As I mentioned before, I have been reading/listening to talks while I am on the treadmill, and my favorite recent talk is called “Meeting the Challenges of Today” by Neal A. Maxwell. This talk was given at a BYU devotional on October 10, 1978. The reason I picked this talk at first was its reference to the founding fathers and its reference to secularism and establishing irreligion as the state religion. But that talk has more to do with fore ordination and how we should prepare for what is to come. I want to highlight several points in his talk, and then give my impressions on those points.
First he warns about the irreligion being the state religion.
We are now entering a period of incredible ironies. Let us cite but one of these ironies which is yet in its subtle stages: we shall see in our time a maximum if indirect effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion. It is actually a new form of paganism that uses the carefully preserved and cultivated freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom even as it rejects the value essence of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage.
President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.
We are seeing this. Where “Resistance to abortion will soon be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened.” We are seeing a time when religion and the belief in Christs prophets is ridiculed by the Secular irreligion groups.
However, if people are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear, in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold that grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would they be, anyway? Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?
He then goes on to say that we will loose some of the battles, but “others will step forward, having been rallied to righteousness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds–a majority which was, till then, unconscious of itself.”
This is a topic that I have always had a hard time understanding, I have always felt like the Church was forcing me to be good with this topic. That we are required, and forced to fit what God wants us to be like, not what we can be like. This talk opened my mind with that respect. It is not that God created the plan and is forcing us to act, but he has seen the past, present and future, and has developed the plan in an organized way that allows us to achieve it.
The combined doctrine of God’s foreknowledge and of fore ordination is one of the doctrinal roads least traveled by, yet these clearly underline how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities. Isolated from other doctrines or mishandled, though, these truths can stoke the fires of fatalism, impact adversely upon our agency, cause us to focus on status rather than service, and carry us over into predestination.
Elder Maxwell continues:
Yet, though fore ordination is a difficult doctrine, it has been given to us by the living God, through living prophets, for a purpose. It can actually increase our understanding of how crucial this mortal estate is and it can encourage us in further good works. This precious doctrine can also help us to go the second mile because we are doubly called.
In some ways, our second estate, in relationship to our first estate, is like agreeing in advance to surgery. Then the anesthetic of forgetfulness settles in upon us. Just as doctors do not de-anesthetize a patient in the midst of authorized surgery to ask him again if the surgery should be continued, so, after divine tutoring, we agreed once to come here and to submit ourselves to certain experiences and have no occasion to revoke that decision.
Of course, when we mortals try to comprehend, rather than merely accept, fore ordination, the result is one in which finite minds futilely try to comprehend omniscience. A full understanding is impossible; we simply have to trust in what the Lord has told us, knowing enough, however, to realize that we are not dealing with guarantees from God but extra opportunities–and heavier responsibilities. If those responsibilities are in some ways linked to past performance or to past capabilities, it should not surprise us.
This is what Elder Maxwell has to say in conclusion.
Now, as I prepare to conclude, may I point out what a vastly different view of life the doctrine of fore ordination gives to us. Shorn of this perspective, others are puzzled or bitter about life. Without gospel perspective life would be a punishment, not a joy–like trying to play a game of billiards on a table with a rumpled cloth, with a crooked cue and an elliptical billiard ball (from Sir William S. Gilbert’s libretto of The Mikado). (Perhaps the moral of that analogy is that we should stay out of pool halls.) In any event, pessimism does not really reckon with life and the universe as these things “really are.” The disciple will be puzzled at times, too. But he persists. Later he rejoices over how wonderfully things fit together, realizing only then that, with God, things never were apart.
Elder Maxwell continues;
The doctrine of fore ordination, therefore, is not a doctrine of repose; it is a doctrine for the second-milers; it can draw out of us the last full measure of devotion. It is a doctrine of perspiration, not aspiration. Moreover, it discourages aspiring, lest we covet, like two early disciples, that which has already been given to another (Matthew 20:20–23). Fore ordination is a doctrine for the deep believer and will only bring scorn from the skeptic.
Elder Maxwell has given me more insight into the idea of fore ordination. We are not being forced down a road. The Lord has taken what he has, and has made a plan that will work, we just need to have faith and follow the prophets and fit into the plan where we are suppose to fit.
Here is my favorite quote from this talk. “Let us be perceptive without being pompous. Let us have integrity and not write checks with our tongues which our conduct cannot cash.”
You can download this talk in MP3, PDF, or HTML format from speeches.byu.com.