Failure

I first made a draft of this post over six months ago. However, I ran across it much more recently and, in view of events I’ve experienced lately, its topic seems particularly appropriate.

It first came to mind when I was thinking of the prophet Mormon. This is a figure I’ve long admired in scripture, particularly for his perseverance in remaining faithful and continuing to stand for what is right, despite his peoples’ failure to repent and even while he fought to defend a people that he knew were doomed to lose and who deserved to lose. This perseverance is perhaps best captured in Moroni 9:6, where despite the atrocities that Mormon goes on to recount, he tells his son:

And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.

Now this is admirable, but as I was thinking about him, his trials and the course of his life, I realised that by certain worldly standards, Mormon would be regarded as a failure. Despite his talents as a military commander, he lost in perhaps the most complete way a general can lose: his people were annihilated. His people not only did not repent at his teaching, but they went past the point of no return and incurred divine wrath. And he spent a considerable portion of his life writing a book that few if any (perhaps only his son Moroni) read, not only in his lifetime but for many centuries afterwards.

By worldly standards it would be easy to judge him a failure. And yet now his work has been read and has influenced millions. The book he composed inaugurated the restoration of the Gospel and the dispensation of the fullness of times. His work is to be both a sign that God will fulfill his prophecies, and one of the instruments God is and will use in bringing many souls to Christ, in restoring Israel, and in preparing those who will be prepared for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour. Considering all this, can his work be judged a failure? μη γενοιτο!

His career is a demonstration that many of the values by which we measure life and success are wrong. It is, moreover, far from the only or even most important scriptural example. As Paul speaks concerning Christ and his crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:22-25):

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

​Crucifixion was not only an exceptionally painful execution method, but it was also considered a shameful one, for the basest of criminals. For those who expected the Messiah to appear as a conquering hero, this was indeed a stumbling block (σκανδαλον – from whence is derived the term “the scandal of the Cross”), while it appeared nonsensical to others. Yet God chose this means – this apparent defeat in worldly terms – to work the most complete and important victory of all time: the victory over sin and death. And as Paul goes on to state, this is a pattern that God intends to use again and again (1 Corinthians 1:27):

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

God shows his power by working through those that the world sees as weak and simple, and triumphs in circumstances that the world sees as failure.

I don’t know if my own personal “failure”, in regards to my viva, will quite come under same category as those above. I hope, however, my work can be of some interest, do some good, and get a fairer reading than it did at the viva (and once again readers may download my work “The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible” as a free PDF, or order the paperback from Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com and various Amazon Europe pages, and judge for themselves). In any case, however, one thing I have come to realise more profoundly over the last month is that many of the measures by which we judge success in this life – titles, careers, wealth and so forth – matter little to God and do not go with us into the eternities. Conversely, there are other matters which may seem trifling to us at this stage, but which have a great significance for the next life and which God measures by very different scales. And life is full of possibilities, so long as we weigh by the correct measures and prepare for eternity.

 

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O ye fair ones

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

(Mormon 8:35)

I am driven to read and understand the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures for a number of reasons. Doing my doctoral thesis on the topic is part of that. But more importantly than this – and a major part of the reason I’ve been willing to spend years on this in the first place – is the fact that I’ve had a spiritual witness that it is scripture, that it is the word of God. As such I know that they contain principles of eternal worth, as well as things that are prophetically relevant to our present day.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, there are parts of the Book of Mormon that I believe have never been more relevant than they are today. While part of the message of the Book of Mormon is one of hope and deliverance for scattered Israel (including the descendents of the Lamanites), that deliverance is coupled with the promise of judgment upon the proud, the wicked and the Gentiles that have oppressed them:

For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

(1 Nephi 22:15-17)

I’ve likewise discussed before how this warning applies particularly to the Gentile nations of the West, and especially to the United States. The accounts of the destruction of the Nephites and afterwards (in the book, earlier chronologically) the Jaredites are there not just because they’re part of the story, but as dire warnings of what we risk. They’re in the book so that “ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Mormon 9:31) and “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 2:11).

 

“Be more wise than we have been”

One could examine both the fall of the Nephites and that of the Jaredites at length, but even just a few of their salient features are striking. The Jaredites destroyed themselves in the last of a constant series of civil wars. And while many of those civil wars can be laid at the feet of ambitious princes (it appears it was the custom for the youngest son to inherit, which would promote strife between older sons who could be disinherited and their fathers), at the end it was the communal will of the people that pushed them on into mutual annihilation. Coriantumr, that last and complicated king of the Jaredites, had grown to regret his failure to repent, and offered to “give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people” (Ether 15:3-4). His opponent Shiz demanded Coriantumr’s own life, but we don’t even hear of Coriantumr’s response; rather it is “the people”, both of Coriantumr and Shiz, who were “stirred up to anger” (Ether 15:5-6). It is because of “the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge” that the Jaredite people perished (Moroni 9:23).

Our account of the Nephites is explicitly censored by our chief witness (Mormon 2:18), but enough slips through (especially in unedited passages like Moroni 9) to provide a sufficient picture. The Nephites faced an external enemy, the Lamanites, who by this stage were prepared to commit atrocities such as human sacrifice (Mormon 4:14). Yet despite this outer peril, it was not this which destroyed the Nephites. “Because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake” (Mormon 1:17), and they sorrowed, not because they were penitent but because “the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). They “did curse God, and wish to die”, though “they would struggle with the sword for their lives” (Mormon 2:14; perhaps we might the latter admirable, yet that is perhaps a sign of how far we have fallen). In but “a few years” they became “strong in their perversion”, “brutal”, “without principle and past feeling” and “their wickedness [did] exceed that of the Lamanites” (Moroni 9:12, 19-20).

But perhaps the most crucial turning point came after a ten year truce and the resumption of the war. Lead by Mormon, the Nephites defeated several attacks. Their response was fateful:

And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.

And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.

And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying:

Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth.

(Mormon 3:9-10, 14-15)

The Nephites fell because of their pride (Mormon 8:27, D&C 38:39), because rather than repent of their sins they desired to avenge themselves upon their enemies, and in so doing so violated God’s commandments (including those restricting warfare) wantonly. “Every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually” (Mormon 4:11), and consequently the Lord’s spirit ceased to strive with them (Mormon 5:16), and when that happens “then cometh speedy destruction” (2 Nephi 26:11).

 

“I speak unto you as if ye were present”

How can one miss the meaning of these passages? Mormon and Moroni write with one eye on their past and present, but always with one eye to the future they are seeking to warn. For the Gentiles too face the same fate unless they repent:

And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?

Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?

Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

(Mormon 5:22-24)

I have watched the US Presidential campaign with intense concern. On one side there is the increasing madness on the campuses and the anger expressed by those who claim to seek “social justice” even as they detach themselves from any concepts of objective truth. On the other, I have watched as people have embraced a figure who appears to reject every principle they claim they embraced, a man who is an inveterate and pathological liar and one who has boasted of his adulteries. I have seen that candidate advocate torture and insist he will order war crimes, and his ratings go up. I have heard even worse from some of his supporters, many of whom (even those who aren’t actual Nazis) embrace a proto-fascism. I have seen and read many of his supporters talk of their “anger”, their desire for vengeance on their perceived enemies, and their belief that everything – including any kind of moral principle – comes second to raw power and making America “great” again.

It is perhaps little surprising that the word of God says of the latter days that “at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Nephi 28:20). I have felt that temptation myself as I have seen these things. But anger and pride will destroy us, as they destroyed the Nephites who sought to make Nephitia great again.

One cannot establish justice – any justice – without truth. One cannot make a nation truly great unless you also seek for it to be good, a principle understood by at least some patriots of old. Yet these seem little understood now. On the right, a few voices still speak out speaking against Trump. My respect for those voices – figures such as the Bush clan, Mitt Romney, Senator Ben Sasse or political commentators such as Jonah Goldberg – has increased significantly. But they seem increasingly lonely as much of the ‘base’ and political establishment fall in line, and they are vilified as “evil”; truly we live in an age in which men “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Our societies are embracing evil.

I cannot claim to know with perfection what the future brings, but I am pessimistic as to the future of the United States and the West as a whole. I believe events like this present election have been a test, and a test that collectively is being failed. But I also believe there is an individual test here, and where people stand on many of these things will be remembered and accounted for. I have been very glad to see that many Latter-day Saints have rejected the siren song of Trumpism, and I hope Utah and other places continue to do so. For those members who I have seen embrace Trump’s campaign, who I have seen express the view that all acts are acceptable in warfare because the only thing that matters is winning, and who have embraced a campaign built on national aggrandizement without principle, I hope that they look again upon the Book of Mormon. I hope they look and see an all too familiar path and turn away from it, because to support these things is to pull down the wrath of God upon ourselves.

There may be little hope for the West as a whole. All civilizations are ultimately mortal. Yet there is still hope, and always is, for the souls within, which are truly eternal, and so we must continue to labour (Moroni 9:6). But this is a period in which – in many different ways – those souls will have to choose, and many of those choices will have eternal significance, regardless of where the rest of society goes. There is also a work that perhaps we should now turn to with increasing seriousness and determination, namely the work of building Zion; something, which should now be apparent, which is not the culmination of the West but its replacement. I plan to turn to that sometime in the next couple of posts. In the meantime, however, one can perhaps still mourn for the tragedy of where our civilization is and where it appears to be going. In Mormon’s words:

O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.

(Mormon 6:17-20)

“The Idolatry of the Donald”

An interesting article here on the dangers of state idolatry and where that has lead: The Idolatry of the Donald | The American Conservative

The phenomenon described in the article seem so obvious it feels like it hardly needs elaborating. Some of the finer patriots in history – American ones included – understood that the quest for national greatness could not be done in separation from a quest for goodness. Over the last year, I think we’ve seen that for many people, national goodness is seen as irrelevant or even counter-productive. So they’ll vote for a man who has insisted he’d order war crimes to make America “great” again.

The books of Mormon, Ether and Moroni have been much on my mind the past few weeks. I don’t think that their message has ever been more relevant, as they describe how a nation’s pride, arrogance and desire for vengeance can lead to self-destruction, and touch on how an individual can possibly respond to such times. It’s a topic I plan to return to.

The Trumpocalypse and the fall of the West

So far in the US primary season I’ve found one thing the best predictor of results: namely to think of the very worst thing that can happen. So I’m not too optimistic about Super Tuesday slowing the rise of Trump and his supporters.

Trump himself I’d find bothersome enough, but it’s some of his supporters that I find truly frightening. Trump simply panders and caters to that crowd, and indeed my greatest fear is not that he’ll get in and then betray them, it’s that he’ll get in and continue to enable them. I object to the hypocrisy that indulges in ridiculous ideological purism about everyone else, but drops all standards when it comes to Trump, just as I find it aggravating to see self-proclaimed Christians talk about how they refused to vote for Mitt Romney but are happily embracing Trump, because while he boasts of his adulteries at least he’s not a Mormon. But it’s darker currents that I find most disturbing, as I have elaborated on before.

It’ll be bad enough if they destroy the Republic in their efforts to punish their perceived enemies by “burning it all down”. Unfortunately some Trump supporters wish to spread such burning much further: I don’t know that I’ve had quite so many online conversations where people openly talk of embracing Genghis Khan’s example, and who believe it’d be perfectly acceptable to respond to random terrorist outrages by nuking Middle Eastern cities. It’s rather dispiriting how blasé they are when you point out this would murder millions of innocent people including millions of children. Apparently murdering innocent by-standers is perfectly acceptable when faced with an opponent with little respect for human life. They haven’t thought this through: such a concept is not only monstrous, it is stupid. Why will murdering other people’s children stop terrorists? And how is anyone different from said terrorists if they pursue such approaches?

It’s funny, because in one respect I share some common ground with these Trump supporters. I too believe the West is facing an existential crisis. And I believe certain external problems, such as terrorism, have to be faced with a certain realism. But the real threat to the West is not external, it’s internal – it’s our own loss of bearings: of capacity, of purpose, of morality, of goodness. Indulging in genocidal fantasies – worse still carrying them out – does not save any of this! Such evils cannot save the West; they can only raise the question as to whether it should be saved.

This is rather a pessimistic post, but all these exchanges have brought to mind is Mormon’s lament in Moroni 9. Mormon himself censors his experiences for his latter-day audience, explaining that “upon these plates I did forbear to make a full account of their wickedness and abominations, for behold, a continual scene of wickedness and abominations has been before mine eyes ever since I have been sufficient to behold the ways of man” (Mormon 2:18). But Moroni 9 is a letter to his son that Moroni chooses to include. As a result it’s one of the most grim passages of the Book of Mormon, as we get to glance at the atrocities that Mormon has hitherto only alluded to.

But it’s his lament that gets my attention, as he contemplates how on earth his people could have ended up as the monsters they’d become:

O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization—

(And only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people)

But O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination—

How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?

(Moroni 9:11-14)

And there are times when I wonder at how far we have fallen, and how much lower we have to go.