Throughout the scriptures we are taught to fear God. Fear, as defined in the scriptures is to give honor or respect, not to be afraid of. If God is so good to us then why do we have such a hard time properly fearing Him?
Day one (week 4) of the Doctrine and Covenants Come, Follow Me lesson for 2021 is titled, “I should trust God rather than fearing man.” In this day’s discussion, the relationship of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris is discussed. I believe there is a lesson to be learned in their relationship that applies to almost, if not all of us.
What do we know of God?
I know, that is a stupid sounding title, but it applies here. We know a lot about God, especially if we start to make a list.
- God is merciful. The scriptures are full of examples where God demonstrates to His children that He understands what we go through in life, that we are fickle by nature, and that our loyalties are often questionable at best. But He is always willing to take us back into His loving arms when we choose to repent and return to Him.
- God is kind
- God is patient
- God is faithful, never abandoning us when things get difficult. He will always follow through with His promises, no matter how it looks at the moment of trial in mortality. We just need to remember that present circumstances do not affect His promises, ever! His word is always fulfilled. Sometimes His word is fulfilled in this life, and sometimes in the next, but the word ALWAYS always applies to the fulfilment of His promises.
- God is forgiving. Even when we mess up, He is always ready to accept us, as long as we are willing to submit to His teachings and align our life with His instructions. As long as there is an ounce of repentance left in us, His forgiveness is ready to be extended, always.
- God is demanding, for He needs to teach us responsibility. The scriptures regularly refer to Him correcting us as a father does to his child.
- God is wise, making us work to learn and grow, rather than just trying to hand us everything. He is more concerned with our personal growth, which leads to our personal happiness than He is with our personal comfort. He knows that we only grow in times of discomfort. Hence the scriptures teach that the purpose of this life is to be tried and tested or proved (See Abraham 3).
These are just some of the things we know about God’s character and personality. What is there not to respect/honor/fear about a Man like that? Can you think of a good reason for us to NOT put our relationship with Him first and foremost in each of our lives? Let’s look at the other side of the coin before looking at the answer to that question.
What we know about man
This may seem like a strange observation, but the overriding characteristic about mankind that gives People precedence over God in our lives, is that man is present with us. Man is here, in front of us. We converse openly with people. We see them with our eyes. We can look into their eyes. We can touch them, hit them, dismiss them, and love or hate them based on our interactions with them. People are easy to give our loyalty to, for they are ever present before us. God is not. Mankind can easily hide their intentions, and often do. God is always upfront, and can always be trusted. We have thousands of years of scriptural evidence to demonstrate His character. Consider that idea for a few minutes, for this makes all the difference in the world.
As our example provided to us by the manual, let’s look at Joseph Smith and Martin Harris. As you read this quote, remember that Joseph was still quite young, being in his early twenties, poor, and reliant on the good graces of those who were more affluent in the world, like Martin. Martin was older, wealthy, and probably seemed to Joseph to be more wise as to the things of the world. Now read what the manual states.
So it’s easy to see why Joseph wanted to honor Martin’s request to take the first portion of the Book of Mormon translation to show his wife, who doubted the truth of the Book of Mormon. Joseph continued to ask the Lord about this request, even when He forbade it, until finally, after Joseph asked a third time, the Lord said yes. Tragically, the manuscript was lost while it was in Martin’s possession, and Joseph and Martin were sharply chastised by the Lord (see Saints, 1:51-53).
Martin, Joseph’s physical savior, benefactor, and friend, continued to push and reason with Joseph to let him take those first 116 pages to show to his wife. No doubt he gave some believable and compelling arguments for why he should be allowed to do so. In the flush of the moment, Joseph forgot about his need to put the commandments of God first in his life, and considered that, just maybe, the Lord could be persuaded to change His mind. Instead of assuming God always knows best, Joseph continued to go back to Him, apparently assuming he, Joseph had a more important cause than God’s stated No for an answer.
How often do we do this with the Lord? I, for one, am sure I have done it a great many times. What is present before us is so easy to become our present reality that we forget to go back to the scriptures, and to remember our dealings with God in the past. We mistakenly dismiss God as our priority and in a moment of spiritual blindness we put the concerns and persuasions of mortality first in our life.
How often have you made a mistake in your life and later said to yourself, “What was I thinking?” At that moment you could more clearly see how silly or damaging your previous choice was, for now it seems so much clearer in your mind, and your perspective more focused on eternal concerns, rather than on the past’s immediate desires.
When someone is standing in front of me, arguing their point, pressuring me to do something that God would disapprove of, his mere mortal presence makes me forget God’s greater goodness, for all I can see in that moment is the person standing in front of me. All I can hear is this voice of demanding, or of soft words, or of logical argument in my ears. It is hard for me in that moment to remember God and what God has taught me to do.
In order for us to remember God in these times of conflict, we must be studying His word on a regular basis. If we don’t have His teachings in our head and in our heart on a daily basis, how can we expect to remember those words when life gets stressed and demanding of our attention and affections? This is why we must study the scriptures regularly, and pray consistently. If God is to remain the focus of our life, we must remove our attention from the demands of mortality and focus them on the demands of eternity. It is the demands of eternity that give us the ability to live according to the wisdom of God. Living according to the wisdom of God is what brings us peace and hope for eternal rest and glory.
So when you read of Joseph Smith’s human weaknesses, turn the eyeglass around and look at your own. We each suffer from these moments of vision loss that caused those 116 pages to be lost. And if we are honest with ourselves, we have probably been personally guilty of such lapses in judgment many times in our life. I am personally glad that Joseph learned his lesson to seek for God’s council over man’s council early in his life, for that lesson learned has blessed millions in this last dispensation of time.
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