Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:14-16

14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

It amuses me how casual the wording is in these verses when describing the creation of worlds without number! You know, God just put some lights in the sky, simple as a parent painting stars on the bedroom ceiling, right? The phrase “he made the stars also” doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone, each of them an entire world or star, each meticulously suspended by a complex web of gravity. And all of it described as little more than set dressing to the other work of creation that was happening down on Earth, a garnish to the main course.

And perhaps there is some truth to that, for as incredible as massive bodies of rock and gas in infinite space might be, they are surpassed by the wonder and intricacy of plants, animals, and people. When we turn from looking to the heavens above to the world around us we find the careful balance of nature, the micro-universes of cells and proteins, and the inexplicable miracle called “life” which animates it all. God’s crowning achievement of creation is not to be found in the vastness of space, but within us smaller things.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:2

2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Here we see the natural state of this world: without form, void, darkness upon the face of the deep. It wasn’t for millennia after this passage was written that science became aware of entropy, the phenomenon that suggests the entire universe, if left to its natural devices, will dissolve itself into a evenly distributed, stagnant void. Everything will be made uniform until there remains no variety, and with in no variety there is also no catalyst or process. That fits the description of this verse remarkably well, doesn’t it?

Life and individuality can only occur as God moves upon the face of this world. He doesn’t just make our existence good, He makes it possible.

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

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

COMMENTARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMENTARY

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

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

Optimism in a Falling World- Question

I have always meant for these studies to be based around universal and timeless questions, rather than obsess over whatever the latest social controversy is. But of course I am a member of this world and I cannot help but feel affected by the great, rolling movements that disturb it.

And in all these passing tumults I have often seen a repeated theme of discord. I have an overwhelming sense of sides unwilling to work together, of a world falling apart, and of an impending fallout looming ahead. And as one man in a sea of billions I feel helpless to turn that tide. Even the scriptures foretell of our world falling to ruin before the second coming of Jesus Christ.

When I consider thoughts like these I find it very difficult to invest in what appears to be a losing battle. What would be the point? Shouldn’t I just take care of myself and let the world fall away?

But that doesn’t feel right to my heart either. Despair has never been one of the virtues championed by the gospel! With this study I want to examine how we can remain optimistic in a world falling away. What exactly is our duty to society as it becomes increasingly disinterested with our mission? How did the early disciples remain motivated in the face of apostasy and martyrdom? What can we do to increase our sense of hope, and what is that hope founded in?

In the meantime I’d love to hear about your own experiences dealing with cynicism. Have you ever lost faith in humanity, but then found it restored? Or are you even now struggling to keep your “perfect brightness of hope” alive? What have you asked in prayer and done in your actions to help with this matter?

The Epic Life- 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Ecclesiastes 1:14

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

COMMENTARY

They will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind
I have considered the basic desire to live a great life and how it is often secured behind a difficult choice. Those that fail to make the required sacrifice still want to have a life of meaning, though, so now they are left to seek it by less genuine means.
And to this wanting comes many, many counterfeits. Our fascination with fame and worldly glory is perhaps the greatest of these, and this obsession is little more than our misplaced desire for true greatness. We do not see our way to spiritual significance, so we redirect our attention to worldly significance instead.
Of course few that seek fame do gain it, and those that do will find it a valueless currency. Having obtained it there is nothing more for the world to offer, your progression has reached its ultimate. And then, as occurs with all things world-based things, that fame will fade, decay, and ultimately die. Some fame may last longer than others, but all of it is fundamentally transient and will eventually evaporate.

Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Give Thanks- Divinity

I am grateful for divinity.

Many of the things I have already expressed gratitude for in this series can be considered a moment of God showing His hand in my life. A moving piece of music or a sincere and thoughtful tale. A pattern of mathematics. A mentor’s help and a child’s kindness. The variety of the world. The opportunities of time. The desires within us to make new and good things. The healing of the heart. I sense His divinity in all these aspects of life.

I believe that if each of us paused to consider the things we are most grateful for, we would recognize that they are the moments when we glimpse another side of our Maker. Our fondest memories are based around Him in one way or another.

It is true that we live in a fallen world, and it obscures our view of God, but He condescends to our presence in every way that He still can. When He does, these become the defining moments of our lives. They awaken in us the desire to be better. They make us to be our best selves.

#givethanks

The Need for Law- Isaiah 51:4-6, 8

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

COMMENTARY

For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner.
To understand the need for God’s law, we need to appreciate that we are under another law already: that of mortality. And the final fulfillment of that law is spelled out in total clarity: heaven shall vanish away, earth shall wax old, and all of us that dwell therein shall die. These are the commandments of the earth and they are immutable.
We try to medicate ourselves into longer life, we try to cryogenically freeze our cells, we try to create a legacy to outlive us. We do all of these things to defy the doom of earth’s law, but they are, at best, very temporary solutions. If nothing else gets us, the universe is set for total entropy, which will ultimately unmake any edifice that we try to preserve ourselves in. Whether we live for ten years, a hundred, or find a way to live for a thousand, we will still die.

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
But my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
And now, under that context of dark gloom, God gives His divine law as a light, to provide us a hope that was impossible by any worldly means. It offers another outcome, a different destination than the silent grave.
Who can deny the worthiness of this? On these facts alone, it is a law that we should all subscribe to. It honestly wouldn’t matter what its principles and commandments were, we would be fools to not adhere to them. Any cost that it asked would be worth the outcome.

The Need for Law- Social Law vs Divine Law

Yesterday we looked at natural law, and what principles of law we can glean from it, which principles we would then expect to find in moral law as well. And yet we usually struggle to see moral law as being as “real” of a law as natural law. We see the forces of gravity and magnetism as universal and uncompromising, yet believe we can make bargains about moral rights and wrongs. Not only that, but we believe that if there are moral laws, we can transgress them, and yet avoid consequences through bargaining or concealment.

Why is this? A major reason is because we have human “laws” which defy all of the principles we found in natural law. Where the forces of nature never change, apply equally to all, and are cannot be petitioned for cancellation, both the laws of government and the trends of society do change, do not apply equally, and can be petitioned for cancellation.

Our first lesson in this likely occurred when growing in our childhood homes. Parents are forever inconsistent in how they respond to the same behaviors. Sometimes they let misdeeds slide and sometimes they don’t, they might punish incorrect behavior at a severe level one day and at a more measured level the next, sometimes they let one child get away with a certain action but never the other child. Parents can be persuaded and bargained with to let go of their principles. In short, parental law is extremely organic, based a great deal on their mood in the moment, and teaches a pattern that morals are flexible.

In school we learn about our governments, and the principles and laws upon which they are founded. We are told that those laws are meant to be administered universally and indiscriminately, but obviously they are not. Different officers and judges of the law act on different biases. What is more, their presence is not total enough to respond to all queries or misdeeds, making holes in the law’s coverage of the nation. Laws can be changed and even abolished, and the laws of one nation are different from the laws of its neighbors, an artificial boundary changing the legality of one’s behavior like the flipping of a switch. This starts to make us believe that moral law only applies so far as it can be seen. That it can be compartmentalized, hidden from, and vetoed by a strong enough consensus.

Social law, of course, is the most flimsy of all, the same behaviors being simultaneously applauded and condemned by different circles at the same time. There is absolutely no consensus whatsoever, a million different voices saying a million different things. This suggests to us that moral law is worse than organic, it is non-existent. All that we call morality is opinion, and has no universal binding whatsoever.

Our mistake is taking all these imperfect forms, and trying to extrapolate from them how Divine Law must work as well. We assume that certain commandments no longer apply, because society has come to a consensus to vote them out. We assume that if we hide our sins, then we need not pay the price of guilt. We assume that if we butter God up with love in other ways, then He might give us a pass on our misdeeds. We use the strategies that work with our fellow man, and try to apply them where they can never work. Divine Moral Law, to be Divine Moral Law, must be constant, universal, unchanging, non-negotiable, all-reaching, and all-encompassing. And even more than it needs to be all those things, we need it to be all those things. For with anything less than a totally sure foundation, nothing permanent can ever be built.