Day 84: The Nature of Good and Evil

Moroni 7:12-17

I remember one day on my mission my companion and I decided to go finding in a large city park near our apartment. We took a baseball and bat thinking we could start a game and meet new people who might be interested in learning more about Jesus Christ. On the way to the park we stopped to talk to a couple on the sidewalk. We introduced ourselves, extending a simple invitation to listen to our message. The woman looked at our baseball and bat and said something to the effect of, “with all the terrible things in the world, I can’t believe there’s a God. You would be better off playing baseball in the park than trying to teaching people about something that doesn’t exist.” The woman’s attitude might sound familiar to many of you. Lots of people argue that the plethora of “bad things” in the world is definitive proof God doesn’t exist. They argue that “god” would never let so many terrible things happen.

The prophet Mormon’s discourse from Moroni 7 clarifies the nature of good and evil. “[All] things which are good cometh of God” (Moroni 7:12). Kindness, charity, love, happiness, joy, good works, all come from God because He inspires them (Moroni 7:13). He is the definition of good. Satan also exists and he is the exact opposite of God (Moroni 7:12, 17). Satan inspires wickedness, anger, breaking God’s commandments, being unkind, cheating, lying, stealing.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. (Moroni 7:16)

Every person on earth has agency, the ability to reason, make choices, and act. We, every individual on earth, must choose between good (God) and evil (Satan). Many of the “bad things” that happen on earth are the result of individual choices. God will never take away nor compel a person’s agency. Individuals are responsible for their choices, not God. God’s commandments teach us responsible ways to use our agency; they are designed to maximize the good in our lives as well as bring eternal happiness and joy.

In addition, many “bad things” that happen on earth, like natural disasters, come as the result of natural laws. God sometimes steps in to protect individuals, families, and groups that are living righteously and have sought His help. He often won’t change circumstances or take away “bad things,” but He can strengthen us to endure and overcome, and He does make amazing blessings available to those who trust in Him.

If we want to see more good in the world, it’s up to us to choose good and do good. It’s our responsibility to seek out God and supplicate His help for increased strength and ability to become a force for good in our families, our communities, and our world.

Day 70: Restored Truths and the Importance of The Book of Mormon

3 Nephi 15:16-24 and 1 Nephi 13:40-41

When Jesus appeared to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Americas, He established His identity, His importance to their lives, and His law, the law of Christ. One of the most critical truths for us to understand is that there is “one fold and one shepherd” (3 Nephi 15:21). Jesus personally declared His divinity, His role as Savior and Redeemer, and the primacy of His law. His words in 3 Nephi echo earlier prophetic writings in 1 Nephi that “there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” (1 Nephi 13:41). This is Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon serves as a second witness of Jesus Christ. It stands alongside the Bible as a testimony of His divinity, it clarifies important points of doctrine such as the need for baptism by immersion by the proper authority, and teaches additional doctrines such as the Plan of Salvation in beautiful simplicity.

The role of Jesus Christ in our lives can be summed up in simple statements of truth. Just as there is one shepherd and one God over all the earth, so is there one plan and one law that apply to everyone on earth: “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved” (1 Nephi 13:40). Our purpose on earth is to learn charity, selflessness, to become more like God, to repent when we fall short, to make promises to God, to keep His commandments, and to prepare for eternal life. Jesus Christ set the example and makes all this possible through His Atonement and Resurrection. By following Jesus Christ according to the pattern He set anciently and reestablished through His church today, we choose the path to eternal life.

Day 65: No cause for unbelief

Helaman 14:12, 28, 31

I want to connect three separate ideas I came across in Helaman 14. This chapter continues the record of Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching and prophecies to the Nephites. Samuel doesn’t mince words and there are several important truths he proclaims in simple, clarifying terms that come to bear on every person on earth.

The first eternal truth identifies Jesus’ role in the universe. Samuel’s description of the coming Savior as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things” makes His sacrifice that much more compelling (Helaman 14:12). Our Creator sacrificed HIMSELF for us. He chose to come to earth, live through mortality in extremely humble circumstances, suffer excruciating pain, and endure an ignominious, painful death all for US. I stand all amazed.

A few verses later Samuel reifies this prophetic information by explaining that God will provide sensate proof of its reality and truth. No one has an excuse to not believe because “these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:28).

Finally, Samuel the Lamanite concludes his testimony of the Savior and the need to believe in Jesus Christ by reminding the people that they have the power to choose (Helaman 14:31). Even after the testimonies and the signs are given, each person must choose for him-/herself whether or not to believe and act on that belief. If they choose to believe in Christ, they choose life, eternal life through faith, good works, repentance, and consistent effort to follow Jesus Christ.

Day 61: Choose to Believe

Helaman 4:23

One of the saddest phrases I have come across during my reading is “and they began to disbelieve” (Helaman 4:23). Speaking of the Nephites, the Book of Mormon writer summarizes their behavior in the lead up to their loss of faith and Gospel knowledge.

This phrase highlighted for me how critical it is to be actively engaged in your faith. Belief takes work. It is a choice we make to believe in the Gospel or not, to believe in Jesus Christ, to believe that there is life after death. Because many of the Nephites made choices to disobey the commandments, to murder, rob and steal, they, in effect, chose not to believe.

Keeping the commandments, serving others, participating in the Church all foster belief. That kind of action reflects a deliberate choice to believe; it is so important to actively growing faith in Jesus Christ.

Day 50: A Better Cause

Alma 43:45

The reign of the judges among the Nephites was fraught with dissension and war. In Alma 43 the wicked Zoramites have joined ranks with the Lamanites in anger over the sheltering of converted Zoramites among the people of Ammon. Moroni leads the Nephites in battle, with spiritual guidance from Alma the younger. The scriptures make a point of comparing the Nephites with the Lamanites to demonstrate how and why God blesses and helps one group over the other, and to explain how the Nephites could triumph over an opposing army twice its size.

Both armies expended a great deal of time, energy, and resources to fighting. The Lamanites were especially fierce (v. 44). So how could a smaller army possibly match and defeat them? Alma comes down firmly on the explanation: “Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause…they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church” (Alma 43:45). The “better cause” that imbued the Nephites with greater strength and success in the war centered on God, family, freedom, and religion. Described as a “better cause,” these priorities have eternal significance.

How often do we expend time, energy, and resources on things of little value that don’t matter in the eternal long-run? Sometimes I arrive at the end of a busy day and wonder what I did with my time that really matters. I got lots done according to my to do list but the details fade quickly in the absence of eternally significant work. What would be my “better cause” on which to spend time and energy? Could I have a good conversation with one of my kids? Could I minister to someone in need? Could I grow my testimony during more consistent religious study? What would be your “better cause”? What busy work could you drop from your schedule or what daily tasks could you spend less time on to make space for eternally significant work?

 

Day 43: Journeying Back to Our Heavenly Home

Alma 26:35-37

Several years ago I accompanied a set of sister missionaries to a first teaching appointment. The man we were teaching had been referred by a friend of mine. He and his wife had moved from China, earned college degrees in the US, and recently purchased a home. As we made introductions, the man mentioned that he and his wife were still settling into life in America and often felt out of place. I remembered Ammon’s words from Alma 26:36  and felt a kinship with this man––are we not all “wanderers in a strange land?”

Earth is not our first home and it will not be our last. We were spiritual beings first, children of heavenly parents who sent us out from their heavenly home so that we could have the opportunity to become like them. They sent us to earth to provide us with a mortal experience necessary to prepare us for returning to our heavenly home. Earth is not the final destination on our journey: It is a stopping point where we learn how to use our agency, choose to follow Jesus Christ, make mistakes, repent, participate in the saving ordinances, serve others, and develop godly attributes. Only through the Atonement of Christ can we qualify to return to our first and real home.

The kinship I felt that day as a fellow wanderer in this “strange land” we call earth reinforced to me Ammon’s words “that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). God loves each of His children regardless of the distinctions so peculiar to mortality. Culture, creed, race, education, language, political affiliation, geographic location, nationality are mortal constructs, purely temporary and secondary to our shared eternal identity as children of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to all people, for we are each numbered and known to God; He wants each of us to qualify for and receive the greatest gift He can bestow––a place in His house to dwell forever.

Day 38: Steps into the Darkness

Alma 8-14

Having finished Alma 14 today, I see a good moment to pause and reflect on two themes exemplified in Amulek’s experience as a reactivated church member and new missionary.

1. When God asks you to do something, He doesn’t give you every detail in advance.

Amulek says he had heard the call to repent and turn back to the Lord many times (Alma 10:6). He ignored it. But when God sent the angel with the brief message to receive into his home a hungry prophet of God, he acted (Alma 10:7). The brevity of the angel’s instruction to Amulek and the scarcity of information provided really stands out to me. Amulek acted with faith to follow the angel’s instructions. He expresses his faith to Alma upon their divinely directed encounter, stating simply, “I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house” (Alma 8:20).

What stands out to me is that Amulek likely had no idea what was going to be expected of him once he took this faith-filled step into the darkness. God didn’t include advance notice that he would be asked to “go forth and prophesy unto this people” (v. 29), nor did He provide lesson plans, a warning about how the people would react, or instructions for the coming days and weeks. The only instruction provided was, “Thou shalt receive [Alma]” (Alma 8:80; Alma 10:7).

God will extend many invitations to us over our lifetimes. Let’s be like Amulek and act in faith, knowing that whatever He asks will ultimately “be a blessing unto [you] and [your] house.”

2. Doing God’s will does not guarantee that you will be kept safe or avoid unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even dangerous situations.

I used to tell myself that if God had told me in advance everything I would experience on my mission, I never would have gone. And, yes, pre-mission me had a right to feel really nervous and scared about serving a mission. But I would never trade the joy I experienced helping others repent nor the covenant friendships I forged as a missionary.

The Book of Mormon doesn’t share much about Amulek’s state of mind or feelings about becoming Alma’s mission companion except to record that he willingly took his step into the darkness and faithfully acted on God’s invitation and instructions. The people we’re asked to serve in the places we’re asked to go have their agency. They are free to act as they want and see fit. When we accept an assignment from God to go serve, doing God’s will does not guarantee that people are going to be nice, welcoming, accepting, or even polite.

Amulek learned first hand about being rejected in the harshest ways possible: he and Alma were plotted against (Alma 10:13), he was called a liar (Alma 10:28), they were “bound with strong cords” (Alma 14:4), they were unjustly accused and illegally tried on false charges (Alma 14:5), they were forced to watch people they taught be burned alive (Alma 14:8-10), they were attacked and beaten multiple times (Alma 14:14, 20, 21, 24, 25), they were imprisoned while tied up with no clothes (Alma 14:17, 22), they were starved (Alma 14:22).

Just the potential for this kind of suffering while doing God’s work is reason enough for almost anyone to refuse an assignment. But when we really believe deep in our souls that God is real, that His work is vital, that the Plan of Salvation is in effect, that the human race has the opportunity to live with God forever OR be cast off to suffer eternally, then the potential for earthly suffering on God’s errand takes on a whole new perspective. Taking the chance on potential (temporary) suffering to bring even one person to Christ has to be worth it.

God may or may not protect you while you are on His errand, He won’t interfere with anyone’s agency, you may or may not have to go to dangerous places, you may or may not be required to have many unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences; but God does guarantee blessings, He does promise that His righteous works will be fulfilled, He does promise that suffering and misery are temporary, that they will end and be replaced with peace and joy.

Elder Holland spoke to this principle years ago in October 1999 General Conference. I’ll end with his closing words:

I testify that God lives, that He is our Eternal Father, that He loves each of us with a love divine. I testify that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh and, having triumphed in this world, is an heir of eternity, a joint-heir with God, and now stands on the right hand of His Father. I testify that this is Their true Church and that They sustain us in our hour of need—and always will, even if we cannot recognize that intervention. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. (Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,General Conference (Oct 1999.)