Sunday, August 30, 2015

Power and Meekness

Several years ago, a Church leader toured a facility that housed a huge hydraulic crushing machine that could reduce old cars into small cubes of metal. At one point in the tour the guide asked the Church leader to remove his watch. The guide handed the watch to the operator of the crushing machine, who placed it in the machine and began adjusting the controls. When the machine was ready, the operator brought top blade crashing down, stopping just a millimeter above the watch. Next the sides slammed together with incredible force, but once again they stopped just short of the crystal. The operator removed the watch from the machine and returned it unscratched.

Much pleased with the demonstration, the Church leader turned to those with him and said, 'We have just witnessed the greatest demonstration of meekness I have ever seen. Meekness is great power under complete control' (The Beatitudes: Pathway to the Savior, Ensign, November 1991).

Most of us associate meekness with humility or turning the other cheek. We understand that meekness involves being submissive and obedient to the gospel and the will of God; yet this is only half of the formula. Meekness is, of necessity, also an attribute of great power. It is not submission out of weakness or humility born of helplessness, but rather a consistent ability to obey God's commandments even and especially when we are able and wanting to choose otherwise.

Meekness is precisely the characteristic that the people of Ammon showed when they buried their weapons of war and allowed the Lamanites to murder them by the thousands. Though they had covenanted with the Lord that they would never again use weapons for bloodshed, they were skilled warriors and had the power to rise up and fight for their lives if they chose. They surely would have been a formidable force and may have conquered. Instead, they submitted themselves to their enemies in order that they might keep the covenant they had made. Their courage and meekness converted more of their enemies than the number of their people that had been murdered.

Just as meekness without power isn't really meekness at all, power alone is equally insufficient. Uncontrolled power becomes self-serving and often leads to tyranny of one's self and toward others. Indeed, 'we have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion' (D&C 121:39). How many of the world's greatest tragedies have been the direct result of men with great power and no moral restraint? How many more personal tragedies have similar themes? And how often has something gone wrong in our own lives because we used our power or influence improperly?

To be of greatest value-- to be meekness-- power must be harnessed by perfect obedience to God. Captain Moroni provides an excellent example of this in the heat of a fierce battle around 73 B.C. Though the opposing Lamanite army was much larger than his own, Moroni had gained the upper hand through preparedness, strategy, and complete trust in prophetic counsel. As the battle progressed, he found himself with the power to completely eliminate the army of the Lamanites that had so often harassed, attacked and murdered his people and the people of Ammon.

Although Moroni was his nation's top military commander, he was only in his mid-twenties when this battle took place. To conquer the enemy almost certainly would've brought a lifetime of individual glory from a grateful nation and resulted in peace between the nations for a generation or more-- to say nothing of the relief from several days of marching and fighting in armor that was hot and heavy.

Despite the chaos and distractions, the ego and the enemy, ultimately Moroni had the integrity to use his power to protect the powerless. When he saw the terror in the eyes of his enemies, he commanded his armies to stop their offensive.

And it came to pass that they did stop and withdrew a pace from them. And Moroni said unto Zerahemnah: Behold, Zerahemnah, that we do not desire to be men of blood. Ye know that ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you... I command you by all the desires which ye have for life, that ye deliver up your weapons of war unto us, and we will seek not your blood, but we will spare your lives, if ye will go your way and come not again to war against us (Alma 44:1, 6).

Zerahemnah initially refused and the battle continued; but when the Lamanite leader saw his entire army was about to be destroyed, he called out to Moroni for mercy. Again Moroni had the power to inflict his own will. He could have reasoned that Zerahemnah had his chance or that the elimination of his enemy was a blessing to his nation and the people of God. Yet, when Zerahemnah called out for mercy, and knowing the Lord had commanded to kill only in defense, Moroni directed his troops to withdraw a second time. This time the war was ended and the Lamanites were allowed to return to their homes without their weapons if they swore never to go to war again.

The scriptures say that "if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17). Such was true of Moroni because of his faith in Christ, his perfect understanding and his righteous desires-- his power by virtue of his knowledge and faith and his obedience by virtue of his desire to do God's will-- or in other words, his meekness.

It was people like Moroni and the Ammonites that the Savior referenced when he taught, 'Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth' (Matthew 5:5). Modern revelation teaches us that the earth will become the celestial kingdom (D&C 88:19-20), making the Savior's teaching, in essence, a promise that the meek will be saved in the presence of God where they can progress to become like him-- not as an exception to eternal law to allow for the arbitrary selection of favorite personalities, but rather because natural law demands it.

As in the Parable of the Talents, the Lord has given each of us a measure of his power. We have stewardship for our bodies and are accountable for how we use the power they give us to create or destroy inspiration or deceit, to harm or to heal, to be engaged or idle. We have the power of the priesthood and spiritual gifts that allow us to inspire others, communicate across language barriers, discern truth from error, to teach and to administer and to learn. We have power through association to influence others for good or evil. We even have the power to create life or to end it.

As we exercise our power with control and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord will strengthen us. President Benson taught, "When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power." Likewise, as the Lord blesses us with power we become capable of even greater obedience, creating an eternal cycle of progression as we become increasingly meek. In this way, to the five talents the Lord has given us can be added five more.

The opposite is also true. President Joseph F. Smith once declared that "obedience is the first law of heaven". If we are not growing in power and our capacity to obey-- if we are burying our talents-- we will not be able to abide the laws of the celestial kingdom. Meekness, then, isn't just a nice attribute to have if you'd like to go far in life, but rather a mandatory prerequisite to inheriting the celestial kingdom and with it all the Father has.

Ultimately, it was the perfect meekness of our Savior on display when he fell on his face in the Garden of Gethsemane, sorrowful "even unto death", and prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:38-39). Then the Supreme Creator of heaven and earth, who could command the elements and heal all wounds, who even had command over death itself, allowed himself to be betrayed and nailed to a cross. It should not be forgotten that, when the time was right, the Savior also obeyed the Father in exercising his power over death as he came forth from the tomb and paved the way for all mankind to live again even as He yet lives.

If we desire to be joint heirs with Christ and with Captain Moroni and the Ammonites in the celestial kingdom, we too must be meek. Though we stand at different places along the path of life and may count a different number of talents to our charge, we can begin to grow in power and obedience as we consciously choose the right in the choices we make each day. As obedience becomes our habit and our quest in life, even and especially in the face of difficult challenges, we will be sufficiently meek, through the Atonement of Christ, to inherit the earth and return to the presence of our God unscratched.

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