November 19, 2009

The Gospel; A Mental Exertion

I have recently thought a lot about why we as children of God must go through often very difficult and trying mental challenges, such as depression and despair. Though I can’t say I have the exact answer, I can say I have learned one thing over the past few months as I have battled my own personal mental challenges. Much, if not all of the gospel is a mental exertion. Yes, faith without works is dead (meaning we must act), but you must first believe in your mind before you act. Hope is a mental exercise. Love is changing the way you think about others and allowing new feelings in to your heart and mind. So much of the gospel is learning to control and empower our minds. This is why going through the motions is so dangerous spiritually speaking. The power of faith is not in the action of our hands or feet but in the development of our minds and spirits.

Why must we face problems like depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair? I don’t know. Only God knows. But this I do know, God wants us to become like He is, including developing a mind like He has. That means we must go through very painful mental exercises that will help to develop our minds. Just as the athlete who desires to be the fastest in the race must go through great physical pains to come to that point, we too must go through like experiences in order to have the power that God has. If we are to have the faith that God has, we must be faced with challenges that seem far too daunting and then overcome them through the belief in Christ and the belief in ourselves that we can.

I have often asked myself if God has faith and hope. The answer is with no hesitation, yes! All one needs to do is read the Book of Revelation to see the faith and hope of the Lord. The book is set to be in the direst of situations. All hell is breaking lose, the very foundations of humanity are crumbling, sin fills the world, darkness covers the minds of men; yet God shows us His faith and hope by not only saying that good will prevail, but exactly how that will happen. He does not just teach us that He will win by a margin; He teaches us that He will annihilate the enemy and bring eternal harmony to the earth. If anything is hope, this is. In the Guide to the Scriptures it states that hope is “the confident expectation of and longing for the promised blessings of righteousness.” (Hope) Is this not exactly what the Lord teaches us in the Book of Revelation? Is this not what we hope to have? Do we not hope to gain a confidence in the Lord and in ourselves so that we can do all things? If this is the case, then how can we gain the hope and faith that God has?

In the scriptures there are several passages that refer to God giving man weakness. For example in the Book of Mormon it states: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27) However, note that it does not say that the Lord gives us weaknesses, but weakness; in other words it is not plural. What is this weakness that God gives us? It is not sin, nor despair, nor hopelessness, for God is not the author of these things. We can never blame God for wickedness and unhappiness.

However, I believe that the weakness God has given each of us relates to the condition of the world and the imperfections of mankind. Allow me to explain. God allows us to have agency that we may choose for ourselves. This agency leads to sin, death, despair, pain, and a multitude of other difficulties, or might I call it “weakness.” Thus, God has given us agency that the world may be weak, that mankind may be weak. Why? So that we can learn to have faith as He has. How would we ever learn to have faith if all went right in our life? How would we hope for a better place if we did not already live in that “better place”? For us to learn to believe, act, and be as God is, we must be put in a circumstance—a state of weakness—that will allow us to grow and develop, or in other words, “then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Why must we face these difficulties such as depression, anxiety, sadness and despair? Because it is through them we learn to rely on Christ to lift us and in time we learn to lift ourselves that we may have the faith and hope that God and Christ have. When we gain this faith and hope then we can write our own Book of Revelation in which all hell can break loose and yet we will not fear, we will not despair, we will become, we will believe!

November 10, 2009

The Law of Obedience

I have recently thought a lot about the law of obedience. I must say that much of this has been due to the fact that I have struggled with feeling inadequate and unable to live up to all that God asks of us. I also have often seen the commandments as burdensome. I many times could not understand the reason behind the law; they often just seemed more like a checklist. However, in the last few years I have had, I guess you could say, a change of heart. I have seen the commandments not as mindless rules to bind us to the old ways of life, or numbing regulations so as to curtail our enjoyment of life, but instead laws of power taught to us by a loving God who wants us to have dominion and power over all things. In short, He desires that we become even as He is.

Imagine for an instance a chemistry class. The professor walks in and begins teaching his students how they can cause chemical explosions by adding certain elements together. These explosions can then be used to help better the world. One explosion might loosen the debris that has piled on top of an innocent victim after a severe earthquake. Another might be used to explode within the engine of a vehicle so as to power an ambulance on its way to an accident scene. And yet another might be used to prepare the foundation for a building that will be built for the benefit of mankind. As the teacher is explaining the sheer power behind learning certain natural laws a young student raises his hand. “What you are doing is limiting our freedom! I would rather have a class where I can do whatever I want, where I can just do as I please. You teaching us all these laws and requiring us to follow such strict measures only limits my abilities.”

I unfortunately have often found myself making similar claims to God. When asked why God gave us commandments I would give the standard answers that He knows what is best, or He wants us to choose the right. Though these are true, one must ask why one thing is right and another thing is wrong? Why does God want us to obey the laws as they are? If He is God, can He not change them to whatever He feels is right?

Law is power and power is in law. Just as the chemist or physicist who learn to obey certain chemical or physical laws can harness the power of an atom and produce an atomic bomb, so God gains power over all things by obeying the laws of nature. Why does God give us the laws He does? Because He knows the power that lies within them. What makes these laws right? Because of the power that they wield when obeyed.

God in His infinite mercy teaches us laws of the universe not to limit us but to empower and enable us to become as He is. He does not have us obey laws just so we can be found worthy to join the choirs that will sing eternal praises to Him as He sits upon His yonder throne. No, if God wanted this, He would have made the requirements for salvation a doctorate in coral singing, not faith in Christ and repentance. If God wanted concourses of angels to serve Him forever more, He would have made culinary education and butlery skills as a requirement for exaltation and not love towards our neighbor.

As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said so powerfully “it isn’t that God seeks to shape us capriciously, just to prove that He is in charge; He is fitting us for special chores for which there are righteous and nonwaivable specifications.” In other words, God knows how to be a god, and he desires us to learn these same attributes. He desires that the joy and happiness that He has can be ours and thus gives us laws that we may learn how to come to that point.

Because God loves us He ensures that every command and every law will bring us to His eternal glory and allow us to partake of His power, dominion, and authority. I would invite you from this day to look at each commandment not with the eye of what is right and wrong (though they are that), but to instead look at them with the eye of learning who God is, learning why God is the way He is. For “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

November 7, 2009

Remember the Captivity of Your Fathers

This last summer my family and I went to the Yale University Special Collections Library to sift through boxes and boxes of information they had on one of my ancestors who served in the Civil War. Of the many treasures we found was a letter written to my ancestor James E. Fuller (who at the time was an enlisted soldier in the Union Army) from his father Ebenezer Fuller dated October 24, 1865. It appears that James was going through a great deal of struggles at this time of his life. His father penned these words of inspiration to him with the hopes of lifting his son’s soul that he might be sustained at this great and trying time of his life:

“You are not the first or only noble soul that has met disappointment - no, no. Show that you can master adversity, and turn all things, however disagreeable they may be, to the accomplishment of your own places and purchases. I am thankful for all the adversity and losses I have had, for it has made me richer and wiser and absolutely increased my sense of human happiness. Be encouraged then to never despond, or to look at your own lot in the ‘drama of life’ as any more severe than your greatest happiness and but good, require adversity, benefits, assuredly – forget not Life is but a breath and Eternity our Home. Affectionately, E. Fuller”

Alma in the Book of Mormon was told by the angel of God to remember the captivity of his fathers and to remember the “great things [the Lord had] done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.” (Mosiah 27:16) As I thought upon my ancestor who at the time was fighting in the bloodiest war the United States has ever fought, and how he in time was delivered from the tribulations of war, I thought of this verse and of my own challenges I am currently facing.

Life is not easy. I don’t know any other way to put it. However, the trials we face have a unique ability to refine us like no other experience in our life. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a modern day apostle “The thermostat on the furnace of affliction will not have been set too high for us—though clearly we may think so at the time. Our God is a refining God who has been tempering soul-steel for a very long time. He knows when the right edge has been put upon our excellence and also when there is more in us than we have yet given. One day we will praise God for taking us near to our limits—as He did His Only Begotten in Gethsemane and Calvary.” (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, page 46)

In the end I am not sure if I will be able to overcome all the trials I currently face, but as Paul so eloquently stated, I feel to exclaim: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (1 Cor. 4:8-9).

I do not know what the Lord has in store for me or for those who surround me. But this I know, God has, does, and will forever more deliver His people from spiritual and physical captivity. Through the atonement of Christ all mankind can be given power to be freed from all captivity, whatever that may be. Though we know not when the Lord will remove our own thorns in our flesh (see 2 Cor. 12:7), we can know that He not only has the power to do so, but if we will trust in Him and have Faith in Him He will make all things right. In the eternities those who put their faith in Christ will be made whole. Truly as my ancestor said “Life is but a breath and Eternity our Home.”

(Photo of James E. Fuller during Civil War, courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University)