Sunday, April 14, 2013

007. Being Wise & Harmless in the Service of the Lord (Part I)

In the New Testament, Christ provides the parable of the 10 virgins to illustrate the importance of spiritual preparedness and vigilance prior to his second coming. Each of these virgins had been invited to the marriage feast. These represent the elect, the members of Christ's church. However, five virgins were wise and five were foolish. The wise virgins had trimmed their lamps and had preserved enough oil at the time the bridegroom arrived. Because of their preparedness, attentiveness, and diligence, they were readily admitted into the feast when the doors were opened.
The Wise Virgins
The foolish virgins were not prepared and were not permitted to borrow oil from the wise. Although they made valiant efforts to procure the requisite oil after realizing it was too late, they were denied entrance to the feast. The Lord himself denied them saying "I know you not." They were left out.

Note the term, wise virgins. This is a blending or embodiment of both the wise serpent and the harmless dove: wise for the serpent and virgin for the pure and innocent dove. A combination of wisdom mixed with innocence and purity. Wisdom without innocence or purity may lead only to cleverness and craftiness and for seeking of power, thus harming others (and ourselves). Innocence or purity without wisdom may lead only to weakness, becoming easy prey for deception and being lead astray, thus harming ourselves. We must therefore have both the innocence of the dove that we may not harm others and the wisdom of the serpent that others may not harm us.

This can be a balance that is difficult to strike. However, it is possible as we rely on the Holy Ghost as our guide. The most clear example of this duality is the Savior himself. During his ministry, the Jews often came to him with questions meant to trap him. These questions were about healing, forgiving sins, keeping the Sabbath day holy, or honoring both God and man. Think of the episodes from Christ's ministry where he was so challenged by the religious establishment of the time: healing on the Sabbath, the man born blind, the woman taken in adultery. Another example is when he was asked: "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (Mark 12:14), Christ answered wisely (v. 15-17)...
 15 Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
 16 And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Cæsar’s.
 17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.
In other words, do not deny Caesar his legal right, nor God his rightful praise. Thus, our loyalty to earthly kingdoms can be mixed with devotion to God. Christ demonstrated the wisdom of the serpent, and did not offend or do harm as the dove.

Another example comes from the time when the Atonement or Ransom Offering was made (a Temple Tax). This was a tribute paid to the temple officials to pay for the operation of the temple. All men were required to pay this tax, except those who were the sons of royalty, the kings of Israel. When Christ was asked if would pay the tribute, he demonstrated both wisdom and innocence in his response (Matthew 17)...
 24 ¶And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
 25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
 26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
 27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Of course, as Son of our Heavenly Father and King, as well as through his mortal bloodlines, Christ was of royal and divine birthright. As such, he was not obligated to pay the tribute. But, in order to not offend their customs and given his understanding of how the Jews perceived him, Christ offered payment through the coins found in the fish's mouth. Christ was innocent, like a child: "There was no deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again" 1 Peter 2:22.

It is a difficult thing to develop and maintain both wisdom and innocence. Matthew 24:45 asks, "Who then is a faithful and wise servant?" Wise, the serpent; faithful, the dove. It is hard to find both. There are many wise people in our world, but there are few who are both wise and faithful. However, this is our goal. Most all holy men and women, prophets, and true leaders have been both wise as serpents and harmless as doves. For example, the Prophet Moses was one "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," (Acts 7:22), but was also "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3). He combined the wisdom of the serpent with innocence of the dove. Daniel was another in whom "light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found" (Daniel 5:14), and also innocence (Daniel 6:4): "Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him." Again, from James, wisdom coupled with innocence and meekness (3:13): "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom." From the Book of Mormon, Ammon the Prophet "...being wise, yet harmless, ...said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee" (Alma 18:22).

The Lord speaking to the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of those who would be saved in the latter days (Doctrine & Covenants 45:56-59):
 56 And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.
 57 For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
 58 And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation.
 59 For the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver.
Note again, the symbolism of the serpent and the dove...For they that are wise -- the serpent...and have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide -- the dove, which is symbolic of the Holy Ghost. Both are required. This pattern is everywhere in the scriptures. If not in word, then look closely at the recorded actions of apostles, prophets, and true followers of Christ.

In the next post, some observations on joining together wisdom and harmlessness, prudence and holiness will be presented.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

006. Harmless Doves

Mourning Doves are common where we live. These docile creatures are often found perched daintily on tree branches, telephone wires, and fences. They produce a soothing cooing sound that some mistake for an owl, and some obviously view as a sorrowful or lamenting sound, thus their name Mourning Dove. I associate their sounds with my childhood, a time of innocence, as I'd hear them cooing in the morning or evening around our home. Their feathering is soft and smooth, and their coloring provides them with some degree of camouflage that protects them from predators. They are mostly vegetarian, with 99% of their diet coming from seeds and grain. 

Christ told His disciples to also be harmless doves. Serpents and doves almost seem opposites. The Greek word for harmless, ak-er'-ah-yos, means “unmixed,” and refers to things that are 100% pure or undefiled, such as pure metals like gold or unmixed wines. Throughout the New Testament, this term is also used to imply moral purity and integrity as well as the mind being without a mixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, and simple. In the ancient world of the Old and New Testaments, the dove was symbolic of purity, faithfulness, and guilelessness. The dove was also the only bird that could be offered as an acceptable sacrifice under Old Testament law. The descent of the Holy Ghost upon Christ following His baptism by John took the symbolical form of a dove. 

To be “harmless as doves” means that those who follow Jesus as His disciples, must be above reproach in both conduct and speech. We must be sharp, clever, patient, and somewhat shrewd in our dealings (as serpents) with our cunning (wolf-like) adversaries, but we must never stoop to their ethics or tactics. We must be free from guile and evil. Sin in the actions or words of a purported follower of Christ gives his foes an easy place to discredit and neutralize his witness. Therefore, to be as harmless as doves means to be meek, innocent, and pure throughout; without dual purposes, deceit, or corruption within our hearts.

Jesus was as pure as a dove. He was without guile. He could ask of his enemies “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46) and they were speechless. Those who hated him could never find any real or meaningful accusation from the conduct in Christ's life with which to discredit him. The only place they could truly attack him was in his teachings, or to falsely charge him that he broke the law by doing good or that he performed miracles through the power of Satan. Because of his pure life, he forced his enemies to focus on his teachings, and his doctrine or the interpretation of the doctrines of the day, as the focus of debate. This is what Christ wanted and this is what lead to his ultimate condemnation to death by the Jewish leadership and those that followed them. 

To be as harmless doves, we must avoid anger and be without the gall of bitterness and revenge. As the dove is without gall, we should be without guile and not Nathaniel in whose spirit there was no guile (John 1:47). This is innocence. This is being like a little child. We should be without fraud and craftiness. We must be mild, even praying for our enemies as we are commanded to do. We must be humble. Unfortunately, we live in a time where there are more wolves than doves. People are full of guile and many study nothing but deceit, "They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak" (Psalm 12:2). Doves have no horns, claws, or sharp talons to defend themselves. They really cannot hurt other beings. Their only defense is to fly away when danger approaches. Doves can fly quickly, up to 55 mph. When a predator approaches, they may also perform a nest-distraction display, or a broken-wing display, fluttering on the ground as if injured, but then fly away when the predator approaches. We too, should flee before an enemy that would guarantee our destruction. We should not harm others or deceive them. We should seek for purity and innocence, through constant repentance and humbling ourselves before the Lord.

005. Wise Serpents (Part III)

What characteristics of the serpent should we adopt as followers of Christ? Serpents are indeed wise creatures. So wise and prudent in fact, that, according to the bible, Satan made use of a serpent to deceive our first parents: "The serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field" Genesis 3:1.

Solstice Snake petroglyph, Moab, UT. Like many snake petroglyphs, this one has 13 bends. 
On the day of the summer solstice, a shaft of sunlight makes this arrowhead of light appear on the head of the Solstice Snake petroglyph. 

Snakes have various means of perceiving their surroundings, using primarily smell and taste to track their prey. They can also use their keen eyesight as well as infra-red and vibratory sensitivity receptors to perceive their surroundings. We should also use various means to understand and monitor our surroundings and watch out for weaknesses that wolves might attack. The serpent can discern between threats and non-threats and we should too develop the capacity to discern between good and evil, light and dark, truth and error. We must pray for and seek these gifts. Doctrine & Covenants 46:
7 But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
 8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;
 9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.
The serpent's chief concern in a confrontation is to defend its head. A blow to the head could be deadly or paralyzing, even temporarily, and for the most part a snakes only defense are its fangs. Likewise, our chief concern should be to defend our heads from error, anger, and cruelty. If our minds are tainted with false doctrines, anger, jealousy, or impurity we will be lead into sin and fall prey to our enemies.

Serpents are also patient, waiting quietly a long time before striking their prey or hiding from their enemies. They carefully consider the risks involved in their moves and actions; self-preservation is paramount. Likewise, we must be cautious in our actions that could cause harm to ourselves or others. From Mosiah 4:27, the Lord urges us to
...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.