I want to make a point, but making that point requires your patience as you read what follows. There are those who feel salvation is almost an accidental thing. They act as though they can be saved without having to do anything to really earn what they want. Yes, we are all saved by grace, but no one is saved without some effort on their own part. Following are some cases where we may not have heard the correct version of what actually took place in the scriptures. I tell these stories to illustrate how some people seem to believe that we can become good or be saved completely by accident.
Joshua got lost
In the Old Testament is the story of Joshua (Joshua chapter 6) who conquered the city of Jericho. You may think you know the facts about the story, but what you may not know are the true-life details of what really happened. There has been a little bit of revisionist history taking place to help Joshua save face over his blunders that turned out to be a good thing.
It all started when Joshua was told to go and destroy Jericho by the Lord. Jericho was a strong city, surrounded by an enormous wall. This wall was so big that people had streets and homes on top of it. Joshua could tell he didn’t have a chance, so he decided to take the people of Israel by another way around the city so as to avoid having to deal directly with the people of Jericho. Unfortunately, what the Bible does not discuss in very much detail is Joshua’s terrible sense of direction. The man couldn’t find his way out of the proverbial paper bag. As he tried to pass by the city he kept making wrong turns and ended up where he began, having actually only circled the city.
The Israelites were accustomed to these detours, as he had been partly responsible for the lost 40 years in the wilderness as one of Moses’s navigators. So they quietly followed him and said nothing. Day after day he tried to run away from Jericho but kept ending up where he began, having accomplished nothing more than walking around the city. Day after day the people kept quiet, though as the days progressed they became more and more impatient with his inability to walk a straight line away from the city.
Finally, on day seven, after having circled the city multiple times in one day their patience was at an end, and they all stopped with one accord and screamed their frustration with his lack of direction. Imagine their surprise when the city walls promptly fell flat, leaving the people inside stunned with terror. Well, the pickings were just too easy, and the Israelites conquered the city of Jericho.
Naaman’s lack of geographical knowledge
Also in the Old Testament is the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5). He was a powerful man from Syria who had leprosy. He had heard of Elisha’s power to heal people, so he journeyed to where Elisha lived and asked that Elisha heal him of his leprosy. Elisha obliged and told him to go dip himself in the Jordan river seven times and he would be healed. What history has revealed about Naaman that the Bible does not, was Naaman’s ignorance about geography. The reason he had people drive him around was because he kept getting himself lost. Hmmm, considering the story of Joshua, I wonder if this was as common an ailment back then as ADHD is today.
Naaman was insulted by Elisha’s instruction to bathe in the Jordan river since the rivers in his own country were much prettier. He complained bitterly to his servants about not wanting to bathe in this little provincial river in Israel when he could bathe in a better river closer to home. His wise servants, knowing how easy it was to fool him, told him they had reached a small tributary of one of their home rivers (it was actually the Jordan river) so Naaman happily went down and followed Elisha’s instructions to dip himself seven times. He was healed.
The universal lesson
You can find these stories all throughout the scriptures – people who didn’t want to do what God wanted them to do but accidentally got blessed. They didn’t even try to obey the commandments they had been given. This goes to prove that obedience isn’t the law of heaven some people make it out to be. Obviously if these worthy men, and so many men and women like them throughout the scriptural accounts, could find favor with God despite their efforts to be disobedient, then surely we can as well.
To give you modern examples, just think of what is required to gain a testimony of anything. We’ve all heard of people who received a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon while laboring with all their might to ruin others’ testimonies. And surely you have had the experience of whining and complaining about the prophet or other church leaders only to receive a witness that they were right after all. And what about those who resent having to pay Tithing who wake up one morning and just know the worth of paying their Tithing? We’ve all experienced those situations, right?
I hope you now feel as uncomfortable about what you have read as I have felt trying to write it. The truth is that witnesses come only after a trial of our faith. We have to exercise our faith in the prophet and our Church leaders before the Lord will give us a witness that they are right. We have to be willing to exercise faith in Tithing and pay it for a while before we receive the witness that Tithing is a principle we cannot live without. There is no other way to receive this kind of information.
As to Joshua and Naaman, there was nothing accidental in their behavior. They were instructed by the Lord through His servants to do specific things. The miracles only happened when they complied with their instructions with their eyes wide open. They both had to have a whole-hearted desire to be obedient before the blessings they sought could be realized.
This is the same for us. Becoming good, obtaining a testimony, learning Christlike attributes, etc., are not accidental events. These are things we do on purpose. We must first decide to believe it can happen for us then seek out the law that governs what we want. If we want the blessings of Tithing then we must learn all we can about the law of Tithing and live it to its fullest. Then, and only then, do we receive the witness we seek of its truthfulness. This applies to any law and accompanying blessing.
If we want to develop empathy, charity, kindness, obedience, patience, and so forth, we must decide that is what we want, seek out the laws and experiences that will help us learn the virtue we want to acquire then practice living it. It is only after we put forth the energy to practice living a virtue that the Spirit helps change our heart so it becomes a part of who we are. Some people may be naturally kind, but anyone can learn to be kind. But make no mistake, we never will become kind by accident. We will never receive a witness or become virtuous by accident. Goodness in any form is a choice, and we are the ones who have to choose it and work for it.