Monday, February 23, 2009

From Poverty to Perfection

Last night, I came across an article in the Sacramento News & Review by an old friend of mine. I haven't seen her in probably a decade, so it was odd to come across here here, of all places. (The article was linked to from somewhere else, BTW. I haven't been an SNR reader since I got disgusted with their Liberal politics at least fifteen years ago.) I showed the article to my wife, and she was surprised to learn that my friend's article was a response to a previous article by one of her old friends. Small world. (NOTE: If you read those two articles, some of the following may make more sense.)

Her friend now considers himself an atheist. Mine strayed but has returned to church. Our two friends, however, both shared a disturbing thought process: their lack of faith due to their inability to reconcile poverty with prayer. How can you believe that God answers prayers when there are people starving in the world?

This question is a favorite among the anti-God crowd, and I am certain they continue to use it because it gives pause to anyone who does not read their scriptures on a regular basis. In other words, most people.

But is this a valid question? Does this attitude hold any merit? I don't think so. Let's examine what history and scripture say.

To begin with, most Biblical scholars as far as I am aware, agree that one of the main reasons that the Jews rejected Jesus was that He brought spiritual salvation instead of the secular salvation they were expecting and badly wanted. The Jews at that time were under the heavy hand of the Romans, and many believed that their promised Messiah would deliver them from these physical bonds.

As Latter-day Saints (Mormons), we are taught that Jesus came to redeem the world from spiritual death, or sin, through his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and from physical death, through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. Nowhere do the scriptures say that we will be saved from poverty, or, for that matter, any other discomfort of life. One need only read the scriptures to see that God has allowed many people, including His own prophets and apostles, to experience poverty, loss, and even to suffer horrible deaths.

We must also take into consideration two things: 1) God's blessings do not trump the consequences of our actions, and 2) God's ways are not our ways.

Everything that befalls us in life comes as the result of either our own actions or those of others. We are on earth to learn by making choices; God's intention is that we will use these experiences to grow closer to Him, and to eventually become like Him. Most Conservatives, including most Mormons, reject Socialism for this very reason - there is no growth without consequences. (There are many reasons to reject Socialism, but we'll save that for another day.) Unless we are allowed to fail ourselves, or to see that our choices have brought suffering to others in the world, we will not grow. This is God's plan, because it drives us to improve ourselves.

We must also remember that God's ways are not the same as our own. Methods that He may choose to bless us or others may not always coincide with our own ideals. Who is to say that God has not answered the prayers of a humble Peruvian, as he has prayed in his thatched hut? Are not this man's circumstances the result of choices that both he and others have made? Do we judge God's blessings by outward appearances? Of course not. Did He ever promise us worldy possessions in exchange for our faith?

In short, we must remember that "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). Saved from what? "Since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory" (Alma 22:14).

God has provided for us, in Christ, the means whereby we may find salvation from the only two things that we cannot escape of our own accord: sin and death. The rest is up to us.

"I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty... Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer" (Revelation 2: 9-10).