Sunday, December 28, 2008

Some Words of Wisdom from Neal A. Maxwell

For an English assignment, I had to read a religious book. My mom found for me this random book my grandma gave her called, "One More Strain of Praise." It was by a member of the quorum of the twelve, so I decided to give it a whirl. Turns out this book is pretty darn AMAZING. Maxwell has such a clever and intellectual writing style. He uses lots of poetry in his words and there are tons of great anecdotes he uses as well. And the content of the book -- the insight he gives about God and our role here as his children -- is also VERY inspiring. I've learned so much. So I thought I'd share with you some of the points that I found particularly eye opening. Some of these ideas are ones I have had all along, but haven't found a good way to express them in words. Maxwell does it for me with perfect conciseness. Read on...

- "Irony, the hard crust on the bread of adversity, can try both our faith and our patience."

- He stuns you by degrees --
Prepares your brittle Nature
For the Etherial Blow
By fainter Hammers -- further heard --
Then nearer -- Then so slow
Your Breath has time to straighten --
Your Brain -- to bubble Cool --
Deals -- One -- imperial -- Thunderbold --
That scalps your naked Soul --
-- Emily Dickinson, poem 315

- "How difficult it is to teach the natural man, who comprehends nothing more than that which he sees with the natural eye! ... Talk to him about angels, heavens, God, immortality, and eternal lives, and it is like sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal to his ears; it has no music to him; there is nothing in it that charms his senses, soothes his feelings, attracts his attention, or engages his affections, in the least."
-- Brigham Young

- 'For one thing, discernment is vital. The eminent historian Will Durant wrote of the human need for perspective and proportion in order "to know that the little things are little, and the big things big, before it is too late; we want to see things now as they will seem forever -- 'in the light of eternity.'"'

- "Therefore we should not let murmuring -- even clever murmuring -- undercut good cheer by our half-suppressed resentments or muttered complaints. We all remember in Fiddler on the Roof Tevye's verbal asides to God. Since the ultimate "Addressee" of some of our murmuring is clearly the Lord, as when the people complained against Moses, at least Tevye honestly acknowledged to Whom he addressed his complaints."

- "The Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it.... Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dnagerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety."
-- C.S. Lewis

- "Moreover, if we love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength, this requires one's intellectual surrender to God, too. Alas, while still too few, there are still comparatively more knees bent in reverence to God than there are minds. Hence there are more people who partially keep the second commandment than truly keep the first. It is the first commandment that sets the high tone and the standards, enabling the second to be 'like unto' it. Otherwise, every man would walk in his own way and do his own thing, which might include some useful -- but sidebar -- service to his fellow mortals."

- "The Restoration, among other things, removes stumbling blocks and provides much additional truth concerning both the character of the Father and the nature of His plan for His children. Elder George Q. Cannon observed: 'There is in the plan of salvation, which God our heavenly Father has revealed, perfect love, mercy and justice, and every other attribute which pertains to the character of Deity are perfectly illustrated in the plan of salvation which he has revealed for man's guidance.' Nevertheless, Elder Cannon lamented, 'The difficulty today is, that the people do not believe that God is a being of this character.'"

- "Mercy, even so, is not naivete. Nor is it uncaring indulgence. Nor is mercy to be mistaken for today's standardless and indulgent tolerance. Divine mercy has its fixed divine standards intact.

- "In our time, as in Lot's of old, we are vexed by many things, including profane and filthy conversation. We hear intrusive things we wish we would not hear and which we must dismiss and deflect in order to give 'no heed.' Sometimes giving rebuke or actually leaving such company are clearly called for."

- "One important way, therefore, in which the Church is to be 'independent' involves distancing ourselves from the philosophies and persuasions of men, an d from the encompassing and enveloping ways of secular societies. Secularism recruits so easily, because so many mortals 'will not endure sound doctrine,' but come to prefer the easier and more fashionable 'commandments of men.' But, of course, the fashions of the world will pass away. It will be interesting to see, for instance, how long America can sustain an inspired and constraining Constitution, if more of the people it governs become persistently permissive. Will what is now the 'lesser part' reach a critical, negative mass?

- "It is not surprising that today's surrounding secularism has firmly partnered with relativism in an alliance of dalliance. Secularism sincerely practices what it preaches. Centuries ago there occurred an episode which parallels some of the secular trendiness in our own time. Opinion leaders back then proclaimed:
... there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but ever man fared in this
life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered
according to his genius, and that ever man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.
And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them
to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms -- telling them that when a man is dead, that was the end thereof. (Alma 30: 17-18)
Such is this ethical relativism at the end of its journey, and it is similar in each era! Nothing is really wrong. Therefore, it is all right to conquer and prosper by one's strength and genius as we witness and indulgent individualism instead of real brotherhood.
Strange, isn't it, how once people stop believing in God they want to start playing God. Or is it? In any case, some so misread their circumstances because they do not see 'things as they really are.'"
Illustrative of poor perspective of another type is the fact that, after jealously slaying Abel, Cain cried out in a pathetic outburst of self-deception, 'I am free,' but he was never less so! Like Pilate's trying to wash his hands in vain, and like Hitler's careful efforts to keep his name off certain Holocaust documents, so today many do not really want the consequences of what they want. But in God's inexorable ecology consequences do come, accompanied by severe individual accountability. Steep costs are levied on a declining people!"

- So there is a clear friction between agency and opposition, but it is a necessary friction, if we are to progress. Hence knowing the truth about divine standards and then choosing aright is essential to our growth and happiness and freedom, but we will feel the friction! Moreover, if things were in a 'compound in one,' we could not learn from our mortal experiences, because we would not experience the opposites. Furthermore, we could not be held accountable either, because no real and clear choices would be before us, given the 'compound' circumstance. Individuality would be inert!"

- "Brigham Young observed that 'there is no music in hell.' Doubtless a correct statement as to real music! But some contemporary sounds, masquerading as music, belong quite naturally to that grim place, where their presence would further entitle that awful place to be called hell!"

Thus, given God's plan and agency's vital role in it, we must ever be on guard against today's trends and patterns, however carefully they are camouflaged, in which operative agency is severely diminished, such as when some seek to avoid or to deny personal accountability or to say there are really no fixed values. Ethical relativism can thereby lead to a type of a 'compound in one' by an undifferentiated life or simply by ruling out moral absolutes and thereby encouraging every man to walk in his own way.
There is a deep irony in the sameness of sinners who think they are individualistic. They have given away, at least temporarily, their agency and their capacity for joy, living life on a single plane; or, more descriptive still, some march like lemmings down the slope to the gulf of misery.
The ultimate consequences will be real and harsh, because
'that which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.'
A powerful magnetism is thus quietly at work in what at first may seem to be mere philosophical differences. Nevertheless, these result in converging and sad consequences: 'And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin.' Those who deny the existence of any absolutes in their own ways fulfill this scripture, as situational ethics prevail."

- "Some demand as evidence of His existence that God intervene to stop the terrible consequences of our bad choices.
Once again, the wisdom of President Joseph F. Smith comes to the fore. He observed of human suffering that nevertheless God 'permits' choices to be made by humans of which He clearly doesn't approve.
Besides, without an 'opposition in all things,' where are the isometrics required for individual development, such as when the new self is pitted against the old? Consider this simple illustration by scientist Alan Hayward of behavior when forced by 'compulsory means':
' Suppose for a moment that God made his presence felt all the time -- that every action of ours, good or bad, brought an immediate response from Him in the form of reward or punishment. What sort of a world would this be then?
It would resemble, on a grander scale, the dining room of a hotel ... where I once stayed for a few days. The European owner evidently did not trust his ... waiters. He would sit on a raised platform at one end of the room, constantly watching ever movement. Goods that might possibly be pilfered, such as tea bags, sugar knobs and even pats of butter or margarine, were doled out by him in quantities just sufficient for the needs of the moment. He would scrutinize every bill like Sherlock Holmes looking for signs of foul play.
The results of all this supervision were painfully obvious. I have stayed in many hotels around the world ... but never have I met such an unpleasant bunch of waiters as in that hotel. thier master's total lack of trust in them had warped their personalities. As long as he was watching they acted discreetly, but the moment they thought his guard was down they would seize the opportunity to misbehave.
In much the same way, it would ruin our own characters if God's presence were as obvious as that of the [hotel owner]. This would then be a world without trust, without faith, without unselfishness, without love -- a world where everybody obeyed God because it paid them to do so. Horrors!'"

- "Of course our individual patterns of genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, for these do impinge upon us and do shape us and our choices significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are accountably sovereign. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality."

- "We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God [who creates all things absolutely -- i.e., out of nothing!] must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to ever human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non- moral defect in the universe."
-- Antony Flew

- "In fact, while God has given us so many enabling gifts in addition to the gift of life, the only real gift we can actually give Him is to submit our will to His. therefore, if a plan opposite to the Lord's plan had prevailed, it would not only have abrogated our agency; it would also have prevented us from giving God the one precious gift, our wills! It is the only one we can really give to Him that is not already His!"

-- "Correction can be such a blessing in life! Sometimes, however, it comes as a very well-disguised blessing."

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