Optimism in a Falling World- Luke 6:32-35

For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

COMMENTARY

If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
If ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again.

At times I have looked at the people around me and said “I don’t think it would be worth investing in this community. I’m only here temporarily. I could give my all to this place, but nothing lasting would come of it, so why try?” At other times I have tried…just once. I’ve invited my neighbors over for dinner, engaged them in some small talk, and if things took off we became friends…but if not, then I’d be polite, I’d smile and wave from across the street, but we would never become anything more than “acquaintances.”
Why would I try to have a relationship with someone if that relationship was not beneficial to me? Why would I engage with someone if there wasn’t something about them that was interesting or pleasant to me about them? What would be the point?

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
Well thank goodness God doesn’t feel the same way! There isn’t a whole lot of value He can get out of His association with us either. Yet He spreads love to children that will never be able to pay Him back for the investment. He spreads love to children that don’t ever acknowledge what He does for them. He spreads His love to children that even label themselves as His enemies! He gives all of them breath and life and beautiful sunsets and depth of emotion and the offer of His peace.
God does not limit His love to the places that return a profit and neither should we. We should not decide our relationships based simply on what they can do for us. For even if this world was falling apart and beyond all reclamation, it would still be worthy for us to pour our love into it. For even if doing so did not have the desired effect on the world, it would still have the desired effect on us.

Optimism in a Falling World- Genesis 18:23-24, 26, 28-32

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

COMMENTARY

Peradventure there be fifty righteous: wilt thou not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? If I find in Sodom fifty righteous, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

Sodom and Gomorrah was a place of intense wickedness, filled with a populace that had given up any pretense of morality or decency. When considering the destruction of those people, though, all Abraham could think of was the potential innocents that might be lost as well. His great concern was not about the guilty escaping their rightful punishment, it was about the guiltless being unjustly condemned.
And God readily agreed with Abraham’s pleas. For fifty good, for forty-five, for forty, for thirty, for twenty, for ten…He would regard the few righteous over the thousands of evil.
How often do we do the same? I think it is often easier to point to the other side of our political and social divides and describe the “others” as being all bad. All the rich are corrupt and should have their feet held to the fire. All the liberals are immoral and should be censured. And if any among their ranks are not actually guilty by action, we still make them guilty by association. We are very quick to call fire down on all the “wrong-thinkers,” with no regard for the innocent mingled in their ranks.

The Epic Life- David and Daniel

I have just considered the examples of David and Daniel, two Old Testament heroes that found their great calling in life, and did so in ways that were both different and similar to each other.

David decided to fill the role of a hero as a conscious and deliberate choice. The behavior of everyone else around him was to shrink and be fearful, and he could have easily done the same, but he set himself apart and elected something different. That election elevated David above the norm and made him stand out.

Daniel decided to hold to his principles, also as a conscious and deliberate choice. At first these principles were the everyday expectation of his culture, but then Israel fell into the hands of strangers and those norms rapidly dropped out from underneath Daniel. Daniel still held to them, though, setting himself apart to maintain this same level, even while the world fell beneath him.

In each case, David and Daniel set themselves apart. Whether in embracing a new behavior or in maintaining an old one they were standing for what was right, and doing so at a level that was higher than those who surrounded them. And this seems to be what defines the epic life, the hero, the divine calling. It is to do the right thing when others will not.

This is Noah building an ark when no one else was. This was Joseph turning down temptation in Potiphar’s house. This was Ruth leaving her old culture to live as a Jew. This was Jesus not throwing a stone at the woman taken in adultery. These were all heroes. And what made them heroes was that they did what was right even though it was different from what everyone else was doing.

Influence and Persuasion- Question

The mission of the gospel is to persuade all to come to Christ, convince us of the need for the atonement, and encourage us to embrace our divine role. As disciples we are expected to testify of and promote that gospel. It is assumed that we will be an active part of that persuading, convincing, and encouraging.

But persuading, convincing, and encouraging can be misconstrued into intimidating, manipulating, and coercing. Clearly a cause can be championed in a way that is good, but also it can be championed in a way that is evil. And there are many that begin with sincerely good intentions, but then fall into methods that are not so worthy.

Using the example in the scriptures as my guide, I want to identify what a divinely approved method of persuasion would look like, and what it would not look like. How does God, Himself, try to influence us? How does Satan? And what are the short- and long-term effects of those different methods?

In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experiences on the matter. Can you recall a moment where you felt persuaded by good? One where you felt intimidated by evil? What are wholesome ways that you have found to communicate with those that disagree with you? What have been the short- and long-term effects of that approach?

A Surety of Truth- Numbers 23:19, Mark 10:18

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?

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Previously we spoke of building ourselves on solid foundations, and yesterday we considered the folly of relying on our own self for that. We have to find external sources that we can trust, ones that we can ever be sure of for support and demonstration.
And as today’s verses illustrate, that reliable source is not found in any human. No person is a perfect foundation to build on. It is good to have friends and it is good to glean from the example of noble souls, but they cannot be the core of our faith. I have come to realize that the greatest value of mentors is simply for them to point the way to God, as He alone can provide that sure foundation.
And that applies to me, too. I am a father, and I want to always be a help and support to my children. But because I am mortal, I know that they will have needs that I cannot provide for, there will be times that I let them down, there will be examples of mine that would lead them astray, and there will be moments where my absolute best just isn’t good enough. If I want to be a good father, I must encourage them to detach their reliance on me, and put it instead on the Lord.

The Virtue of Remembering- Question

During my last study I had the same, single idea resurface a few times, which is always a clear indication to me of what my next topic of research should be. That last study was focused on counting one’s blessings, and how doing so is a form of remembering the good that God has done for is. As I thought about, though, I realized that there was a lot more to remembering in the gospel than just counting blessings, and I want to explore the concept further.

God has gone to great lengths to help us remember the things that matter most. To ancient prophets like Moses He not only gave His word, but also instructed that these things be written down and preserved, so that later generations would be able to remember the wisdom from before. The survival of these records clear to the present day is miraculous, and suggests the hand of God continuing its preservation.

In my own life, too, the question I bring to God today often is met with the remembrance of the answer He already gave before. In this study I want to consider what the full benefits of remembering are, the different ways that we can remember, and what sort of things we ought to be remembering.

In the meantime I would like to hear about what ways you have used to remember the things that matter most. Do you keep a journal of lessons you have received? Do you memorize scriptures and reflect on them frequently? Do you meet with others to recount the miracles that you witnessed together? I really would love to hear what methods you use to keep the good alive.

Count Your Blessings- Summary

This proved to be an excellent couple of weeks for me to study the notion of counting one’s blessings. This period has been full of many little rises and falls to my mood, as small things have continually come along both to aggravate and delight me. What I have learned from all this is just how fickle my sense of gratitude can be. When times turn even slightly up I praise God, when times turn even slightly down I have no interest in Him.
Feeling both sides of the coin, I have been able to consider why it is difficult to count my blessings at times. For me it is due to a sense of wounded pride, an indignation at sweeping away the hurt and saying all is well. But I have further discovered that that is not what counting one’s blessings is about at all. It is about dispelling a momentary fiction with the reality of truth.
Indeed, though at times it is difficult to lean into grateful retrospection, during these past two weeks I have felt markedly improved each time that I managed to do so. So let’s take a look at what it really means to count one’s blessings, and why it matters.

We Live in a State of Ever-Changing Fiction

When it rains it pours. Though our lives are usually mixed with elements that are both good and bad, we usually grab onto just one of those elements and shade all the rest by it. If we are struck most by something in our lives that is good, then we perceive every wrong thing as slight and forgettable. If we are struck most by something that is bad, then we perceive every good thing as hollow. We tally up only one side or the other at a time. Either I have seven things that make me feel so blessed right now, or else I have nine things that are leaving me down in the dumps.
One practice of meditation is to separate the different parts of one’s self and see each as being in its own unique state. Thus I might be feeling physically exhausted and emotionally depressed, but spiritually cared for. Absent this more granular awareness I might simply say that overall I feel “bad-ish,” which is not the greater truth.
It is understandable for us to live with a fickle mood, it is the common nature of us all. But if we are ever to live as dependable, steady beings, then we need to accept the fact that how we feel in the moment is probably not the truest expression of things as they really are.
James 1:8- A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
3 Nephi 13:24- 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.

We Might Be Fickle, but There Are Permanent Things

It is true that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but in my experience He tends to do one of those more than the other. So many of the truly important blessings in life are the ones that are with us forever. Our very existence, for example, is a gift from God, and one that we are assured will continue forever. It may change its state through the grave and the resurrection, but still we remain an ongoing identity. This is a permanent thing, one that is left unaffected by whether I am having a “good day” today or a “bad one.”
Love is another eternal gift. Both the love that God ever holds to us, and the love that He means to help us cultivate in ourselves. Existence is already a wonderful blessing, but all the more so when it can be paired with eternal love. Even if the woes of the moment temporarily darken us from being able to perceive the love of God, yet it is sill there even so. It is only a matter of breaking through the mold before we can perceive that eternal stream once more.
And when we are learn how to never be darkened and always perceive that eternal love, then we also discover the gift of eternal happiness. For living in the love of God is always an experience of joy. It takes time, even a long time, even so long that we may not find it until the next life; but eventually we can find out this great secret of how to forever live, love, and be happy.
Jeremiah 31:3- The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
John 3:16-For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

A Brighter View of Life is Truer

In the end, there must be one permanent reality. On the one hand it could be that there forever remains a mixture of happiness and sorrow, the same as we perceive now, one side never fully overthrowing the other. On the other hand, it could be that one of these sides will eventually prevail over the other, either plunging the world into constant misery, or else reclaiming it to a state of constant joy. We have had it proclaimed to us that this mixed reality is only a transitory state, and that after it does come a totality: a sweeping victory for goodness and joy.
Those that believe this to be true are inherently optimistic, and hold to those undercurrents of eternal good: life, love, and joy. To hold this sort of optimism is not to blindly ignore the pain of today. It does not require us to turn a deaf ear to the hurts happening around us. It does not preclude us from mourning our temporary losses. It is only to recognize that after this time of very real sadness, there still comes an eternity of even realer joy.
I think where most of us go astray with counting our blessings is when we start listing out the transitory, worldly goods that we enjoy: a new car, a roof over heads, and not having lost one’s job. These are good things, we should be grateful for them, but the deeper, abiding peace will only come when we start counting the infinite goods as well.
Isaiah 54:10- For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
Matthew 24:35- Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Psalm 102:26-27- They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

Count Your Blessings- Alma 62:50, Psalm 77:11, 2 Peter 1:15

Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.

I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.

COMMENTARY

They did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them
I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old
I will endeavour that ye may be able to have these things always in remembrance

There are many accounts of the virtue that is just remembering. Even aside from these three quotes there was also the time that Hilkiah discovered the book of the law in the temple, long since forgotten, which introduced a brief period of faithfulness among the Israelites. There was the time King Ahasuerus recalled that he still needed to give honor to faithful Mordecai. The entire turning point of the parable of the Prodigal Son is when the boy “comes to himself” and recalls how good things are in his father’s house. God had the Israelites bind the words of the scriptures to their arms and foreheads to keep those words ever in their periphery. When Jesus instituted the sacrament he instructed them that they “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).
There is a great power in remembering, because remembering is often the action that immediately precedes doing. If we do not remember our blessings, then we live as if they never occurred. When we forget what God has done for us, we lose one of our most powerful motivators to remain faithful. But even if His goodness is forgotten, it did still occur, and we are simply being remiss.
To forget, whether through the passage of time or by the crowding of present problems, is a natural effect of human life. But though it is a natural effect, it can be resisted and it must be. For those that forget become lost.

Worthy Vessels- John 5:19, 1 John 4:19

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

We love him, because he first loved us.

COMMENTARY

The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do
Each one of us has seen others doing good, and even been the recipients of that good. And having experienced this, naturally we desire to do good things to others, and we try to follow the pattern of those that showed us the example.
But those that did the good things to us were themselves only following the example of others who previously did good to them, and so on and so on. Each of these paths of goodness ultimately leads to the same singular source. As Jesus taught, even he only followed the example of his father. His proclamation is total: the son can do nothing of himself. He does not say that the Father taught one virtue and that then he, Jesus, riffed his own new ones off of it, he claims that any good act done on earth first had its template written in heaven.

We love him, because he first loved us
I have seen the truth of that in my own life. For many years I was fully capable of fearing God, but I couldn’t sincerely love Him until I felt His own love bursting into my soul. I had wanted to love Him, but I had to have Him teach me how. As Graham Cooke so eloquently put it: God loves us first, and then He allows us to love Him back with that love.

Graham Cooke’s message starts at 1:15, quote comes from 4:35

Free Will vs God’s Control- 1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Nephi 2:11

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

COMMENTARY

God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things
In each of our lives, God preserves our freedom by allowing us to be drawn towards good, but also to be drawn towards evil. There are bounds set so that no temptation will be able to overwhelm us without our consent, but also no force for good will overwhelm us without our consent either. Exactly how far those bounds are placed will vary for each one of us, according to our own personal strengths and weaknesses, but they will always present us with the same opportunity to freely choose.
Thus you may assume that you will always have a reason to remain faithful, and you will always have a reason to turn faithless. You will always live as a person divided, so that then you may choose which half of yourself to follow. There is no mistake in this, it is by design. Thus that the world is a place divided is evidence of a God who is in control, not evidence against it.