The Arm of Flesh

For the past several months, my wife and I have been in the process of selecting a new insurance company.  After study and comparison of ratings, we settled on a provider.  Within a week after sending in a deposit for several hundred dollars, I opened the newspaper to read that the company I thought was solid and which was now holding my money was underwater and in need of a loan from the government in the amount of 85 billion dollars.  The irony is that the company was running expensive ads touting it strength and promising to be there when we need it, right up until the day it wasn’t. 

The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants says that part of the reason for the Restoration is to teach us not to trust in the arm of flesh.  If I didn’t know that lesson a month ago, I have learned it now.

I have had some other recent experiences which have caused me to think about what this all means.  Please consider:

1.  A returned missionary who served in a large city in South America told me that the biggest challenge of his mission was not the language or the food or getting along with his companions or homesickness.  It was the daily confrontation with real poverty and hunger.  He told of once giving a piece of hard candy to a child after church, and then immediately being surrounded by thirty other children and adults who also wanted candy.

2.  A couple who served a mission in the Caribbean told me that they often tried to serve meals at the church on Saturday afternoons in an effort to build friendship in the ward.  They paid for the food and prepared it themselves, since no church funds were available.  The meals were very simple, usually just sandwiches, rice, and boiled eggs.   And yet they often had to barricade themselves in the kitchen, literally barring the door as they prepared the food.  The ward members — our brothers and sisters — were so hungry that they tried to get into the kitchen to eat the meal before it was fully prepared.

 The recent upheavals in the financial markets have brought about a situation where people try to shift blame and point fingers.  It is a spectacle that is reminiscent of children playing in a sandbox, fighting over a toy.   Against the backdrop of that comedy of errors, the speakers in conference offered a message of hope and reminders of our obligations to the poor.  President Monson has often taught that our hands can be God’s hands, and that His work is usually accomplished by our brains and arms.  When our service is consecrated, we are assisting God in His work and glory. 

President Uchtdorf closed his talk in priesthood meeting by reminding us that we are

…devoted to give our all to the cause of Zion and bound by covenant to stand close together…

The message of conference for me this time came as a revelation. If I feel good placing hundreds of dollars into the hands of people I don’t know and obviously cannot trust, I also need to find a way to use at least an equivalent amount to assist those to whom I am bound by covenant.


  1. Excellent point, Mark–an important lesson for all times, but maybe especially this one.

  2. Your examples reminded me of a similar experience I had on my mission. We were in the home of a poor family with several small children. I had a few small coins in my pocket, and I thought it would be a treat if I left one in the home, to be found by a member of the family as a happy surprise. During our visit, one of the kids found the coin, and immediately, all of them started fighting over it. Not at all the reaction I was hoping for.

  3. I can relate having gone through a somewhat similar experience during Hurricane Ike. I was admittedly very nervous about what would happen to a city of 4 million faced with a barely functioning infrastructure.

    Despite the damage and a little hardship, it was extremely pleasant. Ward members took care of each other to a degree I had not expected. Neighbors who had previously barely spoken were out in the streets, sharing food, gas, and supplies. Life at the micro level, despite the grim macro-level news, was actually pretty enjoyable.

    I had been trusting in the immediate availability of power, food, and other supplies to supply a sense of stability that, in a weird sort of way, actually became stronger with those things removed due to the kind attributes of good neighbors and ward friends.

  4. Thank you, Mark.

  5. Pres.Uchtdorf’s PH meeting talk gave me the takeaway line of the whole conference, that of “Stand close together, and lift where you stand”. One of the simplest and easiest descriptions of gospel service I have ever heard.

    Elder Holland also talked about both immortal angels and mortal angels. I’ve been the beneficiary of mortal angels more often, I suspect, than I have been that angel of comfort and compassion for others, an imbalance I am trying to change.

    Based on what is going on in the world, I thought this conference’s messages were spot on. Now the burden is on me to “go and do likewise”.

  6. For what it is worth, speaking not in my professional status, the various insurance companies that form the assets of AIG are pretty solid, not to mention backed up by the guarantee funds for the individual states.

    Not sure exactly what you were paying for (term life? liability? health insurance?) or which subdivision you were actually dealing with. You get get ratings and such for the entity and will probably feel a great deal better about your purchase.