On Loving Those Who Really Are Your Enemies | Sixteen Small Stones

When Jesus enjoined his followers to love their enemies, he didn’t simply mean that they should stop demonizing those who they wrongly perceived as enemies because they were different; He wasn’t suggesting that conflict is the consequence of misunderstanding, and that if we would just try to understand those who we perceive as enemies we would discover that they are not enemies after all. He actually requires us to love those who really are our enemies; those whose ideas, desires, and actions truly are incompatible and in conflict with our own.

A thoughtful little article – read the rest at On Loving Those Who Really Are Your Enemies | Sixteen Small Stones

2 Nephi 33

And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.

(2 Nephi 33:10)

This verse always sticks out to me as I consider myself a recipient of this promise. There was a time in my life when, though I knew God existed, I became confused about everything else, and really felt I didn’t know which way was up or which way was down. I continued to read the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, but I did not know they were true. Yet I continued to read them, and many other things, as I really wanted to know one way or the other (after all, I felt my soul was at stake), and if you want to find something out you have to put some effort and research into it. You can’t expect ultimate answers if you can’t be bothered to do more than cursory reading.

In any case the concept of prophets made sense to me; it made sense that if God expected us to do his will, he had to communicate it somehow. Of course, then there’s the question of which prophets. And I remember one night contemplating “well, Islam has Muhammad – maybe Islam has it right”.

It was at that very moment – and I do not know whether I somehow had already known it, but didn’t know I knew it, or if I was taught it in that very moment – that I realised we needed a Messiah to reconcile justice and mercy, and that that Messiah was Jesus Christ. Which narrowed down my options a bit.

What struck me, in years to come and reflecting upon that experience, was that the very terminology in which this insight struck me comes from the Book of Mormon (Alma 42 is a good example). While I did not yet know whether to believe the Book of Mormon, reading it brought me to Christ. And in time – now that I knew Jesus was the Christ – I came to believe and gain a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Though I did not believe “in these words”, I read them and they taught me of Christ, and then “believ[ing] in Christ [I did] believe in these words”.

God has spoken

Today I have came across an article, presumably by someone claiming to be a member of the Church, that makes the argument that God has never spoken on the subject of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I don’t seek these things out – I’m usually just browsing other blogs that I do like to read when I come across things like this. As it happens this article is hosted on the blog of an academic who is likewise a member, but who rejects the Church’s core beliefs and has prominent and publicly campaigned for their change. Following my general policy, I will not provide a link here to either this article or blog here, but I feel the argument itself must be addressed. This argument is based on the idea that modern revelation (including the Book of Mormon) do not address either homosexuality or same-sex marriage directly, and therefore God hasn’t said anything.

This latter claim is very wrong.

Modern revelation (at least the canonical material – the article tries to rule out both the Family Proclamation and anything said by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) indeed doesn’t address this subject directly. But that should hardly be surprising, since the Gospel encompasses so much more, and for most of us our sins, which would damn us just as surely, lie in other areas (one would think they would appreciate this sense of perspective). The only reason leaders have been and have had to have been more vocal on this issue recently is precisely because of the societal and legal pressure to deny God’s law in this area. Our personal sins, in any area, tend not to be a major threat to the Church as a whole. When people, both outside and inside the Church, do not believe that God has given commandments and campaign to change the Church’s teachings on this issue or any other issue, then the salvation of thousands is threatened. Modern scripture has plenty to say about that. But in any case it is true that our current canonical modern revelation does not comment directly on the specific issues of homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

But that’s partly because they don’t need to. The article tries to quote the ninth article of faith, but in ignoring its first clause the author wrests the scriptures: “We believe all that God has revealed”. One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon itself is to confirm the truth of biblical teachings:

For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

(Mormon 7:9)

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

(2 Nephi 3:12)

Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;

(Doctrine and Covenants 20:11)

Since said modern revelation points to the Bible, one can’t simply choose to ignore it, as the article does (a big mistake). The article tries to claim that the only comments in the Bible on these subjects are those of Paul and in Deuteronomy. Firstly, these comments – for thousands of years – have not been considered to be remotely confusing on this topic. Moreover, not only does Paul mention the issue several times (in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6), but Deuteronomy is not the sole other reference (that the author missed Leviticus’s rather famous verse on this topic indicates at the very least profound carelessness). But most importantly, Christ himself addressed the topic of marriage, including notably in the following passage:

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

(Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:23-24)

Sure Christ is using this reasoning to condemn divorce, as some commentators attempt to protest. It should surely be no surprise he’s not a fan of that either. But it is his reasons for such a condemnation that should attract our attention here: he bases this upon a divine commandment for marriage, one rooted in the fact that God “at the beginning made them male and female”, that marriage was the union of these two opposites, and such unions were intended to be permanent.

God most surely has spoken about lots of things, and will speak about many more. However, one can only conclude that God is silent upon this topic if one ignores “all that God has revealed”.

The Same God

Some employment dispute at Wheaton College, an evangelical Protestant college, has attracted some commentary on whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God (with a staff member apparently being dismissed because they asserted this was indeed the case). There may well be more to the employment dispute itself, but I wanted to discuss the proposition itself that Christians and Muslims worship different “gods”, which has attracted a number of evangelical defenders. This defence should be little surprising to any Latter-day Saints who’ve come across evangelical claims that we worship a “different” Jesus. It is surprising, however, how otherwise thoughtful and level-headed commentators have sought to defend the claim, as David French does here. While I agree with this author here that one should be careful about allegations of bigotry, I do think a number of comments can be made in response, as follows:

  1. French argues his case, as a number of others do, on the basis that Muslims reject the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity. The issue comes that Jews, at the very least, also do. Do Jews also worship a different God?
  2. Some evangelicals (such as Al Mohler, a prominent Southern Baptist), accept that implication, which is at least logically consistent if supercessionist. That view, however, is inconsistent with what the New Testament itself says where, for example, Paul himself speaks of how he worships “the God of my fathers” and has “hope towards God, which they themselves [his opponents] also allow” (Acts 24:14-15). Paul recognises that the religious authorities in Jerusalem regard him as following “a heresy”, but doesn’t claim that he is worshipping a different God. In fact Paul goes further when addressing the Athenians, a pagan people, when he identifies the “unknown God” who they “ignorantly worship” with the True and Living God (Acts 17:23).
  3. Others, recognising the major problems of supercessionism, assert that Jews and Christians do worship the same God. However, this is logically inconsistent. Both Jews and Muslims reject the divinity of Jesus and Trinitarianism. Muslims at least accept the prophethood of Jesus, so might be seen to be preferable by those terms. If someone is making the claim that Muslims and Christians don’t worship the same God because the Muslims reject the divinity of Christ and the Trinity, and yet rejects the same claim when applied to Jews who reject the same things, then there is clearly some logic being applied that is not being spoken out loud. It’s up to those making the claim to clarify their position.
  4. Of course, a number of Christians, while accepting the divinity of Christ, also reject Trinitarianism, including Latter-day Saints but also many others, including Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the present, and Arians and others at the time of the great controversies in the Fourth century (not to mention all those before Trinitarianism was formally defined). True to form, at least many evangelicals in the comments seem inclined to say they don’t worship the same God either. This in spite of the fact that the New Testament doesn’t teach Trinitarianism, and the fact that in my own personal experience many self-proclaimed Trinitarian evangelicals are actually modalists (i.e, they believe the persons of the Godhead are actually roles of one being, who manifests differently as the Father, Son or the Holy Ghost).
  5. Some base this claim on different texts: namely that as Muslims have the Qur’an (and, as some are quick to add, Mormons have the Book of Mormon), they must worship different Gods. To which doubtless Jews could add that the Christians have the New Testament too, and since Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants have different scriptural canons, the implication is that they all worship different Gods. While there are evangelicals who pursue this approach, this is clearly nonsense.
  6. This is nonsense because one can believe different things *about* someone, and yet still be talking about the same person. Someone might believe Elvis got abducted by aliens and is still alive, but while that’s nonsense, they’re not talking about a *different Elvis*. As a Latter-day Saint, I definitely believe different things than an evangelical Protestant does (although they generally don’t understand, and sometimes misrepresent what those differences are). But when I talk about Jesus being the Son of God, being born in Bethlehem, and who was crucified for the sins of the world and rose again on the third day, I’m not talking about some other guy who happened to share the name and did some of the same stuff.
  7. This is not to underestimate some of those differences, some of which are big and very important. I do not believe, for example, as some varieties of Calvinism do, in a God who created people so he could predestine them to hell. As a latter-day saint, I affirm the divinity of Christ, and believe Jews and Muslims to be mistaken on that issue. Likewise with those Christians who believe in a God without body parts or passions, or the many moderns who believe in a God who may exist but does not reveal himself or work miracles (the mistakenness of this opinion being one of the major themes of the Book of Mormon). But that doesn’t mean we’re not speaking about the same deity. Paul again goes even further, stating that God “hath made of one blood all the nations of men” and that “they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). God wants us to repent, but will bless all those who humbly seek after him according to what knowledge they have.
  8. I have no idea why evangelicals in particular seem so keen to claim others worship “different gods” or a “different Jesus”. It’s doubtless behind whatever trend leads them – rather uniquely – to set up organisations and paid ministries dedicated not to preaching their own beliefs, but attacking the specific beliefs of other groups. One would hope in their desire to follow the Bible they’d recognise the example of Paul above, and consider that its more important to get right, and hopefully lead others in that direction, than to prove others wrong. That’s really for them to sort out though, although in my more mischievous or peevish moments I can’t help but wonder at how they claim the mantle of “biblical” or “orthodox” Christianity, when their beliefs and institutions are so much younger than the Catholics, Orthodox and so forth.

As for my own brief suggestions on studying the religions of others, they can be found here.

 

“Choosing to be happy” and emotional integrity

I quite frequently run across the idea that happiness is a choice. In some sense this is very true. There’s definitely some choices that can prevent us from being happy, especially in the long term, for “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Our eternal happiness is dependent upon our ultimate choice, with “one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness’ (Alma 41:5), and ‘joy or remorse of conscience” being given to us “according to [our] desires” (Alma 29:5). It’s also true that from an eternal perspective we can “rejoice, and be exceedingly glad” even when we are persecuted and mistreated (Matthew 5:11-12) although it’s clear here this is talking in the sense of being fortunate in the knowledge that we are experiencing the same as the prophets and will be blessed like them, rather than actual emotional contentment from abuse. Likewise we can “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [trials]” (James 1:2), providing we realise its talking of [i]being[/i] fortunate, and not necessarily [i]feeling[/i] overjoyed.

However, this notion of happiness being a choice often seems mixed up with other ideas. There’s the idea that our attitude alone can dictate our happiness, meaning our emotional state, and that positive thinking can guarantee happiness. There’s the belief that somehow God has promised us continuous happiness in this life. Related to both the above is the idea that we should always be feeling happy.

There are problems with all this. It is certainly the case that we need to keep perspective, count our blessings, and refrain from dwelling on our miseries. But the idea that a positive attitude alone is all that is necessary to guarantee continual emotional happiness is solipsistic, seeming to assume that there is nothing anyone else can do (even God), or that can happen to anyone else, that can affect our emotions. But this is untrue. Likewise, there are some emotional trials that positive thinking alone cannot fix, as Elder Holland points out regarding depression: “no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively”. If we believe that God has somehow promised continual emotional contentment in this life, then when the inevitable emotional disappointments happen we may think God has somehow failed us. Or, if we believe that our emotional state is always and readily under our control, we may believe that if we are feeling unhappy we have chosen to do so, and even that feeling unhappy is thereby a sin.

Unhappiness is not a sin

As said, it is important to retain perspective, be grateful to the Lord for our blessings (D&C 59:7) and be able to see his hand in all things (59:21). But ‘negative’ emotions will come, and these are not necessarily sins in themselves or the result of sins. Jacob (as I’ve mentioned before) speaks of ‘mourn[ing] out our days’, while Alma, leaving Ammonihah for the first time, was “weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul” because of the people’s failure to repent (Alma 8:14). Mormon even speaks of being “without hope” where his people were concerned (Mormon 5:2). None of the feelings of these men were sins.

Then there is the example of the Saviour himself, who was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The image we have of the Saviour may cause us to forget that he experienced the full gamut of emotions we do. Sure, he loved (Mark 10:21, John 11:5) and felt compassion (Matthew 20:34). But he was also felt anger (Mark 3:5, Mark 10:14), wept (John 11:35, Luke 19:41), felt amazement and anguish (Mark 14:33) and deep distress (Luke 12:50). It is difficult to imagine all these emotions coexisting with a permanent feeling of happiness. And in all this, if we have seen Him we “hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), for as we learn from Enoch’s vision even the God of heaven feels indignation, anger and weeps for His children (Moses 7:28-34).

Emotional honesty and “bridling” our passions

It is okay to experience times of unhappiness and disappointment. By so doing we walk in the path of many of the best people who have ever walked on this earth, including the Saviour himself. It’s part of the purpose of this life, to experience trials and be tested, and the path of discipleship, as President Monson has stated, involves following the Saviour along paths such as those of disappointment and pain. And it’s important to be able to admit when we are, even just to ourselves. As Elder Cook quoted (also from the October 2014 General Conference) “‘How could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are'”? Pretending to be happy is not going to make us be happy.

That sort of pretending can hurt us more than we realise. Sure, sometimes we must simply grit our teeth and persevere. But sometimes unhappiness and emotional discomfort, like physical pain, can teach us that there’s something we should change, about ourselves or our circumstances. Sometimes its right and proper to seek help from others. At other times, they are simply part of the coin of love, when we feel the distress of those we care about. In this way we can perhaps begin to understand in the smallest way how our Lord God feels.

Denying these feelings any place cuts us off from that. It can deprive us of the power we can gain from an emotional integrity, where we can admit to ourselves and God how we are truely feeling, and honestly lay those feelings at his feet (I have long been impressed by the honesty of the Psalmists, something I feel we can only benefit from in our prayers). Furthermore, as a friend pointed out to me last year, we are not asked to suppress or eliminate our emotions. Rather the scriptural instruction is to “bridle” our “passions” (Alma 38:12): a bridle does not kill a horse or stop it in its tracks, rather it allows us to steer it, to turn its strength and power to our advantage.

We are not promised continual happiness in this world. While “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25), we must also taste misery so we might have joy (v.23) and “in this world your joy is not full” (D&C 101:36). A fulness of joy awaits us in the next life (D&C 93:33). What Christ does offer us, however, is peace (John 14:27), peace that will not preserve us from all sadness and heartache, but which can help us endure them. And – as I have very much experienced this past year – even amongst deep sadness we can have supernal moments of joy.

Reasons to read the Old Testament #4

Confused at the genealogies in the Gospels? Wonder at who these Jews are, and what they are expecting, and why the Christ was born among them? What is this Temple place? Do you wonder where the titles “son of David” and “son of man” come from, and why they are important? Do you know where Christ got the two great commandments from?

I don’t recall ever reading the New Testament without some familiarity with the Old, so I have trouble imagining what that is like. I do know one is likely to miss a lot, though. The history of the people of the New Testament is established in the Old. The New quotes the Old frequently (often without saying so), and the meaning of many key phrases can only be understood in light of the Old. Christ and the Apostles were immersed in the Old Testament, teaching many people who were likewise immersed, and about things that are the culmination of the Law and many of the prophecies and hopes of the Old Testament writers. One reason for Latter-day Saints to read the Old Testament then is simply because it will allow them to better understand the New Testament.

Wolves and Sheep

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
(Matthew 7:15)

But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
(John 10:12)

For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.
(Alma 5:59)

And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.
(Alma 5:60)

Pastoral images are used frequently in the Bible, often to describe the relationship between us and Christ, and particularly between Christ and his Church. John 10 and Alma 5 develop this image most fully, to slightly different ends: the principal point of John 10 hinges around the identity of the good shepherd; Alma 5 as to whether we are included with his sheep.

But there is another aspect to these images, as the quotes above illuminate: the existence of wolves.

Wolves are very real.

People can do a lot of damage. And others can be very vulnerable.

Wolves are also a very pertinent topic. I’ve seen in a number of places opposition to the idea that anyone has to deal with them, that some people are wolves at all, or that actions to exclude them – such as excommunication – are at all necessary. This opposition appears to me to be founded on several misconceptions:

The first is the idea that Christ himself would never exclude or judge. This itself is a myth, when it is Christ himself who will be our ultimate judge. I’ve written about this before.

The second is that in the Church the spreading of ideas should carry no consequence.  It is certainly the case that Wolves, human predators, can take a variety of forms. Physical, emotional, sexual or financial predators are all threats, and certainly many of the scriptural warnings above and the injunctions about protecting the flock (whatever flock that is) from wolves apply. Much of what I will say here would also apply. We should always aim to protect the innocent. But the first scripture quoted above has Christ warning particularly against “false prophets”, not these other categories of predators. We are warned in the latter days against “false teachers” and “false doctrines” (2 Nephi 28:12), and need to be vigilant in an age when men “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:50, 2 Nephi 15:20).

Ideas have consequences. They affect what we feel and what we do, and we will be held accountable for them. As the episcopal spirit is asked in C.S Lewis’ The Great Divorce: “Do you really think there are no sins of the intellect?” Alma likewise teaches that in addition to our words and works “our thoughts will also condemn us” (Alma 12:14). And there is a world of difference between someone who is personally wondering and questioning over what is true (something I am sure most must face at some stage) and someone campaigning to replace the teachings of the Church with their own ideas. That’s not questioning: they’ve already settled their own mind. Indeed they’re trying to remake Church doctrine in the image of their own mind. Nor, for that matter, are they making a great stand for openness and free thought when they demand their own precepts should enjoy immunity from criticism, but that they should be free as members of Christ’s church to denigrate its teachings.

They are, as individuals, free to campaign for whatever they wish. But the Church is under no obligation to act as a neutral witness, or act as a host for those who oppose its teachings. And when people teach others that certain sins are not sins, for example, or teach a denial of the resurrection, or teach disbelief in experiences (such as revelations and spiritual gifts) that are necessary for salvation, their teachings can lead others down to hell. Is there to be no accountability for this? Is the Church of God supposed to stand idly by and just watch the deception of the flock? Certain false teachings can lead to eternal damage, and the Church is under no obligation to permit people to use the cloak of Church membership to lead its members astray.

The third misconception is the idea that Christ taught us that we must never judge. It is certainly true that there are certain judgments we must leave to God, and eternal judgments are his prerogative. We are meant to focus upon our own sins, and in my experience we usually have enough to keep us busy. But Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to “judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) is sorely misunderstood if we believe that means we must never judge (and we are in serious danger if we believe that frees us personally from any accountability). As the next verse shows, the point of the passage is that we will be judged by same standard we extend: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2). Christ also teaches us to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24), as does the JST of Matthew 7:1-2. Alma likewise teaches that we should “judge righteously” and then “ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again” (Alma 41:14).

This is because some judgment is inevitable in this life. Yes, we must be careful and cautious (for, as I heard a wise Elders Quorum President teach once, we often have the tendency to judge others by their actions but ourselves by our intentions). We must “judge righteously”. But even as individuals it is often necessary for us to judge who we associate with, who we marry and who we trust. We have to judge who we listen to, who we take counsel from, and who we ultimately follow. And many people have responsibilities that go beyond the individual that demand they judge. Parents need to judge in order to look after and protect their children. And Church leaders have a responsibility to judge to protect the flock; indeed Christ teaches above that if one does not, such a shepherd is a mere hireling.

Now there is obviously a need for discernment, wisdom and divine aid in this judgment. Overzealousness can be damaging. It is a terrible mistake if some wandering sheep, or a prodigal son, or even just some poor sheep that’s with the ninety and nine but is confused about a few things is treated as a wolf. It’s also wrong if we as individuals infringe upon the duties and responsibilities of those who have this task. But those in a position of a responsibility have the duty to judge: to both judge who needs especially help (indeed it’s a tragedy if a wandering sheep is judged not to need any help) and to protect the other members of the flock from those who’d prey upon them (in whatever way that might be). This is especially true for those whose calling specifically labels them as a “judge” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:17-18, 64:40, 107:72-74).

The fourth misconception is that such judgments are inherently unloving, and fail to display Christlike love. It is important for us to remember that every human being born on this earth is a child of our Father in Heaven, and he loves them. We are likewise commanded to love all his children (2 Nephi 31:20). Wolves are not born wolves, and it is possible for former wolves to become part of the flock, like Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah. Furthermore Christ commands us to love even our “enemies”, and pray for those who mistreat us (Matthew 5:44). If someone is acting the part of a wolf – in any of the variety of ways I mention above – that is something to be mourned.

But I believe there is often here a significant misunderstanding of justice and mercy (something I hope to return to in the future) and the role of divine love in each. We sometimes seem to treat justice as something bad and mercy as something good, but this is not the case. Both are divine attributes (Alma 42:15). An unjust God would be a more terrible thing than it seems many can even imagine, punishing the innocent and rewarding the guilty. Justice isn’t just about punishing the transgressor, it is also about protecting those transgressed against, and restoring their hurts. Mercy extended to predators without condition is showing merciless cruelty to their prey.

If those who have a duty to care for a flock (a family, a congregation, or whatever), out of a misguided sense of love and compassion, give a wolf the opportunity and license to savage the flock, they are being unloving to the sheep. It’s not even good for the wolf eternally: to take the example of Church discipline, that can prompt repentance and a goal is to save the soul of the transgressor as well as protect the innocent. But it is especially uncharitable to any sheep who have been sacrificed to the idea that mercy can rob justice. If charity and compassion cause the sheep to be left to the mercy of the wolves, then the shepherds have blood on their hands.

That is not the example of the good shepherd. The good shepherd drives out the wolves, and even if necessary destroys them (Alma 5:59) not because he hates wolves, but because he loves his sheep. He “giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The good shepherd cares for and is vigilant in protecting his sheep, and those who have some responsibility for his flock likewise have the responsibility to feed, care, heal and protect his sheep.

There is no beauty that we should desire him

A lot of artistic depictions of the Saviour depict him as – at least what I’ve been told – a handsome man. Indeed I’ve heard more than one story where investigators being taught by missionaries have become distracted by the alleged attractiveness of the art work. And that’s hardly something confined to LDS artwork, as one can see in the variety of depictions, including in cinema and including the oft-mocked ‘Boxing Jesus‘ (though personally – while everyone else in the seminar laughed at it – I kind of have a soft spot for that one).

Yet the one time the scriptures speak of Christ’s attractiveness, it paints a different picture:

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

(Isaiah 53:2)

Now, since Isaiah was prophesying, rather than being present in person, it’s possible that what he’s saying here doesn’t reflect on actual physical appearance. But it might do, and the broader point is true either way. Christ wasn’t ‘attractive’ – most of those whom he taught in mortality turned away or rejected him. Likewise his superficial background wasn’t appealing: “can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” This is very human, as we often judge on such superficial grounds; never mind our entertainment (where goodness is often portrayed as being physically attractive, and evil as physically ugly), perceptions of physical attractiveness affect the outcome of our legal system (see here and here)! But Isaiah reminds us here that these human judgements are flawed. Truth can come in unattractive packages, and healing and salvation – indeed the Messiah himself – was and is to be found in someone that the world did not desire.

Edit: fixed link to Boxing Jesus

Wresting images of Christ

There’s several scriptural warnings about wresting the scriptures (2 Peter 3:16, Alma 13:20, Alma 41:1 and D&C 10:63), of distorting their meaning, consciously or unconsciously, to suit our own ends or views. And it’s possible that the overall lack of scriptural literacy and respect for the scriptures has the effect of making that less of a problem compared to some other eras. But I believe there is one broad manifestation of the same sort of thing that does transcend eras, and one that is certainly popping up now.

I’ve seen in a number of places – blogs, online comments, personal conversations – a number of assertions about what Christ would or would not do. And a big theme among most of what I run across is the idea that Christ in his mortal ministry always accepted, without conditions, that he never judged, never excludes and never condemns sin. This leads to claims that teaching certain commandments or maintaining that certain things are right or wrong is not Christlike.

Yet this image of Christ doesn’t square with the Christ we actually know, the one who:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables

(John 2:14)

Or the one who prophesied:

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

(Matthew 11:20-24)

Or the one who taught:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

(Matthew 10:34-35)

Or the Jesus who told his opponents:

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

(Matthew 23:33)

Of course Christ extended His (and his Father’s) love and mercy. But he associated with publicans and sinners to save them from their sins, not to reassure them in their sins. He did not stone the adulterous woman, but he still told her “go, and sin no more”. And yes, he teaches us to “judge not, lest ye be judged”, but not only is that instruction often sorely misunderstood (we should definitely refrain from eternal judgments, but parents who don’t “judge” who is fit or unfit to look after their children are being derelict in their duties), but Christ also asserted that the Father had “given him authority to execute judgment” and “as I hear, I judge”. Nothing in Christ’s teachings authorises the modern idea that all judgment is wrong, or that we have some sort of right to never have anyone disapprove of our behaviour – even God. And an image of Christ that does is a partial and distorted image. We cannot follow God and Christ if we espouse love and mercy,but forget their justice and their righteousness. Mercy cannot rob justice.

This is not the only way our image of Christ and God can be distorted of course (the 17th century, in a mirror of ours, seems to have often forgotten His love and mercy), though perhaps it is one of the most common ways today. We are all flawed human beings, of often limited understanding, and we are all likely to see and understand an imperfect picture. But any attribute we leave out, and any teaching we neglect diminishes our understanding because we have effectively made an image of our own making the object of our worship. To truly follow Christ, we need to follow the whole Christ, and if we hope “to be conformed to the image of [God’s] son”, then it helps if our image embraces the whole truth.

Reasons for Latter-day Saints to read the Old Testament #1: Jesus commands it

I’ve always loved the scriptures. I particularly remember loving the stories of the Bible even before my family joined the Church, so it has been a little troubling to me to hear some members say that it isn’t necessary for Latter-day Saints to read the Old Testament. Obviously that isn’t doctrine, but I’ve heard far too many say it to think it was just an individual idea (which it isn’t, unless we’re talking about Marcion). Up till now I’ve mostly contented myself with extending individual commitments to read the Old Testament whenever someone says that to me, but obviously the idea keeps spreading somehow, and I’m also sure there’s many more who, while they’d never say something like that, simply haven’t read the Old Testament at length (even, as I’ve mentioned before, if they’re following the Sunday School reading plan).

So I’d thought I’d start writing a series of short reasons why latter-day saints should read the Old Testament, beginning with today’s:

And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
(3 Nephi 23:1–3)

Here we find the risen Saviour, having just quoted Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets at length, commanding the people at Bountiful to read them. He then adds his witness that everything Isaiah spoke will be fulfilled, both to Israel and to the Gentiles (i.e us). He quotes it, commands us to read it, and confirms it is true. Which makes Isaiah one of the few books ever that, if you printed it as a paperback and put it in a bookshop, could have the blurb on the back saying “as recommended by the Son of God!”

Do we need a greater recommendation than that?