I have found a lot of personal value in these last couple studies. I guess I needed some reminders of service and brotherly love. I can certainly say from my own heart that the soul truly does crave unity, and we are meant to be bound together.
But with all of that, I have one question remaining. Having a desire to be united to all mankind is good and well, but to build bridges you need to work with people on an individual basis, not just as some nebulous “all mankind.” And working with individuals can be messy. It is a very easy temptation to say “well I don’t want a connection with you, I’ll wait for someone better.”
I think we are meant to be grateful for the relationships that come easily and naturally, but to persevere for the relationships that don’t. With this next study I’d like to take a smaller scope and find answers to questions like how do I clear the barriers between me and someone else? How do I forgive past wrongs? What actions build unity? How do people start working for some united goal? How do two strangers become friends?
I’m excited to do this research, and hope it will be as valuable for you as I expect it to be for me.
Genesis 2:18, Genesis 11:6
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
The people is one…and now nothing will be restrained from them
If one seeks evidence that there is great power in united individuals, that person need look no further than God’s own perspective of such unions. From verses like this it is clear that God respects the awesome potential of humans coupled together. In this moment God is speaking of a time when the people had a perfect understanding of each other, and of them He said that they had the power to accomplish whatever they imagined.
Think of how different that message is from the one of the world. Consider heroes like James Bond, Indiana Jones, or Superman. These are individuals who are truly individual, men who need no one but themselves to win the day. They are tantalizing fantasies, but they are fantasies. Yes, relationships are complicated and sometimes it seems that life would simpler if we could just stand by ourselves. But the reality baked into our humanity is that “it is not good for man to be alone.”
It is not good that the man should be alone;I will make him an help meet for him
In my last study I explored the idea of a united community, something that God is clearly in favor of. However a community is not the social unit that He created in the beginning. First He just put two together, and for then that was enough. For this study I will be looking at these more intimate ties: those of companionship, soul mates, bosom friends, and kindred spirits.
Matthew 18:19-20, Mark 6:7
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as
touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my
Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
For where two are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them
And began to send them forth by two and two
We have just observed that God believes in the power of individuals united together as one. In these verses we see that Jesus shares fully in that sentiment! He didn’t send the disciples out alone, he sent them together, and further he promised them that whenever they bonded together, he would join that union.
There’s something about coming together with our fellowman that unlocks the spirit of Christ among us. Living life as a “lone wolf” doesn’t only deny us the companionship of another mortal, it denies us the full presence of our Lord.
If two of you shall agree on earth and shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father in heaven
I have always been familiar with the promise Christ gave of being in the midst of two or three gathered in his name, but I did not remember the additional promise mentioned here as well. When two of us agree in what we feel is right, we can ask it of God and He will grant it.
When I read this it gave me quite some pause, it seems a remarkably potent promise! I’ve frankly wondered why we would be trusted with such power. One thought that occurs to me is that people have a lot of differences in perspective and desire, but the parts of their beliefs that overlap tend to be the holy parts. For example we may disagree on specific political and ethical matters, but we each share a desire for the wellbeing of society. Whenever two people can find something that they don’t differ in, it is because they have found a part of God inside of them. That agreement can give them confidence, then, to pray in faith, knowing God will bless their petition.
James 3:2 (NIV); Proverbs 9:9, 27:17
We all stumble in many ways.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
We all stumble in many ways
Give me a list of moral dilemmas, ethical quandaries, and human behaviors to judge. I will answer each one and I will invariably feel that all of my answers are the right answers, or in other words I will feel that my opinion is the same as God’s. Every man believes that he judges rightly.
But if I ask you to answer this same list of questions, you might answer some the same as me, but you will inevitably answer others of them differently. And for all your answers you will be just as convinced of your own rightness as I am of mine, and this would mean that at least one of us must be wrong, even when we are convinced that we are right.
If we’re being perfectly honest, though, it isn’t just one of us that is wrong. Neither you nor I will be totally right in all of our judgments because we are flawed and imperfect beings. In one of our disagreements I might be the one in error, but in another disagreement it might be you.
Every man believes that he judges rightly, but every man is at least somewhat mistaken.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser
A man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend
Exploring the differences in our beliefs can be a painful exercise, because it is very easy to get one’s pride tangled up in it. If one is not careful, then feelings are hurt and bitterness comes out. However, if both parties are willing to shelve their pride and sincerely seek truth, then something remarkable occurs.
First we can examine our areas of disagreement objectively. By questioning our motives we may discover a bias that blocked our discernment. With time and care we can each improve, or sharpen, the other’s understanding.
There is another benefit as well. Though we may have differences of opinion, we also certainly have agreements. As I suggested before, in those places where our opinions overlap our confidence in having judged rightly greatly increases. There, in our mutual agreement, we begin to see God in our midst.
Last week the city I live in had a festival, one where the entire community pitched in to create a number of family-centric events. On Saturday they planned to have a little carnival, and each of the local church groups volunteered to run a different booth. At each one children could pay one ticket and then play a simple game and win prizes.
My church branch called me the week before to see if I would be willing to take ownership of the booth along with one other couple. They probably would have asked my wife as well, but she was had volunteered to take the women youth to a girls’ camp that week.
All of which is to say that I was assigned a task, and had as my only companionship an older couple that I did not know very well. I knew of them, I had heard them speak at various times in church meetings, but I honestly couldn’t remember ever having a direct conversation with them in the past. I felt that we simply moved in different circles.
Over the course of that week we spent hours together. We had planning meetings, we sought out additional volunteers to help run the game, we setup the booth, manned it, and finally took everything back down at the end of the day.
In all that time we spoke a great deal, but never did we have that “magical moment” where we suddenly realized that we had so much in common. Life is not a Hallmark Movie, and at the end of it all we still move in entirely different circles.
And yet…at the end of it all I did feel that I had made two friends. Because in the end we did actually share something together. An experience. It was a little something, but it was mutual. And whenever we share something, no matter how small, we start to build a kinship.
Too often I limit my friendships to those that I share personality traits with. To like you, I have to find something like me in you. And there isn’t anything wrong in seeking those relationships, but it is restricting if they are the only ones I will consider.
Sharing personality traits is good, but I can also learn to love others by sharing experiences with them. And then, if I continue to share experiences and build bridges with a wide variety of brothers and sisters, perhaps eventually I will also learn to love others just for sharing in our common humanity. For sharing in the journey of Earth life. For sharing a Father in Heaven. For sharing a divine potential.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-11, 12
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow
A threefold cord is not quickly broken
A single strand does have some strength to it. That is why when it is weaved with another it is able to increase its power. But two cords woven as one has more than double the strength of each individually. Similarly, two oxen, when pulling together, are able to carry far more than a double load.
A man alone is in danger of falling to all manner of temptation and self-harm. This is why in addiction recovery they teach individuals to make connections to one another, to be accountable to each other at low times. Once one has a companion in the hard place, the likelihood of a relapse begins to plummet.
The bonding of two souls is one of the most enchanting mysteries I know of. Somehow the two retain perfect individuality, yet also become a single unit. No matter how big a number it is, it can only become greater by addition. Similarly, no matter how strong of an individual you are, you will always be greater with a companion.
Amos 3:3, Genesis 2:24
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
I’ve already mentioned that an essential element to building a companionship is sharing a cause. When two agree on a principle, then they can agree on an action, then they can walk together. Not only do they achieve the fruit of their labor, they also sow a relationship with each other in the process.
Sometimes finding that shared principle takes some work, but I am convinced every two individuals can find one. We all come from the same divine source, after all, we are more alike than different.
Perhaps one brother could be your companion in community service, while another sister could be your companion in wholesome creation, and yet a third could be the one you are accountable to in your repentance.
Not any one person is meant to be all things to us, but all are meant to be something.
Therefore shall a man…cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh
I would be remiss to do a study on mortal companionships and not make note of its most significant form: the marriage covenant between husband and wife.
In every other relationship we can have brotherhood, sisterhood, and friendship. We can unite our strengths, and we can mutually improve one another. And of course, husband and wife should also have this same standard of brotherhood and sisterhood, and also of being friends.
But to that base marriage adds something more. It is the union of the two distinct halves of humanity. One male, the other female, each essential to creating the one. Masculinity perfecting the feminine, and femininity perfecting the masculine. The two find completion in one another and discover God within their oneness. A union so consummate that God has reserved to it the very creation of life.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault
Thus far in this study I have focused on our need for unity. This is an important message, but sometimes it is taken out of context to justify inappropriate behavior.
Sometimes we are so anxious to preserve unity that we are unwilling to acknowledge the harm that others are inflicting. We are afraid of “judging” them, or of rocking the boat. We stifle our complaints and scold ourselves for not being more forgiving.
But this passage gives us permission to stand up for ourselves when we have been wronged! Not by lashing out in anger of course, but by calmly and lovingly pointing out the error. How a brother or sister might respond to this correction is up to them. They might redeem themselves or they might degenerate themselves further. In either case, we can hold a clean conscience for having let them know that they hurt us.
If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother
Because, in the end, giving gentle correction is an act of love. When one person wrongs another, a rift is created between them, and so long as it remains the relationship is compromised. Even if you have not condemned your brother or sister, they are still just as guilty of having done wrong. There is nothing kind in leaving them in that dejected place, not when you have the opportunity to help them be restored.
Sometimes I have done wrong and not even known it. I have been grateful to a true brother who gave me the opportunity to see more clearly and make amends.
Sometimes I have done wrong and known it, but felt too ashamed to admit it. I have been grateful to a compassionate sister who showed me the depth of her wound, and by her vulnerability persuaded me to seek reconciliation.
Luke 17:3, Matthew 5:39
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him
Resist not evil
There is a variety of opinions among the faithful whether we are justified in correcting those that are wrong or not. When we gently call out a brother or sister that mistreats us are we doing them a kindness, as I suggested yesterday? Or are we guilty of unrighteous judgment, of trying to take out the mote while a beam is in our own eye?
To add to the confusion is that both sides of this debate have verses to back them up. Consider the two I have laid out here. Are we supposed to rebuke another, or turn the other cheek?
However a closer reading of these verses will dispel any perceived inconsistency between them. If one looks at what is said, we will realize that these two different behaviors were prescribed for dealing with two different sorts of people.
- If thy brother trespass against thee…
- Resist not evil…
The first verse is describing how disciples are meant to behave towards one another. We are supposed to love each other, and help each other become the best that we can be. That means encouraging, guiding, and when necessary, correcting. So long as our intentions are brotherly, all is well.
The second verse is describing how disciples are meant to behave towards evil. There are those in the world that have no positive intent when they interact with you. When they cast stones at the church they are purely trying to do harm. To these our counsel is simply to mitigate as much damage as possible. Do not provoke, do not return cruelty for cruelty, just meekly let their storm pass and move on.
With this clarification we can see that these two different behaviors are actually supporting the same basic principle: to be a peacemaker. We improve the world where it is possible, and we do no harm where it isn’t.
Colossians 3:13, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
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.
Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
Of you it is required to forgive all men
Thus far I have examined the need for companionship in our faith, and how two disciples improve one another when they are united in a cause. I have also discussed that when a brother or sister wrongs us we can lovingly invite them to make amends. That is the first of our obligations, and the second is to forgive.
But of course, doing either of these tasks is easier said than done, especially when we are still in pain. If it was an accidental hurt followed by an immediate apology, those can often be dismissed right away. But an intentional wounding, or one brought about by gross negligence? And one where our so-called “brother” or “sister” denies having done any wrong?
In those situations we feel inseparable from our righteous indignation. Thus it doesn’t feel like we are being asked to “let go” of our anger, it feels like we would have to tear it right out of our core.
I have felt that way myself. Sometimes I still feel it. From my experience I believe that forgiveness is a muscle that can be exercised, a skill that can be developed. Thus I can acknowledge that “I am bad at forgiving…. But I can get better at it.” To that end I have established for myself a daily ritual of letting go of all the offenses I have felt. I hope to cultivate a spirit of forgiving, one that can let go of the bigger things as well.
Matthew 5:23-24, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
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.
First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift
I have been speaking about the need to forgive those that have wronged us, but I also wanted to make a point about our need to seek forgiveness as well. I find very interesting the order that is established in this particular verse. First be reconciled, then offer thy gift. If I try my utmost to serve God, but yet remain guilty of having wronged a brother, then all my efforts are in vain. My offerings are hypocritical. I am like Cain who made sacrifice to God while seething with hatred against his brother.
And that word “reconcile” is pretty meaningful, too. Jesus did not teach us to “apologize” to our brother. He did not say to “express regret” to our brother. If he had said those things, we could say a few words of remorse and if they were not accepted we would still be off the hook.
But instead he said “reconcile,” and that means to return to a peaceful and friendly state. So if my initial apology lands on deaf ears my obligation is not absolved. An apology only requires words, whereas reconciliation might mean a long period of owning one’s mistake, sharing a burden, and making restitution.
For he that forgiveth not his brother, there remaineth in him the greater sin
Of course there must come a point where one is released from this obligation. When a brother continually refuses to accept the reconciliation that is offered, the offender should not remain condemned. In these cases God will have to judge between them and absolve the offender when He feels their penance is sufficient. When exactly He will do that is between the individual and Him.
This study has been a very good place for my mind to dwell. Personal relationships with others is an element of my discipleship that has been lacking, and through this study I have been able to identify the reasons why. And knowing them, I have been able to choose practices that I believe will help me to improve.
Specifically I have committed to reaching out to neighbors around me on a weekly basis, whether to serve them or to just to share in a positive experience. Also I have begun a daily “forgiveness” meditation, where I reflect on the day’s frustrations, acknowledge those negative feelings, and then vocally forgive the perpetrator. Including when that perpetrator is myself.
If while reading through my study notes you had ideas and behaviors come to your mind as well, then I would encourage you to take those seriously. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these verses just as He has to me. Here are the core concepts that stood out to me from this study.
We are made for companionship
John Donne was correct when he penned the words “no man is an island.” We are designed to be social, to be connected to one another. I sincerely believe one of the greatest blights in our world today is how isolated so many of us are. And merely being in public places or attending group gatherings is not the same as having social connection.
All of us require personal, one-to-one companionship with others. We need someone to know us by name, by face, by heart. We are incomplete beings after all, there is no getting around that. It will never work to try and fill all those holes with by sheer force of will. Sooner or later we need to let another person complete us instead.
Genesis 2:18- And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Proverbs 27:17- Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
Relationships Are Built On Sharing
Being lonely is unpleasant, and those in that state of being will surely try to escape it. But how exactly to do so can be a mystery. One might master the art of telling jokes and stories, go to a social gathering, be incredibly entertaining the entire evening, and all the while still feel hollow inside.
Having good manners and knowing how to “get along well” with others are good things, but they are not the things that real connections are made of. Vulnerability, shared experiences, working together for a common cause; these are the things that form true bonds between people. Each of them is uncomfortable or difficult in its own way, and everyone is tempted to find an easier path. In the end, though, how can we hope to have a meaningful relationship, if not by meaningful effort?
Amos 3:3- Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
Closing the Rifts That Grow Between
Whenever we succeed in establishing a meaningful relationship with another, there will always arise an opportunity to end it. Whether one intentionally wrongs the other, or there is a misunderstanding, or even just a gradual drifting apart. Each of these situations sets a trajectory, one set upon dividing the two permanently; and unless that force is intentionally curtailed it will succeed. There must be a moment of turning back together.
We all know that we must repent of our sins and seek forgiveness from God, but every human relationship requires reconciliation as well. If we never learn how to both forgive and seek forgiveness, then we will never learn how to make anything that lasts. And isn’t that one of our great purposes here in life? To make bonds that hold through all things?
James 5:16- Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.
Matthew 18:15- Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault…if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.