Friday, October 24, 2014

Frustrations

You know what God is trying to teach me right now? You can't have the Spirit with you when you're angry. That's why I'm not getting much out of Pathway and it's why I can't blog about something I want to blog about this morning: because they're frustrating me and making me angry.

But actually, can anything literally make a person angry, or does the person still have some control over how they feel? I don't think anything can force us to assume a certain emotional state, but at the same time, it's really hard not to feel certain ways in some situations. If someone you really love died, it'd be hard not to feel sad about it. If you're trying to blog about feeling frustrated, but the computer you're using to share your feelings keeps crashing, it'd be hard not to feel frustrated about that. I'm sure that I could force myself to feel peaceful and happy, despite the fact that everything is frustrating me, but I don't have a strong enough will-power, and that's really frustrating, too.

Am I allowed to feel frustrated and upset and angry sometimes? Is that okay? Or is it a sin to have such negative emotions? In School Thy Feelings, O My Brother, President Monson said "The Apostle Paul asks in Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 26 of the Joseph Smith Translation: 'Can ye be angry, and not sin?'" but I can't remember if he ever answered that question. Maybe the answer is 'yes.' Maybe a person can be upset and even angry sometimes without offending God. But then President Monson said this: "I ask, is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case."

So I guess I need to overcome my feelings of frustration and anger, no matter how justified I think they may be. It won't always be easy, but if I can't have the Spirit with me when I'm frustrated, I'm going to have to learn how to deal with that feeling and overcome it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Laws for Protection

You know that rule about biking only on the right side of the street (unless it's a one-way street, on which you may ride on the left, if you can get there safely)? It, and certain other traffic rules, seemed somewhat pointless to me, and especially inconvenient. On my commute to school each morning, I need to go west from my street, but my street connects to a one-way street going east. Usually, I just go west, against the flow of traffic, and then get onto the right side of the road when it's convenient for me, but I won't be doing that today. Recently, a friend of mine got into an accident by riding on the wrong side of the street. Thankfully, they're mostly okay, but it was something of a wake-up call for me, and it reminded me that some laws exist for good reasons. At least, God's laws certainly do.

Sometimes, certain commandments don't make sense to us, and almost always, they're at least a little bit inconvenient. Sometimes, we try to bend the rules or justify breaking them, mostly because we don't really understand why they exist and what they do for us. Just like the rule to ride on the right side of the street, God's commandments exist to protect us. We live in a dangerous world, full of alluring temptations to follow the wrong paths. Sometimes it's difficult, or at least inconvenient, to find and follow the right path, but that's what keeps us safe. And one of God's top priorities is to keep His children safe. That's why He gave us commandments - to help us keep from getting hurt and from hurting each other. I don't always keep God's commandments or do everything I should, and I usually get burned when I don't. So today, I'm going to try to make better choices. For one thing, for today at least, I'm going to make sure I stay on the right side of the road.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Quest of a Lifetime

I couldn't stop blogging about President Uchtdorf's Saturday Morning talk without sharing the quote from that talk that most stood out to me: "Let us acknowledge that most often gaining a testimony is not a task of a minute, an hour, or a day. It is not once and done. The process of gathering spiritual light is the quest of a lifetime."

As a person who's probably just a little bit too fond of fantasy, the word "quest" jumped out at me, especially since it's "the quest of a lifetime." It sounds epic. But what President Uchtdorf actually meant is slightly less exciting. He meant that gathering spiritual light, or gaining a testimony, is going to take a really long time. In fact, none of us will ever finish gathering spiritual light within our lifetimes. Gaining a testimony is a quest that will continue for all our mortal years and beyond.

This, too, can be epic, in its own way. It means that there's so much spiritual light available to us that we couldn't possibly gather it all in in one lifetime. There will always be more glorious truths to learn and experience to gain. In my math class, I find that I'm excited when I learn to understand a new concept and find out how to use it to easily solve problems that look daunting. I imagine that our eternal education will be just as exciting. It will be fun to learn how God does what He does, and learn how to do it ourselves. Perhaps I'm going a bit beyond what President Uchtdorf meant, but I think that all truth is light, and that we'll be gathering such light, if we're willing, for all eternity.

Back to Uchtdorf's original meaning, it may seem like a slow and arduous process, and it can be discouraging to think of how little light we have, but take heart. Your testimony will continue to grow for as long as you live, if you let it. It may seem small and weak now, don't worry. It'll grow. On the other hand, if you think your testimony is already strong enough, think again. If God doesn't test the strength of your testimony, Satan will, so we should be constantly trying to strengthen our testimonies so we can pass the tests of life. It's not over until it's over. No matter how much or little spiritual light you have, keep gathering it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Galaxies and God - A Lesson on Disbelief and Faith

Perhaps the technical difficulties with the blog post on not seeing stars were well-timed. The next Conference talk down the line is President Uchtdorf's Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth, which opens with a quick lesson on the history of astronomy"
It was less than a century ago that most astronomers assumed that our Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy in the universe. They supposed all that lay beyond our galaxy was an immense nothingness, an infinite void—empty, cold, and devoid of stars, light, and life. 
As telescopes became more sophisticated—including telescopes that could be launched into space—astronomers began to grasp a spectacular,almost incomprehensible truth: the universe is mind-bogglingly bigger than anyone had previously believed, and the heavens are filled with numberless galaxies, unimaginably far away from us, each containing hundreds of billions of stars. 
...before mankind had instruments powerful enough to gather celestial light and bring these galaxies into visibility, we did not believe such a thing was possible.
President Uchtdorf  goes on to explain that it's hard to believe in that which we cannot see. Though those other galaxies were there all along, we couldn't see them, so we didn't believe that they existed. In Why We Can't See Stars, I hope I made it clear that while I was talking about seeing God's light, I meant seeing evidence of God's existence and love for us, not literally seeing the light that God generates when He appears to people. Only a very few people in the world's history have been privileged to literally see God. The rest of us just have to trust that He really is there. Even when we do everything we can to cut out the distractions in our lives, humble ourselves, and try to attune our eyes to the light of God, we still probably won't see Him, and some measure of faith will always be required.

I do not know that other galaxies exist. I've been told that they exist, and I've been shown images of them, but I do not know of their existence for myself. Even if I was allowed to look through a telescope and see galaxies other than our own, I probably couldn't help thinking of how easy it would be to embed a computer screen into a device than merely looks like a telescope. There would always be some doubt, and I would always need some faith.

The same goes for knowing that God exists, that there is life after death, and that the scriptures and words of the prophets are true. The prophets and our own hearts may tell us that certain things are true, just as astronomers and telescopes can tell us about other planets and galaxies, but it will always take some faith to believe them. And some people have trouble coming up with that kind of faith. In fact, I think we all do sometimes. Sometimes, we can't bring ourselves to believe in things that we haven't observed for ourselves. Sometimes we feel that we need to see a thing ourselves to believe in its existence, and while that may be a wise course of action in some situations, like needing to personally see a platform before jumping halfway across a chasm to land on it (or miss it and fall to you death, as would happen if the platform wasn't really there), but some things are better when we accept them by faith, even if they aren't really there.

I'm pretty sure that God exists. Since there's always some need for faith and some room for doubt, it's hard to be 100% sure, but I'm pretty darn sure He's out there somewhere, and even if He isn't, I think it makes sense to believe in Him anyway. A belief in God encourages people to behave righteously. Believing in God generally makes people better people. Even if there is no God, believing in Him will help make the world a better place for everyone. It doesn't truly matter whether other galaxies exist. We're never going to reach them and I doubt we'll learn much from them, so whether they exist or not doesn't have much of an impact on us and our world, but believing in God, and encouraging others to believe in Him, will make life better for almost everyone. I haven't seen God. I don't know that He exists. But I'm going to act as if I do know, partly because it'll make me a better person, and partly because I'm still pretty darn sure that He exists.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why We Can't See Stars

(This is yesterday's blog post. I don't know why it wasn't published yesterday. I thought the computer said it was.)

I just saw an inspirational quote that says "Stars can't shine without darkness," but I think I'd rephrase that. The stars are always shining. It's just that we can't see them if there's too much other light around us (or maybe it has something to do with whatever sunlight does to the sky to make it blue. I don't know anything about light or astronomy). Anyway, my point is that the stars are always shining - it's just that we can't always see them, just like God is always there, but we don't always see that He's there, and I can think of at least two reasons for that.

First, I'd like to give a little bit of credibility back to the quote I just argued against. "Stars can't shine without darkness." God is always there for us, but we don't always turn to Him. Sometimes, we foolishly think that we're doing well enough on our own, or that God wouldn't bother to help us. It's when things get really bad in our lives, our darkest moments, if you will, that we turn to God for help, and discover that He's been there with us all long. We just couldn't see Him because we weren't looking for Him, and sometimes things have to get really bad before we start looking.

Another reason we can't see stars all the time is that there's usually too much light around us. Look at the night sky when you're in the city, then look at the night sky when you're out in nature, and you'll see what I mean. Sometimes, there are just too many mortal distractions keeping us from focussing on God. There's too much hustle and bustle, keeping us too busy to think about eternal things. If we can cut out some of those distractions from our lives, or find a quiet moment to meditate and pray, we can look up to the heavens and see the subtle light.

Hopefully, it won't take an hour of darkness to drive us to our knees. Hopefully, we can be the kind of people who try to attune ourselves to God's light anyway, whether times are good or bad. Let us try to find God, even when it seems that we don't need Him, because we always need Him, and it's better to remember that now than it is to wait for God to remind us.

Prayer and Priorities in Goal-Setting

In the Pathway program, we're currently learning about choices and goal-setting. As part of this learning, we're participating in a discussion in which we of us responds to one of a number of prompts, and then we each respond to each other. For my initial discussion board post, I had to choose between writing about prayer and goal-setting, and priorities in goal-setting. Right now, I'd like to blog about both.

In my discussion board post, I wrote about how our priorities shape our goal-setting and our individual choices. If you have to choose between doing either of two things in one afternoon, you have to choose whichever one you want to do more than the other. This pattern holds true on a larger scale as well. If you have to choose between doing either of two things with your one lifetime, you have to choose whichever one you want to accomplish more than the other. Then, you should set goals and make plans to remind you of the priority you set for yourself.

The trouble is that there aren't only two choices. There are thousands, and picking the best set of priorities and goals to match your own talents, abilities, personality, and future opportunities can be impossible, especially if you make your choices at random, or based on your own thoughts and feelings. It's better to set our goals on priorities established by Someone with greater foresight than ours, Someone who knows us and our futures better than we do, and Someone who desires less for us than the best future we could possibly have.

By seeking God's help in setting our goals and priorities, we can make more wise and inspired decisions, leading to a better future than we could have had by making choices at random. Must successful people became successful by making plans and following them with determination. If we enlist God's help in making our plans, all the better. We need to establish our priorities before we set firm goals, and we're far more likely to set the right priorities if we try to do so through prayer.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Agency and Accountability at War

While we're still blogging insights gained from Elder Christofferson's talk, I want to address the debate he cited at the beginning of his talk. The debate was between a disguised King Henry and his troops:

At one point King Henry declares, “Methinks I could not die any where so contented as in the king’s company; his cause being just.” 
Michael Williams retorts, “That’s more than we know.” 
His companion agrees, “Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough, if we know we are the king’s subjects: if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.” 
Williams adds, “If the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make." 
Not surprisingly, King Henry disagrees. “Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.”
According to Elder Christofferson, the playwright, William Shakespeare, never answers this debate, and for a time, I thought that Elder Christofferson didn't either, since we went on to talk about who's responsible for what happens to us, which in my opinion, is an entirely separate matter than who's responsible for what we do, though I suppose it deserves consideration, as Elder Christofferson certainly thought it did:
When things turn bad, there is a tendency to blame others or even God. Sometimes a sense of entitlement arises, and individuals or groups try to shift responsibility for their welfare to other people or to governments.
This is contrary to the nature of God's plan. He expects us to provide for ourselves as much as possible, and to forgive others if they, in any way, make life more difficult for us. When difficult circumstances arrive, it's our responsibility to endure them as well as we can, and see if we can make something positive out of the negative situation, rather than to try to pin the blame on whomever we think may be at fault. In that sense, the responsibility is ours.

But who is responsible for what we do? The answer seems obvious: we are; but what if we're just following orders, or acting as required by the laws of the land? Tying the concept back to King Henry's soldiers, who would be morally responsible if King Henry ordered his men to slaughter innocents, and they did? Would the king be responsible because he gave the order, or would the soldiers be responsible because they carried it out?

Elder Christofferson said:
God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, “that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama.
This seems to pin the blame on the soldiers, who, according to D&C 101: 78, are "accountable for [their] own sins." If they do something, the responsibility (good or bad) for that thing falls on them, no matter who or what told them to do it.

But what of the king, then? Is he off the hook for what his soldiers do because they're accountable for themselves, or is he at least partially responsible for what they do, given that he ordered them to do it? My opinion is that he, too, is responsible for how his soldiers act while under orders. We are each responsible for what we do, but that includes what we do to influence others. If I encourage someone to write a kind letter to someone, that's a good thing, even though they, not I, are the one writing the letter. If I advise someone to rob a bank, then that's a bad thing, even if I never get directly involved in the robbery. If someone has the ability to influence others for good or for evil, they have the responsibility to influence them for good, just as a person who has the ability to do either good or evil has the responsibility to do good.

So, if King Henry gave an order to slaughter a village full of innocent people, and his soldiers carried that order out, they'd both be responsible to God for what they did. Is that how it is in our own military? Do our soldiers have the moral responsibility to follow orders, even if those orders are evil, or do they have the moral responsibility to disobey evil orders? If one of our military commanders gave a soldier an order to kill an innocent person in cold blood, what should the soldier do?

This is a really tough question because, on the one hand, we don't want soldiers who'd heartlessly obey evil orders. We don't want to be that kind of country. On the other hand, we can't afford to have soldiers who disobey orders. I think I'd forgive a soldier who did something evil that he didn't want to do, but did anyway because he was commanded to do it. I wouldn't forgive his commander as easily, but I'd forgive the soldier. But would God? "God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, 'that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.'" I don't think God would let the soldier off the hook for "just following orders."

But then, what should he do? Should he just do nothing? Should he act against his commander somehow? If so, how? Not violently, I hope, but depending on the situation, that may be necessary. Hopefully, a soldier who has desires to do what's right and obey God would receive inspiration from God as to what he should do in that situation, because I certainly don't know what would be the best course of action would be. If I ever found myself in that situation, I don't know what I would do. Except pray. If I were ever in that situation, at the very least, I would most definitely pray.