Forty years ago, while reporting on an environmental symposium at a major university, I heard a conversation among colleagues in which one expressed simmering frustration that he could not make any headway with his proposals to stop environmental damage.
With some bitterness, he said he hoped the fossil fuels would all be used up soon because then everyone would be forced to recognize that he had been right all along and they would be forced to do just as he had been advising. The consequences for others or for society as a whole did not seem to concern him.
While I believe strongly in protecting the environment, I could never join a cause led by a person like him. He practiced what I call “toxic activism.”
You know people like him. You’ve met them. At a family reunion they would be the in-law who insists on digging up the hatchet that everyone else in the family buried 30 years ago.
When toxic activists have what they consider a worthy cause, and when they’re in your office, your neighborhood, your church, or your children’s group of school parents, they’ll use that cause to bludgeon you.
No matter what the cause—civil rights, the environment, liberal or conservative politics, gender politics and equality—if your response doesn’t match theirs in intensity, then you obviously are an uncaring and ignorant individual. Ironically, they may accuse you of being so focused on your own small world that you have no time for the more serious cosmic problems that should concern you. Toxic activists are very good at laying guilt trips on others.
There are many people, including me, who would be glad to help correct injustices and help undo damage that has been done in our culture or our environment. I could gladly give money and time to efforts that would help cure some of these ills.
But please don’t come at me with your list of demands. Please don’t tell me what burden of guilt I must accept on behalf of my social class, my faith, or my ethnic group before we can work together on solving the problem at hand. That’s no way to begin a relationship that will require us to trust each other.
What is it you want to happen? Do you want my cooperation? Or are you more interested in scoring some ideological points? If you try to persuade me instead of accusing me, you’re much more likely to win my support. I have time to listen to reason on an issue, but I have too little time to spend it with someone trying to bait me into contention.
Let’s talk. I am completely in favor of “equality,” “justice,” “mutual support,” and “cooperation.” But I am not likely to take up your cause unless I know just how you are applying those terms and what specific outcome you are seeking.
Getting in my face is no way to get into my heart and mind.
In my faith, we have a book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a record of revelations given by God to modern prophets. One of those revelations teaches that power and influence in the hearts of others can never be maintained over the long term through compulsion or domination; this can only be done through persuasion and patience. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-44.)
Look, I’m willing to be your friend. I’d like to help your cause if it is just. But if you want to win my help, present your case and let me decide according to the moral principles that guide my own thoughts and actions. If your course of action agrees with those principles, you’ll have my support.
Perhaps there are areas or causes in which I could do more. Perhaps there are aspects of some problems that I do not understand. I am open to listening and learning.
But I am not open to being threatened or coerced.
I will be the one, not you, to decide on my course of action, because I will be the one, not you, who will be judged by God for them.
These two words, tolerance and diversity, don’t mean the same things now that they did when I was young. Back then, they dealt with concepts that could unite us. Now they seem to be used in ways that divide us.
This is a piece I have put off writing for a long time because some people won’t like what I say. But unless we can talk about the different ways people see tolerance and diversity, the different ways we use those words will continue to keep us at odds with each other.
When I was young, tolerance meant we would accept the fact many people see norms of behavior, dress, morality, or decorum differently than we do. Tolerant people could interact without confrontation when someone disagreed about those norms.
These days, being tolerant seems to mean that we must be willing to embrace other peoples’ norms of behavior, morality, or decorum even when those may be foreign or offensive to us. On the other hand, if the norms and standards that our consciences have dictated for a lifetime differ with those of special identity groups, then we must put our beliefs aside.
Diversity used to mean we are all very different in our society, and that’s OK.
Now it seems to mean that some diverse people are more equal than others. I must accept their cultural norms and beliefs, but my beliefs cannot be tolerated, and if I insist on holding onto them, I must be punished.
There are a variety of social issues or causes in which this double standard may be seen. To pick one: If my beliefs are not acceptable to LGBTQ people, I may be labeled “homophobic.”
Homophobia is a made-up word that suggests someone hates or fears those who classify themselves as LGBTQ. I neither hate nor fear people who live a homosexual lifestyle. There’s no reason I could not work with them on an equal footing. I hope they have all the happiness and success in their lives that they desire. It is only fair that they enjoy all the same civil rights I do, and I fully support legislation guaranteeing them those rights.
But there are some philosophical points on which I disagree with them based on my faith. I believe that the inherent individual right to freedom of thought entitles me to my own beliefs, but I will not try to dictate how others must live.
Some who live as a different gender than they were born will say it is not a matter of their choice, but they were born in a body that does not match who they really are. I cannot believe that. Neither do I believe in common gender stereotypes. We are all mixtures of many physical and personality traits, and no one mix of these traits can define either male or female. No one can truly say, “I am female (or male) because . . . .” I believe that our eternal spirits are what they are and that God does not place some of them in the wrong bodies by mistake.
But what I may believe has no power to govern others. Many may disagree with me, and it is not my right or purpose in life to make them conform to my beliefs. That would be tyrannical. Faith should never be an excuse for tyranny. I believe that one of the first laws of heaven, in God’s plan for His children, is that we each will have our own individual agency. Each of His children has the responsibility to choose how we shape our lives and behavior on this earth, and ultimately each of us will be answerable to Him for our choices.
Others will, I hope, respect my agency just as I respect theirs.
It does not matter how just or right you think your cause to be, whether it is racial or gender equality, environmentalism, economic parity, or something else; trying to force others to adopt the beliefs and behaviors you prefer is a violation of their civil rights on earth and their agency in eternity. God offers all of us choices, but never compels us to do as He says.
Too often in our society, people who identify themselves with one movement or cause or social group try to coerce others into accepting their beliefs and behaviors by labeling and shaming, by humiliating or ostracizing them, or by compulsion through legislation. This is wrong. If we cannot persuade people to our way of thinking or behaving by reasoning with them, we have no right to punish them for having different views.
Here’s a concrete example that may be controversial for some. Suing a wedding photographer or cakemaker whose personal religious beliefs make him or her uncomfortable serving an LGBTQ wedding doesn’t seem to be about achieving equality, especially where comparable services are available from someone else. It seems to be about forcing one’s values on someone else in violation of that individual’s conscience.
Many of the problems of divisiveness in our world today could be solved if we could go back to those earlier definitions of tolerance and diversity. We can recognize that other people who do not share our backgrounds and experiences will see many things differently than we do, but we can nevertheless commit ourselves to interacting and working with them in a spirit of peace and cooperation.
One day in in the summer of 1966, I walked through the capital of a Latin American nation during the inauguration of a new president. Armed soldiers lined the avenue into the center of town, spaced about 50 feet apart, to guard against the trouble that was expected.
The election had been hotly contested and divisive. The leading candidate of one party had died under mysterious circumstances, but his brother had stepped in and won the presidency. There were innuendos of corruption on both sides.
There were rumors of a planned insurrection, an uprising to disrupt the inauguration and prevent the new president from taking office. In addition to soldiers and military vehicles in the streets, the air force was on the alert, ready to crush any rebellion.
I congratulated myself on coming from a country where this could never happen.
Now consider January 6, 2021. A mob invaded our nation’s capitol building, known throughout the world as a symbol of law, order, and liberty. The mob’s purpose: Disregard law, order, and liberty to overturn a legitimate election. They were driven by a repeated lie that this election was somehow stolen, and they refused to believe the truth despite repeated vote recounts and reviews that disproved the lie. Greedy political opportunists, people who wanted those votes in a future election, just kept on feeding them the lie.
Rabid partisans on both liberal and conservative sides blame the Capitol insurrection on “extremists.” They’re right. To get a good look at those extremists, they need only gaze into the mirror.
Both major political parties have extremists within their ranks who refuse to consider any compromise. To compromise is to deal with the devil; the hyper-partisans demonize people who do it.
In reality, it is the extremists at both ends of the political spectrum who are doing the work of the devil. Left or right, they would willingly impose tyranny to achieve their ends.
In the 1960s, that Latin American country represented the realities of political extremism.
It was one of several countries under military rule in the region where I lived as a missionary. The military had taken over the government in the name of law and order. Under martial law, people were forbidden to gather on the streets in groups of more than four, so when we left a church meeting, the congregation had to carefully break into small groups. Two people were not allowed to ride on a motorcycle because the passenger, even if dressed like a woman, might turn out to be a gunman with an automatic weapon to shoot up the neighborhood police station. Motorists had to drive with interior lights on at night so that police could see who was in the car. People in public could be stopped and questioned by the military or the police.
I wonder how many U.S. citizens would be willing to live under similar conditions? Those who have demanded that troops be called out to impose martial law on troubled cities in our country should be careful what they wish for.
At the other extreme, communist terrorists in that Latin American country were working to foment revolution and undermine the government.
I once had to help organize a funeral for a member of our church congregation—a father of several young children—who had been assassinated by terrorists. On patrol as a national policeman, he had caught them placing a bomb at the home of a prominent military officer. The country’s military could not root out the guerrillas from their strongholds in the mountains. We saw their spray-painted slogans, often with anti-U.S. messages, everywhere—including across the street from the house where we lived.
One day I met one of the communists dedicated to bringing socialism to the country. He was a well-educated intellectual. We talked to him about Jesus Christ and the holy scriptures, and he replied that he didn’t believe in those teachings. “These are the books I live by,” he said, as he pulled three off his shelf and handed them to me. They were Spanish versions of books that had been published by an economic institute in Moscow, U.S.S.R. They laid out the vision that the communists wanted to impose on other countries.
For a time, I worked in and around a very poor barrio in that capital city. Houses were made of scrap metal and cardboard. The sewers were open trenches running in the streets. Residents could look up from their homes and see the beautiful, artistic building housing the city offices—la Municipalidad. That barrio was nicknamed “Red Square” because some said that all the communists had to do to raise an angry crowd was harangue its people about how they were being exploited by the elites in their country, how the elites should be forced to share their land and their wealth. Sometimes such gatherings got out of hand—which was probably what the agitators intended.
The history of political conflict in that Latin American country was long and tragic, with ugly atrocities committed by both sides as they dedicated themselves to destroying the opposition. (Parenthetically, the U.S. was not an innocent bystander in the conflict, having backed the military government.)
Activists in the United States often assert that freedom of speech includes the right to demonstrate in public streets and areas anywhere, anytime, including in front of private residences. If others are endangered as a result, or if their rights are taken away, too bad. Few of those activists seem willing to acknowledge that when they tap into others’ anger at injustice they may light a fire they cannot control. If the activists have integrity, they will recognize the possibility of hooliganism and take steps to cut it off. And if their cause is just, they will stick to the truth in their protests, offering more light than heat.
Demagogues are skilled at manipulating people’s fears or feelings of injustice. They whip up an angry crowd by convincing people that they are being cheated, that they are being exploited, or that the have-nots are coming to take away what they hold dear—their property, or the place they have claimed for themselves in society. In the Capitol riot, we all saw this demagoguery in action, provoked by a persistent lie—that an election was “stolen.”
Government by, for, and of the people cannot survive in the United States of America with this kind of dishonesty undermining trust in its processes. Politicians who support false myths of corruption for their own advantage are disloyal to the spirit of the Constitution, which I believe was inspired by God.
Surely He would not want His children warring among themselves over who is more fit to rule. Surely He would want us working together to “form a more perfect Union” (Preamble to the Constitution).
The far left and far right extremes in our country are not seeking union. They want dominance for their philosophy and their biases.
I know people of good character and sound judgment on both sides of the political divide who are passionate and firm about what they believe. There’s nothing wrong with that. But once the votes have been counted and recounted and the result is the same, it’s time to work together in a reasonable manner and drop the self-serving myths.
History suggests that corrupt politics and political opportunists will always be with us. But at least for now, in a time of national pain and sorrow, true patriots should be helping with the healing and be willing to move forward.
Many years ago, a young woman expecting her first baby went into labor while her husband was far away at war. The birth was a difficult one and the doctor chose to anesthetize her. She awoke later in the hospital to find her mother and older sister sitting beside her bed. The looks on their faces told her the news might not be good.
This was in the days before a woman could know the sex or the physical status of her unborn child. They told her that her son had been born with a very visible birth defect which could turn out to be an impairment in life.
But my young mother was blessed with the wisdom and ingenuity to teach me how to deal with that defect so that through almost eight decades of life, it has never been a handicap to me.
I suppose today there are women who if they knew their child might have a defect such as mine would abort that baby, so I take the issue of abortion a bit personally.
We hear much of a woman’s right to control her own body. I don’t dispute that right, but I may disagree with others as to when the right should be exercised. When two people willingly engage in the act that creates an unborn child, I believe it is morally wrong—a sin—for them to destroy that life. It is an offense against all humanity.
Where the child was conceived in a consensual relationship, I would hope mother and father will counsel together on any choices about the life of the unborn. (Parenthetically, I believe that men who father babies and then abandon mother and child will face the wrath of the Father of us all.)
Many would disagree with my moral arguments about abortion, and they would feel justified in making decisions I see as wrong. It is not my place to tell them how to manage their lives. But I believe it is tyranny to force me to help pay for actions that violate my conscience and are an assault on my faith.
I believe that every one of us existed as a being of spirit—with intelligence and gender—before we came to live on this earth. We are immortal beings having a mortal experience. We brought with us certain strengths and behavioral characteristics. When we leave this life, we will take with us, as eternal spirit beings, all the knowledge and strength and growth we acquired here. This mortal experience is a step forward on an eternal path. Destroying a viable child is putting a roadblock or detour on the eternal path of another being.
There undoubtedly are circumstances when abortion needs to be an option: if the mother’s life is in danger, if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest and carries with it that horror and trauma.
Politically, this is a very highly charged issue. Some say it is her life and her body, so the choice is hers alone. That is only partly true. The mother may make the choice alone, but there are two lives and two bodies involved.
Some would say the mother should have the right to abort the child if she knows it is carrying a serious defect. I would plead for the life of the child. Give that baby a chance—please. You can’t know who or what that individual may become. I have lived a full and productive life—married to a wonderful woman who loved me despite my physical and moral flaws—with fine children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, all free of my birth defect. Yet some people would have erased my life—and theirs.
If you don’t want the baby, there are couples like my daughter and son-in-law willing to help that child grow into an intelligent, productive, unique individual.
Please, if you can find it in your heart, give that child a chance.
Everyone should have at least one place of peace, a place to find nurturing and renewal for the soul. One of my favorite places is the spring at the head of the canyon nearby.
The spring flows out of a mountain, bounding noisily over rocks and winding through the greenery it nourishes. It is a joyful noise, a hopeful noise. It becomes a creek, flowing down the canyon to provide water for a town and growth for lush pastures.
Sitting by the spring and watching the water’s continuous flow is a reminder that the Creator of this earth generously, constantly supplies our needs. He created an amazingly complex self-sustaining habitat for us, and if we do not foul it up too much, it seems capable of going on indefinitely. This creation is a manifestation of His love for us, His children.
The spring is a reminder of the “living water” Jesus spoke of (John 4:10) that nourishes our eternal spirits. If we will let Him, if we are willing, He will give us that water continually too. Sitting by the spring is a reminder that we can be washed clean through Him.
The spring is not the only place I can find this renewal, but I go there as often as I can.
Do you have a place like the spring? It doesn’t have to be hidden away in the mountains. I have found such places in the countryside or in cities on six continents. Sometimes I have found them under the stars at night.
It only needs to be a place where you can go in your heart and mind to think about the good things in this life—the things you receive, and the things you can give. Even if your everyday surroundings seem grim and depressing, you can make them better this way. I can have the spring in my mind anytime I want it.
Hopelessly optimistic? Not really. I am a natural-born pessimist, something of a skeptic. But I have found through many years of experience that this works. If I focus on the blessings made available to me by a loving Father in Heaven, I am strengthened and refreshed. It works even better when I try to think how I can share the blessings.
Try it. It will help. My wish for you is that you find your own place of peace like the spring.
A couple of days ago, I had to kill an animal. It was brutal and it still troubles me. It seemed unavoidable, but that excuse doesn’t settle my mind.
We’ve tried everything we could think of to make the groundhogs go away—refilling their holes, chemical irritants, ultrasonic alarms—so they wouldn’t dig under the old rock foundation of our pioneer-era home. Nothing else has worked.
Punxatawney Phil might look cute in one of those Groundhog Day photo ops, but the animals are not cute when they’re undermining your sidewalks and trashing the old fruit room in the cellar, knocking bottles of peaches off the shelves.
Finally we caught one in our trap; it was betrayed by its fondness for cantaloupe. I wasn’t going to simply release it so it could go back to burrowing, nor did I have time to drive it into the next county to find a new home.
I shot it with a high-powered air rifle, hoping death would be quick. It wasn’t. As the animal struggled, it looked at me is if to ask, “Why did you do this to me?”
Perhaps I only imagined that part.
But its behavior that was problematic for me is instinctual, and I felt sad at having to kill the animal for natural behavior. There was nothing about the killing that felt satisfying. It made me feel diminished somehow.
Watching the suffering I caused made me wonder how people can callously and casually use a gun to kill another human being because that person “dissed” them or wore the wrong color tee shirt or took the parking spot they wanted.
Let me be clear: This isn’t a rant about guns or a call to take them away. I believe strongly in the right granted by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution to keep and bear arms. I am a gun owner. I have nothing against hunting if someone plans to use the meat, though I see little “sport” in ambushing an animal from several hundred yards away with a high-powered rifle and scope.
Sometimes the conditions in our world today make me wonder if I need a close-range weapon in the home or to carry for protection.
But we have an obvious, urgent problem in our society with unstable, sociopathic people who use guns deliberately to hurt others. Maybe they’re willing to fire into a passing car just to prove their manhood because they think someone in that vehicle has not treated them respectfully—and they don’t care if they unintentionally kill a one-year-old child riding with a mother. Maybe they’re determined that if the woman they want will not have them, they have the right to rob her of life. Maybe they think that because their life is horrible they have the right to express their pain by gunning down as many people as possible before they are in turn killed.
Whatever the reason, they seem incapable of seeing or understanding the pain and extended suffering they cause to innocent people—not only their victims, but also grieving loved ones left behind.
The powerful gun lobby in this country seems unable to acknowledge or grasp the problem. The knee-jerk reaction is to wrap themselves in the Constitution and vow no one will take away their gun without prying it out of their cold, dead fingers. But unneeded gun violence is an ongoing tragedy that needs a practical, workable solution, not theatrics and threats. If background checks and seizure of guns from people with criminal records or psychiatric problems are not acceptable (and yes, I understand the inherent danger in these), then responsible gun owners need to come up with workable solutions before one-too-many tragedies bring on governmental restrictions they don’t want.
I don’t know the answer to the problem of gun violence, and I don’t know how our society creates dangerous sociopaths who don’t care about the damage they may do in other lives.
What does all of this have to do with shooting a groundhog?
It’s in the realization that some people seem to be able to kill without caring about the life they are taking away from another child of God.
We desperately need to find a cure for that.
Somehow I think it’s found in that old saying about doing unto others as we would want them to do to us. Every religious tradition I know teaches that life is sacred or should be respected. We need learn to how to treat others as if their lives are just as valuable as ours.
Someday we will all answer to God about how well we learned that lesson.
Walking down a dirt road just before sunset, I noticed the long shadows made by pebbles and small rocks in the dust. I remembered my barefoot days of childhood and thought about how stepping on one of those sharp little rocks could leave a bruise or other injury long after the first sharp pain had faded.
Forty-six years ago, shortly after we moved into our second family home, I was clearing out overgrown bushes when I suffered a small injury. A branch I was holding under
Injuries that might seem small to others can leave lasting scars.
tension suddenly broke, and the sharp tip sprang back at me, raking down my upper arm. It did not cut me, but I bled under the skin, and to this day I carry a scar where I was injured.
Sometimes the injuries we suffer cast shadows that touch our lives for many years. Sometimes emotional and spiritual wounds can leave lifelong scars. The wounds might be accidental or they might be inflicted by others. In either case, we do not have to let the damage be permanent. There is a way to overcome it.
When I was a boy and hurt my foot on a stone, I would go to my mother for comfort. When I grew up, I knew how to put medicine on my own wounds. But rarely can we supply the salve for our own spiritual or emotional wounds. Treatment for these kinds of injuries requires a Healer—someone capable of applying spiritual medicine.
The psalmist looks to God for help. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).
I am a believer in Christ and the healing power of the Atonement he carried out for our sins. In announcing his mission at the beginning of his preaching on the earth, he quoted this from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).
He healed by His touch, just as He can heal us by the way He touches our hearts. In the Gospel of St. Mark we read: “And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.” (Mark 1:31).
Jesus did not categorize people by their belief systems; He looked on their hearts. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) I believe God hears the prayers of all His yearning children who turn to him in sorrow and pain for relief, no matter what their religious tradition may be.
His healing may not come as an immediate cure or miraculous rescue, but answers come in the way that will be for our best good in this life and in the life to come, after we return to Him. We need to be still and listen for His whisperings to us through the Holy Spirit, to be still and feel His soft touch.
In our day He has given us revealed scripture that offers confirming, prophetic witness of the teachings of the Bible. “I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; . . . And they are healed by the power of the Lamb of God: and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out” (1 Nephi 11:31, Book of Mormon).
The Book of Mormon and the Bible, joining together in their witness of Jesus Christ, are fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37:16-17 that the “stick of Judah” and the “stick of Joseph” would “become one in thine hand.”
“If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed,” the Book of Mormon teaches (Alma 15:8). This book is a witness to the world that to be fully healed we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Its teachings offer salve for the wounds and sicknesses and hazards of our times. While He lived on earth, He revealed His way in word and deed to the people who surrounded Him. Now, to those who choose to receive it, He has given in the Book of Mormon reaffirming witnesses of His power to heal.
It is up to us whether we turn to Him for healing of the hurts in our hearts and spirits. The cure may take time and faith. But there is no other truly effective treatment for erasing long shadows of the past or the scars of old wounds.
Matthew 6:28-30 has always been one of my favorite scriptures. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” Jesus says to those hearing His Sermon on the Mount. “. . . even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Lilies are at the same time fragile and beautiful, yet earthy and sturdy.
Those who believe in evolution find many arguments—some real stretches of the imagination—to explain how every form of life on this planet developed from very small and simple organisms. Evolutionists have many rationales to explain how evolving organisms overcame this obstacle or that obstacle and became the complex plants and animals that we know—including human beings.
But for me, evolution can never explain beauty and variety. How did the plant know it
One of the varieties of blackbirds.
needed to develop certain colors or varieties of color to survive? Why are there so many different varieties of birds, or lizards? If survival of the fittest was the rule, how is it that there are so many different varieties in the plant and animal worlds?
For me, evolution leaves too many unanswered questions. Those who accept only science as the explanation for all creation answer my questions with laws of genetics, physics, and astronomy. But all of their answers require a leap of atheistic faith in the end: You have to believe that what evolutionists postulate could have happened did indeed happen. And, of course, a god had no part in it.
I believe in God, and that this earth and all the life on it are His creations. I believe that He not only created a functional, self-sustaining ecosystem, but that He, as both the consummate scientist and artist, also made it beautiful for His children. (I have to say parenthetically that many of His ungrateful children are selfishly mucking up this beautiful world He created.)
Many years ago, as part of a school trip, I found myself in San Antonio’s Breckenridge Zoo with my high school biology teacher. We stood gazing at a flamingo in a pond when he said, “Anybody who can’t see that that bird is descended from a fish is a fool.” I gaped at him and answered, “Well, then, I guess you’re looking at a fool.”
Thinking back, I have had to admit he had a point. It would be easy to imagine how some of the organs and systems of the two creatures might be altered to create new life forms. But this does not mean it did happen that way, or that any such changes came about simply as cosmic happenstance.
In Matthew 6:30, Jesus went on to say, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you . . .?”
Faith, scripture, and a witness of the Holy Spirit tell me that He created the earth and its environs as a place to send His beloved children—all of us—to school. See, for example, Psalms 148:4-5: “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.” We are also told that God contemplated all His eternal spiritual offspring before this world existed and established a plan to give them a terrestrial, mortal home: “. . . we will make an earth whereon these may dwell: And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (See Abraham 3:24-25 in a book of modern scripture called The Pearl of Great Price. It can be found at http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org.)
I do not know how long He took to create this earth or what methods He used. He has not given us that information. But I believe that the creation followed a long-term, organized, celestially ingenious plan. He who planned it used eternal, natural laws that we only understand now at very basic levels. I hope that someday, after my time in mortality, I may begin to learn about the mechanics of this creation in some celestial classroom.
In the meantime, if you ask me why I believe, I may simply have to tell you: “Consider the lilies.”
Winston Churchill, who led the British in resisting Nazi tyranny, held racial views that may be considered offensive now. Should he be erased from history? His contributions make it impossible to answer with a simple yes or no.
Many years ago, I had a friend who cheated on his wife in a time of weakness. It could have ended his marriage to a fine woman who was a good wife and mother. But she, in the strength of Christlike charity, agreed to give him another chance. Within a year or two, my friend was able to turn his life around, becoming a stronger husband, father, and a good influence on youth with whom he was called to work.
Today we are living in a “cancel culture” in which people can be punished or ostracized for bad or stupid things they said or did years ago. This is often called “justice.” But it leaves no room for the mercy so badly needed by all of us flawed human beings.
Please raise your hand if there is nothing wicked or mean or stupid in your past.
Yeah, I thought so. Me too.
We all have done some of those things. There is one from nearly 60 years ago that haunts me still, something I said carelessly in a college class that left someone in tears. The incident puzzled me. I wasn’t mature enough at the time to understand that the words I chose might have sounded cruel to her and to others. Several years later, I was horrified when I realized what she probably thought I meant; it was something far different from what had been in my heart. But there was no way to find her and apologize or explain.
The best we can hope for with experiences like these is to learn and grow through them.
Today, well-known people often have past words or acts dredged up to be used against them. Lesser-known people often have their embarrassing, petty actions captured by the all-seeing mobile phone and broadcast for the world to see. Maybe some of these people deserve public punishment. Maybe some of their obligatory apologies are insincere. But what about those who really mean it? What about those who really have been humbled and learned valuable lessons? Should their careers or lives be destroyed because they made a mistake?
And do we have the wisdom to judge who is sincere? It seems we would be able to learn this only by witnessing their future actions.
We very often go wrong when we judge the past by what is acceptable or normal today. In doing so, we distort history. We fail to learn its lessons when we try to erase the parts that displease us. Some people never truly deserved statues or monuments, but if we pull down all the monuments to people who ever did or said something we find offensive, there won’t be any monuments left. We will also be saying that all the good those people might have done in their lives counts for nothing.
I know another man who spent many years in prison for crimes against children, punishment he fully deserved. He is not repentant now; I would be wary of having him close to my grandchildren. And yet—I am alive to write this because he was there to rescue me from a drainage canal I had gotten myself into when I was four years old. I was struggling not to drown. I can still feel the sticky mud sucking at my feet when I sank under water and touched bottom. He jumped in without hesitation to pull me to safety.
How could I possibly judge the value of this man’s life? I thank God that the responsibility of judging is up to Him, not me.
When we deny others the chance to repent, we break the bridge that we each need to cross ourselves. All of us have need to repent and be forgiven at some time in our lives.
We might think that some people deserve their comeuppance, people whose actions and ideas we don’t like very much. Maybe they do deserve punishment—but maybe it’s not up to us to decide how or when.
Or maybe they actually don’t deserve it. Maybe we aren’t seeing that this experience has shed new light for them and given them the motivation to change.
Either way, forgiveness is our best course. That way, we avoid the trap of self-righteousness and gain the right to ask mercy from God and others. (See Zechariah 7:9; Matthew 6:14-15, 7:1-5.)
In forgiving, we might be allowing some sinner to rebuild a life. We might even be helping to save someone from spiritual drowning.