Saturday, August 8, 2015

Luke 16:31 -- On Drama and Testimony

"And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
Luke 16:31

This is the end of a story that starts in verse 19.  In the story, a rich man and a beggar both die, and the rich man goes to hell and the poor man to heaven.  The rich man, in Hell, looks up and sees the beggar being cared for by Abraham, and asks Abraham if he would please send him to ease his suffering.  Abraham tells him that there is no way for them to get to him.  So then he asks him to please send someone to talk to his brothers that are still alive, so that they don't end up in the same place.  Abraham tells him that they already have prophets and scripture, and the rich man basically says they won't listen to prophecy, but if someone would appear from the grave, *then* they would believe.  That's where this verse comes in.
I think often we go looking for signs just trying to justify our reluctance to be obedient.  We run up against something we don't like and we say, okay God, prove that this is real, and THEN I will do it. Occasionally, when there is some real sincerity or doubt, God says, okay... I'll call your bluff.  And so he gives us a sign.  Usually small, but individual... unmistakable.  And maybe at first it is clear, and we know what it was, but then doubt and that reluctance creep in and we explain it away again.  We convince ourselves it was a coincidence or a trick of the mind... or even ask God to show us again, as proof of the proof, and *then* we will believe, and it becomes this never ending cycle where we want God to prove each and every aspect of the gospel to us, rather than learning some faith.  The signs never actually satisfy us, and they really can't, because that isn't the way to gain a testimony.  It's like other parts of life where sometimes we seek drama because we think that everything needs to be supercharged with extra histrionic meaning so we can feel "alive."  But the Lord is not in the earthquake (1 Kings 19:11-12) or in the drama.  He's in the scriptures, he's in our prayers.  He's speaking to us now, quietly, waiting for us to calm down and listen.
There's actually a fairly famous poem by John Donne (Holy Sonnet 14) that expresses what we often want.  This is the first stanza:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
It's a beautiful poem, and it is definitely a tempting and compelling idea to just have the Lord reach down and make us into what he wants.  And I'm not saying God never does dramatic.  I think he just saves it for when drama is actually needed.  Sometimes if it is really, really important, God sends us a very clear, persistent message.  And there are instances in the scriptures where someone was struck down by God and then arose with a changed heart (Saul, Alma the Younger).  Sometimes we want something immediate and soul-changing like that instead of the little changes that we make daily.  But let's remember a couple of things here first.  One is that there are also other examples in the scriptures where people saw angels or were similarly stricken by the Lord (Laman and Lemuel, Korihor), and who did *not* change.  Secondly, let's remember how hard even some of these little changes are.  I don't think being stricken down by the Lord is a picnic.  And lastly, let's remember that *forcing* us is exactly the opposite of God's plan.  God can change our hearts, but we have to ask for it, and be willing, and repentant.  It isn't the drama that changes us.  It is the daily decisions that we make, choosing who we want to be, and listening to God.
Today, let's go of our need for drama.  Let's not look for angels or spirits or other signs to convince us that God is there.  Let's read our scriptures and learn of him, and then let's get on our knees and just ask him.  If we ask sincerely, he'll help us to know (Moroni 10:4).

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