In his talk "Think on These Things," Bruce R. McConkie quoted a scripture I hadn't noticed before. It's from Isaiah, setting forth what things will help us attain eternal life, and one of the characteristics listed is "he that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.”
The meaning is a little obscure. It can't mean we are supposed to ignore evil, can it? Or pretend it doesn't exist? Here's how Elder McConkie interprets it:
That is, we must not center our attention on evil and wickedness. We must cease to find fault and look for good in government and in the world. We must take an affirmative, wholesome approach to all things.
I've thought about that this week, wondering how that counsel still applies. If he were talking about church leaders I could understand. But can he really mean we should "cease to find fault" with the government? And would he still advise that today?
I don't know. But if I take the whole paragraph together, I can see the wisdom in looking for good anywhere we can find it. In being optimistic and refocusing, and making sure the evil in the world doesn't consume our attention. Not that we deny it or ignore it. But merely that we not place it at the center of our view.
Because, objectively, the goodness of God really is the central truth of the universe, isn't it? Whether we see it or not? And the more accurately we learn to see reality, the more fully we WILL see that truth?
I have been thinking lately of the difficulty of life. So many hard things to go through, even in a life full of blessings and ease. So many heartaches; so much loneliness; so much hard, painful struggle. Internal and external suffering. It's easy to be glib about how universal hardship is, but when you feel that ache in your soul, it's your reality. Often the worst part of suffering is looking ahead and realizing, "I will never feel better."
And yet, that's untrue. Or, it's only true in one sense. Yes, there are some trials that never leave us. Chronic illness, the weight of love and pain for our children, loss, uncertainty, self-doubt. In times of despair, these things stretch out ahead of us like bleak oceans of suffering, apparently endless. But it occurred to me that that view doesn't capture the day-to-day reality. I'm not even talking about eternal perspective here! Because of course in the eternal perspective, there IS an end, and we have faith that God will wipe away all tears. But even in the here and now, even in the very crush of heartache, life is not usually experienced as a bleak unbroken sea of grief. There are stepping stones of respite along the way. There's the ordinance of the sacrament, every week. A phone call or an email that makes you laugh. A meal that tastes unexpectedly delicious. A peaceful drive. A beautiful lightning storm. Those things keep happening, no matter how dark the trial we face! We go to a meeting and feel the spirit and it comforts us. We stop worrying for an hour or two while reading a good book. The endlessness of sorrow is an illusion we create for ourselves, and the uniformity of that illusion is sometimes what causes us more concern than the actual, unfolding, piecemeal reality of life.
I'm not trying to minimize the all-encompassing feeling trials often bring. And certainly, the ache of a death or a loss may never fully leave us—but that doesn't change the fact that happy days come, and joyful moments unfold unexpectedly, and KEEP unfolding, often far more frequently than our own internal vision would have us believe. When Sam and I were having marriage trouble some years ago, I would wake up feeling sick, dreading to face another day. And yet even THEN, goodness would make its way in and surprise me—somewhere interesting to go, a kind word from someone, some tender mercy from the Lord. It was only in some hypothetical (and, if I had only known it, FALSE) future that there was no goodness, no respite, no hope. But in the reality of the present, hope kept finding its way through.
And that's what I think Elder McConkie means when he says,
If we are going to work out our salvation, we must rejoice in the Lord. We must ponder his truths in our hearts. We must rivet our attention and interests upon him and his goodness to us.
You know what that Isaiah scripture says next, after describing the person who "shutteth his eyes from seeing evil"? It says "his waters shall be sure." It makes me think, those scary waters will be around us—but we'll have a sure path through them, like Jesus did when he walked on the water. Because, like Peter, we're bravely, if shakily, trying to come to Him.
I don't know if this is really what it means in context, but the phrase "grace to grace" keeps coming to mind. I feel like we can go through our trials like that, from grace to grace to grace. From blessing to blessing to blessing, like stepping stones across deep water, knowing the water is all around, but also knowing there will always be another place to land and rest, safe for a moment before going on.
I tend to look ahead and conjure up a vision of vast troubles, an ocean of everything I'm most worried about right now, plus more. In my low moments I'll think, "this is awful! And this isn't even as bad as it's going to get! It will probably just get worse and worse, not to mention all the bad things that are going to happen that I don't even know about yet! And if I'm feeling so bad NOW, just imagine how bad I'll feel then!" But what a silly thing to do! It is "riveting my attention" on entirely the wrong things. That vision completely leaves out the things that get better, and the things that disappear altogether, and the innumerable moments of happiness and goodness, and the silliness and surprises and laughter, and the personal growth that will make me better able to cope with the things that DO persist. Instead, I should always be looking for the next good thing—and there will always and forever BE a next good thing, because that's the universal truth of a merciful God. Why not step on that more sure path, from grace to grace rather than from fear to fear?
Other posts in this series:
Other posts in this series: