Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Constructive Thoughts: National Humility

I don't remember which talk radio show it was, but as we were traveling in the car on Friday on our Memorial Day weekend trip, I heard a caller chastised by the show's host. I wish I'd had time to write down the entire intercourse accurately and completely, but I was driving and the authorities frown on driving and writing at the same time.

Essentially, the caller was espousing the view that--so long as we were a God-fearing nation--that our strength and global position gave us the right and responsibility to act as a unilateral international policeman.

While the host agreed somewhat with a national responsibility as a superpower to be active in certain circumstances (enforcing international peace, for example), he would not go so far as to say we had a "right" to do so. This got me to thinking, especially in light of the Sunday School lesson in the meetings I attended on Sunday.

The passage in question was from the Book of Mormon. Brief background: at this point in the book, a nation has become powerful and prosperous, but is no longer God-fearing. Far from it: the leaders' iniquities has pulled the citizenry into sin and evil practices.

(This idea is a subject of a Constructive Thought all its own, actually--the idea of evil leaders dragging the people into sin. But that's for another day.)

God sends a prophet to this people to call them to repentance. He is chased out of the country under threat of death. Two years later, the Lord sends him back to this people to preach to them again. This time he comes to tell them that they are about to reap the consequences of their actions; they are about to be--as a people--taken into bondage and possibly utterly destroyed.

Their response? The people grab him and drag him to their king, and this is the rationale they give for the actions of their country as a whole: "And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou [O king] hast prospered in the land, and thou [O king] shalt also prosper." [Mosiah 12:15]

In other words, we're strong and prosperous, so we can't be bad, we can't be evil. God must like us because look at all the things we have.

But are strength and prosperity necessarily always a sign of God's favor? Of course not. My proof? In 1975, then-president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball dedicated the Washington temple. In his dedicatory prayer, he asked, "Bless all people, our Father, that they may prosper, but not more than their faith can stand.... Our Father, in blessing thy people with prosperity, we pray that they may not be surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth which would bring them to worship these false gods." ["News of the Church," Ensign, Feb 1975, 79–87]

Obviously, if strength and prosperity always came because the Lord's blessings, would the Prophet really be saying, "Bless the people, but not too much"?

But the question is raised, "What is wrong with prosperity?" Surely it can be used for good and push forward the Kingdom of God, right? God certainly wants us to prosper, right?

Well, yes.

But only if it's done in the right way.

What do I mean?

Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, "Those who engage in self-congratulation over a supposed strength...are vulnerable to Satan's using that strength to produce their downfall." [Dallin H. Oaks, "Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall," Ensign, Oct 1994, 11]

How do we find that balancing point? How do we enjoy prosperity but not "not engage in self-congratulation"?

Again, the Lord gives us the answer to the question: "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." [Ether 12:27]

Humility is that quality that we must nurture. It is humility that will protect us, save us, keep us from pride.

Remember the scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? (Aside: Yes, I confess to watching the DVD out of a corner of my eye as we drove along this past weekend. The Horde was being indoctrinated into that wonderful icon of my youth: Indiana Jones.) As Indy is standing there, in the cobwebbed corridor, waiting for the so-called Breath of God that just killed a man in front of Indy's eyes, what does he say? The clue from his father's Grail journal: Only the pentient man will pass. Then he comes up with the answer: "The penitent man is humble before God; the penitent man kneels before God. Kneel!"

Humility saved his life, didn't it?

(Aside: Yes, I know that it did not really save his life, because he's just a movie character. At least, I think so, anyway. Right?)

Humility. We need to make a pride check.

Not just as individuals, either. As a nation, we need to do it.

Big time.

I think that, regardless of your political leanings, you will agree that collectively--as a nation--we are anything but humble. We are prideful. We are self-congratulatory in our success and prosperity.

But our consequences are coming.

Countless modern-day prophets have given us the same warnings that ancient civilization received. And, largely, the warnings have gone unheeded. "We're big, we're bad, but we ain't evil. We're a God-fearing country and He's looking out for us."

We certainly are not as God-fearing (as a nation) as we want to think we are. If nothing else, we're big, we're bad, and we are prideful, and therefore evil. We need a pride check.

And that starts at home.

Maybe... Just maybe... If each one of us becomes a bit more humble, it will have a collective effect and our God-blessed nation just may survive.

But we better hurry.

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