If there still exists anyone in the greater world of Mormon blogs who thinks I am writing these Old Testament posts as a resource for Sunday lessons and not for my own simple entertainment, this one should surely disabuse them.
Let me start out all faith-promoting, though, and I’ll degenerate as I go along: The book of Daniel has always greatly inspired me. One of my very favorite Conference Talks was taken from the book of Daniel. In April 2004, Dennis E. Simmons’ talk, “But If Not…” speaks of the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego as they were about to be cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to the king’s golden idol. They said that they knew that the Lord had the power to deliver them, but if not, they would still refuse to serve the king’s false gods.
Elder Simmons continued by enumerating other scriptural figures who had faith even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped.
“Our scriptures and our history are replete with accounts of God’s great men and women who believed that He would deliver them, but if not, they demonstrated that they would trust and be true…
Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not … . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.
Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.”
Other stories in Daniel and this week’s Sunday School lesson reinforce this type of faith. Daniel prays to his God, knowing that he will be cast into a lion’s den for so doing. Esther goes before the king to plead for her people, saying, “if I perish, I perish.” This type of faith is very appealing to me. I greatly admire those who have it. Yet, as I strive to develop it in myself, I begin to falter. How am I to react when prayers are unanswered over a long period of time, when promised witnesses fail to materialize? Is it virtue or stupidity to continue to believe when reason and circumstance seem to prove contrary? Haven’t you heard the quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results?”
Our God will deliver us, but if not, does reason dictate we should look for another way?
The reason why Daniel reminds me of the “m-word,” is because of a story that was told by Vaughn J. Featherstone in a 1975 Conference Talk, “A Self-Inflicted Purging.”
“We shouldn’t have a problem with masturbation. I know one fine father who interviewed his 11-year-old son and he said, “Son, if you never masturbate, the time will come in your life when you will be able to sit in front of your bishop at age 19, and say to him, ‘I have never done that in my life,’ and then you can go to the stake president when you are interviewed for your mission and tell him, ‘I have never done that in my life.’ And you would be quite a rare young man.”
“The father again interviewed the young man, who is now 18 years old, and he asked the son about masturbation. The son said, “I have never done that in my life. You told me, Dad, that if I didn’t do that, I would be able to sit in front of the bishop and stake president and tell them I had never done it, and I would be a rare young man, and I am going to be able to do it.”
You see, there is a young and idealistic part of me that thinks it is valiant and honorable to be able to take such a challenge, to stick to it for years and years, and then finally to be able to stand up and say, “I am a rare young man!” But then, on the other hand, I’m not sure that this isn’t a completely natural and normal part of life. It would also be a rare young man who didn’t eat chocolate for 19 years, wouldn’t it — but what great virtue is there in that?
What about those Daniels who are out there trying to sexually “starve” themselves, and finally give in, and despair of ever becoming the noble being they desperately desire to be? What about those Daniels who are cast into the lion’s den, or the fiery furnace, and who don’t have an angel come to rescue them by morning?
Are there any “but if not’s” in your life? Are you still hanging on in faith that the miracle will come, even though it hasn’t yet manifested itself?