Of Generations and Economic Life

Photo by Lindy Baker on Unsplash

Consider these items, taken from one of the social media platforms that specializes in brief, non-reflective commentary:

  • The older generation has to realize that life is never going back to the way it was, that it is changing. 
  • Life is more important than economics.

Perhaps you have seen similar comments.  They are currently in fashion.  As with most silly fashions, I am tempted to ignore them and count on change to fade the fashion into fashion’s forgetfulness.  They betray such depths of ignorance, however, that I find them too hard to pass by as nothing of interest to see.  In times of panic and hysteria, even social media mobs can foment danger.

Hence, I will try a more reflective social media platform to add a few comments of my own.  I readily confess that I may be part of that “older generation.”

Beginning then with the first item, the generational point, to call it superficial is to ascribe to it too much depth.  It is intellectually vacuous.  I would suggest that the last group of people whom you need to convince that life is change is older people.  Every day they face changes, some they like, some they do not, and few that offer a chance of “going back to the way it was.”  Each new morning brings something lost, a new pain, a departed friend, a concluded experience, or a disappointment.  There are also happy changes, a new acquaintance, something accomplished, a new delightful member of the family, a wonderful discovery, a pleasant work-saving invention, inspiration, valuable experience.  Older generations cope with it all as well as any other.

That is to say, that this is not exclusive to older people.  It is, in fact, the stuff of life for all, from youngest to oldest.  We all must face change.  It is just that older people have experienced more years of life, filled with change.  I stress that there are many changes in which we rejoice, ways to which we would hate to return.  I am happy I made it through my teen years and would never wish to go back.  I am quite certain that my father had no desire to return to the two wars he had to fight.  I am grateful each day for the evolving prosperity that our society has experienced for so many decades, that so much poverty and illness have been overcome.  My grandfather died of an incurable disease that today is easily cured—he missed the discovery of the cure by just a few years.  I never had to fear it.  I still pray for a change that might have saved my mother from the illness that slowly took her to the world of spirits.  Do let us talk about change, but let it not begin with the absurd notion that one generation welcomes it and another does not.

Now to reflect a bit on the second item, that supposes a difference between life and economics.  The writer is apparently unfamiliar with economics, formed entirely from life.  It is a life science, individually and in groups.  It is an effort to understand what living people do with their lives and why, and how to find ways for living people to get more from their lives.  For hundreds of years, the evolving discoveries we call “economics” have guided people and nations to raise billions of people from poverty and fuel human interaction allowing people across the world to cooperate in expanding prosperity.  It was the living reality of economics that first destroyed the old monarchies and in recent years wrecked such anti-economic despotisms as the old Soviet Union.  The lessons learned from economics have been the transforming engine that displays the day and night difference in human welfare and freedom—life and death—between South and North Korea.

Lessons from economics, properly understood and efficiently applied, are what will allow our economy, currently in sharp decline from government policies, to revive as quickly as possible from the Great Cessation.  People want to live their lives and express their humanity by being at work, developing their talents, providing for their families, going to school, traveling, discovering, inventing, engaging in cultural activities, uplifting others, building, planting, healing, and hundreds of millions of other things—add your list to these economic activities.  Economics teaches us how to do these things in ever increasing and satisfying ways, as more people are experiencing today than ever before.  This is life.  Economics is important, because life is important.

A concluding thought, one which I would enjoy discussing with someone of whatever generation.  There are some things that do not change, and there is danger of the highest order in pretending that they do.

Of Jesus Christ and Life

Life. Jesus said, “I am the life” (Doctrine & Covenants 11:28).

Jesus said, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:25, 26).

I will tell you the story of a German woman, whom for this relation I will name Hertha Lux Bullerman. Hertha was the mother of 5 children, three boys and two girls. She lived in far eastern Germany.

Her first child was a daughter, Ursula. Her second was her first son. He was named Fritz. Ursula and Fritz were close, as first and second born children can be.

Next was born another son, named Hubertus. Hubertus died a day short of four weeks after he was born. Hertha’s next child was a third son, to whom was given a name similar to his brother’s, perhaps in memory of his brother who lived such a short time. This third son was named Hubert. Hubert died from typhus, a few days short of his third birthday. Last born of the children was Hertha’s second daughter, named Christa.

Hertha Lux Bullerman outlived all of her children except her oldest, Ursula. She also outlived her husband, Alfred, who died in 1938 of an incurable disease, just a few short years before that disease, tuberculosis, became very curable.

The family was religious. Alfred was a Lutheran minister, and they all lived in the parsonage, along with Hertha’s father for a time, who was an organist for the church. It was Ursula’s job to work the pump that gave the air that gave the sound to the pipes of the organ. For Ursula, as a child, that was hard work. You could get tired long before the music was through.

Ursula’s grandfather, Theodor Bruno Waldemar, was proud of her. They would often walk in the town, old grandfather and young granddaughter. When other children saw them walking together, they would sometimes call out, “There comes the old musician, with his daughter, the clarinet.” Grandfather would beam with pride, while Ursula thought altogether differently about the peer recognition.

I speak of these things and these people, because this is life, and they lived it. And they are all children of God, the God of the living.

Yet so much of it happened before my mortal life, before I arrived on earth and my mortal reality began. Did it really happen? How could it be real? Are the people of the past, of long ago and not so long ago, real? I am quite sure that it was and that they are.

One year and a month after the death of Hertha’s husband, Alfred, Germany was at war with nearly all of its neighbors.

Hertha’s remaining son, Fritz, was 16 when the war began. Before the war was over he would serve in a tank on the Russian front. Fritz never returned home. He died, in late autumn of 1943, in Ukraine, not far from where there is war again today.

A year later, in November 1944, the old musician, Hertha’s father, died. Of Hertha’s family, she and her two daughters remained. In not many weeks all three would flee for their lives from the Red Army.

The three women, barely fitting on the overcrowded refugee train, could take very little with them. Why did Hertha bring with her the folder containing her family history? With her world crashing down around her, with so many of her family and friends gone, with her homeland behind her and a merciless enemy at her back, why would those records of the dead have any value? Were these people who had gone, children, husband, father, family, real anymore?

Jesus said, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus said, “I am the life”.

Hertha and her daughters, Ursula and Christa, found refuge in southern Germany. Though her new home would soon be occupied by another enemy, it was a more merciful one than the communists.

Hertha and both daughters survived the war. The younger one, Christa, married and had children of her own, though she died from an illness in the mid-1960s. The older sister, Ursula, married an American soldier and came to the United States. She brought with her that treasured folder of family history, preserved by Hertha through fire and flame, through tragedy and chaos.

Ursula herself died just 10 years ago, from Alzheimer’s disease. She had forgotten much of what I have remembered for you today. While my mother’s memory of these people faded away the people did not. She regained them and her memory of them all just as she joined them in the world of spirits.

We all have such stories. I am glad for those that I have saved. I wish that I had saved more. That folder of family history mattered very much. Why did my grandmother entrust that folder to my mother? My grandmother rescued more than her daughters in the cold winter of 1945.

Because the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ extend life to all, I have confidence in the day when we shall be united.

Of What We Know and What We Are

Recently, while reading in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I thought back to when my two oldest daughters attended nursery during Sunday School hours at church. We were then members of a congregation with many young families. There were so many children that they divided the nursery into Senior Nursery and Junior Nursery. The dividing line was between those who had turned two by the start of the year and those who had not yet reached that august age. My older daughter—who is a real sweetheart and has since become the mother of daughters herself—was very proud that she was in Senior Nursery, while her sister was in Junior Nursery.

The mysterious relationship between my reading of the Romans and those events of not so long ago is that both emphasize how brief and transitory this life is. Whether our mortal life is allocated more than 70 years or fewer than 7, the time all told is rather short, and I dare say mercifully so.

This life is filled with the rich, the beautiful, as well as what is poor and ugly, and mostly what is very much temporary and does not matter. The emperors of Rome came and went so quickly, few living to die of natural causes. They scraped and fought and intrigued and connived to possess what they could not hold for long and which at the end left them nothing. The royal purple for the emperors at last was little more important than whether my daughters were in Senior or Junior Nursery. It all mattered about the same.

Some things do matter, greatly. While they can involve tangible things, all that in this life of lasting value is intangible and survives the universal tomb. Now I am watching my children cope with the mighty challenges that life concentrates into the years of transition from adolescence to adulthood. Life’s calling, personal dedication, education, careers, marriage, family, truly life-changing decisions come at these young people inexorably in relentless and rapid succession. They have tangible elements of mortality to employ as tools to aid and markers to help measure the evaluating and making of these important decisions. They wade into deep problems when these material tools are mistaken for the real things.

As parents we watch, support, counsel, encourage, but the decisions are no longer ours. With no small amount of concern, and with generous measures of satisfaction, we can witness these whom we love the most exercise their own free will to lay out the remaining course of their mortality. For Mom and Dad, this period of life has been rich, sometimes painful, and frequently joyful. It is for us a harvesting time, even while for our children it is mostly a time of planting.

I am reminded that, with each graduation, one proceeds from the top of a staircase onto the bottom step of a new one. When my daughter left Senior Nursery, she was at the bottom of the classes of Primary. The seniors in high school become the freshmen in college. The college graduate becomes the “newbie” at work. In my employment I frequently am called upon to consider candidates for jobs. Shall I tell you how little impressed I would be to learn that a particular applicant had been student council president or editor of the yearbook?

I believe that so it goes in the heavens. We eternally progress from stage to stage, with Jesus Christ as our Guide, Leader, and Teacher, each stage well done qualifying us to begin the next, bringing us ever closer to become more like our Father in Heaven. The value is in this very real becoming. Our greatest worldly achievements of rank and fame have in heaven as little weight as our grade school awards convey into adulthood. With much concern God watches how we make our decisions, how we develop our character, with satisfaction and joy as we choose what is good and act well. Like wise parents, God cannot and will not choose for us, our choices at planting being part of His joy in the harvest.

Again, as I recall my children in nursery, and my grandchildren there today, I reflect that there is so much that I would tell them but which they would not begin to understand. There is a treasury of what I have learned in over 5 decades that I would share but that would be completely incomprehensible to a granddaughter or grandson in primary school.

Then I reflect that compared to my Heavenly Father, my treasury is the knowledge of an infant, that I even today am such a little child in terms of what I know. Indeed, were I to know all that there is available to know in this life, it would still be so very little compared with what our Father in the eternal worlds knows and has for us to learn when we once again live with Him. A modern Apostle, Dallin H. Oaks (a former university president), once remarked that an omniscient God is not all that impressed with our Ph.Ds.

But if I do well with what He has given and taught me, I have received the living hope from His Son that I may come step by step in the presence of the Father to know all that He would share, which is everything. That is humbling and exhilarating. I am glad that I have not really very long to wait, and that I can learn my first lessons even now.

Of Vanity and Christmas Gifts

The prophets, ancient and modern, are clear that this life is a very artificial thing. The earth and this mortality did not just happen. They were carefully planned in the sphere of the eternities, for very specific—and lasting—purposes.

Abraham reported this, from a vision wherein he saw God speaking of us, His spirit children, before He created the earth:

We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; and they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; . . . and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. (Abraham 3:24-26)

Some centuries later Moses had a related vision, in which the Lord told him,

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

Our glory appears to be the Lord’s glory. It is the Lord’s work and glory that we grow and progress forever. The mortal mission and sacrifice of Jesus Christ were all part of His work for our immortality and eternal life. I am not sure that the Lord cares anything at all about anything we do other than what we do that affects His work and His glory. I do not find any evidence in the scriptures that anything else that we do matters to Him. Of course, in an eternal context, nothing else we do really matters to us, either. All of that other stuff is what the author of Ecclesiastes refers to as “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

That vanity, the key theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes, is what many people seem to think that this life is all about. Many people live this life as if this life really mattered much, when in truth, all that matters about this life is how it affects the true reality, which resides in the eternal worlds, beyond this world and life. Lasting value and meaning are found in what we take with us when we leave this world.

That is a good filter, if we wish to discern what in this life is imperishable and real and what is temporary and vain. If you take it with you past the grave, it matters. If it does not, fuhgeddaboudit. Or, at least, do not set your heart on it or waste much time with it.

That might be a good guide for Christmas gifts. By that I mean, consider the purpose behind the giving of the gift. Is its purpose to transfer possession of vanity, that has no reach beyond the grave? Or is it instead intended to communicate and strengthen ties of love, friendship, to show kindness, to build relationships, to facilitate personal growth and progress, to memorialize pleasant shared experiences, to express and transmit value? Consider how it may be tied to this list of eternal verities that stay with us:

Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. (Doctrine and Covenants 4:6)

There is a lot of Christmas Spirit in that list. Such solemnized gifts are not likely to break and never grow old. They are very real. To the extent they embrace such virtues, I think we remember them.

Of Holidays and Recreation

The holidays are fast upon us. The store displays are relentless clues (even if they rush things a bit). While growing up I looked forward to Hallowe’en, in part for the costume and candy celebration itself, but in no small part as the gateway to a series of rich and usually joyful holidays. October ended with Hallowe’en, and then Thanksgiving was observed a few weeks later. Right after Thanksgiving we were into the Christmas holidays. Quickly after Christmas came New Year, followed in February by Valentine’s Day, and at varying intervals Easter arrived amidst the celebration of Spring and new life.

I have a generous treasury of enchanting memories from those holidays. I recall one magical Hallowe’en as a young boy in a neighborhood full of children. The early evening’s streets and sidewalks were filled with costumed colleagues, all busily canvassing the ready houses, milling about, comparing each other’s sweetened haul, each house ready to greet you with a smile or perhaps an expression of wonder while adding to the bulging bag of treats.

Thanksgiving, perhaps the warmest and kindest of holidays, is rich in tradition, from the family and friends who gather, foods that are prepared, the china and silverware that are used, to the preview of coming cold weather. For me and mine, Thanksgiving has been a busily gentle holiday, crowded with activity and effort, but calm and purposeful. Rambunctious noise seems foreign to the day, even with a morning pick-up football game among Church members included. Thanksgiving speaks a time of Christ-like peace in my memory. If there were exceptions, they are forgotten. A prayer, a toast, and a feast that symbolizes the riches bestowed on us by God. In later years, with my own family (my wife and our children), the evening has witnessed the first lighting of the outdoor Christmas lights. Thanksgiving has brought on the Christmas season at our home.

Christmas for us has always been a season, with many holidays. The Advent holidays lead us inexorably to Christmas Eve. In those weeks there are many celebrations, ours and others, traditional and new. We began a new tradition last year that we anticipate repeating this season. Christmas Day itself has been a time when all ordinary activity seems to stop, a Sabbath of Sabbaths. We take an emotional breather, we contact family members not spending the day with us. We enjoy time together and some time occupied alone. For us, we then let the Christmas festivities wind down of themselves to their conclusion at Epiphany, the day we quietly finish the celebration until we near the end of the new year just begun.

Speaking of which, New Years’ Eves in my life have varied widely in observance. Maybe most memorable are an evening spent with my best friend shooting a basketball at the new hoop above my garage door, and another evening as a missionary in the Canary Islands, reflecting on the arrival of 1980, musing on what the end of the twentieth century would mean two decades later. That evening, those decades appeared to be rushing at me.

Then there are Valentine’s Day and Easter arising in steady succession. Each has its own traditions, each creating its own imprint in life’s recollections.

These have stocked my treasury of marvelous memories. I am rich with them. Yet I have more observances to come. To these I look forward.

Here is what I believe about these riches. I can take them out of the treasury each year and seek to recreate them, to work to experience them all over again. If I do, I have but relived and re-experienced what I already have. I add little new to the treasury. Many people celebrate this way. It seems to me a squandered opportunity and probably dangerous. I doubt that the previous charm can be revived, that the wondrous experience of the past can be recaptured. I fear that the joyful and rich memory might even be harmed by the failed effort. Worse, much can be consumed, much exertion expended, and still frustration and misery—for myself and others—may result in the trying.

I believe that a better approach would be to create new magnificent memories. These can build upon the past and work from valuable traditions. The good of the past can be drawn upon to create something greater. The effort is to make a new experience, not vainly recall to life a treasured memory. Not every holiday experience will produce equal joy and beauty, but if allowed to live for its own sake each will add to the fullness of life and the value of our storehouse of life’s treasures. Each will have the chance to be the most marvelous experience yet.

I am not prepared to concede that the best of my life has been lived or that the finest that I can do is recreate only what has happened before. I fancy to live life on the rise. I see no loss in trying.

Bring on the holidays. I plan to observe them each as never before.

Of Recording Life and Saving Life

Congratulations to Cornell University’s Macaulay Library, “the world’s largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings.” It is an expansive effort to capture and preserve the sounds of life of the entire animal kingdom, an important part of preserving life itself.

It really is wondrous to find the recorded sounds, and in many cases recorded videos, of so many species of animal life. This ongoing effort has been decades in the making, to save—and to make available—the sounds and sights of what has been in the making since before time. The goal is to record it all, the entire encyclopedia of animal life. The task is daunting, and may never be finished, but these busy “recordists” are ever getting more and progressing closer to their unreachable completion. You can wander through what they have done so far here:

http://macaulaylibrary.org/

It reminds me of another effort that I learned about a few years ago to collect and save seeds from every species of plant life. Again, that is another effort that may never be finished but which is ever getting closer and more complete.

Each of these works is a powerful reminder of how much variety the Lord has created for us all, how complex and intricate and diverse life is. It is also one more source of awe for the work of the Lord of Life and the magnificence of God’s creation.

Considering this wondrous variety and the greatness of life in all of its many forms, I do not find it credible to assume that among the galaxies—or even within our own galaxy—this is the only world where life is to be found. Why would God create all the rest of the numberless worlds? The answer is, to do there much of what He is doing here, to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

In a modern-day revelation the Lord confirmed what the Apostle John taught, that Jesus Christ is not only the Creator of this world but of the many worlds (see John 1:1-3). The Lord added, that Christ is also God of people on those many worlds, “That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:24) Note from this revelation that God’s eternal work, too, is still going on and will never be finished.

Returning to the Macaulay Library project, there is pleasure and wonder in wandering through the recordings. Below is a link to just one inspiring example, recorded nearly 50 years ago. It saves for us the sound of an ostrich, still in the egg, shortly before it emerges—not into life since it is clearly already alive, an appropriate part of the recorded history of living things—but shortly before it emerges into the open:

http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/793/struthio-camelus-ostrich-united-states-new-york-william-dilger

You have to be patient and listen through the chatter of the recordists. The wait is worth it, and of course the people doing the work merit remembrance in sound, too, as no less active and valuable members of the society of the living.

Therefore, a concluding thought I would leave you with: it would be a tragedy to lose recordings like these, as much as it is a treasure to have and preserve them. Consider the greater tragedy if rather than recording these sounds the recordists crushed the egg and the life within it. What a loss, a waste, and a sin. What if the recordists recorded such wanton destruction and shared that with the world. We and many others would be disgusted, in fact we would be right to be outraged. Would those same people be outraged when a human life, still encased and protected in his or her mother’s womb, is wantonly destroyed, its life crushed and ended? I do not know if there are any sound or video recordings of such destruction. Would it continue at the rate of millions of destructive acts each year if there were? I wonder.

(First published January 27, 2013)

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 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 Hard Things and the Holy Spirit

Life is rife with hard things. They are what make life worth living. The easier matters are intended for rest and relief and perhaps enjoyment, but they offer little growth. The hard things do, and life is all about growth. When living things stop growing they decay.

God understood from the beginning the hard things that we would face. Many of them He put here for us, “for our sake” (though we arrange plenty of hardships for ourselves). When man and woman were expelled from the Garden of Eden God explained to them, “cursed is the ground for thy sake. . . Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. . . In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. . .” (Genesis 3:17-19, emphasis added)

Our Heavenly Father knew that by facing and overcoming the hard things of life we would advance and progress and become worthy to be called His children, His heirs. As a loving Father He has also promised that we need not face the hardships of life alone, that His help would be ready at hand to take our best efforts and amplify them to be equal to the challenges, by which we are “glorified”.

. . . we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:16-18)

It is common to believe that some people, such as the wealthy, have it easier, that perhaps they face fewer of the hard things of life. The Savior took on this assumption directly. He taught His disciples that such views have it backwards:

. . . It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld their thoughts, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but . . . with God whatsoever things I speak are possible. (Matthew 19:24-26, JST)

No one escapes hard things. Like opportunities for growth, they are for everyone, including the rich. We can, however, overcome life’s troubles, God working with us, making all good things possible.

How is it done? Sometimes, surely more often than we know, God intervenes directly and removes obstacles, provides tools, brings friends and allies, and otherwise lowers barriers or lifts us over them. Perhaps even more frequently He increases our power and ability.

The Holy Spirit in particular can give us the power to do hard things as we qualify for that help. Consider some of the gifts of the Spirit. The ancient American prophet, Moroni, reminded us that these spiritual powers “are many”, given “unto men, to profit them.” As examples he cited wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, interpretation of languages, and others, explaining that these gifts of the Spirit are available to “every man” (see Moroni 10:8-17). The Apostle Paul provided a similar list in his letter to the saints at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 12:8-11). A modern Apostle, Parley P. Pratt, offered us this description of the power and influence of the Holy Spirit, speaking as the others did from personal experience, not theory or hypothesis:

It quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections. . . It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. . . . It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. . . . In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being. (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, p.101)

With such godly influence we can surmount every challenge that we need to rise above and withstand the sorrows of life we are called upon to endure. That is the secret, at least in part, to the counsel and promise from God,

Therefore, let your hearts be comforted; for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly. . . (Doctrine and Covenants 100:15)

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