RS/MP Chapter 24: “Righteous Living in Perilous Times” (George Albert Smith Manual)
Posted by kirkcaudle on December 14, 2012
The entire lesson can be found here.
The headline for this lesson reads, “Through our faithfulness to the gospel, we can find safety from the perils of our day and be a positive influence in the world.” After reading through this lesson, I believe that we can be this positive influence on the world through proclaiming peace to the world. In D&C 1:35 we read, “For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.” In reference to this verse George Albert Smith stated, “I think that with the distress everywhere, with the prediction that the Lord made in the first Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, that ‘peace should be taken from the earth,’ we must feel that that time has come.” I think many of us do feel that that time has come. The question is, how do we recover that lost sense of peace? We recover it by becoming the very embodiment of peace.
Sometimes it seems like there is nothing that we can do to help the world and that happiness is impossible. Perhaps happiness is hard to come by in the world, but finding a sense of peace in a broken world is not impossible. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). He later repeated these words at the end of his upper room discourse, ”These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus not only repeats this promise of peace, but is it also his last message before leaving the last supper. As the saying goes, he saved the best for last. Regarding these verses George Albert Smith said, “These are reassuring words from the Prince of Peace to his faithful followers. Surely there is nothing men need more than the blessings of peace and happiness and hearts free from fear. And these are offered [to] all of us if we will but be partakers of them. ” Maybe we lack peace in our lives because we are too busy fighting for what we believe is right, while we are not spending enough time accepting what is freely offered. We fear accepting the blessings of peace. To accept peace is to accept the unknown. We are comfortable with the alternative, but we live the alternative everyday.
At the height of World War I, President Smith warned, “War will not cease and the strife in this world will not end until the children of men repent of their sins and turn to God and serve him and keep his commandments.” This statement was as true then as it is today regarding modern warfare. The bigger issue surrounding this quote is, who is in need of repentance here, the ones doing the attacking, the ones doing the defending, or both? Secondly, how does repentance bring an end to warfare? I will not fully answer these questions, mostly because I do not really know the answers to them. Although, I will offer a few ideas that hopefully can lead to a more fruitful discussion on these issues.
What does it mean to repent? Merriam-Webster gives three definitions of the word repent. (1) to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life, (2) to feel regret or contrition, (3) to change one’s mind. How you answer these questions might depend on your preference on the definition of the word repent. Personally, although I think that they all have merit, I lean towards definition number one. In the Book of Mormon, The Anti-Nephi-Lehies refused to fight the Lamanites. Why? Because they had already repented of their past warfare and because of this repentance, “[God] hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts” (Alma 24:10). However, they also understood that “if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins” (Alma 24:13). True repentance meant that they could never kill again. A life of peace was the only option left.
Like us, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did not live in a time of peace, they lived in a time of war and bloodshed. It took courage to stand up for peace. A life of peace was a life unknown to them. President Smith relates, “In these days of uncertainty when men are running to and fro seeking for some new plan by which peace may be brought into the world, know this: that the only way to peace for this world is the pathway of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.” I believe that this is exactly what the Anti-Nephi-Lehies found, and it is also what I believe that we must find, both as individuals and as a people. After their repentance, they were not afraid to die, “if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved” (Alma 24:16). President Smith warned of seeking for “new plans” to bring peace. New plans in today’s world often goes hand in hand with bloodshed. We to often seek for peace by fighting for peace in the name of defense, truth, honor, and even sometimes kill in the same of God himself. We might even suppose that violence is–at times–a necessary evil in order to spread the gospel to some closed off parts of the world. This is not the peace that Christ brings. The peace that Christ brings is the cross, for us to be crucified by the world. As Joseph Smith said as he entered his final hours of life (quoting Isaiah 53), “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter: but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men” (D&C 135:4). If we embody peace, then we need not fear.
The lamb here is not gentle, but radical like the lamb in Revelation 17:14, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them.” The lamb that comes is the slain lamb (Rev. 5:12). George Albert Smith pleads in this lesson for us to, “be as anchors in the community in which you live that others may be drawn to you and feel secure. Let your light so shine that others seeing your good works will have a desire in their hearts to be like you.” That is exactly what the lamb does, whether that lamb is Jesus Christ, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, or Joseph Smith. These people all acted as anchors in their given communities, not because they followed the rules of those communities, but because they disrupted the status quos of their communities. The lamb is one that is politically assertive and takes on the world, proclaims peace, even in the face of the greatest adversity.
We live in a time where “peace should be taken from the earth.” The work that we are called to do is improbable, but it is not impossible. We are not require to bring peace to the world, we are only asked to proclaim peace to the world. If we are doing our duty, we might feel as if we are failing. We might feel like we are failing because we will continue to see the world crumble right before our eyes. When we feel this way it is good to remember the words of Christ, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19). Living in a world without peace is not meant to be easy. It can hurt…it can hurt bad. But although it hurts, in a strange way, we become numb to the pain. We have no idea what it would be to live without this pain, we do not understand the way of peace, if we did, we would surly live it. Seen in this light, Christ is calling us to something totally different from what we have in our current situation.
The title of this chapter is, “Righteous Living in Perilous Times.” If we count ourselves among those righteous, let us be among those who bring that lost sense of peace to the world. “Blessed [also "happy" in the greek] are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). I will end these notes with some final worlds from George Albert Smith, “God grant that in the humility of our souls we will go about with the desire in our hearts to do good to all people wherever they may be, and bring to them the joy that can only come through observing his laws and keeping his commandments. That peace may abide in our hearts and in our homes, that we may radiate sunshine and cheer wherever we may go, that we may prove to the world that we do know that God lives, by the lives that we lead, and receive his blessings therefor, I humbly pray.”We can do this good to all people by radiating our message of peace to the world by becoming the very embodiment of the peace that we proclaim.