Wednesday, September 21, 2016
A Recommendation for Doubting, Disaffected, and Disgruntled Mormons©
During my career I have had considerable experience trying to help people, mostly young, who are experiencing challenges to their faith. For various reasons I have a very poor track record in that effort, but I have learned something recently which I wish I would have known forty years ago because I think it would have affected the way I approach this problem.
In preparing for a Sunday School class this week on chapters 13-16 in Helaman, several passages about “hard hearts” caught my attention and I began to think about them in relationship to this issue. I realized that my problem is largely with disaffected people who have “hard hearts,” not with the soft hearts or those who are “easily entreated.” The Book of Mormon is particularly big on “hard hearts.” It is one of the important sub-themes of the book. Knowing the purpose of the Book of Mormon as a sacred text designed for our day, and given the ubiquitous pride and resulting hard hearts prevalent in this generation, it makes sense to me that the Book of Mormon would teach us so much about those subjects, the consequences of having a hard heart and the antidotes to treat it. So, here is my real reason for writing this edition of “Living Philosophies.”
If I were to do it again I would first try to make an assessment of the person’s heart and if I discovered it was hard I would bring it to their attention and tell them that until that issue is resolved I would be of little help to them. I would ask them to read something like the rest of this essay, make an assessment of their own heart, and decide whether they wanted to do anything about it or not, and we could go from there. Either they would work to overcome it, in which case I would continue to try to help; or if not, I would not waste my time teaching and answering questions. I would concentrate my efforts and encourage others to help them with the “hard heart” issue first. So, here are some of the important teachings of the Book of Mormon about hard hearts.
The first issue we encounter in the Book of Mormon is the relationship between hard hearts and blind minds. This was the problem of Laman and Lemuel, and Nephi challenges them when he asks, “how is it that ye are so hard in your hearts, and so blind in your minds”? Later in his discussion of his vision of the future, especially regarding the publication of the Bible, he says that the “great and abominable church” altered the book. “And all this have they done,” he writes,"that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.” The Great and Abominable Church has the Devil as its founder and thus it’s purposes are his purposes. He wants to 1) pervert the right way of the Lord, 2) blind the minds, and 3) harden the hearts of the children of men. Why? There are many reasons, but an obvious one up front is that they will be more vulnerable to his deceptions. There is a symbiotic relationship between hard hearts and blind minds. If Satan can help someone harden their hearts, blind minds soon follow. In chapter 14 Nephi taught that if people “harden not their hearts” they would be blessed and “they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.” (1 Ne. 14:1) The clear implied consequence of having a hard heart is captivity and being confounded. A stony heart pumps no life-saving spiritual blood and blind minds perceive no spiritual truths. They reinforce each other and the trend is a spiraling downward direction spiritually. This is why it is so important to deal with this issue first if it exists, in helping someone save their testimony.
The Book of Mormon describes Satan as using very modern methods to stir up and encourage the hardening of the heart. Late in the book of Helaman we are told “And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good....” (Hel. 16:22.) And 3 Ne. 1:22 says “there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe ....” Even more to the point of this blog the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith in the summer of 1828, almost two years before the Church was organized, that enemies possessed the lost 116 pages of the translation of the Book of Mormon and were going to alter them so they would be different if Joseph translated them again. “... behold, they will publish this,” the Lord told him, “and Satan will harden the hearts of the people and stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words [the Book of Mormon.] Thus, Satan thinketh to overpower your testimony in this generations, that the work may not come forth in this generation.” (D&C 10:32-33.) Satan’s goal is still to overpower Joseph’s testimony so that this generation will not believe the Lord’s word. He is successful in large measure among the world’s population, and he continues his attack among individuals within the Church. He does this frequently, not by challenging doctrinal points, but through disputed evidence from history.
If one attunes him- or herself closely to the scriptures it becomes evident that we are responsible for our own hard hearts. It is true that the King James version of the Old Testament has the Lord hardening Pharaoh’s heart when Moses was trying to get him to release the Israelites from bondage. But Joseph Smith didn’t believe it, and in the JST he changed those verses to read “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” (See, Ex. 7:13; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10.) This same implication may be found in many places where hard hearts are mentioned, for example in 1 Sam. 6:6 when the scripture asks “Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?” Or, Hebrews 3:8, “Harden not your hearts,” a common refrain in scripture. The process can be so subtle and natural that the one possessing the hard heart may not realize his dangerous spiritual condition. Notice also, how often mans responsibility is stated or implied in the scriptures cited in the remainder of this essay. Being hard hearted is a choice just like faith is. In neither case is the evidence so overwhelming as to compel the mind; one must choose. Jesus said “be believing,” but he also said “harden not your heart.” Because it is a choice, consequences accompany both options.
There are “degrees” of hardness of heart. At the time of Enoch, the Book of Moses reports, the Lord told the patriarch, “their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears of dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off.” (Moses 6:27.) The Book of Mormon also speaks of those who “wax” hard in their hearts, or who are growing more and more hardened. Mormon contrasts the Lamanites and Nephites at the time of Alma in this language, “Now the Lamanites of themselves were sufficiently hardened, but the Amalekites and the Amulonites were still harder, therefore they did cause that the Lamanites that they should harden their hearts, that they should wax strong in wickedness and their abominations.” (Al. 21:3.) Mormon tells of the extreme hardness of his people near their end as a civilization. “I am laboring with them continually,” he writes, “and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.” (Moro. 9:4) Neither gentleness nor harshness could get their attention, the Spirit eventually withdrew, and their destruction was sealed. One can move from a state of a relatively soft heart to a very hard one. This often happens with those experiencing a crisis of faith in the Church. It is something to be closely guarded against and must be combated at the first recognition the process is underway.
The hard-hearted tend to discontinue basic spiritual practices that maintain faith and testimony. In the First Nephi narrative, Nephi taught his brothers continually. On one occasion he notes some of his teaching were hard to understand unless one inquired of the Lord and obtained additional insight from Him. However, Laman and Lemuel “being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.” (1 Ne. 15:3) A few verses later he reminded them that the Lord said, “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.” (1 Ne. 15:11) In this case a hard heart negated the promises of the Lord–not an insignificant consequence. Two chapters later Nephi uses the Israelites as an example. He says they “did harden their hearts from time to time, and they did revile against Moses, and also against God....” (1 Ne. 17:42) Prayer was doubtless neglected in this case too, because they reviled the very God they were to supplicate. Rather then listening to and following the prophet of their dispensation they reviled him also. To revile is to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner. It is not infrequent that today’s disaffected not only “murmur” against God and his chosen leaders, but go beyond that to speak evil of the Lord’s anointed. Later, in 2 Nephi 33:3 the prophet writes, “But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem that as things of naught.” Here two more fundamentals go by the wayside. The Holy Ghost has no place in those who harden themselves against his promptings and inspiration and that is accompanied by considering the scriptures as naught–nothing, or insignificant. This of course can also lead to the situation Alma later describes when “the hearts of the people began to wax hard ... they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word.” (Al. 35:15) The Book of Helaman speaks of a related matter. The hard hearted “began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom.” (Hel. 16:15.) Faith and testimony are at issue for both those inside and outside the church such as the hard hearted Amalekites and Amulonites who “were not converted.” (Al. 23:14.) Alma thus details the resulting spiritual declension of those with hard hearts. “And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.”(Al. 12:11) Thus in the words of Alma they “harden [their] hearts in unbelief” (Al. 33:21) and hard hearts lead to bondage in the “chains of hell.” (Al. 23:14.)
The above paragraph describes almost exactly the process I have witnessed time and again in those who are losing their testimony. It is a testimony to me of the value of the teachings of the Book of Mormon, and of the lad who translated it. Great wisdom is here on the subject of hard hearts for those who have the maturity and ears to hear.
Several Book of Mormon passages teach us that having a hard heart can lead us to reject and disbelieve even strong evidence when it is before us. This is a common problem among the disaffected and is another reason the heart needs to be correct before those who wish to help try to give answers to doubters questions. Just before Christ was born the prophets in the New World were inspired to give the people some very specific “signs” relating to his birth and death. However, early in Third Nephi we are told, “the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen.”(3 Ne. 2:1) To many of us it seems amazing that people can so easily forget impressive spiritual experiences. But this passage suggests that a gradual spiritual deadening takes place in those who forsake the fundamentals amid their crisis of faith. When we think about it, we probably all know some doubter or disaffected member who now doubts the events that brought his testimony, or his spiritual experiences in his family, or in the Church, or even the mission field. All of these things may be rationalized away. Hard hearts contribute to this forgetting and disbelief. Something similar happened following the appearance of Christ in Third Nephi, for in Fourth Nephi we are told that “notwithstanding all these miracles, the people did harden their hearts” and sought to kill others. (4 Ne. 1:31.
There are some present here-and-now consequences which result from a hard heart. Many of the more important ones for our purposes here are reviewed in the two previous sections. But there are more. For both outsider and insider one consequence of having a hard heart is not being permitted to enter the kingdom or to eventually be expelled from it. In 1 Ne. 14:1 it reads that those who “harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy Father ... among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever....” Jacob the prophet records the Lord as saying, “as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (Jac. 6:4) The implication of these verses is that humility and a soft-heart are a requirement to become a member of the Church and the kingdom of God and those who do not possess these attributes do not.
To him of the soft heart the Lord proffers many promises. “[I]f ye will repent and harden not your hearts,” Amulek says, “immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” Jesus tells the Nephites that if the Gentiles will not harden their hearts, “that they may repent and come unto me and be baptized in my name and know the true points of my doctrine, that they may be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.” (3 Ne. 21:6) In verse 22 he says, “But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come into the covenant and be numbered among the remnant of Jacob.” A similar promise about the establishment of the Church is found in D&C 10:53, “If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.”
There is also an ultimate outcome that should concern us and those disaffected and infected with hard hearts. There will be destruction, but it will follow a time of “dwindling in unbelief.” This happened to the Nephites following Christ’s appearance. “Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite upon the people of Jesus; but the people of Jesus did not smite again. And thus they did dwindle in unbelief and wickedness, from year to year, even until two hundred and thirty years had passed away.”(4 Ne. 1:34) The Lord earlier promised those who received the fullness of the gospel and then hardened their hearts that he would “return their iniquities upon their own heads.” (3 Ne. 20:28.) Destruction was predicted in one way or another upon every hard hearted Book of Mormon society. For example 1 Ne. 22:18 says, “Behold, my brethren, I say unto you, that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come; and it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel.”(1 Ne. 22:18) In about 82 B.C. Alma and Amulek preached to the people of the city and land of Ammonihah. Their wickedness was such that they cast the righteous out from among them and some they burned to death. When Amulek saw this he wanted to call down fire from heaven to stop the atrocities, but Alma restrained him because the Spirit constrained him. He then taught Amulek a hard but important principle. The Lord “doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”(Al. 14:11.) Two chapters later we learn that the city of Ammonihah and all of her people were destroyed in one day! (Al. 16:9-10.) That destruction which comes upon hard hearted societies will also come upon individual members who once received the fullness of the gospel and then turn hard hearted. “And even so will I cause the wicked to be kept, that will not hear my voice but harden their hearts, and wo, wo, wo, is their doom,” the Lord declared to our dispensation.(D&C 38:6) Remember again Alma’s warning to the hard hearted; “they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.” (Al. 12:11.)
Every member going through a crisis of faith, or plagued by constant doubts, or startled and surprised and angered at the Church by anti-Mormon propaganda on the net, or judgmental of policies of the brethren, or challenging the doctrines of the kingdom, should first make a self-examination. It should be a bold and honest introspection. It should be a self-examination with full purpose of heart, with a sincere heart and real intent, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God. It should answer the question, “Do I have a hard heart regarding these matters?” If the answer is yes, repentance is in order. Then one can get help from the many, many resources available in the church.
Let’s think together again, soon.
Disclaimer: I have written directly and sternly here, but I do not wish to unfairly stereotype or criticize those who struggle with their faith. My remarks are aimed at those who become moody, angry, belligerent, critical, and hostile to others and toward the Church while they are struggling through it. I am talking to those who will not take counsel from their Bishops, Stake Presidents, General Authorities, and others who may be assigned to help, or who are close enough to the situation to help, but are argued with, rejected, and otherwise abused. I am talking to those who do not want help, or agree to it but are half-hearted in the effort. I am talking to those who are indulging in some kind of secret sin and unwilling to face up to it, or to confess it to the proper leader, and yet insist that their questions are not being answered, or the Lord does not hear and answer their prayers. I am talking to those who question, but don’t listen to answers or don’t want answers. I am referring to those who think they know more or know better than their church leaders and yet claim inspiration for themselves. I am writing to the proud and self-righteous who think their personal morality is above that of the Church or its leaders. I am talking to the arrogant who in their sense of self-superiority sneer at the “ignorance” of their fellow Church members whom they consider naive, or simple-minded, or blind followers. I am talking to those who in their unhappiness clandestinely (or perhaps even overtly) try to poison the faith of others through conversation, social media, and even publications. I am talking to husbands or wives who argue with their mates and children about these things and yet attend church as if everything were hunky dory. I am talking to the person in crisis who likes to ask provocative questions in meetings to stir up some “interesting” discussion, because they think the Church is not meeting their intellectual needs, unconcerned about the faith of others. I am talking to those who actively promote their discontent and gather others to their cause. Pride and hard heartedness are at the center of each.