Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail", or "How God and modern prophets teach us of his unfailing love and lesson manual writers take it away"--

Today I studied this lesson:

http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=da135f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=7148b00367c45110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1&contentLocale=0

If I do say so myself it’s a letter perfect example of why I’m going through this, because what the lesson manual does to the scriptures is quite astounding.

Briefly, this is Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, much of the record of which is contained in D&C 121 – 3. IMHO the writings in these sections display Joseph Smith at his finest. As a man he rages against the injustice he perceives to have been done to the Saints in Jackson County in Far West. The Lord immediately responds with soothing words reminding him that he is being shaped and tried, and that no experience he could suffer would be worse than what Jesus suffered on our behalf. The abrupt shift in tone from Joseph, the lion of the Lord, and Christ, the lamb of God, have always testified to me of some level of inspiration in Joseph Smith.

The lesson quotes from at least one letter written in Liberty Jail, some of which was later canonized in D & C 121 – 123.

There are some beautiful quotes in here about the love of God and our absolute reliance on Christ, after every other support system we hold dear is stripped away. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, we are the more ready and willing to lay claim to your fellowship and love. For our circumstances are calculated to awaken our spirits to a sacred remembrance of everything, and we think that yours are also, and that nothing therefore can separate us from the love of God and fellowship one with another [see Romans 8:39]; and that every species of wickedness and cruelty practiced upon us will only tend to bind our hearts together and seal them together in love.”

The text quite properly takes to Romans 8:38 - 39, which reminds us, “ For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

A beautiful lesson. Let’s take a minute and enjoy the chapter headings:


  • No affliction can separate us from the love of God and fellowship with one another.
  • Adversity lasts only a small moment; if we endure well, we will be exalted in the presence of God.
  • God’s power is greater than any evil, and the truths of the gospel will ultimately triumph.
  • The Savior understands all our suffering, and He will be with us forever and ever.
  • The still, small voice whispers consolation to our souls in the depths of sorrow and distress.

Certainly nothing to object to here.

Until of course we get to the suggested questions for the instructor, which contain this gem:

“Joseph Smith declared that nothing could separate him and his brethren from the love of God (page 361). What are your thoughts or feelings as you ponder this statement? In what ways can we become separated from God’s love? What are some things we must do to abide in God’s love?”

Now wait just a darn minute. We just had this beautiful lesson that included the words of Joseph Smith and of Paul consoling us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and then we are asked to list the ways we can become separated from the love of God. Is this a trick question? Of course you would want somebody to requote the lesson material and say “nothing can separate us from God’s love” and there are no “things we can do to abide (remain) in God’s love”, but this is the church, and we know better. The expected answers of sin and disobedience are going to come up, and we’re going to conclude this lesson with the idea that despite what Joseph Smith actually said, God only loves us when we keep the commandments and are obedient to God and our leaders, and rather than walking out of the lesson basking in the love of God as we should, we adjust the ever-present guilt load on our shoulders and trudge out of the room, determined to do better at making God love us.

Simply amazing.

8 comments:

Figaro said...

Great observation, CF. Thanks for the link to your blog.

Goldarn said...

Apparently, the people who write these things don't read them either.

Anonymous said...

I do think there are ways in which we can separate ourselves from God. Sin separates us from God. Unrepentant sin keeps us away. God's love is still there and it never goes away. We may do things that make the Spirit withdraw. It is our choice.

ChristFollower said...

Anonymous, no complaints with what you said. If sin didn't distance us from God we wouldn't need the atonement. That wasn't the point I was trying to get across, though. The point was the comments about God's *love*, which I think are pretty doctrinally consistent, and the detour the manual makes into the familiar pit of legalism.

I sometimes wonder if the spirit really withdraws or whether we just quit listening, but that's another discussion.

Latterday Skeptic said...

CF said: "I sometimes wonder if the spirit really withdraws or whether we just quit listening, but that's another discussion."

I would rather believe this than that we could actually seperate ourselves from God's love, which reportedly is felt via the spirit, though can be experienced in myriads of ways (through earth, family, etc...) Similar in thought, IMO, is also not taking the sacrament as part of "repentence". If one is sinning rebelliously, then abstaining seems reasonable. If one is struggling, or experiencing contrition for things done wrong, isn't this the time when we need Christ, atonement, his love and help the most? How does that occur when one is segregated? Lump in concepts of disfellowshipment. LDS do twist everything down to obedience and follow the leader with the resulting guilt....sad.

Nonny said...

Nice recap, CF. I didn't hear this lesson at the church, but your take on it is inspiring. There is more than one way that a teacher could have directed this lesson.

ChristFollower said...

LS: "If one is struggling, or experiencing contrition for things done wrong, isn't this the time when we need Christ, atonement, his love and help the most?"

You would think that, but the focus of the "restored gospel" is not on the survival of the individual. It's about the institution, and it's more important to marginalize the impure element than it is to restore the broken person to wholeness.

The whole thrust of the church is not about healing the broken. It's about separating those qualified for godhood out from the pack and exalting them. See D&C 132. Unless you make it all the way to the top of the food chain and have a temple marriage, you're at best a ministering angel to those who qualify for the highest blessings.

Equality said...

CF said: "If sin didn't distance us from God we wouldn't need the atonement."

It doesn't, and we don't. Makes things a lot simpler, doesn't it?
;-)