Virtue or Stupidity: Why Daniel Reminds me of the “M-Word”

by: Bored in Vernal

November 14, 2010

OT SS Lesson #45

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?

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18 Responses to Virtue or Stupidity: Why Daniel Reminds me of the “M-Word”

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 14, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    I’m not sure what the “M” word was supposed to be, but one thing about never doing something is that it is easier not to do.

    I’ve been through a number of negative miracles, after all, lots of people don’t die of the flu or recover from ARDS, lots of diabetics don’t die if their first diagnosis comes before they are found in a coma, most children with hypoplastic left ventrical that survive the initial surgery live.

    Mine did not.

    I think, though, if we are looking for justice in this life, we are of all men, most miserable.

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  2. Aaron L on November 14, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    I honestly find myself pretty torn with this one. Sunday school lessons love to use Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego as examples of God’s deliverance. Much less often they talk about the daughters of Onitah in Abraham 1:11 who were killed upon the altar because of their virtue would not bow down to worship gods of wood and stone, or the believers in Alma 14 who were cast into the fire and were burned for their belief. Many other examples could be given.

    At the end of the day I am left feeling like God’s promises of deliverance are hollow, at least in the earthly sense. Nobody has any guarantees, irregardless of how righteous they think they are. Escape from tragedy that seems to be so ubiquitous in peoples’ lives or rewards that come from denying oneself sexually (to use your example) don’t seem come with any degree of consistency.

    Maybe we really will be “saved at the last day” if we are faithful so all earthly suffering and trial won’t matter in the end. From a believing perspective, that is the hope people hold on to. On the other hand, when the followers of Jim Jones drank the purple kool-aid, they probably thought the same thing.

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  3. SteveS on November 14, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    BiV: Many scholars believe that the Daniel stories (no meat/wine; fiery furnace; lion’s den) are legendary, and didn’t really occur. They were illustrative of the appropriate Hebrew stance in obeying Mosaic Law in worship and dietary considerations amidst sometimes-heavy peer pressure to do otherwise.

    If these stories never really happened the way they were told in the Bible, how does that affect our interpretation of them? Obviously, they hold up a high ideal of exact obedience; are they meant to teach us that we must be obedient, or only that we should be obedient?

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  4. GBSmith on November 14, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    “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?”

    A testimony of the reality of God and the atonement would be nice. And by inference to feel forgiven.

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  5. Goldarn on November 14, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    I think those stories appeal to the notion of the person who does what is right, no matter the personal cost.

    The question remains: What is right?

    Doing what is turns out to be wrong, no matter the personal cost, is a tragedy. Those make good stories, too, but in real life it’s a bit disappointing.

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  6. Mr Q&A on November 14, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    But If Not…

    It is difficult not to be conditional in life, if we are to progress we need to learn the value of unconditional requests.

    Mrs Q&A and I recently had a disappointing blessing in which we were left void of optimism and hope for our desire to be successful, after a long tearful discussion and a desire to find a glimmer of optimism we settled on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, we decided that this is an opportunity to measure our attitude.

    We believe God will help us achieve our desire But If Not…

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  7. Latter-day Guy on November 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    Are you still hanging on in faith that the miracle will come, even though it hasn’t yet manifested itself?

    For me, I’m beginning to feel that maybe I’ve been waiting for the wrong miracle; maybe the real one will be finding the guts to make the really, really painful decision which the hoped-for-but-not-forthcoming miracle would have made unnecessary. When I think about it in those terms, I actually feel pretty peaceful — a miracle in itself.

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  8. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 14, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego and their story becomes important only when they make the point that it is not a matter of whether or not they are delivered in this life that matters, it does not determine whether or not they are responding properly to the test that is life.

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  9. Jared on November 14, 2010 at 4:53 PM


    One of the reasons I came to the Bloggernacle is to find others, like myself, who have experienced the miracles you’re still seeking. That was over three years ago.

    What I’ve found in the Bloggernacle are a lot of wonderful people whose faith appears to be growing thin.

    I’ve testified of my experiences and have found that some are strengthened thereby. However, many have also turned to “ridicule”, and still others hearts are very hardened because they spend a great deal of their time studying things that diminish faith.

    In my opinion, if a person is sincere in their quest to acquire a manifestation from the Lord, they need to go about it in the Lord’s way.

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  10. Mike S on November 14, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    This applies to the OP as well as Jared’s comment. I do appreciate things Jared has said over time. He is certainly open about trying to relate his experiences to others in an attempt to help them. Hopefully, he hasn’t felt too ridiculed on account of me.

    This is a very poignant post to me, so thank you for it. And don’t worry, I won’t teach from it. As BiV mentioned: 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? – this is my life.

    I have been at this 40+ years. I have served a mission, callings, etc. I have always had a temple recommend. Yet I’m still in the “but if…” stage. I’ve never had that experience, like Jared, where I finally knew that all this was true.

    So the $100,000 question. For how long do you keep faith that someday the miracle may come? When I was a missionary, my answer to someone non-LDS to that question would be that it is because they hadn’t found the “truth” yet, and therefore should listen to our message. Is the flip-side to that my answer from God, that my lack of an answer about the LDS Church IS my answer? Does my path lie down a different road? Or is this my test, to hang on with faith yet no answer? Or maybe I have received an answer, yet just don’t know it’s an answer (but in that case, is it really an answer)?

    Jared mentioned that “faith is growing thin”. Perhaps that’s true. I was actually in a state of equilibrium until a few years ago. I had several experiences which I felt were fairly spiritual and profound. I thought I was finally figuring all of this out and really starting to understand things of the spirit. In various blessings in various settings, I was told great things. As events in life unfolded, however, what happened was the exact opposite of what was promised. So, what do I make of that? It shattered my confidence that this was the path God wanted for me. And here I am.

    All I can do is go forward. Perhaps I will someday walk out of the fiery furnace. Perhaps I will be burned to a crisp. Perhaps an angel will loose me from the altar. Perhaps I will be sacrificed.

    I don’t really know anymore.

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  11. Joe on November 14, 2010 at 8:35 PM

    You can’t “know” the church is true. You can have great faith, but great faith is NOT knowledge. You can have many experiences that strengthen your faith, but that’s still not “knowing.” In fact, claims of knowledge are completely contrary to scriptures and revelation! We live by faith; that is God’s plan (though I’m no longer a believer, I still believe this–that if there is a God, by necessity we must use our own free agency. God really can’t be a respecter of men.)

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  12. Mike S on November 14, 2010 at 8:48 PM

    #11: Joe

    You say that you can’t “know” the church is true, but perhaps someone better tell that to the 28,000+ wards and branches x 10 members, or nearly a quarter of a million people each month who say something very nearly akin to the following:

    I KNOW the Church is true.
    I KNOW that Joseph Smith was a prophet
    I KNOW that President Monson is our prophet today.
    I KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Book of Mormon is true

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  13. FireTag on November 14, 2010 at 9:14 PM

    Mike S.:

    Everything you “feel” or “think” is squishy; there is not a privileges “objective” part of the brain. There can be an objective reality, but we can only experience it virtually through the organic computer in our head.

    But I think that makes the “but if not” statement more about us than about God. Our knowledge of Him is only as good as our trust in our interpretations of our own experiences or those of others.

    However, we can have more trust in our experiences about WHO WE ARE, if only because we have so MANY experiences with ourselves. I know my nature is such that I can’t give up certain beliefs about the mission of the Restoration or the Book of Mormon, for example, and still like myself.

    My “but if not” list is different than yours, or Jared’s or BiV’s, I’m sure, and it’s shaped by my personal and denominational history, but it’s very real to me.

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  14. Jared on November 14, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    Mike S.–

    I respect your straight forward expression of how you feel and what you’ve experienced. It’s what I have done except on the other side of the equation.

    I don’t know why the Lord deals with each of us so differently. The scriptures give us some ideas, and that is all we have to go on.

    For those who receive sought after manifestations of the Spirit, and those who don’t, the counsel is the same–be faithful, and endure to the end.

    One might suppose that those who receive the manifestations of the Spirit have run all the bases and are home free. Not so, there are unique challenges and difficulties that come with it. I believe the Lord will try us every step of the way.

    Regarding blessing (all kinds), many are inspired, but not all. I’m careful about receiving blessings because I’m aware that men make mistakes no matter what position they hold in the church.

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  15. Joe on November 14, 2010 at 11:53 PM

    Mormons all over say “I know” because they were taught that saying “I believe” wasn’t good enough. (Not a joke either; I remember the lectures from the general conference pulpit in the late 70s, early 80s.

    (Moreover, if you’re going to fall back on the logic of numbers, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, Hindus, Shintoists each have you beat.)

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  16. SilverRain on November 15, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    Because of the things I’ve been through fairly recently in my faith, I see this story a little differently than I used to.

    It’s less about faith in the sense of this uplifting, confident feeling we often think of, and more about the alternative simply being worse.

    It’s like the way the pioneers crossed the plains. We often venerate them for putting one foot in front of the other, but what choice did they have? On the surface, the 3 Israelites and the pioneers, and Esther, and all people who say “but if not . . .” have a choice, but what sort of a choice?

    Like the true mother of the baby Solomon threatened to divide, the alternative is worse. When faced with denunciation of what they knew was right, their lives seemed less important. We might say how horrible it would be for a mother to give up her baby, but seeing it killed was worse, so she gave it up.

    It’s a choice between two evils, an opportunity to really judge what is most important. I guess I get that.

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  17. spunky on November 16, 2010 at 2:56 AM

    “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?”

    To have a family. And I would guess that countless others want the same or marriage, or maybe even a divorce. I want to feel whole in the Mormon community- I want to go to relief society and not be ignored because I don’t have children. Mostly, I want someone to call me “Mom” and not have it be an accident. But after 4 IVFs, 1 failed adoption and $150,000++… well, I probably need to get to the “but if not” stage, but it is a very lonely place. But isn’t that the issue? I mean, when we accept “but if not” in any of our challenges, isn’t it somehow an acceptance of feeling -seeminly eternally- alone?

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  18. Thomas on November 16, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    My faith is far more “but if not” or “though he slay me, yet I will trust him” than “if you keep my commandments, you will prosper in the land.”

    Unfortunately, I think the Church may do more damage than it has to, by continuing to play up the notion that faith can bring temporal blessings. There are recitals, to be sure, that the blessings may be intangible, but tangible blessings (found keys, providential windfalls, miraculous escapes) are a big enough part of LDS folklore, Conference talks, and Ensign articles, that people will hope for them enough to be disappointed when they don’t arrive.

    I once had an experience paying the proverbial Tithing I Couldn’t Afford that would never make it into the Ensign. Instead of a long-lost uncle dying in the nick of time and including me in his will in the exact amount of the shortfall, within two weeks (1) we had a miscarriage; (2) I lost my job; (3) our landlord moved back in and we had to move into property owned by someone who turned out to be a bloodsucking deceitful wretch; (4) my credit took a spectacular beating. And oh, (5) I continued to agonize over never being able to get a Moroni Ten-Four spiritual confirmation of the Church.

    Something sure got poured out over my head, but I have serious questions about whether it was the windows of heaven, or of some other ZIP code. (Perhaps Barstow.)

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