Sunday, February 7, 2010

And Cain (who was Righteous) Walked With God...

19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him... [Moses 5:19-23]

We all know how this story ends: Cain rises up against Abel and does indeed slay him, becoming the first man to introduce murder for gain into the world, and in so doing he becomes Master Mahan, a son of Perdition and chief among devils, even over Satan himself.

But this is not what interests me. No, not the end, but the beginning... or at least the middle. The chapter continues:

24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent. [Moses 5: 24-25; emphasis added]

The Biblical account of this tale is nearly identical; it is merely that in the book of Moses we have a bit more detail, not least of which is found in the chronology of occurrences. For as can be seen in the above verses, God gave this advice to Cain before the act, but after Cain had begun planning the act; after Cain had in fact begun speaking to Satan.

This strikes me as interesting. This was, after all, not the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had already been cast out and begun bearing offspring. And God no longer walked with man.

Let me say that last again. God no longer walked with man.

Why, then, was he walking with Cain, of all people? Why was he walking and talking - directly, it would seem from the scriptural accounts - with the man who would first murder and in so doing also introduce the secret combinations that would serve to further Satan's purposes throughout history?

The answer is, to me, both obvious (once thought of), and fascinating: Cain had not yet murdered. Not only that, but he was likely a chosen one of the Lord, and one of the great leaders of the Kingdom of God on the earth at that time. For with whom does the Lord walk and talk? Not with the sinners, that is certain: the only occasions when he has done so has been to successfully call them to repentance, as was the case with Alma the younger and, perhaps to a lesser extent, with Saul of Tarsus.

But that is not the kind of interaction occurring here. Here, in these verses (and in their counterparts in Genesis chapter 4), God is speaking to Cain as a friend warning another; as a loving Father who is counseling a son who has until now not only not been wicked, but likely been exceedingly good. After all, Moses 5:24 (above) states that Cain would be called "Perdition."

And who can be called "Perdition"? The scriptures make it clear that this is a title that is reserved not for those who have been wastrels or even evil from the beginning. Rather, it is a term used exclusively for those who have been shown the Son, who have known the truth of the Gospel, who have served with the Priesthood, and then have chosen to knowingly throw away their righteousness in favor of wickedness (see, e.g., Doctrine & Covenants 76: 31-43).

And so we are left with an image of Cain as... a Prophet? An Apostle, perhaps? Someone like Judas who knew the virtues of Christ and then sold his soul for mere worldly goods?

The reason this fascinates me is not only because it changes the image I think most of us have of Cain - that of someone intrinsically evil from the beginning of his life - to one that bears a much greater lesson than the very obvious surface teaching that one should not murder and if one does, great consequences shall follow.

Rather, it teaches that we must never allow Satan to get a foothold in our souls. We must never allows ourselves to entertain thoughts of evil, but must rid ourselves of them in the very moment that they come. Because though (I believe) most of us are "good" people, I also believe that, if we allow it, Satan could have his way with any one of us.

After all, he had his way with Cain.

And Cain, as we now know, must have been a man of great personal righteousness; a man so good he was allowed the singular privilege of talking with the Lord.

Surprisingly, then, I find myself saying that I am not even as strong as Cain once was. How much more, then, must I protect against sin, and shore up the defenses of my soul against evil. I can never "rest on my laurels." I must be ever vigilant. I must be ever wary of the evil one.

Because if Satan could corrupt someone as good as Cain... what might he do to me?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nothing but a Cool Day in Paradise

Had an interesting time at Sunday School yesterday (yes, I know, when DON'T I have an interesting time... ). We were discussing the fall of Man.

First of all, just so you know and so there are no hurt females out there, the word "man" as we use it in English derives from a Germanic term. In German, there are three terms denoting a person or thing: one is male, one is female, and one is generic.

Guess which one that language utilizes to denote "everyone"? That's right, the germanic generic. And so when the scriptures (or any other pre 1980 text dealing with humanity in general) uses the term "Man" it is neither denigrating nor excluding females. There are exceptions, of course (when aren't there?), but for the most part those texts are simply hearkening back to the germanic root wherein the word man could mean someone male or it could mean (as it does here) "everybody."

Now that I've beaten that little horse of nomenclature to death (don't worry, the horse was a man), I will return to the topic.

So there we are, discussing the usual: God makes Eden. God makes Adam. God takes Adam's rib and makes Eve. Eve eats the fruit. Eve gets Adam to eat the fruit. God shows up and says "What just happened here, kids?" Adam, like any good man (male), blames the other person in the room. Eve, like any good girl (female) tells the truth. God kicks them out of Eden.

And here is where, all of a sudden, I find an interesting verse. Moses 4: 14:

And they heard the voice of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

And for those of you who prefer to stay Biblical, rather than venturing into the Pearl of Great Price, there is a virtually identical verse at Genesis 3: 8:

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

Most of us have heard these verses - or at least paraphrasing of these verses - innumerable times. So what? God showed up, and Adam and Eve hid...

And they did it on a cool day.

There are very few discussions of weather in the scriptures. And all of them - all of them (I checked) - deal with adverse climatic conditions: too much rain, too much sun, too much wind, that one time where the ocean splits in half.

All of them, that is, save one. The one where, for no apparent reason at all, the writer of these books adds that it was a cool day.

Bear in mind, the author of these books was Moses. He himself had been responsible for (through the power and permission of God) more than one major climatic event. So for him to add the words "on a cool day" in his work would be like you or I writing "I sat down on a chair, which was made of leather" when drafting our memoirs about how we won the Nobel Price by curing cancer. It seems to not only have nothing to do with the subject at hand, but is so very out of place that one must wonder if the editor was asleep at the wheel the day this page came in.

Especially since we know - we've been told, over and over again - that space in the scriptures is limited. The actual words of Christ, for instance, as recorded in the New Testament, can be read aloud in about a half an hour. So clearly the writers put in only what they thought - and what they Spirit guided them to think - were the most important words that Christ said. I suspected that on an occasion or two He might have said, "That rock looks like a nice place to rest for a while" or "Boy, talk about windy last night, huh?" or "Did you hear the one that goes..." (yes, I believe the Lord has a sense of humor... He made me, didn't he?). But none of that was included. It wasn't important. In fact, to actually include such things would be to criminally rob us of the space needed in the holy texts for the things that mattered more to our Salvation. That's why everything we read has some importance. That's why everything we cast our eyes on matters. That's why... wait a minute... Adam and Eve were cast out "on a cool day"???

Seems odd. So rather than listen to the rest of the Sunday School lesson, I found myself fixated on this verse. Why, if Scriptural space is so limited, would Moses let us know basically that it was more or less nice if a little on the cool side?

Then I had a thought. But I am about to start using a LOT rope here, so someone can feel free to hang me if I don't do it myself. And certainly don't take this as church doctrine, because it's just me thinking.

So after that disclaimer, here is what I was thinking:

The accepted chronology is that Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They then looked upon one another and knew they were naked and were ashamed. They then made aprons for themselves out of fig leaves.

Now, it's also been made clear, at least in the LDS church, that the Fall of Adam and Eve had nothing to do with any kind of sexual indiscretion. It was, instead, a transgression which resulted somehow in a changing of their bodies from an immortal - though innocent - to a mortal state which had infinite capacity for good and for evil.

So having ruled out the sexualization of the Fall, it leads me to wonder why Adam and Eve would look upon each other as naked and be ashamed and go make fig leaves. By this I mean, there are (at least) two reasons why they would not be ashamed:

1) They were already man and wife. The ceremony was, in fact, performed by God Himself in Genesis 2:

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

There is, granted, some ambiguity there, but latter-day prophets have made it clear that this was, in fact, the first marriage, and that it occurred in Eden: "The first marriage was performed by God in the garden when Adam and Eve were not subject to death." (Henry B. Eyring, “Be One,” Ensign, Sep 2008, 4–9.) So the fact that they were not "legitimately" allowed to view one another's nakedness is not a factor in their wearing of the aprons.

2) Even without their marriage, the fact is that Adam and Eve had, presumably, been running around in the garden in the nude for an unknown - but presumably long - period of time. Many lifetimes, perhaps.

So mere nudity could not be the reason for the sewing of the aprons. However, the verses immediately preceding our subject verses in Moses and Genesis say the same thing:

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Nowhere in there is any kind of shame mentioned. It was not until they heard the Lord "in the cool day" that they ran and hid themselves.

In the cool day.

In so many other religions it is understood as doctrine that the fall of Adam and Eve was tragedy. That if only they had stayed, paradise would have come for all without work or woe.

We in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, view the Fall not as a sin, but as a transgression: not as an evil act, but as one that countermanded a law of God, i.e., if you eat of this tree you will die. Adam and Eve eventually came to understand what this meant, whether through Lucifer's unwitting assistance or of their own accord, and chose to partake of the tree. Yes, that meant being cast out of the Garden and into a lone and dreary world... but it also meant that they could have children; raise family; become more like the Lord and someday even be a joint heir with Christ in the Kingdom of God. Mere innocence in a garden has little to compare with such riches.

And so Adam and Eve left.

But still, this "cool of the day" phrase. Why include it? It is possible that it was an accident; after all, though God is perfect, He works through us as imperfect beings, and so often (if not always) we don't get it quite right: if God chose to speak through me, for example, I would end up maybe getting the point across, but being too wordy about it (as this post itself may show).

But I do not think that it was a mistake. Particularly since the detail is included not only in the earlier versions of the Bible, but also in Joseph Smith's translation of the work. And if I assume this is the case, then the previously outlined timeline changes a bit. They were not naked and ashamed because of each other's eyes, but because of God's. So there was perhaps no need for fig leaves... unless...

Was it because they had begun to grow, in something as simple as one of them going "It's a bit cold" and the other saying, "I never thought of this, but we could sew leaves together and be a bit warmer"?

I don't know if this is what happened. I was not there. But I believe that in the Garden of Eden, innocence was not merely an absence of evil. After all, the snake somehow made his way in. Rather, it was a state of ignorance. Perhaps they walked with God not only because they were spiritually clean, but because, like babies, they had to be constantly watched and cared for. But then they partook of the Tree. They began (if they had not already begun) to grow. To make up their own minds.

Agency was born. Perhaps before the snake's proposition. But whether before or after, it happened.

And now Adam and Eve were making decisions... on a cool day in what had been their home. Dressed in fig leaves already, hiding perhaps from the elements that were no longer so perfect, because the Garden itself knew that Adam and Eve were not to remain.

And one more thought: even when God came, even when He told them they were banished from the Garden, nowhere does Moses mention accompanying tempests or storms. Because God had no reason for anger: his first two children of earth had made their first major decision, and had to - or better said were privileged to - reap the consequences of that act.

And so He came, undoubtedly knowing already what they had done.

He asked them what happened, giving them another chance at agency as they chose to tell the truth or tell a lie.

He let them know of the great power they had over Satan, through the lineage of Eve - a stunning reward for what most of the world labels an act of hideous misdeed.

And then God sent them forth. To live. To grow. To be like him.

And all on a cool day in a small garden that led to a vast and amazing world.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Love and Loneliness in the Christ-Centered Life

When Christ said: "I was hungry and you fed me," he didn't mean only the hunger for bread and for food; he also meant the hunger to be loved. Jesus himself experienced this loneliness. He came amongst his own and his own received him not, and it hurt him then and it has kept on hurting him. The same hunger, the same loneliness, the same having no one to be accepted by and to be loved and wanted by. Every human being in that case resembles Christ in his loneliness; and that is the hardest part, that's real hunger.

- Mother Theresa

The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.

- Thomas Wolfe

That there is within all of us a hunger to be loved is a more or less universally accepted fact. Babies who are not touched, held, caressed, will wither and die. Children who are not shown affection will as a rule grow to be twisted mockeries of humanity. Adults who do not belong to some kind of community - whether it be a social group, a religious organization, or the most basic community of all, marriage - inevitably turn into themselves and become either mindless hedonists who live for the swiftly fleeting pleasures of the flesh, or plunge into depression.

But I wonder... is it really the need for love that we crave in our innermost selves, or the need for understanding? For loneliness is rarely cured by mere love - that is to say, a beggar on the street may be shown the charity of a passer-by who casts coins at his feet, but will the loneliness of that beggar's existence be cured? Doubtful. Sit with that man, however, and speak to him long enough to understand him, and that beggar will now carry within himself the knowledge that there is someone who is out there who knows him.

Such knowledge is the ultimate key to our salvation, as is shown by D&C 39:23:

And again, it shall come to pass that on as many as ye shall baptize with water, ye shall lay your hands, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and shall be looking forth for the signs of my coming, and shall know me.

And again, in D&C 84:98, when the Prophet was speaking to a group of elders who had recently returned from their missions, he spoke to them of the essential terms and conditions of the return of Christ:

[Plagues and catastrophes shall be visited upon the world] Until all shall know me [Christ], who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song...

And so this knowledge of Christ, this understanding of Him, becomes not only central to His return, but to our own Salvation.

But to return to the opening theme of this essay: of loneliness. How can we have knowledge of something in the way that Christ speaks of? Oddly enough, I came to the realization that I was doomed to loneliness after I had been married for some years.

This is not a reflection on my wife, whose goodness is unparalleled, but rather a mere recognition of the fact that this was the one person who had come to know me better than any other. To know my great works, and my moments of weakness; to know my sunlights and my shadows.

And yet...

And yet...

Still there were (and are) things about me that she does not know; that she never can know, either because I am unwilling to share them (who among us does not have some secret that they fear will make them unlovable to those around them), or - more often - because I am simply incapable of conveying to her the feelings that I am experiencing or have experienced. Years and years can be spent discussing one's worst day, or one's best moment, without scratching the surface of the actual feelings of that time.

Nephi spoke of this when he mentioned that mortal words could not capture some of the things that he had been shown - that he had felt - when in communion with God. And it is also the same with us, for we are children of God, and so have the power within us to experience emotions so great and so terrible that words fail, we are left powerless to communicate the experience to another human being...

And so we find ourselves, in a word, alone.

And then, being alone, we find ourselves lost. Because none of us can find our way in this life or to the next without a guide. We learn this in the scriptures, in the Temple, in the very structure of the Priesthood and the Patriarchal orders through which we learn and grow... and in which there is always someone above us, showing us the path that lies ahead, and helping us thereby to pass through the brambles and thistles of sin and temptation unscathed... or as unscathed as we are willing to be.

But still there is that hidden part, that secret part that lies within all of us. Be it because of sin that we fear to share, or righteousness that we cannot express, within each and every one of us is an area so vast and profound that it cannot be shown in any way to any other.

Save one.

And that, I think, is the true saving Grace of Christ. For only through His Spirit can we truly understand, not merely Him, but one another. Only when communing with the spirit can I truly commune with my wife. Only when a Bishop listens to the promptings of the Holy Ghost can he be inspired to understand the ailments of a contrite sinner. Only when the Prophet himself hears the still small voice can he understand humanity's woes - and oh what a burden, to be responsible for lifting not only oneself, but the world - sufficiently to succor them.

Loneliness is the art of the devil. It is the natural effect of the fall of Adam, for what did Adam and Eve first feel when they left Eden? I doubt it was the cold and misery of the lone and dreary world into which they had been cast; rather, I suspect it was the separation from the Almighty, and the sudden knowledge that they no longer fully understood their partner. For when they walked in innocence, understanding was unnecessary. And when they then graduated to knowledge, such knowledge was insufficient to encapsulate all of the experiences that each one's partner had gone through.

We are, after all, of finite mind. So how could we hope to understand the infinite perambulations of even one other person, no matter how close that person may be to us?

My wife still surprises me (generally and most often in a good way).

I know that I still shock her from time to time (probably less often in a good way).

How may I know her?

How can she know me?

And with those questions comes the greater: how can I ever hope to know Christ? For as we have seen, without that knowledge, He will not return. Without that knowledge, I shall never sing the song of His redeeming grace. Without that knowledge, I will not be saved.

And the answer, as so often is the case with the Gospel, lies within the question.

How can I know Christ? Through His Grace. Through His Spirit and Atoning intervention.

It is interesting that the first thing that God did after creating Adam was to "breathe" life into him. The base of the word "breathe" is "inspire," as in "inspiration" which means not merely to take in air, but to take in knowledge and truth.

The key to Adam's first moment of life was understanding.

The key to our last moment of judgment will be the same.

The loneliness that plagues all of us is a human condition, a mortal frame, a temporal reality. But it does not - must not - be an eternal one. For in Christ we may find the same breath of life that inspired Adam. We may find understanding of our Lord, and in understanding Him, will be like Him. We will be saved. We will be loved.

And never again, will we be lonely.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That we Might Have Joy... That we Might Have More

While reading scriptures with my wife the other night, I came across an interesting verse in the Doctrine and Covenants:

Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired. [D&C 7:8]

It was one of those scriptures that stops me from time to time: not so much because it says something overtly pleasant or instantly impactful, but more because it is like an itch that I suddenly can't scratch.

I have grown to recognize this as the Spirit's way of telling me to stop moving, slow down, and think on what has just passed before my eyes.

Accordingly, I re-read it:

Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.

In this scripture, the Savior is speaking to John and Peter. To John, he has just finished saying that he (John) will be granted his desire of tarrying until the Savior's return in power and grace. John would thereby become "as flaming fire and a ministering angel," to minister to the "heirs of salvation" until Christ's Second Coming.

And to Peter? The Lord had said that he, too, would be granted his desire: to live out his life, then return to Christ in Heaven.

It might be noted that at this point, I having paused, my wife immediately spoke up and said how much she would prefer John's blessing and wouldn't I love that, too. I responded "No way, I want to get to Heaven asap." "But," she responded, "think of how amazing it would be to live as John lives, to have that power and do that kind of work!" "Nope," I said. "Heaven. Now. Me."

I suppose this says a lot about her level of dedication to the Lord versus mine.

At any rate, while we were having this mini-discussion, I continued reading the verse in question over and over, and at last it struck me. The thing that had captured my attention on a spiritual level was the fact that Christ said that both men would have what they desired, and then gave a very specific reason for it, to wit:

... for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.

So they got what they wanted... because they liked it?

But no, not merely that, for we know that joy is beyond merely "liking" something. One of the definitions of the Oxford English Dictionary for joy is as follows:

A pleasurable state or condition; a state of happiness or felicity; esp. the perfect bliss or beatitude of heaven; hence, the place of bliss, paradise, heaven; = BLISS...[emphasis in original]

And bliss in that same tome is defined thus:

Mental, ethereal, spiritual; perfect joy or felicity, supreme delight; blessedness.

So joy becomes much more than a mere liking of something: it becomes an actual state of being, of blessedness, of perfection. But this then, raises an issue: if we must have joy to receive a blessing, and a blessing requires joy, which is some state of perfection, then how can we hope to have any blessings at all?

The answer comes in Romans 5:11:

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

Joy comes through God through Jesus Christ. So let us now wrap back around to our original scripture, D&C 7:8:

Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired.

Peter and John were promised that they would have the things they most craved; most sought after, because they had joy in those things. They had pleasure, they had blessing, they received a measure of atonement in pursuit of those things. Atonement, the process by which one is brought closer to God the Father, the means by which the gap between ourselves as doomed souls and the Lord as Perfect Man is bridged. We receive that which will bring us joy, which will bring us atonement, which will bring us closest to God.

This last has amazing ramifications. Many of us are aware of them peripherally, but when I really think about them, I am awestruck. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is credited with the philosophy that "Everything happens for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds" (or at least with its precedent concepts; for a more thorough description of this philosopher's works, click here). Modern philosophers and scholars have serious problems with this, the easiest and most wide-spread being that this cannot possibly be the case: if this is the best possible world, then a) God is constrained somehow, and b) we have the small problem of the evil clearly rampant in our world... how to explain it?

But those explanations are easily supplied when one considers that only those things are given to us which will provide to us the opportunity of atonement. For some this may mean an angelic visitation while on the road to sin or at least serious misunderstanding in the name of righteousness, as was the case with Alma the younger and Paul/Saul of Tarsus, respectively. Both of them were struck down by their heavenly visitor. Both of them underwent change that brought them closer to Christ. Both of them thereby received a measure of atonement.

Others, however, would not react so well to such visitors; they might require the humbling experience of a congenital disease, of a loss in income, of a tragedy caused by the "evil" actions of others. That there is evil is not denied, nor is it contradicted by the axiom that everything does happen for the best, if one interprets that not as meaning that we will be granted our every whim (I have yet to be covered in gold and discover a recipe for no-calorie chocolate), but as meaning that at every single moment of our lives the Lord stands ready to accept us and willing to aid us in our walk to him, then surely there could be no better world. For a world where the infinite joy - and there it is again - of eternal life at our Father's side is always a possibility that we may take advantage of - is indeed the best of all possible worlds. For what better world could there be, than one which leads to Paradise for anyone who wishes to go there?

And as for the rest, for those who do not make the requisite choices to achieve atonement - not only in this life, but in the life hereafter, for as we know there shall be at least some post-mortal activity and corresponding judgment for many - then it can be argued that this is still the best possible world for them. For in choosing not to be close to the Lord, they are demonstrating that they have not joy in His presence. Indeed, Joseph Smith made quite clear in his writings that to the wicked the glory of Heaven would be as destroying fire. So the level of atonement - that is to say, the relative closeness of that person to the bliss of the Lord - is what they are most comfortable with, and where they will find the greatest measure of joy.

How, then, may we find our desires fulfilled?

Simply? By making sure our desires are those of the Lord. And this does not mean that we must restrict our desires to hoping that the orphans are cared for and the widows given shelter (though this should be part of what we want). We can also desire our own personal spiritual, physical, financial, social, and emotional well-being. And this is not selfishness: the Lord desires to give us all things in the end; to make us co-heirs with Christ and recipients of all he possesses. Will He begrudge us a desire to get a raise of a few dollars at work (or to have work at all in these trying times), when in the end He intends to impart to us all the riches of the universe? Such a concept makes no sense.


The caveat is always that the desire must line up with the righteousness of the Lord. May I desire to be a millionaire and sincerely do so with the hope that I may help others and provide that money to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior? Yes. And will that righteous desire be given? Absolutely. Either that or the Lord will communicate that such a desire will in fact have unforeseen side effects (He sees farther than we do, after all), and that we should shift our focus elsewhere. Either way, we will receive what we desire, because we have joy - a measure of atonement - in that desire.

May we reasonably expect the millions to flow from God's grace and bounty so that we may provide ourselves with a big-screen TV and a house upon a hill? The converse answer to the above: no. Unless this will be the best course that God sees to bring us as close as possible (i.e., as close as we will permit) to Him.

We must find joy in our desires. We must desire atonement from our wishes. And when our wishes align with the avenue that will lead us closest to God, then, like Peter and like Paul, our desires will - must - be fulfilled.