Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

My most disliked scripture

Posted by BrianJ on February 13, 2007

Robert asked a question in his Sunday School notes that got me thinking: “Are there scriptures that infuriate us?”

I’ve thought about this before, but not in this way, so I appreciate Robert’s work. I remember talking with my Sunday School class last year about how the value of the scriptures is that they condemn us—they point out in so many ways how we are not like God—and reading them should make us weep with guilt, the way the Israelites wept on at least two occasions when the Law was read to them (which, incidentally, was why this came up in my class).

But Robert got me thinking about two different things. The first is that I was finally able to articulate the discomfort I feel when I say, “I really like this scripture….” Why should I focus on the scriptures I like? Why devote my time to verses that talk about things I have no trouble with? “Don’t drink alcohol, don’t kill, pray daily,” the scriptures say. And I reply, “Oh yes, I am such a wonderful person because I follow all of those. I just love the scriptures!” (Did Nephi have me in mind?)

Second, what are the scriptures I don’t like? those that make me uncomfortable, bothered, defensive? After thinking through a long list, I came up with the one verse I despise most. I won’t give a reference, because there are so many versions of it:

Ask and ye shall receive.

And here is why I despise it:

1) It forces me to trust in God. Yes, I believe that God lives, is powerful, and so on. But do I really trust that I will receive? Do I really believe that miracles exist in my life?

2) It forces me to act. It’s so much easier to simply believe in God, but not ask anything of him. In two ways, this verse commands me to act. First, by using a the word “Ask” instead of the qualified “If you ask.” (I don’t know if the Hebrew/Greek use a command tense like Romantic languages.) Second, by putting the responsibility on me. If I do not receive, then this verse says that is because I didn’t ask (or I asked incompletely).

3) It makes me rely on the Spirit. When I study the scriptures, I would prefer that all of the answers came from…well, studying. “If I just read enough, think enough, study enough, then I can understand any verse.” But this verse wants me to pray for answers—which is easy—but then I have to recognize and interpret the promptings of the Spirit. And worse, I have to still believe the next day, after the “spiritual moment” has passed, that what I felt previously really was the Spirit.

4) It threatens responsibility. God requires more from those who have received more. I can empathize with Peter when he begs Jesus to leave him after Jesus causes his nets to fill with fish. I don’t want the responsibility that follows miracles, spiritual experiences, dreams, and visions. After hearing about Lehi’s vision, Nephi asks to have one of his own, but I would prefer to  simply believe Lehi and Nephi and let them deal with the trials of being a prophet.

9 Responses to “My most disliked scripture”

  1. Matthew said

    Ok. I just wrote a nice response but somehow lost it. I think I must have spent too long working on it.

    Here’s my quick recap. Maybe I’ll come back later and add some detail.

    Great post. And great example. I’m gong to focus only on your #1 above.

    Pres. Monson talked about ask/receive on Saturday. He added as an aside the point that some scripture tells us that we won’t get something if it isn’t good for us. He didn’t mention which. But it is interesting that he mentioned this almost as an aside–not as a main point. Why not? (Note though this is only as accurate as my memory.)

    And the scriptures themselves don’t typically caveat this. I can only think of two examples and both are odd. One in D&C 50, in the context of asking for good/bad spirits. And the other when Alma is analyzing his own sinful desire to be an angel. Why don’t the scriptures make more of this caveat?

    The point of the scripture seems to be to have faith. To ask. To expect to receive. We will receive.

    But then as Paul shows us, with his example of the thorn in the flesh, sometimes we don’t–but that is Paul showing us how to make sense of things after the fact. He doesn’t seem to be telling us that we shouldn’t have expected to receive originally.

    I think it is easy to fall into a trap of asking with the caveat “thy will be done” where even in the act of asking we are looking for a way out–a way not to have faith because faith is hard.

    Thanks for the thoughts. Ask/receive scriptures are great scriptures to make us uncomfortable. If ask/receive isn’t strong enough about the necessity of real faith, here’s a good follow-on: Matt 7:9-11.

  2. BrianJ said

    Matthew, thanks for writing, “…asking with the caveat ‘thy will be done’ where even in the act of asking we are looking for a way out.” I tried several versions of that sentence but just couldn’t articulate it like you did, so I left it out. I don’t remember Monson talking about this at all, but maybe listening to his talk played into my thoughts on this verse.

  3. Did Pres. Monson speak on it? I know Elder Holland discussed it….

    Brian, fantastic post, and, as Matthew says, beautiful example.

    Perhaps because of my own background, I’m fascinated by the scriptures I hate (I have always had a taste for the morbid, the macabre, the abject). I imagine that this is a perversion of sorts, but it certainly does a great deal for me: I am constantly engaging the scriptures that call me into question quite seriously.

    On the other hand, I might say that this just re-arranges my definitions of “liking” and “hating.” I suppose that from my disturbed point of view, the scriptures I dislike are the ones that make things too easy, that let me off the hook, or that lend themselves to abuse. I too easily find myself frustrated by things that are not sharp or explicit in the scriptures, and far more often (perhaps because they are far less sharp or explicit), in the words of the prophets and apostles of our own day.

    Just explaining that makes me wonder whether it’s my taste for the macabre that makes teenagers like me….

  4. Interesting choice.

    My least favorite scripture is the one that says – ‘by grace ye are saved after all you can can’. Or words to that effect. When shall we do all that we can?

  5. larryco_ said

    On a universal level, my most hated scripture(s) are pretty much all of the genocide scriptures in the Book of Joshua. On a personal level, I cringe when, after reading the magnificent speech by King Benjamin, he throws a roundhouse punch by saying “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them…And now, oh man, remember and perish not.”

    Ouch! Now I ain’t disagreeing with the man, but pondering on that can leave you feeling a bit hopeless; kind of like stopping half-way through “The Miracle of Forgiveness” without getting to the hopeful part.

  6. brianj said

    Eric and larryco—thanks for adding to the list. I was hoping readers would do so. Anyone else?

  7. robf said

    I dislike how the war chapters in Alma are frequently used to justify our modern engagement in warfare, which we can only do by disregarding [[D&C 98:16]]. I wouldn’t say that I actually dislike those Alma chapters, because I think they can actually be read as powerful anti-war lessons. But I know that I have a minority view of these passages, so I’ll leave it for another day!

  8. You have a friend in your minority view, Rob.

  9. John said

    “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly…”

    Despite there being many translations that are more accurate than the King James Version, most members seem afraid to read them. If you understand translate to mean interpret, the same admonition applies equally well to the rest of latter-day scripture, including the Book of Mormon.

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