Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been

By Brian Boyer

Photo courtesy Oliver Roos.  
It would be a mistake to neglect or disregard the choices we can make, simply because we can’t change everything.

Edward Lorenz was a mild mannered, soft spoken professor of meteorology at MIT.  On a cold winter day in 1961, he was simulating weather patterns on an old main-frame computer.  He entered the initial numerical conditions and then left for a few minutes.  When he returned, he noticed something that would change the course of science.  The solutions given by the computer were drastically different than results he had previously found.  At first he thought a vacuum tube had gone bad in the computer.  Upon closer examination however, he figured out what was going on. In entering the initial numerical conditions he had rounded off one variable from 0.506127 to 0.506.  To his surprise, this tiny alteration entirely transformed the whole pattern his computer produced in simulating two months of weather.   The initial round-off errors were amplifying through the system of equations until they dominated the solution.

This surprising result led Lorenz into a powerful new insight about the way nature works.  Tiny changes in initial conditions can amplify through a system and have huge consequences, much larger than scientists had previously considered practical.  The idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” after Lorenz suggested in a paper that perhaps even the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil may ultimately cause a tornado in Texas.  His insight turned into the founding principle of what is known today as “chaos theory”, and which expanded rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s  into fields such as geology, and biology.  Many scientists now rank the ideas behind chaos theory and the butterfly effect among the great scientific revolutions of the 20th century.

Similar to the flap of a butterfly’s wings, we often make small choices that may seem insignificant and inconsequential.  These small choices can have a significant impact on who we become and how much we accomplish.  One of the greatest gifts of God is our right to make these kinds of choices.  The prophet Lehi taught “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.  And they are free to choose”  (2 Nephi 2:27).  President David O. McKay said “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man.”

While we cannot immediately alter all of life’s circumstances, we have been granted a domain over which we have freedom to choose.  It would be a mistake to neglect and disregard the choices we can make, simply because we cannot choose to immediately change everything.  The choices we can make today may have far reaching effects.  How are we making use of this power, the gift of agency from God that is next to the gift of life itself?

One important choice that confronts us on a regular basis, perhaps without us even knowing, is the choice between fear and faith.  Jesus admonished his disciples to “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  Fear comes in many forms, and often seems outside the domain of our freedom to choose.  When I feel fear it often feels innate, something over which I have no control. But the two words in this scripture, “let not” suggest that in some sense, we have a choice.

The prophet Moroni teaches that “perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16, see also John 4:18).  In other words, perfect love is a causal force that drives fear away. Ten verses later, in the same chapter, the words “perfect love” appear again, but this time as a consequence rather than a causal force.  The verse states “And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost which comforter filleth with hope and perfect love” (Moroni 8:26).  These words describe a connection from experiencing a remission of sins, to meekness, to being filled with the Holy Ghost, to  hope and perfect love.  And, “perfect love casteth out all fear.”  The process begins with having our sins remitted which brings a deeper understanding of the generous mercy of God and our dependence on such mercy.  This understanding is the key to being filled with the love of God.  We choose to “let not” our hearts be troubled nor afraid, as we choose to look up, “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men” (Moroni 10:3-5), and know that He will continue to be so.

Sorting Out Fear

Not all kinds of fear are bad and should be avoided.  Some kinds of fear, such as the fear of a hot stove or the fear of a bear in a forest can lead to heightened awareness and keep us safe from harm.  The scriptures also teach us we should “fear the Lord.” Clearly we should not try to avoid this type of fear.  Elder David A. Bednar explains that this “righteous fear . . . encompasses a deep feeling of reverence, respect, and awe for the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This kind of godly fear strengthens our capacity to “let not” our hearts be troubled nor afraid.

The kind of fear we are to avoid is fear that leads to despair, hopelessness, or inaction.  This kind of fear debilitates and erodes our confidence, and makes it impossible to change for the better.  Elder Worthen recently described this kind of fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real: FEAR.”  If faith is the evidence of things not seen that are true then faith is the exact antithesis to this type of fear: false evidence appearing real (see Heb 1:11, Alma 32:21).  When the Lord tells us to let not our hearts be troubled, nor afraid he is asking us to let not our hearts “resist the spirit of truth” (see Alma 30:46 and Moroni 10:5) and to reject false evidence appearing real.

The kind of fear we are to avoid is fear that leads to despair, hopelessness or inaction.

One such type of fear that we should let not trouble our hearts is the fear of missing out because of gifts we lack.  It is easy to look around and see that God does not give everyone the same gifts.  Some people are attractive, and some have wealth.  Some have the gift of leadership and others have the gift of wisdom.  Some have the gift of temperament and poise that garners the respect and admiration of others.  Some unique individuals have the gift of empathy and understanding, to feel the pains and burdens of others.  God is the author of such diversity.  “For all have not every gift . . . for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:10-11).

As the gifts of others become more apparent, especially in this age of social media, it can be easy to let our hearts be troubled and afraid that we are somehow missing out, to feel some envy, and to think “If only I could be more like him,” or “If only I could have the opportunities or circumstances that she has.”   May I acknowledge, I know what it is like to feel forgotten or insecure when others get the blessings I had hoped to receive!  Giving in to this fear of missing out, however, weakens our faith, in the words of Elder Christofferson,  that “God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit.”  With the many blessings God had given, there is so much good for us to do.  As Elder Maxwell taught, “Within our givens are unused opportunities . . . all about us. Neither should we pine away, therefore, for certain things outside God’s givens . . . because there is so much to do within what has been allotted to us.”    When we let our hearts be troubled or afraid that we are somehow missing out because of gifts we lack, we needlessly give way to false evidence appearing real.

At times fear can envelop us when circumstances occur in life that we never anticipated would happen.  Mistakes, poor choices, and sometimes events beyond the control of any mortal being can leave us feeling that perhaps our lives may not turn out the way we thought it would, or perhaps even the way God had planned. In such times, as we try to make our way back to some semblance of normality, the choice to let not our hearts be afraid can especially seem far beyond the domain of our freedom to choose. May those facing such an experience have the strength to endure it well.   Time is often necessary for healing.  In the meantime, we can choose to be still and trust in God even as events unfold in a manner that we never anticipated.

Although wounded, we can still choose to let not our hearts be afraid.  As the young stripling warriors of the Book of Mormon fought their enemies, all escaped being killed on three different occasions, yet “neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds” (Alma 57:25).  In the heat of battle they must have felt the type of anxiety and fear that helped keep them safe from harm. Yet, even though deeply wounded, fear never troubled their hearts in a manner that led them to hopelessness, despair, or inaction.  The last words of Helaman in decribing his men are that “they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day . . . and their faith is strong” (Alma 58:40).  Even as we struggle with events that we never anticipated, we can still choose to trust in God and fear not.  “All things work for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).  Any indication otherwise is false evidence appearing real.

Photo courtesy Ben White.
Although wounded, we can still choose to let not our
hearts be afraid.

According to the Multitude of His Tender Mercies    

The prophet Lehi found himself in various circumstances he never anticipated.  At the onset of his vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon (1Nephi 8:5-7) he tells us,

“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.”

“And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.”

“And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.”

Lehi then travels for many hours alone in darkness.   I imagine it would have been very easy for Lehi to fear, to let his heart be troubled and afraid.  His response instead is to “pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy . . . according to [or consistent with] the multitude of his tender mercies” (1Nephi 8:8).  Remembering how merciful God is, Lehi chooses to acknowledge the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies when fear could easily have been the innate respose.  In consequence, he eventually arrives at a “large and spacious field” (1 Nephi 8:9), and the vision of the tree of life unfolds; another experience I imagine he never anticipated.

Like Lehi, we can choose to let not our hearts be troubled neither afraid by choosing to look up and “remember how merciful the Lord hath been.”  As we remember and ponder the “multitude of his tender mercies” we become more merciful and generous ourselves.  We become more forgiving, patient, and meek. Our capacity to feel love and to love others increases, even perhaps those we thought unlovable.  We recognize and magnify the gifts and blessings God has mercifully bestowed upon us to render more meaningful service.  We cease to be overly focused on ourselves.  We quit worrying about gifts we lack and lift our gaze from wounds that may need a little more time to heal.

The Mercy of God and the Law of the Harvest 

In the parable of the talents, the Lord teaches us to remember how merciful he is. While the first two servants put their money to work and double their holdings, the third servant, who was given less, is full of fear and buries what he has been given.  The servant justifies his actions saying, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou has not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Matt 25:24).

In using these words, the servant is clearly accusing his master of being arbitrary, unjust, and unfair. In essence he may have been saying, “Lord, you require too much of thy servants, more than they can accomplish.  Life is messy and sometimes things happen for no apparent cause to people who do not deserve it.  Even if I were to work hard and try to magnify what I had been given, there is no guarantee of success. Can you blame me for being a little afraid?”

In what may have been a surprising rebuke, the master agrees with the servant, saying, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed” (Matt 25:26).  I have often puzzled over this reply.  If the master in this parable represents the Savior, how could he be anything but just and fair?  The point the master is trying to make in this parable, I believe, is that he is merciful.  In essence, the master in this parable may have been saying something like, “Yes, things do happen to people who don’t deserve it, the most stark evidence of such is the talent you are holding right there in your hand. That talent was given to you freely, because I am merciful, not because you earned it. With faith in such abundant mercy, recognizing all that you had been freely given, you should have chosen to let not your heart be troubled, nor afraid, and looked up with courage to magnify what you had, even though it may not have been exactly what you desired and in what you might have considered to be ideal circumstances.  In the end, any success in building upon what you have depends on faith in my mercy, and the power of such mercy to overcome the demands of justice.”   God does indeed reap and gather beyond what is merited by the demands of justice alone.  He gathers us.

In discussing the parable of the talents, Charles Ellicott, a noted bible scholar writes, “So in the souls of men there springs up at times the thought that all the anomalies of earthly rule are found in that of God, that He too is arbitrary, vindictive, pitiless, like earthly kings; and that thought, as it kills love, so it paralyses the energy which depends on love.”  In contrast, as we choose to remember the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies, we open our hearts to be filled with the love of God.  This love nourishes the energy we need to overcome fear and let not our hearts be troubled, neither afraid.

Go and Sin No More. Courtesy media library.
God does indeed reap and gather beyond what is merited by the demands of justice alone.  He gathers us.

Josie’s Courage

In the 2016 General Conference, Sister Carol Stephens tells about a young girl named Josie who suffers from Bipolar disorder.   She “lives with a crippling and debilitating depression, inconsolable hopeless feelings and constant, unrelenting anxiety.” Let me share some of her experiences in her own words.

“The worst of the darkness occurs on what my family and I have deemed ‘floor days.’ It begins with sensory overload and acute sensitivity and resistance to any type of sound, touch, or light. It is the apex of mental anguish. There is one day in particular that I will never forget.

“It was early in the journey, making the experience especially frightening. I can remember sobbing, tears racing down my face as I gasped for air. But even such intense suffering paled in comparison to the pain that followed as I observed panic overwhelm my mother, so desperate to help me.

“With my broken mind came her broken heart. But little did we know that despite the deepening darkness, we were just moments away from experiencing a mighty miracle.

“As a long hour continued, my mom whispered over and over and over again, ‘I would do anything to take this from you.’

“Meanwhile, the darkness intensified, and when I was convinced I could take no more, just then something marvelous occurred.

“A transcendent and wonderful power suddenly overtook my body. Then, with a ‘strength beyond my own,’ I declared to my mom with great conviction seven life-changing words in response to her repeated desire to bear my pain. I said, ‘You don’t have to; Someone already has.’”

Josie was not healed from her mental condition that day.  But as she traveled through her own dark and dreary waste, when fear seemed like the innate response, she was able to remember how merciful the Lord is, and to feel the power of his atonement, by which he suffered all “the mental, emotional, and physical torments known to man.”   Despite her circumstances, Josie was able to focus her attention on the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies.  Josie continues on her journey of faith.  Although her daily struggle with mental illness has robbed her of a normal life, she has decided, in her own words, “to be brave and choose joy.”  She has chosen to let not her heart be troubled nor afraid despite conditions around her.

A Temple in Philadelphia

A few months ago my wife and visited the temple in Philadelphia.  The existence of this temple in its current location is nothing short of a miracle. City official were strongly opposed to it being built.  When church leaders struck a deal with the owner to buy the property, city officials filed a legal claim to stop the transaction.  They wanted the property for themselves.  Church leaders tried every means to change the minds of city officials and show them the benefits of having a temple in the city.  Bishop Dean M. Davies flew out to meet with the mayor, but nothing worked.  All felt lost, and it seemed like nothing could enable the transaction to go through.  The leaders of the city appeared to have made their decision.  At that very moment, however, a local stake president from Tonga who was with Bishop Davies spoke up.  He described his days as a young boy in Tonga, when his family sold their home, sold fruits and vegetables, and sold everything they could to have enough money to travel to Hamilton, New Zealand, to be sealed as an eternal family in the temple. “You need this temple,” he told city officials. “This temple will bless your city. This temple will bless your community. It will bless the people.” The words of this stake president softened the hearts of city leaders.  The transaction went through.  The temple was built.  That small simple testimony, like the tiny changes in initial conditions of Edward Lorentz, has had, and will continue to have a dramatic impact on the lives of people who live in and around Philadelphia.

Like many temples, the celestial room of the Philadelphia temple has a magnificent chandelier and large stained glass windows.  As my wife and I sat in the celestial room, light poured in the windows, danced off the chandelier and filled the room.  At that moment  I noticed that everyone in the room was looking up to the light.  I thought of all that had happened to allow that temple to be built and make that moment possible, a moment I felt was symbolic of the Lord’s invitation to look up to God, and choose to let not our hearts be troubled nor afraid.

Photo courtesy  
Philadelphia Temple

The choice to look up and remember the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies can have far-reaching impacts on our lives.  As we remember how merciful the Lord hath been , we open our hearts to feel the love of God.  And “perfect love casteth out all fear.”  We choose to “let not” our hearts be troubled nor afraid, as we choose to remember and focus our attention on the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies.  May we look up and let not our hearts be troubled by false evidence appearing real, but rather choose to receive the gift of faith, the evidence of things not seen which are true.