Zion or Bust

February 16, 2005 | 25 comments

I should say, Zion and Bust. Let me explain.

We talked about Zion’s Camp today in Priesthood. We talked about what a growing experience it was for everyone and how it shaped the leadership of the church for decades to come. The elephant in the room was that the thing was a complete bust. Zion was not redeemed.

They didn’t even come close. The contrast between their awesome goal–march across the nation to redeem Zion!–and their squabbling, hapless, incompetent, plaguey reality could not be greater. Keystone Cops meets the Anabasis.

But who thinks we and they would be better off if they hadn’t gone? The apostles were called from the group that went. That is to say, the first apostles were men who knew that following God could lead to apparent futility, and didn’t lose faith.

You and I worry too much about success, even in spiritual matters. We need our own Zion’s Camp, or our own walk on water.

Take hometeaching. Hometeaching has high hopes. It’s supposed to bring back those whose testimonies have flickered out, no matter how hardened, make a ward into a family, and provide spiritual and temporal sustenance. No small vision, that. I regret that it mostly goes unfulfilled, no matter how hard one tries. That lack of fulfillment makes it hard to hometeach. For me, at least, that’s been a real source of my struggles. Who wants to go out and fail? Answer: Peter. Brigham Young. Joseph Smith.

We need to have a different attitude. The attitude I suggest is not one in which we cease to hope and desire. Zion’s Camp without the goal of redeeming Zion would be grotesque. So would Peter stepping out of the boat if he was blase about walking on the water. What we need to do, instead, is to obey God’s command: Be still, and know that I am God.
We need to realize that the stillness enjoined in not inaction or apathy, but rather ceasing to have expectations and submitting to whatever may come.

25 Responses to Zion or Bust

  1. Jim F. on February 16, 2005 at 2:11 am

    Adam, this is one of your finest posts, and the topic is important. Thank you. Our culture makes much of success, but the gospel is not about success. It is about faith, repentance, baptism, and life by the Spirit afterward. The last of these is another way of saying that the gospel is about acknowledging the power of God and our own powerlessness. To live a life defined by grace may not be to live a life in accord with success. In fact, the frequent scriptural warnings against wealth seem to be a warning against success. Perhaps nothing may undo us more than it, but–as you point out so well–temporal success is not the only danger. I think you are right to speak of Christian hope as “ceasing to have expectations and submitting to whatever may come.”

  2. Jack on February 16, 2005 at 2:49 am

    Good post, but I’m not convinced. I would rather think that the faithfull fret not over failed expectations. We have to project our thoughts foward a little bit don’t we? We’re building a house right now. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have some expectations as to how things will work out. Why do it if I had zero expectation that the project would ever be completed? Or meet the needs of my family? Or be done honestly? Alma chapter 5 seems to include expectation as an important ingredient of salvation. I don’t know how an agent can be an agent without having a sense of expectation, or at least a feel for potencialities.

  3. Sarah on February 16, 2005 at 4:04 am

    I’d go crazy if I let my earlier expectations control my satisfaction with God or myself today. When I was a young child, I was sure I’d be married, have three kids, two or three graduate degrees, and a solid career (paleontologist, astronaut, professional artist, and state legislator were the primary goals ^_^) by the age I am now (24.) We’re supposed to have goals, and hope — not a rock-hard agenda by which to judge ourselves or our God. We’re supposed to do all we can, and understand that it’s ultimately not going to be enough, and do all we can anyway. If it’s up to God to decide if things will work out or not, we shouldn’t honestly expect them to always work out the way we planned. That doesn’t mean “don’t have plans,” it means that you shouldn’t be married to such plans.

  4. David Rodger on February 16, 2005 at 4:25 am

    “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
    Or what’s a heaven for?”

    The Lord knew they would fail, and yet he sent them forth anyway.

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Because He has His purposes, and our agenda, however much we may think so, does not necessarily match his.

  5. tyler durden on February 16, 2005 at 4:53 am

    though we may never reach our ends, i find the idea that we should “just do it because god said so – and he’s really smart” troubling. unless we constantly have the hopes of achieving the proper ends (in the case of hometeaching, serving the family/person we are called to serve; in the case of zion’s camp, freeing the saints), how do we avoid becoming pharisaic and losing sight of the real ends, replacing them with the means as ends in themselves? are we called to hometeach, so that we may be hometeachers… or are we called to be hometeachers so that we may serve those in our community? are missionaries called to dress nicely for two years, wear nametags, and do missionary work… or are they called to bless the lives of the people they serve?

    in jesus’s time, the pharisees new how to live the ends. they lived them perfectly. they did what god asked them to do. christ came and told them they had it all wrong. in the sermon on the mount christ was teaching that these commandments were merely means to an end. they were means to bless the people around them. by failing to act in hope for achieving those ends, they had lost the meaning of the commandments that god had given them.

    i find this trend making its way into the church today. suddenly paying tithing is done to be a full-tithe payer, not to help build the kingdom. the word of wisdom is kept to receive a temple reccomend, not to keep out bodies healthy. fast offering are paid because we are supposed to, not to help those in need. like the young rich man, the gospel has become a set of means as ends. we can check off the list of things god has asked us to do, but in doing so, we have forgotten why we are supposed to be doing them

  6. tyler durden on February 16, 2005 at 5:23 am

    the beginning of the second paragraph of my comment should read:

    “in jesus’s time, the pharisees new how to live the [means].”

  7. Aaron L. M. Goodwin on February 16, 2005 at 9:25 am

    Good points have been noted. I think it should be taken into consideration that the Lord will fulfill his promises, we can be assured of it. What we can’t be assured of is our false understanding of what those promises are. If you pay your tithing so you can be a millionaire, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. Zion’s camp accomplished it’s purpose, and not by accident, the Lord knew before hand. It was the false interpretations and/or ideas of what the result would be that got people in trouble.

  8. Jim Richins on February 16, 2005 at 9:54 am

    Excellent post, Adam.

    I think you have identified what one of the underlying purposes of Zion’s Camp was, which was to teach the future leaders of the Church some important lessons. Obedience first, be still and trust God, and not look for immediate temporal success, as a sign to consume upon your own lusts. Zion’s Camp is like many of the things God asks us to do, in that it was a pedagogical exercise.

    Like many such exercises, the stated goal is not the ultimate goal. My children did not decorate shoe boxs and deliver a valentine to every member of his/her class for the sake of candy, but to learn something about inclusive friendship (hmmm… maybe that’s not the best example, but I’m still in the Feb 14 spirit, so I will leave it). Likwise, hometeaching has a dual purpose to teach the hometeacher some Christ-like qualities.

  9. Steve Evans on February 16, 2005 at 10:02 am

    Adam, a good post. You should market ‘Zion or Bust’ bumper stickers.

  10. cooper on February 16, 2005 at 10:34 am

    Adam, good post. Zion’s Camp was more of a success than we can comprehend at this point in time. We do not know what impact it had on the participants on an eternal basis.

    I think of the words in Luke, the Savior talking to Simon:

    31 ¶ And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
    32 But I have aprayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art bconverted, strengthen thy brethren.

    That was the purpose of Zion’s Camp. It is also the purpose of tithing, home teaching, visiting teaching and other service in the gospel.

    Satan wishes to sift each of us as wheat. We must be converted, and when we are, reach out to others.

  11. tyler durden on February 16, 2005 at 10:50 am

    “Like many such exercises, the stated goal is not the ultimate goal. My children did not decorate shoe boxs and deliver a valentine to every member of his/her class for the sake of candy, but to learn something about inclusive friendship (hmmm… maybe that’s not the best example, but I’m still in the Feb 14 spirit, so I will leave it). Likwise, hometeaching has a dual purpose to teach the hometeacher some Christ-like qualities.”

    is the ultimate goal really the self? or are qualities gained through service and callings just natural by-products of serving others? were purposes of christ’s and king benjamin’s teachings concerning helping out the poor and serving others to help build personal qualities, or were the needs of the sick, poor, and oppressed the “ultimate goal”?

    if the stated goal of zion’s camp to free the oppressed saints were not the real reason for their trip, isn’t god somewhat guilty of deception?

  12. Mark Martin on February 16, 2005 at 10:59 am

    I love Sarah’s concluding statement in #3:

    “That doesn’t mean ‘don’t have plans,’ it means that you shouldn’t be married to such plans.”

    That phrase would also fit in especially well in the lengthy discussion thread from 1/15/2005, “Are Powerful Women at a Disadvantage?” In the context of marriage and family life, both men and women should be married to their spouse and focused on the shared family needs, and not married to their own individual plans. But happily, this also acknowledges that it *is* good to have plans, as long as we are flexible and willing to adjust as guided by the Lord.

  13. Jay S on February 16, 2005 at 11:19 am


    If the stated goal of Hometeaching is to fellowship the saints, teach, bring those back into the fold, etc and I have the door slammed in my face Have i failed? Is god Guilty of deception?

    No, there are other benefits to hometeaching beyond the immediate results.

    Regarding Zion’s camp, I think this is an example of where the Lord make’s things according to his own schedule. Part of zion’s camp was suffering through the failure. Had the Lord stated “This trip is to test you and will fail” the goal of winnowing would not have been achieved. Part of the test was dealing with failure, in an attempt to test the faith of those in the camp. Although the Lord allready knew who had faith, the ordeal of Zion’s camp help those who had faith realize their own potential.

    Many times struggling in the midst of disappointment teaches us most about the lord’s plan and strengthens our faith the most.

  14. Jay S on February 16, 2005 at 11:20 am

    Adam, thank you for your original post. It was very inspiring.

  15. tyler durden on February 16, 2005 at 11:33 am

    “If the stated goal of Hometeaching is to fellowship the saints, teach, bring those back into the fold, etc and I have the door slammed in my face Have i failed?”

    If the goals of hometeaching were merely to “fellowship the saints, teach, bring those back into the fold, etc” then perhaps you have failed. however i do not believe those are the goals of hometeaching. i believe the goal of hometeachers is to reach out and love those which they are assigned to hometeach – whatever those expressions of love need be. my first experience as a hometeacher as a fourteen year old was being a companion to an elderly fellow in the ward, assigned to an aging in-active widow in our ward. our hometeaching did not consist of lessons and spiritual thoughts. it mostly consisted of fixing leaking pipes, trimming trees, adjusting sprinklers, and other things she needed around her house and was incapable of doing herself. i learned from that great brother that hometeaching is an act to let someone else know they are loved.

    even if a door is slammed on your face, your going out and loving that person fulfills the goal of hometeaching. countless people around the world reject a missionary’s message, but are still touched by their expression of love. sure their are benefits to hometeaching and other such callings, but as i said before, those are just natural by-products of loving.

  16. watkinator on February 16, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    This was a great article to inspire thinking. And I admire anyone who can approach such a sensitve subject. I think the moral of the story that you drew out was appropriate too. However, I also agree with Tyler that on the surface the reason the Lord gave for sending Zion’s Camp is problematic, for us anyway. Sure the Lord probably couldn’t say “Go pretend to redeem Zion but really I’m testing all of your moral characters”. Why did he say to go and redeem Zion? I don’t know and I’m not satisfied with any of the answers offered as yet. For me, this issue becomes one of true faith. It’s not blind because the Lord has proved himself in too many instances for trusting in him to ever be truly blind. But it’s not attested faith either because I have no witness from the Spirit as to the Lord’s true meaning and purposes in giving that commandment. I call this real faith because without the confirmation of the Spirit as to why the Lord said what he said I have to believe (if I believe at all, which I do) based on the Lord’s track record. Which oddly has me ending up where Adam did. It’s a test and we have to prove our faith and real trust in the Lord. Great article. It really made me think.

  17. Matt Astle on February 16, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Another success of Zion’s Camp: Family tradition holds that my great-great-great-great grandfather was living near the area where Zion’s Camp waited out the storm on the Fishing River. The next morning, he met Joseph Smith and was soon baptized. The part of the family legend I’m not so sure about is my ancestor’s claim to be the first person baptized in the state of Missouri. Be that as it may, Zion’s Camp had a prominent role in bringing my family (and therefore me) into the gospel. Success!

  18. J. Stapley on February 16, 2005 at 2:56 pm

    Great post Adam. I look at Peter’s trying and subsequent failure as one of the most important experiances of the New Testament. Peter (and those in Zion’s camp) asked to do something spectacular. He had the faith to try and great miracles resulted. It would have been much easier to swim. I’m one who would rather not try and swim because I know the limit of my faith.

  19. J. Stapley on February 16, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    tyler: the word of wisdom is kept to receive a temple reccomend, not to keep out bodies healthy.

    Not to get off on a tangent, but Temple Worthiness is pretty much the only reson to follow the proscriptions we call the Word of Wisdom. If you are talking about section 89, well, we don’t follow that at all.

    But I agree with you on the other examples.

  20. Sheri Lynn on February 16, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    ” I regret that it mostly goes unfulfilled, no matter how hard one tries.”

    We wore out about 8 sets of missionaries before it “took” with my husband and I. I’m sure the first seven sets thought they failed. But each left us with SOMETHING that kept us investigating the same church over and over….the credit for the baptisms goes to all of them.

    Though the set that gave me a blessing and did NOT tell me I might feel something odd happening, and that that something is the Holy Ghost, probably will slap themselves on the head, because they might have been the ones if they’d thought to tell me something so elementary (to them) but alien (to an atheist.)

    It sure takes a lot of falls on the butt before a baby learns to walk. These are not failures. They’re course corrections.

  21. Jim Richins on February 16, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    Sorry for not being clear. I did not mean to imply that the ultimate goal of hometeaching is improvement of one’s self, only that there is a dual purpose. Indeed, one should not stop at only two – there is certainly a multiplicity of purposes served in pretty much everything the Lord commands us to do. Furthermore, many purposes can only be fulfilled when we step outside of ourselves and think of serving others.

    I do not see multiple purposes underlying God’s commandments as being the least bit deceptive. Having my children do chores such as mowing the lawn fulfills purposes far beyond getting the grass clipped. Yet, I don’t tell them to “go out and develop some character.”

    (Actually, I might say that, but the younger kids would probably not get it, and I’d have to clarify by saying “go out and mow the lawn… and try to mow a straight line this time!)

    Suppose the mower is out of gas, and that I knew before hand (or maybe it slipped my mind) that it wouldn’t go much farther than starting up, yet I asked them to do it anyway. Was I being deceptive, or could I have been giving him a problem to wrestle with and try to form a solution?

    And, yes, other than the social scourges of alcoholism, drug addiction, associated health problems, including lung cancer, there really isn’t much reason to obey what we now call the Word of Wisdom… oh, except for the whole obedience/faith thing… oh, and the whole finding great treasures of knowledge, and avoiding the traps of evil and conspiring men… but seriously, having the destroying angel pass us by isn’t such a big deal…

  22. tyler durden on February 16, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    i’m running off a couple hours of sleep, so i hop my posts are making sense

    “oh, except for the whole obedience/faith thing… oh, and the whole finding great treasures of knowledge, and avoiding the traps of evil and conspiring men…”

    an alert mind seems to me to be a direct reason as to why god wishes us to live the word of wisdom, as well as strenghtening our free-will by having us abstain from addictive things which are very much “traps of evila nd conspiring men”

    however, viewing the word of wisdom as just an “obedience/faith thing” is very troubling to me. is god such that he creates arbitrary laws just for the sake of obedience? why not create commandments to wear bowties between noon and 3pm on every third tuesday, spit on the grass everytime we hear a train, and abstain from red plastic cups? would these not be just as fulfilling as an “obedience/faith thing”?

    of course the first thing that comes contrary to my views is the whole “obedience/faith thing” for abraham to sacrifice his son. this however is a far more problematic concept that pales in comparison to the word of wisdom. so to pre-emptively respond to the abrahamic test response, all i can say i don’t know. god doesn’t ask that of me. i’m sure abraham understood it more than i do and saw more to it then a mere proof of his obedience.

  23. Aaron L. M. Goodwin on February 16, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    As far as the “failure” of the goal of Zion’s Camp, isn’t there a way to reconcile this? We have examples of events similar to this. For instance, the israelites in the wildernes. Joshua never did anything wrong, but suffered a lot, and all of the people who started in the journey never made it, was this a failure of the lord? He told them ‘I’m going to lead you to the promised land’ (see Exodus 12:15,25; Exodus 13:5,11) but most of them, including Moses never made it there. I’m sure many of them thought “Great, here the lord tells us he’s going to take us to the promised land, and now we wander for years on end and most of us die. I’ll never get there!”.

    If the purpose of Zion’s Camp was to redeem Zion, then it’s suceeding so far. How is Zion to be redeemed? Redeeming happens through making and keeping covenants, covenants are administered in the church, the church is lead by prophets, apostles, seventy etc. These were proven worthy in Zion’s camp, and I suppose through these men’s experiences they gained understanding and power which would aide zion in being redeemed. Does that make sense or am I nuts?

  24. A. Greenwood on February 16, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    Sheri Lynn,
    Your right that we’re often doing good and we don’t know it. Missionaries plant seeds that others harvest. But mostly missionaries plant seeds that never germinate at all. Same with the other things we try to do. Thanks for the reminder, though.

  25. Jim Richins on February 16, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    One of the most inspiring stories from Church History is when the members of the Anointed Quorum swore an oath to abstain from red plastic cups. Since it was still in the 1840s and red plastic cups had not been invented, they had to receive this commandment totally on faith. It amazes me how God saw the dangers that red plastic cups might pose to the saints, and provided instruction to keep His saints safe.


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