Approaching Zion, Part 2
I want you to imagine a beach. The place is North Carolina. The date is December 17th, 1903. That day was windy, perfect for testing a new kind of machine. Two brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, piloted the first powered aircraft that day. They managed to keep it in the air for almost 1 minute, covering a distance of almost 1000 feet.
For all of human history before that time, most people would have thought such a thing impossible. After all, it goes against intuition and experience: most of us would expect a heavy machine to fall like a rock, not to fly like a bird!
The first lesson I derive from this is that the impossible has a way of becoming possible. What was blocking humans from flying for thousands of years was not the laws of the physics, but instead their own false beliefs about the laws of physics. When you are sure something is not possible, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re not going to spend any time thinking about it, or discovering the errors in your thinking that are blinding you to the larger truth. Mark Twain reportedly said:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
This links back to the discussion on unbelief we had last month. More generally, today I want to continue talking about what might be blocking us as a people from building Zion.
The second lesson from the discovery of powered aircraft is that there are several key pieces of knowledge that needed to come together. To build a flying machine, you must understand the principle of lift well enough to design a functioning wing. You must have the technology to build an engine that can provide sufficient thrust, and a frame that can withstand the forces acting upon it. Take away any of these, and you won’t get off the ground, no matter how time you put into it and how hard you work. Conversely, once you understand the key principles governing flight, it doesn’t take a monumental effort or resources to get something basic up into the air. After all, two bicycle making brothers were able to do it.
This is the meaning of the word “key” in the scriptures. To possess a key is to possess the pivotal knowledge of some eternal principle that grants access to higher levels of spiritual ability and power. A very small key can open a very large door. But take away the key and the door may as well be a wall. You won’t get through.
Now, applying the flight analogy to Zion, we live in a time before the principles allowing Zion are understood and practiced well enough to enable it to manifest on earth. Even though we may be trying hard to be “good people”, that’s not enough as long as we lack the keys of knowledge necessary to unlock Zion. I believe that those keys can be found in the scriptures. However, we’re burdened down by unbelief and traditions of our fathers that causes us to “look past” those keys and remain under condemnation (which is the state of any people who refuse to receive light and truth offered by God, see John 3:18).
More discussion on meaning of condemnation? Moses and people of Israel.
Remember that many early aeroplanes were made of wood, and wire, and cloth that barely held together at times. They were a far cry from modern airplanes. But that’s the point. The people who build the foundation of Zion do not need to be perfect; far from it. But they need to be “good enough” in some key ways. The reason I emphasize this is because we spend a lot of time and effort in trying to improve. Maybe we’re trying to yell at our kids less. Or maybe we’re trying to do a better job at serving others. But consider this: what if we’re “good enough” in those areas?
What if what’s preventing us from flying are other factors entirely? What if we’re spending all this time perfecting the engine that provides thrust, but are neglecting the wings entirely? What if they are things that we’re looking past because they conflict with our current beliefs and traditions? Isn’t it worth turning a critical eye on our beliefs in order to separate truth from error?
I’m going to suggest that we do this by examining each of our beliefs and traditions through the lens of the scriptures. If we find principles that are not well-supported there, or conflict with information there, then we should make adjustments.
No Poor Among Them
For the next part of the lesson, I want you to turn to Moses 7:18:
18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
We don’t know a lot about Zion, but this verse gives three signifiers of a Zion people: 1) one heart and one mind, 2) dwelling in righteousness, 3) no poor among them. There is much to be said about all three, but I want to focus on “no poor among them”, because we as a people, and me as an individual, so clearly fall short of that standard.
When I think about providing for the poor and needy, I naturally think about the church welfare system. One of the core principles of the welfare system is self-reliance, or in other words, the idea that each person is responsible for helping themself. If you go to lds.org, and look up the topic of “Self Reliance”, the top result takes you to a page that outlines the “12 principles of self-reliance”. Prominently quoted at the beginning of the page is scriptural support for the principle of self-reliance, D&C section 104, verse 15 and the beginning of verse 16. Let’s turn to that now:
15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
16 But it must needs be done in mine own way;
The implication of quoting it in this context is that God wants to provide for us, and his way of doing that is by teaching us the principles of self-reliance. However, read on:
16 …and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
Hold up. These verses are actually saying the exact opposite. The Lord’s way doesn’t seem to have anything to do with self-reliance, but instead with interdependence. The Lord’s way is to provide us an earth bursting with abundance, enough and to spare. But, and here’s the kicker. That abundance is provided unequally to us. Some have more than enough, some have not enough. Some are gifted with tremendous ability to create and produce the temporal things of this world. Others seem to be cursed from birth with background and challenges that make it all but impossible for them to compete in our economic system. God places all of us together, and then allows us to choose how we will respond. And although he does not force us to do so, verse 18 makes it clear that God expects those having excess to give to the poor and the needy, so that there may be “no poor among them”.
So God does indeed provide for his saints, but not by requiring each of us to become self-reliant, but instead by requiring us to rely upon each other. Why would God set up a system that worked like this?
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
God is teaching us the principle of abundance. We’re meant to be different from one another, and to specialize in different ways. By freely sharing those gifts, we generate an abundance for all. And perhaps more importantly, sharing our gifts draws us close to one another, and helps knit our hearts together, so as to become of “one heart and one mind”, as Paul explains when discussing spiritual gifts:
1 Cor 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
Speaking of abundance, turn to D&C 70:
14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.
It seems that temporal equality is also a requirement to receive a true “abundance” of the Spirit. We must share our temporal abundance in order to receive a spiritual abundance. Given how much temporal inequality that exists in the world and in the church, it’s no wonder we seem so far away from Zion. Honestly, I struggle to see how we get from where we are presently to there.
That scripture also mentions that we cannot give “grudgingly”. The giving must be done freely and joyfully. In addition, there are no worthiness conditions attached to that giving such as “give only if the recipient is doing their best to provide for themself”. King Benjamin makes that clear. In fact, God himself makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and unjust. I don’t see how we could live the kind of life he does without doing the same. Just as God does, we can take joy in giving freely even to those who don’t “deserve” it, and who haven’t earned it. Imagine an entire people who have taken this as a core principle that guides their lives, and imagine what it would be like to live within that society.
Some of you may be thinking about the commandment to “not be idle”:
D&C 42:42 Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.
Is there a contradiction here? How can there both be a commandment to not be idle and also to give freely to those in need, even if they are in need because they are idle?
The answer is that the commandments are given to distinct groups of people. The commandment to not be idle is for those who would be idle. The commandment to freely give is for those who have more than they need. And the overarching commandment that both groups receive is to not judge the other group. In other words, focus on your own struggles to live the commandments, not on others’ failings to do so. How well others are doing, or not doing, has no bearing on your own status before God.
Maybe some of you are shifting uncomfortably in your seats, because I’m questioning one of the core principles of the church’s welfare system. But, just for a moment, suppose that it might be one of those unbeliefs we talked about, because it endorses self-sufficient individualism rather than communal interdependence and temporal equality. Isn’t it at least worth examining in greater detail, just to determine if that might be so? Maybe a few of you will go home after this meeting and search your scriptures, and show me where I’m wrong. I’m always happy to discuss and refine my understanding.
The principle of self-reliance suggests that inequality of temporal wealth and possessions is not the key issue that must be solved; it instead suggests that the key issue is that each individual must learn to support themself, and not rely upon others for support. This idea transfers much of the obligation of caring for the poor and needy from the wealthy to the needy themselves. And it provides justification for accumulating and retaining excess wealth, as long as it was obtained through honest work.