Never Settle for Sin

Sarah White, “Never Settle for Sin,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2008 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 144–151.

Never Settle fo​​r Sin

Sarah White

The carpet was ugly—it really was. The bandana-red shag carpet was speckled with flecks of black, yellow, and orange. No one would say, “What lovely carpet!” or anything close to that. When we first moved in, my mom saw the carpet and knew it had to go. However, ripping it out required a lot of work, so the carpet was not removed. Other things seemed more important at the time. Bookcases went up later, and we did not pull the carpet out after that because it would have been too big of a project. Ultimately, decided that we could live with it the way it was. We got used to it after a while, and did not even think about getting rid of it. A few years later, we even thought that we liked it. We eventually realized that we did not want to remove it. The color was so vivid, and the carpet so warm. How could we get rid of something like that?

We had that carpet in our house for eight years. It was the room with my dad’s computer and most of our books. It was also where we set up beds for guests, played games, and studied. I suppose you would call it a family room; however, because of the carpet, we named it the “red room.” At the end of those eight years, my dad got a new job and we needed to sell our house so we could move. We painted walls and fixed little things around the house. Seeing our home with a newly critical eye, my mom announced that the carpet was coming out of the red room. I was opposed to the idea because I had become so accustomed to the carpet that I thought it would be a waste of time to get rid of it, but we ripped the carpet out. It took about four hours to pull it up and get the tack strips out. Underneath that hideous carpet we found a beautiful hardwood floor. The golden-brown oak slabs were in remarkably good condition. For some reason or another, we had put up with ugly carpet for years, when it would only have taken us one afternoon of work to have had a lovely floor.

 As it was with the carpet in my home, so is it often with other things in our lives. Often we put up with problems and sins in our lives because we lower our standards and gradually become accustomed to them. Alexander Pope pointed out this tendency to change our attitudes toward sin instead of changing our behavior. He said,

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;

Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace.[1]

President Spencer W. Kimball explained this when he taught that Satan “will use his logic to confuse and his rationalizations to destroy. He will shade meanings, open doors an inch at a time, and lead from purest white through all the shades of gray to the darkest black.”[2]

Gradual Acceptance ​​of Evil

Lowering standards and turning from convictions leads to the gradual acceptance of wrong that is so dangerous to people. Alma 47 in the Book of Mormon records the story of Lehonti, a leader of a Lamanite army, and Amalickiah, a Nephite dissenter who wanted to be king of the Lamanites. Amalickiah tried to incite the Lamanites to go to war against the Nephites. He succeeded in gaining control over part of the army, but Lehonti commanded the rest. The group under Lehonti was determined to avoid a war against the Nephites. Lehonti’s soldiers hiked to the top of Mount Antipas and were ready and willing to give battle to Amalickiah and his army if they tried to force them to go to war against the Nephites.

 Amalickiah was no fool—he wanted to be king and was prepared to do anything it took. He sent a message to Lehonti asking him to come down the mountain and talk. Lehonti realized that this was probably not the best thing to do. Lehonti and his army were in a defensive position, and they would be able to hold their own if a battle began. So Lehonti wisely refused Amalickiah’s request. Amalickiah sent another message asking Lehonti to come down the mountain; again the request was refused. A third message was sent up asking Lehonti to come down the mountain. It met with the same response as the other two.

Amalickiah was determined to become king, so he sent a fourth letter to Lehonti asking him to come just a little bit down the mountain. Amalickiah went most of the way up, and Lehonti and his guards went down, just a bit, to meet him. It was because of this decision that Lehonti lost the battle, but he did not even realize it. Amalickiah promised to deliver his (Amalickiah’s) army to Lehonti in exchange for being placed second in command over the entire combined armies. Lehonti agreed, and his army came down from the mountain and merged with the army of Amalickiah. Lehonti was the leader of the entire army, and Amalickiah was second in command. Then Amalickiah killed him and gained control of the entire army.

Lehonti knew that Amalickiah should not have been trusted. Lehonti even knew not to go down the mountain. What happened? How could he have lost his advantage and his life so easily? Lehonti made the fatal mistake that so many of us make. He thought that as long as he was with his guards, he could go partway down and still be all right.

Satan employs the same technique with us. He knows that if he can get us to come down the mountain “just a little bit,” he can get us to come farther and farther along the path to hell. Nephi explained this when he taught that the devil will lead us by a flaxen cord until he binds us in hell with chains (see 2 Nephi 26:22). Satan will lead us “carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).

We cannot afford to deviate even a little bit. We cannot afford to ignore the sins in our lives and hope it will not make a difference. It is crucial that we never feel so smug in our own abilities, or so safe with our own “guards” that we let ourselves accept what we know is bad. We cannot afford to succumb to the temptation to “lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for [our] neighbor” and believe that “there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8).

One step often leads to another. We are seldom tempted to commit a huge sin all at once, rather, we allow ourselves to be led from an abhorrence of sin, to acceptance, to ultimately embracing and committing the sin. Other times we consciously choose to let ourselves become comfortable with the sins in our lives because it is easier to dull our doubts regarding our actions than it is to face up to what we need to change.

Drawing t​​he Line

Fortunately, it is very possible to decide when and where to draw the line. If we are able to determine how much we will put up with, we will be better off. There are wonderful examples of this throughout history.

Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms, was asked to recant his words, but he would not. He would not go against his conscience even though it must have seemed as if he was going against everyone else.[3] Luther knew, as William Penn later said “Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”[4] Everyone who has had the courage to stand up for what they know is right, even when they feel completely alone, knows that even though it is not pleasant, it is worth it. Although it would be much easier to simply ‘go along’ with the crowd, the self-respect that we keep when we have not gone against ourselves or the Lord is priceless. It is worth the inherent discomfort of staying true to our convictions so that we will not regret our actions later.

Deciding our behavior before challenging situations arise will make it easier to respond appropriately when the time actually comes. In the Old Testament, we read the story of three Israelites: Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They had decided to keep the commandments throughout their lives. As children they were among the few of the Israelite children who would not eat the king’s meat. They, with Daniel, had already decided to obey the law of Moses. Later, Nebuchadnezzar tried to force them to worship an idol; they refused. The king then told them that if they did not bow down to the idol he would have them thrown into a fiery furnace. Their response is impressive. They told the king that their God was able to deliver them out of the fire, and then said, “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:18; emphasis added). They had made their decision a long time previously to follow the Lord regardless of the cost. They knew exactly where the line between right and wrong was, and they would not cross it.

While it is extremely unlikely that we will be threatened with death to deny our convictions, it is probable that we will be required to make decisions that pit our desire for convenience against our desire to be righteous. Because it is often difficult to think clearly while under pressure, Church leaders have counseled us to make decisions beforehand. President Thomas S. Monson put it succinctly: “When the time for performance arrives, the time for preparation is past.” [5]

Example of Integrity

While these stories are inspiring, it occasionally seems that these are just stories of high and far-off heroes whose doings, though impressive, do not make much difference to many people. In this light, consider the story of the Danes in World War II. Denmark was occupied by the Germans in 1940, and the Nazis began persecuting the Jews of Denmark. However, the experience of the Jews in Denmark during World War II is far different then it was in any of the other Axis-occupied European countries.

From the beginning the Danes did not put up with the oppression of their fellow countrymen. Denmark was one of the few countries in which Jews were not required to wear yellow armbands, for the public sentiment was so decidedly against it. The population, from King Christian X, to the ordinary people, considered it repugnant to treat any of their fellow countrymen as inferior, so they did not.

Later, when the Nazis planned on rounding up the Jews, the plan was leaked to the underground resistance. Overnight almost every Jew in the country was taken in and hidden by ordinary citizens. The police force of the country refused to participate in the subsequent manhunt. German soldiers were bribed or talked into looking the other way. Money and food for the refugees came from many sources. Most of the Jews were successfully smuggled to the coast and then transported in freighters and fishing boats to neutral Sweden. The Danish Coast Guard refused to help the German patrols. The entire population collectively and courageously risked their lives to save their neighbors.

As a result, 95 percent of the Jewish population of Denmark escaped the roundup, one of the largest percentages of any country in Europe. However, the story does not end there. The Danes put so much pressure on Adolf Eichmann and Werner Best that the Danish Jews who had been caught were kept out of the extermination camps. The captured Danish Jews were instead interred in a prison camp, where, over the course of their stay, hundreds of packages filled with food and supplies were sent from groups in Denmark. Almost all the Danish prisoners survived. When the war was over, the Jews returned to Denmark, where they found their houses clean, food in their cupboards, and their neighbors to welcome them back home.[6]

This is a shining example of the basic decency of people. The Danes were firm in what they knew was right. I have always been impressed with the powerful convictions these ordinary people demonstrated during a dangerous time.

What made the situation is Denmark so different? There were good, decent people all over Europe, why was it only in that country that the majority of the normal citizens behaved so well? The majority of the Danes were Christians; but they could have chosen the path of least resistance and gradually accepted the inhumane treatment of the Jews in their country. They could have, as happened in other countries at this time, turned their neighbors in to protect themselves. I am convinced that the Danes were able to be as honorable as they were because they countered the first bits of cruelty. Since they did not put up with the first signs of persecution, they were still able to do the right thing when it was more dangerous to do so. They knew what was right and what was wrong and they would not cross the line. The Danes’ refusal to compromise made a huge difference in many people’s lives.

Conclusion

Going back to my starting story, I would like to point out that there is hope for us all. After my family and I had torn up the hideous red carpet, we sold our house and moved into a new one. The dining and living room of this new house was carpeted with a weird, old, turquoise-blue shag carpet that was not even slightly attractive. We had learned our lesson from the previous house though. Before we had set up a single bookcase, that carpet was gone.

We can decide to tear up the old, nasty carpet in our own lives. We can set personal standards and hold true to certain convictions. We can make the choice now to never put up with ugly floor coverings, to not swear, to never cheat, or to not gossip. We can resolve not to tolerate evil in our lives. We can have the same firmness and conviction in our own lives that we have seen so many examples of. As we decide to be true to our convictions, regardless of the cost, we will gain power and courage. We will be able to clearly see the boundary between right and wrong and be able to not only change the world but to change our own life.

Notes


[1] Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man” in Alexander Pope, ed. Pat Rogers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 287.

[2] Spencer W. Kimball, “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” New Era, November 1980, 39.

[3] Thomas M. Lindsay, Luther and the German Reformation (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1913), 130–31.

[4] William Penn, in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, ed. Martin H. Manser (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 325.

[5] Thomas S. Monson, “Our Sacred Priesthood Trust,” Ensign, May 2006, 54.

[6] Ellen Levine, Darkness Over Denmark (New York: Holiday House, 2000), 23, 73; Emmy E. Werner, A Conspiracy of Decency (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002), 3, 14–15, 39, 108, 154; Leo Goldberger, ed., The Rescue of the Danish Jews (New York: New York University Press, 1987), 72, 144, 192.