Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Humility: the great paradox!

This post is the fifth installment in a 15-part series based on the following quote from Joseph Smith.

"The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation. After a person has 
  1. faith in Christ, 
  2. repents of his sins, and is 
  3. baptized for the remission of his sins and 
  4. receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him 
  5. continue to humble himself before God, 
  6. hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and 
  7. living by every word of God, and 
  8. the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that 
  9. the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to 
  10. receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints. [This other Comforter is no more nor less] than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even 
  11. He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and 
  12. the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and 
  13. the Lord will teach him face to face, and 
  14. and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; 
  15. and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn." (TPJS p. 150-151)
I love this quote. Joseph eloquently summarizes the fulness of the Gospel and gives me a vision of what Jesus offers all of us. Through this description of the Plan of Salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I've experienced a renewal of, and desire for, faith, repentance, prayer, worship, charity, divine presence and service. I've come to realize that I need to come to Jesus, that His arms are open, and the He employs no servant there. (This brings up the role and place of His servants, but that's a hot issue that won't be addressed in this post.)

Before I venture in to the realm of humility, I'd like to share a thought on the aspect of calling these benchmarks 'steps'. When we climb a ladder or a stair, we pass each rung or step only once on our way up. These steps are, in my mind, somewhat different. For every step you take, the ones you've passed are still essential to get to the next one. That's why faith is at the very start - without it you can't do anything and you've got to exercise it all the time. Repentance is also something that's engrained in every other milestone on your journey towards the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. Surely the nature of repentance changes as you progress, but the principle will be with you as long as there is something of sub-celestial quality in your person. Joseph translated Hebr. 6:1 to read: "Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." This ties in very well with the quote now discussed.

When I first numbered the steps in the Gospel of Christ, I found 15 of them. But now, I believe that step 5 and 6 are one and the same thing; humility being the label, and the hunger and thirst after righteousness the substance. 

Humility and religion

I believe that religion, before cunning men annexed and incorporated it, was a matter between you and God. It was a matter of spirit and faith. Religion should be about this, about the answer and solution to our brokenness, desire and need for enduring relationships and peace amidst turmoil. Unfortunately, religion has evolved (devolved?) to a question of being right (or, at least more right than they). Brene Brown, in her awesome TED-talk "The Power of Vulnerability", said: "Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. 'I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up.'"

When it's more important to be (factually) right, instead of acknowledging the lack of righteousness we all experience, religion has lost its transforming power. By then, it has gone from spirituality to factuality, and is based on the fear of disturbing the status quo. My experience from spending time among different groups on the Internet, is that almost everyone wants to be with people who can affirm ones worldview, and that 'dissenters' are frowned upon, and often kicked out. Why? Because they challenge the beliefs of the group. If the group firmly believes that they have the truth, any and every idea that challenges that is discarded as untrue.

This is a question with a complex answer. People sincerely believe and want to protect those beliefs. That's understandable. The essence of the problem isn't the faulty ideas or incorrect assumptions and beliefs, but rather the fact that we haven't been taught a healthy skepticism nor the skill of questioning in search of more truth. Or, put in other words, following authority and accepting the conclusions someone else have come to has replaced the fearless search for truth, no matter where this truth is found, and the collective refusal to 'be acted upon' (2 Ne 2). 

We've inherited a collective denial of free agency, instead of a wholehearted embrace of it. Why is this? My belief is that we don't want to get it wrong. Nevertheless, this is a fact of life. We also need to understand this if we are to be humble. It's important to understand that we will get it wrong sometimes, and that that's ok. God would rather have us use our agency and get it wrong, than have us sit in thoughtless stupor and not get it wrong (as if the thoughtless stupor is a good place to be found in).

Pride - the common enemy!

I've been full of pride my whole life. 

I used to take great pride in the fact that I am a Mormon, that I know my scriptures, I've served 'my' mission, and made covenants in the temple. I've stood up proclaiming that I know this or that to be true. Now, I can't do that anymore. This doesn't mean that the reasons for pride are gone. 

It's as easy to take pride in orthodoxy as it is to take pride in "thinking-out-of-the-boxy". It's as easy to take pride in 'knowledge' of spiritual things as it is to take pride in your lack of faith in things "proven" false. It's as easy to take pride in being in the Church as it is to take pride in having left it behind.

Pride inflates you, whereas humility raises you higher. When you're proud, all you've got are your own two feet. The humble, on the other hand, realizes that standing on someone else's shoulders changes everything.

Humility and the lack of righteousness 

Humility is hunger and thirst for the things of God. Hunger and thirst are, per definition, words that denote a lack of something. Humility therefore is, if nothing else, a realization of the need for and lack of God and his righteousness.

At the core of humility lies the acknowledgment that we are divine, but unable to feed and lift that divinity without the help of God. We can become great humans without God, but that's not enough to meet the end of our creation. The humble person has a clear view of the distance between the glory of God, on the one hand, and our fallenness on the other. This realization, without the atoning presence and nearness of Jesus, can crush us.

The other day, I saw "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" with my kids. The film doesn't do the books justice, but it moved me, and inspired and motivated me, nonetheless. One thing I love with the story of Narnia, is the nearness and direct access these children have to Aslan. He's with them, he comforts them, and he wants to tell them their story. Throughout my life, Jesus has been very distant. He's been close by, all right, but there has always been one more commandment, one more act of service, one more prayer and one more meeting to attend to, before He would accept me. And there's been leaders in the way. As it turned out, I never got through. Waking up to our awful situation has been a game changer. But I can tell you–it's hard to wake up to God.

If we can't accept that God may call us to walk different paths, how can we consider ourselves humble enough to receive God's will for us, wherever it may lead us. If our minds are so fixed on the path we believe that someone else should walk, how could we possibly acknowledge that the one we're currently treading might be wrong for us.

Hungering and thursting after righteousness isn't the same thing as wanting to be right or to be done right by others. Do we want to be in the right, or are we more concerned about being right where and what God wants us to be right now?

Humility is keeping quiet when you would like to shout from the roof tops want, and opening your mouth in quiet defence of truth, love and compassion when God wants you to.

The humble, precepts of men and the paradox of faith

One challenge for the humble is to be watchful against precepts taught by men and open to those taught by the spirit (2 Ne. 28:14). How can we be vigilant in this regard? We need to compare what is taught to the standard of the scriptures and to our conscience, and to the divine voice within. And we need to always be open for the possibility that any mortal man or woman can be dead wrong. Oftentimes, we are tempted to judge new ideas against the backdrop of our prejudices. Any idea that doesn't conform to our way of thinking or our world view are esteemed as a thing of naught. Sub-celestial beings should avoid the illusion that "we have the truth" like the plague.

In 1 Ne. 13 we read that "the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them." (v. 16) One of the great paradoxes of Christianity, faith and even life itself, is evident in this verse: we are strong when we realize that we are weak. The same kind of paradox is expressed by Jesus when he said that "for whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it," (Luk. 9:24) and "whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (Matt. 23:12) How can we explain the mechanism between humility and the power of the Lord?

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