Fun combined mutual activity last night – each class built a boat out of only cardboard, caulk, tape, and some paint. Each vessel had to hold at least one person. The Beehive Ark (marked “Made by Beehives” in quiet protest of the other boats that had more outside help) lasted quite a bit longer than anyone expected and it took 2nd place among the young women.
Last year I had the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher, during study of the Old Testament. I wrote out fairly detailed notes for each lesson and figured I’d post some of them here in case they’re helpful to a future teacher.
Esther is an interesting book. It doesn’t read like the rest of the Bible. It’s one of two books (along with The Song of Solomon) that doesn’t mention God, although it does assume a sense of guided destiny and it mentions fasting. It’s the only Old Testament book that wasn’t found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It also has some historical issues – for example, Mordecai would have to be over 100 years old for the dates to work out right. It’s possible that it started with some historical events that were passed down orally and someone eventually wrote them down, mixing up a few dates and names in the process.
Let’s start by reviewing the characters involved in this story.
Ahasueras – king of Persia, also named Xerxes (Greek) – has a palace in Shushan, the capital of Persia, 482 B.C.
Vashti – First queen
Mordecai – Esther’s cousin (2:7) who raised her after her parents died – Jewish
Esther – Second queen – Hebrew name Hadassah
Haman – Agagite, main villain
Chapter 1 – The Party
King throws a big party to show off his wealth, lasts 6 months (v. 4)
Then they have a 7-day feast, all the guys in palace garden, all the women in the royal house.
v. 8 – all-you-can-drink
v. 10 – At the end of the 7 days, the king wants to introduce his wife to his guests. He sends for her and. . . she refuses to come. For some reason she didn’t want to leave her party and join a drunken brawl in the garden.
The king is offended and asks his counselors (wise men) what he should do about it. v. 17 – they tell him he needs to come down hard because as soon as the women of the city find out the queen disobeyed the queen, mass chaos would ensue. So, the king writes a royal decree that says Vashti is no longer queen and her royal estate will go to another (v. 19)
Chapter 2 – “The Bachelor”
Chapter 2 describes what’s essentially an ancient version of the reality tv show, The Bachelor. The king’s servants find young women throughout the land to compete for the position of queen. One of these is our hero, Esther. She and her cousin Mordecai are Jewish, but Mordecai tells her to not let anyone know about it. Once they gather all the contestants together, they get to live in the palace and get massages and beauty treatments for a year (v. 12).
The king meets with one woman per day and doesn’t invite any of them back. Until he gets to Esther. v. 17 – love at first sight! Another big feast to celebrate the new queen. During this celebration, Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king and tells Esther to tell the king. The plot is foiled and the plotters are hanged.
Chapter 3 – Enter the Villain
Haman was a descendant of Agag, which I’m sure you all remember from 1 Samuel. Agag was king of the Amalekites, which were the group Saul was commanded to completely destroy – but Saul got in trouble for holding on to some of their animals, claiming he wanted to use them for sacrifice. So, Haman had likely inherited a deep hatred for the Jews.
Haman was promoted to some high office by the king and everyone was supposed to bow to him. Mordecai refuses and Haman decides it’s time to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. He was apparently prone to overreaction. He convinces the king to write a decree stating that all Jews shall be killed on the 13th day of the 12th month of that year.
Chapter 4 – Mordecai tells Esther to talk to the king
Mordecai panics and tells Esther she needs to tell the king she’s Jewish and get him to reverse his decision. Esther says (v. 11) that she’s not allowed to speak to the king unless she’s invited in by him, and that hasn’t happened in a month. Violating this rule is punishable by death. Interesting relationship.
Mordecai points out that Esther will be killed as well and then says, v. 14, that this might be the whole purpose of her becoming queen, to save her people. Esther asks Mordecai to have the Jews in the city fast for three days and then she’ll approach the king. v. 16 – “If I perish, I perish”
Chapter 5 – Esther approaches the king
The king is fortunately happy to see his queen and holds out the golden scepter as a sign that she is permitted to approach. She proposes a banquet for the king and Haman. At the banquet, she seems to chicken out and proposes a second banquet. v. 9 – Haman is stoked that he got invited to the banquet. He brags to his wife and friends (v. 12) that no one else was invited. But his happiness is stifled as long as he sees Mordecai alive (v. 13).
Haman’s wife, Zaresh, said, “You know what will make you feel better? Build a giant gallows (75 feet tall) so you can anticipate the hanging of Mordecai. Then you’ll be able to enjoy your second banquet.” (That was kind of paraphrasing v. 14.)
Chapter 6 – Mordecai is honored
The king has insomnia and asks one of his servants to read a history book (yawn!) to him. In it was recorded the fact that Mordecai saved the king’s life way back in chapter 2. He realizes that Mordecai was never honored for his good deed. Then Haman shows up, with really bad timing. He is excited to tell the king about the awesome new gallows he prepared for Mordecai’s execution.
In v. 6-9, the king asks what would be the best way to honor someone. Haman assumes he’s describing his own reward, so he says he should be put on the king’s royal horse and paraded through the city. v. 10 – the king says that’s a great idea and asks Haman to honor Mordecai in just the way he’s described. He goes home to tell his wife about it and the king’s servants show up to take him to the banquet.
Chapter 7 – Banquet #2
Haman joins the king and queen at the second banquet and Esther reveals that she’s a Jew and the king’s decree means her own death. The king asked how this happened and Esther pointed at Haman across the table.
The king is so angry, he goes out into the garden. Haman decides to plead with the queen and follows her into her bedroom and falls on her bed. The king walks in (v. 8). A servant (who must not have been a fan of Haman) reminds the king about Haman’s 75-foot gallows and the king says, “Hang him on it.” (v. 9)
Chapter 8 – All is Well
Mordecai takes over Haman’s position, the king can’t reverse the decree but he makes a new one that the Jews can attack the people that were going to kill them.
Chapter 9 – Vengeance
The Jews attack their enemies and in v. 19 they designated the 14th day of the 12th month as a feast day. This is called the Festival of Purim (v. 26), which is still celebrated by many Jews today – it falls next on March 4-5. They exchange gifts of food and drink, donate to the poor, eat a big meal, act out the story of Esther. They have noise-makers to boo every time Haman’s name is mentioned. They used to even burn Haman in effigy.
So, that’s Esther.
What’s the purpose of this story — what is the author trying to teach readers? Any thoughts on what we can learn from Esther’s example?
Trying to deal with life in exile. They can still influence and improve their situation. Heroes still exist. Individuals still have a role to play — the guided actions of one can affect many. And a little hope for vengeance.
Last year I had the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher, during study of the Old Testament. I wrote out fairly detailed notes for each lesson and figured I’d post some of them here in case they’re helpful to a future teacher.
Daniel is another story that takes place in exile – earlier than Esther, in Babylon. We’re pretty familiar with these stories, so I’ll briefly summarize.
Chapter 1 – good eating
King Nebuchadnezzar requests that some of the children of Israel live in his palace, learn their language and history, etc. Four of these were named Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel. For some reason, Daniel keeps his Hebrew name in the Bible while the other three are referred to by their Babylonian names (v. 7):
Hananiah – Shadrach
Mishael – Meshach
Azariah – Abed-nego
Daniel – Belteshazzar
Food was provided to them. We sometimes use this story as a Word of Wisdom tale, but it’s not that they were smoking and drinking coffee. They were eating food considered by Jews to be ritually impure (probably because it had been sacrificed to idols). v. 8 – Daniel didn’t want to defile himself. Still, there are some obvious parallels – they were setting themselves apart by their diet.
v. 10 – prince of the eunuchs is worried that they will get skinny and it will reflect poorly on him (you “endanger my head to the king”)
They propose a short test. They’ll eat vegetarian and drink only water for 10 days and then the prince of the eunuchs can determine if they’re better off with their own diet.
v. 17 – Reminiscent of the Word of Wisdom here, because they are blessed with knowledge and wisdom, blessings beyond just health.
Boyd K. Packer – “As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.”
How can we avoid assimilation with Babylon?
We’ll skip Chapter 2 today and go over it in depth next week. It’s so good it gets its own lesson.
We’ll come back to Chapter 3 at the end of the lesson.
Chapter 4 – More Dreams, interpreted by Daniel
Daniel interprets more of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, which foresee the king’s fall into madness
Chapter 5 – The Writing on the Wall
Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar takes over the kingdom and starts raiding the storehouse of things that used to be in the temple. While they reveled, a hand appeared and wrote something strange on the wall. He called all the usual wise men to interpret, but none could. The queen tells him about Daniel (v. 12). The king calls him in, offers him money (which Daniel refuses) and Daniel interprets the writing on the wall (v. 25-28). That’s the end of Belshazzar – he dies that night. (This is where the idiom “The writing’s on the wall” comes from.)
Chapter 6 – The Lions’ Den
New king: Darius. Daniel was in a position of power and the king liked him. This made the other leaders jealous and they sought a way to get rid of him. They realized (v. 5) that Daniel’s religion was his big weakness. So, they tricked the king into making an irreversible decree that no one can pray to anyone except the king himself for 30 days. Punishment: lion’s den.
v. 10 – Daniel still prayed to God, three times a day. The bad guys saw him praying and told the king. v. 14 – the king was “sore displeased with himself” and wished he could get Daniel out of it, but that darn decree was irreversible. v. 16 – I have to put you in the lions’ den but hopefully your God will deliver you. They put Daniel in and sealed the exit.
The king had a rough night – couldn’t sleep, eat or listen to music. He got up early and rushed down to the lion’s den.
Then the king made another decree, irreversible in a different way, that the guys who tricked him into trying to harm Daniel should be thrown into the same den of lions. v. 24 – “and the lions had mastery of them” before they even hit the ground.
Darius sent out another decree that worshiping Daniel’s God was a good idea for everyone.
What’s the message of this story?
Chapter 3 – The Furnace – “But If Not”
King Nebuchadnezzar sets up a 90-foot golden idol and gathered all the people together to see it. At the sound of the music, everyone had to bow and worship it. Punishment for non-compliance: death by fiery furnace. Everyone bowed except three young men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They get ratted out by some people who have it in for the Jews. The king is furious and calls for them. He gives them one more chance (v. 15) – when the music plays, you guys better bow or it’s off the to furnace.
v. 16 – “we are not careful to answer thee” means “we don’t need to defend ourselves” or “we don’t need to answer you”. Bold words.
And here’s the key part of the story for me, vv. 17-18. Our God will deliver us, but if not we will still not serve thy gods.
Their response gives us something to think about, to evaluate our own faith against that phrase “but if not”.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“We will [not] always be rescued from proximate problems, but we will be rescued from everlasting death! Meanwhile, ultimate hope makes it possible to say the same three words used centuries ago by three valiant men. They knew God could rescue them from the fiery furnace if He chose. ‘But if not,’ they said, nevertheless, they would still serve Him!” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 35).
“But If Not” by Dennis E. Simmons, April 20014 Conference
The three young men quickly and confidently responded, “If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.” That sounds like my eighth-grade kind of faith. But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” That is a statement of true faith.
They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped. They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.
Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew they could always rely on Him because they knew His plan, and they knew that He does not change. They knew, as we know, that mortality is not an accident of nature. It is a brief segment of the great plan 6 of our loving Father in Heaven to make it possible for us, His sons and daughters, to achieve the same blessings He enjoys, if we are willing.
They knew, as we know, that in our premortal life, we were instructed by Him as to the purpose of mortality: “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”
One with immature faith might be willing to believe as long as God blesses him in the way he thinks God should, as long as the work progresses in a way that makes sense to himself. As long as fellow believers behave a certain way. As long as prophets and leaders don’t show too much human weakness. But what do we do when “but if not” situations happen?
Back to the story
The king is furious and commands the furnace to be stoked to 7 times its normal heat. The guards who open the door die from the burst of heat.
v. 24-25 – the king sees a 4th person on the furnace. King James translation is “like the Son of God”, but the Hebrew is more like “son of the gods” or “a divine being”. In v. 28 he refers to the 4th as an angel. He’s impressed by the deliverance and makes a decree that anyone who disses these three will be cut up. The three are promoted.
How will we respond when living our religion becomes more difficult?
All of these stories showcase people who showed courage and faith to do what was right, even at the risk of their own lives.
Dennis E. Simmons – April 2004 General Conference
Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not… . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.
Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.
Thomas S. Monson –
The world can at times be a frightening place in which to live. The moral fabric of society seems to be unraveling at an alarming speed. None—whether young or old or in-between—is exempt from exposure to those things which have the potential to drag us down and destroy us. Our youth, our precious youth, in particular, face temptations we can scarcely comprehend. The adversary and his hosts seem to be working nonstop to cause our downfall.
We are waging a war with sin, my brothers and sisters, but we need not despair. It is a war we can and will win. Our Father in Heaven has given us the tools we need in order to do so. He is at the helm. We have nothing to fear. He is the God of light. He is the God of hope. I testify that He loves us—each one.
Some quotes I collected while preparing a Sunday School lesson on the Book of Job in the Old Testament.
Fiddler on the Roof
“Lord who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?
If I were a wealthy man.”
We talk about our trials and troubles here in this life; but suppose that you could see yourselves thousands and millions of years after you have proved faithful to your religion during the few short years in this time, and have obtained eternal salvation and a crown of glory in the presence of God? Then look back upon your lives here, and see the losses, crosses, and disappointments, the sorrows … ; you would be constrained to exclaim, “but what of all that? Those things were but for a moment, and we are now here. We have been faithful during a few moments in our mortality, and now we enjoy eternal life and glory, with power to progress in all the boundless knowledge and through the countless stages of progression, enjoying the smiles and approbation of our Father and God, and of Jesus Christ our elder brother” (DNW, 9 Nov. 1859, 1).
Elder Orson F. Whitney
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98).
“I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, … knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 304).
Richard G. Scott
“When you face adversity, you can be led to ask many questions. Some serve a useful purpose; others do not. To ask, Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to suffer this now? What have I done to cause this? will lead you into blind alleys. It really does no good to ask questions that reflect opposition to the will of God. Rather ask, What am I to do? What am I to learn from this experience? What am I to change? Whom am I to help? How can I remember my many blessings in times of trial?” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 17).
Spencer W. Kimball
“If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective.“… Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?
“If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith” (Faith Precedes the Miracle , 97).
Neal A. Maxwell on Patience
“Patience is a willingness, in a sense, to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe, rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance. Put another way, too much anxious opening of the oven door and the cake falls instead of rising. So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be.”
Russian book for tourists in America, on Optimism
“Americans and Russians say different things when faced with the same situation. Seeing the man who had fallen in the street, an American asks, ‘Are you all right?’ Russians will inquire: ‘Are you ill?’ We see a victim of the incident; they see survivors.Survivors are perceived as heroes. Where we ‘aren’t sick,’ they ‘stay well.’ We discuss the problem. They discuss issues and items on the agenda.” (Американский речевой этикет)
“US etiquette requires that you smile in each and every situation. If you want to travel to America, be prepared to give a smile not only to friends and acquaintances, but also to all passers-by, in shops, to the staff at the hotel, police on the streets, etc.
“US etiquette also forbids lamenting the troubles of life, or sharing your problems with others. Sharing in this country can only be positive emotions—sorrows and frustrations are impermissible. In the US you only complain to acquaintances in the most extreme cases. Serious problems are for close friends and relatives only.
“However, it would be wrong to believe that the Americans with their smiles only create the illusion of well-being and that their smiles are stretched with false joy. This is not so. Americans: they are a nation that truly feels happy. These people get used to smiling from the cradle onwards, so they do not pretend to be cheerful. The desire for a successful happy life is inculcated from childhood.” (Этикет США)
President Hunter – nothing can ever go permanently wrong
“I am aware that life presents many challenges, but with the help of the Lord, we need not fear. If our lives and our faith are centered on Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.” – Howard W. Hunter
“All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” – Proclaim My Gospel
Jeffrey R. Holland (quoting C. S. Lewis) on needing to correct course
I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A [mathematical] sum [incorrectly worked] can be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and then working it fresh from that point. [It will] never [be corrected] by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good, [worlds without end]. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound. [C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan Co., 1973), p. 6]
From a devotional by Jeffrey R. Holland in 1974 – Borne Upon Eagles’ Wings — http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6053
Neal A. Maxwell on authenticity of individual trials
Our individual experiences may not always be unique, but they are always authentic. God will even take into account our perceptions of, as well as our responses to, our trials. For those of us who do not, for instance, find claustrophobia a challenge, it is difficult to measure the terror that comes to those for whom it is such a challenge. Thus, a friend may seem to struggle unnecessarily long before finally prevailing with regard to a particular principle of the gospel. But for that individual, the struggle was real enough! We need, particularly, to understand with kindness those who are asked to go out to do battle again on a familiar field—on the very battleground where they have already suffered defeat several times. Yet some of our most difficult victories will occur on new terrain—like Joseph’s in Egypt—when we do not have the equivalent of a “home court” advantage.We must remember that, while the Lord reminded the Prophet Joseph Smith that he had not yet suffered as Job, only the Lord can compare crosses!
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! —
My sin — not in part but the whole, —
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul!
This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of their only son from Scarlet Fever in 1870. Second was the 1871 Great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago which was decimated by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873 at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.
President Eyring on how to comfort
Once I was at the hospital bedside of my father as he seemed near death. I heard a commotion among the nurses in the hallway. Suddenly, President Spencer W. Kimball walked into the room and sat in a chair on the opposite side of the bed from me. I thought to myself, “Now here is my chance to watch and listen to a master at going to those in pain and suffering.”President Kimball said a few words of greeting, asked my father if he had received a priesthood blessing, and then, when Dad said that he had, the prophet sat back in his chair.I waited for a demonstration of the comforting skills I felt I lacked and so much needed. After perhaps five minutes of watching the two of them simply smiling silently at each other, I saw President Kimball rise and say, “Henry, I think I’ll go before we tire you.”I thought I had missed the lesson, but it came later. In a quiet moment with Dad after he recovered enough to go home, our conversation turned to the visit by President Kimball. Dad said quietly, “Of all the visits I had, that visit I had from him lifted my spirits the most.”
President Kimball didn’t speak many words of comfort, at least that I could hear, but he went with the Spirit of the Lord as his companion to give the comfort. I realize now that he was demonstrating the lesson President Monson taught: “How does one magnify a calling? Simply by performing the service that pertains to it.”
Richard G. Scott on maintaining perspective
No matter how difficult something you or a loved one faces, it should not take over your life and be the center of all your interest. Challenges are growth experiences, temporary scenes to be played out on the background of a pleasant life. Don’t become so absorbed in a single event that you can’t think of anything else or care for yourself or for those who depend upon you. Remember, much like the mending of the body, the healing of some spiritual and emotional challenges takes time.
President Uchtdorf – Continue in Patience
Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.
C.S. Lewis on God building a palace
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” – Mere Christianity
Marvin J. Ashton – If Thou Endure It Well
Sometimes we spend so much time trying to determine what we did wrong in the past to deserve the unpleasant happenings of the moment that we fail to resolve the challenges of the present. Og Mandino wrote in his book The Greatest Miracle in the World, “If we lock ourselves in a prison of failure and self-pity, we are the only jailers … we have the only key to our freedom.” (New York: Frederick Fell Publishers, 1975, p. 61.)
Sometimes as children we were told everything would be all right. But life is not like that. No matter who you are, you will have problems. Tragedy and frustration are the unexpected intruders on life’s plans. Someone has said, “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” It is important that we not look upon our afflictions as a punishment from God. True, our own actions may cause some of our problems, but often there is no evident misconduct that has caused our trials. Just the normal journey through life teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes easy.
Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker, once told of watching the president drag himself into the room where she was fitting the First Lady. “His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad,” Keckley recalled. “Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hands. He was a complete picture of dejection.” He had just returned from the War Department, he said, where the news was “dark, dark everywhere.” Lincoln then took a small Bible from a stand near the sofa and began to read. “A quarter of an hour passed,” Keckley remembered, “and on glancing at the sofa the face of the president seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone; in fact, the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope.” Wanting to see what he was reading, Keckley pretended she had dropped something and went behind where Lincoln was sitting so that she could look over his shoulder. It was the Book of Job.
President Uchtdorf – Grateful in Any Circumstances
Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach. It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count. True, it is important to frequently “count our blessings”—and anyone who has tried this knows there are many—but I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease. In fact, most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude.It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach?
Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.
President Uchtdorf – Grateful in Any Circumstances – On Endings
In light of what we know about our eternal destiny, is it any wonder that whenever we face the bitter endings of life, they seem unacceptable to us? There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.Why is this? Because we are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny.
The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions—temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful.How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings.
U.S. Navy Pilot – shot down during Vietnam War and spent 7 years(!) in the “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, enduring unspeakable torture.
Jim Collins, author of the influential study of US businesses, ‘Good to Great’, interviewed Stockdale during his research for the book. How had he found the courage to survive those long, dark years.“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” replied Stockdale. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining moment of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade.”Collins was silent for a few minutes. The two men walked along, Stockdale with a heavy limp, swinging a stiff leg that had never properly recovered from repeated torture.Finally, Collins went on to ask another question. Who didn’t make it out ?
“Oh, that’s easy,” replied Stockdale. “The optimists.”
Collins was confused.
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’
And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving. And then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” As the two men walked slowly onward, Stockdale turned to Collins. “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Alexander Pope – Essay on Man
Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less!
Go, wiser thou! and, in thy scale of sense
Weigh thy opinion against Providence;
Call imperfection what thou fanciest such,
Say, here he gives too little, there too much:
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust,
Yet cry, if man’s unhappy, God’s unjust;
If man alone engross not Heav’n’s high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there:
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
Rejudge his justice, be the God of God.
The interaction between Job and his friends illustrates the painful irony of his situation. Our knowledge that Job’s punishment is the result of a contest between God and Satan contrasts with Job’s confusion and his friends’ lecturing, as they try to understand why Job is being punished. The premise of the friends’ argument is that misfortune only follows from evil deeds. Bildad instructs Job, “if you are pure and upright, / surely then [God] will rouse himself / for you” and he later goads Job to be a “blameless person” (8:6, 8:20). The language in these passages is ironic, since, unbeknownst to Job or Job’s friends, God and Satan do in fact view Job as “blameless and upright.” This contrast shows the folly of the three friends who ignore Job’s pain while purporting to encourage him. The interaction also shows the folly of trying to understand God’s ways. The three friends and Job have a serious theological conversation about a situation that actually is simply a game between God and Satan. The fault of Job and his friends lies in trying to explain the nature of God with only the limited information available to human knowledge, as God himself notes when he roars from the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkness counsel / by words without / knowledge?” (38:2).
One of the chief virtues of the poetry in Job is its rhetoric. The book’s rhetorical language seeks to produce an effect in the listener rather than communicate a literal idea. God’s onslaught of rhetorical questions to Job, asking if Job can perform the same things he can do, overwhelms both Job and the reader with the sense of God’s extensive power as well as his pride. Sarcasm is also a frequent rhetorical tool for Job and his friends in their conversation. After Bildad lectures Job about human wisdom, Job sneers, “How you have helped one / who has no power! / How you have assisted the arm / that has no strength!” (26:2). Job is saying that he already knows what Bildad has just explained about wisdom. The self-deprecating tone and sarcastic response are rare elements in ancient verse. Such irony not only heightens the playfulness of the text but suggests the characters are actively responding to each other, thus connecting their seemingly disparate speeches together. The poetry in Job is a true dialogue, for the characters develop ideas and unique personalities throughout the course of their responses.