Talk:D&C 121:34-46

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D&C 121:37; Heavens withdraw themselves[edit]

On the Talk:Judg 14:16-20 page, Matthew suggested particular interpretations of the Samson story may contradict the doctrine being taught in this D&C passage. I think this is a very interesting question. Although there are many ways to approach it, here I'm interested in exploring what this D&C passage may and may not mean.

Example: If I have certain talents that are God-given and I use those talents unrighteously, one might interpret this D&C passage as suggesting that the heavens would withdraw themselves and I would lose that talent.

Empirical evidence suggests this is not what happens. What is wrong with interpreting this passage this way? Braintsorm: perhaps this passage is just talking about a special kind of authority and is not applicable to all God-given talents; perhaps there is an intertemporal issue going on here (e.g. God has already given the talents, so he will not revoke the talents, but he will not give any new talents). --RobertC 09:39, 3 Jun 2006 (UTC)

Good point Robert. Interesting thoughts. I want to dig up the scripture in the BOM that says that the Nephites were left to fight with "their own strength." There is an interesting possible conflict between the idea that any strength the Nephites had is their own and other scriptures which essentially say that everything is from God. Maybe these can be explained by saying that what is assigned to God (e.g. God's power) differs depending on the context of the scripture. --Matthew Faulconer 14:31, 3 Jun 2006 (UTC)

D&C 121:41: No power or influence[edit]

The question I posted--it is a real question for me. I don't really think I understand verse 41. Part of the answer I am sure has to do with the rest of the verse and the next few verses. I understand that the bishop and others have love, should be kind, etc. My experience is that Bishops are very concerned about the people in the ward, that they do show love and kindness etc. But it sort of seems that part of the influence and power they have in the ward, they have by virtue of their office in the priesthood. --Matthew Faulconer 10:31, 10 Apr 2005 (CEST)

Matthew, I like the exegesis you posted about this phrase. Not sure if this is common amongst other readers or not, but I've always read this the second way, that only = except. This second interpretation seems to negate the problem suggested/implied by your question above about a bishopric's power/influence over ward members. Also, on this reading, I think the list following only is set up in contrast to vv. 36-39 describing unrighteous dominion. Out of context, reading the only in v. 41 as except seems strange (or at least vague), but in light of vv. 36-39 the only carries more significance implying that the following list describes what should be occurring in contrast to what vv. 36-39 describe as should not be occurring.
But thinking about your first interpretation is interesting--maybe there's something inherently diabolical about exerting power and influence over others b/c it goes against the pre-mortal plan with its emphasis on free will. If "power" were the only word here, I could buy such a reading, but "influence" seems too benign a word to me to read it this way....
However, in the preceding paragraph, you'll notice I used the word "exert" whereas the text uses the word "maintained". So, reading only in the first way you suggest, what if we change the emphasis to "maintain"--that is, it's OK to exert influence over others, but that influence should not be maintained. Even as a bishop, some influence is OK, but ultimately members should be influenced by God and personal revelation, not continue relying on their bishop (I'm thinking in a "spiritual advice" sense here, but this could apply in a physical/welfare sense too...).
I'm also a little puzzled by the wording "by virtue of the priesthood". Could "by virtue" mean that it's not wrong to maintain power or influence over others, but appealing to a priesthood calling or office for such power/influence is wrong? Perhaps the power and influence we should have over others should be a result of our example as disciples of Christ instead of an appeal to our priesthood authority.
Just brainstorms I'm throwing out here--thanks for the thought-provoking question and commentary.
--RobertC 18:11, 20 Feb 2006 (UTC)

D&C 121:41, 45: Virtue[edit]

I've usually read this in verse 41 with definition 9 in mind: "efficacy; power." I've actually never really thought that carefully about the significance of this term being used in both verses 41 and 45 (where I think the moral goodness or purity sense fits fairly well). This suggests to me a way that the power of the priesthood is being linked to the charity and confidence in verse 45 (and I think the possible meanings of virtue are indeed very interesting b/c the word is sandwiched between "charity" and "confidence").

Not sure if this is really related, but since Joe's got me wondering about how much Hebrews affected Joseph Smith, this got me wondering about the word "boldly" in Heb 4:16, which I was trying to argue also had the connotation of "openly" in light of the verse 13 which talks about things being opened before the eyes of God, which seems to parallel the "without hypocricy and without guile" here in verse 41.... --RobertC 04:55, 14 February 2007 (CET)

We've all heard this verse quoted hundreds of times. And we're just now starting to really think about it like this. The nuances are incredible. These verses have always spoken to me, but I'm simply amazed at how much they have to offer. Thanks to everyone for exploring these verses together.--Rob Fergus 05:22, 14 February 2007 (CET)

I'm increasingly convinced that "virtue" here should refer to something more akin to the NT Greek arete. If so, it suggests a very different reading of this verse. Rather than merely focusing on pure and chaste thoughts, as we commonly suppose, perhaps we are being urged to focus on noble and empowering sentiments that would lead our confidence to wax strong in the presence of God--the most noble and fully-realized Being of all.--Rob Fergus 04:41, 15 February 2007 (CET)

Rob, I really like what you're doing here. I've long kept an eye on these verses, and I too find that they have a high yield. You've got me thinking about "by virtue of the priesthood." In a sense, don't these verses amount to a demotion (clarification) of priesthood? That is, Joseph Smith seems to have been trying to correct a kind of exalted view of the priesthood. I think this can fruitfully be read in terms of the temple: the priesthood is, in the temple, nothing like some unearthly power, some unique metaphysical force, but simply some keys one needs to return to God. In fact, the priesthood in the temple seems to be much like priesthoods in ancient religions (pagan or otherwise): a priest is someone who is a keeper of the secret knowledge, but he is not understood to have any otherworldly power; in fact, all of his authority relates quite simply to where he can go (in the temple) and what he is thereby enabled to do.
The connection between "virtue" in verse 41 and the same in verse 45 then becomes key. If we are not to think there is some kind of inherent power in the priesthood, then we are to become ourselves virtuous. If the priesthood provides us with the keys to enter into the presence of God, it is not the priesthood that will give us any confidence to stand there. It is only virtue in ourselves that will do that. Going through the temple hardly prepares one for a celestial existence, it merely endows one with the knowledge of how to get through the veil. But virtue is something entirely other, and only it will prepare one for that presence.
All of that said, you are right on, I think, in rethinking the meaning of "virtue," a word I hadn't taken the time to think about. It's latin root is simply virtus (manliness), from vir (man). I think reading virtue in terms of arete is very appropriate, and it links up with much of what Joseph Smith himself taught and was (I'm thinking of Bushman's 2003 forum at BYU on "The Character of Joseph Smith"). Thanks for getting this discussion started. I'd like to think more about all of this. --Joe Spencer 15:56, 15 February 2007 (CET)
Perhaps on this reading, persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, etc. are the "virtues" that we should be cultivating, and letting garnish our thoughts? How do these relate to the "doctrines of the priesthood" mentioned here? Are we to cultivate these "virtues" so that we can function in priesthood callings, not by "virtue of the priesthood" but "upon the principles of righteousness? Or is it an even more radical clarification of priesthood, as you intimate. Joe? And what exactly is it that will distil upon our souls as the dews from heaven? Lots to think about here?

D&C 121:41-45: Virtues[edit]

As a people we have been richly blessed temporally, spiritually, and intellectually. Having seen a number of Latter-day Saint communities at universities both public and private, it is apparent that these rich blessings put us in a position to aquire the things of the world and be in high positions. Perhaps this is why Brigham Young said, “The worst fear … I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church. … My greater fear … is that they cannot stand wealth.” (Quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, The Faith of Our Pioneer Fathers (1956), 13) I think it must depend upon the mindset of the individual. We are commanded to let our light so shine that men may see our works and glorify God. This seems to be key, pointing men to glorify God and not drawing attention to ourselves to be glorified. This section of the Doctrine and Covenants offers great insight into the virtues, that if cultivated, will help us point men to the Lord.

I left you comments on your talk page. User_talk:
Regarding your questions on the commentary page--How do we guard ourselves from aspiring to the honors of men both in the church, and out of the church?--do you think this scripture is telling us not to aspire to the honors of men? or is it telling us not to aspire to them so much that we fail to learn the lesson taught in verse 36? The difference is that the latter would suggest that maybe it would be okay to aspire to the honors of men so long as you didn't let this interfere with the learning the lessong taught in verse 36.
Of course, maybe my question is rather moot. If there are other scriptures that tell us not to set our hearts on the things of this world and the honors of men fall in that category than regardless of what this scripture says, those would tell us not to aspire to the things of men. --Matthew Faulconer 10:16, 10 Apr 2005 (CEST)

D&C 121:45: Thy confidence shall wax strong in the presence of God[edit]

Hi Visorstuff, I enjoyed reading your comments. I thought more about this verse than I had before. As I thought about it the phrase "in the presence of God" seemed particularly significant. It seems to me that it isn't hard to have self-confidence when surrounded by people. I think we see plenty of times when someone isn't acting as they should but they act with a lot of self-confidence. It is hard to judge whether someone else's thoughts aren't being garnished by virtue, but I think it is fair to assume that there are plenty of people whose thoughts aren't garnished with virtue but who have plenty of (misguided) self-confidence. I think the scripture is telling us that only a person who thinks pure thoughts will feel confident when standing in the presence of God.

This scripture give us the "if-then" condition but does not give us here the reversal "only if" condition. In my view the scripture really is talking about both sides--"if and only if." What do you think? Anyway, even if we don't pull it from here, I think we can pull the reversal condition out of other scriptures which is why I went to Alma 12:15.

Other comments--

  • I didn't write about this but I think the part "let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men" is equally a condition that the Lord gives in order for our confidence to wax strong in God's presence.
  • One final thing, could we interpret this as a promise to be able to stand in the presence of God? I have been thinking about this in terms of what happens when we all have to stand in his presence--the final judgement. But could this be a promise that if we do what we should we can stand in his presence sooner?

--Matthew Faulconer 09:15, 6 Apr 2005 (CEST) PS as always, please re-edit as you like.

I keep mulling over this phrase "thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God" and thinking about what it really means. I had been reading it with an emphasis on "thy" and then interpreting confidence as self-confidence. Is that right? Can anyone help out on the meaning of "confidence" in the scriptures generally or at the time Joseph Smith was writing? It seems like there could be some good material here for a lexical note.

Anyway, if we consider that confidence may not mean self-confidence than we may ask "confidence in what?" So I was thinking there is a phrase in this sentence that starts with in. Maybe it answers the question "in what." In that case this would mean "confidence in the presence of God"? If presence of God means his presence we feel through the Holy Ghost maybe this means that our confidence in the Holy Ghost waxes strong. That totally squares with my own experience that as we have virtuous thoughts and are charitable toward others we can be confident when we feel the Holy Ghost that what we feel is the Holy Ghost. When we aren't as used to feeling the Holy ghost then I have a harder time being confident in it when I do feel it. I was thinking of this because President Samuelson said in his recent address Women in Math, Science and Engineering

The only way I know for sure when the Holy Ghost is speaking to us is to live in such a way that we can regularly gain experience that ratifies for us the inspiration as truly from the Spirit.

So far so good. But then . . . I seached "presence of God" on the the scriptures and the results suggested that presence of God is never used in the scriptures to indicate the Holy Ghost. From what I read it refers to being where God is physically present. And I figure if you are actually standing physically next to God whether or not you have done right you will know that it is god you are standing next to.

So this line of thinking seemed a dead-end. So, I added nothing to the exegesis section. But, I still feel like I was going in a good direction. So maybe someone else can take my wrong-turn and turn it into a nice insight. Any help?

--Matthew Faulconer 22:46, 16 Apr 2005 (CEST)

I like your reflections on confidence. I've checked two dictionaries: The New Dictionary of the English Language by Charles Richardson (1847), and the Oxford English Dictionary (on-line).
The New Dictionary begins from the Latin root confidere, (con--with, fidere--faith or trust). The definition given is "To have or place faith or trust in; to credit or give credit; to trust or believe, to be secure or assured, to rely or depend upon; to be firmly, boldly secure."
The first three entries of the OED:
  1. The mental attitude of trusting in or relying on a person or thing; firm trust, reliance, faith. Const. in ( to, on, upon).
  2. The feeling sure or certain of a fact or issue; assurance, certitude; assured expectation.
  3. Assurance, boldness, fearlessness, arising from reliance (on oneself, on circumstances, on divine support, etc.).

I've thought about it a little since reading your post. I think there may be something to learn from the Brother of Jared in Ether 3, when he is in the presence of the Lord. He sees the finger of the Lord and is struck with fear(vs 6). The Lord says never at anytime has a man come with such exceeding faith (vs 9). I think the confidence that the Brother of Jared shows in asking the Lord to show himself (vs 10) stems from an assurance, arising from his reliance on the Lord, that the he [the Brother of Jared] has lived in a way that pleases the Lord. I think this may be the same confidence that could wax strong in the presence of the Lord if virtue garnishes our thoughts. Maybe there is also a link to Joseph F. Smith dream, when he is a missionary in Hawaii--"I am late, but I am clean." A few thoughts, certainly disjoint, hopefully helpful. If nothing else you've got a few definitions of confidence. MJ 15:43, 22 Apr 2005 (CEST) If this is more disjoint and confusing then helpful please edit or delete.
MJ, Great comments, I think there is some good stuff here for the commentary page. I think I will move some of it there. It will probably take me a few days to get to it. Feel free, of course, to move it there sooner if you get to it first. --Matthew Faulconer 21:16, 23 Apr 2005 (CEST)
MJ, I added a bit but ran out of time. Please feel free to add more/edit. --Matthew Faulconer 16:48, 24 Apr 2005 (CEST)