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.


Remember the Sabbath Day

POSTED BY: holzapfel

06/08/09


sunday_small-with-depth2The book of Exodus preserves the Ten Commandments, including “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). From an early period, the meaning of the fourth commandment has been discussed and debated. Fortunately Craig Harline, history professor at BYU, has written a history of the efforts to set apart a special day each week. The book is titled Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl (New York: Doubleday, 2007).

Harline’s story begins on a particular Super Bowl Sunday, focusing on his ninety- year-old grandmother’s reaction to the televised event as the family gathered to watch it. She finally left the room wondering how society had arrived at this point. He reveals his concern too, but for a different reason. Harline recalls that he was “struck by the Sunday part of ‘Super Bowl Sunday.’ How did that happen?” (viii). The book answers that question.

The author is an excellent writer and a thoughtful observer of people and places, including texts, both ancient and modern. He not only tells the story and history of important words like Sabbath and Sunday but also weaves in the life experiences of real people who have attempted to make sense of special time—holidays and holy days. He provides word-pictures of life in the ancient Mediterranean basin; medieval and modern Europe; and nineteenth- and twentieth-century England and the United States.
Among the hundreds of insights, here are two that helped me reconstruct the past so that I could appreciate the present.

First, the creation of the “free Saturday afternoon” in England was the beginnings of the “weekend.” Many “countries adopted both the term and the [English] practice of a ‘weekend’” after World War I (217). This reconstruction of the week, from a six-day workweek, provided additional opportunities to rest and to engage in leisure activities. Some people claimed the purpose of a free Saturday afternoon was to allow people to do what they need to do on Saturday, leaving Sunday for worship and quiet meditation, the traditional English “quiet Sunday” (218). Instead, “those who wished to broaden the English Sunday held that, despite an increase in free time, new leisure opportunities and facilities were not enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to take advantage of them, unless these were available on Sunday too” (218).

Second, for some, engaging in sports on Sunday grew from a noble idea that sports “could be the bearer of moral virtues” like “team spirit, discipline, unselfishness, and more” (261). In one sense, participating (not watching) in “good games” was better than playing cards or wasting time in the pub, as one Englishman argued, “Our games keep us healthy, and mean abstaining from habitual drinking, late hours, etc.” However, participating in Sunday sports for some “meant more work for others” (261). This was specifically true following the shift from participating in sports to watching sports on Sunday.

Harline demonstrates that Sabbath practices continue to change over time, adding, “It seems safe to say that this process will continue: Sunday will change as the world around it changes.” Nevertheless, he opines, “It also seems safe to say that, whatever the changes, Sunday will retain its extraordinary character, however one might understand that” (381).

I have learned a lot from my colleague and will use some of the cogent insights in my Honors New Testament class when I teach the Sabbath controversies between Jesus and the Pharisees as recorded in the Gospels and when I teach the modern revelation (section 59) on the Lord’s holy day in my Honors Doctrine and Covenants class this coming fall semester at BYU.


“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).