Rock Waterman published a blog post today that has moved me deeply because of the subject. The subject is one that I have wanted for a while to write a blog post about, for a few reasons at least. The things Rock said in his post are my sentiments, but expressed much better because he is such a good writer.
Here is the link to his excellent post. I hope you will read it, since I agree with it, and it pertains to what I plan to write:
One of the things Rock experienced during his years in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was never hearing Mosiah 4:17-18 taught. Here are those verses, with surrounding verses which pertain to the same thing:
Mosiah 4:16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
According to King Benjamin, who says he got his words from an angel, if we do not impart of our substance to others (or if we are not able, we feel that we would if we could), and if we judge them, then we are condemned, we will perish forever, and our substance will perish with us, and we have no interest in the kingdom of God. He also says if we want to retain a remission of our sins we must impart of our substance to the poor.
To me, this is one of the most powerful and beautiful passages in scripture. I believe I have heard it taught in Church, but in thinking back and trying to remember when and in what circumstance, I can remember myself teaching it or bringing it up in lessons, but I don’t know if it was ever actually the official subject (like in the lesson manual) of any lesson? And I honestly don’t remember if anyone else taught these verses specifically. I hope that they did.
What I do remember is that every time I brought these scriptures up, in my lesson or someone else’s, someone would say, “But . . . .” There was always a “but.” There was always a reason or a circumstance brought up by someone to illustrate why we really shouldn’t always do what King Benjamin taught. A reason why we really should judge, and perhaps not give. My memory is that generally I would finally concede the point that, yes, we have to be guided by the spirit, and maybe the spirit might tell us in some circumstance not to give.
It is interesting to me that with any other commandment talked about at Church there was generally never a discussion of all the reasons and circumstances under which we should not follow it. That pretty much only happened with this subject. So, I would end up conceding that it could be possible that the spirit would tell us not to give to someone. After all, if we believe God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, then God could conceivably ask us to break any commandment, but why did that “out” always come up with this topic of giving to the beggar?
I was called as Relief Society President in three different wards. The callings were spread out over the span of well over two decades, so hopefully the incidents I mention here will not be able to be clearly identified with any certain people. All the bishops I served under were good men who I loved and admired. I am grateful for that, because I know from talking to others that that is sadly not always the case. My Bishops also all gave me great latitude in welfare matters, and trusted me, and as I remember probably always deferred to my opinion in those matters. I learned a lot in those callings. For those who might not know, it is generally the Relief Society President who determines the amounts (in consultation with the people getting the order) and fills out the food and commodity orders for those families in the Ward who need help.
I can remember years ago riding in the car with two Priesthood leaders going to some sort of training meeting, and I don’t remember the specific circumstance, but they brought up some circumstance where we should not give. I remember bringing up the above scriptures from Mosiah, but I also remember being quickly shot down (in a kind way). They had reasons why those scriptures should not be applied in whatever the circumstances were. I backed down, mainly because they were a bit older than me and in positions of authority over me. But I do remember thinking the almost heretical thought that they were wrong :).
I had one Bishop who I know had to fight the Stake President to keep giving food to members of our Ward. My memory is that only 2-3 families at any one time were ever getting those orders, but still the Stake President would say the Bishop was allowing too much. He was particularly upset that one person was on continuous help. Our good Bishop stood his ground and continued to give that direly needed help anyway. The person receiving the help was terribly poor, an elderly widow in very poor health living in extremely humble circumstances. I would put her groceries away for her, and the incredibly meager amount of food or anything that she had made me so sad. I was so thankful that Bishop fought for her. But why should he have had to? She was helped until she passed away.
I did see families/individuals who were told they could not continue to get help if they weren’t active. And some were cut off because of that. That was the policy. I truly often hate “policy.” I realize the Church institution cannot feed the whole world, but I know they could help much, much, much more. I think of King Benjamin saying everything we have is the Lord’s anyway, and I think that applies to institutions as well as people.
In one Ward I was in, I know that an elderly woman was told she had to sell the one item she had that was worth anything (and it wasn’t worth much), before she could have any more help with food. I wasn’t RS President at that time, so only know part of the story, but I did talk to her and see her crying about it, and it did break my heart.
I went to many training meetings during those callings. One I remember I liked the best was one where we were taught that we should actually be seeking out those in our Ward in need and making sure they got help, not just waiting for someone to come to the Bishop in trouble and desperation. I was sitting next to the Bishop at the time in that meeting, and we were both very excited by that! It was like a beautiful bit of freedom to be encouraged to actually actively look for people to give to! But sadly I don’t remember us following through very actively on that for very long. Mostly people had to still gird their own loins and get the courage to come ask, which was mostly embarrassing for them.
At one point I was trained that I was supposed to go into people’s homes and actually look in their cabinets. We were told it was to make sure that they really had a need, that they weren’t asking for too much. I was also supposed to make them make up a menu plan and show it to me, so that they would only ask for what they really needed for the two weeks that the order was for. I couldn’t do it. I could never do it. I knew that would humiliate me, and I couldn’t humiliate others that way.
These kinds of things affected me a lot. I want people to know that I also was blessed to see much sacrifice, kindness, and service done by individual members. Much service, sacrifice, and help was given to me and my family over the years by the Church and individuals. I saw good and even heroic things happen, not just the poor policy driven or “judgement of the beggar” driven decisions.
As I look back on all those experiences, I realize that the Lord was teaching me much, and probably by far the most important thing that I now realize He was teaching me over and over during those callings was that the Lord thinks of this very differently than we do.
This happened to me over and over:
First of all, when I would talk with people about their needs, almost invariably they would ask for less than I thought they needed. Sometimes much, much less. Almost everyone was very careful not to take too much, because we are all taught over and over we should be self reliant (and these people probably invariably thought they were at least a bit of a failure for needing help, including me when we needed help), and we are taught that this is the Lord’s money, the Lord’s food, and we had better not be taking too much!
I felt a great responsibility to do the food orders according to the Lord’s will. So, I would pray, so many times during the years of those callings, I would pray, “Heavenly Father, are they getting enough?” or “Are they getting too much?” or “I feel I should give them a few more cans of this or that. Is that right?” And this is the amazing thing to me, that I think about over and over. Never once did I feel they should get less. Always I remember feeling this joy from the Lord that His children were getting help. Every single time I remember hearing “Yes” to giving them more. This was a bit surprising to me. I remember wondering at the time if somehow I was letting my own feelings get in there. Because it seemed strange to me that the feeling I had was that the Lord wanted extremely liberal giving, every single time to every single person, no matter their situation! Even to the inactive people, even to the drug addict, even to the man who smoked and whose family seemed totally unappreciative, even to the small minority who seemed to be getting quite a lot for their situation. I never sensed any restraint from the Lord. It seemed amazingly clear to me that He didn’t care about any possible waste, or whether the people were coming to Church, or what sins they were committing, or if they were mean, or even whether they really needed it.
I can remember going to the Bishops to have them sign the orders, and saying, “I felt they needed a bit more of this or that, so I added it.” I am very happy that they always agreed and signed the orders.
Remembering that feeling I had when I prayed about those things even now makes me feel great joy. I learned the Lord is not like us at all. This is His policy:
3 Nephi 12:44 But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.
So, I fear for us. I fear because I want Zion. I want to be in Zion, and I want everyone I love, and even everyone in the world to be in Zion. Zion requires no poor:
Moses 7:18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
I think Satan tries very hard to get us to find excuses, supposed righteous reasons, why we should not do what King Benjamin said, because it will stop Zion.
D&C 78:6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;
4 Nephi 1:3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
D&C 49:20 But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.
We mostly all want heavenly things. We want to have experiences with those in heaven, like others have. But we are so very far from being equal in earthly things, that we cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things. I wonder if this is a key we are missing?
Several years ago we had some dear friends, who we love like family, come and live with us for about a year and a half. We all learned a lot during that time. It was difficult and very wonderful. We were supposed to be together during that time, and we all knew it. However, some people accused us of trying to be “Zion.” Stake leaders were even brought in to give talks or lessons in our Ward on not trying to be Zion until commanded by the Church leaders. It was distressing. Many things were said that made us and the people living with us feel very badly. There was big opposition to what we were doing, even though all we were doing was having beloved friends live with us while things were financially hard for them. I became extremely ill during that time, and needed them, too. We all needed each other. And the hours and hours spent discussing the gospel, the blessings given to each other, the things we learned from each other and through the experience were invaluable. But the opposition to anything that even has a whiff of Zion about it is strong, even from those who think they believe in Zion.
Anyway, there is much more to be said about this topic, but I just wanted to tell a few experiences and some of my thoughts, even though some of it is a bit disjointed. I know that I want to be someone who could be in Zion. But we all live in Babylon. I do believe that the Lord is not going to go POOF, now you are all ready to be in Zion. I think this is a time of learning and testing. Personally, I think the two main tests right now for those actively striving for Zion are: 1. Quit judging each other, and 2. Really take care of the poor among you, and don’t let the beggar put his petition up to you in vain.
If we truly believe this scripture:
Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Then we dare not really ever judge a beggar, because who knows whether they are an angel sent to test us.
And if we believe that an angel would never appear as a dirty beggar with a cardboard sign on a street corner, then I think we need to examine what kind of stakes we are setting up for God, what kind of box we are putting Him in. Human beings are historically not very good at recognizing heavenly messengers. It is always only a few who believe.