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Sunday, April 08, 2018

When Engineers Err: My Favorite Story from General Conference

Listening to General Conference has been a profound pleasure for us over here in China, where this weekend one week after conference is designated as Conference Sunday to solve the time zone problem as we play the recorded sessions. This has been one of my favorite Conferences ever with so much to learn and rejoice over. So positive, so encouraging, so international, so inspiring. I'd like to share a story that I especially enjoyed, one that made me wish it had been published more widely years ago. It involves the terrible time of the Korean War which took away too much from my own father, yet was a time of numerous miracles that helped him develop his own testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spite of the repeated horror and trauma he faced.

Ensign Frank Blair
The story also involves engineers, in this case the engineer of a ship, and reminds us that even highly trained experts make severe mistakes (even some of us chemical engineers are fallible, I've been told). It further teaches the power of meek leadership, in this case a ship's captain who would humbly ask the young temporary chaplain of his ship to pray in a time of emergency, and then later had the daring meekness to accept the prayerful recommendation that his LDS chaplain offered. It made the difference of life and death for the many men on board.

The story is shared by Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy in "Take the Holy Spirit as Your Guide" given Sunday afternoon. The story was told with the permission of Ensign Frank Blair, who was present at the Conference session as it was told.
Brothers and sisters, it is an extraordinary privilege to “have … the Holy Spirit for [our] guide,” as demonstrated by the following experience.

During the Korean War, Ensign Frank Blair served on a troop transport ship stationed in Japan. The ship wasn’t large enough to have a formal chaplain, so the captain asked Brother Blair to be the ship’s informal chaplain, having observed that the young man was a person of faith and principle, highly respected by the whole crew.
Ensign Blair

Ensign Blair wrote: “Our ship was caught in a huge typhoon. The waves were about 45 feet [14 m] high. I was on watch … during which time one of our three engines stopped working and a crack in the centerline of the ship was reported. We had two remaining engines, one of which was only functioning at half power. We were in serious trouble.”

Ensign Blair finished his watch and was getting into bed when the captain knocked on his door. He asked, “Would you please pray for this ship?” Of course, Ensign Blair agreed to do so.

At that point, Ensign Blair could have simply prayed, “Heavenly Father, please bless our ship and keep us safe,” and then gone to bed. Instead, he prayed to know if there was something he could do to help ensure the safety of the ship. In response to Brother Blair’s prayer, the Holy Ghost prompted him to go to the bridge, speak with the captain, and learn more. He found that the captain was trying to determine how fast to run the ship’s remaining engines. Ensign Blair returned to his cabin to pray again.

He prayed, “What can I do to help address the problem with the engines?”

In response, the Holy Ghost whispered that he needed to walk around the ship and observe to gather more information. He again returned to the captain and asked for permission to walk around the deck. Then, with a lifeline tied around his waist, he went out into the storm.

Standing on the stern, he observed the giant propellers as they came out of the water when the ship crested a wave. Only one was working fully, and it was spinning very fast. After these observations, Ensign Blair once again prayed. The clear answer he received was that the remaining good engine was under too much strain and needed to be slowed down. So he returned to the captain and made that recommendation. The captain was surprised, telling him that the ship’s engineer had just suggested the opposite—that they increase the speed of the good engine in order to outrun the storm. Nevertheless, the captain chose to follow Ensign Blair’s suggestion and slowed the engine down. By dawn the ship was safely in calm waters.

Only two hours later, the good engine stopped working altogether. With half power in the remaining engine, the ship was able to limp into port.

The captain said to Ensign Blair, “If we had not slowed that engine when we did, we would have lost it in the middle of the storm.”

Without that engine, there would have been no way to steer. The ship would have overturned and been sunk. The captain thanked the young LDS officer and said he believed that following Ensign Blair’s spiritual impressions had saved the ship and its crew.

Now, this story is quite dramatic. While we may be unlikely to face such dire circumstances, this story contains important guidelines about how we can receive the Spirit’s guidance more frequently.

First, when it comes to revelation, we must properly tune our receiver to heaven’s frequency. Ensign Blair was living a clean and faithful life. Had he not been obedient, he would not have had the spiritual confidence necessary to pray as he did for the safety of his ship and to receive such specific guidance. We must each be making the effort to align our lives with God’s commandments in order to be directed by Him.

Sometimes we can’t hear heaven’s signal because we are not worthy. Repentance and obedience are the way to achieve clear communication again. The Old Testament word for repent means “to turn” or “turn around.” When you feel far from God, you need only make the decision to turn from sin and face the Savior, where you will find Him waiting for you, His arms outstretched. He is eager to guide you, and you are just one prayer away from receiving that guidance again.

Second, Ensign Blair did not just ask the Lord to solve his problem. He asked what he could do to be part of the solution. Likewise we might ask, “Lord, what do I need to do to be part of the solution?” Instead of just listing our problems in prayer and asking the Lord to solve them, we ought to be seeking more proactive ways of receiving the Lord’s help and committing to act according to the Spirit’s guidance.

There is a third important lesson in Ensign Blair’s story. Could he have prayed with such calm assurance if he had not received guidance from the Spirit on previous occasions? The arrival of a typhoon is no time to dust off the gift of the Holy Ghost and figure out how to use it. This young man was clearly following a pattern he had used many times before, including as a full-time missionary. We need the Holy Spirit as our guide in calm waters so His voice will be unmistakable to us in the fiercest storm.
Prayers followed by action, seeking to do what we can and striving to learn what we can do, can be vastly more likely to bring results, even miraculous results, than merely uttering a wish. This will be increasingly important for all of us in the Church's new emphasis of ministering rather than the old and often ineffective home teaching and visiting teaching programs. May we be more anxious to seek revelation on what we can do, how we can help, and who we can help, in our quest to live a Christian life rich in personal revelation.

One part of the story not emphasized in the talk deserves further attention. The real hero here may well have been the non-LDS captain. He first cared enough about the things of God to appoint a temporary chaplain when none was provided or seemingly needed. He then had the faith to turn to a young LDS man who knew how to pray and humbly ask for his prayers as the ship faced potential disaster. And then he had the courage, the faith, the daring meekness and undoubtedly the sensitivity to the Spirit to respect what his young chaplain told him, which was exactly the opposite of what his trained engineer was recommending. Wow. How many leaders of any faith would be able to make that call.

If any of you know the name of the man who was the captain, I'd love to share his name to publicly praise a leader for such courage and meekness. There are two heroes and many lessons in this powerful story.

47 comments:

Mary Bliss said...

Thoughtful. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you might find this article interesting: The Clock Is Ticking: Inside the Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades. An exemplary captain, a sturdy cargo ship, a Category 3 hurricane, and disaster. Lots of fascinating details.

Also, I'd like to push back against the ideas that "Sometimes we can't hear heaven's signal because we are not worthy" and that "Repentance and obedience are the way to achieve clear communication again." Of course, as an atheist, I reject the whole idea of "signals from heaven" outright. And I recognize Elder Wilson's story for what it is, a faith-building story --- a sterling example of a genre where truth is secondary to spiritual development (aka indoctrination). Just as the romance novel and the tall tale have defining generic conventions, the faith-building story has its own, and actual historical truth is not prominent among them.

But what I'd like to suggest here is that the story's yoking of "heaven's signal" to worthiness and obedience is an idea that fails even on scriptural grounds. In fact, Wilson fundamentally misconstrues the God of the scriptures. Wilson seems to have shoehorned this God's intentions and actions into a rational, human framework, as if those intentions and actions were geared toward humanly understandable ends. But as God tells us humans in Isaiah, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." And as Paul reminds us, "the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth."

This God of the scriptures is decidedly not the God that helps the faithful find their car keys, or even survive a typhoon. This is not the God whom one asks to solve one's own comparatively petty problems---after all, God "knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." Rather one prays that God's will, whatever it is, and however humanly incomprehensible, is what is to "be done in earth, as it is in heaven."

-- OK

Phil said...

I would like to respond to the comments made by "anonymous":
In response to the 1st topic raised: "spiritual development" is linked with "indoctrination" and historical truth is stated to be the opposite of "faith building story". This is stated as fact with no real justification or explanation of the logic used to come to such a conclusion. If one ignores the reality of a spiritual realm (that which is subjective and experienced at a purely personal level), and instead believes only in the existence of the physical realm (that which is empirical and can be proven objectively), then I guess anything related to the spiritual realm would need to be categorically denied and not considered as valid reasoning. However, there is no real, objective proof that the spiritual realm doesn't exist, while there is substantial proof, if one is to believe the many personal accounts of first-hand experience with the spiritual realm, that this realm does exist and is a part of reality that cannot be normally sensed with our physical senses of means of measurement or detection. It all seems to boil down to what one chooses to believe, since empirical, objective proof cannot be provided that would settle the question for everyone one and for all. I would also submit the idea, based on my own personal experience, that the spiritual realm to which I refer, becomes more and more clear and evidenced, as one strives to be in harmony with the positive aspects of that spiritual realm. An example of this is to seek to be in harmony with the unseen, (but felt and experienced on a personal level) Love of God in most Christian religions. This is not forced on us and must be sought after at a personal level by the individual.
Addressing the 2nd topic, where is it stated that the shared story is not in harmony with the scriptural records: I'm not sure that one who is an atheist would be in a very good position to understand the scriptures enough to know how to make such a call. I'm not claiming to be a scriptural scholar or expert by any means, but my take is that the story and the scriptures are not at odds with each other. Both are true, but cannot be yoked together the way that is attempted here. The story is referring to the reality of personal revelation and influence from the spiritual realm. The scriptures quoted are referring to how God's thoughts are much different than normal human thought. They really are different topics. Just because God's thoughts are much different than most human thoughts and concerns, doesn't mean that God doesn't love us and want what is best for us. We understand that often prayers aren't answered, or at least not answered in the way(s) or timeline that we might expect, but it doesn't mean that no prayers can ever expect to be answered in the way(s) or timelines we might want. I have had experience with both at a personal level. It is true also that we should try to align our will with God's, but sometimes when we pray for something that is right in his eyes, then that prayer will be answered. Other times what we pray for isn't what is best in his eyes, and so we try to qualify his prayers with "but thy will be done". An example of this is when someone receives a blessing, but is not healed and passes away regardless. In those cases, it can be argues that it was God's will for that person to pass on, for reasons we may not fully understand. I don't know if this addresses your topics adequately from your stand point, but appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and beliefs. I would like to conclude with thanking Jeff for his really cool blog and for the thought provoking discussions resulting from it :)_

Quonset said...

okAnonymous: "Jeff, you might find this article interesting: The Clock Is Ticking: Inside the Worst U.S. Maritime Disaster in Decades. An exemplary captain, a sturdy cargo ship, a Category 3 hurricane, and disaster. Lots of fascinating details."

That was a compelling read, describing a different set of circumstances. A captain who had been careful, but doesn't appear to have been in that fateful instance, with tragic effect. Subtle or direct pressure from a company to maximize profits despite a close, potentially life-threatening storm. A crew that was very worried and expressed concern to the captain multiple times.

Detailed weather information was available but some of it wasn't acquired and some of it was mishandled and some of it was ignored. We of course don't know, but God could have provided the captain with saving guidance that wasn't followed.

Anonymous said...

We of course don't know, but God could have provided the captain with saving guidance that wasn't followed.

Absolutely, Quonset. That could have happened. Many other things could have happened.

We of course don't know, but Satan could have appeared to Joseph Smith in disguise in the first vision.

We of course don't know, but Moloch could have written the Book of Mormon.

When one believes in the supernatural, so many possibilities!

-- OK

bearyb said...

To OK-

You point out a very special scriptural passage, and then completely ignore the illustration of that very point in the story:

But as God tells us humans in Isaiah, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways."

And from the story:

"The clear answer he received was that the remaining good engine was under too much strain and needed to be slowed down. So he returned to the captain and made that recommendation. The captain was surprised, telling him that the ship’s engineer had just suggested the opposite—that they increase the speed of the good engine in order to outrun the storm."

It's the engineer who made a recommendation based on man's way of thinking. He was the one trained regarding the engine's design and functions. "Logic" guided his thoughts.

It doesn't mention what Ensign Blair's area of expertise was. It only says he felt guided to get more information - twice - and said three prayers before suggesting a course of action, a course that went against what "man's thoughts" were.

Only in hindsight was it apparent that it was indeed the best course of action. By then, of course, one could count it as a lucky guess, I suppose.

bearyb said...

The two major differences in points of view seem to mirror what we find in 1 Nephi 15:8-9

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.

Collin Simonsen said...

I also really liked this talk. I've seen this pattern happen in my life a few times.

Anonymous said...

Bearyb (and Jeff and everyone), LDS theology, as it reveals itself in these silly faith-building stories, is astonishingly shallow. It basically says that if you attune yourself to the divine signal (or whatever), then God will help you find your car keys or figure out how to get your boat through a storm. This sort of thing has nothing to do with the God of the Bible. It has nothing to do with Christianity, much less Judaism.

When Isaiah distinguishes between God's thoughts and our thoughts, he's not saying that God's solution for getting the cargo ship through the storm is different from our solution to the problem of getting the cargo ship through the storm. The question of how to get the ship through the storm is not a moral question; it is a mere technical or pragmatic question. Isaiah is not concerned with such questions, because he knows that God is not concerned with such questions. This is the sense in which God's thoughts are not our thoughts.

To get back for a moment to the original faith-building story in Jeff's post: there's nothing miraculous about the idea that the right course of action was to slow down the remaining good engine. That's perfectly rational. It's completely explicable in logical terms. In this story, the alternatives do not involve any moral questions at all, only technical questions. The story sees God as nothing more than a superior advice columnist. (One can easily imagine God being angry at Elder Larry Y. Wilson for this reduction of the divine.)

When it comes to the "Clock Is Ticking" article I suggested, I commend Quonset for actually reading it. But as is typical of so many shallow-minded Christians, he completely misses the article's theological implications. He writes (my emphases):

A captain who had been careful, but doesn't appear to have been in that fateful instance, with tragic effect. Subtle or direct pressure from a company to maximize profits despite a close, potentially life-threatening storm. A crew that was very worried and expressed concern to the captain multiple times.

Detailed weather information was available but some of it wasn't acquired and some of it was mishandled and some of it was ignored. We of course don't know, but God could have provided the captain with saving guidance that wasn't followed.


The God of Christianity or Judaism couldn't care less about the question of providing the captain with technical advice about how best to survive the storm. That's because the question is practical/technical rather than moral. What God would care about is the pressure to maximize profits at the expense of safety. This is the sort question--a question of systemic immorality deeply infusing an entire culture--that motivated the great poetry of Isaiah. It is Isaiah's brilliant engagement with this sort of question that makes him a great religious figure, a true prophet, compared to whom Mormonism has produced no prophets at all.

Anyway, I hope this helps everyone better understand the idea that God's thoughts are not our thoughts. Always happy to help out.

-- OK

Quonset said...

This is so speculative and wrong: "The God of Christianity or Judaism couldn't care less about the question of providing the captain with technical advice about how best to survive the storm. That's because the question is practical/technical rather than moral."

Of course the guidance could have been technical, as in this very Korean War event.

And the guidance could have also been non-technical, something like: Get as far away from the current path of the storm as possible—which in this case would have been to head back in a westerly direction.

My wife watches the weather channel a lot and remembers that the on-air analysts were very surprised that El Faro was where it was.

https://weather.com/news/news/el-faro-captain-hurricane-warnings-voice-recordings

"For example, third mate Jeremie Riehm informed Davidson via intercom around 11 a.m. that storm data indicated that the cargo ship would be a mere 22 miles from the eye of Hurricane Joaquin within the next five hours and suggested a change of course. Davidson declined."

"Later, while on watch, Riehm is heard saying, 'guess I’m just turnin’ into a Chicken Little, but I have a feeling like something bad is gonna happen.' "

"Two hours later, second mate Danielle Randolph again requested that the captain change the ship's course to avoid the hurricane. Again, he declined."

NTSB Marine Accident Report, page 204:
"[At 0952 on 30 September], it would have been prudent for the El Faro captain to reconsider his planned route. Information that the storm might already be producing such strong winds (which investigators could not, however, verify) should have alerted the captain that the storm could be more dangerous than he originally thought. But he continued on his course."

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of Biblical instances of God (the God of Judaism/Christianity) instructing someone in technical or pragmatic issues. He instructed Noah on how to build an Ark, Lot to flee Sodom and Gomorrah, Joseph in how to store grain during 7 years of plenty, Joshua in how to bring down the walls of Jericho, Gideon in how to defeat the Midianites, David in how to defeat Goliath, Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt, Peter and his co-fishermen in where to catch fish.

"And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?"

And I would add, if the Lord can teach Noah or Nephi how to build a ship, how is it that He cannot instruct Ensign Blair, that he should know how to safely guide the ship?

bearyb said...

OK-

I, too, read the entire article you suggested. It occurred to me while reading it that such a crew would probably not have been sensitive to much spiritual guidance. In each of the three instances where the word "God" was mentioned in the story they were all exclamations of despair or surprise (in one case directly after a swear word). In no instance did the crew seem to be in the attitude of actually praying out of concern for their circumstances.

The question of God's concern for moral issues that you bring up is interesting, but incomplete. To say that God only has interest in our moral choices and not in areas having to do with practical considerations or outcomes in our lives does not square with biblical accounts. In the story of the Exodus alone we see God giving direction to Moses concerning their escape from the land of Egypt and for their day-to-day survival. Of course, He as well gives them direction pertinent to their spiritual survival (the instructions for the tabernacle and so forth). The main moral guidance given in that narrative is the revealing of the Ten Commandments. We still today hold those commandments to be valid and in force.

We believe that the way we respond to moral imperatives (like the Ten Commandments) will have bearing on our standing before God, both now and in the hereafter. But we also believe He is interested in our daily struggles. For example, the General Authorities of the Church have said that who you choose to marry will have the greatest impact on your life than any other decision you will make. There may be any number of individuals with whom one might make a decent marital relationship. But wouldn't it be appropriate to seek God's input in such a decision? Wouldn't He be interested enough in His children's happiness and welfare to want to give such guidance?

There are myriad examples which could be explored regarding things that might have bearing on our lives - decisions we may need to make which will alter our lives forever. Not all of them are necessarily "moral" decisions. I've heard many say that they were given direction on where to go to school, what occupation they should pursue, where to live, whether to stay here or go there, etc. Not all such questions will be answered with equal clarity for various reasons, not the least of which may be because it doesn't really matter for certain individuals about certain choices - they may both be equally acceptable. But this is getting into more about how prayer works than whether God is interested in every aspect of our lives.

Besides, wasn't the Mosaic Law one of "practical" issues? Did the over 1000 rules all concern themselves with moral consequence? Did any of them?

Where is the power or usefulness of a religion (or a God) that doesn't concern itself as much with the spiritual - or moral - aspects of our lives as much as with the temporal or day-to-day things? Where is the person who will be able to sit and learn about faith who can't hear anything over the hunger sounds of their stomach? Did Christ only walk about and preach moral platitudes, or did He also feed, heal, and comfort?

bearyb said...

The God of Christianity or Judaism couldn't care less about the question of providing the captain with technical advice about how best to survive the storm. That's because the question is practical/technical rather than moral.

Something else to consider is that these two great religions happen to believe in the Creationist point of view. What else was the physical Creation except God's attention to the practical/technical things of the earth and everything on/around it?

We cannot separate the moral from the practical. Without one, there is no context for the other.

Jeff Lindsay said...

I am surprised someone has studied the Bible could say that a God who answers personal prayers and deals with the concerns of individuals has nothing to do with the God of the Bible. The Bible is rich with stories involving prayers and God's intervention in very local matters, such as a mother yearning to bear a child, a prisoner seeking freedom, etc. God intervenes and works miracles for individuals as well as groups and nations. Some of the miracles are small, but even these often have instructive purposes like the miracle of finding money to pay taxes from the mouth of a fish. For those with eyes to see, both the Old and New Testaments testify of a God who hears prayer and answers them, though not always as we wish. He is not as aloof and unconcerned as some insist.

Anonymous said...

... both the Old and New Testaments testify of a God who hears prayers and answers them, though not always as we wish.

Where's the evidence, Jeff? Of course there are examples of God intervening miraculously on someone's behalf when doing so serves God's own ends. But where are the examples of God answering the prayer of an "average Joe" merely because God cares about the problems of said average Joe? Someone who is not a patriarch, or a king, or a prophet, or a member of the sacred lineage?

He is not as aloof and unconcerned as some insist.

Um, are we talking about the same God? The God who drowned an entire planet? The God who set Satan loose on Job and his innocent family? The God who murdered untold numbers of Egyptian infants? The God who repeatedly pursues his own ends by sacrificing the lives of individuals?

The Bible presents us with a God who puts his own cosmic purposes above the suffering of the individual --- i.e., a God who, when it comes down to the level of saving the cargo ship or finding the lost car keys, is indeed "aloof and unconcerned." The God of the faith-promoting story is a later pop-theological construct created by obtusely misreading the Bible.

-- OK

RB said...

" where are the examples of God answering the prayer of an "average Joe" merely because God cares about the problems of said average Joe? Someone who is not a patriarch, or a king, or a prophet, or a member of the sacred lineage?"

I'm not sure it's even fair to say that patriarchs/kings/etc don't count, especially since many of them started out as "average Joes" who were elevated to their positions on account of their righteousness. David started out as a shepherd. Ruth was a widow. Further, I think like most historical documents, the Bible largely records the "big stuff" precisely because it's big, and leaves out the "small stuff" because it is small.

That said, there are some examples of "average Joes" receiving help and direction. Jesus healed SO many people in the New Testament, who we don't hear about other than the fact that they were healed. Blind men, lepers, those who couldn't walk, the woman with the issue of blood. Peter did the same thing on the steps of the temple. I would say the widow of Zarephath qualifies.

"Um, are we talking about the same God? The God who drowned an entire planet? The God who set Satan loose on Job and his innocent family? The God who murdered untold numbers of Egyptian infants? The God who repeatedly pursues his own ends by sacrificing the lives of individuals?"

I believe we are talking about the God whose ways are higher than our ways, and whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts. You may not understand why He chose to do some thing or another, just like a child may not understand why he's not allowed to go to that party, or why he got grounded, or why whatever rule exists. I believe in a God who does what is best for His children, not in a God who does what his children think is best for them. Sometimes that coincides with helping them steer the ship, or find their car keys, and sometimes he knows that what we want is not what's best for us.

Anonymous said...

TB writes, I believe in a God who does what is best for His children, not in a God who does what his children think is best for them. Sometimes that coincides with helping them steer the ship, or find their car keys, and sometimes he knows that what we want is not what's best for us.

And sometimes that involves curing a child of a debilitating and painful disease, and sometimes it involves letting a child die in agony. Sorry, kid --- just doing what is best for you!

Your God is a monster.

-- OK

RB said...

I bet my son thinks the same thing about me sometimes, like when I make him get shots or have blood drawn at physicals. I bet he think something like "why are you hurting me dad? Only a monster would deliberately hurt his own son."

In my particular case, my son is autistic, and is terrified of crowds and of us leaving him (ie with a babysitter or at school or whatever). I'm sure he thinks I'm so mean when I make him go to those places. I bet in his mind, there will never be relief. In all these cases, I'm fully aware that his suffering is real, and it makes me sad. And he let's me know he's upset by screaming and sometimes even going so far as to hit me. But I make him go anyway, because I know it's good for him, and I've seen results as he gets better with his separation anxiety and social skills.

I believe God is much the same way. He knows our suffering is real, and I don't believe He enjoys inflicting it. But He can also see that, compared to eternity, our suffering is just for a moment- like getting a shot or being left at school for 3 hours. He can see that death is not the end. And He can see that all these things will give us experience, and will be for our good.

bearyb said...

Precisely. If death were the end these things would be so much more tragic than they are. Life is not fair, but the promise of the resurrection means that, in the end, everything will work out.

This is another example of how God's thoughts are not man's thoughts. He operates from the perspective of eternity. We are limited in our understanding of what eternity even means, let alone all the things that lay in store for us there.

How can anyone view God (Father or the Son) as a monster when God (the Son) suffered immeasurably to satisfy the claims of justice in behalf of all of us - He Himself being blameless? We, in fact, don't want things to be fair in our own cases. We would not want to suffer the demands of justice for the things each of us have done.

The grace that only Christ can offer is the great hope of all believing Christians. (I'm not sure in what the Jews place their hope.) This is what Paul was talking about when he was teaching about the resurrection - that without hope of it we would be most miserable.

bearyb said...

As for the death of children, Egyptian or otherwise, they are not lost. Neither are any other innocents. The tragedy will be if those who suffered losing them in this life don't do what is required to be with them again in the next.

Anonymous said...

The grace that only Christ can offer is the great hope of all believing Christians. (I'm not sure in what the Jews place their hope.)

A lot of Jews I know place their hope in the possibility of human action to alleviate suffering and injustice in this world rather than the next. That's one reason so many Jews are politically liberal (and doctors, and scientists, etc.). We can't wait for God to bring about justice in the sweet bye-and-bye; if it's going to happen at all, we need to do it ourselves.

Some would even say that we are responsible for doing these things ourselves because we are God's agents on earth. If we wait around for God to do these things, we are abdicating our responsibility. (Or worse, God might do the wrong thing, and it's our responsibility to push back the way Abraham did at Mamre.) To wait for the Second Coming strikes a lot of us as passivity and slacking.

-- OK

RB said...

I actually agree with most if not all of that, OK. I suppose I can't speak for all Mormons, but I certainly believe I have a responsibility to do all I can to alleviate pain here and now. If nothing else, doing so helps me be more compassionate. But I'm sure glad Christ is there, since I can't do it all myself.

bearyb said...

Obviously the Christian faith as well expects believers to do what they can to help others, not only in their physical or temporal trials but also in their spiritual journeys. A passage in 3 Nephi 27:27 says it pretty well: "Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am."

Anonymous said...

...and yet there is Nelson in Africa among the world's most poor telling them to pay tithes to the outrageously rich church. How does that fit into the concept of Christian charity?

bearyb said...

Oh yes, the outrageously rich church.

Why do you think Christ allowed the widow to cast in her mite to the temple's coffers? He obviously knew that was all she had. He could certainly have stopped her and told her to save it for herself - that there were many others who could support the temple's work.

As for your question of Christian charity, where do you think any money donated in Africa would end up being used? How much money do you think the Church has already spent in Africa helping those in need? Where do you think that money came from?

How long do you think the Church could operate without the regular donations it gets? I don't know the answer either, but I bet it's a lot shorter time than you might think. The true "treasure" of the Church is the faith of its people, not the money they give to it.

You can give or not give. It's totally up to you. And before you say, "Yeah, but if you don't give you are unable to benefit from all the Church has to offer," I would point out that if you can't even give 10%, how could you hope to live up to any of the other things asked of us? Sure, those who don't pay a full tithe are unable to enter the temple. But what do they do in the temple? They make even more demanding promises!

Please do not make light of or criticize things you do not understand.

RB said...

Paying tithing is a matter of faith. It's another one of the ways in which God's ways are higher than our ways. In Malachi we are promised that if we pay tithing, the windows of heaven will be opened and a blessing will be poured out to such an extent that we will not have room to receive it. You may believe President Nelson and others are dirty rats for asking poor people to pay tithing, but I believe their motives are centered on the blessing of the people, since President Nelson and others believe the scriptures. I don't think the church stands to gain much from the small tithes we're talking about here, but if the scriptures are to be believed, the people stand to gain plenty.

As far as Christian charity, bearyb discussed church welfare and humanitarian aid. I believe we are looking here at a clear case of the church giving more than they take.

Anonymous said...

RB writes, In Malachi we are promised that if we pay tithing, the windows of heaven will be opened and a blessing will be poured out to such an extent that we will not have room to receive it.

By comparison, Jesus said Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. But don't worry, folks! No need to take this literally....

Malach says, Pay your tithing and God will make you rich! Now this, people, you should take literally.

The LDS Church, which has been called a multi-billion-dollar real estate empire with a church appended, is at root no different from Creflo Dollar. Pure prosperity gospel. It has nothing to do with Christ.

-- OK

RB said...

I don't think anyone in the church believes paying tithing will make you rich. I don't believe that, anyway. I'm not rich, and I've been paying tithing my whole life. In fact, there have been times when I've really struggled financially and needed help. Much help was received from that evil real estate empire you speak of.

If you actually read the verse in Malachi, you'll see that it does not say money will be poured out, it says a blessing will be poured out. I've been immensely blessed even in my times of poverty.

William said...

OK- The Church has been called many different things that are not true, and that is no different.

As to your straw man about Jesus saying sell all of your possessions, He said that to one individual, not to all. It was a very personal thing that the Savior asked of that man. We all have our own sacrifices that we make in order do what the Savior asks and it is a very personal thing for all of us.

Also, as far as what Malachi said, I have four wonderful children, a nice home (not big) but nice, a great job, a wonderful wife and good friends. I view those as the blessings that have been poured out on me as promised by Malachi. I am not rich by any means. So I am not sure where you got the idea that paying tithing will make one so?

Anonymous said...

I have four wonderful children, a nice home (not big) but nice, a great job, a wonderful wife and good friends.

Good for you, William. You have a nice family and a nice life. So do I! And so do millions of other atheists and non-Mormons. So why would you attribute your nice life to your tithing?

Also, you are free, of course, to argue that Jesus's advice to the rich man was not meant for people generally but only for that one individual. But one can just as easily say that Malachi's insistence on tithing was meant only for ancient Israelites making animal sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. One can use the Bible to justify pretty much anything.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

I bet those Kenyan families would feel very blessed if their resources could provide clean water and toilet facilities in their own communities instead of through City Creek Mall on its way back to them. OTOH, I'm sure the Brethren feel very blessed indeed and I suppose that's why they don't feel it's necessary to tithe while they're exhorting the subsistence Kenyans to.

RB said...

You're right, clean water is great. https://www.ldsphilanthropies.org/humanitarian-services/funds/clean-water

Also food: https://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/09/27/mormon-church-adds-11m-to-famine-relief-in-africa-middle-east/

Or self-reliance, coupled with access to better hygiene: https://www.ldscharities.org/news/lds-charities-helps-students-become-self-reliant-in-nairobi-kenya

And so on.

William said...

OK- I don't see where I said that it is all because of tithing. My point was that it helps. I am sure you work hard for your money. So do I! In my personal opinion, tithing has helped to increase those blessings. If others don't have that opinion, that is fine. That is their opinion, as is yours.

I am not justifying anything. As Is said, that was a personal thing. Tithing, as a commandment had been around much, much longer than just Malachi. In fact we first hear about Abraham giving a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem ( Gen 14:18-20 ). Then Jacob giving a tenth Jacob promised to give a tenth to God if he returned home safely ( 28:22 ). So you can see that tithing was around long before the Israelites were around. But that was another really good try on your part.

Anonymous said...

Abraham, Jacob.... Do you see any biblical evidence for tithing on the part of the ordinary working stiffs of the time, or just these patriarchs? The societies of the Bible were so fundamentaly different from our own that these examples are pretty meaningless. One key difference is that these ancient societies were not centered on the individual, but on the paterfamilias, the head of the family/household. Nowadays we tend to see rights and obligations (such as tithing) as appertaining to individuals, rather than families, but that wasn't so in ancient times. It wasn't the day laborer or lowly cowherd who was bringing an animal for sacrifice at the Temple.

For a great overview of just how different that ancient world was from the liberal society of our own time (and Joseph Smith's time), I can recommend the first several chapters of Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism by Larry Siedentop.

Fascinating stuff, and absolutely necessary background for anyone trying to genuinely understand the Bible and its contemporary relevance.

-- OK

RB said...

There is biblical evidence that the entire house of Israel paid tithes.

Leviticus 27:30 contains the commandment to the Israelites: "And all the tithe of the land... is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord." The surrounding text specifies that these tithes include various forms of livelihood, such as seeds of the land, fruit of the tree, flocks, and herds.

2 Chronicles 31:5-6 records one instance of the Israelites paying tithing as a group. "the children of Israel brought in abundance the firsfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly. And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord their God, and laid them by heaps."

Nehemiah 13:12 similarly states "Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries."

There's more, but I think that will suffice for our purposes.

Anonymous said...

RB, think about some of your examples, e.g., all the tithe of the land, all the increase of the field, and the corn and the new wine. Is this kind of language addressed to the ordinary Joe who works on the land, or to the elite paterfamilias who owns the land? The only person who can tithe "the increase of the field" is the one who owns the field.

It would be like a text from the 1960s saying, The children of Michigan, that dwelt in the cities of Flint and Detroit, they also brought in the tithes of Mustangs and of Toronados. The "children of Michigan" would clearly be a reference to the owners of the automobile factories, not to the workers working in them. The text addresses only the elite.

So why don't you try to find me a passage that instructs the poor laborer to tithe a portion of his wage?

The surrounding text specifies that these tithes include various forms of livelihood, such as seeds of the land, fruit of the tree, flocks, and herds.

This is silly. Seeds of the land etc. are not "forms of livelihood," they're commodities. They're not kinds of labor, they're specific products of labor. More to the point, they are not owned by the workers; they are owned by the elite landowners, and thus could only have been tithed by the elite landowners. Again, your example is completely irrelevant.

Sorry to break it to you, RB, but the Church's tithing practices, not to mention its dietary restrictions and Temple rituals, are modern, not ancient. Its claim to have "restored" aspects of ancient Israelite religion is laughable.

-- OK

RB said...

I guess I just thought "all Judah" was pretty inclusive. Silly me. Of course it actually means "all Judah, except for some of Judah, which didn't bring tithes, but we're not telling you which ones are which." Must have been a translation error.

Examples of poor, normal folks who tithed/made offerings: Obviously the widow in the story of the widow's mite. I note that Jesus didn't go over to her and say, "hey, you're poor, you don't need to do that." Also, you mentioned earlier that day laborers and such were not the ones bringing sacrifices to the temple. So I'm wondering what station you think Mary and Joseph occupied when they made their sacrifice after Jesus' birth. I guess "carpenter" qualifies as elite. By the way, Mormons aren't the only ones who think people ought to tithe. This guy, for example: http://seedofabraham.net/The-Tithe-in-Ancient-Israel.pdf

As to your claim that it was households, rather than individuals, who were accountable to pay tithing, I'm with you on that. My family attends tithing settlement together, not individually. We collectively pay tithes on our collective income. My son, who does not make any money, does not pay anything himself, but is nevertheless considered a full tithe payer.

In my previous comment, I said "forms of livelihood." Apologies. All I meant was that the Lord was including various forms of material wealth in what was to be tithed. In other words, if you produced grain, pay in grain. If you produced fruit, pay in fruit. If you raised animals, pay in animals. But hey, at least it gave you the opportunity to show how smart you are. That and your use of the word "paterfamilias." I bow in awe of your superior intellect. That's what you wanted, right?

Keep them goal posts a-movin'!
-RB

Anonymous said...

Well, RB, your ignorance and stubbornness are getting tiresome, but before quitting this argument, let me just say that a carpenter today might be considered an ordinary working stiff, but in Joseph's day a tekton would have been considered quite well off. He was certainly not an ordinary laborer. I do encourage you to learn something about the radical differences between ancient Israel and 1830s upstate New York.

-- OK

RB said...

I guess Geza Vermes must have been ignorant too. Here's what he had to say:

"A tekton was at the lower end of the peasant class, more marginalized than a peasant who owned a small piece of land. We should not think of a tekton as being a step up from a subsistence farmer; rather, a tekton belonged to a family that had lost its land"
-Jesus the Jew

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I'm not finding that information in the edition of Jesus the Jew I just checked. (Perhaps you can favor us with a page number?) That book does, however, say this: "His [Jesus's] secular profession remains uncertain…. Now those familiar with the language spoken by Jesus are acquainted with the metaphorical use of 'carpenter' and 'carpenter's son' in ancient Jewish writings. In Talmudic sayings the Aramaic noun denoting carpenter or craftsman (naggar) stands for a 'scholar' or 'learned man'…."

In other words, not a working stiff but someone with the leisure to become a scholar.

-- OK

RB said...

I'm sorry, I got my wires crossed. It was Marcus Borg who said it in "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" on page 26

RB said...

I should also applogize for snapping earlier. I was really trying to state facts to the best of my knowledge, nothing more, but then I lost it over what I perceived to be a condescending tone. I assume it wasn't meant that way, and either way, I'm sorry I lost my temper

bearyb said...

One can use the Bible to justify pretty much anything.

Yes, at least we can agree on that.

Isn't it wonderful then that we have additional scripture to help clarify and testify of Christ's mission and teachings?

Anonymous said...

Additional scriptures that condone murder and polygamy? Yeah, that really clarifies things. Not.

bearyb said...

Sigh.

Mormon Discussions Inc said...

This story isn't true. Currently there is a an journalistic investigation occurring showing the story falls apart at every turn.

#1 Frank Blair did not serve in the Korean War. Notice the dates of the newspaper and when his two year military stint would of started vs when the Korean War ended.
https://newspaperarchive.com/ogden-standard-examiner-aug-19-1955-p-11/
notice the image matches the one in the ensign. His training has him in the right place until several months after the Korean war ends

this is the least of the issues.

#2) One his story has a Captain leaving the bridge during a typhoon. Ask a navy man..... this simply doesn't happen. It is against protocol.

#3.) The captain letting a Ensign go out on the deck to "gather info" during a typhoon w/ 45' foot waves. absurd.

#4.) Notice the Captain and Engineer already are discussing a solution to the problem (their gauges told them the issue) that God sent Ensign Blair on the deck to risk his life to gather info on. In other words his walking the deck was unnecessary as the gauges on the bridge communicated the same info. The issue was not knowing the problem, but rather deciding a solution.

#5.) Also the newspaper has him serving on the U.S.S. Marion County. This ship only has two Engines, not three.

#6.) Ensign Blair claims to see the propellors from the deck after securing himself to the the deck in a typhoon, at night, with 45' waves. The propellers or screws as they are called are below the boat tucked away from the outside edge. Think through what angle he would have to be at leaning off the side of the boat to see the crews as they come up out of the water in a typhoon. Think about what it would take to secure himself and manually lengthen or shorten the rope he is tied to. This story is absurd and false.

There are other issues, in fact over a dozen, but these are sufficient to show that such a story simply isn't true.

I hope you will be willing to let your readers know in a current post that such story has deep problems

An deeper analysis of some of some of these issues is here
https://radiofreemormon.org/2018/08/radio-free-mormon-038-a-whale-of-a-tale/

Anonymous said...

Mormon Discussions, Inc: Don't let facts and historicity get in the way of a spirichally-uplifting story. Look at this story like a parable. Let those who have ears hear.