Grace: Enabling and Strengthening Power

I recently listened to a talk by David A. Bednar where he said this: “I believe we can learn much about this vital aspect of the Atonement if we will insert “enabling and strengthening power” each time we find the word grace in the scriptures.”

Accordingly, here is every Topical Guide entry for “grace,” with that key word replaced by “enabling and strengthening power.”  Many of these verses truly do open up this way!

  • Noah found enabling and strengthening power in the eyes of the Lord: Gen. 6:8 . ( Moses 8:27 . )
  • thy servant hath found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Gen. 19:19 .
  • if I have found enabling and strengthening power in thy sight: Ex. 33:13 . ( Ex. 34:9 ; Judg. 6:17 . )
  • for a little space enabling and strengthening power hath been shewed: Ezra 9:8 .
  • Lord will give enabling and strengthening power and glory: Ps. 84:11 .
  • he giveth enabling and strengthening power unto the lowly: Prov. 3:34 . ( James 4:6 ; 1 Pet. 5:5 . )
  • pour upon the house of David … spirit of enabling and strengthening power : Zech. 12:10 .
  • enabling and strengthening power of God was upon him: Luke 2:40 .
  • enabling and strengthening power and truth came by Jesus Christ: John 1:17 .
  • great enabling and strengthening power was upon them all: Acts 4:33 .
  • gave testimony unto the word of his enabling and strengthening power : Acts 14:3 .
  • through the enabling and strengthening power of … Christ we shall be saved: Acts 15:11 .
  • the ministry … to testify the gospel of the enabling and strengthening power of God: Acts 20:24 .
  • By whom we have received enabling and strengthening power and apostleship: Rom. 1:5 .
  • Being justified freely by his enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 3:24 .
  • it is of faith, that it might be by enabling and strengthening power : Rom. 4:16 .
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Christ’s Blood On Our Doorposts

A great article in the current Ensign makes this fantastic symbolic connection I had never seen before:

An ancient Hebrew tradition held that the Messiah would be born at Passover. We know that April in the meridian of time indeed fell in the week of the Passover feast—that sacred Jewish commemoration of Israel’s salvation from the destroying angel that brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt. Each Israelite family that sacrificed a lamb and smeared its blood on the wooden doorposts of their dwelling was spared (see Exodus 12:3–30). Thirty-three years after Christ’s Passover birth, His blood was smeared on the wooden posts of a cross to save His people from the destroying angels of death and sin.

Searching online for illustrations of this powerful spiritual metaphor found an abundance of images.  Two of my favorites:

doorpost

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Three New Gospel Study Resources

Three things I’ve recently come across that are worthwhile in expanding our understanding of the gospel:

1. Nathan Richardson’s “structured editions” of the scriptures.  The Book of Mormon draft needs work, but it’s a great start.  The Pearl of Great Price format is excellent.  The other resources on his site are worth checking out, too.

2. Steven Reed’s “Through the Veil,” a list of scripture quotes designed to illuminate the temple experience.  Very thoughtfully done, but plenty more citations could be added (where’s Deuteronomy 22:12?)  Like Richardson’s, his site has tons of useful goodies on it, including my 15-verse summary of the Book of Mormon.

3. Interpreter’s “Temple On Mount Zion Conference.”  I can’t believe this is a year old and I’m only now watching these talks.  They’re amazing.  The ones on Job, the ark, and Latter-day houses of the Lord are especially recommended.

A New Way to Look at the Plan of Salvation

plan of salvation map

There’s a joke that Mormons are the only people in the world who can communicate a profound spiritual sermon by drawing three circles in a row.  This traditional paradigm for teaching the gospel—with its circles for the premortal world, Earth life, the spirit world, and the three degrees of glory—has served very well as a visual aid of the plan of salvation.

Here, I propose a new way of visualizing these things.  Instead of the narrative flowchart model, I’m going to describe a great, eternal chiasm.  Yes, chiasmus as in the ancient Book of Mormon writing style where a series of ideas or phrases are given and then repeated in reverse order, to contrast parallel variations in the elements of the story and to highlight the central turning point.

Chiasms are typically shown as the left side of a letter X, looking like an arrow pointing to East on a map.  This one will be depicted as a letter V, because I want us to see the turning point as the end of a long descent and the beginning of an ascent.  You’ll see why shortly.

This new paradigm was inspired by the temple.  I won’t make any overt references to the basic floor plan of the average temple or to the content of the endowment, but the reader who is familiar with those things is encouraged to consider how they suggested the ideas presented below.

The elements of this story can be understood as following the ideal progress of each individual person or of “the whole human family of Adam” (Mormon 3:20).

A and A’: The Celestial Kingdom

Our journey, as far as we understand it, both begins and ends in the Celestial Kingdom.  This is where, from our point of view, our “descent” begins and our “ascent” ends.

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Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

It happened again last night, and not for the first time: I re-read a familiar section in the Book of Mormon and noticed something that had never arrested my attention before.

In King Benjamin’s classic speech, a major landmark in the Book of Mormon, he tells the people this about the the coming change of leadership from himself to his son:

…if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land…  (Mosiah 2:31, emphasis added)

Benjamin wasn’t the only Book of Mormon leader to teach about the reason for faithfully following the prophet; Lehi explained it twice:

And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. (1 Nephi 3:5, emphasis added)

And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it. (2 Nephi 1:27, emphasis added)

Nephi’s brothers, you may remember, resented being ordered around, against their natural inclinations, by a bunch of old white men in Salt Lake City…oops, I mean, by their younger brother.  (/sarcasm)

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Serve From Gratitude

Near the end of a truly rousing, inspirational sermon, the Biblical prophet Samuel tells his congregation:

Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.  1 Samuel 12:24

This has now become one of my favorite scriptures.  Why?  because it explicitly links our faithful obedience to God and our work in His service, to gratitude for all of the infinite blessings that have first been poured out on us.

I actually think that the “thankfulness-leads-to-devotion” relationship is pretty rarely articulated in the scriptures.  The next best one that I can think of comes from the New Testament:

We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

It’s good to be reminded of this.  God has shown us great love, and always will.  Obedient discipleship is the least we can do in return; indeed, is precisely the one thing that He does ask of us:

And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,

To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?  Deuteronomy 10:12-13

The Five Missions In the Scriptures

A scripture study exercise: if we wanted to summarize the overall message of major collections of scripture, what might they be?  We’re probably familiar with the “missions of the Church” formula–preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy–so, can we find similar missions communicated in books of scripture?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, with comments below:

 

Old Testament : Obey the law

New Testament : Perfect the saints

Book of Mormon : Learn the gospel

Doctrine and Covenants : Build the kingdom

Pearl of Great Price : Seek the Lord

 

Old Testament: I also considered “keep the commandments” and “follow the prophets.”  The first is similar to “obey the law,” but not as inclusive–there’s more to the Old Testament than the “thous shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”  Saying to “follow the prophets” resonates with us today, and certainly encompasses a major theme, but the largest idea in the Old Testament is that conforming to God’s whole system of living will bless us.

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Does the Atonement Have Masculine and Feminine Halves?

Latter-day Saints typically see the Atonement of Christ as comprising the suffering in Gethsemane as well as the crucifixion.  I’ve been wondering if there’s some kind of duality implied by the contrasting details in these two halves.  Consider the following chart, giving some details from Jesus Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha:

Gethsemane

Golgotha

Night Day
Private Public
Introverted/Psychic Emotional Suffering Extroverted/Physical Violent Torture
Primary instrument = liquid (bleeding) Primary instrument = solid (cross)
Inside of a garden On top of a hill
Cyclical narrative Linear narrative

Is it a coincidence that the circumstances of Gethsemane are stereotypically feminine, and the circumstances at Golgotha are essentially masculine?  Continue reading

What Was the Mark of the Curse in the Book of Mormon?

A comment on a news article last week called the Book of Mormon racist because of its references to dark skin in conjunction with a curse.  I responded with the usual explanation: the curse is spiritual separation from God (2 Nephi 5:20), and the dark skin was just a useful way to distinguish those who’d been cursed.  However, the more I looked at what I’d written, the less satisfied I was.  I felt like I was missing something.  I went back to the text.

I don’t think the Book of Mormon references to dark skin are literal anymore; I think they’re only a poetic idiom.  Subsequently, I now have a different theory for what the mark of the curse really was.

The Controversial Verses

First, look at the relevant text.  There are three passages in the Book of Mormon that specifically mention dark skin as the mark of a curse (in 2 Nephi 5, Jacob 3, and Alma 3), and a fourth that bears on them (3 Nephi 2).  Here are the most controversial verses:

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How Scripture Study Counteracts the Negative Effects of Sensory Overload

From a great essay at  Segullah:

Input always travels the path of least resistance. So the second time we see the new image, it will travel the same route. And before long, the new neural pathway has been stimulated enough to “desire” of itself continued activation. A habit is born.

After that, when the brain is not currently occupied, we long for that image. That is why we constantly check our phones or email. That is why, when we have a free moment, we click onto a favorite blog, check facebook, and tweets, or any other source of input we frequent. Without realizing it, we have begun to crave these places of input, hunger for them, to the point where they can surreptitiously dominate our time.

Tina said the only way to counterbalance this is with ancient and modern scripture. We must expose our brains repeatedly to the image or sound of God’s words. Printed, glowing on the page, read aloud, or discussed with friends. That is where God’s Spirit lives. It is where His mind and will can rise out of the texts we read or the conversations we share, and filter into our lives, allowing revelation to move through us.

And the money quote: “The battle today, between Babylon and Zion, is being waged between the synapses of our brains.”

Chiasmus in Helaman 13:29-39

In studying the Book of Mormon, it seems that everybody and his brother is familiar with chiasmus, that Hebraic form of poetry where key words and phrases in the first half of a text are repeated backwards in the second half, done to aid memorization, to signify a whole unit of thought, and, especially, to emphasize the central turning point. 

With all the many excellent examples of the technique that the Book of Mormon offers, one of my favorites is usually overlooked: Helaman 13:29-39. 

The most notable work on such parallelisms in the Book of Mormon, Donald W. Parry’s The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns, does not mention chiasmus in this section.  However, in A New Witness For Christ, a similar work by the late H. Clay Gorton, an amateur Book of Mormon enthusiast, I found an arrangement of these verses that is very close to mine. 

In Helaman 13:29-39, Samuel the Lamanite has been lambasting the grossly apostate people of a city.  Throughout the first segment of the sermon, he chastises them for their materialism, and for their related rejection of the prophets.  After the patient, factual, even dry recounting of their rebellion in most of Helaman 13, in verses 29-39 Samuel lets loose with a passionate lament, wailing over their wasteful path towards self-destruction due to their own willful blindness.  Those verses form a discrete unit of the sermon, and a compelling chiasm. 

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Role Models From the Early Life of Christ

I drafted this chart based on some of our discussion in Sunday School today.  We studied the birth and early life of Jesus Christ (mostly from Luke 2), and found basic patterns in the lives of those involved in that period, setting clear themes and models for us to follow in our own devotion to the Lord:

The Pattern Of Our Spiritual Journey

I’ve been reading James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ, which is extremely excellent, and I just read chapter 19, “The Dispensation’s of the Lord’s People,” where he gives a chiastic chart of Earth’s history.  It’s very good, and it reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a month or so, since my wife and I had a discussion about what the Earth will be like after the Second Coming. 

That got me to researching, and some things clicked with me.  Below are some notes I’ve been putting together about these thoughts.  They represent my attempt to put some doctrinal concepts in a recognizable pattern, and it strongly emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ.  In fact, looking at our spiritual journey this way adds a powerful dimension to our understanding that, through the Atonement, Christ “descended below all things.”  We can see here that, literally, his suffering and distance from the Father were absolutely beyond even the worst of mankind’s experience.  It was also, again quite literally, the ultimate turning point in history. 

The only thing that confused me at first was the idea that, if Eden and the Millennium are Christ’s domain, then how could the Father also be present in the Garden of Eden?  I soon realized that God may go anywhere He wishes; it is we who are limited by veils and sin.  After all, didn’t both the Father and the Son appear personally to Joseph Smith in this fallen, telestial world?  Joseph Smith had to be transfigured for that to be possible, and I suppose Adam and Eve must have enjoyed a similar experience, in their innocent and immortal state, to behold the Father in the Garden. 

On a slightly less spiritual note, this map also highlights an aspect of good storytelling, which has also been on my mind lately.  I often think that basic story patterns are essentially encoded into us (think of Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, as well as the fondness for using elemental stories to resonate with us in the scriptures and temple), and one of the most fundamental aspects of good story is that the hero must face a daunting, scary setback in the middle, even suffering a literal descent.  Think here of Odysseus going down to Hades, the discouraging tones of The Two Towers and The Empire Strikes Back (each the middle of an epic), or the predictable fight that the lovers must have in the middle of every romantic comedy, before they reconcile and reunite (sappy, but also another Atonement-centered device). 

Most of the “insights” on this chart aren’t very original, but I enjoyed drawing it up to see these things together in graphic form for the first time.  This is only a rough draft, and any refinement to it is welcome.  Click to enlarge. 

Mission Statements For The Scriptures

I’ve been wondering how one could best summarize the overall “mission” of major collections of scripture, in the vein of “preach the gospel” or “perfect the saints.”  Of course, this is just a novelty exercise on my part, and in no way does justice to the power of scripture or, for that matter, mission statements (which were mildly criticized at yesterday’s Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, anyway). 

Still, here are the best of my ideas so far.  This is really just a silly thing that I haven’t put a whole ton of effort into, so feel free to offer better ideas.  Ultimately, I suppose any volume of scripture’s mission would best be summarized as “bring souls to Christ,” but I guess the point of this is to focus on sub-missions supporting that one!

Old Testament: Obey the law

New Testament: Serve the Lord

Book of Mormon: Learn the gospel

Doctrine and Covenants: Build the church

Pearl of Great Price: Follow the prophet

The Right Thing, At the Right Time, For the Right Reason

This phrase came to mind as a title for this post as I thought about its practical application.  Two weeks ago our Gospel Doctrine class in church covered the fall of King David.  As much as this dramatic tragedy is studied throughout the world, the part of this story that resonates most meaningfully to me is a tiny detail near the beginning that is rarely mentioned.  I haven’t seen it in any manual, and I’ve only ever heard it in one lesson, but it’s stuck with me for many years. 

David was a special, powerful, favored man of God, yet he ended up an adulterer and a murderer.  How did this happen?  Where did his slide begin?  The first verse of the story, 2 Samuel 11:1, tells us. 

And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah.  But David tarried still at Jerusalem.  (emphasis added)

It’s hard not to read that editorial note of disapproval in the last part.  Until this point, nothing negative is shown of David; afterwards, it’s all downhill.  This is where the tragedy started.  David was supposed to attend a meeting of kings, but instead sent servants.  He took a day off and hung around in Jerusalem.  While he was indulging in playing hooky from work, he saw Bathsheba, and I think we all know where things from there. 

The lesson for us is pretty clear: sins of omission, such as skipping meetings or other mundane routines of the disciple’s life, are the beginning of a downhill spiral into destruction.  David didn’t go from being a prophet to a pervert overnight; it started with a refusal to carry out a simple obligation of regular duty. 

May we be warned. 

NOTE: I stand corrected.  I just looked this verse up at the wonderful scripture study site at BYU, and found that this verse was used to teach this principle by Neal A. Maxwell in 2001:

There are so many ways to keep the shielding seventh commandment firmly in place. Instructively, for instance, David’s fall, at least in part, was facilitated because he was not where duty lay: “It came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, … David tarried still at Jerusalem” ( 2 Sam. 11:1). Then, as you know, came the lustful view from the roof and all the sadness that followed. Implicit, therefore, in the instruction “Stand ye in holy places” is to avoid indulgent tarrying ( D&C 87:8; see also Matt. 24:15).