The Approaching Zion Project: Deny Not the Gifts of God

June 19, 2013 | 32 comments
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stonesYou can find links to all of the previous installments of the Approaching Zion Project here.

This chapter (understandably) overlaps significantly with the previous chapter, Gifts. These are, after all, discourses he delivered at various times, to various audiences, with common themes. I’m reading them separately, though, and different things hit me at different readings. So, like always, I won’t discuss everything Nibley focuses on (and I’ll try to not spend too much time on things I’ve discussed previously). With that out of the way, on to the chapter.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want . . .

Nibley spends a lot of time with a metaphorical free lunch. It’s an image I don’t want to worry about too much here (because it comes back, possibly with a vengeance,[fn1] but it’s nonetheless central to his idea of gifts. Essentially, Nibley argues that we shouldn’t spend too much time worried about getting wealth because everything we have is a gift. Rather than strive to be wealthy, then, we should ask God and rely on His generosity to provide us with the things we need.

Relying on God for our necessities, though, is problematic in a number of ways. The first, and perhaps most significant, is that He doesn’t always give us what we ask for. That is, there are poor people in the world, there are people who do not have, and cannot access, basic necessities, including food, clean water, housing, and clothing. I assume that some portion of these people are good people who believe in God and ask Him for food for their children. And at least some portion of this portion of the poor do not get it.[fn2]

That’s not to say God doesn’t keep his promises; he has not, however, promised to sustain us temporally. We don’t believe in the Prosperity Gospel, or, for that matter, the Basic Necessities Gospel. Which means that counting solely on His gifts to sustain us risks both disappointment and hunger.

Which leads me to a second, less-consequential, but still real, risk: that, by merely asking, we feel entitled and fail to recognize the sacrifices of others. As a member of the Church in the U.S., there is a significant chance that your necessities will be met. We benefit from a number of social safety nets: government assistance, Church assistance, and, when possible, familial assistance.  If we believe that all we have to do is ask God, we risk failing to recognize the sacrifice that others make to provide the redistribution that sustains us. That is, government assistance is largely funded by taxes, taxes that diminish the portion of an individual’s income that she takes home and consumes. Church assistance is largely derived from fast offerings, which, again, represent real sacrifice by those who contribute. Ditto familial assistance.

I’m not knocking any of the three—I like safety nets. But if I were to rely solely on God’s graces, I potentially miss the help that others provide.

I’m not, btw, saying that Nibley advocates ingratitude toward our fellow people. But such ingratitude is a risk we face if we decide not rely solely on the gifts of God, and He doesn’t grant those gifts.

It’s also probably worth mentioning that such redistributive social safety nets are possible only because somebody managed to accumulate—through work or gifts—enough to support herself and help support someone else.

… If You Try Sometimes You Might Find You Get What You Need

Nibley starts the chapter talking about evolution and creationism.[fn3] He mentions that some take the view that evolution is sufficient to explain everything, and thus God (or a god) is unnecessary. And frankly, I’ve always been more comfortable with the idea of God mostly standing back and letting things run as they will. The problem, as I detailed in a talk I gave a while ago, is that God won’t always fit my model. If you’ll forgive me, I’m going to copy in a little of that talk (with apologies if I’m ever in your ward: I have every intention of recycling this talk someday):

A theodicy is a response to the question of evil. Broadly, it is an attempt to reconcile the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God with the existence of evil in the world.

And we believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God: the first page of the first discussion, from back when I was a missionary, said, “Deus é perfeito, conhece todas as coisas e é Todo-Poderoso.  Ele é também misericordioso, bondoso e justo,” basically, “God is perfect, knows all things, and is all-powerful. He is also merciful, loving, and just.”

It’s not an easy problem to solve; the term “theodicy” dates back to a 1710 book by German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, but philosophers and theologians have been struggling with the problem since at least Augustine, and perhaps much longer.

And though it’s a philosophical question, it’s also an intuitive one. In popular Mormon discourse, we don’t often talk about the question of evil. Still, it’s one that many of us encounter; I remember fairly distinctly a discussion in Brazil where the man with whom my companion and I were speaking said that he couldn’t believe in God, because of all of the suffering in the world. How, he asked, could an all-powerful God permit innocent people–children, even–to suffer.

At 19, I didn’t have the experience or maturity to comprehend the depth of his question. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve wrestled with the question. And I’ve found a solution that works for me.

The problem is, my solution demands a quasi-Deistic God, a God who created the world and, after creating it, rarely interferes, instead letting it run according to the laws of nature. A God, in other words, who wouldn’t answer our insignificant prayers.

If God generally doesn’t interfere with the way the world runs, the problem of evil (largely) ceases to be a problem. God allows bad things to happen because He doesn’t interfere with the world. But if he doesn’t interfere, he also doesn’t answer prayers.

It’s worth noting that, if I’m a philosopher, I’m only a philosopher of the tax law, so I’m allowed to be a little squishy; clearly, as a believing Mormon, I believe that God manifest Himself to Joseph Smith, that He restored various parts of the Gospel, that He answered President Kimball’s prayer to allow all worthy men to receive the priesthood. But He clearly wouldn’t answer prayers of less import, helping me find my contacts. Or sell my apartment. Or find a place to live.

But He did. Which destroys my theodicy, but also provides me comfort.

Which is to say, I believe that God gives us gifts when we ask. Sometimes, at least, and in spite of the fact that he doesn’t give gifts to everyone who asks whenever they ask. I’ve received these gifts at times in my life, some truly and deeply essential to my well-being, and some decidedly more frivolous.

So Are We Really Dependent on His Gifts?

Yes. Or luck, or something like that. Look, I’m not disparaging hard work. I like it; I think it is essential and valuable that we work hard, and I think it’s essential and valuable that we work hard in our professions, that we climb, as it were, the ladder of our career.

That said, we need to recognize that some significant portion of our success isn’t the result of our hard work. Sure, we can move up and down in the economic world, but the economic position into which we’re born is pretty sticky. That is, though people do change economic quintiles,[fn4] fewer move up or down than we would expect if our economic destiny were dependent solely on our hard work, not the conditions into which we grew up.[fn5]

And, if we take a global look at wealth, those of us who were fortunate (or gifted) enough to be born in an OECD country have almost no risk of falling into real, global-level poverty; OECD countries have social safety nets that both protect us and allow us to take risks while limiting our downside risks.

So what do we do with the idea that some significant portion of our temporal well-being is the result, not of our hard work, but God’s gifts? According to Nibley, two things: first, he says, “God wants us to be under obligation to him; he wants us to feel our dependence on him at all times: on a day-to-day basis: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11). This is the manna; they could not do business with it.”

Second, when we recognize our dependence, He wants us to forgive our debtors in the same way He forgives us.

Nibley also brings Jesus into this. The best gift, of course, is eternal life, a gift that we can’t even pretend that we could earn on our own. Instead, “Jesus Christ bought it for us: he paid the ransom price, he redeemed us when we could not redeem ourselves, and he gave us eternal life as a free gift. He has taught us how to qualify for the gift, but the gift itself we could never earn by our own efforts.” And when we receive the gift, we need to not despise it by making it secondary to something we work for ourselves.

Miscellany

  • Nibley goes all in on agrarianism here, calling “farming, church, and study” the “Great Triple Combination.” I would argue that there’s no more spiritual significance to farming than to banking, lawyering, doctoring, dentisting, painting, or composing; each career provides pitfalls that can impede our spiritual progression and each provides potential spiritual benefits.
  • For the second time, Nibley quotes Henry Wallich, a Governor of the Federal Reserve, as calling our economic system a “fraud.” Google only finds the statement linked with Nibley’s retelling, and neither chapter footnotes the statement. Does anyone know if Wallich actually said it, when, where, and the context?
  • Nibley seems to have been fairly ascetic when it came to food. I think he was missing out.
  • Note that he finds us under condemnation if we take God’s gifts and don’t share them with the poor.[fn6]
  • His understanding of Darwinism strikes me as superficial and incomplete (though maybe that was where we were in 1981 when he delivered the talk). Chicago’s Field Museum has a stunning exhibition that traces the geological, botanical, zoological, and evolutionary history of the Earth. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in town.

[fn1] I don’t know how vengeful its return is, of course, since I haven’t read ahead . . . .

[fn2] I know, theodicy. I’ll address it in a thoroughly unsatisfying manner in the next section.

[fn3] He’s not a fan of extreme belief in either, it turns out.

[fn4] Why focus on quintiles? I really don’t know, except that’s the data I have access to.

[fn5] I’m not saying there is no Horatio Alger, or that our work has no impact on where we end up. I am saying, though, that things over which we have no control play a significant part in how successful we are temporally, whether we want them to or not.

[fn6] This idea definitely merits more time than I’m giving it, but I don’t have time to address it carefully in this post. I’m sure, though, that it will reappear in a future chapter.

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32 Responses to The Approaching Zion Project: Deny Not the Gifts of God

  1. Robert C. on June 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Nice thoughts, Sam. One quibble is that although I agree there are dangers in romantic nostalgia for agrarianism, many scholars (esp. thinkers and advocates of localism) have made pretty good arguments suggesting significantly different spiritual experiences and ramifications pertaining to different kinds of jobs. I’d have to look up the details, but I seem to recall some studies showing that professions that deal with a lot of abstractions (like quantitative finance) tend to become more removed from pro social norms, whereas vocations dealing more closely with nature and/or local businesses tend to engender more pro social behavior (which not a spiritually neutral effect, I would argue)….

  2. John Hancock on June 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    It seems to me that Nibley’s inquiry, particularly in this chapter, continues to focus on the gift of wisdom, and on the verse “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 6:7) His question seems to be, “What is wisdom?” Nibley makes some excellent points concerning the problems inherent in seeking after material riches and the honors of men (vices that are clearly condemned in D&C 121), and the folly of climbing career ladders that are leaning against the wrong wall. But I’m still not entirely persuaded that he has answered his own question, namely, “What is wisdom?” or “Where is wisdom to be found?” I am not quite convinced that wisdom necessarily means quitting your job and spending most of your time farming and studying the standard works. Perhaps I am misunderstanding him, but that is what I have gleaned from this chapter.

    In answer to your question, “So what do we do with the idea that some significant portion of our temporal well-being is the result, not of our hard work, but God’s gifts?, perhaps what Nibley is aiming toward is the doctrine that Elder Maxwell often taught, that “the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give,’ brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/10/swallowed-up-in-the-will-of-the-father?lang=eng)

  3. Jax on June 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Sam, you said

    Nibley argues that we shouldn’t spend too much time worried about getting wealth because everything we have is a gift.

    Nibley’s point argument seems to be the one fairly supported by scripture, which he uses quite regularly. I’d wager he’d say it isn’t him making the argument, but rather he is simply presenting the argument the scriptures make.

    Do you have any scripture to point to that would say that maybe Nibley isn’t presenting the whole picture? Did he overlook something important? Your argument

    The first, and perhaps most significant, is that He doesn’t always give us what we ask for.

    seems rather hollow without it. Of course he “doesn’t give us what we ask for” – He gives us what is best for us, and we have the faith to trust He knows better than we do. As I understand Nibley, that is the entire problem we have… we don’t trust HIM to give us what we need. And if we die starving in the streets then it is because He thought it best? Or do we not believe in a God like that? Do we only believe He cares for us if we are well-fed and live to be 90?

    Alma and Amulek watched countless people thrown into a fire, along with their scriptures. We are told they were received in Glory by the Lord and Alma is told that it is his will that those people die so that He can accomplish His purposes. Is such a thing too far beneath us to consider?

    “How can we hope to earn a great reward, if we now shun the fight?”

  4. Sam Brunson on June 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    He gives us what is best for us, and we have the faith to trust He knows better than we do.

    No He doesn’t. He sometimes gives us what is best for us, and sometimes doesn’t. I know the popularity in Mormonism of the idea that the Lord is bound when we do what He says. While perhaps true, it is not the case that we can dictate to Him what he has to do when we obey.

    What is best for a two-year-old suffering severe malnutrition is food. But we know that God doesn’t always provide food. The two-year-old doesn’t, I would argue, gain any particular knowledge or spiritual depth by dying young of malnutrition. And if I argue that she dies young so that I learn something, I’m treating her as an object rather than a subject with agency.

    Same with Alma and Amulek and the people in the fire. Perhaps their deaths would condemn their killers, but that is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition of condemnation. I don’t believe in a God who allows people to suffer for the express purpose of other people learning lessons. I do believe in a merciful God who answers some prayers, albeit with a selection process I don’t understand.

  5. Sam Brunson on June 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Let me add, what I term the Basic Necessities Gospel is, though quantitatively different, not qualitatively different than the Prosperity Gospel. Both posit that, if you live your life the right way, God will provide for you (either the basics or wealth). Neither is scripturally—or experientially—justified.

  6. Jax on June 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Sam,

    Perhaps we believe in different Gods, because the one I believe explicitly told His prophet that he was allowing his believers to suffer a painful death so that He could justly send down His wrath upon his disobedient children – which turned out to be death by an invading army.

    for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

    Perhaps there is a different way to read that passage, and I’d be happy to consider one if you want to share but essentially I hear God telling Alma, “Don’t use my priesthood to stop this, because it is my will that it happens. Because of the blindness of their eyes and their lying words (verse 6) I want to destroy them, but my wrathful destruction of them must be just, so I’m allowing them to commit this atrocity so that the blood of the innocent stand as a witness against them and I can destroy them with Justice.”

    Similarly, I think he would say today “I allow the 2-year old to starve, and the widow to freeze, and the helpless to be abused, and I recieve them in glory unto myself. I do this so that their voices/blood/witness will testify against all of those who did not my will to care for the poor, needy, and afflicted but willingly participated in the system that allowed them to suffer. Those who have promised to care for them, but have instead sought after riches, wealth, and acclaim deserve punishment, but the punishment must be just. So I will allow them to sing the songs of Zion on the Sabbath, yet continue to explain why it is unreasonable and not a “real” commandment so that they can rightly say my judgment is just when they “with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.”

    Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment. D&C 104:18

  7. Jax on June 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Sam,

    I should add, I also don’t believe in a “Prosperity Gospel” – by which I suppose you mean that if we’re righteous we will be prosperous/wealthy.

    But your argument that

    No He doesn’t. He sometimes gives us what is best for us, and sometimes doesn’t. What is best for a two-year-old suffering severe malnutrition is food.

    seemed to be that some food was better for a person than being received in Glory in the presence of God. I suggest that that is a rather narrow view of what is best for us, which is why we should trust His view of what’s best, rather than our own! – including mine. Food will definitely keep the kids alive longer, but can you authoritatively say that “alive is best”?

  8. Sam Brunson on June 19, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Jax,
    You’re positing unnecessary binaries. Living and receiving glory in the presence of God are not mutually exclusive; we believe, in fact, that life is necessary to receive that glory. And, in fact, we believe that the things we learn on Earth carry over with us—that is, we need this life to live with God. So yes, life without unnecessary suffering is best.

    And perhaps we do believe in different gods; I suspect, though, that we read scripture differently. Alma says that the Spirit constrained him from stretching out his hand, but he didn’t claim that God “explicitly told His prophet that he was allowing his believers to suffer a painful death so that He could justly send down His wrath upon his disobedient children.” You can certainly read it that way, but that requires an interpretive leap on your part, one that is based in scriptural text but not required by it. Equally plausible is that Alma (or, hundreds of years later, Mormon) was looking for a theodicy that would justify the needless deaths. (Creating ex post justification for horrible things isn’t unheard of in our world, within or without the Church.)

  9. Jax on June 19, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Sam,

    Mormon made it a quote from Alma… of course neither of of has seen the original though.

    Perhaps I could best make my argument this way from the same chapter

    Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.

    13 And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.

    Perhaps our attempts to build zion and cease to work for money means we will starve, or even my 2-year old child. Be it according to His will.

    I think too many of us are unwilling to choose that attitude of faith and submissive humility that allows us to leave our mortality in the Lord’s hands. And so we justify not fulfilling our covenants by saying, “if I don’t I’ll starve”. Maybe! But don’t you trust that He knows best? and have the power to make it happen? I think that was what Nibley was pointing out. Wouldn’t you rather starve and get the glory of being obedient than to live long and be a covenant breaker?

  10. Sam Brunson on June 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Jax,

    Wouldn’t you rather starve and get the glory of being obedient than to live long and be a covenant breaker?

    No. I’d rather not starve and not be a covenant breaker. And, as I said before, the two are not mutually exclusive.

    Moreover, you’re positing a binary that is unsupported by scripture. And the implications are horribly offensive; you seem to be suggesting that, had my hypothetical two-year-old child survived childhood, she would have lost her chance at salvation, or that the women and children burned were better off for dying horrifically.

    That’s not consonant with the Mormonism I believe in, or the God I worship. Sure, they would have all sinned, but, as Nibley points out, that’s our free gift from Jesus: that we can repent and be forgiven. There’s nothing noble about early death; at best, it is a loss. A loss to the person who died, because she won’t experience the things in mortality that would have helped her to grow, and a loss to the world, because the good things she would have done for others will go undone.

    People do die young, and people do die in horrible ways, and God allows it to happen. But I cannot believe He wants it to happen, that He’s happy that it happens. And I certainly cannot believe that early death will cause someone who wouldn’t otherwise have reached salvation to reach it, or that a longer life would cause someone who otherwise would have made it to fail.

  11. Sam Brunson on June 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    And Robert, that’s a good point: not all jobs are equal. It is certainly conceivable that farming has different spiritual ramifications than, e.g., banking. (I’m from a world more familiar with banking than farming, so I can’t speak from experience.) But that they’re not equal doesn’t mean they don’t both offer different avenues toward goodness or badness.

    Banking, for example, probably provides more opportunity to provide generously for other people than farming, while farming probably provides more of an opportunity to become callous toward animals (I say, having read about undercover videos of agribusinesses and slaughterhouses). That is, although they’re different, both offer ways that we can improve and ways that we can fall short.

    That said, it is certainly possible that some professions are more conducive to spiritual improvement than others. For me, though, I suspect that farming would be less conducive to right living than banking, just because my skill set works better with banking than with farming (though I’ve managed to keep an African Violet alive for several months now!).

  12. Jax on June 19, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    My order of best possible scenarios

    1)be faithful and live long
    2)be faithful and die young
    3)be unfaithful no matter how long I live or how luxuriously

    Do I think he WANTS people to die young? No! I don’t think the length of mortality matters to him at all really. More important I think is obedience. You might think dying of hunger is tragic, I think living unfaithfully is immeasurably more tragic. In every book of scripture there are a multitude of ways the Lord tells us that wealth is a bad thing, that we should be giving it all away to the poor and needy, and making a Zion community a reality. EVERY BOOK!!!!

    But as adamant as the scriptures are that wealth NOT a worthy objective (“for if they labor for money they shall perish” – really, how much clearer can words be?) there are a lot of people who are equally adamant that say we should ignore those specific passages, and that because of the structure of our society it is okay to do the exact opposite.

    We KNOW the scriptures commanded us to build Zion. We KNOW it can be done (Enoch, 4 Nephi) on this planet. We KNOW it is possible to keep ourselves out of the normal US culture that you and I live in (Amish/Mennonites) and that laws can/will be tailored for you. We KNOW every endowed member has made that covenant. We KNOW that if we don’t live up to every covenant we will be in Satan’s power. So why are so many endowed members willing to say, “well, it’s not that important?”

    I think it is that apathy toward achieving our stated goals that drives away our converts and youth. We’re adamant that we get people into the church, but totally ambivalent, or even counter-productive, toward them if they take the objective of the church/scriptures/temple/Articles of Faith (10) seriously.

    “Come on in, just don’t take it seriously!” – not a real good sales pitch IMO.

  13. Steve Smith on June 19, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    “So why are so many endowed members willing to say, “well, it’s not that important?””

    1) Many members believe temple covenants to be extremely important. They simply have a different interpretation than you of what it means to keep them.

    2) There is no agreement on what constitutes covenant breaking, or at least what the difference is between covenant breaking and sinning. For isn’t the prevailing philosophy that we all fall short and are in need of God’s grace? So then aren’t all temple covenant-makers bound to break their covenants by virtue of being imperfect?

    3) Many faithful members explain their behavior as just following what their leaders tell them to do. So why take it out on the members? Shouldn’t your beef be more with the LDS leadership for not being more assertive in undertaking a Zion-building project?

  14. Jax on June 20, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Steve,
    1) true

    2) All people will sin at least once. That is enough to make them non-perfect. There is no reason to think that all people will continue to sin repeatedly throughout their life. They can stop. But being a covenant breaker (IMO) would come into play when you show no effort to fulfill your duty. Not that you did it poorly, but that you say to yourself that it is okay not to do. There is no earthly reason that a person couldn’t completely stop making sinful mistakes after recieving their endowment. I haven’t done it, but anyone can if they so choose. Everyone can make a mistake, but using the “I’m not perfect” phrase is a persons way of trying to excuse their future sin of not even attempting to keep their covenant. “Because I have made mistakes in the past, I’m not going to try in the future” is a bad justification for failing at any endeavor.

    3) LDS leadership is included among “endowed members” in my mind.

  15. Cameron N on June 20, 2013 at 12:43 am

    So, when the BoM says ~251 times, obedience=prosperity, what am I supposed to conclude from that? Perhaps it’s more a semantics issue. That’s my take. People have an worldly and short-sighted view of what prosperity is.

    Regarding death, it is quite clear from scriptural accounts and our own experiences, that the timing of someone’s death is influenced by a huge number of variables that God seems to consider. One is the individual’s spiritual state. The spiritual, physical, and temporal well-being of their families, relatives, friends, neighbors. The Lord even makes it clear that his view spans generations and further, as he considers the well-being of multiple generations in the future when observing the agency of His children presently in mortality. Even the presence of righteous strangers in an otherwise ignorant, generally wicked city, influences the temporal fate of its inhabitants.

    There are really so many scriptural examples of this, I don’t even know where to begin citing them…The Savior, Joseph Smith, Laban, the widow who fed Elijah, etc.

    Also, I think we should be a little more trusting of scripture. When Alma says he’s constrained by the Spirit, we should give him the benefit of the doubt, just like we do to contemporary fellow members (and prophets). Perhaps Elder Scott was encouraging this when he said recently: “Because scriptures are generated from inspired communication through the Holy Ghost, they are pure truth. We need not be concerned about the validity of concepts contained in the standard works since the Holy Ghost has been the instrument which has motivated and inspired those individuals who have recorded the scriptures.”
    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/the-power-of-scripture?lang=eng

    Perhaps another issue is that we associate the word ‘want’ with ‘will.’ God wants us to choose Him, Our Father, to use agency wisely. He is sad when we spill our own blood. But agency trumps suffering, in a general sense. To quote Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER, “it’s the choosing that’s important, isn’t it?”

    Sam, it seems that you are supposing that suffering is the ultimate tragedy in life. I don’t think that’s how God sees it.

    Back on the topic of gifts. I feel blessed to have been given an acute sense of how undeserving I am of my current employment. I have so many weaknesses that should have impeded it happening, but things fell into place and here I am. And it only took a few months for me to feel like I was all that again and they were lucky to have me…

  16. Jax on June 20, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Cameron,

    does prosperity = wealth? I think of prosperity as having enough and too spare for others but not wealthy in the way it is thought of today. I also think of prosperity as including something like “things will work out for you” – garden won’t fail, car will run, animals will multiply, etc. that wouldn’t necessarily be covered by “wealth”.

    I guess I should have said I don’t believe obedience = wealth instead of saying I don’t believe obedience = prosperity/wealth.

  17. dannyk on June 20, 2013 at 8:34 am

    When I first saw the title of this post I thought it was going to be more along the lines of Moroni 7 where he talks about the miracles of God and gifts of the Spirit being denied (Angels ministering to men who have showed themselves to be of strong faith and firm mind in EVERY form of Godliness, mighty miracles wrought by those of great faith).

    It wasn’t about that, but the discussion that ensued after resembles the discussions I hear regarding those who effectively say the work of miracles is over. “Angels appeared to Joseph, but wouldn’t to me…Joseph and Parley went raising people from their death bed and from great sickness…but we don’t do those things anymore (or at least if we do we should never talk about them).”

    The scriptures clearly state that if we don’t have these mighty miracles and the ministering of angels then “awful is the state of man”. This scriptures insist that we should be seeking these mysteries…and yet many today will say that work is over and it was for an earlier generation and we should just be content going to church and serving in our callings and paying tithing…for surely that is enough to justify the kind of faith for salvation (the kind of salvation Joseph said that if we wanted, we would have to demonstrate a faith and sacrifice similar to that of Abraham).

    We’ve dumbed down the vibrant kind of faith required for miracles and ministering of angels (not to leaders of the church, but to US), and we’ve done the same thing with the call to flee Babylon and build Zion. We’ve made it figurative and some future thing to be attained and not really our duty, and “it’s not was is required of us right now.”

    I say that as one of the chiefest of sinners in this regard…which I am trying to repent of, which repentance requires throwing off the shackles of Babylon, throwing off my unbelief that God would minister to me or send his angels to do so, throwing off my unbelief that God actually does want me to have no regard for the things of this world.

    I know it sounds all idealistic and so why not put it into a context that is easier to understand for the life we are required to live RIGHT NOW….but then we are back at square one where I become yet again someone who is content to stay in Babylon and wants to conform the promises of God to a Babylon society.

    I say this without judgement, I’m not trying to say I’m right and anyone else is wrong. These thoughts have been on my mind for the greater part of a year now and they condemn me always. Truly my situation is awful when I so easily deny the gifts of God and settle for something so much less.

  18. Steve Smith on June 20, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Jax, (2) so people can just up and choose to stop sinning and essentially “be perfect” if they just have enough willpower? The passage “and if men come unto me I will show them their weakness” (Ether 12:27) suggests that weakness (which I’m interpreting to be a form of sin) isn’t always immediately apparent, and may only become apparent with reflection, hindsight, and a humble attitude. What of sins of omission; meaning sinning by not living up to your full potential? Couldn’t we all be doing things more effectively? Also you seem to be suggesting that we fulfill covenants merely by our desires to be good. Once again people differ over what it means to be good and to be trying to be good. Some believe that our ideas of what the “good” is can and should be informed mainly by intuition, while others believe that social convention and the injunctions of religious institutions override intuition.

    3) OK which leaders would you criticize for not championing a Zion-building initiative? How far up the chain are you willing to go and how far back? Would you criticize Brigham Young for caving into US President James Buchanan in 1858 and giving up on building a state of Deseret?

  19. Jax on June 20, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Yes, Steve, we can choose to stop sinning and “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (Mor 10:32). And what kind of perfect? “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” (3Neph 12:48) I hope it can be done, because that is who will get to the Celestial Kingdom, “These are they who are just men made perfect” (D&C 76:69).

    It takes some work “Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? (1 Thes 3:10), but a person CAN be made perfect and stop sinning altogether. They will have sins still in the past, which differentiates them from the Savior who had none, but there is no reason that we should accept that our futures will be full of sin as well. That just gives us a poor justification in our own minds for not doing what we know we should. “Well, I’ll never be perfect” is a denial that Christ can make your weaknesses strong, that his atonement and grace are insufficient for us, and that your nature can be changed. With reflection, hindsight, and a humble attitude a person can be perfected!

  20. Steve Smith on June 20, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Cameron N, I don’t think that any material or temporal connection can be drawn to one’s living. Jesus’ main message appears to be that we live righteously out of hope of being rewarded in the afterlife not out of achieving worldly glory and possessions. Just look at wealth and prosperity throughout history. Sure many of the wealthy and prosperous can be said to have been righteous, but a vast number came by their wealth and prosperity through abuse of power, false promises, theft, threat of force, murder, unjust policy-making, deceptive maneuvering, and a whole host of coercive tactics.

    Here is the conundrum with the BOM. If we are to accept that the lands referred to in the BOM for which it is promised that the people will prosper in if they are obedient are North and South America, then how come there is lots of evidence of relatively prosperous civilizations emerging in many regions of the two continents post 400 AD (i.e. Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, and a number of indigenous cultures in the Mississippi river valley and Gulf of Mexico such as Plum Bayou culture, Fort Walton culture, Fort Ancient culture, etc.)? Are we to accept that these cultures thrived because they were righteous and declined because they grew unrighteous?

  21. Steve Smith on June 20, 2013 at 9:33 am

    No, you can never stop sinning, for no matter what you do in this life, there is always more that you could have done, or always more effective ways that you could have pursued divine objectives. Yes you can be perfected, but only by the grace of God. I’ve never heard from any authority in the LDS church that you can just up and stop sinning. You will always fall short.

  22. Cameron N on June 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Steve and Jax–my personal guess is that the Lord would say that the joy of living the gospel is prospering, sometimes accompanied by temporal blessings, other times not. Just like he said ‘behold, he who hath eternal life is rich.’

    As to cultures we don’t believe are linked to the BoM directly, I think there are too many unknown variables for us to accurately understand that. As usual, the Lord has a spectrum of statements on the general issue that surely only make of a fraction of the whole truth of that sphere. EG, obedience = prosperous, but the Lord sends rain on the just and the unjust, and sometimes may passively allow the vanity of wickedness to naturally implode on itself, a la the great and spacious building, because inbridled wickedness is inherently unsustainable.

  23. Cameron N on June 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    To expound more on prosperity, I would add that the companionship of the Holy Ghost is prospering, whatever circumstances we may be in.

  24. Chadwick on June 20, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    It’s always fun when Jax gets involved!

    My take on this is that it takes money, as well as faith and good intentions, to build the kingdom of God. Temples are not built on faith alone. If I merely looked out for my needs daily, how could I possibly ever retire and serve a mission? The current church leadership does not buy into Nibley’s story either, otherwise missions for the elderly would be free! But they are not; they can in fact be quite expensive. If I live daily for my bread, how do I ever accumulate a two year food storage?

    I often wonder if the reason Nibley supported this view point was because his needs were in fact met? I’ve heard stories about his father’s wealth. And while he shunned it, he also had it. It’s easy to not worry about money when you have it. I certainly don’t mean to be critical of Nibley, some of his notions are actually wonderful, but this has been my take on this one issue.

  25. dannyk on June 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Chadwick – you are correct that this is not the way the church currently operates. But to play devil’s advocate, could one say regarding your insistence on the need for money is similar to the phrase “you can buy anything with money”…including gorgeously fashioned and furnished temples. Oh man, what on earth did Abraham do without one of those? And poor Moses, going to the mountain of The Lord. My question to you would be, will Zion be built because we finally have money sufficient to do so?

    As for missiona… it once was insisted that missions be served without purse or script. And what of Christ teaching of sparrows and lilies?

    Again, I get it, because I currently play the Babylon game as well, but I don’t think that game is how The Lord would actually have us do things if we were truly ready.

    Perhaps this is the reason that Zion is only scheduled to be built after the tribulations and desolation a begin…because only when through the coming trials we’ve been stripped of all these things we think are so important to building our kingdom will we have the humility and reliance and trust necessary to actually build Zion. And that won’t happen with the wealth of the world…that will happen because a people finally has come to see God as their one true source…no more reliance on the arm of flesh.

    Idealistic? Yes. But I can’t read scriptures on the subject any other way.

  26. Cameron N on June 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    I agree danny. If we liken 3 Nephi to the technology age, it’s not hard to make some safe assumptions.

  27. Eric Facer on June 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Two mistakes are often made when we discuss Zion. First, we tend to read more into the scriptures on the subject than is really there. We bend them and selectively quote them in order to justify our vision of Zion when in reality the scriptures say little about the actual workings and structure of a Zion-like society.

    Our second mistake is a failure of imagination: we automatically conclude that Zion can exist in only one form. We assume there is only one right way to establish and run a Zion society.

    I, for one, have no difficulty envisioning multiple Zions based on the same basic principles but all operating—successfully—in ways that are visibly different. Joseph’s injunction to “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” clearly contemplates that people can individually and collectively embrace different forms of government founded on the same principles. Further, when Lehi said “there must needs be opposition in all things,” he wasn’t just talking about good vs. evil; rather, he was acknowledging that there is constant opposition between and among competing goods. Two or more equally good but Zion different communities should not be that hard to imagine.

  28. Jax on June 20, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    Eric, you’re right, we don’t have a full blueprint of how Zion should operate, precisely because it could operate in a number of ways. All we’ve been given is the absolute necesities for Zion

    1) everything in equality – no rich, no poor
    2) Pure in heart/righteousness – not necesarily perfection, but at least trying to get there (no fatalistic “I’ll never get there” )
    3) labor only for Zion – Not for money

    That’s about it. It’s real hard to say that we think we’re getting close to Zion when we deny the need to have the bare essentials. IMO it is intellectually dishonest to say it is okay to have inequalities (rich and poor) and still be building Zion in our own homes…blah blah blah. You can’t reach an objective by rejecting its most easily identifiable feature and most basic premise – especially when that premise is so clearly repeated in easily understandable terms in the scriptures.

  29. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 21, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I was struck by a BYU alumni magazine article about two MBA profs who researched correlations with various things and wealth. One recounted at how depressed it made him feel to discover how smart and how hard working many poor people are. Social connections gained by a good choice of parents were the trump card.

    On a more personal level I knew a surgeon’s son whose father involved him in helping the poor. The kid became paralyze mentally from it. The poor they helped were smarter than he was and worked harder than he was physically capable of. I introduced him to a friend of mine and I believe that 20 years or so later the kid is much wealthier than I will ever be.

    It has been fascinating to me to see the interplay and the incredible importance of social skills and EQ as they relate to wealth.

    I continue to enjoy this series .

  30. Sam Brunson on June 22, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Thanks, Stephen.

  31. Robert C. on June 22, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Stephen, I’d be quite interested in a link or title to help me track down the BYU alum article you mentioned, if you happen to have one handy. (My first quick attempt to find something turned up nada….)

  32. Jax on June 22, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Ditto #31

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