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Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 4: The Universal Law of Opposites

The Opposition to the Gods

"'It must needs be,' Lehi taught, 'that there is an opposition in all things.' (2 Nephi 2:11)
In the very nature of things, this must be so. It is inherent in the whole scheme of life and being.
Life itself depends upon the existence of opposites. Without evil there could be no good; without misery, no happiness; without death, no life. (2 Nephi 2) Thus, if there are good gifts that come from God, there are also evil gifts that spring forth from Satan. Heaven is the source of all that is good; hell, of all that is evil.
Is there a gift of preaching by the power of the Holy Ghost that enlightens spiritual souls and leads them to eternal life? So also there is a gift of intellectual persuasion, a gift of sophistry and delusion, that pleases carnal men and lets them feel that they can believe what they will and live after the manner of the world, and yet be saved.
Is there a gift of charity, of enjoying and possessing the pure love of Christ, that leads men to peace in this present world and assures them of eternal life in that world which is to be? So also there is a gift of selfishness, of putting one's own interests first in all things, of spewing forth hatred and animosity upon others, all of which leads to war and desolation here and now and to everlasting destruction hereafter.
Are there gifts of purity, of chastity, of clean thoughts, of upright living, all of which cleanse and perfect the souls of men and prepare them to be at ease in the fellowship of angels and holy beings hereafter? So also there are gifts of lust, of lewdness, of profane and evil speaking, of filling one's mind with carnal and evil thoughts, all of which lead to vulgar and immoral acts that prepare men for the continuing association of evil spirits in the realms ahead." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "A New Witness For The Articles of Faith")

"All things."

That's a pretty big statement. Not "most things." Not "a lot of things." Not "a boatload of things." No. Go read it again. Lehi said, "ALL things." Think about it.

Father: Does Heavenly Father face opposition? Of course. Satan mounted an insurrection to supplant God the Father when he proposed in the pre-existence, "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (Moses 4:1).

Son: Likewise, when He was upon the earth, Jesus faced opposition at almost every turn. Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Romans, even one of His own apostles opposed Him. He also had to contend against evil. Not being free from temptation, He was tempted in all things like unto us:
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

The Subtle, Almost Imperceptible, Opposition All Around You

As you and I both know, in this life, opposition to the truth is the norm, the default.
"Opposition in all things is part of the refiner’s fire to prepare us for an eternal celestial destiny." (Elder Quentin L. Cook, "Foundations of Faith", April 2017 General Conference)
So it is with us. Every day, we witness opposition in the grandest, and most subtle, scales in human history. Here's what Elder James. E. Faust said 30 years ago:
"I think we will witness increasing evidence of Satan’s power as the kingdom of God grows stronger. I believe Satan’s ever-expanding efforts are some proof of the truthfulness of this work. In the future, the opposition will be both more subtle and more open. It will be masked in greater sophistication and cunning, but it will also be more blatant. We will need greater spirituality to perceive all of the forms of evil and greater strength to resist it." (Elder James E. Faust, “The Great Imitator”, October 1987 General Conference).
So where does this opposition -- these sophisticated, cunning imitations of the truth -- exist? Here's a short summary. There are:

False gods: (aka "Idols" -- see here).

False Christs/Messiahs: Matthew 24:23 JST; Mark 13:22; 2 Nephi 25:18; Words of Mormon 1:15; JS-M 1:22.

False spirits: D&C 50:2.

False prophets: Matthew 7:15; Matthew 7:24, 24:9, 24:23 JST; Mark 13:12 JST; Mark 13:22; Acts 13:6; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Revelation 16:13, 19:20, 20:10; Words of Mormon 1:16; Helaman 13:26; 3 Nephi 14:15; 4 Nephi 1:34; JS-M 1:9, 22.

False apostles: 2 Corinthians 11:13.

False brethren: Galatians 2:4; D&C 122:5.

False doctrines: 2 Nephi 3:12; 2 Nephi 28:9, 12, 15; Alma 1:16. Also, “If true principles are revealed from heaven to men, and if there are angels, and there is a possibility of their communicating to the human family, always look for an opposite power, an evil power, to give manifestations also; look out for the counterfeit” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 68-69).

False teachers: 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Nephi 28:12; Words of Mormon 1:16.

False witnesses: Psalms 35:11; Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 14:5; Proverbs 19:5, 9; Matthew 15:18, 19:18, 26:58-60 JST; Mark 14:56; Acts 6:12-13; D&C 122:6.

False gifts: Proverbs 25:14; Moroni 10:30. Also, "For every spiritual gift or manifestation from the Lord, Satan has a counterfeit." (Elder Glenn R. Pace, "Spiritual Plateaus", p. 134).

False visions: Jeremiah 14:14.

False dreams: Jeremiah 23:32; Zechariah 10:2.

Joseph Smith cautioned about "the common error of considering all supernatural manifestations to be of God," warning that evil spirits as well as heavenly ones can, for example, speak in tongues and interpret them; and that in their deception they may even give recognition to the Savior and his authorized servants (TPJS, pp. 206-13, 229; also Luke 4:33-35; Acts 16:16-18). (H. George Bickerstaff, Encyclopedia of Mormonism/G/Gifts of the Spirit)

The Unreal Falsehoods

Three things I learned in compiling the above list:

1. The False Law of Witnesses

It's only natural that because there are opposites in all things, there can also be an imitation/counterfeit Law of Witnesses. After all, Moses' staff had its oppositeS.
"Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods." (Exodus 7:11-12; emphasis mine)
Christ had negative witnesses (aka false accusers; see scriptural citations above).

And Joseph Smith? I'd say he pretty much wrote the book on having to live with the false Law of Witnesses. He had dozens of them -- many of whom were once trusted founding members and top leaders of the church.

I remember many instances I saw in college where a female college student would tell her friends, "I know that guy is going to be my husband" or the male college student telling the girlfriend, "The Holy Ghost testified that you're to be my wife" -- and both instances would later prove wrong. Man oh man, if I had a nickel for every time there was a "burning in the bosom" about a supposed match made in heaven that was actually overexuberance, hyperhormonalism (is that a word?) or just plain old deception.

I'm also reminded of a good friend (a member of the LDS Church) who was recently deceived by a man who is actually a well-respected member of a breakaway Mormon belief. He persistently worked at her, trying to get her to succumb to his statements that what he was proposing to her was right and approved of God. He was so persuasive, that she began to see signs, little hints here and there, which persuaded her that she was on the right track. Here's what she said in an email to me (shared by permission):
"How many times did I get a second, third witness that I [later] found out came from Satan? I really have wiped a lot of my experience from my brain. There was 'odd coincidences' (even though I don't believe in coincidences) in his [another man's] life and [her husband's] life. [She then described how both the man and her husband once knew each other -- they attended the same schools, once lived in the same ward, had the same employer and professions and came from the same culture]. So thats a little odd, right? He thought this was a "sign" we were supposed to be together. If off the top of my head, I can count easily about 10. 10 things that witnessed that I was on the right path and God was in control and that the whole thing was true. All over a 12 week period... certain numbers popping up, odd animals appearing, friends calling and witnessing, songs and words, scriptures given as answers, names popping up on signs, life being coordinated, everything except peace in my heart and God's voice. I did not know at the time I was out of alignment with God. I was praying if I was to be corrected, but all these things kept happening. So the basic lesson was: Satan can use all of those things too as witnesses, down to angels, turning staffs into snakes etc. Just as God can/does. And how does he have power to do this? Because by your choices you have put yourself and your life under his power."
My interpretation:
  • Joseph Smith taught that "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil." (B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:163).
"Early in the second year of the Church, the Lord revealed that 'there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.' (D&C 50:2) The revelation on spiritual gifts tells the elders who were going forth on missions to be righteous and prayerful 'that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.' (D&C 46:7)" (Dallin H. Oaks, “Spiritual Gifts,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, p. 72)
  • When a person inquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if they harbor carnal desires, and is in error, they will receive an answer according to their erring heart. But it will not be a revelation from the Lord.
  • If your desires are in any way carnal, and you are in fact being deceived, the answer(s) will be revealed to you accordingly; and you will think it is the revealed will of God. Could this be the “strong delusion” addressed in 2 Thess. 2:10-12, Isa. 66:2-4, Ezek. 14:1-11; James 4:3; and Jacob 4:14?
  • As we learned with the lost 116 page manuscript, God will warn us. But if we persist in a course of action which is contrary to God's will, we step off the "yellow brick road" and, sans God's protection, we allow ourselves to be deceived by Satan.
"Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels... The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord", Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 55-56).
2. False Peace

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27).

Can one feel a false sense of peace?

I believe so. While believers turn to God for peace, unbelievers look within. They foster and nurture self-assurance grounded in reachable expectations which, when attained, will result in confidence and peace.  The sad truth is that sometimes these things can bring about peace. But it is a false peace because it is not based on God nor the iron rod of His word.  It is based upon themselves, their desires, their perceptions and their possessions. This selfishness often leads to the abandonment of the inclination to pray, or adopting the belief that because one believes in Christ, they are automatically saved.

3. False Prophets/Christs

It is amazing to me that whenever God is about to send a true prophet or even Savior, Satan will move first with his own version. Judas Maccabee was hailed as the expected “Messiah of Judah” several generations before Christ's birth. We are also told about the rise of false prophets and anti-Christs immediately prior to the Second Coming. By having a false prophet/Christ precede the true one -- often quoting scripture, accompanied by overwhelming powers of persuasion and even the ability to work miracles -- the acceptance of the ministry of the true prophet/Christ is complicated.

Even today, I see people who assume all the characteristics of a prophet, but are quick to deny such a lofty responsibility. They are scriptorians of the highest order, but invariably, their deceptiveness is unveiled when they espouse teachings and doctrines not rooted in the Standard Works.

Opposition and the Best of the Best of Us

These opposites are alive and well among the Latter-day Saints:
  • False witnesses destroy the moral and even ethical fibers of truly good people.
  • False peace (self-assuredness) entices members to worship idols while believing they will still be spared from forthcoming calamities and even enjoy eternal life with God.
  • False prophets have ripped away many families from the truth -- a fact which weighs upon me to a significant extent (very few of my friends realize how crushed I have been as I have seen many, many friends rush to -- and embrace -- these false prophets and their non-scriptural teachings).
Not only do these opposites exist, but they so closely resemble the real deal,

"that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant." (Matthew 24:23 JST)

Wow, not only the elect, but the "elect according to the covenant." Who is He talking about here?
"The term elect refers to 'those who love God with all their hearts and live lives that are pleasing to Him' (Guide to the Scriptures, “Elect”). In some instances, it refers more specifically to baptized members of the Church. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) taught that ''according to the covenant’ means members of the Church of Jesus Christ'' (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 401; see also D&C 29:7; 33:6)." (New Testament Student Manual, 2014, Chapter 8: Matthew 24–25; Joseph Smith—Matthew).
Now, I'd like you to stop for a second here and think about this. Who do you know who loves God? I mean, they love Him with all their hearts? These are the kinds of people whose lives are pleasing to God. And because they've covenanted with God, they are members of the Church of Christ.

Do you know who I think this is referring to?

The best of us. I mean, the best of the best of us.

As I sit here and type this, I shake my head because a part of me does not consider myself elect. But at the same time, it concerns me. After all, if these stellar saints have the potential to be deceived, where does that leave you and me?

Pretty sobering thought, isn't it.
"strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (3 Nephi 14:14)

Examples of the Best of Us Who Were Deceived

The Prophet Joseph Smith related from his own experience, “The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes” (in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 132).

As the great deceiver, Lucifer has marvelous powers of deception. Shakespeare wrote, “The prince of darkness is a gentleman” (King Lear, act 3, sc. 4, line 143), and “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, act 1, sc. 3, line 95).

Eve was deceived by such a gentleman, who -- as her self-declared brother -- supposedly had her best interests in mind.

In fact, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Nephi 9:9; D&C 129:8-9).

Lehi learned the truth of Paul's statement first-hand:
“...for behold, methought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness. And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field. And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:4-10).
What do Lehi and Eve's experiences both have in common?

Both trusted in the arm of flesh. Because we have more detail with Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, we know he began by agreeing to follow a “man” dressed in “white” -- a symbol that the man was pure and could be trusted. Yet invariably, Lehi was led into darkness. It took Lehi's praying to God for him to be removed from the darkness, after which he was shown the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8:10).

How Imitations Gain Legitimacy

I don't believe iniquity is an immediate thing. It's incremental. Huge declines in spirituality (in general) and (more specifically) discernment don't happen all at once. They are subtly and carefully crafted and conducted, with no arousing jolts or jars:
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Nephi 28:21–22).
"You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. … It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. … Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts" (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1962, p. 56).
Ironically, these gentle slopes can be found in the things that are taught both in and out of the church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated,
“I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality." (Letter from Elder Bruce R. McConkie to BYU professor Eugene England, Feb.19, 1981, p. 7).

Be Elect...and Undeceived

"False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 6:364)

Satan's counterfeits are so convincing, and appear so close to the real thing, that it takes experts to recognize what is truly of God and what is really Satan trying to deceive us (D&C 28:11).

Take counterfeit money, for example.

It's said that Ruth Graham, wife of preacher Billy Graham, once attended a dinner party in London. At this event, she sat next to the former head of Scotland Yard. In conversation, she suggested,
"You must spend a lot of time handling counterfeit money to know what it looks like."
The man replied,
"On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spend all of my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I saw a counterfeit, I could immediately detect it" (Dannah Gresh, "Pursuing the Pearl: The Quest for a Pure, Passionate Marriage"; emphasis mine).
In seeking confirmation of this fact, I found an experience recounted by blogger, author and book reviewer Tim Challies. In his article, "Counterfeit Detection", he details a visit he had to the Bank of Canada, where he learned from an expert how to detect counterfeit money. His conclusion:
"Training in identifying counterfeit currency begins with studying genuine money. I soon learned that identifying counterfeit currency is not a terribly difficult task. When a person knows what to look for, when he has been trained to examine the bill for particular identifying characteristics, identifying genuine from fraudulent can be done with great accuracy, even on the basis of only a small amount of training. I successfully identified each piece of counterfeit currency."
Yet Chailles, in likening his counterfeit training experience to discernment, took the implications of discernment -- and the lack thereof -- a step further. He said:
"I was surprised to learn that the Bank of Canada expects all Canadians to exercise discernment with their currency. We are expected to check each piece of currency that comes into our possession. Because once I accept a bill, that piece of money becomes my responsibility. Should I attempt to later deposit this bill in a bank and should the teller find that it is counterfeit, the bill will be confiscated and I will not be reimbursed. What I accept becomes my responsibility. Now there is a difference between taking a bill and accepting a bill. I have the right to inspect and refuse any piece of currency. But once I accept that money, I am responsible for it.
There is a clear parallel here to spiritual discernment. Just as I am responsible for money I accept and later attempt to spend, in the same way I am responsible for the teachings I accept and later attempt to share with others. Thus it is my responsibility before God to inspect every teaching that comes my way. I should test each teaching that is presented to me, refusing to accept any that go against the plain teaching of Scripture. There are tests the Bible provides which will help us discern truth from error. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 exhorts all Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” We are first to test, then abstain, and finally hold fast. [LDSPD Note: It's interesting how Challies' advice to "hold fast" parallels "clinging to the rod of iron" in 1 Nephi 8:24].Christians, and even those with a particular gifting or interest in discernment, should focus more on truth than error. The more we understand what is true, the easier it will be to identify what is fraudulent. The more we know about God’s character, God’s ways, and God’s Word, the greater the contrast will be between truth and error."
So it is with knowing, and adhering to, eternal truths. Pres. Harold B. Lee said,
“I say we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren't able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false - it is as simple as that." (First Presidency Message, Ensign, December 1972).
He also said,
“We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources where you can find it here in these books. We call these the standard Church works because they are standard. If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works. … If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 148–49; emphasis mine)
Pres. Lee's perspective decisively answers a common question asked by those visiting this blog: "How can I know if the promptings and even the personal revelations I have received are real?"

Answer: Promptings and revelations should be congruent with truths found in the scriptures. Also, as Moroni aptly stated,
"But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God." (Moroni 7:47)
A follow-up question: There has to be some limits to what Satan can tell us, doesn't there?

Answer: He's not going to tell you to do good things. Do you think he'll tell you to sincerely repent? Pray earnestly? Search the scriptures? Render service? To genuinely love another? Nope. (See Mark 3:25-26)

On a personal note: When I look at the length and breadth of LDS-related movements, faiths and organizations, I'm astounded by how many eagerly embrace teachings which have absolutely no precedent, and are not even remotely mentioned, in the Standard Works.

Opposition to God and His truths is an eternal reality. Today, we see people who consider themselves church members in good standing, but also unapologetically embrace idols (and teach their children, and others, to join them; see here for a good list of modern-day idols), place men in between them and God, and enthusiastically adopt teachings not found in the Standard Works.

As mentioned above, it's no mistake that those in Lehi's dream who pressed forward, and caught hold of and clinged to the iron rod -- even through the mist of darkness -- were able to come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:24).

How about you?

It's my hope that as you prayerfully ponder these concepts, you'll have a renewed, unshakable confidence -- rooted in Jesus Christ -- to seek, study and receive truths found in the scriptures. As you diligently do so, I have no doubt that you'll quickly discover and shed those aspects of your life that have left you deceived, and you'll be empowered with greater ability from God to avoid deception in the future.