Wednesday, December 12, 2012

To be Learned is Good IF...

This morning, our family was reading in the Book of Mormon together  and  something we read struck me deeply. It has been on my mind all day and I wanted to share some thoughts on it.

In 2 Nephi 9, the prophet, Jacob is teaching about the atonement of Jesus Christ. He discusses the concept of laws and justice and the balance created by mercy through the sacrifice of Christ. As he discusses this, he makes a few remarks that I found particularly striking today.

In verses 28 and 29, it says,

28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
 29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

Here is why I found this so impactful…

I think often members of the Church interpret this scripture to be referring to people who are “learned” and “wise” in the sense of the world – secular wisdom. This is a natural thought because it is so obvious how many who are secularly learned and “wise” tend to use their logic and learning as some sort of proof that God does not exist. Also, we see many who rely on their own understanding to the point that they rationalize themselves away from the Church and ultimately, God.

I do not doubt this is part of what Jacob meant – perhaps even the primary meaning. However, today it occurred to me that there might be another meaning.

Lately, as I have been working though my thoughts and feelings about my life and what should or shouldn’t be, etc, I keep running into the same thing…people who seem to use “God’s logic” against God (perhaps even me at times).

Think about it for a minute. Who is not “learned” and “wise” in terms of the gospel of Christ, but his own followers?! I grew up reading and learning the scriptures. I have been taught in the “ways” of the Lord. This is good. It is His plan to teach us His ways – after all, if we are to be like Him, we must know of His ways. In fact, we even need to practice His way of thinking and acting. However, in that process of trying to become like him and applying what we learn, we can fall into a dangerous trap – one that I have personally fallen into myself.

This trap is the trap of using our own learned knowledge of God’s ways to form a certain “logic” about how God operates and we form opinions and make decisions about what He will or won’t have us do.  This can be dangerous, because we limit our understanding of God and His miracles and His mercy and His work when we decide by our learning – no matter how much it is based on what we have learned to be true – what God thinks, how He acts, what He will or won’t do.

Thankfully, the Lord has provided safeguards for this. For instance, he provides a Prophet to help guide us and “hearken unto the counsels of God”.  He provides us the Holy Ghost to help us recognize truth, and He provides us priesthood leadership and revelation that is always in unison when it acts and decides.
But in our personal lives? It can be a bit daunting. God certainly leads each of us a bit different. And one person’s actions can seem foolish or wrong to our “logic”, but is indeed not so. I know I have felt inspired of God in my own life to make decisions and take actions that according to some “logic” is not wise or not profitable – and seemingly goes against what God teaches us in principle. However, I have a certainty that I cannot deny that I have been lead to act in that way.

It reminds me of what Isaiah says in the Old Testament (Isaiah 55:8-9):
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The more I learn about God’s ways, the more I have learned that there is a lot of depth and dimension to His ways that I don’t understand or even know exists. When we learn principles, it is often just the scratch of the surface.

An analogy I thought of was in thinking about chemistry.  When I first started learning about chemistry in high school, it was really awesome. I loved it. I learned lots of great principles about how things worked together. However, in college, chemistry began to challenge some of the set principles I thought I knew. Suddenly, there were “exceptions” to the “rules” (meaning that we just haven’t been able to totally understand or explain the real principles). Then chemistry became more difficult. It required much more context, more work, more understanding, more learning, more experimentation, more of everything. It was tough. If I had applied my limited and high school sufficient knowledge to college chemistry, I would have failed pretty badly (in fact, I did fail the first time…haha)

I guess my point in this is that we need to be careful of how we use our own learning to judge our own life or the life of others – even things we feel are set in stone – like how “thou shalt not kill” – except when commanded or justified by God (David and Goliath, Nephi and Laban, Saul and the Amalekites, etc). Or how at times polygamy was appropriate and sanctified by God, but at other times, not. That is an extreme example, but it is the same principle.

So, how do we avoid making mistakes like this? Easy – like it says in the scripture, hearken unto the counsels of God! How do we do that?
  1.   Follow the guidance He gives us in His prophet and our other priesthood leaders.
  2.  Seek the Holy ghost to help you recognize and follow the truth
  3.  Read the scriptures to learn more in-depth truths
  4. Experiment on the word and learn from experience
  5. Write down your experiences and ponder what you learn from them.

One of the scriptures that has most impacted my own life is in 2 Nephi 7:10-11, where Nephi quotes Isaiah. The verse says this…

 10 Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?
 11 Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

In verse 10, it describes someone who “feareth the Lord” – in other words, someone who believes in and wants to obey and follow God. It also describes someone as one who “obeyeth the voice of his servant” – in other words, someone who actually is obedient and follows Christ. However, it also describes that same person as someone who “walketh in darkness and hath no light”. How can that be? How can those coincide? In verse 11, it explains...

It is someone who compasses themselves about with the sparks and light of their own fire! This is someone who, while being obedient, relies on their own works, their own learning, their own counsels to light their path. This is someone who, while understanding God’s will in terms of the rigidness of the law, but does not see the merciful light of the atonement of Christ. They do not hearken unto His counsels.

This is a great description of what I think Jacob partly saw. We see this a lot in the Book of Mormon and in the New Testament where those who have the Gospel then lose their way because they think once they have learned God’s ways, they know His ways. Interesting problem. Terrible problem to have, with terrible and sad consequences.

I hope I continue to learn God’s ways and that my trial of those ways in faith will teach me more of His depth and dimension. I hope that my learning will always be tempered and lightened by His light as I seek for His counsel – so that my ways indeed become His ways.