Optimism in a Falling World- Summary

I think the studies that do me the most good are the ones that expand my understanding of what it even means to be a follower of Christ. The more I am able to redefine my paradigm to be like his the more I am able to walk in his footsteps. And this study absolutely made me take a long, hard look at what it really means to be a Christian. And along with that realization came another: I’m often not a very good one.
Which might sound like a self-condemning conclusion, but really it is not. Realizing how far one has yet to go is a sign that they are actually upon their way. One must first have a solid foundation in a subject before they can appreciate the full depth of their ignorance.
This isn’t what I expected to find when I began this study. I really wasn’t sure what the answer to my periodic cynicism towards the world would be, but I didn’t think it would be: the problem is in you, so become a better Christian. A sharp, yet loving reproof. An invitation to become more so that I can be more happy.
Here are three fundamental concepts that came up while conducting this study.

Cynicism is a Product of Despair)

Some of us are naturally more optimistic than others. Some see the glass as half full while others view it as half empty. Yet I am convinced that pervasive cynicism is not anyone’s natural state. Each of us begins this life as children, and children as a whole are far more believing and optimistic. They have to learn to see the world more darkly.
At some point each one of us has our brightness broken. To one degree or another each of us was mistreated while still innocent. At the very least, every small child comes astray of someone having a bad day sooner or later. But it isn’t just what others do to us that break us, either. There are also the times we violate our own conscience. Through each of these processes we feel guilty and dirty, our souls are distressed, and we cannot correlate the promise of eternal joy with how wrong we feel inside. In this we come to understand what it truly means to be in hell.
And so long as we cannot see our own way to brighter fields we’re never going to be able to see it for the world either. If forgiveness seems inaccessible for what we have done, if our wrongs are more than we can ever do, then surely it is the same for the world’s even greater evils. In short, it does not seem humanly possible for that which is broken to be made whole once more.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Matthew 18:3- And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Believing in Others is a Product of Being Saved)

But of course there is a message of hope for those caught in such dire straits. When I began this study I really hadn’t intended to cap it off with yet another examination of Jesus Christ’s atonement, yet it found its way to the heart of my research even so. Because at the end of the day every worldly problem has its root in those fundamental problems of a fallen world and moral compromises. And those both have their solution in his atoning sacrifice.
If we ever want to have more hope in the world, then we first need to be able to have hope restored in ourselves. And if we want to have hope in ourselves, then we need to stop seeing our happy ending as being dependent on our own actions, and instead let it rely on the actions of one who has already succeeded. Then we start to see our triumph as a sure thing, and our hope becomes unshakeable.
When the reality of these facts truly sinks in for our own selves, then it is easy to see that the same sure triumph is available to all the rest of the world, too. We stop seeing other peoples’ problems as being their responsibility to solve. Just as with us, we know it has already been solved for them if they will just accept it. There no longer remains any question of whether they are now “too bad” or “too far gone” to make their way back. I mean, yes, they absolutely are too far gone to bring themselves back, but now we know that that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are never too far gone for him to bring back.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57- The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 19:25-26- When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

The Salvation of Self Must Come First)

Of course feeling reclaimed from our own guilt and despair isn’t just a one-time thing, either. We will feel the reality of Christ’s redeeming love once initially, be filled with hope for all mankind, but then need to refresh those feelings many times over throughout our lives. In my case the old pessimism comes over me gradually when I am not paying attention. I have thought that I was still in a good place, but then suddenly looked all about me and wondered how I had wandered once more into fields of despair.
I began this study by trying to focus on the despair and not on where I stood. I began by looking at the external and not the internal. But at least I was looking, and over the past couple weeks my focus has gradually shifted back to where it needs to be.
And this leads me to the final point of this study. If I ever look at the world, see naught but wrong, and cannot fathom of any way to correct it, then my first instinct should be to consider what is amiss in myself. I cannot help lift anyone until I first stand on firmer ground, just as Jesus could never have pulled Peter upwards if he had also been floundering in the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Luke 22:32- But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Optimism in a Falling World- Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 55:8-9

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he said, and shall he not do it?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. My ways are higher than your ways

Sometimes a friend might ask me to join a cause and I don’t have faith in it. Usually this is because I can see flaws in the design, or I question his motives, or because even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We are imperfect humans, and many of the plans we conceive of are complete folly, unworthy of trust and faith from others.
And sometimes I think we take the skepticism we have for the plans of men, and we bring it into our view of God’s plans as well. We hear bold claims in the gospel like how Jesus came to save the entire world (John 3:16, John 12:46-47) and it sound incredible. We are invited to be a part of that work and are told that by small and simple things we may have a tremendous effect in this world (Alma 37:6-7) and it sounds impossible.
We hear such tremendous, sweeping claims and we struggle to believe in them because we are so acquainted with tremendous, sweeping claims ending in utter failure. It goes against all the ways of this world to trust in a plan that is so grand. But of course, when we hold this skepticism it means we are viewing God and His capabilities as being the same as that of man. And as today’s verses firmly attest “God is not a man.” The same limitations do not apply to Him, nor to us when we act in His cause.

Optimism in a Falling World- Luke 15:3-7, Doctrine and Covenants 18:15

And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

COMMENTARY

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine, and go after that which is lost
At the start of this study I considered Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared if even a few righteous people could be found therein. That same mentality is present in this parable from Jesus, where a shepherd will venture out to find even one lost sheep, leaving the masses to focus on the individual.
And I believe that this same mentality greatly helps when trying to maintain hope in a conflicted world. It is easier to despair over a vaguely defined group than over an individual with a face and a name. It is easy to label an entire faction as purely evil, but when we look into the eyes of a child of God we can’t help but see that even among their flaws they still have their divine potential. I might struggle at times to see the good in all people, but I can always find it in a person. Thus if you are finding it hard to have faith in the world perhaps you could start focusing on “the one” instead.


I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth
If you bring one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
For even if our worst fears were confirmed and the whole world spiraled down to hell, it would still behoove us to save what souls we could along the way. Our mentality should be like that of firefighters, who do not only enter the burning building when they can save a full 100% of the occupants. They will charge to the rescue even when they can only save a few, or even when they can save only one…and so should we.
Thus if you haven’t figured out how to save the entire world, that’s perfectly alright, none of us have. Only God can worry about salvation on that scale! For you and I, we just save the ones we can.

Optimism in a Falling World- Faith, Hope, and Charity

Over these past few days I have considered the roles of faith, hope, and charity. Specifically I have considered how each of them is integral to being invested in this world, rather than stepping aside and letting it fall to ruin.

These three qualities are definitely linked to one another. We must first have hope in God and His purposes. We must have hope that He is able to reclaim our own soul from ruin, and then we can foster hope in His ability to reclaim the souls of our brothers and sisters as well. With that spark of hope we can then act in faith, investing in our communities and nations, trying to bring some good into them, even when we’re not sure how we will succeed. And integral to all this work is to have genuine charity for those we work with. We need to have an unconditional love, even for those who do not give us a reason to love them.

And it is important to note that none of these qualities can be taken for granted. It might be tempting for us to say “well I’m a Christian, of course I live with charity,” when in reality this is not a given. I called myself a “christian” for many years, and all the while had a hopeless outlook on my own soul. Having no hope, I was incapable of investing faith to care for myself. And as I was unable to give those kindnesses to myself, I certainly didn’t have the capacity for charity for my fellow-man. Having the label of a “baptized christian” meant absolutely nothing about me. It certainly did not mean that I was actually a Christian.

Possessing these qualities does not come cheaply. Perhaps some of us are more naturally inclined to one of them or the other, but I think it is fair to say that all of us have a great deal of work ahead if we mean to achieve all three. None of us are born a full and complete Christian, we have to work our way into it.

I also want to emphasize that if there are any of us who are giddy for the destruction of the wicked, then they we do not possess charity and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who wish the world was better but are not willing to do the work to help it be so, then we do not possess faith and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who have just given up on the world, then we do not possess hope and are not true Christians. Faith, hope, and charity are not things a Christian should have, they are things that a Christian must have, or they are not a true Christian.

And I do not mean any condemnation by that. I used to be devoid of these qualities as well. I was not a true Christian, but I was able to become one, and so can anyone else. In fact, even true Christians must continue striving to become ever more so.

Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 9:10; Mark 7:18, 20

Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

COMMENTARY

He that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope
There have been times when I have proselyted the gospel from a sense of duty only. I did it because it was what I was supposed to do, with very little sincerity behind it. I did not expect to make any real impact in the lives of others, which resulted in a passionless effort, which resulted in a self-fulfilling failure.
You can plow all you want on rock, but you’re never going to raise a great crop on it. And you can proselyte in pessimism, but your ministry will never flourish. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then you might as well not do it. For the work alone is insufficient, what matters is whether the heart lies in it.
If ever we want to reap the fruit of hope, we need to do our work in hope as well. Not begrudgingly and not half-heartedly, but sincerely and with all our hearts.

That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man
And if we cannot plow in hope and cannot thresh in hope, then the problem lies within us, not the work. If we reach into ourselves and find only pessimistic, half-hearted efforts to offer, then we need to pause and ask ourselves what is wrong with us. Before we can do our duty to our fellow man we’ve got to sort ourselves out first. Only when we’re right inside will there be good things that can come out of us and be shared with others.

Optimism in a Falling World- Moroni 7:40-42

And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

COMMENTARY

How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope
In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.

And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal
And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God.
This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.

Optimism in a Falling World- Ether 12:4, 6, 12

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

COMMENTARY

Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works
Today I am considering the role of faith in remaining committed to our fallen world. And the first point I want to make is what we have to found our faith in. It is not a trust in humanity that these verses call “an anchor” to our souls, it is a belief in God. Throughout this study I have been speaking about maintaining our hope and faith in the world, but now I realize that those are secondary things, symptoms that come from first being rooted in our trust for God. See how this verse lays out the order of things as “believe in God” and then have a “surety of hope for a better world.”
Thus if you find it impossible to view the world optimistically, perhaps stop trying to do so. Instead cultivate your trust in God and the rest will follow. We will stop being motivated not by a shaky trust in the triumph of man, but in a sure trust in the triumph of God.

Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
If there be no faith God can do no miracle; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

And if, when we view the world, we see nothing to convince us that it can be saved, so be it. For faith is things that are hoped for and not seen. We would not say that we had faith in the reclamation of mankind if we could already see the path by which it would be accomplished. The whole point of faith is that we can invest ourselves towards the saving of humanity, with our minds unable to fathom how good will come out of it, but with our hearts believing that it will. That is working by faith, and as this verse explains that is the prerequisite to the miracle.

Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 13:3-7, 13

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

COMMENTARY

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity
As I contemplated what solutions the scriptures offer for the conundrum of cynicism, I had come to my mind the virtues of faith, hope and charity. And not only faith, hope, and charity towards God, but also towards His children. I will therefore be dedicating the next several posts to these topics, beginning with the matter of charity.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing
First of all I want to point out that charity is not just doing kind things to others. It is entirely possible to do one’s duty to their follow man and be wishing them ill the whole time. Consider the example we recently considered of Jonah, who preached to the people of Nineveh while hoping for their destruction.
As Paul suggests in this quoted verse, it doesn’t matter what you do towards the world if your heart has not been opened to charity. Charity is not about what you do, it is about why you do it.

Charity suffereth long, is kind, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil
I often hear of charity in terms of how spouses, parents and children, and members at church should treat one another. But today let us consider how charity applies to our relationship with the very people we believe are destroying the world. How should we behave to the people we want to change more than any other? Well, take a look at the descriptors I have selected for charity in this verse: longsuffering, not seeking its own, not easily provoked, and thinking no evil. How would those qualities look when applied to those we find hardest to love?
Well, speaking for myself, the image of brotherly kindness and love brought to mind is entirely impossible so long as I view these “others” as “others.” To apply such a patient understanding to my enemies I must first find a way to relabel them as my friends.

Optimism in a Falling World- Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11, 2 Nephi 9:41

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

COMMENTARY

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
I’ve discussed the desire some have to see the world burn, to see the wicked made accountable for all that they have done wrong. To this sentiment come the verses I have quoted above. God will see to the matters of judgment and forgiveness on His own. We are governed by His law, judged by His eye, and doled out mercy or retribution at His discretion.
He employs no servant in the matter of gatekeeping. He doesn’t need or want our help in deciding who is worthy of heaven. Will some be saved and others damned? Surely. Does it matter to us one bit which they will be? Not at all.

Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother remaineth in the greater sin
But of you it is required to forgive all men
The question of this study is how to not despair as the world embraces evil. It is about how we keep our faith in humanity and work with our brothers and sisters, rather than leave them to their fates. And I believe part of the answer is how we deal with the sins that humanity commits against us. Each of us is affected by the growth of evil in the world, each of us is hurt by the collective abuse of human selfishness.
And our faithlessness in humanity often stems from that initial hurt we received from society, that time when some worldly darkness first broke our innocence. We might know that we need to forgive individuals, but as recorded in these verses what about the requirement “to forgive all men?” If we’re ever to get our faith in humanity back we have to make our peace with the world at large. We have to forgive society first before we can help it.

Optimism in a Falling World- Luke 9:52-56

And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

COMMENTARY

And they did not receive him, and when James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
Yesterday I considered Jonah’s desire to destroy the wicked. Today we see an example from Jesus’s own disciples to do the same. Because Jesus and his followers were denied access to a city, James and John sought to kill all the inhabitants with fire.

But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.

James and John might have believed they were serving the spirit of justice, yet Jesus avowed that they were serving another. What they sought was simply vengeance, and Jesus’s purpose was not to bring vengeance, but salvation.
I believe that many of those who hope for the destruction of the wicked take their cues from the stories of the Old Testament. It is in those early books that we read accounts of the earth being flooded, of fire and brimstone consuming cities, of the armies of the Lord stamping out other nations. In these stories there is a definite immediacy between evil actions and divine retribution. One could not go to war against God without quickly enduring the consequences of that action. But what is forgotten is that this was the Old Testament and the earth was in a fundamentally different situation than it is now. Mankind had been expelled from the Garden of Eden and the atonement had not yet been made. Things were far stricter, and there was little to buffer between sinful acts and the holy justice administered in return.
But Jesus Christ had come to be that buffer. Jesus Christ had come so that the immediate justice for evil works could be born out in his own body instead. Divine justice still applies, even to this day, but now it is executed in him, while mankind is given a second chance.
Thus today we now live under the New Testament. And that means that if we look at the evil in the world today and crave punishment for the guilty, we are denying the fact that that punishment was already endured by our Savior. We are therefore looking for a double punishment, one carried out upon Christ and one carried out upon those he died to save. That isn’t justice at all. Like James and John, we are not comprehending what manner of spirit we are of. It is a cold, cruel, and evil spirit, one that has nothing to do with Christ.