Friday, October 26, 2018

The Atonement Doesn't Do Anything?

Before the reader calls me out for being the biggest blasphemer of all time, just hear me out. I thought that title would catch your attention and there's a good reason I used it. It has to do with a recent talk by our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, from April 2017 titled "Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives."

The foundation of my thoughts here come from the following section of his talk, but also draw upon other ideas found therein.

"There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him."

The atonement was an action performed by Jesus Christ, our Savior, not a formless thing or power that can just be used ad libitum based solely on personal preference. One folly of modern English is that many of the common phrases we use, although universally understood by those fluent in it, are fundamentally flawed. Such is the case with the ideas that some pivotal moment changed our lives or that one fight back in elementary or high school branded us as permanent enemies with a peer. The reason this is completely inaccurate is because events aren't things. They are memories of the collective choices of any number of people and the effect those people allow those choices to have on them.

It's one thing for me to say "that was my worst camping experience ever" and quite another to say "that camping trip ruined that summer for me." The first one is merely a statement of my experience and perception of what happened. The second one is just stupid. The experience itself did not grow a head, arms, a torso, legs and feet, it's own will and then choose to make life difficult for me for the remainder of the summer. I chose to let my negative experience and the memory of it stay in my mind and therefore distract me from better things for that period of time.

The sad but true idea that "we learn from history that we do not learn from history" proves true when we consider our misguided human attachment to events themselves and how good or bad they are. In the vast majority of people, not events, who changed the world, those who have the power to do something about it focus so much on what happened that they either forget or willfully neglect any thought about why it happened. What choices were made by those responsible and what motives lead those responsible to such actions?

This needs to be the focus of our attention in regards to Christ's Atonement (see what I did there?). I once heard a woman who was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make an observation about our church meetings that proves this point further. Sometimes when she heard us speak or sing about Christ's Atonement, she would whine about how depressing it was and that it was a bad idea to focus so much on someone's death. In one respect, she was correct. Focusing on death is a bad thing to do. But what she didn't realize was the reason we speak of what Jesus did for us. It's not out of sadness for His suffering, as sad as suffering is to be sure, but in reverence, respect and love for who He is and what His choice makes possible for us.

Really, that should be the premise of every discussion about His holy sacrifice for us, what His choice made possible.

  • Because Jesus chose to pay for our sins by His own blood and suffering, we may receive His forgiveness for them if we repent.
  • Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, He has the power to (and has promised us that we will) resurrect each and every mortal who ever lived.
  • Because Jesus took upon Him the pain of every abuse, mistake, injury, heartache, illness, etc. that we experience through no fault of our own overcame them Himself, He can and does show us how do to the same when we are humble and in tune enough with the Holy Ghost to let Him.
  • Because Jesus spent His life showing a perfect example of how to be happy with constant opposition, we now have the Holy Ghost and the scriptures to show us how He did that so we can do it, too.
  • Because Jesus atoned for us and purchased our souls with His own, He can now exercise mercy and stand between us and justice, satisfying both of those laws. 
  • Because He rose above all things and is one in love, power and purpose with the Father, He is now in a position to grant us power to overcome and make our own choices that will one day elevate us to His stature.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of course, but notice how each point lists the effects of His choices and the power that flows from Him because of those choices. 

The atonement didn't pay for our sins. He did because He performed it. 
The atonement doesn't save us from death. He does.
The atonement doesn't strengthen us in trial. He does.
The atonement doesn't console us in affliction, raise us from the dead, put efficacy into ordinances and covenants, give us the blessings of obedience, empower us to do better, inspire us, change our hearts or protect us from spiritual dangers.

Jesus Christ does all of that. He can because of what He did, who He is and always was, but that's the key. It's reason why we worship Him as our ever living, all loving Savior and Lord, our Advocate with the Father. It's because of what He did and who He is. Under the direction of the Father, He is the why behind all that is good in life and eternity.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Assertive Love

It's been a while since I posted anything in this blog, mainly because my wife has been in the hospital and I have been looking after her here for the majority of the time since June. It's a little more difficult to write on this site on an iPad, but I think I finally need to just do it considering what has transpired since then.

What I write about today comes from a few different trains of thought but ultimately will converge into a single important idea that I will identify later. The first train of thought is the increased amount of bitterness surrounding social problems and political issues. Whether it be about the sheer anger between friends and families, Trump's presidency and the Kavanaugh case, or the latest gossip about what this or that celebrity said, the bitterness - and even violence in some cases - that so many are resorting to can only ever do one thing, destroy. It cannot create peace or truly resolve the problem and nor can it ever make those who engage in it feel better about the issue, themselves or those they accuse as perpetrators or enablers. And I will not be playing into the whole "picking sides" game.

You can ask me all you want who I agree with in each case and you'll get the same answer, "it doesn't matter which who is right, but rather WHAT is right."

The second train of thought, thankfully, is about something good. I wish so much that I could share lots of details about it, but I can only speak of it in mostly general terms because of the sacred nature of it. Early in September my wife had some severe nerve pain here in the hospital that had some... shall we say... special effects on her and how close she was to the Holy Ghost and the Lord. The result of this was a spiritual experience that left us both never to be the same. I wish I could give more details of what happened, but suffice it to say that we both learned more about ourselves, each other, the Father and His Holy Son Jesus Christ than at any other time in our lives. We felt a love from them and received counsel from them that was utterly and pleasantly overwhelming. There is much for all of us, all mankind, to accomplish and become before the return of our Savior, both temporally and spiritually, but Lorraine and I are confident that we can accomplish anything the Lord asks of us.

In connection with that, my third train of thought is as follows. We must refuse to let anger, bitterness, offense and fear reside in our hearts or dictate our choices. My hope is to encourage everyone to find the humanity, the divine spark that still remains even in those who they consider their worst enemies. The following is from an audio book I have been transcribing so I can reread it without having to find specific spots in the audio every time I want to find something in it. The book is called When We Don't See Eye To Eye by J David Pulsipher

"The ability of the past to distract or distort our lives is a dynamic I first recognized as a graduate student in Minnesota. My research focused on the national legislative and legal efforts to constrain the power of the LDS church during the second half of the nineteenth century. Consequently, I spent many hours in the government document section of the library, culling through congressional debates and court decisions. As I read some of the arguments against the "wicked Mormons," often belittling or dismissing truths that I held sacred, I was often irritated by their apparent self-righteousness.

"How could seemingly Christian people condone or even advocate wholesale religious persecution, imprisoning hundreds of men and women, disrupting and impoverishing families, driving church leaders into hiding and not recognizing the inconsistency and hypocrisy of their behavior? Their arguments for draconian measures such as disinheriting children, disenfranchising men and women, or confiscating church properties seemed spurious, arbitrary and illogical. Indeed, the whole rational for reforming the church and its members made little sense to me. One day as I sat in the library, surrounded by piles of government publications containing seemingly endless streams of anti-Mormon rhetoric, my irritation began to escalate into anger. How could they be so insensitive? How could they be so cruel? How could they not see the unnecessary pain and devastation they were causing?

"As I brooded over these thoughts, another quietly crept into the corner of my mind and gently pushed itself upon my consciousness. "You have to forgive them," it said, and I was startled to realize it was true. At that moment, I let go, and the anger that had been rising in me suddenly dissipated, swept away by a feeling of growing peace, and for the first time in months of study, I began to understand these persecutors of my people. The logic of their actions began to make sense to me. I still didn't agree with it, but I could better understand how it made sense to them, and instead of hypocrites, I began to see well-intentioned people, who were perhaps overzealous but nonetheless thought their actions would improve the world."

Notice how, in that moment, those who had been the perpetrators of such heinous abuse now appeared to him as the children of God they still were with potential to repent and become glorious. No more was he burdened by the - in all honesty - horrible things they had done and in his heart justice was left to be determined by the very Master of justice and mercy.

Considering what Lorraine and I learned about being peacemakers and making a relationship thrive, whether marital, generally familial or otherwise, and the stark contrast to that in the arenas of social media, politics, entertainment, sports, etc. I put this entry and my new perspective out there as an invitation, written with every emotional emphasis I can summon, to any reader is to please stop focusing so much attention on "getting even" or pursuing justice for every last perceived wrong or offense you think you see. Work towards healing and forgiveness in your own heart and seek divine guidance to fortify yourself against future attacks and desires for retaliation.

As J David Pulsipher outlined in his book, every movie, book, magazine, article, TV show or story ever imagined is mostly saturated with the same story, "good guy defeats bad guy" and the only two options portrayed are either give in or strike back. In reality, he says, neither is the best answer. Rather, creative, assertive love is the answer, which, if a person chooses it, sends a message of "I will not strike back against you because I love you, but I do not accept your behavior. If you continue to act this way, I will expose you in your unjustified aggression, but will do so with kindness, or I will do whatever it takes to peacefully protect myself from the effects of your aggression. Either way, you will not win."

The bottom line to all of this is to follow the example of Jesus Christ by being a peacemaker and instead of falling to society's methods of conflict resolution, which obviously does not actually resolve it at all (it merely continues the cycle), use the Savior's way. Defend (which is NOT retaliation or vengeance) only when absolutely necessary, forgive always, be kind to and speak kindly about absolutely everyone, whether they are there with you or not. For those of us who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know the Lord will not return until Zion is physically built and that cannot happen until our hearts and knit together in unity and love and become Zion first. Yes, we need to defend our religious beliefs, our families, and our values when they are attacked, threatened, or misrepresented, but we need to so with unity, kindness and love.

The next time you are tempted to find fault with a family member, friend, teacher, politician, religious leader or anyone else at all, remember that by harbouring ill feelings or impulsively forming negative opinions about them, you are hurting yourself more than them. Follow the Savior's example. Remember He paid for their sins and weaknesses and loves them as much as He loves you and, in reality, compared to Him, you and anyone you don't like aren't really all that different. Thinking and acting with kindness and Godly love towards everyone has become a much more prominent focus for me now, and I invite you to join me.