Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's the Difference Between Science and Religion? --Numbers 21: 8-9

"And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (Num. 21: 8-9)

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into a fiery furnace, fully prepared to die rather than accept idolatry, an angel from God was sent to question them. The angel said: "Doesn't Moses say to choose life? So why are you ready to choose death?"

The three young Hebrews, all well versed in the Torah, responded that they would die to keep the Ten Commandments, one of which said, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them." (Ex. 20: 4-5)

But the angel, having anticipated this argument, produced a fireproof copy of the Torah and showed them the passage above, in which Moses is commanded by God to make a graven image--in direct contradiction to God's own commandment!

"I respect your courage," said the angel, "but how do you, who are willing to die for the words of this book, explain a passage like this?"

The three were quick to respond.

Shadrach said: "It's not actually the form of idolatry God objects to, but the content. Moloch and Baal were evil ideas, not just evil for being images. The idol we now refuse to worship is simply a stand-in for worshiping the king. That's why the commandment is reflexive: 'thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.' Moses' serpent wasn't made unto himself, but unto God. Because God was its content, its form as a graven image didn't make a difference."

Meshach always agreed with Shadrach as to course of action, but almost never agreed with the whole of his reasoning. And so he also answered: "God does object to idolatry as a form, and sanctified our people with a commandment against it. But he knew that our fathers in Moses' day had idolatrous hearts, and so he worked with them in the manner of their own understanding. Moses made the brazen serpent for them, but he received the commandments on Horeb for us. The fundamental point here is not of form or content, but context. God works differently for the children than for their rebellious parents."

Abed-nego, however, said to the angel: "When you return to heaven and tell this story, preserve my friends' explanations, but tell the listener that neither of them is necessary. It is enough to say that the story of the brass serpent is told to show that God is able to embrace contradictions."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Two Hundred Years of Concision --Omni 1: 30

"And I, Amaleki, had a brother, who also went with them; and I have not since known concerning them. And I am about to lie down in my grave; and these plates are full. And I make an end of my speaking."

When Lehi and Nephi began to write, their sacred plates were mostly blank and full of possibility. By the time Jacob received the plates, however, they were more than half full, and so he wrote with greater concision. Enos, getting the plates after Jacob, wrote even more carefully, and Jarom more carefully still.

All the record-keepers from Jarom through Amaleki were faced with the terrible challenge of writing on plates that were nearly full. What do you say into a sacred history with almost no space left?

Only after Amaleki filled the plates and thus reopened history could the people see their own generation's experience as sacred again.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kira's FHE --Alma 7: 24

"And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works." (Alma 7: 24)

At family home evening last night (Monday night Nicole and I put off Family Home Evening to see a new play by a good friend of mine), Kira chose to read this scripture for the lesson. Kira is relatively new to the world of reading, and scripture print is pretty tight and small, so it took a while to make it through the verse. By the time she finished, I was ready for a song and prayer, but luckily Nicole had the patient to take time first to talk about what the scripture means.

What is faith? she asked Kira.

Kira, who is still too young to have worried about any of faith's opposites in her relationship with God, had no idea. We said: faith is talking to Heavenly Father even though you can't see him. She said: "I'm a faith girl."

What is hope? my wife asked Kira.

Kira said she didn't know that, either, until Nicole reminded her that she talks about hope all the time. Hope is like a wish said Kira. It's a wish for a good thing.

What is charity? said Nicole to Kira.

That one, of course, stumped Kira, since the answer is for her is probably that charity is a scriptures-only word. So I said: charity is a fancy word for love. And Kira said "I love everybody in the whole entire world." So I said: yes. That's charity. You love your parents, and that's one kind of love. Your parents love each other, and that's a different kind. When you love everyone in the world, that's charity.

And what are good works? asked Nicole.

For Kira, good works are being nice to her teacher and helping throw away trash. When I was a teenager, they were staying away from alcohol, drugs, and sex. For Shiprah and Puah, good works were disobeying a direct order from a king who thought he was a god and then lying about it. For Thomas S. Monson, they are remembering the widows and teaching people how to see their own lives in terms of service. For Nicole, perhaps, they include using her talents to find the wise and good in texts. And so on, into a thousand and one possibilities every night, so that my old stake president, Samuel Kiehl, used to say: "There are so many good things to do you can safely just cross bad off your list."

This is, I think, part of the meaning of the word "abound."


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