“He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worst. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
Chaos and Order
When something is created, raw materials are organized to work together in harmony for a greater purpose – like gathering wood, steel, and other materials to build a house.
When something dies, it’s de-created and disorganized – like an an old house that’s been weathered and is decaying. Where its various components worked together in harmony before, they now begin to fall apart.
God is a God of creation.
From the beginning, He has sought to create, order, and organize raw materials into greater and greater creations. He created the earth, and “re-created” it in a greater way on each successive “day.” Gradually, He took the matter at hand and organized it into higher orders of creation.
Because of the fall, death was introduced in the world. Things began decaying and falling apart with time. Even Adam’s own family splintered as Cain and doubtless others left to be on their own. The human family has essentially been divided and disorganized ever since.
When things begin to die and dissolve, they lose their collective sense of unity. This is just as true on a molecular level as it is on a cultural one. As a compound is the combination of various elements, so is a family a combination of various people. The laws of creation apply just the same, because everything in creation consists of some degree of intelligence.
Christ seeks for His people to be Zion: “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18, cf. Mosiah 18:21). He exhorts us, “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). As we obey Him, we are organized to work together in harmony for a greater purpose. Paul describes this principle using the analogy of a human body; not every member serves the same function, but they are all organized to work together as vital parts of a greater whole (1 Corinthians 12). They are one in purpose. Thus the Savior prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21, cf. Ephesians 4:11-14). He seeks to create something of us collectively – “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6) – something after the order of the city of Enoch, where heaven dwelt on earth (Moses 7:69).
As we each individually align ourselves to Christ, we all in turn will be aligned to one another. Just as Christ is the head of the body, so must we all submit to Him so that He can use us together in harmony.
As we humble ourselves before Him, we increase in light, and knowledge of the truth. As we increase in light, we are re-created (or “born again”) in a higher way – first individually, then collectively. However, the same thing is true in the other direction. When we harden our hearts, we lose light, and our knowledge of the truth is obscured (Alma 12:9-11). As a result, we begin to fall apart – first collectively, then individually.
On this wise, Israel was divided, broken up, and scattered (1 Nephi 22:3-5; 2 Nephi 25:14-15; Deut. 4:25-27).
Not only was this the case physically, but spiritually as well, as they divided into various religious parties (among which were the Pharisees and Sadducees). Jacob clearly taught, “the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14).
Following the initial scattering of Israel, during a period where there was no prophetic voice in Israel, the Jews who remained in the area splintered into dissenting factions and sects. Because they all gradually lost knowledge of the truth, seeds of division were sown. They disagreed on the meaning of the law God had given them, and how to live it. Maybe they spent years arguing in the first century equivalent of Facebook’s comments section. Perhaps people watched as they tried to decide which party they aligned with. Perhaps after picking one, they noticed the faults and hypocrisy of the other – and so it goes.
But who had the truth, the Pharisees or Sadducees? Neither. Though they both felt very strongly that they were right and the other was wrong, neither had retained the full picture. They spent their time passionately arguing about things that didn’t truly understand. When Christ (the living Law) came to dwell among them, they all agreed on one thing: He was a blasphemer whose offenses ought to be punished by death. As the ultimate litmus test, the Truth Himself came to dwell among them – yet none of them recognized it because there was no truth in them.
Only a fraction of the people – those who actually cared about truth in spite of their traditions – recognized Jesus for who He was.
The same thing happened among the gentiles who listed to follow Christ. As the centuries passed, they lost light and truth, which resulted in their increasing division (James 4:1; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Following the death of the apostles, there was no prophetic voice in the Church. There was actually such division in Christianity that when Emperor Constantine adopted it as the state religion, He called various church leaders together to debate it out and come to a consensus based on majority vote. That didn’t last, obviously, as people who suffered at the hands of the church’s corrupt practices and teachings began to protest. Most notably among these was Martin Luther, whose critical sparks lit the fire of the Protestant Reformation.
For several hundred more years, Christians were divided on Christianity. Revivalist camps in early America featured preachers of various sects and ideologies trying, quite passionately, to win over converts from one another. People came to listen and decide which party they aligned with. Truly such division was the effect of death, decay, and a gradual loss of light and truth.
When Joseph Smith arrived on the scene, he did something few others did. Sensing his own inadequacy as a youth to reason out who was right and who was wrong, he was impressed by James’ instruction to “ask of God” (James 1:5). And through revelation, by way of a divine visitation, He was informed that they were all wrong.
As the Lord revealed further truth to Joseph in the ensuing years, the various preachers who otherwise fought amongst themselves all took umbrage with Joseph’s claims and revelations. And so the pattern is the same. Those so passionately arguing about theological definitions and technicalities didn’t have the slightest idea of what game they were actually in. The answers to their round-and-round debates had little to do with the picture they had drawn in their heads.
The answer to the division among both the Jews and the Christians was the same: seek the revelation of heaven. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees cared about seeking and obtaining truth from heaven, only to defend and prove their ideology. The same can be said of the Christians. As Catholicism lost light, and in place of truth sold dogma that did more harm than good, Luther and others raised some serious criticisms. We are extremely grateful today that they did so, but there is a reason the Lord appeared to Joseph and not them. Their criticisms of the Church’s beliefs/practices were warranted, but without the complete picture they were just as lost as their Catholic mother. Fortunately, it did foster an environment of questioning and searching for oneself – which would later lead to the restoration.
Seeking Unity in Truth
This principle applies on all levels of truth, religious, political, or otherwise. When we don’t seek truth for ourselves, we lose light. When we lose light, our understanding of revealed truth becomes low resolution or shallow. When its shallow, the truth we’ve received fails to do what it was designed to do. Some serious criticisms are raised – but if they are not raised in the spirit of seeking further light and knowledge from the Lord, they’re just our own flawed ideas.
The division is not horizontal, trying to determine “which of all these parties is right,” but rather is vertical, separating those who seek the Lord and His truth from those who do not. This is what Joseph learned on a spring morning in 1820; the competing sects were in fact “all wrong together,” and the Lord had more to reveal to those willing to listen. On this wise was the Lord rejected by the various sects of the Jews, and Joseph Smith by the various sects of Christianity. Those who lose light take many forms as they descend into chaos and disorder; there are a million ways to be wrong, but only one path that leads to life and truth (Matthew 7:13-14).
Moses prophesied that in the last days, it would be those who sought the Lord with all their hearts who would find Him: “And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut. 4:27-29).
As has always been the case, if we want to live in harmony we must each submit to the Lord as our head, and let Him lead us wherever He will. We must be willing to lay aside all our preconceived views to learn from Him. If we require God to meet a doctrinal view, a political view, or a social view before we will follow Him, He will not open up to us. If we expect God to affirm our intellectual requirements, or our views on social justice, or our political perspectives – or if God has to prove to us that he is in the image we have made of him – he will not reveal to us His truth.
We must completely humble ourselves and hold nothing back from what the Lord may teach us – because it will likely require us to change. But if we humble ourselves, and are willing to do or change anything He asks of us, He will open up – and His truth will never disappoint.
The central issue is that people are not seeking truth from the Lord, but rather are hardening their hearts against Him. What does that mean, and are we guilty of it?
Hardening Our Hearts
When Lehi taught his family, his children reacted differently.
Nephi desired to know for himself the things his father knew, and by inquiring of the Lord was shown a glorious vision, and was taught by an angel firsthand. Upon returning to his father’s tent, he noticed his brothers had been arguing about what Lehi said:
“And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought” (1 Nephi 15:2-3; emphasis added).
As per the pattern, because they didn’t look to the Lord for truth, they didn’t understand it. Because they didn’t understand, they disputed “one with another.” When Nephi asked about what was going on, they responded thus:
“Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Nephi 15:7-11; emphasis added).
Here, we learn the scriptural definition of hardening your heart, which is to essentially cut yourself off from God by not inquiring of Him directly. By failing to seek personal revelation, we deny the Spirit the opportunity to teach us.
Hardening our hearts is always linked to spiritual blindness (Alma 12:9-11; cf. 1 Nephi 12:17). When we harden our hearts against the Spirit by rejecting its gentle voice, it has no place in us (2 Nephi 33:2). Whenever we cling to our ideas, traditions, or manmade precepts in favor of the whisperings of the Spirit, we harden our hearts. Whenever we act in a way contrary to what we know is right, we harden our hearts. If we have unrepented sin or guilt that we allow to linger in our lives, it creates a veil of darkness; truth becomes more difficult to perceive because the Spirit has no place in us.
On the other hand, when we humble ourselves and are willing to receive whatever the Lord has to give us, we will be filled with light and truth (Matthew 6:22-23). As we obey His voice, we learn His truth. Jesus taught “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). Similarly, Adam humbly performed sacrifices for “many days” before an angel appeared to teach him its significance (Moses 5:6-7). With the doing comes the understanding.
As we consider the increasingly divided state of the world around us, let us look to God as the source of the truth, and not the arm of flesh (2 Nephi 4:34). Let us consider division for what it is: the fruit of a people losing light.
As will become increasingly the case before the Lord’s Second Coming, we are beginning to see great divisions in the Church (compare 3 Nephi 6:14-15). As was the case with the Nephites, our division is the fruit of hardening our hearts. This began in the Church as early as 1832 when the Lord declared that the whole Church had come under condemnation for treating lightly the things they had received (most notably, the Book of Mormon) (D&C 84:54-58). As noted by President Benson in 1984, this condemnation still rests upon the Church. For as long as such a condemnation remains, we are at risk of losing light and truth (both individually and collectively). Though we retain the scriptures, revelations, and teachings restored through Joseph Smith, our understanding of them has gradually waned over time. As per the pattern, it’s resulted in splintering opinions and perspectives.
If someone does not properly understand the truth, power, and meaning of a doctrine, they will have an easier time questioning its veracity. If said doctrine does not seem to ring true, they will want to replace it with something better (which is not inherently bad), but may be tempted to insert their own opinions, ideas, or ideology (which is dangerous).
For example, if someone does not understand the order of creation, they may conclude that teaching same-sex couples cannot be sealed in eternity is arbitrary, bigoted, and unfair. They may reason that cultures change and evolve, and that this doctrine is likely a manmade tradition in need of being updated (it may not be that extreme, as there are shades of calling things into question – but I digress). In response, there may be those who likewise do not understand the order of creation, but who react to questioning in fear. They double down on the “what” (marriage being between a man and a woman), but without a deeper understanding, still aren’t exactly sure why. They may even be tempted to insert their best guesses or opinions, but without the bigger picture risk missing the mark. The result is an increasingly hostile and polarized division between both parties.
Something should be made absolutely clear: it does not matter what side of an issue we fall on (political, religious, or otherwise), if we do not seek truth directly from the source, we will find ourselves sifted with the tares. The wheat and the tares are not “conservatives and liberals.” Neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees were correct. Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants had the full picture; they were “all wrong together.”
The ability to reason is divine, but wholly inadequate if not given over to the principle of revelation. What we think is far less valuable than God’s voice. The key is to align ourselves to God in thought and deed; then we will find that the doctrines of eternity distill upon our soul like the dews from heaven (D&C 121:45).
The key distinction between the wise and foolish virgins was a matter of who had oil in their lamps. As covenant people who wait upon the Lord’s return, the only hope we have to meet the bridegroom at His coming is to have oil in our lamps – in other words, to take the Spirit as our guide. If we are attuned to the voice of the Spirit, we have nothing to fear. If we harden our hearts by denying its influence in our hearts, it will have no place in us.
The scriptures speak of a time when the latter-day Gentiles who have received the Gospel will begin to harden their hearts against God, and go their own way: “And [the gentiles] shall be a scourge unto the people of this land. Nevertheless, when they shall have received the fulness of my gospel, then if they shall harden their hearts against me I will return their iniquities upon their own heads, saith the Father” (3 Nephi 20:28; cf. 3 Nephi 16:10). The Lord states that such will be “cut off” from among His covenant people (3 Nephi 21:11), having become “as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people” (3 Nephi 16:15; cf. D&C 101:39-40).
Notice the progression of woes (curses) that Nephi declares regarding the latter-day Gentiles in Zion – members of the Church who have received the fulness of the gospel. They walk a path from being “at ease in Zion” (not searching truth for themselves) to ultimately denying the Lord. Each wo represents a step down the staircase of hardening our hearts:
- Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!
- Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!
- Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
- Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!
- And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.
- Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.
- Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts.
(2 Nephi 28:24-32)
This seven-fold wo describes the trajectory of Latter-day Saints who, like Laman and Lemuel, harden their hearts by not inquiring of the Lord for themselves. Like Alma described, “they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).
Light is receding from the world; as it does, chaos and division will increase (including within the Church). Let us not be among those who harden their hearts in these last days. Let us seek to become one with Christ, as He is one with the Father, that we may be full of light and truth. Should we all take up the attitudes of Nephi, Joseph Smith, and other notable prophets who sought the Lord diligently, we would see the divisions within the Church (and the world) heal.
Moving forward, can we identify ways we’ve been guilty of hardening our hearts? I don’t know that any of us can say we have not hardened our hearts at some point in our lives; we almost have a propensity to continually turn away from God’s way and do things on our own terms. We are still under condemnation for treating lightly the things we have received.
If you have not already, begin to inquire of Him. Set aside time each day to meditate on the things of God. You can start by simply calling His name and letting the Spirit guide your thoughts; it becomes a time to “remember” Christ. It starts a dialogue which allows the Spirit to begin teaching you. When it become a habit, that divine connection will feed and empower you.
Even though many Latter-day Saints will be cut off from among the Lord’s people, the Savior never closes the door to those who repent. They will unite and labor with the remnant of Jacob to build Zion, the New Jerusalem, and the Lord will come to dwell in their midst as He did anciently. He will create of them the people He has always sought to establish:
“But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them,
And they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;
And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst” (3 Nephi 21:22-25).