Sunday, 28 December 2008

An Open Letter to Israel

TO JUDAH, son of Jacob called Israel, inheritor of the land called Canaan, the Promised Land, guardian of the Holy Priesthood of the Order of Aaron, steward of the House of the Lord, forefather of the promised Messiah of the line of David, greetings.

Hi. How've you been? It's been a long time since we talked. It's me, your brother -- Joseph. You remember the one, right? The whole thing with the well, then that stuff in Egypt, then a while later the little squabbles we had once we reached Canaan. And I'm sure you recall the bit where I was taken into captivity along with most of the rest of the family and we were scattered to the four corners of the earth.

Anyway, I hear you've been doing well for yourself. Twelve million of you now, right? That's pretty good. I've been doing fine too, thanks for asking -- I've got a Church of my own now, had you heard? It's quite a good one, though I do share it with a few of our brothers, in small part. But mostly it's mine.

Hey, remember all those prophesies about Ephraim and Judah in the last days? I think Isaiah had some, maybe Jeremiah... anyway, turns out these are the last days. They're all coming true, and my Church is the Ephraim being referred to. How great is that?

Well, anyway. I just thought I'd write to say hello. Hey, I've been reading the news lately, you know. I understand you've been having a bit of trouble with the neighbours. It occurs to me that shooting them wasn't exactly the best policy, but I'm sure you know your own business well enough.

... no, I can't keep a straight face either. Quite frankly, brother dear, you're being obnoxious. If you ever expect to get the Temple rebuilt, you're going to have to calm down a lot. Have you considered anger management? Seriously, who cares about Gaza anyway? Okay, I understand that they're not exactly the nicest people to have next door, what with all the rockets and suicide bombers and so on. I get that. But you don't need to shell the moral high ground into oblivion by sending in all these air strikes.

Bother. I promised myself I wasn't going to talk about that. Regardless, it's lovely to know you're doing okay. Write back soon, will you?

Your loving(?) brother,

JOSEPH, son of Israel, father of Ephraim and Manasseh, ruler of the North Kingdom, settler of the American continent, sustainer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, servant of God

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Sometimes I do get things right.

In my earlier post, Prophet of the Where?, I hypothesised that Zenos and Zenock (two prophets mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon, but not otherwise known) "were actually ancestors of Lehi, rather than renowned Prophets in their own day". This was simply an additional note at the end of a longer post, but it turns out I was right. In 3 Nephi 10:16, Mormon comments:

Yea, the prophet Zenos did testify of these things, and also Zenock spake concerning these things, because they testified particularly concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed.

So there you have it. Zenos and Zenock were ancestors of the Lehite tribes, and prophesied concerning them, rather than concerning the Israelites of the Old World. Hence, they are not remembered over here, because they weren't relevant.

Another point to the power of intuitive reasoning -- and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

"For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away"

I was reading in Elder James E. Talmage's book Jesus the Christ (a very good book, and I recommend it) when I came to his comments on Matthew 19:3-9 (also Mark 10:2-12):

3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

As the scriptures tell us, a group of Pharisees were trying to tempt Jesus into saying something which would put him under their power, as they so often did. In order to do this, they approached him with one of the problems they frequently debated: when a man should be allowed to divorce his wife.

When I say "frequently debated", I mean it. The inspiration for this post was Elder Talmage's note at the end of the chapter (note 4 to chapter 27, if you're reading along), where he quotes Geikie:

"Among the questions of the day fiercely debated between the great rival schools [of Jewish religious scholars] of Hillel and Shammai, no one was more so than that of divorce. The school of Hillel contended that a man had a right to divorce his wife for any cause he might assign, if it were no more than his having ceased to love her, or his having seen one he liked better, or her having cooked a dinner badly. The school of Shammai, on the contrary, held that divorce could be issued only for the crime of adultery, and offences against chastity.

How relevant these two perspectives are to our day! The Hillel viewpoint, that anything -- including seeing someone you like better, very common in our day -- is grounds for a divorce, is supported and promoted by most of the Western world. Those who proclaim the Shammai opinion are denounced as naive, unrealistic, romantics. But, as Matthew and Mark tell us, our Saviour and Redeemer gave a gospel much closer to the Shammai position than the Hillel. Who should we listen to?

To find out, perhaps we should look at the other scriptures on the subject. In my LDS copy of the scriptures, the Bible Dictionary entry for Divorce directs me to several verses.

1) Leviticus 21:14. This is simply saying that the High Priest can't marry a divorced woman.
2) Deuteronomy 22:19, 29. These describe two situations when a man cannot divorce his wife - when he has falsely accused her of not being a virgin at their marriage, and when (I think) he raped her and was then ordered to marry her.
3) Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This is the really relevant one. Quoted:

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

This is clearly what the Pharisees were thinking of when they spoke to Jesus, and what the Hillel school used to back up their viewpoint. "When a man has taken a wife... and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes... then let him write her a bill of divorcement". At a glance, then, it seems that divorce is perfectly acceptable under the Mosaic law for anything!

Except... not. Verse one specifies that "she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her" (emphasis mine). So even under the Law of Moses, divorce had to be for the breaking of one or other of the laws. That gives an enormous range of excuses, but a badly-cooked meal, loss of love, or finding someone else are not on the list. So much for the Hillel school. But what, then, of the Shammai position, that only for adultery should divorce be sought? There's nothing more in the Bible Dictionary, but the Topical Guide entry on the matter is extremely instructive. It cites three different verses in Jeremiah 3.

1 They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord.
[...]
8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
[...]
20 Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.

These verses form part of an extended metaphor, where the Lord (ie, Jehovah, the pre-mortal Jesus Christ!) speaks through Jeremiah and accuses Israel and Judah of unfaithfulness. He claims that because of their adultery (in context, worship of false gods) he divorced himself from Israel. Only for this reason. It's not a direct confirmation of the Shammai views, but it is certainly in support.

Of course, none of the above scriptures matter, because we have direct testament from the Lord Jesus Christ:

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matt. 19:9)

Well, you might say, that was two thousand years ago. Surely we cannot be held to the same standards today? The world has changed too much for that, right?

Wrong.

Less than a hundred and eighty years ago, the Prophet Joseph Smith was inspired to dictate the revelation given as D&C 42. It contains these verses:

74 Behold, verily I say unto you, that whatever persons among you, having put away their companions for the cause of fornication, or in other words, if they shall testify before you in all lowliness of heart that this is the case, ye shall not cast them out from among you;
75 But if ye shall find that any persons have left their companions for the sake of adultery, and they themselves are the offenders, and their companions are living, they shall be cast out from among you. (D&C 42:74-75)

What the Lord is saying here is exactly the same as he said in Perea two thousand years ago: if a man (or a woman -- no gender discrimination in the D&C!) seeks divorce for any other reason than fornication or adultery, and marries again, he or she will be committing adultery with the new spouse. Moreover, the Lord recommends that they should be cast out from the Church -- excommunicated.

"Oh, but that was still nearly two hundred years ago! Nowadays--"

"Divorce too often is the bitter fruit of anger. A man and a woman fall in love, as they say; each is wonderful in the sight of the other; they feel romantic affection for no one else; they stretch their finances to buy a diamond ring; they marry. All is bliss—that is, for a season. Then little inconsequential activities lead to criticism. Little flaws are magnified into great torrents of faultfinding; they fall apart, they separate, and then with rancor and bitterness they divorce." (Gordon B. Hinckley, November 2007)

"The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because “of the hardness of [our] hearts,” the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members." (Dallin H. Oaks, May 2007)

Elder Oaks' comments are particularly interesting. Because of the hardness of our hearts, we are in the same position as the Jews were -- the Lord has permitted us to divorce one another, but as Elder Talmage put it, "it is not the privilege but the infamy and reproach of Israel, that Moses [and our latter-day prophets] found it necessary to tolerate divorce." (Note 4, chapter 27, Jesus the Christ) So no, if you decide to divorce your husband or wife for frivolous reasons (and Elder Oaks quotes the Saviour's words from Matthew 19 again -- the same conditions are still in force today!) you won't be excommunicated. You may still be allowed to enter into the temple. But this is because of the hardness of our hearts. It isn't a good thing -- it has come about because we are a stubborn and wicked people.

To any of you considering divorce, and any who might do so in the future, and further, any who are having problems in their married lives, I leave you with the words of our dear departed Prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley.

"Brethren, the Lord expects something better of us. He expects something better than is to be found in the world. Never forget that it was you who selected your companion. It was you who felt that there was no one else in all the world quite like her. It was you who wished to have her forever. But in too many cases the image of the temple experience fades. A lustful desire may be the cause. Faultfinding replaces praise. When we look for the worst in anyone, we will find it. But if we will concentrate on the best, that element will grow until it sparkles." (Gordon B. Hinckley, May 2003)

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

ADDENDUM

When I announced this post on another forum, a question was asked which is very relevant to this topic: "What do you think about people who seek divorce because of abuse?" I will give my answer to this question as I gave it there, slightly edited for style.

I agree with them. There's a quote in the Dallin H. Oaks talk cited above; at another point in his talk, he said this:

There are many good Church members who have been divorced. I speak first to them. We know that many of you are innocent victims — members whose former spouses persistently betrayed sacred covenants or abandoned or refused to perform marriage responsibilities for an extended period. Members who have experienced such abuse have firsthand knowledge of circumstances worse than divorce.

When a marriage is dead and beyond hope of resuscitation, it is needful to have a means to end it. I saw examples of this in the Philippines. Two days after their temple marriage, a husband deserted his young wife and has not been heard from for over 10 years. A married woman fled and obtained a divorce in another country, but her husband, who remained behind, is still married in the eyes of the Philippine law. Since there is no provision for divorce in that country, these innocent victims of desertion have no way to end their married status and go forward with their lives.

The Church uses an even wider definition of abuse than most here -- everything Elder Oaks cites in the first paragraph he then groups under "abuse", and yes, that includes physical/mental abuse of the type meant.

Seeking divorce due to abuse comes under "the hardness of our hearts" again, really -- ideally there would be no requirement for divorce in cases of abuse, because ideally there would be no abuse. But sadly there is, and thus an escape route has been included. It's the same concept, but from the other side -- whereas the reasons above were the wickedness of the one seeking divorce, in this case it's the wickedness of their spouse, which is an altogether worse situation to be in.