What Is Truth?

When the Savior stood before Pontius Pilate, accused of treason, He explained to the Roman governor that His kingdom was not about worldly power:

To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice (John 18:37).

In response, the governor replied disdainfully, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

In a world of conflicting voices, it’s easy to become frustrated in our search to know the truth. If we’re not careful, that frustration can crystalize into cynicism. We can begin to doubt whether it is possible to know the truth. We might even wonder whether there is such a thing as objective reality.

Unscrupulous people try to foment that kind of cynicism in order to manipulate us. Consider the following:

  • Sherem: “No man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come” (Jacob 7:7).
  • Korihor: “Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ” (Alma 30:15).

The strategy is simple: convince your audience that there is no objective reality or at least that they have no hope of detecting it, in hopes that they will abandon their search for truth.

In 1833, Joseph Smith received by revelation a concise definition of truth:

And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24).

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob provided a similar definition:

The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be (Jacob 4:13).

In a way, it seems strange to define truth. It’s such a simple concept: It’s just the way things are. But in a world where the concept of objective truth is regularly attacked, it is sometimes important to return to first principles.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson has warned that moral relativism, which he defined as “the view that ethical or moral truths…depend on the attitudes and feelings of those who hold them” can cause us to ignore our conscience.

He described his own experience as the law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, who presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars and who ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over his recordings of relevant White House conversations. As President Nixon’s involvement in the crime and subsequent cover-up became clearer, Elder Christofferson wondered how the president had allowed this to happen.

He concluded the following:

The life lesson I took away from this experience was that my hope for avoiding the possibility of a similar catastrophe in my own life lay in never making an exception—always and invariably submitting to the dictates of conscience. Putting one’s integrity on hold, even for seemingly small acts in seemingly small matters, places one in danger of eventually losing the benefit and protection of conscience altogether. I’m sure that some have “gotten away with it,” in the sense that they acted dishonestly or illegally in business or professional or political life and have never been made to account (at least in this life). But a weak conscience, and certainly a numbed conscience, opens the door for “Watergates,” be they large or small, collective or personal—disasters that can hurt and destroy both the guilty and the innocent (“Truth Endures,” Address to CES Religious Educators, 26 January 2018).

Today, I will continue my search to know the truth. I will recognize that there is an objective reality, independent of the opinions and arguments which I read and hear. I will not allow the confusion in the world to prevent me from following my conscience and working diligently to identify and understand the truth.

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What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Corruption?

King Benjamin set the standard for political leadership when he reported to his people at the end of his reign that he had conscientiously labored to serve them and avoided taking advantage of his role for personal gain (Mosiah 2:12-15).

His son Mosiah followed his example (Mosiah 6:6-7).

But when the people of King Limhi and Alma arrived in the land of Zarahemla with stories of egregious abuse of power by Limhi’s father Noah, King Mosiah was concerned about his people’s future. He described to the people how an unscrupulous man could take advantage of their system of government:

He has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;
And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness (Mosiah 29:22-23).

The solution proposed by Mosiah was a representative form of government in which decisions are made by “the voice of the people,” instead of by a single person.

Can’t the majority of the people be wrong? Of course they can. But a system of government in which everyone has a voice is less amenable to corruption than a system in which power is concentrated:

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people (Mosiah 29:26).

Then he added an ominous warning:

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land (Mosiah 29:27).

About 60 years later, a chief judge named Nephi was horrified at the failure of the people to live up to the expectations set by King Mosiah.

For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted (Helaman 5:2).

In frustration, Nephi stepped down from his post as chief judge, naming a successor, and dedicated the remainder of his life to preaching the gospel and fortifying the moral character of his society.

Seven years later, Nephi returned from a mission to find that things had deteriorated further. Positions of authority were held by immoral men who did whatever they could get away with:

Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills….
Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years (Helaman 7:5-6).

Fifty-two years later, things had become far worse. After a period of righteousness and peace, the moral character of the people had begun to decay again. An ethic of loyalty to family and close friends had replaced a commitment to integrity and justice. When a group of judges were accused of unlawfully executing innocent people, they openly flaunted the fact that their extreme loyalty to one another had made them immune to prosecution:

Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.
And they did enter into a covenant one with another…to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country (3 Nephi 6:27-30).

The result was anarchy. The people lost confidence in their institutions of justice, and those institutions could not survive that loss of confidence. The government crumbled, and the people separated into tribes (3 Nephi 7:1-6).

The Oxford Dictionary defines “corruption” as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” When leaders prioritize their own gain over the people they are supposed to serve, and when they prioritize personal loyalty over integrity, the structures which uphold society begin to disintegrate.

I have learned the following principles from these Book of Mormon examples:

  1. It is important to avoid too much concentration of power.
  2. Even when power is distributed, the laws of a nation and the nation’s adherence to those laws is a reflection of the collective moral character of its people.
  3. We must hold our leaders to a high standard of integrity and not allow that standard to be watered down over time.
  4. When we allow people to get away with crimes because of their money or connections, we weaken the rule of law.

Today, I will recommit to follow and uphold the standard of leadership set by Benjamin and Mosiah. I will remember that the positions of authority I hold are responsibilities to serve conscientiously. I will make it clear that I expect the same from my leaders: integrity in fulfilling their duties and respect for the rule of law.

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Why Do Quotes from the King James Version Appear in the Book of Mormon, Even Ones that Joseph Smith Later Altered in his Translation of the Bible ?

This question came from one of my daughters.

She is well aware that some passages in the Book of Mormon (such as quotations from the Book of Isaiah) come from the same sources as the Bible. For example, the brass plates, which Lehi and his family carried with them from Jerusalem, contained many of the same writings which appear in the Old Testament.

She also understands that the grammar of the King James Version of the Bible was the scriptural language of Joseph Smith. As I’ve written in another blog post, archaic language puts us in a different frame of mind and enables us to interact with scripture differently from the way we interact with everyday speech and writing.

Her question is a deeper one: In some cases, a passage in the Book of Mormon exactly matches a passage in the King James Version of the Bible, but was later revised in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. If he later decided the passage should be revised, why didn’t he revise it the first time, while he was translating the Book of Mormon?

An example appears in a blog post I wrote a few days ago:

Matthew 6:13 (KJV) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
3 Nephi 13:12 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:14 (JST) And suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

What is a “correct” translation?

As I’ve thought about this question today, I’ve been struck by how often Book of Mormon prophets lamented their own limitations in writing. They were painfully aware of their inability to convey important truths with the clarity they hoped to achieve. For example:

  • “I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men….. But I, Nephi, have written what I have written” (2 Nephi 33:1, 3).
  • “Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing…. Thou hast made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words” (Ether 12:23, 25).
  • “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him” (Mormon 9:31).
  • “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God” (Title Page of the Book of Mormon).

The miracle of human language is that sometimes, when we use words to communicate, other people understand what we mean. But communication is not an exact science, even in our native language, and it becomes all the more challenging when transforming a message from one language to another.

There is a scriptural passage which appears in all four of the standard works: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. That is Malachi 4:5-6:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

On September 6, 1842, Joseph Smith wrote an epistle to the church, in which he quoted this passage. As he began to explain it, he wrote, “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands.” Then, he added, “It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children” (Doctrine & Covenants 128:18).

As Joseph Smith makes clear in this epistle, he wasn’t looking for a “perfect” translation. He was trying to achieve sufficient clarity to suit a particular purpose. The King James Version was sufficient for this purpose, although the same passage had been quoted to him differently by the angel Moroni nearly 20 years earlier. (See Doctrine and Covenants 2). And even though he didn’t provide a different translation on this occasion, he immediately followed up with a clarifying phrase: the hearts of the fathers and children not only “turn to” one another; they are united by “a welding link.”

So when Joseph Smith revises a scriptural text, it does not necessarily invalidate prior versions. It may simply be adding clarity and providing additional insight to help us better understand the meaning of the text.

Today, I will be grateful for the richness of revealed truth which the Lord has made available to us through prophets. I will remember that human language is imperfect and that I must work to understand the meaning of the messages I have received from God. I will be grateful for the ongoing clarifications I receive from prophets to help me better understand His word.

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What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About the Creation of the Earth?

It’s so easy to have a narrow perspective. Our brains have finite capacity, and we all have tasks that must be done today. Focusing on the here and now may seem to be imperative.

But provincial thinking can result in distorted perception and poor decisions. Book of Mormon prophets understood the importance of seeing the big picture and interacting with the world on the basis of universal principles, not just reacting to our current circumstances.

Thus, when Lehi and his family abandoned their comfortable life in Jerusalem and began a journey in the wilderness to an uncertain destination, a top priority was the acquisition of a scriptural record. What did this record contain? “The five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents” (1 Nephi 5:11).

When Nephi’s brothers refused to help him build a ship, on the grounds that he didn’t know what he was doing, he responded by reminding them, among other things, of the Creation:

Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it (1 Nephi 17:36).

An awareness of the vastness of God’s power gave Nephi confidence in following Him: “If the Lord has such great power…how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” (1 Nephi 17:51).

Nephi particularly appreciated the words of Isaiah, who regularly emphasized the expansive perspective of the Creator. For example, in the following passage, which Nephi’s brother Jacob used in a sermon, Isaiah reproves Israel for being afraid of human beings while ignoring God:

Behold, who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die, and of the son of man, who shall be made like unto grass?
And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth? (2 Nephi 8:12-13, Isaiah 51:12-13).

After King Benjamin’s people received a remission of their sins, he taught them what they must do to retain that remission over time. His instructions included many practical tasks, but it all started with perspective:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend (Mosiah 4:9).

When Ammon and his brothers preached the gospel to their enemies, the Lamanites, they used the Creation as a way of establishing God’s identity. After asking King Lamoni if he believed in God, Ammon asked if the king believed that God “created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?” (Alma 18:24-32). When the king responded in the affirmative, Ammon “began at the creation of the world,” and taught him the gospel, including “the fall of man” and “the plan of redemption” (Alma 18:36, 39). Ammon’s brother Aaron followed the same pattern when he subsequently taught Lamoni’s father (Alma 22:7-14).

After the destruction which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ, the survivors heard His voice mourning the loss of those who had died. Then, they heard Him introduce Himself with these words:

Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are (3 Nephi 9:15).

These people would soon see Him, but for now, they could know Him by His works. As Alma had testified to Korihor, the beauty and order of nature and the majesty of the planets which we can observe in the night sky are evidence of a Creator.

Elder M. Russell Ballard has encouraged us to interact with nature as a way of connecting with God:

To truly reverence the Creator, we must appreciate his creations. We need to plan to take time to observe the marvels of nature. Today, we can easily become surrounded by brick buildings and asphalt surfaces that shelter us from real life around us. Plan to share with your family the miracle of buds changing to fragrant blossoms. Take time to sit on a hillside and feel the tranquillity of the evening when the sun casts its last golden glow over the horizon. Take time to smell the roses (“God’s Love for His Children,” General Conference, April 1988).

At the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni, the final author, challenges us to pause and ponder. He doesn’t just ask us to think about our personal challenges, about our families, or even about our cities and nations. He asks us to ponder “how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things” (Moroni 10:3). Breadth of perspective matters in understanding true principles.

Today, I will spend some time in nature. I will remember that God created all things in the heavens and the earth, and I will take some time to appreciate His creations and express gratitude for them.

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Why Is Light an Appropriate Symbol for the Birth of Christ?

In a passage quoted by Nephi, Isaiah used the imagery of light to describe the birth of the Messiah:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined….
For unto us a child is born (Isaiah 9:2, 6, 2 Nephi 19:2, 6).

In the land of Israel, the birth of the Savior coincided with the appearance of a new star. Matthew tells us that a group of wise men followed a star to the place where Jesus was living as a young child (Matthew 2:1-10).

A group of people on the American continent experienced a much more dramatic sign. As the prophet Samuel prophesied six years before the Savior’s birth:

There shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.
And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.
And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven (Helaman 14:3-7).

Six years later, to the amazement of the people, Samuel’s prophecy was fulfilled:

At the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came….
And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given….
And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word (3 Nephi 1:15, 19, 21).

The birth of the Savior was accompanied by light, and not just any light. Unusual light, shining in the middle of the night. Light when there should be darkness.

Why is this a fitting symbol? Because that is what Christ does for us. As Isaiah described, we have all walked in darkness. We have all lived or will all live in the “land of the shadow of death” at times. Our lives can seem very dark. We can be confused, discouraged, or fearful. But when the light of Christ flows into our lives, those emotions can be replaced by joy and confidence.

For the inhabitants of the American continent, the appearance of the “light of the world” (John 8:12) was marked by the arrival of miraculous heavenly objects which shone from the sky and filled the earth with light even though the people had seen sun set.

Today, I will be grateful for the light and hope that the Savior can bring into my life, even during my darkest times. I will remember that He is the light of the world and that, if I reach out to Him, He can fill me with His light, which will bring clarity, confidence, and comfort.

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How Can I Manage Stress More Effectively?

Near the end of King Benjamin’s life, he gathered his people to teach them about the Savior. After they received a remission of their sins, he gave them a list of things they should do to retain that remission over time: continue to believe in God, pray to Him, repent, teach their children to love one another, give to beggars, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and administer to the spiritual and temporal needs of others (Mosiah 4:4-26).

At this point, he must have sensed a growing level of anxiety among his listeners, so he provided some guidance about how to manage the gap between what they would like to do and what they actually could do:

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order (Mosiah 4:27).

In April of 1829, after Joseph Smith lost the 116 pages known as the Book of Lehi and was unable to translate for many months, the Lord gave him the same advice. After authorizing him to begin translating again, the Lord said:

Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end (Doctrine and Covenants 10:4).

Note that in both of these passages, dual instructions are given:

  1. Don’t try to do more than you can.
  2. Be diligent.

This pairing suggests to me that there is an optimal level of activity. We shouldn’t do more than we can, and we shouldn’t do less. We are looking for that sweet spot, where we are productive and busy but not overextended and burned out.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has explained that, when a pilot encounters turbulence during a flight, he or she will search for the “optimum turbulence penetration speed.” They don’t shut down the engines entirely (obviously), and they don’t necessarily speed up. Instead, they try to achieve a speed which minimizes the negative effects of the turbulence while continuing to progress toward their destination. Often, he said, this means slowing down (“Of Things That Matter Most,” General Conference, October 2010).

In 1908, two psychologists—Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson—identified a principle which is now called the Yerkes-Dodson law. It states that, for difficult tasks, our performance improves as our state of mental arousal (our stress level) increases, but only up to a point. After we have reached the peak level of performance, additional arousal actually reduces our effectiveness. The law is often represented by a bell curve, with the point of maximum productivity at the top of the curve:

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 8.59.38 PM
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

So zero stress is not the goal, but too much stress can be just as bad.

What should we do when we are overstressed? Elder Uchtdorf provided the following guidance:

  1. Slow down a little.
  2. Simplify your activities. Focus on the most important ones, and let some less important activities go.
  3. Remember that your top priorities are your relationships: with God, with your family, with other people, and with yourself.
  4. Find joy in living the gospel.

(“Of Things That Matter Most,” General Conference, October 2010).

Today I will pay attention to my stress level and try to achieve an “optimum turbulence penetration level.” I will strive to prioritize the things that matter most, let go of less important things, and find joy in doing good.

Posted in Stress Management | Tagged | 2 Comments

Would God Lead Us Into Temptation?

During the Lord’s Prayer, which the Savior gave as an example of how we should pray, He makes the following request:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4, 3 Nephi 13:12).

The words are the same all three times this prayer appears in the scriptures: twice in the New Testament and once in the Book of Mormon.

Nephi taught us that God “doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Nephi 26:24). Mormon taught that God invites us to do good continually and that it is the devil, not God, who entices us to do evil (Moroni 7:13, 17). Since we know that God loves us and will only lead us to do good, why would we ask Him not to lead us into temptation?

Earlier this year, Pope Francis reportedly authorized a change in the wording of this prayer to be used in Catholic services. Instead of saying “lead us not into temptation,” the new version would say, “do not let us fall into temptation” (“Led not into temptation: pope approves change to Lord’s Prayer,” The Guardian, 6 Jun 2019).

The prophet Joseph Smith made a similar emendation. In the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the passage in Matthew reads:

And suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:14, JST).

And the Luke passage reads like this:

And let us not be led unto temptation; but deliver us from evil; (Luke 11:4, JST).

President Russell M. Nelson has commented on Joseph Smith’s revisions:

The clarification on temptation is helpful, for surely we would not be led into temptation by Deity. The Lord said, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (“Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers,” General Conference, April 2009).

I like President Nelson’s characterization of this change as a “clarification.” The King James Translation is not incorrect, but it could be misunderstood.

For example, when President Henry B. Eyring was a child, he learned a number of principles from the Lord’s Prayer including the following:

I had been taught and found it true that we can be warned of danger and shown early what we have done which displeased God. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13) (“Write upon My Heart,” General Conference, October 2000).

Today, I will be grateful for a loving God who wants what is best for me and who is committed to my success and happiness. I will be grateful that His prophets can help me better understand the principles behind scriptural texts and apply them correctly in my life.

Posted in God - Love, Temptations | Tagged , , | 1 Comment