Friday, September 20, 2019

106. "Be Sober"

The word 'sober' today is almost universally applied when referring to abstinence or temperance in the use of alcohol or liquor. A person who is not sober is considered drunk or in a state of drunkenness, which can be characterized by a variety of physiological and behavioral changes or symptoms such as accentuated emotion, lack of inhibition, reduced motor control, sensation of warmth or euphoria, confusion, sickness, sleepiness, loss of consciousness, etc. An average person who only consumes small amounts of alcohol can remain in a state of sobriety.

Soberness in the Scriptures

In the scriptures, the word sober is used to denote a desirable personal characteristic possessed by those who would call themselves disciples of Christ. In this sense, taken from the modern Webster dictionary, to be sober means to be marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness, or someone who is of an earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor, unhurried, calm, and showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice. Webster's 1828 dictionary renders the word sober, in this same sense, to mean:
3. Not mad or insane; not wild, visionary, or heated with passion; having the regular exercise of cool dispassionate reason.
4. Regular; calm; not under the influence of passion.
Often, this sense of being sober in the scriptures is directly connected to the conduct of one's mind or thoughts, which precipitates in being sober-minded. The Book of Mormon also uses the term firm-minded in a synonymous way with the concept of being sober-minded.
"Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, as obedient children — not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance." (1st Epistle of Peter 1:3)
"Young men likewise exhort to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself a pattern of good works, in doctrine showing incorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned — that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you." (The Epistle to Titus 1:3)
"O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads, and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love, for ye may, if your minds are firm for ever." (Jacob 2:11) 
"They are young and their minds are firm, and they do put their trust in God continually." (Alma 26:19) 
"For behold, they [angels] are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, shewing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness." (Moroni 7:6)
The scriptures also link the characteristic of soberness with being temperate and patient in all things:
"Be patient, be sober, be temperate; have patience, faith, hope, and charity." (Teachings & Commandments, Joseph Smith History 13:9)
"But speak the things which become sound doctrine — that the aged men be sobergrave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience; the aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holinessnot false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things, that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." (The Epistle to Titus 1:3)
...or soberness as the state of being vigilant and watchful for things that are either of or not of God:
"Gird up your loins, and be watchful, and be sober, looking forth for the coming of the Son of Man, for he comes in an hour you think not." (Teachings & Commandments, Section 48:9) 
"Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the Devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour — whom resist, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." (1st Epistle of Peter 1:20)
"We are not of the night, nor of darkness; therefore, let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober. ... But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet, the hope of salvation." (1st Epistle to the Thessalonians 1:13)
'Being Sober'

As Alma concluded his instructions to his son Shiblon, he encouraged him to continue on the path of righteousness and gave him the injunction to "be sober". So, how does one "be sober"? Joseph Smith had this to say of the condition and soberness of one's mind in seeking out the things of God: 
"A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 137; 25 March 1839)
Joseph drew a distinction in the operation of one's mind in approaching the things of God. On one hand, he warned us to beware of having a fanciful (Webster's 1828: Guided by imagination, rather than by reason and experience; subject to the influence of fancy; whimsical. A fanciful man forms visionary projects. Chimerical; A fanciful scheme; a fanciful theory) or a flowery (Webster's 1828: Richly embellished with figurative language) or a heated (Webster's 1828: meaning inflamed or exasperated [i.e., highly angered or irritated; provoked; enraged; embittered; increased in violence]) imagination. Such a mind is easily intoxicated by the various distractions, imposters, and unimportant goose-chases of this world, and, as a result, that person is led or persuaded away from salvation and deceived. Such a mind is not sober, but is instead in a state of drunkenness. On the other hand, Joseph instructs us that the mind of man is capable of leading one's "soul unto salvation"...through careful, ponderous thoughts...stretching and searching the broad spectrum of light and dark, mortality and a sober-minded, sincere, and dedicated fashion.

In a spiritual sense, can one "be sober" by simply refraining from partaking of what might make one drunk? In other words, can we be or become sober and sober-minded merely by refraining from being "tossed to and fro" and "carried about" by "every wind of doctrine", "the sleight of men", or the "cunning craftiness" whereby men "lie in wait to deceive"? (Eph 1:13). Is soberness simply ours to lose when we fritter away our time, resources, and efforts in chasing down the latest get-rich-quick scheme, obsessing over the newest alternative health care craze or snake oil remedy, falling apart over the latest bit of gossip, getting sucked into the next easy 1-2-3 step program to receive exaltation or calling and election without even being righteous, hearkening to someone preaching "another Jesus", or receiving "another spirit" or even "another gospel" that differs, even subtly, from that which we received at a prior time when it was manifested to us by the Spirit of Truth (Corinthians 1:35)? Do we become spiritually intoxicated and disoriented when our spiritual system is overloaded by impassioned and wild gospel speculations, and heated arguments about conspiracy theories and fear-based doomsday scenarios? Do we seek for signs to confirm our suppositions and positions, our wills and desires, and take them to be manifestations from God? Do we ingest such things because of the euphoric effect that they might have upon us, but are they in reality only counterfeits and distractions to the fruits we might reap in our searching out the mysteries of Godliness through careful and diligent study of the scriptures and the words of God's servants? Do we spiritually pass out and lose consciousness when these sorts of non-firm-minded topics and fixations become our walk and talk, fire-hosing others with all the evangelism of the reformed sinner, instead of focusing on the plain and precious truths of the gospel and doing the things we have covenanted to do?

As an illustration, consider the following dialogue between the Adam (called Ransom) and the serpent (called Weston) archetypes portrayed in CS Lewis' early work Perelandra (1943):
“God is a spirit. Ransom. Get hold of that. You’re familiar with that already. Stick to it. God is a spirit.” [said Weston]
“Well, of course. But what then?” [said Ransom]
“What then? Why, spirit-mind-freedom-spontaneity — that’s what I’m talking about. That is the goal towards which the whole cosmic process is moving. The final disengagement of that freedom, that spirituality, is the work — to which I dedicate my own life and the life of humanity. The goal. Ransom, the goal: think of it! Pure spirit: the final vortex of self-thinking, self-originating activity.”...
“By the way,” said Ransom, “is it in any sense at all personal — is it alive?”...
“Yes,” said Weston, “I couldn’t have believed myself till recently. Not a person, of course. Anthropomorphism is one of the childish diseases of popular religion, but the opposite extreme of excessive abstraction has perhaps in the aggregate proved more disastrous. Call it a ForceA great, inscrutable Force, pouring up into us from the dark bases of being. A Force that can choose its instruments. It is only lately, Ransom, that I’ve learned from actual experience something which you have believed all your life as part of your religion.” Here he suddenly subsided again into a whisper—a croaking whisper unlike his usual voice. “Guided,” he said. “Chosen. Guided. I’ve become conscious that I’m a man set apart. Why did I do physics? Why did I discover the Weston rays? Why did I go to Malacandra? It-the Force-has pushed me on all the time. I’m being guided. I know now that I am the greatest scientist the world has yet produced. I’ve been made so for a purpose. It is through me that Spirit itself is at this moment pushing on to its goal.”
“Look here,” said Ransom, “one wants to be careful about this sort of thing. There are spirits and spirits, you know.
“Eh?” said Weston. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean a thing might be a spirit and not good for you,” said Ransom.
“But I thought you agreed that Spirit was the good — the end of the whole process? I thought you religious people were all out for spirituality? What is the point of asceticism — fasts and celibacy and all that? Didn’t we agree that God is a spirit? Don’t you worship Him because He is pure spirit?” said Weston.
“Good heavens, no! We worship Him because He is wise and good. There’s nothing specially fine about simply being a spirit. The Devil is a spirit.”...“What proof,” said Ransom, “what proof have you that you are being guided or supported by anything except your own individual mind and other people’s books?”
“You didn’t notice, dear Ransom,” said Weston, “that I’d improved a bit since we last met in my knowledge of extraterrestrial language. You are a philologist, they tell me.” 
Ransom started, “How did you do it?”
“Guidance, you know, guidance,” croaked Weston. He was squatting at the roots of his tree with his knees drawn up, and his face, now the colour of putty, wore a fixed and even slightly twisted grin. “Guidance. Guidance,” he went on. “Things coming into my head. I’m being prepared all the time. Being made a fit receptacle for it.”
“That ought to be fairly easy,” said Ransom impatiently. “If this Life Force is something so ambiguous that God and the Devil are equally good portraits of it, I suppose any receptacle is equally fit, and anything you can do is equally an expression of it.”
“There’s such a thing as the main current,” said Weston. “It’s a question of surrendering yourself to that — making yourself the conductor of the live, fiery, central purpose — becoming the very finger with which it reaches forward,” said Weston...
“How far does it go? Would you still obey the Life-Force if you found it prompting you to murder me?” asked Ransom.
“Or to sell England to the Germans?”
“Or to print lies as serious research in a scientific periodical?”
“God help you.” said Ransom.
There is certainly insight and revelation that can come from the wrong source(s), leading us astray. It is not always easy to discern. It is not always easy to obtain the mind of God on issues of importance to us. We are often so very eager to receive an answer that we may accept the wrong answer just to have "an answer". Denver Snuffer wrote "What does 'whatsoever ye shall ask' include? If you think Christ is inviting you to turn the Father into a short-order cook, jumping to your will, you do not understand this process" (3 Nephi 18:19-20 blogpost, 11/13/2010). He has similarly stated "God’s most important inspiration for the most challenging subjects is often not hasty, quick and without effort at our end. Consider the advice to Oliver Cowdery that he must 'study it out in his own mind first' before asking God to tell him the answer. Many people want a quick, perfunctory response from God with no forethought. What they receive in turn is a quick, perfunctory answer. God is almost always, for the most difficult challenges, not a 'short order cook' although there are certainly false spirits who are willing to be just that" (Discernment part 2 podcast, 1/13/2019). Even when inspiration is received from the right source, none of us are completely pure vessels capable of always following that inspiration with 100% integrity or accuracy. I do think in general people are doing their best to follow the light they receive in the best way they can. It is important, however, to be sober-minded and careful with the light that is received or the light that one thinks they have received, and study it out and carefully ponder how to go about acting upon it.

The primary Buddhist scripture, the Dhammapada, makes frequent reference to the general concept of being sober-minded as a critical step in obtaining enlightenment or connection with one's "higher-self". For example, consider the following selections and think of the contrast between one who is drunk and one who is sober:
  • As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, even so the wise remain unshaken amidst blame and praise.
  • As a deep lake is limpid and calm, so do wise men become calm on hearing the Dhamma, the teaching.
  • Few among men are they who cross to the further shore. The other folk only run up and down the bank on this side.
  • For him, whose journey is over, who is sorrowless, fully free from everything, and has put an end to all bonds, there is no burning (of the passions).
  • He whose senses are controlled like horses well under the control of the charioteer, he who is cleansed of pride, and rid of passions, such a steadfast one even the gods envy.
  • His mind is calm, calm is his word and deed who is liberated through perfect knowledge, who is pacified and steadfast.
  • Delightful are the forests where worldlings find no pleasure. There the passionless rejoice; for they are no seekers of sense pleasures.
  • Better than a thousand utterances, better than a mere jumble of meaningless words, is one sensible phrase on hearing which one is pacified.
  • Though one conquers in battle thousand times thousand men, yet he is the greatest conqueror who conquers himself.
  • Better is it to conquer oneself than to conquer others. Neither a god, nor a Gandhabba (demigod) nor Māra (devil) nor Brahma (priest) can undo the victory of a person who is self-mastered and ever conducts himself with restraint.
  • A single day’s life of a person who is virtuous and meditative is better than a life of one hundred years of a person who is immoral and uncontrolled.
  • A single day’s life of a person who strives with firm endeavour is better than a life of one hundred years of a person who is lazy and indolent.
In closing, consider the wise council of a true reformed sinner, as Alma the senior encourages his son Shiblon in the ways of righteousness: 
"I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.
See that ye are not lifted up unto pride.
Yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom nor of your much strength.
Use boldness, but not overbearance;
and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.
See that ye refrain from idleness.
Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men and to be praised for their wisdom.
Do not say, O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren,
but rather say, O Lord, forgive my unworthiness and remember my brethren in mercy;
yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.
And may the Lord bless your soul and receive you at the last day into his kingdom to sit down in peace.
Now go, my son, and teach the word unto this people. Be sober. My son, farewell." (Alma 18:4)
There is such a thing as boldness, but it must be exercised in soberness and meekness. Again, the promise from the Book of Mormon to those whose minds are firm in every form of Godliness is that angels can appear and minister to them (Moroni 7:6). Be sober.