Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How do we value ourselves?

To start this post, I am going to use an example from The Good Place that includes a major spoiler from the first season.  If you have not watched it yet, go watch it now (the whole first season is only like 4 1/2 hours and is on Netflix) and return to the post!


The Good Place is a show that follows four people after they die.  They all go to the show's equivalent of Hell (the bad place), but instead of being physically tortured they are emotionally tortured by being told they are actually in Heaven (the good place) and then put in emotionally tearing situations.

One particular example stood out to me.  Tahani in her life always played second-fiddle to her sister.  Although Tahani raised millions for charity and had a slew of famous friends, she was always second best.  This led to Tahani being emotionally tortured by her finding out she was the second-worst person who made it into the good place (couldn't even be the best at being the worst!).  As she strives to raise in the ranks, she stays up all night planning events and fun for everyone else.  After presenting this to everyone one of the demons offered a sharp point of anguish by simply saying, "Tahani, you are truly the best."

Just think about that.  The demon is torturing Tahani by saying she is the best, by paying a high compliment!  And why did this hurt so much?  Because Tahani's opinion of a point system did not value her as the best.  She valued the opinion of this system more than the opinion of who offered the compliment, and so the compliment only reminded Tahani of the system's disdain.

Imagine though if Tahani truly valued the opinion of the one who gave the compliment.  After feeling down about herself, and working hard to recover, she would have had affirmation of the thing she wanted.  She would have been uplifted and supported by those encouraging words.  She chose whose opinion she cared about, and that choice is what caused the pain.  The demons only monopolized on the opportunity.

Why is this important?  In life, one of the greatest causes of pain comes when we don't live up to our own self image.  This is so much true that the subconscious fights hard to somehow eliminate this pain, and often does it in dangerous ways.  It often will learn to justify away why you didn't live up to your own expectations, distance you from your own emotions, push blame to others, or try to "cleanse" itself by punishment.  This pain can be so great to drive to self harm as the pain of self harm is less than the emotional pain of not living up to that self image.

But our self image is often wrong!  We are not perfect people, and cannot live up to all we want to be.  "If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8).  I know I have seen this deeply in my own life. 

The gospel provides the most amazing of answers to this.  In Moses 1, after Moses sees all of the universe he said to himself, "I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed" (Moses 1:10).  This was not a statement trying to beat himself up, but a simple realization of man's smallness next to the greatness of God.  The realization was more than simply poignant.  Satan then comes to tempt him to worship him, and after Moses refused Satan threw one of the largest tempest tantrums recorded in scripture.  Satan's rants were so powerful to cause Moses to fear and to see the bitterness of Hell.  He was able to escape though because he did not trust in his own strength, but called on God.

Is it mere coincidence that after Moses learned man was nothing he knew that the power to counter the bitterness of Hell was not inside him, but to call on God?  The account then says that after calling on God Moses received strength.  He became stronger than what he even thought possible.  Moses's self image of mankind was that it was nothing, but calling on God he was able to stand with the gates of Hell open against him and Satan was cast out.

Then, as God returns, He shares with Moses the true value of mankind by saying, "For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."

A simple truth is the value of any given thing is simply what we are willing to give for it.  If people didn't like diamonds, they would not hold value.  You may counter that by saying they would still hold value for use in scientific purposes.  That is simply saying though that we value science to the point we are willing to spend time and money to mine out a rock.  Value is merely a reflection of what we care for.

If God's work and glory is the immortality and eternal life of man, then to Him what is our value?  When He gave the His beloved and only-begotten Son for each on every one of us He showed He valued us so much He was willing to give everything.  He, the God of all, was willing to give all for us.

Now, bringing this full circle, we may value our own self image according to some type of point system of good and bad deeds.  We may feel the weight of our actions upon us like the weight of the world.  But Moses knew that mankind in and of itself is nothing.  But if we value ourselves according to how God values us, it does not matter what right/wrong point system we make up, His opinion will in the end win.  Just as Tahani could have taken the demon;s compliment to her, telling her that she truly is the best, as words of encouragement, we can all have strength in the one constant: God's love for us.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Guilt Unto Repentance

A scripture that has always stood out to me is Alma 42:29 where Alma the younger is talking with his "problem" child Corianton and is trying to help him understand the wrongs of his ways.  Corianton though has some large theological questions and Alma spends a lot of his time talking through the doctrine Corianton does not understand.  At the end of it all he says:

And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.
This has always stood out to me because of how different his advice is then our society has it.  Our society tends towards two directions, one trying to make the person feel absolutely awful for their actions so much that the pain forces them almost without agency to never to do that thing again.  The other is to be so gentle as to try to take away all guilt.  Here Alma is explicit though, to only let sins trouble with that trouble which shall bring repentance.

I have been doing a lot of research lately (which is going to come up in future posts I promise) about how people respond to guilt.  The most bizarre thing I have found is that many resolutions to guilt actually cause larger problems than the original source of the guilt.  The body's response to guilt is to want to feel better, and the physical response may not care how.  We can justify away our actions, selectively forget the bad, use unfair comparisons to show that we are at least better than someone else, or so many other things.  However, this leads us to establish unhealthy patterns.  If we justify once, we probably will justify again.

Staying in guilt also tears down our will power.  Study has shown time and time again that we only have so much moral stamina, and as it deplinishes we are much more likely to engage in unethical behavior.  This is true independent of the moral Goliath you may be (except for Christ feeling our pain and guilt in Gethsemane).  So like a small stone took down Goliath because it led to David being able to taking Goliath's own sword and finishing him, a small amount of guilt may leave us defenseless to much larger issues.

There is so much more to say on this topic, and it will come, but I will leave this here for now.  I hope we all remember to only feel guilt unto repentance and to let the Savior's loving embrace into our lives.  Independent of your wrong or whatever questions on doctrine you may have like Corianton did, let it only trouble you in order to become a better person.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

David's Perfect Heart

This post is going to look at the scriptures which talk about Solomon not having a perfect heart with God, like David his father before him (1 Kings 11:4, 15:3).  Here, the Hebrew actually does not say David's heart was perfect (which fits since the JST specifically says it is not), but that it is "shalem" שלם, which means more or less whole.  It is more commonly known as Salem (Melchizedek king of Salem, Jeru-Salem) or a similar variant, shalom (hello/peace).  So it could be translated as David's heart being at peace and being whole.

This can be seen as nice, but is remarkable when looked closer.  David's life was filled with every type of distraction to break apart his heart and ruin his peace.  There are so many examples:

As a young boy, he was anointed king while Saul was still one on the throne.  Then David won the heart of the people by killing David, succeeding in suicide missions given by Saul and doing heroic deeds like killing Goliath.  Saul returned the favor by trying to have David killed, messing up his love life (he had promised his daughter to be David's wife), and trying to set the nation against him.  Nevertheless, David gave peace (שלם) to the king by playing the harp for him, refrained from killing Saul when he had just cause and every opportunity as Saul was searching to kill him, promised to keep the seed of Saul alive (which in the time of kings is basically asking for eternal opposition), and revenged the death of Saul when it came.  He never let the difficulty of the situation destroy the wholeness or peace (שלם) in his heart of Saul's anointing (

Even in his sin, as he repented he found ways of peace.  Bathsheba became pregnant from their affair, and the son that came from it became deathly ill.  David prayed, fasted, and did all before the LORD he could pleading for the LORD to save his son. When David's son died though, he picked himself and cleaned himself up.  David knew that the LORD had made His choice and was at peace (שלם) with it.  David did not let his punishment put him at odds against God, and did not even let the punishment push him to do evil.  He did what he could to repent, and as the punishment came he immediately was at peace with it.

Then with the tragic story of Absalom, where his own son was trying to usurp him.  David had every reason to be taken in rage or to absolutely give up.  Yet he still was able to fight the war to retain Israel, while keeping his love for his son.  A situation that would destroy the hearts of almost any man, his heart remained whole (שלם).  And while many may say that this was the opposite of a peaceful heart, imagine the heart of our Father in Heaven when His son Lucifer fought against Him for the crown.  God's heart would have been similar to David's, and a Godly whole (שלם).

This is all so moving to me because lately in my research I've been looking at the impact of cognitive dissonance.  When people feel conflicting emotions and selfs, they often do whatever they can to rid it.  A common man who was anointed king and had the current king unjustly try to murder him would quickly justify all retribution, because how could he remain loyal when everything else says he shouldn't?  People also want to feel good about themselves, and so when a punishment so hard as David's son dying comes from the hand of God most would either blame God or just cease believing.  David kept his belief and owned up to his actions.  Even with Absalom, the roles of father and king would destroy most men, but David remained David.

Keeping that balance is not something we see in almost any man or woman today.  Our very mortal natures fight against it.  While of course David sinned in a way most of us will not even come close to approaching, we all can learn from David's heart which in almost all cases remained whole and in the type of peace God would have (שלם).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Theodicy: Problem of Evil Continued

This post is continuing a chain started on March 3, Theodicy Introduction.

I realized while thinking about the introduction to this series, as I discussed the problem of evil it was in an impersonal manner.  I discussed how the masses view it, as opposed to how it impacts you, the reader.  As our Savior is a very personal being it is more important that this applies to you than me simply attempting to answer a question the masses posed.

While the problem of evil is a general idea with predefined and argued attributes, it is something very real in every person's life.  Like the adage goes, "Life sucks, then you die," a constant across every life is suffering.  While I don't know what you have gone through, if you have not gone through a trial that has brought you to your knees, you will.  The worst of these trials are often more than we feel we can take.  Joseph Smith was one of the greatest men to live and in his darkest moment he plead "O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" (D&C 121:1)

Here, Joseph Smith was essentially asking the problem of evil himself.  I read that passage as, "God, you have all power.  I know you can end this suffering, I know you can.  And God, you love me.  So if you have all power, and if you love me, how can you see all that I and those I love are going through and still let us suffer?  You must be gone, gone into hiding, because if you were here I cannot understand how you do nothing!"

I read it this way because honestly that is how I have felt before in my life.  After a broken engagement, I asked this very question.  If I am being honest, I did not answer this question well.  I became angry and distant with God because I did not want the brand of love of He was offering.  This meant that as I dealt with my greatest suffering, I had to deal with it alone.  I forced out some of God's mercy.

As I answer the question of the problem of evil to the masses, I hope that I also find a way to make the answer personable.  So that when you come to a moment of suffering you will not forsake your greatest comfort as I once did.  To be like our Savior who in His suffering cried for His father to take away the bitter cup, but said "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42-43) And as Christ was then comforted with an angel of support, strengthening even the Son of God, I know God will give aid to you if you humbly seek him.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Theodicy Introduction

As I explained in my last post, part of my writing is to help myself to learn how to write.  This whole post though is very similar to a video posted in Crash Course Philosophy (the video can be found at the bottom of the post).  If you would prefer to watch the video (or read and watch!), feel free to do so.

As a scientist who also loves studying ancient scripture through the lens of scholarly work I often come in contact with those who adamantly disagree with God's existence.  There are countless arguments for and against God, but one that has rung throughout time is the problem of evil.  To sum it up essentially it asks if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (all knowing, powerful, and good/loving) than why does God allow evil in any form from the big things like Hitler down to small things like a bad hair day.  Opponents of God essentially say that if God has all these characteristics then He would know when evil would happen, have the power to stop it, and do so because of His goodness and love.  Since He does not, either this view of God is wrong or God does not exist.

A theodicy is an attempt to explain the existence of the omni-God (what I will call the view of God all the omni-attributes), especially despite the problem of evil.  A common one used in Mormon circles and among others is the Free-Will Defense.  That God allows and wants each of us to be free moral agents, and so He allows us to make choices that may cause harm due to His love.  He may have the power and knowledge to stop someone from doing something, but loves us enough to allow this to happen.

This brings up another key definition, the difference between moral evil and natural evil.  Moral evil is the evil caused by humans and their choices.  Natural evil though is the evil we have no control over like natural disasters or illness.  The Free-Will Defense only addresses moral evil, but does not answer why God allows natural evil in our lives.  Mormons again offer a common defense to this saying that natural evil is key to our growth and learning.  The point of life is to one day become like God, and we could not do that without facing natural evil leading to scriptures like, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6)  This is not alone to Mormons, as it is expressed quite well by John Hick as the Soul-Making Theory.

Most find this answer sufficient as to answer the problem of evil, but those who are not satisfied take the problem of evil a step deeper.  They will admit that things like the Free-Will Defense and the Soul-Making Theory explain the logical problem of evil, or why logically there is evil in the world.  They will argue however that it does not explain the evidential problem of evil, or the fact that there is SO much evil that often seems pointless, that does not actually prepare us to become as God is.  This evidential problem of evil is an epidemic in Israel.  Many many believe there that if there truly was a God then He would have stepped in before the Holocaust, and it is unconscionable that something as evil as the Holocaust was needed to bring about God's greater purpose.  They take it even a step further that if God can justify the Holocaust for some greater good, than they do not want to worship such a God even if He is real.

Having seen and secondarily felt the pain and anger these Jews feel, I simply cannot dismiss what they say.  There is an evidential problem of evil that makes it hard to answer how an omni-God could exist.  My hope however is my next few posts to address this very problem, step by step, and build my own theodicy.

Further, it is my hope in doing so that I can share some of the simple truths (dew of Heaven) I have been given in the process of understanding this myself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Starting Blogging Anew

Times before tried to blog and have found that I am easily distracted.  I have formed a new goal in my life however, to write a book.  As I started upon this endeavor however, I found my writing skills suck, inhibiting my ability to write a decent book.  Therefore I am recommitting myself to practice writing, primarily through blogging, to sharpen my skill set.  I love religious philosophy, and so that is what I will write on.

What I find of most value and clarity I will post here.  If I write something that needs to be thought out a bit more I will post it to, to keep what I post here of higher value.

I doubt many will read what I have to say here.  But it is my hope that through practice I will one day be able to share with the world the sublime truths, the dews of heaven, that God has distilled on my soul.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Who Knoweth Whether Thou Art Come For Such A Time As This

The title comes from (as many may recognize) the story of Esther.  Just in case whoever reading does not know the story of Esther, I'll summarize it here.  If you do know it, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.  In summary, the king of Persia decides he wants a new queen.  After searching, he chooses Esther, not knowing she is a Jew.  Later, Esther's cousin Mordecai (who also raised her), refused to bow down to the king's second in command Haman.  Mordecai refused for he was a Jew.  Haman was furious, and because of that he convinced the king that all the Jews must die.  At this point, Mordecai tells Esther that she must confront the king, reveal she is a Jew, and ask him to spare her people.  In this kingdom, any of those three things could have resulted in her losing her life.  She went though, and by so doing saved all the Jews.

Before she went and talked to the king, Mordecai told her these words as counsel and advice.  As I read the verse of the title (Esther 4:14) though, I found something intriguing.  It starts by telling Esther basically, if you don't do this, God will find another way to save the Jews.  But "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Putting it in this context, the famous question of perhaps being born for such a great occasion gains a lot of meaning for me.  We all have the parts of our life, like Esther, where we fear we will not be enough.  We fear that God has failed to make the right choice.  And we then may think, "Well, some other person can do that. God is all powerful, He doesn't need me."

The story of Esther challenges this though.  It admits that yes, without you God can still perform His miracles, but forces you to ask yourself if perhaps God has prepared the way so that you will be the miracle.  In the book of Esther, God is not specifically mentioned.  Go and look!  The words God, Lord, Jehovah, lamb, master, savior or redeemer or not found in it.  Also try to find some type of supernatural miracle we are so accustomed to in the Bible.  They aren't there.  In this book, God simply acts behind the scenes.  For this reason, to this day, Jews wear costumes each year as they celebrate their deliverance from Haman, celebrating when God acted "in disguise".

So how did God save all the Jews?  He prepared His servant Esther.  He delivered Esther to Mordecai after her father's death, He made her the most beautiful woman in the land, and He provided the opportunity for her to become queen.  God then used her at the opportune moment to save His people in a natural-even if miraculous-way.  So the question comes again, could God have chosen another way?  Of course.  But God chose Esther to be His method of deliverance.  She was born for such a time as that.

And so it is in each of our own lives.  Can God's miracles happen without us?  Yes, they can.  But God has chosen to work His miracles through us.  Each of us has something in us that God has planted, miracles waiting to sprout.  And when some challenge comes, and when we fear, we may want to run.  But the question made of Esther applies to us, maybe each one of us was born for such a time as this.  Maybe each one of us has been prepared for that moment.  Maybe God's choice is to work His great miracle through us.  

And I believe that is part of what He wanted to teach.  God can work without us, but that is not what He wants.  He wants to work with us and through us.  He loves us, and believes in us.  He knows, that with His caring love and guidance, we can be the provider of His miracles.