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October 2008

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The Law in Heaven and on Earth


We read a familiar scripture in priesthood meeting:

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated–And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated (D&C 130:20–21).

We had the usual discussion about the scripture. It seems that there is a lawfulness to the distribution of heavenly blessings.

For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world (D&C 132:5).

It is comforting to know that God is not capricious; we will not be rewarded or denied because of some baseless whim.

The instructor invited other comments on the “irrevocably decreed” scripture. I thought back to a time when my dad taught me another interpretation of that scripture. “Notice that the scripture says that there is a law upon which all blessings are predicated. Maybe one meaning of the scripture is that all heavenly blessings depend on only one law.”

My dad loved to talk about the scriptures and the Lord. Even in the last days of his life, as his voice was failing him, he whispered his testimony of his Savior. He continued: “One law: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything good flows from obedience to that law.”

I was tempted to share my dad’s idea with my priesthood brethren—but I was not sure if I could trust my emotions. My dad had only been gone a year. And I miss him. But I found that by speaking very slowly my tender feelings could be confined to well-hidden mini-sobs between my words.

I began: “My dad used to wonder if one meaning of the well-known scripture is that there is one central law upon which all blessings are predicated. An angel instructed Adam and Eve that ‘thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore’ (Moses 5:8). That is a pretty good summary of all our covenant obligations.”

I felt a wave of joy as my soul joined with my dad’s in honoring that name most blessed above all names. I thought back to our son’s wedding breakfast, which Dad attended with assistance. After the meal the guests were invited to share their feelings and tributes. Many expressed their love for Andy and Natalie. The gathering was about to conclude when my dad nodded to me that he would like to make a comment. I helped him to his feet and steadied him. In a hoarse but earnest voice he began, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dad caught his breath. “I know that he lives.” There was a special emphasis to the word know.

Dad’s few words brought tears to the eyes of those who have been blessed by his lifelong testimony. To his last breath Dad would testify of Christ.

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen (2 Nephi 31:21).

As the days of our lives pass we discover new patterns in scripture. I continue to be surprised at the consistency of a simple pattern. When earthly wanderers are touched by the message of redemption, they cry out for mercy.

  • Alma:O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me . . . (Alma 36:18).
  • King Benjamin’s people: “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ . . .” (Mosiah 4:2).
  • The penitent publican: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13).

All kinds of sinners cried out to him for mercy. So did the blind, the possessed, and the leprous. He is the healing balm for every malady.

. . . there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ” (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, November 1995, p. 21).

As an adolescent who wanted to improve continually, I kept a journal in which I briefly listed the events of each day and graded myself in each of about twenty areas from kindness to my sister (I usually got an “F”) to efficient use of time (I usually got a “D.”) The system was intended to help me identify my shortcomings and focus my energy for improvement; instead it left me demoralized. While I still stand quite ready to grade myself harshly, my earthly father and Heavenly Father have taught me a better system for improvement.

And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness (Alma 38:9).

When I was a child our family home evenings seemed like object lessons in eternal suffering. (Is it possible to get seven children simultaneously attentive and non-combative?) Yet mom and dad demonstrated with their lives their joyfulness in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot count the number of people in need whom my father has gladly helped. Mom led us in Primary songs as we drove from place to place. As we grew older Dad asked us our opinions about gospel principles. He never tired of talking of Christ.

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (2 Nephi 25:26).

I am grateful that my father and mother have taught me to love that Perfect Source. There may be other laws upon which our heavenly blessings are predicated, but there is none as basic as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Learning from Jesus How to Treat Our Enemies


Jesus taught a lofty standard:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:44)

This command has that unique trademark of holiness: It is so unreasonable that any sensible person knows it is only possible when we have the mind of Christ.

Who responds to assaults and insults with kindness? Who offers goodness in trade for abuse? Who wishes spiritual blessings on those who mistreat them?  I strain to think of people in my own circle who are equal to the expectation. Some do quite well. Most of us fail regularly and abysmally. Jesus is the one who was able to live so charitably.

Jesus practiced what He preached

I think of the time the malicious Pharisee/lawyer came trying to embarrass Jesus. Jesus responded by sharing the story that is one of the greatest ever told, the story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus frequently hung out with the most disagreeable people; He was “the friend of publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). He acted as if He liked and valued those whom others found unworthy of fellowship.

Jesus held up outsiders and losers as deserving of our love: the woman at the well, lepers, adulterers and sinners, and Samaritans. Jesus saw goodness and earnestness where others saw only disgrace.

His goodness was so ingrained that even when He was in His final pains, His instinctive action was to pray for forgiveness for those who imposed that pain.

Jesus is always shocking us, always elevating our vision of the possible.

Practicing Good Will in the Modern World

Our modern public discourse seems more harsh and judgmental than ever. We label those we disagree with as evil. We presume to know the motives of those we have never met. We use labels that make the angels blush. While we are inclined to defeat our enemies with hand-to-hand combat, Jesus invites us to win through transcendent goodness.

As regular targets of foul mischaracterization, Latter-Day Saints should be especially inclined toward generosity. Our people have been driven from place to place. We have been treated as a scourge. Even now we are regularly reminded that we do not meet the minimum requirements for the “Christian” label.

What a wonderful opportunity! To the extent we are people of sorrows and acquainted with grief, we may be, like Jesus, more tender and more compassionate. We may, as President Packer suggested in General Conference, respond to persecution with enlarged patriotism.

Elements of a Better Dialogue

The scriptures regularly command us not to judge each other (1 Chr. 19:6, Matt. 7:1, Luke 6:37, John 7:24, 3 Nephi 14:1, Mormon 8:20). In that area as all others, Jesus goes the extra mile. He looks for goodness where others see badness. In the broken-down soul He sees humility. In the sinner He sees emptiness and readiness. He perfectly practiced the charity He preached. He invites us to see each other with “kindness and pure knowledge” (2 Cor. 6:6, D&C 121:42). If we are to see each other right, we must first be willing to see goodness.

For example, I have had lively discussions with colleagues of the National Council on Family Relations about same sex marriage. Some of my best friends in the organization become livid when I speak in behalf of traditional marriage. But this is not because they are evil people who want to undermine society. It is because they value equality so highly. And perhaps because they are not blessed with the words of modern prophets. I can give them credit for their love of equality and fairness. And I can seek heavenly inspiration to help us bring more eternal principles into the discussion—if I am willing to be like Jesus.

I saw this same kind of generosity of spirit manifest in the writings of Jonathan Haidt. While he is clearly a liberal himself, he shows great respect for conservatives. He appreciates that each side of the political divide must bring its strengths if we are to flourish as a country—just as each partner in a marriage must bring his or her strengths if the partnership is to thrive.

Although I am a political liberal, I believe that conservatives have a better understanding of moral development.  My research confirms the common perception that liberals are experts in thinking about issues of victimization, equality, autonomy, and the rights of individuals, particularly those of minorities and nonconformists.  Conservatives, on the other hand, are experts in thinking about loyalty to the group, respect for authority and tradition, and sacredness.  When one side overwhelms the other, the results are likely to be ugly.  A society without liberals would be harsh and oppressive to many individuals.  A society without conservatives would lose many of the social structures and constraints that . . . are so valuable.  (Happiness Hypothesis, pp. 178, 242)

Haidt further observes that “liberals and conservatives are opponents in the most literal sense, each using the myth of pure evil to demonize the other side and unite their own” (p. 242). When we vilify our enemies and distance ourselves from them, we seem to be violating Jesus’ invitation to a better way, His way. He invites us to be open to each other.

We should not assume that truth and goodness will be victorious in our mortal encounters; they suffered regularly in His lifetime and ever since Adam and Eve entered this world of thorns and thistles. The triumph that seems to matter most to Him is not the cultural one but the personal one. He wants us to become, like Him, appreciators and cultivators of goodness.

Political and Personal Applications

My primary reason for writing about this subject is not the uncivil dialogue that is raging in our sacred nation. It is the uncivil dialogue that so often happens in my own soul.

As I grew up, I learned to preempt disagreement with my views by use of strong arguments and direct assaults on those who disagreed with me. This worked pretty well (pragmatically speaking) with my younger siblings.

But now, having passed my 60th birthday, I am begging heaven to teach me better ways. I want to be less judgmental. I want to overcome hardening of the categories and see goodness and earnestness where many see lowness and badness. I want to listen better to the hearts and minds of others. I want to be fully unafraid to speak the truth while doing so in kindness and love. I want to reach out to God’s most neglected and hurting children and treat them as He would.

I want to be like Jesus. I know that the sought change will require a miracle—the mighty change of heart. I know that any substantial change is likely to take years. Yet I am encouraged that God has taught me discontent with my old ways. I am grateful that He is patiently and lovingly inviting me to better ways. I pray that He may hasten His work that I may have some years to practice His way before I die.

May God help us all to speak, listen, love, and bless as Jesus did and does.