. So you have to develop some kind of strategy on how you will deal with it.

My strategy has two parts. First, I try to imagine that all of the comments I read are computer-generated. That's right: I think all of you are robots. It reminds me to look past the poster and the whatever rudeness I think there may be and try to understand what is being said. The "robot" who wrote it may be mean, nasty, and arrogant, but there might still be some truth to what's there; what do I gain by ignoring it? And what do I gain by firing back my worst insult? How would I insult a computer, anyway? (insert PC/Mac joke here)

Second, I try to imagine that all of my comments are written to my family. That's right: you are my brothers, my sisters, my mom, my dad. It reminds me to reread, rewrite, double-check, hit delete, hit delete some more, then anxiously hit "Publish Comment."

There are some problems with my strategy, the main one being that I am the one implementing it. There are some "robots" that I just can't read without focusing on the anger inside me; I have to just avoid their comments altogether. It makes me sad that I have to do that--that I can't be more like Jim F--but such is my state. I also fear that I often publish comments that are still rude, arrogant, obnoxious, or simply unwanted.

I haven't been visiting the Bloggernacle for too long, though my blogging days started a little before I discovered the Bloggernacle. Nevertheless, I am no newbie to online "dialogue": I've been doing that since "The Globe" in the early 90's, when it seemed that the only people online were Wiccas, Mormons, and teenagers.

So why should I suddenly feel so let down by my blogging experience? Maybe there's a flaw in my strategy, or a flaw in me. And why should something that doesn't directly affect me, affect me so deeply?

Despite those very depressing reads, I'm obviously still here. A major reason is this post. Another is this one. (In fact, take that whole blog.) And this blog. And this conversation. And the always edifying discussions with Robert C, Jim F, and many others. I'm amazed by this blog. There's also lots of "little" blogs I stumble upon from time to time that make my day.

As a final note, I wasn't even going to post this rant, but tonight's song choice before putting the kids to bed put this right in the front of my mind.

I'm trying to be like Jesus; I'm following in his ways.
I'm trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say.
At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,
But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers,
"Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught."


28 August 2006

Too Much Memory

Who among us hasn’t wished for a better memory? We are envious of our peers that can seemingly remember every detail of every book, paper, or article they read. “If only I could do that,” we think, “then I would be….”

A recent conversation got me thinking about the drawbacks to having a perfect memory. A woman was telling me about an article she read (appropriately, she could not remember the source) about a woman with, by all measurements, a perfect memory. Such a feat is not unheard of for those with Asperger’s Sundrome, but this woman did not have any of the other problems associated with that disorder, such as social anxiety and communication deficiencies.

Perfect memory with no underlying neurological disorder? Sounds great, but by her account she was plagued by her memory. Her problem, which she shares with those with Asperger’s Syndrome, is that her memory is “capacious but unselective.” In her case, because every memory was equally vivid, all were omnipresent, which meant that in a particular setting, she could not distinguish between memories that were related versus those that really mattered. In short, her memories were too distracting, and she longed for the ability to forget.

I’m a fan—albeit a neophyte—of history. In simplistic terms, I like knowing why things are the way they are. I think school curricula would be better if there were more focus on history. I also enjoy reading Church history. But in light of the above, I wonder if there is such a thing as too much history. Can our knowledge of the past be as much of a distraction to us today as this woman’s memories were to her? Can our focus on past events, doctrines, and directives prevent us from understanding the meanings of those we receive today?

Related Scriptures:
Isaiah 43:18
Isaiah 46:9

Also Related:
Isaiah 49:15
Alma 46:8
D&C 9:9
Alma 36:13,17,19
Isaiah 43:25
Helaman 5:5-6,9-10,12,14


25 August 2006

The Limit of God's Power

The closing chapters of Job contain God’s response to Job and his friends. In previous chapters, Job wishes he could sue God for justice, but doubts his ability to get the Almighty to appear in court. Chapter 38 opens with God granting Job’s wish:

“Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest?” (38:1-5)
It’s a terrifying challenge, made all the more unnerving due to the obvious taunt inherent in the doubt expressed: “if thou hast understanding; if thou knowest.”

The following chapters focus on God’s omnipotence and Job’s lack. (For an excellent breakdown, see Mogget’s post at FPR.) To summarize: God proclaims his power over the earth, sea, light, darkness, death, stars, and animals—even the supernatural beasts Behemoth and Leviathan:
“Canst thou draw out leviathan with a fishhook? Canst thou put a rope into his nose? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Or will he speak soft words unto thee? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird?” (40:1-5)
What is God’s motive? Before answering that question, I think there is an important detail that is often overlooked: Out of all the things that God mentions that he creates, controls, and destroys at his whim, there is one omission: God never mentions Job.

In this light, I think Job’s response is more meaningful:

“Then Job answered Jehovah, and said,

“I know that thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of thine can be restrained. Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not, Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor 'myself', And repent in dust and ashes.” (42:1-6)
Job gives up control to God, and in so doing, gives what God could not take for himself: Job’s faith, loyalty, and free will. When reprimanding Eliphaz, we see that God is pleased by Job’s sacrifice:

“[My] servant Job shall pray for you; for him will I accept, that I deal not with you after your folly; for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” (42:8)
God’s purpose in Ch. 38-41, therefore, is to evoke submission from Job. The question that remains is what was God’s tactic? To scare Job? To impress him? To humiliate him? Or was it a more loving approach: to reassure him? (Cf. Psalm 23)


24 August 2006

NIH Funding

I was recently asked about the NIH and how it uses tax dollars. My response is posted, by generous* invitation, on Blogger of Jared. Please check out my post and the rest of that fine site.

*Note that my post is one of the longest in that blog's history.


20 August 2006

Hate the Phrase; Love the Phraser

“Hate the sin; love the sinner.” We’ve all heard the phrase, maybe have even used it. Well, I hate it. My hope for this post is that either:
• Someone will convince me that I am wrong about this phrase
• I will convince at least one person to stop using it

What is wrong with “Love the sinner”?
The second half of the phrase is acceptable. There are many scriptures that tell us or show us how to love everyone, which would include the sinner. Two of my favorites are 1 John 4 and John 8:3-11. (Readers are encouraged to list their favorite related scriptures.)

What is wrong with “Hate the sin”?
The first half of the phrase is also acceptable. Once again, we can find many scriptures that instruct us to hate, loathe, abhor, and avoid sin. Here is a list that I think is nearly comprehensive; please add to it if you can:

Psalms 45:7; 97:10
Proverbs 8:13; 13:5
Ecclesiastes 3:8
Amos 5:15
Revelations 2:6
Romans 12:9
2 Nephi 4:31
Alma 13:12; 37:29, 32

I’ll quote that last one here:

32 And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; trust not those secret plans unto this people, but teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity (emphasis added)

Though there are not as many verses that support the first half of the phrase as there are that support the second half, I consider both halves to be well-supported.

When two rights make a wrong
The problem with the phrase is not in its individual parts, but instead in their combination. I appealed to scripture to support the two halves individually, but I cannot find any scripture that supports the phrase as a whole. This may seem like I am making two fallacious arguments: 1) That the absence of support is tantamount to denunciation, and 2) If the scriptures don’t tell us to do something, then it is wrong to do it.

What do the scriptures mean by “Love” and “Hate”?
More important than finding no support for the phrase as a whole, is that the scriptures supporting its individual parts are actually opposed to the phrase. Some have argued that hating the sin is actually the way that we show our love. I say that expressing hatred is not an expression of love. The scriptures that teach us how to show our love (2 Cor 6:6 and D&C 121:41) do not include a “hate clause.”

The scriptures that tell us to hate sin are also opposed to the phrase. The focus of their admonition is on how a man views the sins that tempt him. We are not told to hate the sins of others, but to hate the sins that we would otherwise commit.

The two halves of the phrase are good but unrelated. By bringing the two together, we pervert their meanings and end up doing the opposite of what they would teach. The Lord has a better way:
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.


10 August 2006

Retranslating 2 Nephi 3

I recently read 2 Nephi 3 and got a bit lost. It was mostly due to the three different Josephs and references to future peoples, so I decided to retranslate the chapter, inserting proper names wherever I could. The result was enlightening—and proved to be a very interesting way to study the scriptures.

To make things even clearer, I color-coded the text to indicate who is speaking:
Joseph ben-Israel
The Lord, quoted by Joseph ben-Israel


1 And now Lehi speaks unto Joseph ben-Lehi, Lehi’s last-born. Joseph ben-Lehi wast born in the wilderness of Lehi’s afflictions; yea, in the days of Lehi’s greatest sorrow did Sarai bear Joseph ben-Lehi.
2 And may the Lord consecrate also unto Joseph ben-Lehi this land, which is a most precious land, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s inheritance and the inheritance of Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed with Joseph ben-Lehi’s brethren, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s(i) security forever, if it so be that Joseph ben-Lehi shall keep the commandments of the Holy One of Israel.
3 And now, Joseph ben-Lehi, Lehi’s last-born, whom Lehi has brought out of the wilderness of Lehi’s afflictions, may the Lord bless Joseph ben-Lehi forever, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall not utterly be destroyed(ii).
4 For behold, Joseph ben-Lehi is the fruit of Lehi’s loins; and Lehi is a descendant of Joseph ben-Israel who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which the Lord made unto Joseph ben-Israel.
5 Wherefore, Joseph ben-Israel truly saw Lehi’s and Joseph ben-Lehi’s day. And Joseph ben-Israel obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of Lehi as a descendent of Joseph ben-Israel(iii) the Lord God would raise up the righteous Lehites(iv) unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto the Lehites in the latter days(v), in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of the Lehites out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.
6 For Joseph ben-Israel truly testified, saying:
Joseph Smith shall the Lord Joseph ben-Israel’s God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the lost tribe of Ephraim(vi).
7 Yea, Joseph ben-Israel truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto Joseph ben-Israel: Joseph Smith will the Lord raise up out of the lost tribe of Ephraim; and Joseph Smith shall be esteemed highly among the lost tribe of Ephraim. And unto Joseph Smith will the Lord give commandment that Joseph Smith shall do a work for the lost tribe of Ephraim, Joseph Smith’s brethren, which shall be of great worth unto the lost tribe of Ephraim, even to the bringing of the lost tribe of Ephraim to the knowledge of the covenants which the Lord has made with Abraham and Isaac.
8 And the Lord will give unto Joseph Smith a commandment that Joseph Smith shall do none other work, save the work which the Lord shall command Joseph Smith. And the Lord will make Joseph Smith great in the Lord’s eyes; for Joseph Smith shall do the Lord’s work.
9 And Joseph Smith shall be great like unto Moses, whom the Lord have said the Lord would raise up unto Joseph ben-Israel, to deliver the Lord’s people, O house of Israel.
10 And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt.
11 But Joseph Smith will the Lord raise up out of the lost tribe of Ephraim; and unto Joseph Smith will the Lord give power to bring forth the Lord’s word unto the Lehites(vii)—and not to the bringing forth the Lord’s word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing the Lehites of the Lord’s word, which shall have already gone forth among the Lehites.
12 Wherefore, the Nephites(viii) shall write; and the Jews shall write; and the Book of Mormon(ix) which shall be written by the Nephites, and also the Bible which shall be written by the Jews, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the Lehites(x), and bringing the Lehites to the knowledge of Lehi’s sons in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of the Lord’s covenants, saith the Lord.
13 And out of weakness Joseph Smith shall be made strong, in that day when the Lord’s work shall commence among all the Lord’s people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
14 And thus prophesied Joseph ben-Israel, saying: Behold, Joseph Smith will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy Joseph Smith shall be confounded; for this promise, which Joseph ben-Israel has obtained of the Lord, of Joseph Smith, shall be fulfilled. Behold, Joseph ben-Israel is sure of the fulfilling of this promise;
15 And Joseph Smith’s name shall be called after Joseph ben-Israel; and it shall be after the name of Joseph Smith’s father. And Joseph Smith shall be like unto Joseph ben-Israel; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by Joseph Smith’s hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring the House of Israel(xi) unto salvation.
16 Yea, thus prophesied Joseph ben-Israel: Joseph ben-Israel is sure of this thing, even as Joseph ben-Israel is sure of the promise of Moses; for the Lord hath said unto Joseph ben-Israel, The Lord will preserve Joseph ben-Israel’s seed forever.
17 And the Lord hath said: The Lord will raise up a Moses; and the Lord will give power unto Moses in a rod; and the Lord will give judgment unto Moses in writing. Yet the Lord will not loose Moses’ tongue, that Moses shall speak much, for the Lord will not make Moses mighty in speaking. But the Lord will write unto Moses the Lord’s law, by the finger of the Lord’s own hand; and the Lord will make a spokesman [Aaron] for Moses.
18 And the Lord said unto Joseph ben-Israel also: The Lord will raise up unto Joseph Smith; and the Lord will make for Joseph Smith a spokesman [Sidney Rigdon(xii). And the Lord, behold, the Lord will give unto Sidney Rigdon that Sidney Rigdon shall write the writing of the Nephites, unto(xiii) Joseph Smith; and Sidney Rigdon shall declare it.
19 And the words which Sidney Rigdon shall write shall be the words which are expedient in the Lord’s wisdom should go forth unto the Lehites. And it shall be as if the Nephites had cried unto the Lehites from the dust; for the Lord knows the Nephite’s(xiv) faith.
20 And the Nephites shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto the remaining Lehites, even after many generations have gone by the Nephites. And it shall come to pass that the Nephite’s cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of the Nephite’s words.
21 Because of the Nephite’s faith the Nephite’s words shall proceed forth out of the Lord’s mouth unto the Nephite’s brethren who are the remaining Lehites; and the weakness of the Nephite’s words will the Lord make strong in the Nephite’s faith, unto the remembering of the Lord’s covenant which the Lord made Abraham and Isaac.

22 And now, behold, Lehi’s son Joseph ben-Lehi, after this manner did Lehi’s father of old [Joseph ben-Israel] prophesy.
23 Wherefore, because of this covenant Joseph ben-Lehi is blessed; for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall not be destroyed, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall hearken unto the words of the book [of Mormon].
24 And there shall rise up Joseph Smith mighty among(xv) Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed, Joseph Smith shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the remaining Lehites.
25 And now, blessed is Joseph ben-Lehi. Behold, Joseph ben-Lehi is little; wherefore hearken unto the words of Joseph ben-Lehi’s brother, Nephi, and it shall be done unto Joseph ben-Lehi even according to the words which Lehi has spoken. Remember the words of Joseph ben-Lehi’s dying father [Lehi]. Amen.


(i) Regarding the pronouns “thy,” “thine” and “ye”: “Thy” is strictly singular and is the equivalent of “your.” “Thine” is similar to “thy;” i.e. it also means “your” (the difference is in genitive versus possessive case, which is not important here). “Ye” can be plural or singular and is the equivalent of “you” in standard English. In this verse, all of the instances of “thy” and “thine” can only refer to Joseph ben-Israel whereas “ye” can refer to either Joseph ben-Lehi or a group including Joseph ben-Lehi. The use of the word “thy” in the phrase “for thy security forever” is therefore strange, because it restricts this portion of Lehi’s promise to Joseph ben-Lehi only; had Lehi said, “for your security forever,” we could read it to be a promise open to all of his descendents. In this regard, I have chosen to interpret “ye” as singular, given that Lehi has just used the singular pronoun “thy”. This interpretation is not without its problems: by using a singular pronoun, Lehi promises that if Joseph ben-Lehi keeps the commandments then all of Lehi’s sons’ descendents will be blessed.
[ii] See 2 Nephi 9:53 for what Jacob ben-Lehi preaches and 2 Nephi 25:21 for what Nephi preaches concerning this promise. After reading Momon 8:2-3, it might seem as though this promise was not fulfilled, Moroni stating that he remains “alone” after the conquest of the Lamanites. 1 Nephi 3:30 records a vision of Nephi that shows how the promise was fulfilled: “…the mixture of [Nephi’s] seed, which are among [the Lamanites].”
[iii] “The fruit of thy/my/his loins” is difficult to interpret, because it sometimes refers to an individual and other times to a group of descendents. The phrase is used 21 times in this chapter. I have favored reading it as a group except where it clearly (in my opinion) refers to an individual. The use of the phrase “seed of thy loins” makes translation more difficult; is this a different phrase? a poetic way to say the same thing? I have translated both to mean the same thing.
[iv] “Lehites” is not a name used in the Book of Mormon, but I prefer it to writing out all who it includes: the Nephites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, Jacobites, and Josephites by birth, and the Ishmaelites and Zoramites by association. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Samites in the scriptures, even though Sam had children (2 Nephi 5:6).
[v] Is this the appearance of Christ to the Nephites recorded in 3 Nephi or some future manifestation of the Messiah? D&C 3:16-20 suggests the latter. I use the term “Lehites” instead of “Lamanites” because the latter is too exclusive; it would not take into account all of the other peoples that survived (see note in verse 3).
[vi] Is this the Lehites, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or all three? I favor translating this as “the lost tribe of Ephraim” because of how it is used in verse 7.
[vii] The seer is raised out of “the fruit of Joseph ben-Israel’s loins,” but the word is brought to “the seed of Joseph ben-Israel’s loins.” As noted in verse, I know of no exact difference between these two phrases, but the way they are used in this verse implies that the Lord was using them to refer to two different peoples.
[viii] Alternatively, this could be Joseph Smith.
[ix] If, according to the preceeding note, this is the writing of Joseph Smith, then this could include the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine & Covenants in addition to the Book of Mormon.
[x] Will peace be established among the Lehites, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or all three? I favored the former, in contrast to what I chose in verse 6. My justification is that here the Lord uses “fruit of thy loins” to refer to the Nephites.
[xi] Joseph ben-Israel says “my people,” not “the fruit of my loins.” The former refers to his contemporaries—the Israelites—whereas the latter refers to only to his descendents.
[xii] See D&C 100:9.
[xiii] The phrase “the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins” makes translation difficult. I am not sure what “unto” means here—and in 1828, neither was Webster: “[Unto is] of no use in the language, as it expresses no more than to. I do not find it in our mother tongue, nor is it ever used in popular discourse. It is found in writers of former times, but is entirely obsolete.”
[xiv] “Their” could be translated “Nephites” as the writers of the Book of Mormon, or “Lehites” as the recipients of the message. I have chosen the former in the context of verse 21.
[xv] The phrase here is “…mighty among them” not “…mighty from among them.” The latter would mean that Joseph Smith was a descendent of Joseph ben-Lehi, which, of course, he was not.


09 August 2006

Rebecca is Enchantingly Beautiful

  • The name "Rebecca" in Hebrew means "enchantingly beautiful."

    You can judge for yourself.


    Born 07 August 2006
    7 lbs 4 oz
    21 inches
    less than 30 min labor & delivery!

    Posted by Picasa


06 August 2006

A Moment of Blindness

In 2 Kings 5, we read a story about Naaman (that I can't seem to get off my mind—see here and here). One question that is often raised about this story is if Naaman was exhibiting "blind obedience."

I think this story could be broken down into four parts. In only one of these is Naaman actually—albeit figuratively—"blind":

1. When Naaman first hears about Elisha and then goes to Israel to see him (verses 1-4, 9). Here he is hopeful.

2. When Naaman is angered by the simplicity of Elisha's command (verses 11-12). Here he is enraged—and "blind" as a result.

3. When Naaman's servant helps him to "see" the error of his anger (verses 13-14). Here he is reasonable.

4. When Naaman, by virtue of the miracle, proclaims his testimony of the living God (verse 15). Here he is enlightened.

When breaking the story into these four parts, it is interesting that the word taher—clean—is used exactly four times: in verses 10, 12, 13, and 14. Also interesting, is that three of the verses use the word in the context of "made whole," whereas in only one verse (12) is its meaning the more ordinary "free from dirt" (read correction below).

Correction, 11 Aug 2006: I want to correct the last sentence of the last paragraph, which I have now placed in italics.

The word "taher" is indeed used four times in this chapter, and corresponds to the four parts as mentioned. This verb is translated into English as "clean, "purify," etc. Since first posting, I have researched this word and found my statement about how Naaman uses it to be unsupportable.

"Taher" is a command form, so it is appropriate that Elisha use it to tell Naaman what to do. It also always implies purification, not just removing dirt. Thus, when Naaman used the word, he could not have misunderstood its meaning, contrary to what I stated in my original post.

I have left the statement in the original post so that anyone who read it will not be confused.