We live in an uncertain society. We are uncertain of our roles in marriage, in our genders, in our civic responsibilities, and in so many other arenas of life. How do we deal with the confusion and contradictory demands placed on us by this confusing world? The world’s “uncertain sound” is causing us no end of grief. Most importantly, how can the Lord’s Church help us navigate it all?
Scriptural reference for the uncertain sound
1 Corinthians 14:6-11 is part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Saints that addresses spiritual gifts, and most importantly for this discussion, the need for gifts to be clear and understandable. As you read the following verses and think about the comparisons Paul is making, equate his examples of spiritual gifts to the moral demands of our current society. (More on this in a minute.)
6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, I shall speak to you either by , or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of in the world, and none of them is without signification.
11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
I fell in love with verse 11. It took me reading it a few times before I caught what he was saying. Paul speaks (to us) in a manner that is backwards from the English we may have been taught. Verse eleven is saying that if someone speaks to me without clarity of meaning and purpose, I may as well be a barbarian for all I will understand. And the reverse is also true. He that speaks to me without clarity of thought that I can comprehend and use, may as well be speaking in a foreign language I have never learned. That makes him the “barbarian.” As one might say today, “It’s all Greek to me.”
The purpose of Paul’s addressing this subject in his letter to the Corinthians is to help them understand that the purpose of all spiritual gifts is to edify, uplift, and bring the peace of the gospel of Christ into people’s hearts. They are not meant to be a source of mystery and confusion in people’s lives.
Today’s uncertain sound
One of the hallmarks of today’s society is that nothing society endorses or subscribes to makes sense. Let me clarify that statement. Pick a subject. For its sheer contentious moral implications let’s look at abortion. Those who subscribe to the concept of abortion must be very single minded. They can only choose to look at one aspect of the act of abortion in order to find the arguments for allowing and promoting it. The selfishness of these arguments is not the topic for this discussion. Suffice it to say that they are able to convince themselves that it is their body and their decision.
But what are people saying when, like an actress who recently received an award for being popular for a movie she made made the statement that if she hadn’t aborted her baby she wouldn’t have received this precious award? Does that even make sense? ‘If I hadn’t killed my unborn child I wouldn’t be standing here on this stage holding this little statue that tells me how popular I am.’ Is that how we value the life of our fellow humans? A man made statue is a suitable replacement for a human life?
There are those who make money off selling the body parts of those unborn children. There are those who claim harvesting those body parts are saving the lives of those already living by the progress science is making from killing our children. The list of contradictory claims is endless. These are the uncertain sounds in just one aspect of modern society. What is a person to believe? So many arguments, when restricted to one small slice of an issue, can sound so convincing, yet when held up to the other parts of the issue are so glaringly reprehensible.
Paul makes the statement in verse eight above that “if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Most of us don’t live in a situation where this statement would make any sense to us. Anciently, war was something that often came as a complete surprise to a populace. Everyone was expected and was trained to know what the different horn calls from the walls of the city meant. If they sounded the alarm that an enemy was approaching the gates of the city, those horns would warn the people they needed to drop what they were doing and prepare to fight for their lives. If the horn just blew random sounds, how would anyone know they needed to prepare for the war at their very gates?
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he was telling them that things like speaking in tongues, with no understanding of what was being said, is like that uncertain sound of a trumpet that could have saved the life of the city, yet failed miserably, leaving them unaware they might have needed to prepare for the battle of their life.
This idea is also true in today’s society. Every argument is so fragmented and without an ability to apply to general principles of living that it has become impossible to judge rightly which of the competing arguments we need to listen to. This highlights in a very effective way the truth that satan fragments everything, while Christ unifies everything. Satan only looks at small points and argues those points. He can’t withstand scrutiny if his arguments are held up to the light of the whole issue, so he only focuses on small points and argues that those small points deserve to be treated like the whole issue. The problem is that the various points being argued are not supporting one another, but are contradicting each other, causing confusion among the people. This is the uncertain sound of world today.
Why do you think that in the last days men’s hearts will fail them? It is, in large measure, because they will lose hope in being able to know what to do, where to turn for truth, and how to make decisions that will help them feel safe and on the right road in life. Satan is gradually, and with increasing speed, removing our sense of safety, certainty, and confidence in ourselves, which leaves us panicked and feeling out of control. The faster he can erode humanity’s belief in truth, from any source, by putting up competing beliefs that seem to be more scientific, more believable, and more “sure,” the faster he can cause humanity to become cynical and unbelieving in everything.
The beauty of the gospel of Christ
If you haven’t been watching or reading talks from the last General Conference, I strongly urge you to do so. As you listen to the talks check in with your feelings. Those speaking are speaking with a unified voice. They all preach the same doctrine. They all encourage us to listen to the prophet, to pray to God for knowledge, to search the scriptures, and to seek out the company of the Holy Ghost, our common teacher in all truth.
Notice in that last paragraph that I didn’t single out any one small point and argue that point? The focus is on general principles of truth. These are the principles that God has always taught His children. When we believe, follow, pray, seek, knock (search), ponder, etc., the Lord reveals truth to each of us, individually. We each receive it in different ways, according to our readiness and our ability to comprehend it. Each of us is on our own path back to our Father and our Savior, but the same truth is saving us all. The Holy Ghost is the master teacher, and He knows that no two of us learn or need teaching in exactly the same way or in the same timeframe. But for all this individual instruction, the truths taught are all the same.
The world cannot become unified in anything it promotes, mainly because each point it promotes contradicts other points it also promotes. The people of the world don’t seem to see that by adopting one argument they are often going against another argument they also promote. In the gospel of Christ, each of the principles we are taught to live by support each other. These principles each clarify an aspect of other principles we also live by. As you go through the Conference talks, notice that there are no contradictory assertions, but unity of doctrine is all that is taught.
The power of God is largely in the unity of and completeness of His personal life. There are no contradictions, no hypocritical attitudes or behaviors. Everything in God’s life works together to form a unified life of certainty and direction. Everything God does promotes His own happiness. This is what He is teaching us by the way He wants us to live. God wants us to be as happy as He is, so we are given commandments and doctrines that promote that happiness and sense of purpose that brings the peace of Christ into our lives.
Imagine to yourself being in one of those ancient cities and hearing the trumpet on the wall blowing his call to the people below. You know what the melody is supposed to be for various activities that would cause him to blow the horn. But this time he just toots garbage notes that mean nothing to you. What does that mean? Am I supposed to run for my life? Should I prepare for war? Is a visiting king at our gates? What gives? An uncertain sound can only bring with it confusion. Only clear, understandable language, be it from a trumpet/horn or someone’s words, can bring understanding and guidance.
The hallmark of the last days will more and more be the confusion of the world, the unsettling and disturbing contradictions in messages that cause the people to lose hope and direction in their lives. That will stand out against the stark contrast of the peaceful unity of the gospel of Christ and the Lord’s faithful leaders who teach us what to listen for, so when they sound the call from the watchtowers on the wall, we understand and know what we should do. Such clarity brings courage, confidence, and gratitude. These will be rare commodities in the coming days.
Again, I encourage you to read or listen to at least one Conference talk each day you read your scriptures. If you want to free yourself from the confusion of the world, stay focused on the clarity and unity the prophets give us from the mouth of God, Himself, through the gift we all have of the Holy Ghost.
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