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The Struggle Between Two Truths


Wally is on temporary leave to welcome a new grandson. If you would like to meet little William Wallace Douglas, go to www.goddardfamily.com

Wally will be back soon. To hold you over, here is a thought that we neglected to post last month:

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The Struggle Between Two Truths

We Latter-day Saints have an interesting tension in two elements of our world view:

1. We prize self-sufficiency. We store food and teach people to care for themselves. This fundamental principle is one of the reasons that LDS have often voted for conservative candidates. We are inclined to limit government interference. We want people to accept responsibility—to learn the law of the harvest.

2. We cherish compassion. We have a culture that strongly endorses helpful actions—everything from helping people move to providing meals in times of need. We hold up our welfare system as a model of readiness to care for people. We are instructed to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). Utah sets the pace for all US states in charitable giving.

These two principles can create interesting tensions in our culture. Our high value for self-sufficiency can make us deeply conflicted about divine grace. How much must I do and how much will He do to save me? The LDS culture is still struggling to reconcile personal responsibility with heavenly graciousness. The tension causes some fairly unchristian conversations among the saints.

A conflict that burdens our souls

There is another conflict that bedevils us. We try to keep government out of the welfare business. We worry that government support of the poor will make the poor more dependent on the government. It will undermine self-sufficiency and initiative. We want to prevent intergenerational welfare dependence.

If you’re ever in a priesthood quorum meeting when brethren are dozing off, suggest that the federal government should do more to care for the poor. I can almost guarantee that brethren edging into coma will snap to attention and be ready to fight.

So, under the righteous principle of self-sufficiency, we chafe at any suggestion that the government should do more to help the poor. I think of John Kenneth Galbraith’s accusing words: “The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor.”

Struggling for balance

In the process of championing self-sufficiency, we may regularly neglect the principle of compassion. I wonder if King Benjamin was speaking directly to us when he said:

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:16-19)

This is remarkably strong medicine. If we do not respond to the plea of the poor, we have great cause to repent. We will perish. We are presuming to hoard what God has graciously granted us. This is offensive to Heaven. We know we are not a Zion people as long as there are poor among us (See Moses 7:18)

Finding our own way to obey

So we must break free of Satan’s either-or trap. Even if we do not think the government should be more involved in helping the poor, we must find some way to do our part unless we want to end up as short-order cooks in hell’s kitchen. Maybe we give as much to the Humanitarian or Perpetual Education Fund as we do to tithing. Maybe we reach out to people in our communities. Or maybe we take part in efforts to get the government intelligently involved in helping the poor.

It is not clear to me that God has mandated one method over another. Yet He HAS mandated that we do something to care for the poor. Those who trust the government may vote for policies to provide support programs. Those who trust the government less may contribute more to the Church or undertake personal efforts to help the poor. Our care for the poor demonstrates to God our understanding of our dependence on Him. In the absence of earnest and consistent efforts to help the poor, we stand condemned before the Lord.

We often feel that we can’t do anything for the poor when we are struggling financially ourselves. Yet the Book of Mormon tells us that our attitude should be that “I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give” (Mosiah 4:24).

We’re richer than we think

I read not long ago that the average American has a better quality of life than 99.99% of all the people who have lived on this earth. We may not be as rich as the Joneses, but the ordinary among us are richer than the vast majority of earth’s inhabitants. Of course we can keep ourselves in self-imposed poverty by buying more house, more car, more food, more of everything than we need. It is the rare saint who buys less house than the bank says they can afford. It is the rare disciple who cooks more of their own meals so they can share more with those who have no meals.

How can we know how much to give? I think it is interesting to ask if we give as much to fast offerings every month as we spend on clothes. Could we eat more simply and give half our food budget to the hungry? Could we buy affordable cars and regularly contribute to the Perpetual Education Fund? Could we live in smaller houses and help others with a rent payment or a down payment?

God awaits our answer.

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14 Comments

  • Reply Jenn September 22, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Wow! We actually read that THIS morning together as a family. Should I admit I was not thinking, “How can I go with less so I can give more?” Tell me this…Do you think the Lord blesses in abundance those who give freely of their substance because he trusts/knows they will take care of those who need it most?

    • Reply admin September 29, 2008 at 11:26 am

      Jenn–I think you’re exactly right! When God finds that He can trust us with abundance, He floods us. When He finds that we just enlarge our houses and buy more furniture, we cannot enjoy the same kind of abundance.

      I love the way you said it.

      -Wally

  • Reply Candleman September 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Wonderful post! Once again, it all seems to contradict what the natural man is inclined to think, but in the end being kind and helpful winds up making us all the richer.

    • Reply admin September 29, 2008 at 11:26 am

      Candleman,
      Don’t you think that natural man is an awful nuisance?! As we break free of his influence, we feel the freedom that uniquely comes from the Lord.
      -Wally

  • Reply Jim September 24, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    This is a good reminder. In our relative prosperity, we tend to think that all is well in Zion, when in fact, all is not well.

    This reminds me also of the account in Matthew chapter 20 where Jesus instructs the young man about receiving eternal life. Ultimately he tells the young man to sell everything he had, to give to the poor, and to follow him. The young man went away sorrowful, because it appears that he loved his possessions more than he loved and trusted in Jesus. It is easy to condemn the young man, but how would we (or how do we) respond to Jesus’ request to take care of the poor and needy?

    I definitely need to develop a more generous and caring heart….

  • Reply Jim September 24, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Also, I think we would be “missing the boat” if we thought that all that is needed is for us to give more money.

    Maybe there are cases where it is our money that we need to give. But perhaps what is needed is that we give our time and share our talents and abilities.

    This can be tricky. We also have our families to take care of, and we should not run faster than we have strength. Sometimes it is easier or more rewarding to serve outside the home, and in so doing, we can run the risk of leaving our own families undernourished or unprepared. The key, I think, is to be mindful of our stewardships and to develop Christlike hearts such that we willingly and even joyfully give whatever we are able that is needed.

    I like Elder Ballard’s comment in his conference address titled O Be Wise: “No matter what your family needs are or your responsibilities in the Church, there is no such thing as “done.” There will always be more we can do. There is always another family matter that needs attention, another lesson to prepare, another interview to conduct, another meeting to attend. We just need to be wise in protecting our health and in following the counsel that President Hinckley has given often to just do the best that we can.

    The key, it seems to me, is to know and understand your own capabilities and limitations and then to pace yourself, allocating and prioritizing your time, your attention, and your resources to wisely help others, including your family, in their quest for eternal life.”

    • Reply admin October 3, 2008 at 12:58 pm

      Wow. Very good reasons why we should seek counsel from Heaven!

      -Wally

  • Reply Charmaine September 27, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Does this mean we should be happy about the government taking our money and giving it to the poor? Is wealth redistribution a good thing?

    • Reply admin October 3, 2008 at 12:57 pm

      My answer is “It depends.” If the redistributing is done by a group we trust (like the Church), then it is not only good, it is recommended or commanded. Can we trust the government to do redistribution? People have different answers to that question. The government is already doing some that provides a safety net for some citizens. My view is that, if we do not trust the government, we need to actively seek other means (under the inspiration of heaven) to care for the poor. As I understand it, that is a heavenly mandate and the marker for understanding the atonement.

      -Wally

  • Reply Candleman September 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    …Every man (should give) in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man (concludes what to give) according to his genius, and that every man (contributes) according to his strength….

    It seems to me that the better way is to let the Lord guide us in our giving; rather than trying to manage how, where, what, when and why for ourselves. Unless, of course, we think “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

    • Reply admin October 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm

      Yes. Giving will be done right when governed by the Spirit!

      -Wally

  • Reply Tom Andrew December 9, 2008 at 12:04 am

    “It is not clear to me that God has mandated one method over another.”

    104:16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

    Seems to me that, in fact, God has mandated one method over another. There are many ways, means, and programs to provide for the poor, but only one way is the Lord’s way. I haven’t seen yet a federal program that incorporates the principles taught here: http://providentliving.org/pfw/multimedia/files/pfw/pdf/57686_ProvidingLordsWay_lo_pdf.pdf.

    • Reply admin December 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm

      Tom,

      Thank you for your comment. You and I might be attaching different meanings to my statement about methods for helping the poor. God has mandated processes for His Church; yet He expects us individually to be anxiously engaged in finding our own ways to bless the poor.

      To me it seems unreasonable to support only those organizations that follow the same process the Church follows. I choose to believe that there are many things we can do individually, with neighbors, and even as citizens to help the poor. In my opinion, God expects us to do more than most of us do.

      Blessings,
      Wally

  • Reply Christi December 23, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I have spent some time writing about my brother who a year ago was diagnosed with Leukemia. His family already suffered from foolish mistakes my brother did and because of this they are financially ruined. Lost their home and many possessions that were dear to my sister in law. Many keepsakes were pawned to get money just to eat and get gasoline.

    My brother hasn’t been active in the LDS church for 40 years, since he was a teenager and his wife and sons are non-members.

    I already deleted all that I wrote about them as it was too long and not needed. My husband and our sons have helped them move to our town, live in a house of ours, rent free. Comforted them and finacially helped them the best we can. But to the detriment of my emotional and physical health.

    I had to start setting boundaries and inform my siblings who all live out of state to take over as my family has already suffered the financial and emotional pain they are going through, but more so. And I could no longer brace them up and neglect my own family.

    My dear eldest sister called me after that email and admonished me to let go, as there are capable bodies in my brother’s family that can and should take care of themselves. Her husband has been a Bishop and a Stake President for 9 years in upstate New York, so I felt comforted to let go.

    My Bishop said basically the same thing, as his experience helping a family member not living a good life style kept coming back for more and was very upset when he cut her off. He told me that they never remember the generosity as they do when the money stops.

    Since this started a year ago, my brother has received a blood stem cell transplant from another brother and the care of a team of Drs at LDS Hospital for the last 9 months. But not without a trial of fire. My sister in law had a very hard time as her faith in Christ is weak and she didn’t want to hear any more about Mormon beliefs. So I was restricted in giving her greater comfort.

    It was very frustrating to be so careful in what I said, and yet she wasn’t guarded in her comments. Eventually this took a toll on my heart and physical body. As I was suffering from constant pain in my hand. And I needed surgery to fix it. I delayed the surgery until I couldn’t bear it any longer. And this gave me some respite.

    As I struggle with how much help to give and to forgive their weaknesses.
    Much of my sister in law’s talk was negative, lacking faith and patience.
    It took a lot of energy to be with her. Although if I didn’t have the gospel, I would be in that state of mind, especially if you don’t know if your husband will survive and you no longer have a home to go to.

    Also, struggling with a sick husband’s hurtful decisions he has made in the past 3 years that took away her financial security. But she knew that for 27 years he took care of her and the family. So she didn’t give up on him.

    Now my brother has been given the go ahead to go back to work in the field he was in, which doesn’t require too much physical activity. They still have more financial struggles to go through as they lost some disability money due to the government giving them an extra $100. Which this makes it so that they have to make the Cobra insurance payments and they have no income to do so. It is still a dark tunnel with some light at the end. This involves some county help and them giving up their cars and life insurance for collateral. The life insurance is only good if my brother lives for two more years.

    After turning over their burdens to my siblings, I heard that my eldest brother will help them financially when the time comes. As he has sold a very large estate, but the money hasn’t come in yet. This brother isn’t active either, but is financially stable and more. He does better with my brother’s wife as they have some of the same thinking. Although this brother doesn’t talk about Jesus Christ at all. He is dependent on his own talents and thinking.

    I was just reading here or elsewhere to not give of your substance if it is against the Spirit, but don’t keep away your associations because that isn’t the Spirit of Christ. That has helped me to not feel guilty about my brother’s situation, but I feel the Spirit stir me on to make phone calls and keep my boundaries when I visit with them.

    As you can be sucked into their affairs if you have a tender heart and have been taught to share your wealth with the sick and afflicted. So my journey now is to celebrate my brother’s healing and support his family in healthy ways without taking away from my own family and my health.

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