Of Charity and Forever

The more I ponder, the more I am brought to the conviction that the pure love of Christ, what the scriptures call charity, is the purpose of life and its highest ideal. So much of this life is designed to provide the opportunity and conditions for developing charity.

Consider this description of charity, provided by the ancient American prophet, Mormon.

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (Moroni 7:45)

The Apostle Paul offered a very similar description in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he explained that faith, hope, and charity are closely intertwined (see 1 Corinthians 13).

On this earth, in mortality, man does not come by charity naturally. It seems that to develop charity its opposite must be possible, too. As one connects us with heaven, the other ties us to the world of death. We see abundant evidence that this is so.

Where is the man or woman who naturally possesses all of the traits that are part of and unified in charity? We are all drawn to traits the very opposite of charity, to suffer as briefly as we may, to be frequently unkind, often puffed up, normally seeking our own, and surely too easily provoked, thinking plenty of evil, bearing perhaps some things but far from all, with limited hope, and of weak endurance. Gloriously, we all to some degree by our efforts and with the help of others rise above these evils and exhibit and make part of our natures some portion of the elements of charity. Most people seem to mix the two opposites to varying degrees.

God reaches out to lift each of us up and above our mortal nature. Charity is a gift from God, one that He bestows upon those who qualify to receive it by demonstrating their willingness to receive it and live by it. The more we desire it and live by it, the more that charity remains with us and becomes part of us and changes us. When the Spirit of God comes upon us and enters into our hearts and fills our minds, we taste, we experience charity for a time, in all of its aspects, all unified together (the virtues of charity are of a kind and part harmoniously and mutually reinforcing). For a time, the virtues of charity become our virtues.

Thus Mormon counseled,

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God. . . (Moroni 7:48)

That is what it means to be a “son of God,” born of the Spirit. By following Jesus Christ, living as He would, the gift of charity is bestowed upon us, enabling and teaching us in our hearts and minds how to live like Christ, to do the works that He would do, giving us the power to believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. As we experience personally the pure love of Christ our nature changes and we become progressively like Christ.

The world provides ample opportunities to exercise and develop those virtues that we know in spiritual vision but which we need to practice in fact to make ours, to make ourselves into their image, the image of Christ. We are surrounded by evil, by hardship, by difficulty, by those who need our help. Reaching to heaven, charity enlightens us to know how to conquer evil and gives us the power to cope with hardship, overcome difficulty, to bless, promote kindness, relieve suffering, and “endure all things.”

Yet we fall short from time to time, we lose the vision, we turn away. Sin is any and all that would keep us from developing charity. Repentance brings us back by allowing us to change, to seek and qualify for forgiveness of our sins through Christ’s redemption and again be ready for our hearts and minds to be filled with the gift of charity by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Once more we exercise faith, we gain hope, “but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:13). We may keep charity forever, and as we experience charity in this world we personally learn what forever means.

Of Life and Resurrection

Recently I had some quiet time to enjoy a beautiful day, the kind of day that makes Spring famous. As I sat on my backyard patio, the sun was bright, the temperature cool. There was a gentle breeze. The air was fresh and alive. The early Spring flowers were blooming, the daffodils and the jonquils.

In the neighborhood the cherry trees and pear trees were in full bloom. Almost all the other trees were budding with the tender Spring green of their new leaves. The mix of scents from the trees, plants, and grass was pleasant and lively. The grass was greening from the Winter brown. I could hear the sounds of the songbirds as they seemed to vie with each other for lead solo in the wildlife choir. All was pleasant, charming, lively, as I sat taking it in while munching on some strawberries.

I should hate to give it up—the whole experience, the sight, the sound, the smell, the taste, the touch, not just the strawberries.

We live in a very physical world. God intended it that way. God went to a lot of trouble to create a very physical world. He took great pains to make it beautiful and lovely. As the Lord revealed to Moses, “And out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man; and man could behold it. (Moses 3:9) . . . And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and behold, all things which I had made were very good” (Moses 2:31).

In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 59, we read,

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used. . . (Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20).

I am reminded of a song that was sung at our wedding reception, sung by one of my wife’s college friends. Written and made famous by John Denver, it is called “Annie’s Song,” and it says in part,

You fill up my senses
Like a night in the forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean

The Lord meant to fill up our senses, and He called it very good.

Did God make all these things, all the beauties of this earth, to be used by us only for life’s short day, to be laid aside forever when our bodies are placed in the grave? Once we die, are our senses never to be filled again? Is John Denver never to sing again? Will Helen Keller never see a sunset or hear a waterfall? Will little children who die in their infancy never run in the grass?

Apparently so, were we to rely for our light upon the religions of man. In the teachings of the religions of the world, the things of this physical world are temporary at best, frauds, a distraction from reality. In not a few teachings, this physical world is the sign of evil itself, wherein all things embodied are evil, and life is a quest to cast aside all things material and physical. For in the teachings of the world, God Himself is supposed to be without body, parts, or passions, a great nothingness to which we should all aspire.

Alone and apart from the religions of men and of the world, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that God was not lying when He declared that His creation and all things He made “were very good.” As members of the Church of Christ, we announce that all that God does is eternal.

It would seem odd, indeed, for God to spend so much time and effort to create the world and the worlds—and all of their details and beauties—if they were not very important. In fact, the Lord emphasized just how important the material world is when He explained in the Doctrine and Covenants something about Himself and physical elements. God declared that, “The elements are the tabernacle of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:35), something that young Joseph Smith saw for himself with his own eyes, when the Father and the Son appeared to him in that First Vision in 1820.

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord further revealed, “The elements are eternal, and spirit and element inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:33, 34) So it was that the Lord explained to Lehi, the prophet, “men are that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men” (2 Nephi 2:25, 26).

It is true that we shall all die, that we shall not only be touched by death but shall experience it, personally. A couple of years ago my son and I drove by a cemetery with what seemed to me an unusual sight. Lined up along the back were dozens of burial vaults, all waiting for their occupants, some day, sooner or later. Not one of us knows who will be the next occupant, but we cannot deny that we all will go there. There’s a place for us. But it is not the final place.

Those of us who have placed a loved one in the tomb, and have faced this one of life’s most real experiences, know that as we have faced this experience with the bright testimony of the Savior’s resurrection, the sting of death is removed. The sadness is one of parting, not the hopeless despair of irretrievable loss. With the Apostle Paul, we proclaim, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)

The resurrection and all the good things of life that come with it are real. It is death that is temporary and fleeting.

So, for baseball games and walks in the woods, for ice cream and for spaghetti, for flying through the air and swimming in the sea, for symphonies and chirping birds, for soft warm blankets and cool smooth silk, for fast cars and slow buggies, for fireworks and handshakes, for the scents of the sea and the perfumes of the gardens I thank the Risen Lord and praise my Savior, for making all of these available forever.

We sing praise with the hymnist, Folliott S. Pierpoint:

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow’r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light,

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
(Hymn 92)

To which I add my own witness of the Living Christ. I have stood in the tomb. It was empty, for Christ is risen, as He said. And all good things by and through Him are saved.

(First published April 12, 2009)

Of Easter and the Resurrection of Christ

As we approach the Easter season, it may be valuable to reflect on the meaning of the season. It is, after all, Easter that gives meaning to Christmas, and the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ give meaning to Easter.

Few if any events of ancient history are as well attested as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His rising from the tomb after His death at the hands of the Roman executioners is a hard fact. It is a particularly hard fact to grapple with if one is of the mind that religious phenomena are “spiritual”—by which critics mean “unverifiable.” Their efforts for nearly two thousand years have been to try to change the subject or impugn the witnesses or make the reality appear somehow merely symbolic, allegorical, or fabulous. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ remains as startlingly real today as it was to the Greco-Roman world of 34 A.D. The emergence in the 1830s of powerful new evidence of the Savior’s resurrection from the dead makes objections to its reality impossible to sustain.

The list of witnesses of the resurrected and immortal Christ is a long one, spanning continents, ages, and sexes. It begins with Mary Magdalene, in Jerusalem, who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning after Jesus’ execution, expecting anything but to see Jesus alive once more. She was there to finish the process of anointing the body, which she and others could only hastily begin on Friday evening. To her wonderment and sorrow the tomb was empty. Rather than expecting that the dead was alive once more, her one thought was to find where the body now was. To a joy that none but she could describe, Mary was told by Jesus Himself that He was risen from the dead. Mary also became the first to testify of the Savior’s resurrection, as she quickly reported her experience to the disciples (John 20:1-18).

The record reports how later, in the evening, the resurrected Christ appeared to these disciples, who included at least ten of His apostles in company with others of Jesus’ followers. As if to answer future skeptics, Jesus made a point of the physical reality of the resurrection from the dead. First, to attest to the death, he had those present handle the mortal wounds in hands, feet, and side (the last inflicted by the Roman soldiers to assure the death of Jesus before they removed His body from the cross), as He declared to them, “handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:36-40; John 20:19-21) Next, to demonstrate the full functionality of a resurrected body, Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish and part of a honeycomb (Luke 24:41-43). This is tangible evidence, intentionally offered by the Savior to emphasize the fact of His physical resurrection, with a very physical body.

Sometime that same day Jesus walked for an extended time with two disciples as they journeyed to the nearby village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). A week later the apostle Thomas, who had been absent the week before, was added to the list of physical witnesses, as he in turn was shown the mortal wounds of the risen Christ (John 20:26-29). Again in Galilee Jesus met His disciples for a meal of fish and bread and then taught them about charitable service while sitting with them around the fire. To these and other interactions of the mortal disciples with the immortal, risen Christ, is the record in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that “above five hundred brethren at once” saw the resurrected Christ, to which Paul adds his own personal witness (1 Corinthians 15:6-8).

The Book of Mormon, first published in 1830, is another witness, from a separate people on another continent, of the Christ who had lived, died, and been resurrected far away in Jerusalem. Across the ocean, in ancient America, Jesus Christ appeared to 2,500 more disciples who became personal witnesses of their resurrected Savior. “And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom was written by the prophets, that should come.” (3 Nephi 11:15)

To these ancient testimonies, the list grows with modern day witnesses of the resurrected Christ. Add the names of Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Oliver Cowdery, “That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22,23; see also Doctrine and Covenants 110:1-10).

The testimony is sure. You can accept it or not, but you cannot change the fact that Jesus, once dead, rose again from the dead, as He and the prophets foretold and as He and the prophets since have reported. With that knowledge, Easter becomes more than a quaint relic of just another “faith tradition”. It becomes a celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world.

(First published February 22, 2009)

Of Free Agency and the Game of Life

This past week my wife and I were drawn to an interesting and insightful headline from the Sports section of the newspaper: “Free agency can be useful tool if used correctly”. Very true. This may be true in the games of sports. It certainly is true in life.

In professional sports, free agency means having some choice as to which team a player may join and on what terms, depending on talent and performance, interest, and the advocacy skill of his representative, among other factors. Used well, the player may go on to a successful and happy career, profitable for him and for his team, opening up even greater opportunities, including perhaps championship achievements and continuing successes beyond. Used unwisely, free agency can lead to a career that is a frustrating struggle inhibiting growth, achievement, and limiting follow on opportunities.

In life, free agency means that you and I can choose our manner of living in mortality and, in the process, the terms of living and opportunities available in the immortal worlds, depending again on talent (as expressed in performance), interest (again demonstrated by performance), and the effectiveness of our representative. If you will agree to His terms, you can have the very best Advocate as your representative, who only emphasizes your triumphs and takes upon Himself the blame for all of your failures.

A popular board game I knew as a child was “The Game of LIFE.” In this game several players compete by moving along the board on a marked path, buffeted by the vicissitudes and aggrandized by the rewards of life as determined by the cast of the die. Its virtue is that it presents to children how life is a steadily moving journey filled with a variety of experiences building to some degree on the ones before. The game was not a favorite of mine, because it asks for little skill from the players, the events of the game subject almost entirely to chance. In that sense, it teaches the false lesson that how you fare in life has almost nothing to do with your skill and the exercise of your free agency and everything to do with fate, beyond your control. Success or failure happens. Perhaps the game does little harm as a diversion, but I have not played it in a long while.

Life is not a game of chance. Neither, is it a sport, least of all a spectator sport. Each of us is the key and central player involved in making and applying decisions. The period of life called mortality is a testing ground, where decisions are free only because results are meaningful. The results derive their meaning from their reach into the worlds of immortality, following our death and resurrection. Because life has meaning then, it has meaning now.

That meaning is a gift from Jesus Christ, purchased by His free gift of voluntarily suffering for our sins, including surrendering His life in an unjust execution, one that He could have prevented should He have exercised His free agency not to bear our burdens. Because of the injustice of that suffering, He came back from the dead and conquered death, to die no more. Death was thus converted into a temporary interlude for all of us, allowing the choices of this life to extend beyond the grave.

If, on the contrary, each one of us were to end in death, if our being were then to cease to exist, then nothing we did would really matter in that end. Whatever we did, whatever we achieved, whatever we learned, so what? It would all be gone, never to be reclaimed.

Nothing we do makes any difference in the end, if in the end we are nothing, literally nothing. As far as we are concerned, it all vanishes with us, and any memory of us ends with the end of any who remembered. With nothing now mattering later, then all loses any present meaning. Any meaning we attach to anything now is a mirage, or even a charade. Like a child’s game, things seem to matter until the game is over, when nothing matters.

If nothing that we do matters, then the choices and decisions that we make do not matter, they have no lasting result, they make no real difference in the end. Whether we put too much salt or pepper in the soup, it makes no difference if no one eats it. With death as the end of it all, of all existence of any kind for each of us, then we really have no freedom, because we cannot and do not change anything for ourselves or for others. In any and all cases, whatever choices we make, it all ends the same way, in complete nothingness, annihilation of being. Choice itself becomes meaningless, a mirage, a charade.

But it is not like that in reality. It does not feel like that, and very few of us, even the atheists among us, believe or act like nothingness is our destiny, as if what we do is lost in the void, as if our choices do not matter. Christ’s redemption of us and of the world has changed everything for everyone. It gives lasting value to our choices, our actions, our decisions, making them all very real, preserving their consequences, their reach into the continuing life beyond our very temporary death. Our decisions can and do affect ourselves and others, in lingering ways. Christ’s redemption from death makes our freedom possible, then and now, because what we do matters, and how it matters is preserved.

With that freedom, Christ has given us a tool, which certainly can be useful, if used correctly. Fortunately, He also has given us guidance and still gives us guidance so that we may get and save the best results from the use of our free agency. And that is a big part of why we celebrate Easter, why Christ’s atonement and resurrection are the central event in Earth’s history.

Of Physical Temptation and Exaltation

Many passages of scripture make plain that through the appetites of the flesh, especially when turned to lusts, Satan finds his readiest avenue for temptation. Here are just a few examples:

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. . . . So then they that are after the flesh cannot please God. . . . For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:5, 6, 8, 13, JST)

Besides writing that to the Romans, Paul similarly warned the saints at Galatia:

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other . . . Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. . . (Galatians 5:17, 19-21)

John, the Apostle, made a similar point:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16)

One more out of many, from the Epistle of James:

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (James 1:13, 14)

Such passages have led unenlightened readers to embrace ancient Greek and Indian philosophies that consider all things material to be evil, seeing life as a continuing process to overcome the physical and leave the material world behind. The philosophies that envision the struggle between good and evil to be the struggle between spirit and matter are at odds with other central principles of Christianity, particularly the Creation and the Resurrection.

If matter is evil, then why would God create a very material world in a vast, material universe, and call it “good”?

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31; see also verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25, in which the various phases of the creation are described as “good”).

In modern revelation, Jesus Christ explained further how God delights in providing the blessings of a very physical world to His children:

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. (Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20)

The beauties of the earth are not accidental. Neither is it a sin to recognize and appreciate their goodness. Man was not born into a body into a material world as a punishment, as if placed in a straightjacket in a prison, both to be escaped. Possession of a physical body was the next major step in a process of progression that embraces all good things, among them the very elements of the universe.

Again in modern revelation Jesus Christ explained,

The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:33, 34)

The power of physical bodies and the control of the physical world are so great that God provided a time of learning and testing through which man could learn to control the elements before receiving full, immortal control of them. Mortality is designed as a brief time for each of God’s children to learn and understand the challenges and joys of a material world, eternal spirits clothed in temporary, physical bodies.

The metaphor God uses to remind His children how important bodies are is the Temple (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; Doctrine and Covenants 93:35). God refers to bodies as Temples, sacred, to be used and cherished for eternal purposes as houses for the immortal spirits of men. Since the beginning, God has given men laws and commandments as guides to use their bodies safely. Just like all great instruments of power, physical bodies can enliven or enslave. God’s commandments unfailingly show man the path to empowerment and away from captivity. Sin is not in the use and enjoyment of the physical but rather in the misuse and abuse of the physical, whereby the spirit, rather than controlling matter, is overcome by it. Nearly all sin can be traced to allowing appetites to govern action rather than letting the spirit in man—guided by the Spirit of God—rule.

As in all things, Jesus Christ is the great example. Already as God in the spirit before His birth, He entered into mortality to take upon Himself all of the challenges and opportunities of physical existence. The Savior’s miraculous control of the elements is well known and recorded by legions of witnesses. He also experienced the full depths of the challenges and pains of mortal, physical existence.

An ancient American prophet-king, named Benjamin, foresaw Christ’s mortal experience, and witnessed that He would not spare Himself from its full trials:

And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and abominations of his people. (Mosiah 3:7)

To a modern American prophet, Joseph Smith, who was undergoing great physical trial and anguish, Jesus related how deep His own experience had been, and summed it all up with the declaration, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:8).

What did Jesus mean? He meant that after experiencing the full breadth and depth of what the physical world could do and offer, He let the will of the flesh be swallowed up in the will of the Spirit. Doing the Father’s will, Jesus Christ physically and mentally suffered for the physical sins of all mankind of all time, meriting no portion at all of the suffering. The Spirit of Christ conquered, in spite of all that the physical appetites or wants of the flesh in a physical world could demand, and He controlled His physical body to submit to what the physical would refuse if it could. Remember, there was no point, in Gethsemane, in the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, under the lash of the Roman tormenters, or on the cross itself, where Jesus could not have said, “enough,” and stopped the suffering. Surely His body called out for it, but His Spirit always remained in control of the flesh as he drank the dregs of the atoning cup of suffering to the very last.

Having conquered all of the demands of a physical world, Christ gained it all. On the third day, He did not pass into a nirvana of spiritual nothingness, but rather He took up again a very physical body, a permanent and immortal body, forever gaining all power and all joy that only comes from spirit and element, inseparably connected, with the will of the spirit always in command. Christ gave up the physical body in death on the cross, subjecting the demands of the flesh to the demands of the spirit. With His Spirit fully and forever in control, Jesus Christ took up His body again in perfection on resurrection Sunday.

In so doing, Christ made available to all of us every good thing, including all of the good things of God’s glorious—and very material—creation.

(First published March 24, 2013)

Of Miracles and Modern Times

My son famously declared to his school colleagues in morning devotional, “Brothers, I believe in miracles.” I do, too. I have witnessed them. I have experienced them.

Believing in miracles supposes some understanding of what they are. I understand all miracles to have their source in the Divine. No connection to God, no miracle. That is to say, each miracle is an intervention into the world of mortality from the realms of eternity. That is why all miracles are to some degree other worldly, but not entirely other worldly, because part of the marvel is that they take place here. I suppose that what we see as miraculous on earth would not seem so miraculous to us or anyone else in heaven.

While God is the source of the power in each miracle, the essential feature of a miracle is its timing, not its substance. In fact, it seems to me that all of the miraculous quality consists in the timing. Is restoring sight to the blind a miracle? Certainly it was when it took place in 100 B.C. Today we have medical procedures that restore sight for many, perhaps daily, with techniques that we have learned but which were unknown anciently. These are marvelous procedures of great benefit, but we do not look upon them as miraculous. The difference is timing.

Curing a man of leprosy, ordinarily impossible in the days of the ancient Apostles except through divine intervention, is quite common today with the proper medicines. The difference surely is knowledge, but knowledge acquired over time. An antibiotic treatment would have been a miracle in the days of the Caesars.

As time goes by and medical and scientific knowledge advance, there is little that was considered miraculous in bygone eras that cannot be replicated today, and what cannot yet be done we can fully expect one day can and will be. That takes nothing away from the miracles of antiquity, but rather makes them all the more understandable. Increasingly as we look at miracles, we replace the question, “How could they do that?” with the question, “How could they know?”

There is no “magic” in a divine miracle. God does not nullify the laws of nature any more than we can. But He knows them better. He knows them all, and He exercises them as He pleases to do His work, which seems and is wonderful to our eyes.

God knew the powers of controlling vapor and flame in the days of Moses, but man’s knowledge of it was primitive. What was involved with the control of energy in the pillar of fire that guided Israel by night and the “pillar of a cloud” that guided them by day (see Exodus 13 and 14)? Is it something we could do 2,000 years after the birth of Christ? Very probably. The miracle was not in the substance, but in the timing, a very explicable exercise of fire control that was once beyond the skill of man.

But in this example there was an even more important display of the miraculous timing of God. The pillars of fire and vapor appeared exactly when needed, either to guide Israel or to keep the armies of Pharaoh at bay. They were taken away just in time to lure Pharaoh’s armies into the flood. With their back to the sea and the Egyptian chariots nearly upon them, Israel despaired. But not Israel’s prophet, as Moses declared, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13). The timing was all and everything.

In my own day and life, I have received the piece of information, just in time. The increase in salary has come precisely when needed. The new medical treatment became available none too soon but not a day too late. An acquaintance was made, too beneficial to have been by chance. Closed doors have been opened.

Others have witnessed greater than these, the recovery from terminal illness, the power to endure the unendurable, the inspiration to touch the hearts of one and of many, the means to build, to comfort, to restore, and to renew. Nearly all have come in answer to prayer, from a God who is easy to be entreated.

Should these seem small to you, especially when compared with the miracles of the prophets recounted in ancient scripture, bear in mind that miracles are not given to satisfy a popular appetite for spectacle, but rather they have always been employed by God to do His work, which is most usually done quietly.

Yet I would offer a couple of great modern works of God for your contemplation. Consider the translation of an ancient work of scripture from an unknown language by a young man barely literate in his own native tongue. And consider that this work, The Book of Mormon, would be so powerful in the testimony of Jesus Christ as to make millions of Christians on every continent of the world. Consider the miracle of thousands of these people crossing a thousand miles of 19th century American wilderness to an even more desolate and barren wasteland, carving out of the desert an empire of cities, farms, and enterprises, a successful effort unmatched by any other colonization effort in the history of the Americas. These are epic works of God worthy to stand alongside any of antiquity, no less powerful for happening in our time.

These and other modern miracles point to the truly greatest miracles in the work of God, the quiet transformation that takes place in the hearts of men by the power of repentance and forgiveness, which makes an ordinary man or woman full of kindness, someone who “envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45). That is the miracle that is the most awe inspiring of all.

(First published September 10, 2013)

Of the Power of Change and the Power of Christ

Change is in the air. It is autumn, the leaves have begun their brief flash of color before gliding to the ground to be swept away.

Fall is also the season when politicians promise change. The mood predominating among the electorate this year seems to be disillusionment with Change. They want change from Change—that is, from Change that makes things worse and reinforces what is bad in Washington. At least for now, voters are showing a strong preference for candidates who do not fit the usual political mold, who reject solutions imposed from Washington. Such moments do not come very often, and like the autumn they seem to pass too quickly.

Yet with all of this discussion of the change apparent in nature and the political world, it seems strange to find those who doubt the ability of people to change. Properly understood, the plan of God for His children is all about change.

The central message of Jesus Christ and of all of His prophets has been the need and possibility for people to change, to change their world by changing themselves, from the world of unhappiness and distraction, to a life of purpose, growth, and deep joy. All who have drawn close to the Savior have experienced change, have drawn upon His power to change, and the closer they drew to Him the more that they changed and became more like Him.

Consider the early Apostles who lived while the Savior walked the earth. Mere fishermen (Peter and John) were turned into inspired leaders whose testimonies have endured for two millennia. A tax collector (Matthew) was converted into a human benefactor. A persecuting zealot (Paul) turned into a powerful missionary. In earlier days, a slave (Joseph) became viceroy of Egypt, a fugitive from Pharaoh’s court (Moses) became the mighty lawgiver who led Israel from bondage, a shepherd (David) became King of Israel. The change in these whom history calls great was repeated among millions of their less well-known compatriots.

In our own times, an untaught boy (Joseph Smith) became a wise prophet and religious founder, a craftsman (Brigham Young) became the greatest colonizer of the West. Again, these are more prominent examples among millions of others similarly changed through the power of Christ, the more effectively changed the closer that they approached Him.

When I was in college a friend explained to me her disillusionment with her church, which in her view told its members to be good but somehow lacked the power to transform them. It lacked the power of Christ, who made change of life possible. As the ancient American prophet Mormon explained in a letter to his son, Moroni, through Jesus Christ our sins can be forgiven, our past can be overcome.

And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God. (Moroni 8:26)

There is power, the greatest power on earth, the power to change the greatest creations on earth, the children of God. There is the power to transform men and women and make them fit to live with the Father in His presence forever, “that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out.” (Alma 7:25) Thank God that power is on the earth.

(First published October 11, 2010)