Short Take: “Fear Not, I Am with Thee”

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

Much of Isaiah’s writing applies to the modern House of Israel – that is, to us. God knows each of us perfectly. He knows the good and the bad, all our baggage, and all the things we’ve done and will yet do to foul up his work on us and on others. Yet he says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. . . .

. . . I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

. . . Fear not, . . . I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:10-14)

Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. . . .

. . . I have loved thee. . . .

Fear not: for I am with thee. (Isaiah 43:1-5)

Marilynne Robinson: “As if People Were Less than God Made Them”

From Marilynne Robinson, “Freedom of Thought,” in When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Picador – Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), pp. 3-18:

At a certain point I decided that everything I took from studying and reading anthropology, psychology, economics, cultural history, and so on did not square at all with my sense of things, and that the tendency of much of it was to posit or assume a human simplicity within a simple reality and to marginalize the sense of the sacred, the beautiful, everything in any way lofty. I do not mean to suggest, and I underline this, that there was any sort of plot against religion, since religion in many instances abetted these tendencies and does still, not least by retreating from the cultivation and celebration of learning and of beauty, by dumbing down, as if people were less than God made them and in need of nothing so much as condescension. Who among us wishes the songs we sing, the sermons we hear, were just a little dumber? People today — television — video games — diminished things. This is always the pretext.

What Mormons Mean: Translating General Conference (into English)

Every church or religion has its own vocabulary, which can easily make its meetings seem strange to outsiders. The Mormons are no exception.

Oh, boy, are we not an exception. We even think friendship is a verb; the ripples from this barbarous pebble are conspicuous at times. It’s a good thing the Lord is merciful. He gives us excellent, beautiful languages, and we insist on . . . But I digress.

A year or two ago, as I watched the first minutes of a Mormon general conference broadcast, I was struck by how many terms one would have to understand in the way Mormons do, in order to get just ten or fifteen minutes into a two-hour meeting. So this week I went back and watched the first 15 minutes of two previous conferences, making a list as I did so.

Here are some words and phrases you might have wanted to know, if you had been watching with me. The vocabulary will be approximately the same tomorrow, if you watch the first general session of the October 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The definitions are brief, though the temptation is to be expansive.

What Mormons Mean: “The Church Is True”

If you spend any time in church-related settings with Mormons — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — it won’t be long before you hear phrases like this:

  • “I know the Church is true”
  • “the only true church”
  • “the only true and living Church on the face of the earth”

That last one is scripture for us.

What do we mean when we say our Church is true? What don’t we mean? Should you be offended, if you’re not a Mormon?

C. S. Lewis on Prayer and More

I was looking for some things C. S. Lewis said on praying for people we don’t like, including tyrants, for something over at, when I encountered these gems:

  • “In praying for people one dislikes I find it helpful to remember that one is joining in His prayer for them.” (a 1951 letter)
  • “We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter 4)
  • “For most of us the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model. Removing mountains can wait.” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter 11)
  • “You don’t teach a seed how to die into treehood by throwing it in the fire: and it has to become a good seed before it’s worth burying.” (3 December 1959 letter)

The last of these suggests a good goal: to become a good seed, “worth burying,” before I am buried.

Short Take: Micah on Pleasing the Lord

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

It’s natural to wonder: in the endless list of things I could or should be doing, what would most please the Lord?

Micah first puts the question in the Mosaic language of animal sacrifices and consecrated oil:

Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

He is asking, how would the Lord have me worship him?

He asks again, in chilling and poetic words, suggesting now that his desire is to be forgiven:

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

In four different ways Micah has asked, what can I give to the Lord? Then he offers an answer that is as perfectly suited to our time and place as it was to his. He says – asks, really –

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:6-8).

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. If that doesn’t please the Lord, what will? And if we fail in these things, will anything else really please him?

Short Take: Elijah’s Post-Miracle Depression

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

After calling down fire from heaven, Elijah commanded 450 false priests to be slain. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, was enraged and swore to kill Elijah. Elijah fled to the wilderness “and sat down under a juniper tree: and requested for himself that he might die” (1 Kings 19:4).

Rather than rebuking the prophet for a bad attitude – wanting to give up and die after a glorious miracle – the Lord sent help. An angel brought Elijah food and water for 40 days, until he had hiked to Mount Horeb and settled in a cave.

Eventually, the Lord asked, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Still discouraged and depressed, Elijah explained how hard he had worked and how badly things had gone, then complained that he was the last righteous person in Israel (1 Kings 19:10).

The Lord invited him outside to observe a wind, an earthquake, a fire, and finally a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12). He repeated his question, and Elijah repeated his complaint.

Still the Lord did not rebuke him. Instead, he said there were 7000 faithful people in Israel. He put Elijah back to work, sending him to anoint two kings and to call and train Elisha to replace him several years hence (1 Kings 19:15-18).

I conclude that the Lord is more interested in helping us through our bad days and weeks than rebuking us, even when our attitude decays. He is patient, helpful, and kind.

Short Take: Do We Praise Enough?

Author's Note
My neighbor and I are writing short columns for our monthly ward (congregation) newsletter, focusing on the Old Testament and related scripture in 2014. Here’s one of my “short takes,” as previously published there.

One verse of a favorite modern psalm begins, “Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that is in me adore him!” (“Praise to the Lord,” Hymns, 1985, #72).

When we pray, we routinely thank God for blessings and ask for more, for ourselves and others; we may not even think of praising him. At least we do some of that when we sing.

Like modern hymns, the Psalms are heartfelt expressions of praise, among other things, written in poetry which partially survives translation. For example, Psalm 100 – affectionately called “Old Hundredth” in some Christian circles – is subtitled, “A Psalm of Praise.” It reads:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence singing. . . . Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The last Psalm in the book urges us thirteen times to praise the Lord. This psalm and the book end with these words:

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 150:6)

Here’s a thought: If the Psalms don’t make us want to praise the Lord, we’re probably reading them wrong.