Obey and Prosper?

A young Venetian woman, aged 23, depicted circa 1831 before contracting cholera and a quarter hour before her death. Coloured stipple engraving. Courtesy of Wellcome Library

In the early 1800s a new and terrifying ailment swept through large cities. It was first identified in India (1817), afflicted St. Petersburg in Russia (1828), then hit London and New York (1832).

For decades most people were satisfied with their certainty that this ailment was caused by sin. If you were sick, it was your fault. 1 We know better now, or so we tell ourselves. But do we still have a legacy of believing that anyone who is suffering must secretly be deserving of their pain?

A Current Situation

I have recently had the privilege of helping a few folks who are struggling to make ends meet. One of these individuals was wrongfully arrested 2 and became extremely ill because of the physical interactions that occurred while in custody. Then they became homeless.

In those first terrifying months, no hand of assistance was offered, even though help was requested. 3

Why Don’t We Help?

When I type in “obedience blessings” I find all manner of images promising that obedience will bring blessings, that exact obedience will bring forth miracles. Numerous scriptural passages are cited. And I do agree that obedience blesses us.

But do we look at those less fortunate that ourselves and presume that they must deserve to be poor or crippled? Do we withhold assistance, lest we thwart that which we presume to be the just punishment of an angry God?

Ministering

The recent change to how we care for one another gives us a great chance to be God’s hands. Let us embrace those within our circle of care: family members, those assigned to our watch-care, friends.

We don’t have to solve all the problems of the world. But we can be there to comfort and bless those in our circle. We can see them as fully worthy of comfort and support, rather than secret sinners somehow deserving of their trials.

May we be those who reach out to feed and shelter and comfort and clothe and visit those in need among us. It is to such individuals that Jesus promised, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. 4

The Works of God, Manifest 

The gospel of John tells of an instance when even the disciples of Jesus presumed misfortune was caused by sin. Jesus and his disciples had just left the temple, when:

Jesus passed by… a man which was blind from his birth.

And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. 5

Moroni, speaking of our day, decried any who would turn their backs on the needy:

Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? 6

Let us search our hearts and seek to become those in whom the works of God are manifest, seeing all as our brothers and sisters, as worthy of salvation in both spiritual and temporal matters.

Notes:

  1. Harning, Lisa N., Comparing and Contrasting Social, Political, and Medical Reactions to 19th Century Cholera Epidemics in London and New York City (2015). University of New Hampshire Honors Theses. Paper 229, pp. 3-4. Online 23 Mar 2016 at http://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1232&context=honors.
  2. A lawsuit is being prepared. For now I am willing to assert the arrest was wrongful in advance of a court ruling.
  3. Since then this individual was assigned to a new Bishop.
  4. Matthew 25:34-40
  5. John 9:1-3.
  6. Moroni 8:39
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

7 thoughts on “Obey and Prosper?

  1. I agree with the main message of this post. However, too often people do make bad decisions or sin can lead to awful situations. We need to help people in those circumstances too, but they often times either don’t want the help or to do the required actions lifting themselves up. Worse is when they continue to do what gets them in trouble in the first place. Does the difference between controlled and uncontrolled circumstances matter? For the stubborn and truly sinful what is the best approach? Some questions to think about along with this topic.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful post. In recent years I have had many significant interactions with those who have had terrible cards delt to them over their lives and they have compounded that with many poor decisions. I can’t help but wonder why they were given so many difficult circumstances. I’ve had to think hard when deciding to help them with my time and means, as I wondered if I was really actually helping or just bandaiding or forestalling the inevitable. Sometimes I withheld. Sometimes I didn’t. But, over time I have come to be less judgmental and to take to heart the words of Mosiah (Chpt 4): “17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.”
    I also am familiar with the Lord’s statement in D&C 42:42 “Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” Like so many aspects of the gospel, I can justify my thinking or behavior by carefully selecting what scriptures I think apply to me at the time. I always have a choice. I hope I choose to love.

  3. I work as a medical doctor, so I see people from all walks of life. It is absolutely true that personal behavior influences health to a large degree, but when I am seeing someone for a behavior-related health problem it doesn’t really help them to berate them for their poor health habits. The real question is what can I do to help them now? Encouraging a change of behavior is often part of my prescription, but I do it in the spirit of a pep talk, not a shaming.

  4. The funny thing is a modern teenie bopper would look at the Cholera girl and say,

    “That is some great “contouring”… green is so in right now, she must be wearing Kylie Jenner’s newest green pallet…”

    On a serious note, I too have beat myself up with a hammer, internally, over why I have struggled financially, how I must have truly done something to not deserve blessings in my life, but little by little I realize that I am blessed, not rich, not boasting the best career in the world… but God does love and bless me temporarily and spiritually, just NOT in the eyes of others… but THAT doesn’t matter…

  5. Seems like letting the Spirit be the guide is the best option. If I am unsure, I would like to err on the side of being generous. That being said, in some of my welfare work with the church, I heard what in the beginning sounded like terrible luck. Over the course of helping and counseling with these individuals over the course of months, I ,I began to realize that a great deal of their terrible luck actually resulted from poor planning. But, when I or the church always picked up the pieces, they didn’t seem motivated to plan ahead. During this process, I also realized that many of the things I have accomplished have come from doing things outside of my comfort zone. But I had to be more uncomfortable where I was to be motivated to move out of that comfort zone. Everyone’s comfort level is different in different situations. We try to be empathetic and think that no one would choose certain circumstances when they actually do. Even if it’s not conscious, they have made a choice that doing something to change their situation is even more uncomfortable. But, how do we know when to help and when to allow discomfort for growth? That is why listening to the Spirit is so important. Like I said above- if I am not sure, I try to err on the side of generosity. But, i think when we see others who appear not to be helping, maybe we should also be generous in our judgement of them. Perhaps the Spirit is whispering a message of restraint to them to allow for discomfort and growth. I have often seen the wisdom in church welfare that has only limited guidelines and opportunity to tailor assistance to individual circumstances as guided by the Spirit.
    But, I agree with the post, it is not our place to judge the sin and consequences. That was not my point above. It was more about different levels of comfort and motivation that lead to growth.

  6. “Judge not” — it is a difficult commandment. We are all “secret sinners” and all need help, healing, guidance, and grace from God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost (King Benjamin).

    Also what we consider blessings may not be what God considers a blessing. For example wealth (or just comfortable getting by) may be the stumbling block that condemns a person to hell as it reveals their unwillingness to freely part with their substance and love their neighbor as themselves.

    Further, the Doctrine and Covenants’ passage most often cited to “support” the idea that we get what we deserve (in this life), D&C 130: 20-21, is a one way statement, not a dual statement. Culturally much of the LDS faithful interpret it as meaning if I do X (behavior) then Y (blessing) will happen. The actual logical language says that if you happen to get Y (blessing), you did X (behavior) at some point in the past. The causality runs the opposite direction of the common LDS culture assumption. Meaning you can do X (behavior) with no resulting Y (blessing) occurring, but if Y (blessing) occurs then you did X (behavior) at some point in your life. And more importantly (going back to point number two) there is absolutely no definition of what Y (blessing) is. God is not bound to give us blessings according to what we think is connected to X (behavior). but what God understands is eternally connected. Given the variety of incredibly bad/awful circumstances (from a mortal perspective) that happen to good people one can only conclude the blessings connected to obedience are very different than what most humans would commonly assume.

  7. So long as we don’t justify leaving someone in dire circumstances because “they will be so blessed by this trial.”

    If they ask to be left without help, fine. But otherwise, we should bear with our fellows.

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