Day 24: True Joy

Mosiah 4:3

The Book of Mormon (and all of scripture) uses the word “joy” in a variety of contexts. Mosiah 4:3 describes one aspect of joy that I think has a very specific meaning and application. A little background: King Benjamin has spent the last several chapters teaching his people in a beautiful “farewell address” before his turns the kingship over to his son, Mosiah II. Benjamin is considered a prophet-king. He is a righteous man, he has received instruction from divine visitors, and he is filled with charity––he desires the salvation of his people so he teaches them the Plan of Salvation and prophesies of Jesus Christ. In relating to the people what would happen to their souls if left untreated in a state of sinfulness, King Benjamin paints a miserable picture. The people feel the weight of an eternity of damnation (i.e. not living forever in the presence of God). But he tells them of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who will come to earth in several hundred years to suffer and die for the sins of every person. No one has to suffer an eternal damnation because Jesus Christ will make it possible for them to repent, become clean from their sins, and qualify for eternal life. The people cry out, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” (v. 2).

“And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins…” (v. 3). “Joy” here indicates a special kind of happiness, more than happiness, that can only be achieved through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and forgiveness of sin. It is a taste of what we can experience in the Celestial Kingdom, living with God and our qualifying family members. This particular use of joy, so clear here in Mosiah 4:3, helps us understand the use of the word “joy” elsewhere in scripture. True joy can only be achieved through the remission of sins.

Day 14: Justice and Blessings

2 Nephi 15:25

More Isaiah! I’m beginning to see why Nephi felt such an affinity for the writings of Isaiah…maybe just a little. There are so many treasures of knowledge to mine in these chapters. I want to share a thought I had about the justice of God while reading 2 Nephi 15:25.

Isaiah 5, quoted here, begins by laying out a long list of sins. While Isaiah directed his writings toward the ancient children of Israel, this list serves also to inform humankind about temptations common to mortality and to warn against the consequences of sin (choosing to disobey God and give in to these temptations).

In a way, this chapter explores two sides of the justice of the God. God works within an established set of eternal laws, such as consequences follow sin. God helps us keep our spirits safe by providing commandments which, if followed, allow us to reap the benefits of obedience rather than be harmed by the natural consequences of sin. God metes out justice by distributing promised blessings for obedience, and enforcing the consequences of disobedience and sin.

Second Nephi 15:25 explores both the “punishment” side of God’s justice and introduces an important element that enables the “blessing” side of His justice. Verse 25 follows on the heels of the long list of sins God and His prophet have observed among the people and want to warn humankind agains; it confirms the consequence side of God’s justice:

Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets.

Note the factual (if not graphic) account of consequences meted out. It is just of God to enforce the consequences of wickedness. He warns and sends prophets to warn, prophesy, invite repentance, and give people every opportunity to choose obedience and not sin. God is just, therefore He must follow through on the forewarned consequences.

The verse concludes with a confirmation that, yes, God is going to be angry (and sad and disappointed) when people deliberately disobey Him and sin. But it also introduces a note of hope:

For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

It is also justice of another sort that God, in the midst of meting out consequences, offers an opportunity for the wicked to come back; “his hand is stretched out still,” inviting us to repent, to choose to be obedient, and to qualify for blessings. This captures a recurring theme throughout Isaiah of the loving, entreating God who invites His children to repent and turn away from sin. I get the sense from the juxtaposition of ideas in the closing line that He would rather mete out the justice of the good: promised blessings granted for obedience and righteousness.

No matter what we’ve done, we can repent and turn to God. He loves each of us and invites us to change our hearts and behavior through Jesus Christ so that we can qualify not just for blessings in mortality, but for the greatest blessing He can bestow—eternal life.

Day 8: Happiness, Peace, Eternal Life

1 Nephi 20:17-19, 21-22

I love when Nephi recounts the miracles God performed for the children of Israel in the past and for Nephi’s family in the present. They were an essential reminder of several things, including evidence of God’s existence, proof of God’s goodness, and of how God always fulfills His promises to His covenant people. In chapter 20, Nephi records the words of Isaiah which follow this pattern.

As I read the concluding verses of 1 Nephi 20, a sort of parallel construction struck me. First, Isaiah testifies of the existence of the “Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” and some of His roles such as teacher and leader (v. 17). Then the Lord provides information about potential blessings that could have been available if the audience had been covenant keepers: peace and strength in righteousness, numberless posterity (v. 18-19). The turning point comes in verse 20 where “The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob” provides a sort of hinge. Verse 21 provides the evidence that the Lord has the power to fulfill the promises of verses 18-19: He led the children of Israel “through the deserts” and kept them alive in miraculous ways, like providing water from rocks. This miracle and others demonstrate God’s power and reliability. He always fulfills His promises, therefore we can believe His promises of peace and eternal life.

This setup is why verse 22 struck me so forcefully this time: “And notwithstanding he hath done all this, and greater also, there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” There is an irreducible truth to be gleaned here. Not even God, who has all power, goodness, truth, mercy, and knowledge can grant peace to the wicked. It is an eternal truth that happiness, peace, and eternal life can ONLY be granted on the conditions of repentance and obedience. ONLY covenant, commandment-keeping, righteous people fulfill the qualifications for these blessings. “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). God wants us to achieve lasting happiness, peace, and eternal life so He has instructed His prophets from the beginning of time to teach this eternal truth: happiness, peace, and eternal life ONLY result from keeping the commandments, making and keeping covenants with God, repenting, exercising faith in Jesus Christ, and following God.

 

Day 6: The Nature of Happiness

1 Nephi 17:21

The other day as we were planning our Book of Mormon-themed costumes for the ward Halloween party, I started throwing out suggestions; we could all be Book of Mormon missionaries, we could each be a member of Lehi’s family. My oldest daughter piped up and suggested she be Laman. My husband and I both gently shook our heads with  knowing smiles and said, “No, you don’t want to be Laman.”

Nobody really likes Laman and Lemuel but, in reality, we each have some Laman and Lemuel in us. Whether we sometimes feel like God’s requests are too much, too heavy, or too difficult, we humans are prone to murmuring and disobedience. Laman and Lemuel are like a type for humankind. So when I read 1 Nephi 17:21 this time around I immediately recognized myself in this typically Laman and Lemuel moment.

Nephi has been commanded to build a ship, everybody needs to help, and the now contented Laman and Lemuel who are enjoying Bountiful by the sea suddenly revert to their old schtick. “We have suffered in the wilderness” all these years, so many afflictions, everything was better in Jerusalem, “we might have been happy.” Laman and Lemuel insist on believing that happiness is something external to them and that only certain conditions will CAUSE them to be happy. “We might have been happy” if we had stayed in Jerusalem, kept our gold and silver, not been uncomfortable, had enough to eat, been with our righteous friends back home, and on and on. “We might have been happy” felt eerily familiar.

How many times in the midst of a difficult or stressful time in my life have I thought, “I could be happy right now if only: my husband had a job, we didn’t have to live with family, my children were more obedient, there were more time in a day, my infant had teeth, we had more money….” The trouble with this “grass is greener” mentality is that this line of thinking goes really far south really fast. The other problem is that it’s fallacious. Satan wants us to believe that THINGS and external conditions make us happy when in reality, true happiness comes from personal righteousness (i.e. obedience to God) and an internal choice to be happy.

If you are having trouble begin happy, I invite you to reflect on this anecdote from the Book of Mormon and identify ways you can increase your happiness through personal righteousness and choose to be happy.

Day 2: Blessings of Being Stubborn

1 Nephi 3:14-16, 28 and
1 Nephi 7:6-17

The dramatic account of Nephi standing up to his brothers never fails to awe me. He relentlessly testifies of truth and courageously withstands their mocking, doubting, mumbling, and beatings. I have reflected off and on the last few months that it takes a certain level of stubbornness for a person to remain active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There will always be nay-sayers and even active attempts by others to pull down one’s faith. Nephi stubbornly refuses to give in to his brothers’ pessimism or their encouragement to disobey. He stubbornly insists on the primacy of God’s commandments and the need for obedience. It takes a stubborn person to say, “Nothing is working out, this seems impossible, everything is pointing away from God, but I’m going to believe and press forward anyway.”