The Future: As Hopeless As Right Before Dawn

Times appear to be darkening in this world. Many people’s mental, physical, financial, relationship, and spiritual health are strained and in jeopardy. People feel unhappy, fatigued, lonely, in pain, confused, angry, victimized and afraid. The near-term future doesn’t appear to offer a lot of hope for this country. Friendships and families are being divided by the sophisticated tactics of the devil. While chasing scepters, a particular faction of society is using lies, distortions and manipulations and destroying anyone in their way while pursuing their wicked ends. Good is called evil and evil good. The masses are buying it.

When we look at the history of the Book of Mormon, we see a pattern of multiple American nations who were once a righteous people become destroyed due to wickedness and clever schemers. This is a land of promise but the promises are a double-edged sword. As Moroni observed his people, the Nephites, ripening for extinction within his own lifetime, he was also abridging the Jaredite record and soaking in the story of that other American nation who also went from a prosperous and God-fearing nation to utter extinction due to wickedness. He wrote:

“And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them… And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.” (Ether 2: 9-11)

Referring to this Book of Mormon pattern, Gordon B Hinckley said:

“In its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions to those problems. I know of no other writing that sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. Each prospered, but with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living, who led them into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.” (The Power of the Book of Mormon)

Which of President Hinckley’s descriptions match today’s conditions in this country? Who can say we are a God fearing people? After describing the depravity of the Nephites in a letter to his son Moroni, Mormon wrote that he couldn’t “recommend them unto God” lest God should smite him. Can you recommend this people to God when lies and double-standards are told and accepted at all official levels of society? Can you recommend this people to God when lasciviousness is celebrated and morality is seen as either subjective or hateful? Can you recommend this people to God when millions of murders of innocents are committed and legally protected every decade? 

As the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints explicitly teaches, these are the latter days. We know that times will be dark. The ancients including Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni as well as our modern prophets have warned about the spiritual and temporal destruction that will precede the Savior’s second coming. The darkness will be unprecedented. To a relatively few who remain, the sentiment expressed by Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” is and will be increasingly asked by good, yet desperate and lonely-feeling people. When Jesus described what it will be like before his return, he compared our condition to a woman in labor and said “ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful…” There couldn’t be a better description of the times.

Christ and the prophets don’t harrow up our souls with these seemingly bleak messages of the last days if it were not for our good. As the most outspoken modern prophet of unpopular truths, Ezra Taft Benson, pointed out – the saints tend to prefer sweetness over light. Sweetness is comforting and popular. Light can shine in dark places we’d rather avoid. But it’s important for us to have the knowledge of what is coming so that we can, through God, muster the courage and strength to stand, be aware of common pitfalls, and know what it is we’re standing for. If all we speak of is the sweetness of the gospel and ignore important truths, even the unpopular ones, the adversary can easily take us off guard.

The darkness, although an essential part of the latter-day story, is incomplete and hopeless without the triumph of the light that will shine after the darkness ends. As Thomas Fuller wrote, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn”, the Lord also taught:

“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.” (D&C 58:3-4)

The tribulations may appear hopeless but our situation is as hopeless as:

  • A group of freed slaves, wandering in a desolate desert for 40 years. 
  • The experience of a man on Mt Sinai who was put in a state of fear by a dark force which pretended to be a morally superior being, yelled and violently demanded that he be subjugated to it. 
  • The vision of a concerned father, who traveled a long time through a large, dark and dreary waste. 
  • A group of people experiencing mass destruction and death, first through a secret band of murderers and then through earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, a period of silence and a vapor of darkness so thick that no man-made light could illuminate it.  
  • The despair and confusion accompanying a small group of people who were promised saving but who instead witnessed the legal murder of their Savior. 
  • The dark powers that seized and silenced a 14 year old boy in prayer to the point that he was ready to “sink into despair” and abandon himself to destruction. 

The long, dark, repeating hardships we are encountering can seem unbearable while in the middle of them but the glory of light that is shortly coming will be so great and our joy so full that it will make the pains of these hardships become forgettable. After Christ described the labor-like tribulations preceding his coming he added:

“…but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:20-22)

We must live worthy of this glory and be willing to endure our crosses well. We can’t give up the light because the darkness is temporarily winning. We shouldn’t succumb to wicked schemes out of worldly pressures or out of fear that we will lose a job or a relationship. Christ’s disciples aren’t cowards. We might need to hold our tongue or speak up; flee, lay down our lives or fight. Death doesn’t need to be scary and dark times don’t have to feel permanent. The only way to know what is needed in our particular circumstances is to be close to God so that he can instruct us and strengthen us. During the coming days, whether increasingly severe travail pains are active or in-between, we will need to follow Elder Henry B Eyring’s council:

“As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough. Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground.” (Raise the Bar)

If Only

Life can be full of unbearable pain and hardships
IF ONLY there was a source of healing, comfort and strength

Life can be full of doubt and fear
IF ONLY hope and assurance was possible

Life can seem permanently stained by some of our choices
IF ONLY there was a way to become clean

Life is full of noise and distractions
IF ONLY we had regular reminders to renew our focus on what matters most

Life can be hectic and draining
IF ONLY there were routine ways to recharge and find strength

Life can feel empty and lonely
IF ONLY we had a constant companion who filled us with light and joy

Life can feel clouded and confusing
IF ONLY there were reliable directions and guides to help us navigate through the darkness

Life can feel incomplete and inadequate
IF ONLY we had someone who knew us completely and loved us despite our flaws

Life can seem so pointless and temporary
IF ONLY the light never faded with time

Don’t Resist. Radiate.

Temptations lose their appeal, not when we resist them, but when we allow virtue to occupy their place. Light doesn’t overpower darkness by resisting it. Prejudice won’t be defeated by anger. Terrorism by violence. Immorality by shame. Vices by force. Evil vanishes when the void of darkness is filled with love, truth and light.

Don’t Resist. Radiate.

When Fighting Evil Creates More Evil

Hydra Snakes

I find it fascinating that, sometimes, the very people who oppose a particular form of darkness do so with the same exact evil they profess to oppose. When terrorists murder innocent people in America, the government rightfully denounces the actions but then responds with invasion and exponentially more murder of innocents. Many self-identified “conservatives” rejoice, turn a blind eye to their government’s injustices and don’t see their double standard. Perhaps they view people from other cultures as less human. Or perhaps their unfettered commitment to authority, flag and uniform blinds them from being able to have eyes to see that the intentional killing of innocents is murder – whether the killing is done instantly by bombs or slowly by sanctions. This is true no matter who “started it”. Tragically, each evil perpetuates exponentially more evils on each side of the conflict.

There are also many so-called “liberals” who rightfully perceive the historical injustices perpetrated towards particular people (e.g. women, African Americans) as evil but then have the exact same level of intolerance for people from other groups (European descendents, males, southerners, Christians). I recently heard an interview where a corporate executive rightfully pointed out that she didn’t believe it right to judge or exclude others from societal functions because of their genitals or skin pigment but then went on to berate “white men” and encouraged women to keep lists of their male coworkers who have crossed them in any way so that they could fire them when they became the boss. Sound like a double standard? When you flip the roles, it’s obviously wrong but, according to “liberal” mental gymnastics, it’s not racism or sexism if the groups that they are criticizing are part of the powerful elite.

Let’s pick this distortion apart. First of all, it’s not true that southerners and Christians are the powerful elite and yet it’s perfectly acceptable, according to today’s “liberals” to be prejudiced towards them. A coworker of mine constantly denounces racism (even going so far as to perceive racism where it doesn’t exist) but then he constantly makes fun of “rednecks” and Christians. I overheard him and some other coworkers sympathize with the Europeans who drove the Christians out of their land hundreds of years ago. Notice they were siding with the persecutors, not the targets of bigotry. I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant. I thought liberals were supposed to be a voice for the weak and oppressed.

Secondly, the victim/oppressor worldview teaches that victim groups are the good guys and that those in authority are the bad guys. If this perspective is consistently applied, as Orwell points out in Animal Farm, then once the oppressed get into power then they will become the very evil they were fighting against. So perhaps the problem with power isn’t rooted in superficialities like genitals and skin pigment; perhaps the problem with power has to do with its breadth and application. This is a principle that many classical liberals were better at discerning. I struggle to find this consistent perspective with today’s “liberals”. 

Also, group identity politics is a horrendous way to view the world. It perpetuates hatred, division, bigotry, bitterness, violence, revenge, close-mindedness and hypocrisy. During Utah’s last election cycle I was lectured by several “liberals” about how disproportionately white and male the positions of power are, particularly in congress. I responded, perhaps wrongfully by joining their group identity games, by pointing out that it’s possible that these positions were mostly filled by men due largely to the fact that power attracts megalomaniacs and megalomaniacs tend to be mostly men. I may have received some brownie points for dissing on men but they continued to insist that the reason for disproportionate representation was due to systemic sexism and racism. Distinctions of correlation and causality are lost on people infected with confirmation bias.

Just after these conversations, their “principles” (if you can call them that) were put to the test.  An African American congresswoman in their district was challenged by a white, Christian male and guess who these “liberals” voted for? If they consistently applied the “principles” that they espoused then you would reasonably guess that they voted for the African American woman but you would be wrong. They voted for the “white, Christian male”. Why? That “white, Christian male” was also a “liberal”. The African American woman was not. In other words, many of today’s “liberals” don’t care about the things they outwardly profess as much as they do about their underlying ideology and crusade for power. As Malcom X pointed out decades ago, and as I’ve consistently observed from experience, minorities are just meat-shields for “liberal’s” quests for power: 

“The white liberal aren’t white people who are for independence, who are moral and ethical in their thinking. They are just a faction of white people that are jockeying for power…The liberal elements of whites are those who have perfected the art of selling themselves to the Negro as a friend of the Negro. Getting sympathy of the Negro, getting the allegiance of the Negro, and getting the mind of the Negro. Then the Negro sides with the white liberal, and the white liberal use the Negro against the white conservative. So that anything that the Negro does is never for his own good, never for his own advancement, never for his own progress, he’s only a pawn in the hands of the white liberal. The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros, and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have.” 

An open-minded, self-identified “liberal” friend once asked me about my views on race since I am not white but also not “liberal” (by today’s standards). I’ll paraphrase here what I told him.

I believe it is a fallacy to paint everyone within a group with a broad-brush based on some limited experiences we’ve had or heard of from others. It’s a sin of ignorance. It hurts the accused. Willful ignorance is an even greater sin. Prejudice coupled with hate is the worst form of bigotry. Prejudism is perpetuated when we pit group against group. I believe in being tolerant of all individuals and loving them no matter what. We can’t overcome these painful hurdles of prejudice with more prejudice. We can’t create justice with more injustice. We can’t spread light with darkness. 

Seeing others as individuals rather than groups will help unite rather than divide, a principle that Daryl Davis enacted and that Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt discovered while researching the effectiveness (or rather ineffectiveness) of diversity training, sensitivity training and other forced inclusivity models. When all we can see is our differences, we grow further apart. 

I agree with Dr Martin Luther King Jr when he famously said: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today, many are only applying this important principle in particular instances that serve their political ends but completely ignore and act the opposite way when it doesn’t serve their political purposes. 

Some pick at scabs, unaware or not caring that these wounds will never heal with that approach. Many converts to ignorance, prejudice and hate can be gained by merely magnifying people’s focus on a few atrocities (real or not) perpetrated by an extreme minority. Scapegoats are a convenient shortcut to getting our way. Some socialist Germans took this dishonest approach towards some “undesirables” in the 1930s-1940s and were very effective at propagating the basest of human instincts of almost their entire country in the process. Today’s socialists are playing the same dishonest, group-identity games. Through much of today’s movies, media, government and academia, they magnify the horrific words and actions of a few to make it seem commonplace and then slap toxic labels on anyone who they view as their enemies as “racist”, “sexist”, “misogynist”, “homophobe”, etc. They purge their enemies of their voices and livelihoods by merely accusing them of these toxic things. They distort the contexts of the accused’ comments or they dig up something wrong about that person’s past and shine a focal beam on it for the world to see. Or they make things up. Lying is ok; the ends justify the means. “Let us do evil that good may come.” The point is that the “ruling class is evil” so using any means necessary is justified to eliminate them and anyone who looks like them. Many buy into this seemingly righteous crusade. But, as Nietzsche put it,

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

The Endurance, Shackleton & Finding Strength In Tribulation

the-enduranceThe Word

My favorite mission companion, Elder Ieremia, was a soft-spoken, faithful and courageous polynesian from Oahu. We served together in a rough part of the Washington DC area known for it’s high crime and drug rates. One day, Elder Ieremia and I were walking passed a group of about seven or eight young men who were getting high on the stairs of a building’s entrance. The alpha male, sitting in the middle of them, offered up his hand and said “You two want something that’ll make you feel real good?” To this my companion responded, “Na, we’ve got something better.” The young man jumped to his feet – “What ya’ll got?!?!” Without skipping a beat Elder Ieremia held up his scriptures and exclaimed emphatically – “The word!”  I’ve never witnessed such a righteous roast. The guys’ friends all roared “Ohhhhhhhhhh…!!!” while covering their mouths and pointing their fingers at him. I’ll never forget the shocked look on this poor kid’s face; that he just got burned by a “Jesus Boy”.

The Savior taught:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

How often do we seek relief from life’s trials through the temporary, silly or harmful means of the world? Contrast those occasions to how often we seek relief through the lasting and healing means of the Word. Man’s solutions to hardship include escape and dulling life’s pains through artificial means. God’s solution to our hardship is to come to Him and let Him carry our load. Hardship is a necessary part of life. We can’t learn or grow without it. But just because hardship is necessary that doesn’t mean that life has to be hard.

The word “comfort” is derived from Latin and means to support, console and strengthen. Seeking comfort, or strength, isn’t passive. It doesn’t mean removing or dulling our pain like a sort of emotional anesthetic. It requires action, movement, progress, patience, faith and endurance.

The Endurance

One of my favorite stories about finding strength in difficult times is about the Antarctic voyage of the Endurance. The year was 1914. Ernest Shackleton was an explorer who wanted to lead a British expedition across the Antarctic continent – a feat which had never been done before. To advertise help for this mission he allegedly placed an ad in the newspaper which read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Over 5000 people responded to this ad. He and 27 others along with 69 dogs embarked on the adventure aboard a ship appropriated named The Endurance. Before they could reach the shore of Antarctica they got stuck in the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. For months they tried to free themselves from the ice but eventually the ship was crushed and sank. They were stranded on a large, flat sheet of ice (aka floe) and slowly drifted further from land.

After several failed attempts to reach land on foot they set up a long-term camp to wait for the ice to melt so that they could reach land by several rafts they salvaged from The Endurance before it sank. Over this period of time – boredom, hunger, homesickness and cold challenged them daily. Food became so scarce that eventually they had to turn to penguins, seals and their own dogs for survival. Rations grew smaller and smaller to the point that bone broth became a delicacy.

Finally, months later, when the ice pack began to melt and the floe their camp was on was too small to fit on, they put their rafts in the water and attempted to row towards the closest island. The flows were breaking up but with the movement of the sea, the floes would constantly collide with each other which created constant danger for them and their little rafts. For days they tried rowing their way through the crushing ice. They’d constantly have to bale water out of the rafts to keep them from sinking. Once they found a floe big enough for them to fit they’d pile on top to rest but the floes were breaking so fast that they couldn’t stay on them long enough to rest before they had to get back in the water.

After finally escaping the crushing ice, they set sail for Elephant Island. Never before had man placed foot on this pile of ice and pebbles. Here the team set up another long-term camp as Shackleton and a few others embarked on what they saw as their best shot for reaching rescue. Their aim was a whaling station island called South Georgia. Fierce winds and waves, strong currents, some amazing navigational skills and 800 miles later, they finally reached the island.

They barely made it ashore but they landed on the opposite side of the island and their raft was in no condition to take them any further. Shackleton and two of the crew had to make it on foot to the other side of the island to reach rescue. It was unexplored, mountainous, rocky and icy terrain. They drove nails from the raft through their shoes so that they could climb the ice. They were in a race for time, not only because of their starving and exposed companions who were depending on them but also because they didn’t have the means to stay warm when the temperature dropped at night. As their march progressed they would climb cliffs only to find out that their was no way down on the other side and so they’d have to climb back down and find another way. Finally, after one of these failed attempts on a high mountain Shackleton pointed out that, due to the dropping temperature, going back down where they came from wasn’t an option so the only option they had was to slide down the mountain and hope that there weren’t any cliffs or sharp rocks at the bottom. After miraculously surviving the slide down, they soon found the station.

The station foreman received a knock at the door. When he opened it he saw three men with long hair, long beards, ragged clothes and filthy faces. When he realized who they were his tears wouldn’t let him speak. Several years had passed since the voyage began. Everyone assumed they were dead.

Our hardships have differing sources including our choices, others’ choices, accidents or natural causes. Regardless of the source, God will provide comfort and strength to endure and overcome those hardships if we will turn to him.

Shackleton discovered the support which God can provide during hardship when he later wrote:

“I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

Attempts to cross South Georgia have been repeated several times since Shackleton’s rescue mission. Each one with the benefits of planning, rest, better equipment and the means for food and warmth. Those who cross the island admit that it would have taken a miracle to survive the trek. I don’t want to spoil the whole story of the Endurance so I’ll stop here.

Gethsemane

While those on the Endurance expedition suffered greatly, there isn’t a greater example of suffering than what the Savior experienced in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered for all of our pains and sins. So great was His pain that He bled from every pore. The Savior’s example in the garden teaches important truths about how we can find strength during our suffering:

“Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed.” (Matthew 26:38, 40-45)

The Savior ended up asking his disciples several times to stay awake with him but they kept falling asleep. There are several key points I’d like to point out from this scripture:

  1. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask for the help of others when he truly needed it. Are we afraid?
  2. How often is the Savior asking for our help but we are spiritually asleep?
  3. Jesus prayed.

 

When sore trials came upon you,

Did you think to pray?

When your soul was full of sorrow,

Balm of Gilead did you borrow

At the gates of day?

(Did You Think To Pray, Hymn 140)

Despite the failings of Christ’s disciples, strength was provided from the other side.

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22 – 43)

Note how the pains and hardships of the atonement weren’t removed by this heavenly help. Rather, Christ was strengthened; much like the people of Alma who, while in bondage, did not have their burdens removed right away but rather “the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” And this because they “poured out their hearts to him.”

When we find ourselves alone; in a dark, cold place spiritually or emotionally – when we turn to the Word. To God. When our voyage in life is directed heavenly homeward we will receive strength from the other side.