Only the Blind See

POSTED BY: Millet

10/18/10


The gospel of Jesus Christ is the grand news, the glad tidings that through our exercise of faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement, coupled with our repentance that flows therefrom, we may be forgiven of our sins and justified or made right with God. Our standing before the Almighty has thereby changed from a position of divine wrath to one of heavenly favor and acceptance; we have traveled the path from death to life (see Romans 5:9–10). “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Or, as Peter taught, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him: for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7; emphasis added). Surely it is the case that we can cast our burdens upon the Lord because he cares for us—that is, because he loves us. But I sense that more is intended by Peter in this passage. We can give away to Him who is the Balm of Gilead our worries, our anxieties, our frettings, our awful anticipations, for he will care for us, that is, will do the caring for us. It is as though Peter had counseled us: “Quit worrying. Don’t be so anxious. Stop wringing your hands. Let Jesus take the burden while you take the peace.”  This is what C. S. Lewis meant when he pointed out that “f you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way” (Mere Christianity, 130–31; emphasis added). 

Following his healing of a blind man, Jesus spoke plainly to the self-righteous Pharisees: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” What an odd statement! And yet it goes to the heart of that which we have been discussing—our need to acknowledge our need. Those who have accepted Christ and his saving gospel come to see things as they really are. They once were blind, but now they see. Those who choose to remain in their smug state of self-assurance, assuming they see everything clearly, these are they that continue to walk in darkness. Thus Jesus concluded, “If ye were blind”—that is, if you would acknowledge and confess your blindness, your need for new eyes to see who I am and what I offer to the world—“ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9: 41).

It was Jacob, son of Lehi, who wrote that those who are “puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he [the Holy One of Israel] despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them” (2 Nephi 9:42; compare 1 Corinthians 3:18; 4:10; 8:2). On the other hand, “the poor in spirit,” those who consider themselves spiritually bankrupt without heavenly assistance and divine favor, those who come unto Christ and accept his sacred offering, inherit the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 5:3; 3 Nephi 12:3).

Let’s be wise and honest: We cannot make it on our own. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. We are not bright enough or powerful enough to bring to pass the mighty change necessary to see and enter the kingdom of God. We cannot perform our own eye surgery. We cannot pry our way through the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. We cannot make ourselves happy or bring about our own fulfillment. But we can “seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in [us] forever” (Ether 12:41). Then all these things will be added unto us (see Matthew 6:33). That’s the promise, and I affirm that it’s true.


BYU Education Week

POSTED BY: holzapfel

08/13/09


Guest blog by Brent L. Top, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

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A miracle occurs every August in Provo. I have seen it with my own eyes. In fact, I have been not only an observer but also a participant. The miracle is Campus Education Week. Brigham Young University is transformed almost overnight. For one week each year, classrooms usually filled with young adults are suddenly filled with gray-haired grandmas and grandpas, worn-out moms thrilled to have time for themselves, excited teenagers looking to meet new friends, and dads with wallets full of cash and cards to ensure that everyone has a good time. RVs fill the parking lots, and area hotels are full of families having a vacation, attending classes, concerts, plays, and activities. The class offerings vary as much as the age-groups, body shapes, and circumstances in life. For every student—whether a wide-eyed fourteen-year-old who has never been on a college campus before or a ninety-year-old who has never missed an Education Week (and usually doesn’t even stop for lunch)—there is something that can enlarge the intellect, strengthen the spirit, and comfort the soul.

This miracle is a reflection of Latter-day Saints’ deep commitment to continuing education—a commitment founded on the revelations of the Restoration and teachings of latter-day prophets. Continuing education has both temporal and spiritual benefits—benefits that enrich our lives on earth and bless us throughout all eternity. We are commanded to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118) and to seek learning “in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God” (D&C 88:78). In addition, we are to learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations . . . ; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79). Our continuing education should be as much a spiritual quest as it is an intellectual or vocational one. The Lord has taught us that learning will prepare us in all things to magnify our foreordained callings (see D&C 88:80) and will rise with us in the resurrection and be to our advantage in the eternal worlds (see D&C 130:18—19).

In light of these scriptures, it is no wonder that education—formal as well as informal—plays such an important role in the lives of faithful Latter-day Saints. Our faith should propel us forward in the quest for truth and knowledge of God. “When all is said and done, we are all students,” President Gordon B. Hinckley taught. “If the day comes when we quit learning, look out. We will just atrophy and die.”

There is great potential within each of to go on learning. Regardless of our age, unless there be serious illness, we can read, study drink in the writings of wonderful men and women. . . .

We must go on growing. We must continually learn. It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge.

We have access to institute classes, extension courses, education weeks, and many other opportunities where, as we study and match our minds with others, we will discover a tremendous reservoir of capacity within ourselves. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 302–3.)

Over the past twenty years, I have been one of many teachers at Campus Education Week. It is always a privilege to participate because I always gain more than I give. It makes me want to be better. My faith in the Lord and love for the gospel are always strengthened as I witness the August miracle—thousands and thousands of Saints from every part of the world who literally “enter to learn” and then “go forth to serve” as better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons and daughters, and fellow servants in God’s kingdom. Because their lives have been enriched, they are better able to serve those around them for weeks and years to come. That is indeed a miracle.


“The Stones Would Immediately Cry Out”

POSTED BY: holzapfel

05/07/09


When Jesus came to Jerusalem on what would be his last visit, he walked from the Mount of Olives to the Holy City. As he did so, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (Luke 19:37). Luke adds, “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And [Jesus] answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:39–40).

Stones are everywhere in this rugged land. Not only do people see them everywhere; they walk on them and visit places made out of stone, such as the Garden Tomb or the rock-hewn tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the bedrock where Abraham offered Isaac, now covered by the Dome of the Rock; the rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (part of the altar in the Church of All Nations); and the massive Herodian retaining wall of the Temple Mount. I returned this past week from a visit to Jerusalem. Sometimes church bells, the call of the muezzin, and the Jewish Sabbath siren capture our attention—competing sounds floating through the air. But the real story is in the stones.

On my flight to Jerusalem, I read Simon Goldhill’s latest book, Jerusalem: City of Longing (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008). It helped me in my visit, providing some insights that allowed me to tie together a mass of information and years of experiences in Jerusalem. As I thought about the people I met (guides, tourists, cab drivers, and a host of other people), I realized how often most of us want to see the stories about Jerusalem as “black and white.” However, as Goldhill proves in this well-written narrative, “the city has to be viewed from multiple perspectives if it is to be appreciated” (viii), and the stories are “much more complicated and much more interesting than the stereotypes” (ix).

Instead of producing a chronological storyline, the author provides a look at different places (most associated with rock or stone) connected to pivotal points in the story of Jerusalem. As he tells his story, Goldhill provides some of the “competing narratives” (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) providing their own black-and-white versions of the events (282). He adroitly concludes, “The tensions between the three Abrahamic religions [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] are intently aimed at the holy places, their possession, their guardianship, their symbolic value” (47). In a very real sense, guardianship of each site allows each group to share its own validating narrative.

Goldhill concludes, “Jerusalem has a strange relation to stone” (224). He notes that even “the archaeologists try to make [them] speak” (225). Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there is “the inevitable disappointment of the lost, the fragmentary, the unknowable and shattered past” when relying upon archaeology (225).

Not everyone will agree with the sites and stories Goldhill decided to include, but readers will discover that he “tried to tell this story in as simple and as neutral a way as possible” (281). Whether you have visited Jerusalem in the past, plan to visit Jerusalem in the future, or are only interested in Jerusalem, this book is worth a visit—providing a nuanced approach to a complex city. He concludes, “To be in Jerusalem is always to wander in a city of longing, as one seeks to find one’s own place in the layers of history, imagination, belief, desire, and conflict that make Jerusalem what it is” (332).


People of Paradox

POSTED BY: holzapfel

03/11/09


Recently the Department of Church history and doctrine at BYU hosted a guest lecture by Terryl L. Givens, professor of literature and religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond. Such opportunities allow BYU faculty to rub shoulders with well-known professors from around the world.

I was particularly interested in one lecture during his weeklong visit. It was a follow-up to his book People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). I recommend the book for its thoughtful insights about Mormonism and Mormons. It is certainly a tour de force!

You may recall that a paradox is “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). I have often been drawn to such tensions but have become very comfortable with the notion of paradoxes since I realized the greatest paradox is the truth that Jesus died that we might live.

Givens first discusses “the polarity of authoritarianism and individualism” (xiv), followed by the contrast in the Prophet’s teachings about what we already know and an ambitious “program of eternal learning” (xv).

Next he tackles the Prophet’s insight that “God [is] an exalted man, man a God in embryo.” Givens states, “The resulting paradox is manifest in the recurrent invasions of the banal into the realm of the holy and the infusion of the sacred into the realm of the quotidian” (xv). Then he discusses the “two related tensions in Mormonism: exile and integration, and a gospel viewed as both American and universal” (xv).

During his time with the faculty, Givens discussed yet another paradox—the Prophet’s “competing impulse of assimilation and innovation.” I believe he is correct on this point. Latter-day Saints tend to highlight the Prophet’s innovations (he restored doctrine that had been “kept hid from before the foundation of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:41). Yet Joseph Smith also assimilated truth from the world around him, saying, “[If the] Presbyterians [have] a truth [we] embrace that. Baptist, Methodist etc. get all the good in the world [and] come out a pure Mormon” (The Words of Joseph Smith [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980], 234). It would not hurt us to identify those truths he found in other faith traditions, paying attention to how he adopted and adapted them as part of the message he proclaimed. This does not in any way diminish the flood of revelation that constantly flowed down from heaven upon him as the Lord’s anointed.


“Behold, There Shall Be a Record Kept”

POSTED BY: holzapfel

01/26/09


Joseph Smith received a revelation during the organizational meetings of the Church of Christ in Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830, as depicted in William Whitaker’s painting The Prophet Joseph Smith Receives a Revelation. In this revelation, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). The Prophet would spend the rest of his life attempting to fulfill the command, including providing historical narratives that recorded events associated with the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ in the last days.

Doctrine and Covenants section 20 offers one of the earliest attempts to record these events. Although much of the material in this inspired document was gathered over a twelve-month period, “the current version found in Doctrine and Covenants 20 was written April 10, 1830″ (Robert J. Woodford, “Discoveries from the Joseph Smith Papers,” in The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context [Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008], 29).

Section 20 briefly mentions the First Vision in the spring of 1820: “It was truly manifested unto this first elder [Joseph Smith, see verse 2] that he had received a remission of his sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:5). Most are familiar with the 1838 account of the First Vision, one of ten accounts recorded during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, which emphasizes Joseph Smith’s search for the true Church. However, an earlier version is found in Joseph Smith’s 1832 autobiographical narrative, which highlights the young boy’s search for mercy and forgiveness. He recorded in his own hand, “I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age> a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee” (The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 1, Autobiographical and Historical Writings, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 6.

Next, section 20 mentions the period between 1820 and 1823: “He was entangled again in the vanities of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:5). Joseph Smith’s published history provides more details: “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. . . . I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28).

The record then moves on to Joseph’s prayer for forgiveness in September 1823: “But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lighting, and whose garments were pure and white above all whiteness; and gave unto him commandments which inspired him” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:6). The angel was Moroni, who opened a new chapter in Joseph’s life.

The next historical allusion is to September 22, 1827, when Moroni delivered to Joseph the plates and the Nephite interpreters “and gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared to translate the Book of Mormon” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:8).

Next is the June 1829 experience when the Three Witnesses (Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery) were shown the plates by a heavenly messenger and commanded to prepare a testimony which is now printed in the Book of Mormon, “which was given by inspiration and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:10).

The most recent event mentioned in section 20 had occurred on April 6, 1830, with “the rise of the Church of Christ in these last days” (v. 1). Thus, section 20 offered those early members and missionaries a basic outline of major events leading up to the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days.


Joseph Smith: A Modern Witness of Jesus Christ

POSTED BY: holzapfel

12/22/08


During December, our thoughts may turn to a wintry day in a small farmhouse in Vermont where Joseph Smith Jr. drew his first breath in 1805. Or we may ponder a hot, muggy Thursday afternoon in June 1844 when the Prophet drew his final breath.

 

During his lifetime, Joseph Smith was many things—a dutiful son, a loving father, a kind neighbor, a visionary community leader. In addition, he was a prophet of God.

 

From the beginning, prophets have had specific duties.  Noah built an ark. Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage. Joshua let the Israelites into the promised land. Lehi and Jeremiah warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem about an impending exile. Peter and Paul took the gospel to the nations of the earth. No matter what specific assignments they have, all prophets stand as witnesses of the Lord.

 

Joseph Smith was no different. He received numerous assignments from the Lord. Nevertheless, his greatest and most important role as a prophet was to be a modern witness for Jesus Christ. In 1820, Joseph Smith recorded, “It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17).

 

In 1832, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon testified, “For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:23).

 

In 1836, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery testified, “We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:2-3).

 

Joseph Smith’s prophetic ministry can easily be divided into two separate but related duties.

 

First, the Prophet was called to testify of Jesus as Savior and Redeemer. He did this primarily through bringing forth the Book of Mormon and establishing the Church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon and the Church focus on the Atonement of Christ, repentance, salvation, and eternal life. This first assignment saw its culmination in the restoration of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, which allow us to enter the celestial kingdom. This is called the “fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

 

Second, the Prophet was called to testify of Jesus as the “maker and finisher of our faith.” He did this primarily through the revelations he received, beginning in 1832, regarding exaltation and eternal lives (see Doctrine and Covenants 76, 84, 88, and 93). This last assignment saw its culmination in the temple, in which Latter-day Saints receive the ordinances of the Church of the Firstborn that allow them to come unto the presence of Elohim.

 

All the blessings and promises we announce to the inhabitants of the earth come through and by Jesus Christ—God’s own son. Certainly, it is all “good news.” Without Jesus Christ, we have nothing. Joseph Smith said on May 12, 1844, just a few weeks before he was murdered, “The Savior has the words of eternal life—nothing else can profit us” (Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Words of Joseph Smith [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980], 365).

 

As we listen to Joseph’s witness of Jesus Christ, we hear the voice of Jesus because “Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer” (William W. Phelps, “Praise to the Man,” Hymns [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 27).