Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Anti-Mormon Plea: PLEASE Don't Pray about the Book of Mormon

On my Mormon Answers Page of Facetious Questions, I've recently updated my answer to the question, "Why should people pray to know the Book of Mormon is true? That's like praying to know if they should commit adultery." Here is a partial excerpt from my response:

It's amazing how often anti-Mormons beg people NOT to pray about the message of the restored Gospel and our other testament of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon. Here's one example from a page at Catholic.com, brought to my attention by a sincere investigator who later joined the Church:

In these "latter days," there are few people who haven't been visited at least once by Mormon missionaries. At some point in your doorstep dialogue, these earnest young men will ask you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and pray about it, asking the Lord to "send the Holy Ghost to witness that it is true." . . .

Tell the Mormon missionaries: "Look, it is foolish to pray about things you know are not God's will. It would be wrong of me to pray about whether adultery is right, when the Bible clearly says it is not. Similarly, it would be wrong of me to pray about the Book of Mormon when one can so easily show that it is not the word of God."

That Web page offers two sure-fire reasons to discard the Book of Mormon without any further study and certainly without any further prayer:
  • First, Alma 7:10 says that Christ was born in Jerusalem, when we all know it's Bethlehem - such a blunder! In fact, Alma 7:10 offers serious evidence of authenticity for the Book of Mormon, as I discuss on my page about alleged Book of Mormon problems and a page about the term "land of Jerusalem." One simple point to remember: Bethlehem is virtually a suburb of Jerusalem, just 5 miles away. To people long removed from the Old World, knowing of ancient Jerusalem but probably not the details of other places, it's exactly how a Book of Mormon writer would refer to the area of Christ's birth. It's not how Joseph Smith would have described it if he made it up, for he and every school child of his day knew Christ was born in Bethlehem, but probably didn't know how close it is to Jerusalem.
  • As a second killer argument, we are told that the Book of Mormon speaks of honeybees being brought to the Americas in Ether 2:3, when scientists supposedly know they were introduced to the New World after Columbus. This issue is discussed on my page about Book of Mormon problems with plants and animals. Ether 2:3 refers to honeybees during travels in the Old World only; the list of things they brought to the New World in Ether 6:4 does not include bees. So the Book of Mormon does not explicitly say that honeybees were introduced to the Americas. What's the problem? But in fact, honeybees were known to the ancient Mayans. In Michael D. Coe's excellent book, The Maya (4th ed., London: Thames and Hudson, 1987), Coe discusses Mayan life based on the Spanish missionaries' "first-class anthropological accounts of native culture as it was just before they came" (p. 155) and states that "the Maya farmer raised the native stingless bees . . . but wild honey was also much appreciated" (p. 156). For further information, you can also read that ancient Mesomaericas traded honey at regentsprep.org/Regents/global/themes/economic/mes.cfm and read another note on honey from stingless bees in Mesoamerica at ancientsites.com/aw/post/384974. Also see a Dutch page on stingless beekeeping that states, "Since pre-Hispanic times the Mayan and Nahua ethnic groups of Central America bred stingless bees for their honey and wax." (Thanks to Joseph Barbados for pointing out the last two URLs.) Talk about an attack lacking sting!

So what about the issue of prayer concerning the Book of Mormon? Do we trust our salvation to warm, fuzzy feelings while putting our mind into deep freeze? No! (See my page on testimony for a more complete discussion.) The Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5) doesn't simply say to pray about the Book, but to ponder it, to study it, and then with faith in Christ to seek divine understanding of it through the power of the Holy Ghost. It's sad to see fellow Christians demeaning the quest for revelation from God through the power of the Holy Ghost as a "warm fuzzy feeling" that can lead to great deception. How can anyone have a testimony of Christ as the Son of God unless the Father reveals it? (See Matthew 16:15-17; Rev. 19:10; 1 Cor. 2:10-11.) Such prayer and inquiry is part of what all Christians should do in their quest to understand the truth. Relying on human logic and reasoning alone is guaranteed to be fallible, for people get things completely wrong, like the multiple errors in the rather silly attack about honeybees in the Book of Mormon. Those who seek revelation from the Father, combining thought and study with faith in Christ and the influence of God's Spirit, will be able to know the divinity of Jesus Christ in spite of all the arguments against Him, and just might be able to withstand the many human arguments against the divinity of the Bible - and the Book of Mormon.

Do you remember what Christ said when he praised Peter for his testimony of the Savior? It's in Matthew 16: 15-17:

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Peter's knowledge of Christ as the Son of God was not based on a factual analysis of Old Testament scriptures; it was not based on archaeology or genetic science or the opinions of learned scholars of his day; he did not survey the rabbis to find of there was consensus among leading authority figures about the divine status of Christ; it was not based on impressive miracles or other tangible evidences. Flesh and blood had not revealed the divinity of Christ to Peter. Then where did Peter gain that testimony? Through REVELATION from God the Father.

The critics of Christ during His ministry demanded "flesh and blood" evidence, refusing to listen to he Spirit - and ultimately sought the very flesh and blood of Christ Himself. Today our critics ask their victims to rely only on flesh and blood and NOT to seek revelation from God the Father to know if the Book of Mormon is true. Whose voice are they echoing?

Some anti-Mormons sometimes go so far in their efforts to stop prayer as to say that we open ourselves to demonic influence if we pray about the Book of Mormon. But Christ, who is faithful and true, tells us to "Ask and it shall be given" (Matt. 7:7) and assures us that since we, "being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matt. 7:11). Please, have faith in God, not in the unreliable analysis of anti-Mormon critics, who would have you trust them more than the Father. If people tell you there is no need to pray because the Book of Mormon mentions honeybees, tell them to buzz off.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

"You Cannot Always Tell the Wicked from the Righteous": The Lord's Teaching on the Limitations of Human Prophets

How disappointing it is to see some members of the Church leave because they find that past or modern prophets have made some mistake. From Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley, one can always find some act, writing, comment, opinion or decision that one can criticize as a mistake. How I wish that all our members and former members would learn from the scriptures and see that the concept of infallibility is utterly foreign to the Bible and to the other scriptures we use. It is solid scriptural doctrine that human prophets, though called of God, are fallible. From the opening sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, we see Joseph Smith being condemned for his foolishness that led to the loss of 116 pages of translated text from the Book of Mormon. He erred in judgment and was essentially tricked into letting the pages go out of his control.

Can a true prophet be tricked?? Yes, of course, as anyone would know who has studied the Old Testament. In Genesis 27 we read of the great prophet Isaac being tricked by his wife and son, Jacob, into blessing Jacob with the blessing that should have been given to the older son, Esau. I'm sure it was all for a good cause, but we can't mince words here: the prophet was easily tricked. In retrospect, we might argue that the trickery was needed to get him past his personal biases in favor of Esau - again pointing to the human fallibility of prophets. Then in Joshua 9 we read that the prophet Joshua was fooled by a false report from the Gibeonites. Like Isaac, he was deceived by his senses and by false information from others. Perhaps if he had spent time praying about the issue and seeking additional information, he might have seen through the deception - but it's clear that he was fooled.

The Doctrine and Covenants is consistent with the Bible on this issue. After Joseph is chastised for his foolishness in Section 3, we later read in Section 10 that the Joseph was tricked, and that he must pray always and be vigilant for Satan wishes to destroy him. And then Joseph the true Prophet of God is given this important information in verse 37: "you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous." Presumably even if the Prophet is living close to the Spirit and praying always, there is the possibility of sometimes mistaking wicked people for righteous, or visa versa.

That's life: humans are imperfect. We worship God, not Brigham Young or Gordon B. Hinckley. Gordon B. Hinckley is a true prophet of God because he has been given the keys of the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is authorized to received revelation from God for the Church and the world. But that does not mean that every comment - even those on the Larry King Show - are infallibly correct and given straight from the mouth of God. It does not mean that he can look at a document and instantly know if it's a forgery (an issue I discuss specifically on my Mormon Answers page about prophets).

I know somebody who left the Church over such issues. I can't speak for him, but one thing that I think especially galled him was once hearing President Hinckley casually praise Kofi Annan of the United Nations. This acquaintance and I both don't think highly of Kofi Annan. I could say that there are good reasons why my acquaintance sees Kofi Annan as an evil person, and it was probably disappointing to see that President Hinckley had accepted the very widespread opinion of most people that Kofi is a great guy. (But why shouldn't he? Was there any need for Gordon B. Hinckley to seek divine revelation about United Nations scandals or schemes??) Right or wrong, that was just President Hinckley's opinion, not official Church doctrine. The Lord does not take over a prophet's brain and tweak every opinion until it matches God's opinion (or the opinions of disgruntled members or former members). As the Lord told Joseph Smith, even a prophet of God cannot be expected to always discern the righteous from the wicked.

I have a lot of strong opinions that I hope all leaders of the Church will soon adopt. But remember, they're only human - and come to think of it, so am I. When we disagree, there are several possibilities. Perhaps God has not yet revealed my opinions to them, or perhaps (shudder) I am wrong. And when it's more than a matter of opinion, where a clear-cut error has been made, we must not let that disrupt our testimony: humans make mistakes, sometimes even HUGE mistakes like the ones that Joseph is condemned for in the revelations he published to the world (so much for the theory that he was a megalomaniac bent on praising himself!).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and His Church is upon the earth. The Church is true, in spite of the weaknesses of all us humans in it. Don't let the occasional mistakes of men, even great and inspired men, distract us from what God has given us and from what He has called us to do.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Helaman 3 and the Problem of Deforestation

Brant Gardner has an excellent essay on Helaman chapter 3 and the issue of cement manufacture that addresses a particular problem with the famous passage at Helaman 3:6,7 referring to cement. While there is abundant archaeological support for the Book of Mormon's claim that cement was used in the construction of buildings north of the narrow neck of land, some people have wondered about the issue of timber in Helaman 3. The key to making cement is the conversion of calcium carbonate to calcium oxide (lime) in a process called calcination. It requires fire, and the ancient producers of cement in Mexico needed a lot of flammable material to sustain the cement industry. I have previously argued that a region can lack high quality timber because of previous deforestation, yet still have all sorts of other flammable materials for creating adequate fires for lime production, but Brant Gardner's essay provides a different perspective. Based on the conclusions of modern scholars, he notes that the popularity of cement in this region--probably in the area of Teotihuacan--was probably a key factor for the deforestation that later occurred. He also suggests that Mormon's description in Helaman 3 of the land north was probably based on hat Mormon knew of that region in his day, several centuries after Nephites went to the region. It was probably not so heavily deforested at the time when cement production began. Here is a excerpt from Gardner:
The essential elements [in Helaman 3:3-7] that allow us to make a tentative identification of this area are:

Many waters
Desolate of trees
Buildings of cement

From perhaps 100 BC to 600 AD there is one area in Mesoamerica that fits all of these descriptions, and that it Teotihuacan. It is north of the Nephite (and Jaredite) lands. It is near the lake that used to occupy the current site of Mexico City. The lack of trees and the environmental imbalance created by denuding the land of trees is hypothesized as a major factor in creating the downfall of Teotihuacan. One of the reasons for the lack of trees was the creation of the cement with which their buildings were built (George C. Vaillant. Aztecs of Mexico. Penguin Books, 1966, pp. 78-9O). There is only one area in Mesoamerica that fits this description well, and that is Teotihuacan.

Historical/ Historiographical: In spite of the accuracy of this description of Teotihuacan, there is nevertheless a major problem with the fit. That problem is one of timing. The particular condition of the area being devoid of trees does not describe the Teotihuacan of 49 BC, but rather the Teotihuacan of 350AD and later.

What we have in this case is Mormon describing the Teotihuacan that he knows in his own time, and assuming that it was the same at the time of this part of his history. When Mormon describes this people who leave, he is describing a group of people who do not return, and of whom Mormon would have no record. Mormon therefore has no historical document before him that would accurately describe the land northward to which these people emigrated. Nevertheless Mormon describes that land in great detail.

If Mormon has no historical record to tell him where the people went, and has no historical record to tell him what that land was like, how does he describe it so thoroughly? It is Mormon who makes the association between this group of people and the city of Teotihuacan for his own purposes. He describes that city and land from the perspective of his own time, because that it what he knows. . . .

[In Hel. 3:5,] Mormon gives us this quick statement that the people went into areas that "had not been rendered desolate and without timber." On the surface, this would appear to be a very unusual statement for the Mesoamerican area in which we are placing the Book of Mormon. This is a land of heavy forestation. Where would they have gone that even might have been "desolate and without timber?" The answer lies in the population explosion and the effects of population on the land. This land has had over a thousand years to recover, and it is only recently that scientists are beginning to discover that this land of jungle had been stripped of trees as a result of the high density of certain Mesoamerican populations and their lifestyle. One of the earlier cities to suffer extinction was the great metropolis of El Mirador:

"But in the second and third centuries AD disruptions and catastrophe hit the Maya world. About AD 150, El Mirador seems to have collapsed quite suddenly. Until very recently, it was a mystery why this had occurred. Archaeologists had found signs of violence in the city centre. Many monuments and most of the stelae recovered here were found smashed. Were they invaded by their enemies? Yet the signs of abandonment were almost total and it seemed extraordinary that such a great power should fold so completely. Today the findings of climatologists and soil scientists are suggesting environmental reasons for El Mirador's demise.- For the tens of thousands of people congregated in the area would very quickly have destroyed the forest cover for miles around.
"They cut down trees to cook, to fire pottery and above all to burn the lime to produce ton after ton of lime plaster for endless construction projects and repairs to buildings and reservoirs. As they did this, the climate began to change. After about AD 100 it became drier across this part of the lowlands, a cyclical phenomenon which was to last for about four hundred years. This increased aridity may well have been enhanced locally by the scale of deforestation. And when it did rain, the water ran soil and sediment from the denuded landscape into the once-fertile swamps. In due course they dried up." (David Drew. The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings. University of California Press, 1999, p. 145-6).

This same fate awaited the great city of Tikal. It is hard to imagine today when most of the world’s image of Tikal comes from the first Star Wars movie where Tikal’s temples rising from a dense jungle was the picture used for the "rebel base" at the end of that movie. In the Late Classic, someone standing on one of those same temples would have seen virtually no trees for as far as vision could perceive. Pollen samples and lake-bed cores indicate a very high degree of deforestation at that time -- not coincidentally not long before the collapse of the once powerful city. (David Drew, 1999, p. 345).

Not surprisingly, it is this same deforestation that is suggested as one of the major causes of the downfall of Teotihuacan, which was beginning during Mormon’s lifetime. What we see from Mormon is an accurate depiction of the world around him, but imputed to an earlier time.

Fascinating! Thanks, Brother Gardner.

Remember, when critics say that not a shred of concrete archaeological evidence has been found in support of the Book of Mormon, they are expressing a testimony based on their feelings and blind faith, not facts. Cement manufacture and deforestation in a region that agrees with Book of Mormon geology is an interesting issue, one that was unknown to Joseph Smith. This does not prove the Book of Mormon to be true, but does disprove the claim that their is no archaeological evidence that supports anything found in the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Wondering about Caffeine

Latter-day Saints often wonder about caffeine, sometimes assuming that caffeine must be the reason why we are asked to avoid black tea and coffee. While the Lord has not given us a heavenly Material Data Safety Sheet for those beverages, one can justly be suspicious of caffeine as a stimulant. However, its impact on human health is not necessarily clear. One recent study suggests that caffeine may be helpful in reducing the risk of Parkinson's disease. On the other hand, another study points to bone density loss in women caused by regular caffeine intake, and another recent study points to problems from caffeine for those with diabetes.

Any chemical can affect the human body in hundreds of ways that may never be fully delineated. Could caffeine improve thyroid function, while also increasing the risks of cancer from radon exposure, increasing hair loss for red heads, and increasing the risk of appendicitis for those on the Atkins diet? It's possible.

Personally, I avoid caffeinated beverages (but eat chocolate). When the Lord sees fit to reveal more (perhaps through the medium of peer-reviewed scientific publications), we may eventually learn that LDS people who shunned caffeine were right after all.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Volcanoes and the Book of Mormon: More Than Just Smoke

With all the recent excitement over discoveries in the Arabian Peninsula that shed light on First Nephi and the Book of Mormon, some critics have made progress in qualifying their attacks. Instead of demanding concrete, scientific, archaeological "proof" of any kind that the Book of Mormon is true, they now are more likely to ask for evidence from the New World. Though evidences of any kind are unlikely to soften some hearts, there are people who may be motivated to look into the Book of Mormon with an open mind if they can at least be shown that the case against the Book of Mormon is not as fearsome as the critics would have them believe. While we have not yet found a sign saying "Welcome to Zarahemla, land of the Nephites," there are some relevant scientific and archaeological finds that the critics can't simply ignore. Speaking of concrete evidence, the existence of cement as a building material in Mesoamerica is surprisingly consistent with the Book of Mormon. In Mesoamerica, it was used in a place north of the narrow neck of land, in a region that suffered from a scarcity of good lumber. It was not used among the Indians Joseph Smith might have known, so he couldn't have fabricated the Book of Mormon reference to cement based on knowledge from his surroundings.

Perhaps even more interesting is the evidence from volcanoes associated with the Book of Mormon, which puts some real constraints on where and when the Book of Mormon could have taken place. The scientific dating of massive lava flows in Mesoamerica is remarkably consistent with 3 Nephi, and poses a serious challenge for those who wish to dismiss the Book of Mormon as fantasy.

Nothing from the physical and intellectual world of man should serve as "proof" that the Book of Mormon is a book from God, but the evidences for its authenticity can serve to remove some of the smoke from anti-Mormon attacks and help others see it as a book that perhaps should be taken seriously after all.

P.S. - Benjamin R. Jordan, who is completing a Ph.D. at the University of Rhode Island involving research on volcanic ash layers in Central America, has published an article examining evidence for ancient volcanic activity around the time of the death of Christ. The article, "Volcanic Destruction in the Book of Mormon: Possible Evidence from Ice Cores," was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003, pp. 78-87, and is available from farms.byu.edu in PDF or HTML formats. Examining reputable, peer-reviewed publications of ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica, Jordan shows that there are spikes in sulfate content that are consistent with significant volcanic activity around the time of the death of Christ. "There is evidence for large eruptions, within the margin of error, for the period of A.D. 30 to 40."

Friday, August 20, 2004

Art in Utah County

I just got back from a vacation in Utah, and would like to share a couple things pertaining to art and culture that I encountered in Utah County. First, I was quite impressed with the BYU Museum of Art. The temporary Mediterranean Exhibit on the lower level was excellent and the collection of oil paintings on the main floor is surprisingly rich. But I would like to call attention to their main-floor exhibit, Metaphorically Speaking. I found several intriguing pieces there that explored religious concepts through symbolism.

By far my favorite and most touching experience came from exploring and pondering Galen Bell's sculpture, Embrace. Many people will walk right by this without realizing what a powerful exploration of LDS Temple themes stands before them. One can walk into this sculpture. There is a 10-foot-wide ring of gravel in a brick circle with a wood beam rising in the center from a pile of stones, and above this altar-like centerpiece hangs a large iron nail suspended a few inches above the beam. Around the periphery of the circle at about eye level also hang dozens of white pieces of fabric and paper, many having openings and some having written verses from the scriptures, many dealing with the concept of veils. The ring of hanging fragments is interrupted by an opening in the circle at the entrance where one can walk in. Lights above shine toward the veil of hanging fragments, spreading light outside the ring and casting shadows of the fragments on the floor. The museum's web site has some poor photographs of the piece here and on a page of images, where two photos can be viewed by clicking on the fourth, ninth, and fourteenth thumbnails from the top in the left column of thumbnails. Number 14 might be the best view, but none do it justice.

There is more than meets the eye in this exhibit (and much more than met a BYU camera). As I explored the symbolism, my mind recalled Nibley's writings about the significance of the ritual embrace as part of ancient religious concepts pertaining to entry into the presence of God, and also contemplated the rich symbolism of nails, beams, altars, circles, openings in veils, light, so forth. Some dictionary-like definitions and scriptures outside the exhibit also added food for thought. The longer I pondered, the more I like it. But it would be easy to miss.

Rusty Clifton on the Nine Moons blog has an insightful post about the apparent declining use of symbolism in LDS art and architecture. I hope Galen Bell and other inspired artists will help stop that decline.

A second artistic highlight of my trip was an unplanned stop at Thanksgiving Point along I-15 near Lehi. The Museum of Ancient Life is surprisingly good for those interested in fossils and especially dinosaurs (I have seen it before and skipped it this time). What thrilled me this time was the small but amazing exhibit, "Poetic Kinetics," featuring the moving Rube Goldberg-like creations of a father and son team of local artists, local artists, Dennis and Andrew Smith. They specialize in assembling pieces of mechanical junk - gears, chains, wheels, wires, saws, etc. - into kinetic art. The level of complexity and mechanical beauty was almost numbing in some cases. Several of the pieces involve balls that are randomly dispersed among numerous different pathways. My family could not tear themselves away from some of the pieces, wanting to explore the intricate workings and watch for unusual events. One of my favorites, though, was a device that was able to shoot out rings of smoke that traveled in a straight line for 10 to 30 feet, exploiting a recently commercialized aerodynamic effect. Dennis Smith has a Website, SmithSculpture.com, but there is not enough of his "junk" on the site (I did find one kinetic example). Fortunately, several of the pieces I saw can be seen at Andrew Smith's Website, AndrewSmithart.com (which currently redirects you to www.shawnrossiter.com/andrewsmith/andrewsmith.html). I applaud these fine artists for the delightful experience they created for me! And yes, I think much of it was cleverly symbolic, though sometimes too clever for me.

My final artistic/cultural surprise came when we dropped in to the Asuka Japanese restaurant in Provo, 2244 North University Parkway by Olive Garden and Cafe Rio. The sushi at Asuka was breathtaking! I've had sushi in several places around the country and a few times during a trip to Japan, but this was actually the best I can remember having. With six of us present (my four kids, my oldest son's wife, and me - my wife was at another event), we ordered the family boat of sushi (normally for 4 people), plus appetizers of edamame (soy beans in the pod), seaweed salad, miso soup, and an extra sushi plate. We were astounded. Each dish was surprisingly good, and for the first time I could understand why the art of making good sushi rice is a treasured skill. The fish was the most delicious I can remember tasting. All of my kids said that it was among the best meals of their lives - I'm not kidding. Now maybe this was a fluke and maybe we were unusually hungry, but I was surprised to fine such wonderful sushi out in the dessert of Utah. With tax and tip, it came to $149, but we could have bought less and still been happy. We left full and enchanted by the cultural experience.

Whether its temple symbolism, whimsical kinetic art, or tasty chunks of raw fish, I was pleased to see that art is alive, well, and very fresh in Utah County.

D&C 77 and the Age of the Earth

In response to my article on Science and (LDS) Religion where I advocate the idea that LDS religion is compatible with science and with the concept of an old earth, I have received an inquiry about Doctrine and Covenants 77 and the age of the earth. At first glance, D&C 77 seems to say that the earth is 7,000 years old. But this is not the case. A good discussion of this verse can be found in a book I just picked up and highly recommend, Can Science Be Faith-Promoting? (Salt Lake City: Blue Ribbon Books, 2001, 252 pages) by Dr. Sterling B. Talmage, son of the late Apostle and scientist, James E. Talmage. In his discussion (pp. 174-176), he examines the words uses in D&C 77:6:
What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.
The time covered by the seven seals refers to things of God's "economy" during this period of "continuance." He finds "economy" is not used elsewhere in the scriptures, but does have a theological definition in the dictionary (Practical Standard Dictionary, p. 369):
6. Theol. A method of divine management of human affairs, or a system of laws and regulations, rites, and ceremonies; the holy scheme of creation and redemption; specif., and particular method of divine government, as the Mosaic economy.
Talmage then suggests that "economy" may refer to God's dealings with men on earth rather than with the earth itself, and the hidden things in this regard refer to things that have been revealed or yet to be revealed (it would seem that "mysteries" would fit well here).

He then considers the word "continuance" and notes that its usage in the scriptures (Ps. 139:16, Is. 64:5, and Rom. 2:7) does not indicate totality of duration, but progress in advance of an earlier stage. The first volume of a magazine is not a continuance, for example, but later volumes can be. His examination of the dictionary leads to the conclusion that "continuance" refers to the current time period with an unspecified time period preceding it.

The final term he considers is "temporal." The dictionary allows "temporal" to have the same connotation as "temporary" or "current," but he finds no evidence that it should be synonymous with "physical" or "material." He finds its most usual or appropriate meaning to be "pertaining to affairs of the present life."

The three terms that Talmage analyzes harmonize with each other and all point to the conclusions that D&C 77 refers to God's dealing with man under the present time period (the collection of dispensations of the past several thousand years), and does not say anything about the time of the Creation or age of the earth, or even the antiquity of other humans or humanoids.

Guest Blogging at Times and Seasons

For the next few days, I have the privilege of being a guest blogger at Times and Seasons, my favorite LDS blog. My posts over there include the following:
I hope you'll drop by.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Is the Bible Complete?

A number of LDS apologists have written articles refuting the common idea that the Bible is complete and that all scripture has been given. One example is my Mormon Answers essay, Mormons and the Bible. A relatively new and much more compact resource is a two-page brochure from FAIRLDS.org, "Is the Bible Complete?" This can serve as a handout to give to those who have sincere questions on the topic.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Take Heed Lest Ye Fall: Nobody Is Immune

Some Christians, including some Mormons, occasionally make the mistake of thinking that their salvation is pretty much ensured. They have become converted to Christ, they've experienced the power of God, they feel strong and totally loyal to God - so why worry? The Bible warns against this self-assured attitude. 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns Christians about our vulnerability to sin if we are not cautious: "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Paul makes similar statements elsewhere (Heb. 3:12-14, Heb. 2:1-3; Heb. 4:1-11; for more, see my page on faith and works), as do other prophets. Even Christ warned his disciples to "pray that ye enter not into temptation" (Luke 22:40) and prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32), though Peter denied Christ three times shortly afterwards. A penitent and strengthened Peter later listed a series of things we should pursue to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3-10) and in this context warned us to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Peter 1:10).

We should never think we are too fully converted to fall. We must daily pray to be led out of temptation (there is a reason why the Lord taught us to pray for that!), and daily strive to follow the Lord, and, as Paul put it, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).

As a tragic reminder of this, I recently learned of the demise of a man I knew who served as a bishop in the Church and was well known as a good man and a good father of several children. I had met the man several times and liked him. Sadly, some time after his service as Bishop, he became caught up in Internet pornography, and I believe that it destroyed him and his marriage. Through his errant Internet activity, he decided that he was gay, and began leaving his family for "business trips" to hook up with men he had met online for immoral purposes. I think he was fifty-something when this began. He died a few years later of disease that may have been associated with his immoral activities. How tragic that he did not stay true to his once-strong faith.

His tragic fall also reminds me of how dangerous pornography is. Porn is all about misinformation and deception. It warps how we think of others, how we think of ourselves, and distorts how we treat others and ourselves. It can turn good men and women into beasts. I know it is a powerful recruiting tool for the gay movement and for those wishing to entice children, teenagers, and others into giving up natural inhibitions against immoral activity. I have seen it destroy too many marriages and too many good people in my life. I detest it, and believe that those who push it and profit from it will one day writhe in agony at the thought of what they have done to destroy others.

Brothers and sisters, Mormons and those of other faiths, do not be deceived. We have the freedom to choose to turn to Christ. That same freedom to choose is not removed once we turn toward Him. We still have the freedom to reject Him, and we may if we are not cautious. As Christ said, "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Let us remember the Lord's teachings on prayer, and pray daily that we may be led out of temptation.

None of us is immune. Missionaries, returned missionaries, bishops, General Authorities, Relief Society Presidents, hard-working mothers and fathers, we are all subject to temptation and can fall if we do not give diligence and seek the Lord daily. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).

Ken Jennings Alert: "We Are the Champions" Spoof

Maybe this is old news, but I just ran into an online song for Ken Jennings fans that is based on "We Are the Champions." Some background information is also available. I give it my esteemed "mildly entertaining" rating.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Nahom in Arabia: Responding to Critics

S. Kent Brown has an excellent response to critics who have challenged the significance of finds in the Arabian Peninsula dealing with the place Nahom. His article, "On NAHOM / NHM," is posted on The Nephi Project.

I've noticed some folks afflicted with the dread EXMO virus have been ranting about how ridiculous the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula is (though I appreciate their increased traffic to my site). Most of their comments seem to be verbal eye rolling and otherwise ignoring the issues, but some of the more meaningful comments have raised the possibility that Joseph Smith could have learned about the place Nehem in Arabia from some eighteenth or nineteenth century sources. We will need to add a few more volumes to the vast frontier library of that ultimate scholar, Joseph Smith, to accommodate this theory. Unfortunately, that frontier library remains hypothetical and probably would not have helped even if it existed for, as S. Kent Brown shows, it is unlikely that Joseph could have gained access to this information even if he were a bookworm anxious to learn all he could about Arabia. Even if he were able to acquire all that was available in print to Western scholars of his day, there does not appear to be any way that he could have learned about some of the accurate details in the text, such as the fact that one can turn eastward at Nahom and continue eastward to safely reach Bountiful.

To date, the critics have been unable to explain how so much of First Nephi has become so plausible in recent years. Showing a 1780 map in Europe that has the name Nehem in Arabia does very little to explain the accuracy of Nephi's journey as described in the Book of Mormon. It does not explain the accurate description of places that our critics have long claimed did not even exist, such as the River Laman and the Valley Lemuel or the place Bountiful. It does not explain the plausibility of details such as the place Shazer or the accurate route that includes a plausible due-east turn at Nahom that bypasses the empty quarter and provides a plausible route to Bountiful. Issues that they raised to discredit the Book of Mormon have now become some of the most impressive evidences supporting the authenticity of the text.

Stay tuned for more! I'm sure the Lord is not interested in absolutely "proving" the Book of Mormon is true and reducing the need for faith at this time, but I am grateful that He has allowed such finds to come forth in this day of intellectual assaults on our faith, and I am grateful to those who have dug into the Book of Mormon and gone to Arabia and other locations to search for clues. I expect additional faith-strengthening insights to come forth, and definitely expect areas of alleged weakness to become strengths as we learn more.

More on Mayan Fortifications

In a previous post on fortifications and on my related page about fortifications in the Book of Mormon, I noted the existence of some relevant photos on the Web. Another interesting photo of an ancient defensive trench, consistent with defenses described in Alma, is available in an article by Dr. F. Richard Hauck, "Are There Archaeological Correlations to the Book of Mormon?," the first in an upcoming series. I've read his book on Book of Mormon geography, which recognizes the limited geography model implicit in the text and, like several other scholars, finds that Mesoamerica is the only plausible location. The details of his model differ with that of John Sorenson and others, and I'm not sure about the specific sites that he proposes for several Book of Mormon cities. But it is interesting that in the site he concluded was most likely Manti, he later found ancient defensive structures consistent with the Book of Mormon.

Given the infancy of archaeological exploration in Mesoamerica relative to exploration in the Middle East, more time is needed to conclude which sites correspond to which Book of Mormon locations (yes, this statement presupposes that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text tied to real people and real lands). In spite of the much more advanced state of knowledge about the Middle East, it has only been in recent years that plausible sites have been found for specific Book of Mormon places in the Arabian Peninsula such as Nahom, Shazer, and Bountiful. It may be years before the same "wow" factor will accompany apparent correlations between the text and specific Mesoamerican sites. But to those who simply dismiss the finds pertaining to the Arabian Peninsula, I would like to ask now what level of evidence from Mesoamerica would be needed to move you to reconsider your objections to the Book of Mormon? For example, if there were an ancient Mesoamerica city whose ancient name (something that usually been lost) and location correlated to a Book of Mormon name, would that suffice? Or would it take something much more dramatic, such as an ancient engraving that a non-LDS scholar translates as "Welcome to Zarahemla, home of the Nephites"? Would even that open your mind?

I recognize that even dramatic evidences can be misleading. One could always argue, for example, that demonic powers inspired Joseph to put "evidences" into the text that would later be used to deceive the masses. The key to matters of God is to seek God in prayer, and, using our minds and faith, seek to understand His will and obtain revelation about the divinity of the Book of Mormon or other matters that may affect our religious beliefs and eternal salvation. Trust God, not me or other men or women, but we must do our part to use our minds and study the issues ourselves and then seek divine guidance in order to make our quest most effectual.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Iron Ore Near Bountiful

Don Woodward called my attention to an impressive detail in support of the recent discovery of one or two excellent candidates for the place Bountiful in the Book of Mormon (a topic I emphasize on my Book of Mormon Evidences page). The article is "'Lord, whither shall I go that I may obtain ore?' Geologists Discover Iron in Region of Nephi’s Bountiful by BYU geology professor Dr. Ron Harris, published in Meridian Magazine at LDSmag.com. The article refers to the discovery of iron ore in the region of Salalah in Oman, one of the leading candidates for the place Bountiful.

I was surprised to learn that the discovery involved far more than just finding rocks with some iron content, a feat that I felt would not be particularly impressive. Rather, several geologists searched for and found true iron ore that could be converted into tools using ancient techniques, including the use of a wood-fired furnace. Such iron ore generally is found in igneous rock, which is not abundant in the Arabian Peninsula (at least not readily accessible to humans). Further, most iron ore requires higher temperatures than a wood-fired furnace provides in order to convert it to workable metal. The discovery of the rare iron ore that can fulfill Nephi's description is an impressive find indeed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The 1826 "Trial" of Joseh Smith

I have updated my Mormon Answers page on LDS prophets to include an additional resource dealing with anti-Mormon attacks based on the 1826 "trial" of Joseph Smith, where Joseph Smith was supposedly found guilty of dabbling in the occult, according to the critics. The resource is Russell Anderson's article on the 1826 trial at FAIRLDS.org, which was presented at the 2002 FAIR Conference. I appreciate his attention to detail in exploring the various documents that pertain to the 1826 hearing (it was not actually a trial) and in examining the culture of Joseph's day.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Further Thoughts on the DNA Issue

Some additional perspectives on the DNA issue are offered by an LDS medical doctor, David Stewart, in his article, DNA and the Book of Mormon. He considers whether DNA evidence actually is inconsistent with the "traditional" view that all Native Americans are primarily descended from the peoples described in the Book of Mormon. Given the uncertainties in defining what "Jewish DNA" is and the questionable assumptions used by the critics, he suggests that DNA evidence is not necessarily inconsistent with even what I would call the "old, naive" view of Lamanites and the Book of Mormon.

I fully agree that the uncertainty in defining "Jewish DNA" is a key factor that is overlooked by many critics. If there is not a "typical Jewish haplotype" and if we have no idea what the DNA was in Lehi's colony (or among the Mulekites and Jaredites), then how can we know what Native American DNA should look like today if the Book of Mormon is true? See my short essay, "What Nephite DNA?," which accompanies my longer essay, "DNA and the Book of Mormon." If Dr. Stewart is right, then we don't really need to appeal to the non-genetic use of the term "Lamanite" in the Book of Mormon (but it is helpful to understand that it is often a social and political designation, not a genetic one), or the likelihood that Lehi's DNA would be just a drop in the bucket that would be easy to miss today, or to the fact that prophets can utter their personal opinions without everything they say being canonized. If Dr. Stewart is right, the critics have not even begun to meet their burden of proof in claiming that the DNA evidence challenges anything about the Book of Mormon. I'd appreciate your views on this matter.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Of Zelph, Lamanites, Geography, and DNA

In my opinion, the text of the Book of Mormon inherently points to a limited geographical scope for the New World events it describes. That geography is remarkably self-consistent and can be fit in Mesoamerica. But those who recognize the limited geography of the Book of Mormon text are often challenged to reconcile that view with a statement from Joseph Smith about a white Lamanite named Zelph. The alleged statement has been used to suggest that Book of Mormon events spanned the hemisphere, and that final battle of the Nephites and the Lamanites was in the United States, not Mesoamerica. The Zelph story is fascinating, but has been warped by hearsay and sloppy journalism. An effort to correct several mistakes in popular understanding regarding that story can be found in an article by Ken Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?" I urge you to read it. It also explores some issues of Book of Mormon geography, showing that at least by 1842 Joseph Smith may have supported the concept that Zarahemla was in Mesoamerica, consistent with the modern limited geography view of many LDS scholars who delve into the details of the Book of Mormon.

I mention Zelph by way of prelude to the issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon. Daniel Carlson asked if I was going to comment on a recent USA Today story on DNA and the Book of Mormon, giving publicity to ex-Mormon Simon Southerton's attack on the Church based on the DNA issue. I don't think that the story brings up anything new that hasn't already been refuted previously. As I show in my own little essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon, the critics miss the boat on several counts. Southerton seems to think that refuting popular but naive views on the Book of Mormon, rather than what the Book of Mormon actually says, is enough to destroy the Church. These popular and naive views maintain that the Book of Mormon describes the origins of all Native Americans from South America to North America, and that when the term "Lamanite" is used to refer to modern Native Americans, it means that they are primarily descended from Lehi. By showing that many Native Americans in fact have Asian roots, we are now supposed to abandon the Book of Mormon and the Church.

When LDS apologists point out that the Book of Mormon does not deny the existence of other groups and other migrations, show that "Lamanite" is often used in a non-genetic sense, or explain that the text does not require a hemispheric scope, the critics scoff and say that this is pathetic backpedaling in light of the devastating DNA evidence. In fact, if our prophets had been real prophets, we are told, they would have been clarifying the scientific details of the Book of Mormon long ago, teaching us the limited geographic scope of the Book of Mormon and the existence of other migrations.

Actually, Joseph Smith, at least in 1842, was open to the idea of a Mesoamerican geography for the Book of Mormon and also had no problems with the idea of other migrations, based on a statement about the Toltecs (I discuss this on my DNA page.) Other Church leaders such as Anthony Ivins in the 1920s have also warned against naive assumptions about the Book of Mormon, and have pointed out that other peoples not mentioned in its pages may have come here to populate this continent anciently. Many voices in the Church have long taught exactly what apologists are explaining now - it's not a new innovation in response to DNA studies. It's simply progress in better understanding what the text actually says.

The arguments of the DNA critics also seem to require the naive notion that everything real prophets say and do must be inspired. The reality is that prophets have their own opinions and notions, and can pick up a lot of human baggage in their thinking, one of the downsides of being human. When God speaks and they give us revelation, that is wonderful, but God does not take over the prophets' brains 24-7. I am not aware of any official First Presidency statements or canonized teachings that pin down the origins of all Native Americans, or that settle the issue of Book of Mormon geography. For some reason, the prophets have been concerned with getting people to repent and come to Christ and serve the Lord, at the expense of seeking revelation on scientific details relevant to the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the day will come when prophets have almost as much passion for science as they do for service and charity, and that they will seek revelation on the details that interest me, but for now, I think it's up to us individually to do the best we can to understand the text. We must not be bound by naive but popular assumptions of the past, even if good men in high positions in the Church held such opinions.

The reality is that the Book of Mormon is not inconsistent with predominately Asian origins for Native Americans. The Jaredites probably brought over some of this Asian DNA. (The Book of Mormon provides internal evidence that Jaredite influence was still strong long after Ether saw the great destruction of the Jaredite civil war - showing that not everyone joined and stuck with the two fighting armies that destroyed each other.) We don't even know anything about the DNA of the people that came with Lehi or later with Mulek. Did it include some Asian haplotypes? In any case, Lehi's tiny boatload of people entering a populated continent cannot be expected to have had a huge impact on the DNA of the continent 2600 years later. But it is entirely probably that this tiny drop of Middle Eastern influence did spread. Even with minimal gene flow, it is possible that nearly every Native American today is partly descended from Lehi, though it may be one part in 10,000 or so. The Book of Mormon never gave us any reason to expect that DNA testing would show most Native Americans to have Jewish DNA (whatever that is).

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Gay Marriage News You Might Have Missed

A story that seems to have been largely ignored by major media sources ought to be getting a little more attention, IMHO. Missouri voters have overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional ban on gay marriage. It's not in my newspaper, I didn't hear it on radio news, and even searching online news sources for the story indicated that the primary source of information on the story comes from outraged gay advocacy groups rather than the mainstream media. Shhh! Don't let people know what happened in Missouri - it might make the masses think that gay marriage is not inevitable.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Thief on the Cross

While driving across Wyoming the other night, I tried finding radio stations other than country music (not an easy task). I found a Christian radio station and listened to a sermon about gaining instant salvation. The sermon was based on the story of the thief on the cross to whom the Lord said, "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). This statement was said to make it "crystal clear" that salvation was given without any need for baptism, without any effort on the part of the believer other than simply acknowledging Christ. Listeners were asked to repeat a few seconds of prayer with the preacher, stating that they accepted Jesus. At the end of the short statement, they were assured that they had been saved if they had said the prayer.

I can understand how such doctrines have evolved, but I hope fellow Christians will consider the problems with this popular argument. A key question is what is meant by "paradise"? Christ did not say "heaven." He did not tell the man that he was saved or that he would be in the presence of the Father. In fact, whatever "paradise" means, it must not be heaven, for two days later, the glorified, resurrected Christ stated that he had not yet ascended to His Father (John 20:17)

Heaven is not the same as the place called paradise. See also I Cor. 12:2-4, where Paul speaks of someone being caught up to the third heaven and of someone being caught up to paradise, as if they were different places. Paradise appears to be a place where the spirits of the dead await the time of resurrection. I don't know what Aramaic word Christ may have used, but according to my non-LDS Greek Bible Lexicon, the Greek word for paradise can mean "the part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of pious until the resurrection: but some understand this to be a heavenly paradise." This agrees well with what Joseph Smith said that Christ meant: "This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: then I will teach you all about it and answer your inquiries" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309). Indeed, Peter explained that when Christ was dead, he went as a spirit to preach the Gospel to those who had died (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6). Christ was not offering instant salvation to the thief, but was simply telling him that they would be in the same place that day, in the world of spirits.

The theme of Christ rescuing the souls of the dead by descending into Hades is ancient and widespread in Christianity, one that persisted into the Middle Ages but seems to have been more fully lost since the Reformation. Christ's mission of rescuing souls in hell is sometimes called the Descensus or the "Harrowing of Hell." For example, the Apostles' Creed, one of the earliest post-biblical creeds dating to the third century, affirms that Christ "descended into hell," apparently based on the teachings in 1 Peter 3:18-20. But was the place that Christ went to actually "hell"? According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:
"Most Christian theologians believe that it [the Descensus] refers to the visit of the Lord after His death to the realm of existence, which is neither heaven nor hell in the ultimate sense, but a place or state where the souls of pre-Christian people waited for the message of the Gospel, and whither the penitent thief passed after his death on the cross (Lk. 23.43)."

[F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 395, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1997, p. 137.]

There you have respected non-LDS scholars discussing the ancient Christian concept of the Descensus, the descent of Christ to rescue the dead in a place where the thief went, a place which was not heaven.

The story of the thief on the cross does teach us of the mercy of the Lord, but instead of repudiating the Lord's teachings about repentance and obedience to God, it hints at the beautiful doctrine of salvation being offered to souls in the spirit world, where both the thief and Christ would be that day, and where the thief was probably able to hear the message of the Gospel.

Related resources: Barry Bickmore's Early Christianity and Mormonism Site, and The Baptism, Descent Into Hell, and Resurrection of Unity in Christ: Early Christian Ideas and Views on Baptism by Kerry A. Shirts.

Praise and Flattery

My LDS friend, Walter Reade, made an interesting observation regarding my prior post on the topic of praise. He noted that the negative uses of the term "flattery" in the scriptures, especially in the Book of Mormon, can refer to praise used to manipulate others (see Jacob 7:4, Alma 46:5, Alma 61:4, 3 Nephi 7:12). Modern prophets have also warned us against the flattery of the world. Praising others seems like such an inherently positive thing, but there are many negative uses, and I think it is worthwhile to carefully consider what we are doing and especially why we are doing it when we feel an urge to praise.

By the way, dear readers, you are the greatest! Thanks for reading my posts and for sharing your comments. And you know what? I think I actually mean it. Cheers!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Pondering the Lord's Use of Timing: The Key to Many Miracles

I have long been impressed with the Lord's use of timing to bring blessings and miracles into the lives of people. In many cases, it's as if He lets natural events to occur - troubles, trials, sickness, grief, and so forth - but tweaks the timing in many cases to sometimes bless people in the midst of our mortal trials. Answers to prayer, in my experience, seem particularly subject to the miracles of His timing.

My most recent experience with divine timing came yesterday, during my brief visit to Utah. My son and his wife left Wisconsin on Thursday driving our van packed with wedding gifts, personal belongings, and some furniture. I flew out to Utah on Friday to attend a Lindsay family reunion and join my son and his wife to help them get settled in their apartment and ready for school, and to retrieve the van and drive it back. Of course, as nervous parents, we had prayed frequently that they would arrive safely. We had taken it in for service and new tires to make sure it was fit for the long drive with a heavy load. I was grateful when they arrived safely late Friday night. Saturday morning, we then teamed up to drive the van to Provo. As we were nearing the Interstate in Sandy, Utah, the van suddenly died in the middle of a busy road. I couldn't restart it. There was gasoline under the van, and plenty to worry about. The traffic died down quickly, allowing us to push the van back a few feet and then maneuver it into an empty parking lot. It was truly fortunate that I was there, because it took both my son and I to push the heavy vehicle while his wife steered. I used my cell phone to call my father in Salt Lake, who knew a local guy with a reliable towing service and arranged for him to come rapidly. In a short while, the tow truck was there - one of the nice flatbed trucks that turned out to be ideal for towing the loaded van. Amazingly, the tower knew of a service station about two blocks away that was open and would be able to work on our van that day, a Saturday, when it can normally be quite difficult to get automotive work done.

We left the van at the shop, went with my parent to a little family reunion in Eden, Utah (near Ogden Canyon), and when we came back later that afternoon, the van was ready. We were feeling remarkably blessed already at this point.

Now here's a really amazing thing: the people at the shop (Hillside Tire) told us that the mechanical problem behind all this was that the Wisconsin shop that serviced our vehicle had broken the fuel line when they replaced the fuel filter. The fuel line that includes a fuel filter has plastic snaps that lock one end of the fuel line into the receiving line of the engine, and the snaps had been broken when the connection was being plugged in. The line had been pushed firmly into place but was not secure and could have popped back and sprung an engine-stopping leak at any time. The van could have died in the middle of Nebraska, or in the dark on a dangerous downhill stretch through the Rockies, or in hundreds of other places where towing and repair services were not readily available, or where they could have been struck by a fast-moving semi. (Being stranded over a puddle of gasoline poses other risks as well.) Instead, it died in what must have been the most advantageous place of the entire journey: near a safe place to temporarily move the van, with help available to push it, near help that could get the right kind of tow truck to us rapidly, within two blocks of a repair shop that was open, a shop that could work on the van right away, and that was able to get a needed part (new fuel line for a 1999 van) from a local dealer right away. I've had plenty of experiences where parts were not in stock and required a couple days to receive. Not this time.

The van broke down when I was with my son and his wife to help them and comfort them, in a place where it was easy to get the car off the road, at a time when traffic was light. But thirty minutes later, when the tow truck arrived, traffic was amazingly heavy (this 106th South, about 80 yards east of State Street) and it was still heavy at 4 PM that afternoon. Dealing with the situation would have been more difficult and dangerous in heavy traffic.

As we discussed all the things that could have gone wrong and all the things that went right in terms of timing, we are tremendously grateful to the Lord for answering the many prayers that were offered to keep our kids safe. My father jokingly noted that it would have been even more of a blessing if the Lord had kept the Wisconsin shop from damaging our fuel line in the first place. Who knows how many times we have received such blessings in our lives without knowing it? Mercifully, every now and then the Lord does let us know in cases like this. And in my experience, it seems like the Lord often lets events take their course: human mistakes and sins are allowed to occur, including damaging the connection of a fuel line, but then the Lord may, in some cases according to His will, step in and help us deal with those situations by reaching out in mercy and love to tweak the timing of events.

One can dismiss all this as nonsense, and it will seem so to those who have not experience the reality of God. This kind of little event is not a proof that God exists or that prayers are answered - it is not meant as a proof of any kind. But I offer it as my thankful expression to a loving Heavenly Father who mercifully heard our prayers and intervened to protect two loved ones of mine by graciously adjusting the timing of an event that was had to happen. During a total of roughly 50 hours of driving from the time the van left Wisconsin to when it will get back, the failure of the fuel line occurred literally within a few seconds of the most ideal and convenient time, and within a few yards of the most convenient place. It turned out to be a great day, a productive and tiring and joyous day. Some other day, the Lord may choose to let me or my loved ones perish in adverse circumstances, according to His will, but on this day, I rejoice that His will allowed us to be the recipients of such kindness, and that He could answer our prayers so mercifully with this "small" miracle.