Discussing Spiritual Differences- Summary

The idea of how to share the gospel message with others has been a recurring theme on this blog. I guess I have many questions about how to negotiate that intersection of living a godly life and living as a cooperative member of society.
Wanting to share the gospel in a socially kind way isn’t only about avoiding unpleasant tension, it is also essential to presenting your message in the light that was always intended to accompany it. You simply do not become a good missionary without first learning how to be a good brother or sister to your fellowman.
This study helped me to reiterate some of the ideas I’ve had on the subject before and also gave rise to some new ones. Here are some of the core concepts that stood out to me from my research.

Come to Your Own Knowledge)

First and foremost, you cannot properly testify of what you do not personally know. Testimonies that come from a place of “or so I’ve been told” are unhelpful to everyone involved. A testimony is not what you think and it’s certainly not what you’ve been told, it is what you have come to actually gain a knowledge of for your own self.
But most of us are terrified by the idea of admitting when we do not know something. Everyone has an answer to every moral question, even when they haven’t given the matter any prior thought. And I know that this game of pretended knowledge occurs because I have played it myself. I have spoken as if I had a sure confidence when I really didn’t. And I have seen enough to know I am not the only one that has done so. There are pretenders everywhere.
And there is no point in considering the question of how to testify of good and renounce evil unless we have first come to truly know what is right. To be able to testify with power you must be able to testify with confidence. You have to be able to believe your own words before you can expect anyone else to. And if you don’t really know what you’re talking about, then set aside the question of testifying for a time and focus instead on just coming to really, really know.
Matthew 15:14- Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Alma 32:34- And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

Wake Up the World)

But bit-by-bit one can come to know what they’re talking about. Not all at once, not the entire whole as a single piece, but gradually one can come to be sure that faith yields fruit, that repentance yields cleansing, that sacrifice yields humility, and that following God yields true happiness. Even before one can testify of all things they are able to testify of some.
And not only are they able to testify, they must! For there is already such false confidence given to hurtful philosophies that many men and women are left confused and derailed. When one awakens to the truth one sees how much untruth is being championed as fact. And untruth actively causes harm, it is sure to hurt the lives of those that abide by it.
One cannot idly sit back when these realities become apparent. We must try to help those in harm’s way, even if it means speaking with such boldness that some will become angry at us. We are compelled to renounce the lies and champion the truth. Not because we wish to condemn our brothers and sisters who are deluded, but because we love them and we want to help them.
Matthew 5:14- Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid
Acts 4:29-30- And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

Ever an Invitation)

We are meant to preach with boldness, we are meant to renounce sin without reservation, we are meant to speak of absolute truth in absolute terms. Our words and our example should testify of the truth with such weight that those who hear it cannot help but be moved. Moved to say to themselves “well I had better find out for myself on this matter.” Truth testified boldly has that effect: to compel the hearer to come to their own knowledge. It inspires men and women to find their own surety.
But…though we seek to be bold, to compel, and to inspire, in none of these ambitions is there justification for trying to force. I can make clear my own convictions, but I must never try to make your own convictions for you. This gospel is one of invitation. The message should be given in a very clear and powerful manner, but then it must be left to the hearer what they will do with it.
And some will choose to do nothing with that message and some of them will choose to fight against it, and we must accept and allow that. Though we seek to make the world a better place, we know that it can only be better when people are able to choose it for themselves.
2 Nephi 2:27- Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41- No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

Discussing Spiritual Differences- John 8:32, 1 John 2:21

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

COMMENTARY

The truth shall make you free
Yesterday I considered how the truth wants to be spoken and urges us to utter it. However it is not the truth that needs us so much as it is we who need the truth.
Truth is not some fragile being that we must protect or else will fade away. It is not Tinkerbell who will die if we stop believing in it. Truth just is. It exists independently of our involvement. Truth does not need to be stated to be true.
So when we speak the truth, it is not for truth’s sake, but for humanity’s. As Jesus attests in this verse, it is the truth that makes us free. Thus to know the truth and to not say it is to leave your brother in chains.

Ye know it, that no lie is of the truth
And this is yet another reason why those that have found moral truth must speak up, even to a world that doesn’t want to hear it. Just as it is wrong to see someone walking into physical danger and not call out a warning, it is also wrong to not call out a warning of moral dangers.
When one has found the truth one knows the truth and one knows what is not of the truth. And when one knows that what they hear is not truth, it would be an act of abuse to leave one’s fellowman so blinded. Even if the other will not hear, the one that knows the truth is still obligated to speak it so that the other can have his chance for freedom.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Matthew 7:7-8, John 7:37, John 6:66-67

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

COMMENTARY

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth
If any man thirst, let him come unto me
We must always remember that this is a gospel of invitation, not of force. It is a gospel where the disciple is meant to seek after, not be pushed ahead. It is opt in, not opt out.
When we can share the truth we should do so with passion and commitment, we should leave no question about the importance of what we are saying. But never should we try to make someone accept it and never should we punish them for ignoring us.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

Jesus boldly renounced sin. Jesus reproved his own disciples. Jesus chased away those who corrupted the place of worship. He was very clear and very firm in his declaration of truth. But the decision to follow him was always left to the disciple. If they wanted to leave then they could, and some of them did. But if they wanted to stay then they knew where to find him and they knew what he expected of them. It was just up to them to choose it.

Influence and Persuasion- Luke 15:18, 20, Hosea 3:4-5

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:
Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.

COMMENTARY

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee
The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a sacrifice

I have just recounted how God is committed to preserving our agency, and because of that has given us the very power with which we all abandon Him. And at times I find that very incredulous. Of course we will go astray if given so much freedom! The scriptures are full of stories of people that did exactly this: Adam and Eve, Cain, Judas, King David, and Samson to name a few. Each of these people used their agency to depart from God. Each of them were near to him, but then they chose to leave.
And this pattern is inevitable. So long as we have no reason to stray we will stay, but all of us do have reasons to turn faithless at some point or another. And then we have verses like the above. Verses of people lost and far from their God.

And he arose, and came to his father
Afterward shall the children of Israel return

But it is shortsighted to suggest that that is the end of the story. For every tale of departure is open to a sequel of return. And while some will not come back, many do. And so the scriptures also have stories about Jonah, Peter, Saul turned Paul, Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, and the Israelites when they rebuilt the temple and committed to follow the Lord anew.
And when people come back to God, they do it with that same freedom that they used to leave Him in the first place. The freedom that is given and preserved by God. They do not return because He made them do it, they do it because they chose to. And this was His intention all along.
When I feel cynical that all the world will forever abandon God I realize that He has greater faith in humanity than I do! Where I hold doubt in my brothers and my sisters and myself He believes. Where I believe that one who is lost is lost forever He says, “let us wait and see.”

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 3:17, Moses 7:32

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

COMMENTARY

Thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself
The Lord said I gave unto them their knowledge; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency
God made stones that lack any freedom of will, and therefore obey His commands completely. But for His children He did not want mindless rocks. He wanted people that lived, and acted, and chose. And He wanted that, even if it meant they would not obey His will completely. Even if it meant they would use that ability of choice to choose against Him.
In the Garden of Eden He made His will perfectly clear to Adam and Eve, but He also made it perfectly clear that they could ignore His will and do the exact opposite. And sometimes this seems baffling! A part of us may want to shout out “Well of course they went astray! You should have put in more safeguards and controls! If there isn’t anything keeping us tied to you then we’re all going to leave you sooner or later!”
And yes, that is exactly what happens with each of us, isn’t it? So long as nothing pushes us to disobey we’ll stay innocent, but eventually Satan comes and tempts us with the fruit. We’ll look at that temptation, then look over our shoulder to see if God really isn’t going to stop us. And He’s really not going to. And we’re gone.
“You had us, God,” we sadly think. “But you didn’t make us stay so you lost us!” But as we will see tomorrow, this isn’t the case at all.

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 7:33, Helaman 14:30

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

COMMENTARY

I have given commandment that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father
But behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood
God has a problem of us not choosing Him, and of us not choosing to love one another. We really ought to choose those, they are intended for our own good. I believe each of us knows we would be happier if we did choose them, but still we find reasons not to. Instead we hate and turn away from our own source of light and life.

For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free
Very interestingly, though, God’s dilemma here is one of His very own making! He gave us the very tool of our disobedience! He gave us knowledge and He gave us agency, and that agency is exactly what we use to choose against Him.
In the above verses we learned what agency was given to us for, in what way we were intended to use it, but it also opened up the option for us to betray God, and that is exactly what humanity has chosen to use it for since the very beginning!
Let’s look at this more closely tomorrow, and afterwards we’ll consider how this dilemma of God’s is actually by divine design!

Our Own Reality- Matthew 6:24, 1 Kings 18:21

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

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. And the people answered him not a word.

COMMENTARY

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other
Previously we considered Pharaoh, who wanted the God of the Hebrews to give him reprieve, but also wanted to maintain his control over the Hebrew slaves in direct defiance to that God. As the famous saying goes, though, you cannot ride two horses. If you try, you will only tear yourself, which, tragically is exactly what happened to Pharaoh. By trying to have his cake and eat it, too, he lost his firstborn child.
Many men and women lose the most precious things by trying to clutch to two opposing realities at the same time. Powerful addictions, in fact, often stem from a division of the soul, one where a person genuinely believes in a greater good, and professes it loudly, yet secretly lives a lesser evil on the side. A wedge is gradually driven into the heart, pressing deeper and deeper, until eventually things start to break.

How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: if Baal, follow him.
Each of us only has room for one reality and one master. It is simply not in our nature to thrive so long as we are divided against ourselves. Thus each one of us must choose which reality we will embrace, and then embrace it with all our hearts, letting go of all the rest.

Our Own Reality- Alma 18:24-30, 33

And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
And he said, Yea.
And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?
And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

COMMENTARY

And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
Previously we considered the example of King Agrippa, who was “almost” converted by the testimony of Paul. Here we see the example of another king taught by a missionary: King Lamoni.
King Lamoni was very ignorant of the gospel being shared with him, even of its most basic tenets. His reality up to this point had been very different from what Ammon was teaching, and for each of us it is far easier to hold to the realities we already have than to let go and embrace something new. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest after all.

And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken.
Yet it is possible to change or paradigms. Sometimes a new philosophy strikes our hearts as simply being too true to deny. Sometimes our prior perspectives bring us to rock bottom, and we have to enact an intervention just to survive.
For whatever reason, King Lamoni was ready to embrace the new gospel being shared with him. No matter how strange or alien it must have sounded, he felt the truth of it nonetheless. In his quiet simplicity he was willing to do what King Agrippa was not.

Our Own Reality- Acts 26:26-29

For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.

COMMENTARY

King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

We do not know all that went through King Agrippa’s heart during Paul’s sermon, but this passage suggests that he could have become a believer…if he would have let himself. For some reason he felt that he couldn’t, though. Whether it was lingering personal doubts, the pressure of his country, or some other influence that we do not know, he could have accepted this reality, but a part of him would not allow it.
Very often we don’t consider the reality we believe as being a choice. We say that we just believe what we believe, and don’t believe what we don’t, and there is no conscious decision in that. But if we aren’t in charge of our own paradigm, then who is?
Certainly we are subject to predispositions and influence and conditioning for our beliefs. Certainly there are some paradigms that are too radical for us to accept right away. Certainly it is far easier to maintain our current view of reality than to adopt another. But none of this denies the fact that we can choose what we believe. And King Agrippa could have chosen to be converted.

Our Own Reality- Alma 30:17, Helaman 4:13

And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.

And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.

COMMENTARY

But every man fared prospered according to his genius, conquered according to his strength
And because of their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength
To the ancient Nephites a false prophet came, denying the existence of Christ, and teaching the people that reliance upon God was foolhardy. Korihor taught that each person had only him- or herself to depend on. If you were to succeed or fail was entirely up to you, and you alone.
As the people came to embrace this philosophy, it actually became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having rejected God, they became Godless. Having insisted upon relying on their own strength only, they were left to their own strength only. Thus, in a sense they were absolutely right in their beliefs. By denying the existence of God, they ensured that in essence He would not exist (for them).
Of course we cannot change eternal truths by our opinions, we do not have that power. But we do have power over the individual experience of our lives. We have the ability to invite or reject divine intervention. We have the ability to put up or break down walls. We can make our portion of the world a place that is hopeful and blessed, or we can make it into a place that is cynical and isolated. Given that we have this power, we ought to take great care in which reality we are electing for ourselves.