“Talk of the Month,” New Era, May 1971, 28
Being in the world but not of it can be a special challenge. It is helpful to remember several things:
1. We see the world and the people in it differently, because, as C. S. Lewis observed, it is by the light and illumination of the gospel that we see everything else. To use a companion analogy, the gospel is like the lens of a cosmic kaleidoscope that, instead of showing life, man, and the universe as senseless, unconnected fragments, shows us pattern, beauty, and purpose! It is this vision that can give us a special sense of proportion about the things in life that matter most. Jesus’ special sense of proportion says, seriously, better to pluck out an offending, lusting eye than to suffer eternal consequences. What we do in this sliver of time skews eternity. This perspective can make so many differences in so many ways that, unintentionally, we may be unconscious of the implications of our difference in outlook.
2. We possess some scriptural insights concerning what lies ahead. Until recently, our cataclysmic concepts about the future set us apart from the secular world. Now secular prophecies are increasingly apocalyptic. Men vie with each other for the chance to describe their particular view of doomsday—hardly an adjective escapes us.
Sincere secular prophets are often long on description and short on prescription.
3. We are on a different time-line, and, being on a different time-line, we are organizationally and conceptually inclined toward the approach of changing the individual rather than the more glamorous approach of moving the scenery on the stage of life. Changing behavior with its emphasis on inner controls and on the ultimate governance of self is slow and unspectacular. It is so at odds with those who want sudden, spectacular change that we sometimes appear to others to be unconcerned actors on the stage of life, while they sincerely and feverishly want to change scenery, scripts, and casting, hoping something will make a dramatic difference! But alas, so many things change so little in response to the latter approach. San Pedro of Alcantara observed, “The trouble is, that no one wants to correct himself and everyone meddles in correcting others: thus everything stays as is—something for those committed to change to ponder.”
Abortion laws are needless compared to our need to believe in and practice chastity and compared to men’s need to be considerate husbands. When inner controls are inadequate in such matters, some are asking unborn spirits to pay the price for their inability to be chaste. Many in the world want outer controls for what can best be achieved by inner controls!
The ecology of effectiveness in human affairs suggests, for instance, that concentrating on the quality of life in the home is, ultimately, the best way to raise the quality of life in society. A concern for justice in the home—experienced and discussed—could do much to assure concern for the underprivileged, which could undergird wise legislation or even make legislation unnecessary. One of the best ways to replicate love, trust, discipline, and concern is for children to experience these, to know their fruits, and to refuse to be satisfied with a world devoid of such qualities.
Our failures in the home clearly call for compensatory institutions, but the home lies at the headwaters of the stream of civilization and we must keep it happy and pure. When the home fails, polluted, we as Church members must support wise efforts at downstream “treatment” to filter out the pollution and sorrow without becoming so fascinated with the filters and with rehabilitation that we ignore prevention and desert our post at the headwaters. Time spent in the hangar doing needed preparation and maintenance is never as glamorous as putting foam on the runway, and building a happy home may not seem to have the immediacy of impact as does counseling in a juvenile detention center. Both are necessary, but one is clearly where the emphasis should fall in the economy of heaven. The quiet Christianity needed to build good homes is sometimes upstaged by conspicuous Christianity.
Similarly, stressing chastity constitutes preventive medicine of a high order. Two eminent historians, Will and Ariel Durrant, writing of what they have learned from the “laboratory of history,” note that unchecked expression of sexual desires ignores the reality that “sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.” Jacob wrote of the soul scars that go with gross unchastity: “… many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.” (Jacob 2:35.) Again, while we are blessed with and need the principle of repentance, with its soothing, prescriptive balm, prevention is still the primary task!
Alcoholism, for instance, is a terrible plague, causing thousands of highway deaths, maimings, and untold misery in child beatings and broken homes. There is only one real remedy: abstinence. If we are serious about this particular problem, we ought to concentrate on the real solution, and yet we must also support Alcoholics Anonymous and similar efforts to redeem those victimized by this disease, thus doing the things of most worth and not leaving the others undone.
These are examples showing why, in comparison to the effluence of ethical relativism, “orthodoxy” is inevitably tied to human happiness. The gospel is the counsel of a super intelligence as to how to progress in a cold universe that responds only to law. Man did not get to the moon with random trajectories and with each astronaut doing his “own thing”; the price for reaching the moon was obedience to universal law.
4. We possess some absolute truths that have, where we have applied them, placed us on the “strait and narrow way,” and we are further told that there is “none other way” for salvation. All of this suggests an ecclesiastical exclusivity that seems to embarrass some in the Church, for implied is not just an institutional exclusivity, but also a conceptual superiority with regard to salvational things.
But Joseph Smith did not go into the grove seeking to become a prophet or to found a church! His operating assumption in the spring of 1820 was that one of the contending sects was probably right and it was his task to find out which one he should join. God’s reply may seem to some harsh in its indictment. (Parenthetically, this should remind us that in a sense, God cares little for cosmetic “public relations” and everything for human relations!) The theophany at Palmyra displayed God’s perfection in the attributes of truth and love. He loved us enough to appear, and having appeared, to tell the truth. Joseph Smith was equally truthful in faithfully reporting that episode; he could do nothing else since, as he said, he knew he had had a vision and God knew that he knew. Inasmuch as we “know” on our own scale of action, we cannot deny, by our silence, what must be shared with others as our personal Palmyra, our tiny theophany.
We cannot shrink from the fact of the Church’s ecclesiastical exclusivity merely because this makes us uncomfortable with nonmembers, for our special mission is not a measure of the worth of others, but really a measure of our vital and demanding role in relating to and serving all others. Paul’s counsel still applies: “Take heed to thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Tim. 4:16.)
5. We understand in a special way that God places great weight on the importance of experience while we are in mortality. Witness his response to Joseph Smith in the midst of the Prophet’s agonies in Liberty Jail in 1839, when our Father observed that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7.) He is a loving Father who wants us to have the happiness that results not from mere innocence but from proven righteousness. Therefore, he will, at times, not deflect the harsh learning experiences that may come to each of us—even though he will help us in coping with them.
God refuses to give his children an aspirin for treating the consequences of sin when what we need is surgery. He will refuse to give us a rubdown when what we need are splints or a cast. He is not a silent, indifferent monarch in the sky, nor is he an indulgent grandfather figure who will give his children the irrelevant and incomplete therapy of partial truth. Only a portion of what he knows can we understand; and so much of what he would have us avoid, we must avoid by simple faith in what lies behind his “divine don’t.” This leaves us in a position like that of Adam, who acted in part on faith: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” (Moses 5:6.) Even when we know, spiritually, this tacit knowledge often lies beyond the threshold of tongue and outruns our capacity to articulate. Ammon said, “Behold, … I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.” (Alma 26:16.)
6. We need always to make allowance in the kingdom for the fact that this is a divine church full of imperfect people! Indeed, “the net gathereth of every kind.” For instance, some members among us have an unfortunate and exclusionary condescension toward others, while other members have a quiet certitude that causes them to assert their testimonies humbly because the Spirit has witnessed to them; they witness to others to maintain their integrity; they tell others the truth of salvational things “as they were, as they are, and as they shall become.” These two kinds of members read the same scriptures, but one disengages, Jonah-like, almost with delight, while the other will not leave his post in “Nineveh” so long as there are any souls to be saved. Probably the differing response is rooted in the differing capacity to love. The presence of absolute truth or apocalyptic insights in one who lacks the capacity to love is likely to produce some behavioral anomalies. Love leads us into—not away from—Nineveh: into the fray, just as Jesus was involved with mankind, for as G. K. Chesterton observed, He carried his five wounds in the front of the fray.
Some want involvement without giving themselves. Some want the wonders of religion without the work—there is no way. Others want the thrills of theology without the hard doctrines—there is no way! When we are serious about change, it is “not enough to merely leave Egypt: one must also travel to the Promised Land!”
7. We must make place for the gospel and the Church more generously in our lives if we are to grow in our capacity to both feel and to act. Education, the media, and what we know from the scriptures have enlarged our circles of concern and feeling. But within each of our circles of concern, there is a much smaller circle of competency, and it needs to grow too.
C. S. Lewis observed, “The more often a man feels without acting, the less often he will be able to act, and in the long run, the less often he will be able to feel.” In countless ways the Church not only enlarges our circles of concern, but it also helps us to carry out the concerns we have. Significantly, Nephi, Paul, and Moroni—cultures and centuries apart—each observed that individuals and whole cultures can, by sin, reach a point where they are past feeling. Ironically, lasciviousness, which exploits sensuous feelings, results finally in a loss of a capacity to feel. In our own society the sad consequences of too much exulting in feeling—of sex divorced from love, and the emptiness of emotion without principle—will wash over us for generations. In the declining society of Moroni’s time, citizens were described as being without order, without mercy, without civilization, and past feeling after they had “lost their love, one towards another. …” (Moro. 9:5.)
8. We must be more quick to realize the enormous implications of the doctrine of immortality and how our knowledge of that reality will set us apart in this era. One can’t help but admire the cosmic heroism of those decent people who persist in goodness in spite of their agnosticism, but we still should see others differently because of this doctrine. Ours is no mere biological brotherhood with life as a brief encounter, but ours is a brotherhood that is fashioned in the realization that relationships will persist a million years from now, and more. Where we do not so relate to each other, we diminish the credibility of our commitment to this doctrine in the eyes of others. For a peculiar people, our friendships should be peculiarly rich.
In summary, we see the world, life, and death differently. This is not a random, mutant planet with people who will be enveloped in nothingness; it is a special place, a planet with a purpose, for, as Isaiah observed, the Lord created it to be inhabited. (See Isa. 45:18.)
We are all stewards, and we ought to approach this planet and its resources as carefully as Adam dressed the Garden. In seeking to establish dominion over the earth, it ought to be a righteous dominion. Still, this earth is not a place we need to be so reluctant to leave. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, Christian courage rests on a love of life that may need to take the form of a willingness to die; it is not the willingness to die that reflects a disdain or disaffection for life.
Without immortality there can be no real and lasting meaning to life. Jesus has not only immunized us against the lasting sting of the grave, but his teachings can also help us not to “look upon death with any degree of terror.” (Alma 27:28.) The same Jesus promised us, through one of his prophets, that if we could live according to his word, we would have, in this life, a knowledge of what is “just and true and render every man his due” (justice and discernment); we would live peaceably with others (peacefulness); we would rear our families without fighting and quarreling, teaching them to love one another (the capacity to love learned in happy homes); and we would care for the needy (a program for poverty). (See Mosiah 4.) In a sense, while others have the slogans, we have the solutions that, if applied, will carry us to “a state of happiness which hath no end.” (Morm. 7:7.)
With such a great message, can we afford not to be articulate in our homes and wherever we are? Passivity and inarticulateness about this “marvelous work and a wonder” can diminish the faith of others, for as Austin Farrer observed, “Though argument does not create belief, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced, but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it nourishes a climate in which belief may flourish.”