Friday, April 13, 2012

Family Disputes in Scripture

In his most recent General Conference address, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf helped us all understand a little more of what the gospel says about strained family relationships. He titled his remarks, "The Merciful Obtain Mercy", intended to remind us all that "with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."

The scriptures, as always, include instructions on how to respond to strain and pressure on our family relationships. They teach us that these struggles are as old as time itself: Lucifer rebelled against God and divided our premortal family; Cain slew his brother, Abel, in the earliest years of human existence. The root causes of these and other family disputes-- pride, envy, lust for power and others-- are a part of our human natures; the scriptures remind us that our challenge is to put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord (Mosiah 3:19).

One particularly instructive example is the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of his father and was blessed with the spiritual gifts to have and interpret dreams. Some of his dreams prophesied that his family would one day make obeisance to him. Joseph's brothers became angry with what they saw as Joseph's haughtiness and favored treatment from their father. Some of his brothers wanted to kill him. Reuben and Judah convinced their brothers to spare Joseph's life and sell him to a caravan instead.

Joseph spent several years as a slave and as a prisoner because of his brothers' actions. When Joseph encounters his brothers again in Egypt there were anxious moments. At first, Joseph didn't want his brothers to recognize him. Now in a position of power, Joseph was in a position to exact revenge on his brothers if he desired. He could've sent them to prison, sold them as slaves or had them killed. Instead, Joseph orchestrated the reunion of the entire family and saved their lives by providing much-needed grain in a terrible drought.

Nephi also experienced contention in his family. His brothers, Laman and Lemuel, beat him with a rod, tied him up and tried to kill him on more than one occasion. Nephi's in-laws were prone to complaining and sometimes helped Laman and Lemuel attack their brother, Nephi. Even Nephi's dad, a prophet of God, complained against Nephi to the point that he must be severely chastised.

As with Joseph, Nephi surely had some anxious family moments. Before his brothers attempted murder, there were surely disagreements and fights just as in Joseph's family. Nephi and Joseph chose to forgive, even when their offending brethren were unrepentant. In Nephi's case, he eventually had to move his family away from his violent and dangerous brothers. His story doesn't have the happy ending that Joseph's does. But in each case, the Lord used the trials to the benefit of those willing to forgive-- and as a testament against those who persecuted them. Joseph became an overseer in Egypt and the birthright son of his father, Israel. Nephi prospered in the promised land as a prophet and king.

In our families, we are likely to experience strain on our family relationships like Joseph and Nephi did. We may not see the resolution to these disputes that we would like, just as Nephi was unable to persuade his brothers to be humble and seek after righteousness. Sometimes divorce, separation or muted lines of communication will happen or even must happen to protect our families.As we choose to forgive anyway, we will experience what President Uchtdorf explained in his address:

The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions—the more we allow our love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts—the easier it is to love others with the pure love of Christ. As we open our hearts to the glowing dawn of the love of God, the darkness and cold of animosity and envy will eventually fade...

People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.
Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.

He concluded with a challenge that would be good for each of us to observe:

Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive.
Lay your burden at the Savior’s feet. Let go of judgment. Allow Christ’s Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another.

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