Discussing Spiritual Differences- Daniel 1:5, 8-10

And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.
And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king.

COMMENTARY

I love this story of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were seeking to maintain their covenants and not consume any unclean meat or drink. It is a small story, one that might seem inconsequential compared to the more epic tales of the Bible, but I believe it provides some wonderful lessons for us all.
There are multiple things I want to point out from this short narrative, so I will be reviewing them one-at-a-time over the next few days.

And the king appointed them a provision of the king’s meat: so nourishing them that they might stand before the king
But Daniel purposed that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine
To begin with, let us consider the setting of it all. At the outset Daniel and his companions are captives in Babylon. They are being integrated with a court system that already exists, and they naturally come to a point of friction between their old culture and this new one. There will be more points of friction at other points in their lives, but this is the first time we see them caught between their new king and God.
And so we must recognize that they are at the mercy of others. From these passages it would seem that they were not even able to obtain their own food, being entirely dependent on what was brought to them instead. Thus Daniel could make a request for a special diet, but if unclean meat was what was given to him then unclean meat was what he would have.


The prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: ye make me endanger my head to the king
And the prince of eunuchs could see no reason to honor Daniel’s request. The man was not himself a Hebrew and was not converted to their customs. His concern had far more to do with losing his head if he presented the Israelite youth as less fit than those who ate meat and drank wine! He thus had the power and the motivation to override Daniel’s religiosity. The two men were at an impasse and Daniel did not have the upper hand.
This very easily could have been the end of the story. Daniel could have taken the eunuch’s rejection and let his morals be crushed. He could have oscillated between anger at having been made a victim and shame at having not stood up more. He could have given up all his principles entirely, he could have made a bitter crusade and decried the prince of the eunuchs as an unfeeling sinner.
Any of these paths would have been easy to resign oneself to, but as we will see, none of them were what Daniel elected.

Dealing With Failure- Proverbs 3:5, 1 Corinthians 1:24, 1 Corinthians 2:5

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

COMMENTARY

Lean not unto thine own understanding
The weakness of God is stronger than men
Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God
I have previously spoken of how I have sometimes been too hard on myself when I slip, and as I’ve considered that negative self-talk I have realized that it is a misguided attempt to control my behavior through fear. I am trying to force myself to be better via the tools of shame and embarrassment.
And this is me relying on my own strength, trying to control things according to my own power. In this effort I am utilizing the same forms of coercion that mankind has relied on through all of history to get what they want. Fear and shame are techniques that we continue to fall back on even though they are hugely ineffective. They are techniques that we use as a substitute for genuine power and confidence.
But as these verses suggest, there is a better way. There is another source of strength that each of us has access to, one that is greater than any mortal strength. So now the question is, how do we stop relying on our own power to improve ourselves, and utilize God’s instead?

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.

The Virtue of Remembering- Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10, 13

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

COMMENTARY

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee

Our natural state is to be deeply aware of our own limitations. We are intimately familiar with all the things that we cannot do, for we live within those constraints every moment of every day.
What is unnatural, then, is to remember the power that exists outside of ourselves. It takes genuine effort to keep in remembrance the influence of God, and how it can make the impossible things become possible.
Thus there is no shame in saying that we have difficultly remembering to make use of God’s help in our lives. Of course we do. But this tendency of ours has to be fought against, because otherwise life takes us into waters that are too deep for us and we start to drown in poor choices.
God, Himself, knows that we tend to forget Him, and it is for that very reason that He has seeded reminders of Himself all throughout our lives. We find the reminders to lean into God through the scriptures, in church sermons, in the majesties of nature, and in the pricking of our own conscience. Of all the things that we must remind ourselves of on a regular basis, the first must be the reality of Him.

Worthy Vessels- Acts 9:15, 1 Corinthians 1:28

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

COMMENTARY

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me
When Ananias protested going to bless Saul, God informed him that the man was a “chosen vessel,” and indeed one can see how Saul would be considered a powerful asset to God’s cause. He was intelligent, effective, and tireless in his pursuits, even if those pursuits were momentarily pointed in the wrong direction.
And yet the man that Ananias found in need of a blessing must have been a far cry from the self-powerful tyrant that he had been afraid of. For at this point Saul had had his preconceptions of God shattered, been rebuked by the true Lord, completely blinded, and left to wallow three days and three nights without either food or water. In short, God had broken the vessel that Saul once was, and the “chosen vessel” that he referred to, was going to be a new creature. One that would be called Paul.

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen
Paul himself later avowed that God did His work with the base and the despised, the humbled and the broken. He spoke of how the “foolishness” of God was greater than the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1: 25). He knew this because he had been directly at the receiving end of it! While still wise in the ways of the world, he had been broken by the same Savior he had voraciously denied. And now he had thrown in his lot with those that he once considered “base and despised.”
In short, Saul, the brittle vessel could not have done anything for God, only Paul, the humbled clay could. It has been said that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. He has no need for our power, only for our will.

Worthy Vessels- Matthew 5:16, 3 Nephi 18:24

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.

COMMENTARY

Let your light so shine before men
Yesterday I shared how I have seen in myself a desire to become a powerful champion of the gospel, and that I have done so by working on the qualities of persuasion that the world seems to value. Whenever I encounter a religious question, I rack my brain, trying to come up with the “correct” answer. Thus I perceive spiritual discussion as a sort of performance sport, one where I need to be powerful enough to push my theologies more strongly than any others. In all this I have tried to let my light shine…and tragically misunderstood the actual meaning of that scripture.

Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up
Because God is not asking us to pump the crank on our own sixty watt bulb. Frankly that light is insufficient to do anyone any lasting good. Even if I did manage to wrest up a convincing enough argument to satisfy one soul at one time, I would never be able to feed 5,000 this way.
Also, I rather suspect that God has little respect for our worldly debates and arguments, competitions where his children use the guise of “proclaiming the truth” to indulge their own egos.
This is not the shining forth that God ever intended for us to do. He intends for us to hold up His light, He wants us to say His words, He wants us to rely on His intelligence. Not ours. The next time I encounter a religious question I am going to suppress my default instinct to cast around in my intellect for the ‘right answer’ and instead humbly ask Him “what would you say?”

What Chance Do I Have?- 2 Timothy 1:7, John 14:27

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

COMMENTARY

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power
Peace I leave with you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid
It might be natural for us to try and weigh the odds of our remaining faithful, to question whether we have the “right stuff” and can hold out valiant. But such a spirit of uncertainty is not divinely approved. Many a soul runs into trouble when they start to question if they have the capacity to be good, creating for themselves a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Rather we are reminded that God gives a spirit of power, and of peace.
We are commanded to be faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11). Most often we speak of being faithful as being loyal, but the composition of the word literally means “full of faith.” And included among the “all things” that we should have full faith in…is ourselves. When I feel God’s spirit I feel a confidence in myself, an assurance that I am made in His image and that I am good. That isn’t to say that I don’t need help, only that I know God believes in me, so I should, too. The “right stuff” is in me, I don’t need to worry about that. I just need to get out of its way and let it shine forth.

Free Will vs God's Control- Summary

The question of how we are able to maintain free will while also acknowledging God’s control has never been very bothersome to me. For whatever reason, I was comfortable that that was simply the case, even though I didn’t have any specific answers for why. I believe each of us have some elements of the gospel that we understand, others that we don’t understand but aren’t bothered by, and others that we don’t understand and are bothered by.

A gospel study can be conducted to answer the questions that you personally find prickly, but it can also be conducted to answer the ones that others do. In a healthy religious community, members will be able to express their sincere concerns, and then the whole will reason it out together.

I hope the points that I have gone over in this study may be helpful to someone out there. I would love to hear any other counsel that you might be able to add to it. For now, here are the main points that I discovered through my study.

God’s Control is Necessary for Free Will

It is very easy to take the common things in life for granted. The fact that something has always been a certain way makes us believe that things must be that way by their inherent nature. We are so accustomed to the dawning of each new day, that it almost feels like that is just the way suns and planets must work. But of course, this is actually often not the way that they work at all. There is nothing inherent in a planet which says it must have a stable orbit, smooth rotation speed, and an ideal placement from a sun. None of it had to be this way for us.
Furthermore, why did it have to be that the laws of physics are such that gravitational forces keep a breathable atmosphere around us? Or that water would continuously cycle and remain fresh? Or that carbon-based life would return itself to the earth and thus perpetuate further generations?
And even beyond all that, why did it have to be that we have a conscience that drives us toward good and a carnal nature towards evil? Why is it that we are able to distinguish good from evil, and also possess the ability to choose whichever we please? Why are we able to be intelligent, moral beings, and not robots carrying out programmed orders?
The answer that this is just how things are now, and so they always had to be this way, is insufficient and unfounded. That such freedoms and opportunities are integral to our earth life is the result of conscious design.
Genesis 2:15-17- And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Moroni 7:16- For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

God Will Not Let Any Other Overpower Us

To be given a world that allows for free will is not enough, though. For a system cannot only be created once, it must be maintained. We are told that an object in motion will remain in motion, but that assumes that the object will never encounter any other force. In our world of entropy and friction, that is not only unlikely, it is impossible.
In fact we see that human nature itself is one of the greatest forces opposed to free will. For as far back as we know, it has been the intention of many men to suppress the will of others. This pattern has not ceased in modern days. Satan also works to change us from self-governed actors into puppets dangling from a string. And yet, never has any individual, nation, or temptation ever been able to gain the dominance of the world that they seek. No matter how powerful any of these oppressors seems to become, they have always fallen. It is as if some higher being is faithfully measuring the balance of the world, and disrupting it as needed when it tips too far to one side.
Furthermore, that higher being seems to be the only one exercising any personal restraint. If God is powerful enough to upset all who would control us, surely He is also powerful enough to control us Himself. And yet He does not. God is governed by God alone, and He exercises His own free will to preserve ours.
1 Corinthians 10:13- 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.
2 Nephi 2:11- 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.

God’s Plans Can Survive Our Freedom

It is understandable that we would consider God’s plans as posing a threat to our free will. The fact is that every other person we know is able to have their plans overrun by the choices of others. “The best laid plans of mice and man often go awry,” and usually because the other mice and men were free to throw a wrench them!
But while free will usually trumps any plan that crosses what, what if the plans were concrete and immutable? What if they were not man’s plans, but God’s, and therefore could not be denied? Then naturally we conclude it is man’s freedom that must turn instead, and so our lives must be predestined for us.
But I submit that God’s plans, while undeniable, are also adaptable to our choices. God will achieve what He must achieve, but most often He is able to achieve it whether you travel down the left path or the right. Perhaps there are a few times that He may disrupt us into the path that He has chosen, such as mentioned above when an oppressor grows too strong, but these are rare occurrences.
Never forget that of all the points in God’s plans, one of the highest priorities is that man should have free will. His plan isn’t going to stand against our agency, then, it is going to maximize it!
Alma 41:7- These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Knit Our Hearts- 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;

COMMENTARY

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
Yesterday we 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.

Knit Our Hearts- 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.

COMMENTARY

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.