I have seen hell, and Jesus won’t save us from it

I spent some time this summer interviewing prostitutes, almost all of whom had been victims of human trafficking at some point, usually sold into the sex trade in their early teens. In the process, I sat in a room with a mother who sold her own daughters when they were eleven. Unfortunately, this tragedy is common around the globe. This, is hell.

In the Church, ‘hell’ is usually talked about as a place or a state of being in the afterlife, created together by God and the Devil to punish the wicked.

dante

Vengeance of God, O how much oughtest thou
By each one to be dreaded, who doth read
That which was manifest unto mine eyes!
Of naked souls beheld I many herds,
Who all were weeping very miserably,
And over them seemed set a law diverse.

The Divine Comedy, Canto XIV   Dante Alighieri

Less often, ‘hell’ is used to described a state of our hearts after sinning that urges us to seek redemption through a repentance process. In a church setting, rare–if ever–is ‘hell’ used to describe the realities of people’s lives. Yet hell is often the only honest word to describe some realities. Surely the lives of many who have endured war, genocide, rape, natural disaster, slavery, and inescapable poverty are captives in an indescribable hell. I do not believe any hell exists post life, whose depths exceed the depths of the living hells people experience today.

poverty  It is not a hell created by God to punish the wicked, nor are these hells spun by Lucifer to enslave the fallen.  And    Jesus won’t fix it. That is our job.

In April 2013, Elder Todd Christofferson conference  talk, Redemption, focuses on the spiritual and physical redemption of God’s  children though Jesus Christ. “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to do all we can do redeem other from s  suffering and burdens. Even so, our greatest redemptive service will be to lead them to Christ. Without His  Redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice. That may provide some help and    reconciliation in the present, but it has no power to draw down from heaven perfect justice and infinite    mercy.” I  appreciate Christofferson’s partial focus on relieving the burdens of others, and ask myself,  “ What does it mean to do all we can to redeem others from suffering and burdens?”

images

Frankly, telling an eleven-year-old sex slave or a Congolese child soldier about Jesus will do nothing for them in their current situation, their current situation being far more critical than a post-life salvation, which surely they are guaranteed in their current circumstances anyhow. Further, in societies without any semblance of social justice, Jesus means nothing—except for the hope of peace in a post-apocalyptic world, and I truly hope Mormonism offers more tangible, practicle outcomes than this. Jesus, in many ways, is social justice manifest, alleviating the needs of the poor and down trodden and elevating the outcasts of society.

Lastly, the reality is, duty or no, we are not capable of taking the gospel of Jesus to the far corners of the earth. However we are capable of doing more to help those that live in hell. As long as Satan rages in the hearts of men, it is only the hearts and minds of men that can fix it.

I’m not sure what it means for each of us as individuals, I’m sure it’s different for everyone, and I’m increasingly confidant in what it means for me personally. I believe that we can, and should, do more–probably more than a casserole.

Comments

  1. Steve Evans says:

    Wow.

    The sheer depth of desperation is overwhelming. But let me push back on your assertion that Jesus will do nothing for them. I agree that proselytizing those entrapped will not rescue them. But (for the sake of argument) I’m not convinced that poverty is the sole cause of these things. Human slavery and child abuse exist in rich nations as well. I agree that pamphlets won’t help here, but if we are to fix things won’t that take some sort of spiritual healing along with the staggering levels of financial, political, medical and other forms of aid that are needed?

  2. Steve,
    I agree it will take spiritual healing. But will that mean Jesus? Does that mean, for instance, that in Muslims societies, a societal healing that will solve these problems can’t take place without Jesus?

  3. “It is not a hell created by God to punish the wicked, nor are these hells spun by Lucifer to enslave the fallen. And Jesus won’t fix it. That is our job.”

    By “our” suppose you mean our civil society. I agree. I hope our laws and law enforcement will pit a stop to this hell. If you mean the church, well, the church exists to save souls through teaching and ordinances. I hope the gospel spreads far and wide, and brings peace to some of these victims. If any man or woman, as an individual, feels called to the work of ministering directly to these victims, I hope he or she will magnify that calling. That way, real work will get done — far more and more meaningful work than will ever occur by preaching social justice.

  4. Wonderful post. Surely this is a message that we collectively need to hear, understand, internalize and address – rather than preaching from our lives or relative luxury. Thank you!

    Having said that, I agree with both you and Elder Christofferson. We must relieve hell rather than simply preaching heaven, but we also must preach heaven (and redemption and atonement) rather than simply relieving hell. My concern is not that we do one or the other but that we tend to work to relieve hell only for those who are willing to accept our view of heaven. We ought to work to relieve hell for all, preach heaven to all who will listen and, in so doing, strive to build heaven on earth – a “kingdom” that defies classifications of any kind and encompasses all of God’s children.

    As you said, how that works for each of us will vary individually, but I believe we can’t call ourselves disciples of Christ if we aren’t willing to get dirty (and sometimes filthy) as we try to model our actual lives after his actual life – to whatever degree is possible for us personally.

  5. ji, I mean civil society, governments, and individuals–not the church.

  6. Excellent.

    Frankly, I don’t understand how we have come to separate “social justice” from what it means, precisely and deeply, to be Christian. Jesus, over and over again, turned all adoration away from himself and insisted that if our love for him was genuine it would translate immediately and seamlessly into service to fellow men.

    I shudder to think of the hubris and position of outlandish privilege that allow us to imagine otherwise. This was finally driven home to me on my mission, when one day we were invited into the home of someone in a desperately poor slum. The father and mother both had severe mental disorders; the house was utterly squalid; from where we sat we could see out the back window to where a length of PVC pipe extended from the ramshackle bathroom and emptied raw sewage into the muddy back yard. We blithely tried to initiate the first missionary discussion in these circumstances, but it was utterly clownish. While floundering in this state of existential incongruity, we heard a knock at the door. It was a social worker; she had come to see if this couple had taken their toddler to the doctor for treatment of a severely infected rash (which we gathered was likely the result of playing in the muddy back yard). It was apparent that, even with all the horrors this woman say every day among her clients, this was a truly alarming situation. She finally looked at us, and, veiling her exasperation with as much compassion as she could muster, said “Listen, boys, I appreciate what you’re doing here, but they don’t need preaching right now, they need to get their daughter to the doctor immediately. Preaching won’t fix the problems in this house.”

    And it was true. The spirit clearly confirmed to my heart that, at that moment, Jesus himself didn’t want those people to hear more words about Jesus. The social worker, at that moment anyway, was acting as the hands of Jesus, not the elders in white shirts.

    I thought of this again today when I got home from church and opened my computer to see images of the carnage in the Philippines, and realized that neither I nor anyone else at church had expressed a single word of sorrow or offered a prayer of relief to the thousands devastated by a typhoon on the other side of the world.

  7. OT, I’ve noticed a lot of concerns about the Phillippines — or at least the missionaries serving there…

  8. Thomas Parkin says:

    I really appreciate this post. I’m not inclined to separate working on social problems from working on spiritual problems. Problems is problems. Helping others be free from violence, natural and man-made, is as much a part of helping them be whole and come to Christ as baptism, etc. It’s all one work, concentrated on caring for others well-being.

    Not to detract from the emphasis of this post but I think people who are economically well-off are often in hell as well. I consider our wealthy society an appalling wasteland of suffering. Living falsely, spending all one’s energy sucking hard at fruit that cannot satisfy, etc. Of course, we are usually free of physical pain, and there is a lot to be said for that.

  9. It has taken too long, but it is from decades of marinating in the gospel of Jesus Christ that I have awakened to the ministry of social justice. I will not spend much time preaching Jesus when I bind up their wounds, but it is without question the healing that Jesus brought to my own soul, the preaching of Jesus, the call of Jesus, the example of Jesus, the heart of Jesus that got me to crouch in the dirt on my knees with the bandages.

  10. Midwest Mormon says:

    Horrors of this nature are not confined to third world countries.My wife has worked with plenty of American pre-teens who have been pimped out by parents or have executed innocent targets for gangs they joined, and we don’t even live in a major metro area.

    She has spent her life specializing in emergency services for patients with severe mental health and chemical dependence problems, and I have spent mine reporting for mainstream media on the causes and solutions, on a micro and macro scale. We have done what we could through our careers for the last 40 years to minimize the impact of wickedness and maximize the impact of righteousness in the world and to support effective social programs that help move the world in the right direction.

    But more importantly we have supported the four-fold mission of the church as much as possible because establishing and strengthening Zion is the best way individuals can work on the world’s problems. To us it has seemed that living this way and teaching our children and others to live this way is the only sensible response to the worst that is out there and the best path to joy and peace.

  11. Steve: I disagree strongly with the idea we only care about the missionaries over in the Philippines. After the Earthquake two weeks ago, Elder Anderson of the 12 and a contingent of RMs went to Cebu and Bohol to help out. I know because I served with many of them and saw the pictures on facebook. One of the main things devastated by the quake was collapsed Catholic Churches, so a lot of focus was on helping with that. They are all trying to figure out how to help again. So I’m calling a cheap shot a cheap shot.

  12. As to the OP, I don’t know. I fundamentally have to disagree with the idea that Jesus won’t save. After all, Jesus is what inspires us to save and be better. I see organizations like Youth Making a Difference, Vaccines for the Philippines, The Food Banks in San Antonio and in Houston, and The Local Ronald McDonald Foundation and other organizations run or lead by church members, and I can’t help but think the church is doing a major part in inspiring people to reach out beyond themselves to make a difference.

    On the other hand, this is personally a deeply moving reminder that Jesus does expect ME to save, and so I truly do appreciate that. I can do more.

  13. Matt W.,

    First, Jesus can and does save in spiritual sense. However, I gave specific examples of the need for human action.

    Second, are you saying only Jesus does inspires people to act well? That people who don’t have Jesus aren’t inspired to do good things? While Jesus, and religion in general may inspire us to be our brothers’ keepers, I surely hope human compassion, does so too–if not more. Good works based on religion are sometimes done out of duty or self-salvation; good works based on compassion are out of love.

    OT,
    Thanks for your comment. So poignant.

  14. Amen to OT’s comments.

    This post is wonderful and succinct. Also, it seems rather silly that people want to create arguments against the point of this post, which for my reading are: that we ARE Jesus in certain settings, that we bring his love and concern to those who do not know Him, and that our faithful acts of discipleship can provide hope for “redemption” from a certain kind of Hell. We don’t need to preach to these people. We need get off our horse, clothe them, feed them, nurture them. Let’s talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy, shall we?

  15. mmiles, compassion is a gift of the spirit, a part of the light of Christ within us all. That is the church teaching. So even when we do good on our own, which I believe we do, it is to his credit. Surely a Jesus who could ascend into Heaven, appear to Joseph Smith, and conquer spiritual death can and does inspire the sons and daughters of God to compassion?

    And I was not speaking at all about the spiritual sense to which you refer. I was speaking of human suffering in this world.

  16. To be more succinct, I believe hope is vitally important and that Jesus gives hope. Anyway, all that aside, when I served as a missionary, we would always say “First Aid First” meaning it was essential to care for the immediate needs of those present before worrying about the “preaching of the Gospel”. So as I don’t really disagree with the sentiment, and am merely am uncomfortable with the wording, I am not sure why I am even still commenting at all.

  17. Pres. Uchtdorf is the most recent apostle to talk directly about people being God’s hands, but the theme has been repeated in General Conference as long as I can remember.

    I don’t care much about exactly how we talk about the issue; I care much more about whether or not we live it. In some ways, we live it extremely well as a group; in other ways, we have a long way to go.

  18. MMiles–this is a heart-wrenching. Do you have any particular “tangible” notions of what the Church could/should do? I do hope that missionary work becomes much more service-oriented. I hope we can provide educational resources. But there are no easy solutions. There are no solutions where people aren’t willing to enter into the heart of the tragedy and receive all of those abused by their circumstances and by those who should have protected them. If we have access to money, education, food, imagination (especially as it applies to bettering nutrition), we have a global debt. Thank you for such a graphic but necessary picture of how deep the need goes.

  19. Your article made me think–hopefully not too tangentially–of the existence and state of hell on earth today, and it made me wonder about the juxtaposition of eternal life as a state that can be achieved in mortality. When I previously read scriptures regarding those who gain eternal life, I always assumed it to be a future consequence, not a current state of being, but http://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/1-jn/3.15?lang=eng#14 and http://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/john/6.54?lang=eng#53 made me think otherwise. If one can live in a state of hell on earth, one can also achieve a state of eternal life. When lives and basic needs are at stake, surely those must be addressed before attempting to save their souls. Matthew 7:9 – Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

  20. If you could help you neighbor would you? After you helped you neighbor he helped his. could that work? If one has the means to help serve not just those that are less fortunate but people they know. They in return will help other. You have to set the example and serve and others will follow. There are many people right in your back yards that need our service all we have to do is look and care like our Heavenly Father did. I’m a recipient of the chain and now my family is abel to give back just because of one persons willingness to care and serve.

  21. Thank you for this post. I deeply with the church were more involved in social justice missions. We do a great job mobilizing people for natural disasters or one-off service projects, but for more ongoing community engagement, I do believe that, as a body, we could do better. I have some “holy envy” for Catholic Charities in this regard. I’ve engaged with other groups working on these issues before–though not nearly as much as I should–but I’d really love to have a way to work through my own faith community on social justice initiatives, and I imagine there are other Mormons who feel the same way.

    Thank you for this reminder.

  22. That should say “I deeply WISH” not with.

  23. “We don’t need to preach to these people. We need get off our horse, clothe them, feed them, nurture them.”

    If any man or woman, as an individual, feels called to the work of ministering directly to victims of any particular sort, I hope he or she will magnify that calling. That way, real work will get done — far more and more meaningful work than will ever occur by preaching social justice.

    “After you helped you neighbor he helped his. could that work? If one has the means to help serve not just those that are less fortunate but people they know. They in return will help other. You have to set the example and serve and others will follow. There are many people right in your back yards that need our service all we have to do is look and care like our Heavenly Father did. I’m a recipient of the chain and now my family is able to give back just because of one persons willingness to care and serve.”

    That’s the gospel way — one person at a time. There are so many opportunities, and each man or woman can choose for him- or herself, and so much good can be done. Or we can wait for someone else (the church? the government?) to solve these problems and speak ill of them for not doing so to our liking, and nothing will be done. I prefer the former approach. I much appreciate those among us who see and go and do.

  24. Antonio Parr says:

    Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

    Christ Has No Body

    Christ has no body but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    Compassion on this world,
    Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
    Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
    Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
    Christ has no body now but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    compassion on this world.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

  25. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    I am often sadden by the criticism of the church by some members who want to engage in social justice. They sometimes come across as self-righteous even when they don’t mean to be. The church does have a responsibility to take the gospel to all the world but it is so that those who are converted will ease the pain, sorrow and poverty of those around them. Jesus has called upon us to do his work here in this world. There will be a time to preach and there will be time to do charitable work and both must go hand in hand even if we first do one and than the other. If you want to inspire us to do more than do so. Remind us of the Christ-like responsibilities which we have and of how we are our brothers/sisters keepers, but don’t malign the church and don’t say that Jesus doesn’t save. He does but he does it through us. As an organization the Church spends more money for its size on humanitarian needs than any other worldwide institution and my sense is that this will increase more and more. I think it could spend even more and I think it could talk more about social justice but part of the problem is our own unwillingness to engage the subject in a meaningful way. For some it is not a priority and they choose not to talk about it and for others it is such a passionate subject that all they do is find fault with those not in “the trenches”. While not everyone that helps knows Jesus, it is through the light of Christ that they do good things even if they are muslim, Hindu or have no religion. Yes, Jesus does save but he does it through us which is why we must take the gospel of the Prince of Peace to all the world and do it faster. And it is one reason we should teach our children better so that as missionaries they will understand how the message applies in a particular way in different circumstances. In some it will be about freeing people from destructive vices and in others it will be about teaching a gospel message that helps to end poverty and injustice. No doubt our mission presidents will also have to be taught more about the world and its needs so they can use their power of discernment to better direct their missionaries. If we don’t, each victim–of vices, poverty or injustice–that goes unhealed will be one more witness against our indifference toward a spiritual brother/sisterhood that is at the heart of our gospel.

  26. Unfortunately, the term “social justice” triggers an unfortunate reaction in Glen Beck fans and others of a similar mind. It has nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word as used in the post, and everything to do with political identity.

    I’ve been reading the news the last couple of days, and I haven’t seen a whole lot about the Philippines. What should be the top story just isn’t getting as much attention as it should be. The initial death estimates were incredibly low (100, then 1,000) when it was clear that this storm was much more powerful–and that the infrastructure wasn’t nearly as sturdy as it is in places like the U.S. or Europe. Far too many Americans, unfortunately, don’t care much about what’s happening on the other side of the world–especially when it’s happening in a developing country.

    In fact, we’ve mostly segregated ourselves into economic communities, where most Americans never–or very rarely–interact with people of a different economic class. Most people in the middle and upper classes don’t interact with those in poverty. It’s easy to ignore those in poverty when we don’t interact with them. It’s particularly easy to ignore them when they live on the other side of the world.

  27. It’s really no different from Brigham Young’s sermon when he learned of the handcart pioneers caught in the autumn snows of Wyoming:

    I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak to-day and during the Conference, it is this, on the 5th day of October, 1856, many of our brethren and sisters are on the Plains with hand-carts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. The text will be–to get them here! I want the brethren who may speak to understand that their text is the people on the Plains, and the subject matter for this community is to send for them and bring them in before the winter sets in.

    That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess, it is to save the people. We must bring them in from the Plains, and when we get them here, we will try to keep the same spirit that we have had, and teach them the way of life and salvation; tell them how they can be saved, and how they can save their friends. This is the salvation I am now seeking for, to save our brethren that would be apt to perish, or suffer extremely, if we do not send them assistance.

    I shall call upon the Bishops this day, I shall not wait until to-morrow, nor until next day, . . .

  28. Tim – I don’t think it’s so much that Americans don’t care as that their media doesn’t care – in large part because of the reasons you mentioned. And of course there are plenty of Americans (and just plain human beings) who really don’t care and/or have other, more pressing concerns. However, lack of coverage doesn’t equal lack of compassion or even lack of awareness. My FB and Twitter have been inundated with links to various Philippines-related charities and new organizations to raise funds for typhoon relief. I was out of town and missed church yesterday, so I don’t know whether anyone prayed in the meetings for victims of the typhoon. I did in my personal prayers. Temporally speaking, I’m sure the LDS Church on the ground there is doing a lot, and the institutional Church will certainly do a lot as well in the coming days. When I pay my tithing next week I will be adding an extra donation for humanitarian service. A LOT of people are doing what they can. More media coverage would undoubtedly help the situation, and perhaps we will soon get Haiti-level shows of concern from CNN et al. Don’t underestimate the power of grass-roots sharing, though, nor the unsung efforts of people and groups who will never be recognized for what they do and who don’t want the recognition even if it comes.

    As for your comment about the upper and middle classes not interacting with people in poverty, I think you are very right. Our method of organizing the Church into geographical units is both a blessing and a barrier for this. In our stake, which includes a very poor, high-crime inner-city community, a number of people have been called from more established (and wealthier) wards to assist with the needs of the inner-city branch. I think we could do a lot more of this sort of thing.

  29. Antonio Parr says:

    There is much of value to the OP, but I have a problem with the “Jesus Won’t Save Us From It” part of the title, which, respectfully, comes across as a bit flippant.

    Jesus does save us from the spiritual and physical maladies of life. Some of the fruits of His work will not be known until the life to come, but some are realized in the here and now. Many times, the saving blessings of Christ come by way of the hands and feet and compassionate eyes of His disciples. But He is the life and light of the world, the living waters and bread of life, and the good that Latter-Day Saints and other fellow Christians do is in His name and with the desire to be part of His kingdom.

  30. marginalizedmormon says:

    Further, in societies without any semblance of social justice, Jesus means nothing—except for the hope of peace in a post-apocalyptic world, and I truly hope Mormonism offers more tangible, practicle outcomes than this.

    I don’t think Mormonism can. I think individuals can make a difference, but probably not very much. But it’s the attempt and the intent of the heart that will ultimately matter.

    6 And I saw the woman drunken with the ablood of the saints, and with the blood of the bmartyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great cadmiration.

    and:

    27 And it shall come in a day when the ablood of saints shall cry unto the Lord, because of secret bcombinations and the works of darkness.

    The ‘saints’ are the little children and older children who are eaten up by secret combinations; their blood is crying from the ground–and they will be avenged–

    The fact is that those who are ‘safe’ from the kinds of horrors you mention (OP) must choose how they can alleviate suffering; the church won’t do it; not sure why, but it doesn’t matter; members can’t decide what the ‘church’ will do; only members can decide what they will do–

    It is horrible how many children (and families) live, and it keeps me awake at night.

    But I do believe there is a hell after this life; I believe it is when people who believed they were faithful Christians (of one kind or another) realize, after they die, that they lived the ‘good life’ and consumed many good things, while others were suffering–

    hell is now for those who suffer in the flesh and endure horror–

    hell is later for those who ignore their cries–

    I don’t want to be one of those who suffers later, because I ignored cries for help, but I am not sure whether or not I will be–

    of course one person can’t alleviate all the suffering, but even baby steps are better than ignoring the cries of the suffering and simply paying fast offerings–and hoping that will be enough–

    Thank you for the OP–

  31. ji,
    While you may prefer one approach, the reality is a lot of the hell created on earth continues to exist because of lack of political will. One individual at a time only goes so far. If you truly think it is not governments’ job to stop war crimes, human trafficking, and the list goes on—then you must not believe in rule of law at all.
    Further, religious movements have been, in part, responsible for abolition, universal suffrage, and ending child labor in the western world. If these are not the causes of Jesus, I don’t know what are. If there is one lasting think I was taught growing up in this church, it is that Jesus’ example was to take care of others for its own sake, not so they would do good too (although usually a nice domino effect). However, the church is pretty clear that the gospel is taught so all people receive saving priesthood ordinances, not so they are nice to each other per se.

    Antonio Parr,
    “Jesus does save us from the spiritual and physical maladies of life. Some of the fruits of His work will not be known until the life to come, but some are realized in the here and now.”

    Yet the point of the post is about the here and now, not the life to come. There is nothing he will do for people living in dire circumstances if we won’t do it.

  32. Antonio Parr says:

    mmiles – The point of my post was also about the here and now.

    Your OP and follow up comments make for a good dialogue. However, statements such as “Jesus Won’t Save Us” and there is “nothing he will do for people living in dire circumstances” are, IMHO, overly broad and needlessly inflammatory.

    First, Jesus has called His disciples to acts of heroic sacrifice and service. If we heed that call, then great things will happen and much suffering will be eliminated. My point was that these acts of service by Christians are not outside of Christ, but flow from and are in Him. Hence, in the final analysis, it is Jesus who is continuing a portion of His saving work, throuigh us, His disciples.

    Second, I respectfully disagree that there is “‘nothing’ that [Jesus] will do for people living in dire circumstances if we won’t do it.” This statement understates both the power of the Comforter and the strength that believers derive from life in Christ. There are many who are subjected to unspeakable trials but who find a measure of hope and peace in Christ, even when, as is too often the case, Christ’s disciples are nowhere to be found, because we are too often pigs rather than heroes.

    Still, I am reminded by your OP that I am called to give more of myself than I currently give, and for that I am grateful.

  33. The Other Clark says:

    Thought-provoking! If, as Brigham Young said, we must build Zion ourselves, for God won’t built it for us; it’s not stretch to say we must save souls from their temporal hells literally; for God won’t do it for us.

    I think Elder Anderson’s quote is misinterpreted, for many top Church leaders know very well that temporal help must come before those in hell can be rescued spiritually. Here’s David O. McKay’s testimony of the principle, as related in April 2011 by then presiding Bishop Burton:

    “In 1897 a young David O. McKay stood at a door with a tract in his hand… a very haggard woman opened the door and stood before him. She was poorly dressed and had sunken cheeks and unkempt hair. She took the tract Elder McKay offered to her and spoke six words that he subsequently would never forget: ‘Will this buy me any bread?’… ‘From that moment I had a deeper realization that the Church of Christ should be and is interested in the temporal salvation of man. I walked away from the door feeling that that [woman], with … bitterness in [her heart] toward man and God, [was] in no position to receive the message of the gospel. [She was] in need of temporal help, and there was no organization…that could give it to [her].”

  34. AP,
    Agree with your second paragraph. However while I agree that the Comforter can come and does, but I’m skeptical about the power of hope in Christ in some circumstances ( for instance where children are involved). I’m not really talking about comfort here–I’m talking about physical rescue. It’s really easy for us to placate ourselves by saying it will all be ok in the next life, or talk about spiritual comfort that we aren’t a part of. I don’t want to downplay spiritual comfort–but the realities of temporal life can be much more critical.

  35. mmiles,

    You misinterpet — I certainly do believe civil governments should pay attention to the hardships you describe, and work to eradicate them. And individual Latter-day Saints, who feel called to the work, should respond to their callings. We should work, as individuals in our society in concert with others of good will, to relieve suffering.

  36. I’m sorry, but I have to push back on the idea that coming to Jesus does nothing for the victims of human tragedy. Achieving “at-one-ment” to any degree is the only true remedy for the horrors of this existence. I’d rather not reveal my situation, but is the only thing that helped me.

    So I say: Let’s relieve the burdens of our brothers and sisters as best we can, show them the love that flows from our covenant relationship with God, and leave the rest to Jesus.

  37. Anonymous,
    Please note that I never said Jesus does nothing for victims of human tragedy. However it is human hands that will relieve physical suffering.

  38. Where did you do your research?

  39. Like others, I’m a little bit uncomfortable with parts of the post. On my mission I had the privilege of spending lots of time with Serbian and Sudanese refugees. Both people witnessed intense horrors. A couple of my closest Sudanese friends were children soldiers. But, and I admit that my observations were fairly superficial, nearly every Serb I had a conversation with was intensely bitter about life and angry at God. Some seemed to believe in him only so that they could hate him. On the other hand, nearly every Sudanese I met was grateful to Jesus and looked to him with hope for their loved ones who were stuck in Sudan. We need to do more to help the physical horror of countless sufferers, but let’s not forget that the body is only one part of a person, and Jesus can heal suffering spirits, and become an emotional refuge for desperate people. An eleven year old Congolese child soldier (in the OP) needs physical saving, but I’m sure he needs, in a tactful and compassionate way, to be taught meaning in life that goes beyond the scope of his present horrors. Deciding which you administer to first, a person’s physical health or their spiritual health, probably has to be decided on a case-by-case basis, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that one de facto outweighs the other for certain groups of people.

  40. DavidF,
    Thanks for your comment. I would say it depends on the immediacy of the situation, no? I am assuming you talked to refugees after they were out of the immediate danger. It doesn’t help much to tell a child soldier or child prostitute about Jesus, but not take them out of the situation first. Surely one comes before the other.

  41. Yeah. Like I said, it’s a case-by-case basis. How immediate are we talking? That’s where I think the difference of opinion comes in.

  42. Jessica F. says:

    Mmiles- Oh my goodness I cannot say how much I love this post. After having worked in International women’s rights issues and then doing a International development program at Cambridge I cannot say how this post mirrors my own feelings.

  43. Thank you for this bracing reminder that my own cares and concerns pale in comparison to the existential desperation that so many of my brothers and sisters are laboring under. When I read a post like this and am reminded of the very, very real suffering that is underway right now, today, in my own country and around the world, any thought of quibbling over whether I agree with this or that phrase or notion seems utterly pointless. THE POINT is that people are suffering in horrible ways and if we are Christian at all, we should be stirred to compassion for them and to seek practical means to help them. We should care to let our governments know that we value life and the care for human life more than national pride or our own ease of life. Who cares if that is called “social justice” or “Christlike compassion”? Who cares? Let us see our petty indulgences in bloated and self-satisfied living for the obscenities that they are in the presence of such suffering.

  44. So, did David O. McKay come back with a loaf of bread?

  45. When we preach Jesus without also meeting the needs of those who struggle, or without also relieving the suffering of those who are oppressed, we reduce God to a cosmic rock star who, as some other Christian denominations seem to teach, has no purpose for His offspring greater than to stand around His throne in heaven singing praises, like an elected, sanctified group of fanboys. We essentially say, “God loves you so much, He wants to save you later, but He is indifferent to your heartbreak here and now.” No wonder so many who suffer are cynical to the claims of the “good news”. No wonder so many reject God in a grieving world. The world is supposed to know and experience Christ through their interactions with believers. I’m afraid too many people have experienced a God who turns a blind eye to their needs.

  46. @mmiles. I appreciate your focus on alleviating suffering. However, I believe you’ve misinterpreted Christofferson’s talk. The entire talk was about what we can do now to redeem others (e.g. story from Les Mis and his mother). Again, I’m not arguing about your goal. I’m taking issue with your interpretation of what was an amazing discourse on the ultimate power of religion. Yes, Mormonism should make us good people who seek to make the world a better place. But it’s ultimate power lay in it’s ability to provide redemption from sin. And I’m not saying your wrong and I’m right so no need to respond defending your position. I’d just encouraging you to revisit that talk and see how much is actually about alleviating suffering.

  47. And excuse the grammatical mistakes in my previous comment! Blah…posting too quickly!

  48. Sam,
    This post was not intended to address his talk in depth. I agree it does say much about alleviating the suffering of others. However it still stands that in the passage quoted that our greatest duty to is to preach. My own experiences would tell me otherwise.

  49. Yes, one passage says that, while the rest provides context for the real world. I agree that our greatest duty is to preach – but, in lots of cases, only after we have done what is necessary in order to make that preaching have a chance of being successful. I think that is what Elder Christofferson actually said in his talk, and I think this post missed that more complex stance – that it reads disagreement where none really exists.

    mmiles, I love the central message of this post, and I wanted to avoid the type of conflict you and I have had in the past, so in my previous comment I intentionally ignored my concern about the message that could be taken regarding Elder Christofferson’s talk – since I didn’t want to get into an argument about that message. However, I agree with Sam that the message of criticism the post implies toward the talk is unwarranted – that quoting that passage without summarizing the rest seriously misrepresents the talk as a whole.

    I won’t mention it again, since I really do love the central message of the post and don’t want to detract from it. Bottom line: We can’t do nothing but preach. We need to serve and alleviate, as well – and, often, that must happen before we preach.

  50. I have two little boys who I am raising with the expectation that they will serve missions for the church (no daughters, alas). They are, at 8 and 11, not entirely sold on the idea. 8yo is concerned that he will have to have to proselytize on his birthday. “What kind of birthday is that!?” I have always had the Plan B (and this is only in my head, I’ve never mentioned it to them) that if they just don’t feel they can do it, I will insist on a service mission via the Peace Corps or something similar. I consider missions a small tithe of our lives, so to me a service mission seems like it still would meet G-d’s approval. When I had a calling drought in my ward, I filled that void by volunteering with my local food bank/homelessness prevention center (I’m still doing it now, even as I hold two callings at church). I’m back in college part-time, working toward a medical degree because I want to be useful to people who need help (I have vague fantasies about international medical volunteering, but I’m at least 6 years away from being able to do that). I’m trying so hard to do what I can for now in my cushy suburban life. But I’m a drop in a vast ocean, and I have my children who need me too. How can I, an American suburban mom, do more for others?

  51. Meldrum the Less says:

    I too would like to know what I can do as an American and a Mormon living in a big city about this problem? Send money? Pray for them? I own a big (now mostly empty) house, do they need a place to stay? (Will my wife agree?) We can talk about it forever and discuss nuances of theology but what will that do for the victims?

    I do have one rather tangential idea about another group somewhat parallel to that described and much closer to our Mormon homeland. I refer to the more extreme polygamous groups who in some ways are just as bad with a more subtle approach in manipulating their daughters into relationships not much better. My understanding is that they continue to grow more from recruitment from within the ranks of the mainstream Mormon community than from internal reproduction. We as a church could repudiate polygamy theologically in a way so unmistakable that it inoculates those few among us who might be prone to conversion to it. I find it disturbing that Warren Jeffs was dancing around Utah for half a century but only lasted about 5 years before the State of Texas put him and a dozen of his top henchmen where they belong, behind bars for a very long time. Don’t tell me he is the last of his ink.

    Melissa:

    I have been a scout leader for almost a decade in a big non-LDS troop (50-80 boys) and I have both experienced it myself and watched as numerous loving parents struggle with the process of their boys becoming independent young men. The parents of the 11 year old scouts have them on a pretty tight leash as is expected and that works. But within a few short years the boys stop doing everything their parents ask without question, they become independent in thought and eventually in deed and they get tall and strong. The direct control their parents have over them diminishes, although their influence continues but only in subtle ways. Enjoy this quiet pleasant parenting season while it lasts, but harbor few false expectations of coming storms and being able to determine what they will do as adults.

    The decision of your sons to serve a mission is almost entirely outside of your control. This is an amazing and almost unbelievable thought to most parents of 11 year olds. At age 18 they are legal adults and will generally do as they choose. You actually have a stronger influence right now on this future decision than you will have in a few years. Many extremely negative consequences spring forth from boys who are manipulated or even strong-armed onto LDS missions when they do not really want to be there. Consequences you would never wish upon them if you knew.

    I personally agree in principle with the main tenor of your premise. I wanted to take my then young family on a mission to Mongolia but they wouldn’t let me. Before my coronaries gave out I was planning on going into the Peace Corps when I could retire. I have a 20 year old son who is not going on a mission. He intends to graduate from college this spring and is applying to graduate schools in Physics and/or Mathematics. I have NO CONTROL over his decisions and I can not make him go into the Peace Corp or anything else. This is as it should be.

    I celebrate the good choices and the achievements that he has made and I have to let go of his noncompliance with my agenda.

  52. Cate,
    Exactly!

    Melissa,
    “I’m trying so hard to do what I can for now in my cushy suburban life. But I’m a drop in a vast ocean, and I have my children who need me too. How can I, an American suburban mom, do more for others?”

    I think a large number of women feel that way. I think we just stay anxiously engaged the best we know how, pray earnestly, and let the spirit guide us. That sounds so simple–but I think it works. Bigger things come. For everyone the answer will be different.

  53. “Oh, that I were an angel….”

  54. mmiles, I think I’ve shared this previously at BCC, but after her first endowment session my oldest daughter said to me:

    “Sometimes we work so hard to build up the kingdom of God on earth that we forget to establish Zion.”

    She would love this post.

  55. Meldrum – 100% aware that my influence will diminish, and have zero desire to strong-arm them into missions against their wills. Seen that happen too many times. But I also know the social stigma that will attach to them if they do not serve, and if the other young men I know who haven’t served are any example, that stigma will drive them right out of the church. And I haven’t yet reached the point of indifference toward the institutional church that would allow me to be OK with that.

  56. Meldrum the Less says:

    “that stigma will drive them right out of the church”

    This is one of my nightmares. Currently my son is the backbone of a small institute class on campus and he is constantly encouraging the few other LDS students attending that school to participate along with a few non-LDS friends and he attends his Sunday meetings faithfully. A friend in a nearby ward (father of several children and considered a pillar of faith) told me he didn’t serve a mission and for a few years he felt the heat. But it subsided and he only had to convince one decent LDS woman to marry him out of the vast majority who considered not being a RM to be a deal breaker. After that it became a footnote. But I suspect these are exceptions and you are all too correct in a general sense.

    I would be interested in data on how many young men go on missions and how many don’t. How many of each category stay active or don’t. In the ward he was raised we had a fairly long list of deeply inactive young men but only a handful ever showed up to church. Positive spin would be 2 of 3 his age who were actually there served missions. Negative spin would be less than 10% on the list served missions. (Our contorted way of counting membership interferes with this determination). My guess: a reasonable numbering of actual participating LDS boys would yield about 30-40% who go on to serve missions. In our stake I am told it is probably closer to 10-20%.

    There is also the growing number of return missionaries who loose their faith either on their missions or else not long after it. I think this problem would be far less if we only sent missionaries who sincerely wanted to go from deep personal conviction without the incessant “encouragement ” that begins at about the same time as toilet training. I suspect that a majority of young LDS men are at severe risk of being driven out of the church by the stigma of not serving a mission or by their mission experiences being a faith-killer. Is it worth it?

    I recall as a youth that the expectation of LDS missionary service changed. For my older cousins a mission was one of many honorable options which also included military service, college, marriage, gainful employment. It seems maybe 20 or 30% went the missionary route I don’t know for sure. I believe it was President Spencer W. Kimball who changed the expectation: every young man acquired a priesthood responsibility to be worthy to serve a full-time mission. Out of this edict grew the stigma that was never there before.

    I have not reached a point of indifference to the institutional church. But I suspect I harbor rather grand false expectations, hoping for change and this drives my comments here. Are you or anyone else on board with a desire for significant change? (More than tinkering with age brackets?) Could our little army of missionaries do more to alleviate the suffering of victims of human trafficking, for example?

    Indifferent or not, there is nothing I can do to make my beloved 20 year old straight A college student serve a mission at this point. Life is better celebrating his accomplishments and not trying to compel him. He won’t push back (based on his response to well-meaning zealots in the ward), he knows what he wants and he will just shut down lines of communication. He is a deeply spiritual person and I believe the Lord walks with him. If the church loses him it will be a great loss to the church indeed.

  57. Having served a mission in South Africa, I started to make a distinction between preaching the gospel and preaching the church. Preaching the gospel could include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sharing Christ’s love. It’s includes cleaning, and nurturing and talking about hope in Christ. It can be VERY healing in any circumstance. Even those who are rescued form their circumstances REALLY need Christ and forgiveness and healing and hope.

    preaching the church includes not just the obvious basketball gym in every church and jello jubilee, but emphasizing “Activity” and attendance and visual representations of church membership. Programs of the church become important here…form and suits and meetings and Personal Progress and scouts. I’m not saying those things are bad. I am in favor of attending church. I’m in favor of programs…when they support the gospel for that person. I also think unit the basics are there…the gospel is all that should be taught.

    I think the new emphasis in missionary work is more preach the gospel oriented. It focuses on service and friendship.

    I am saying that preaching the gospel is critically important. with or without words.

  58. I lived in a ward where a couple of the young men went less active at around age 17 or 18 and came back a couple of years later, after the intense pressure of “serve a mission” had lessened. They were both fantastic members of the ward, and a bigger strength to the ward than most other active members.

    I was in a position to–and actually asked by church leaders to–push the idea of a mission on one of these young men after he returned to activity in the church. Given my mission experience–not a positive one, although I don’t regret going–and given that I believe this young man would’ve had a similar experience, plus the fact that he already had a testimony and was already doing a lot of good where he was at, I refused to push him into doing what he didn’t want to do.

    I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but anyone who looks down on an active LDS young man because of his lack of full-time missionary service is an idiot.

  59. brit,
    “Having served a mission in South Africa, I started to make a distinction between preaching the gospel and preaching the church. Preaching the gospel could include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sharing Christ’s love.”

    I like that.

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