Sunday, February 20, 2011

Deep Dark Secrets

A recent tragic story has dominated the headlines and newscasts here in Utah. The 5 Browns is a talented family group of gifted pianists, perhaps the first and only quintet of pianists, who have realized tremendous commercial success together. They are comprised of two brothers and three sisters from the same family, and they are magnificent performers if you haven't seen them or heard them play together.

The tragic story to which I allude is the revelation that the father of this talented family had sexually abused his three daughters when they were younger women. He appeared in court the other day and pled guilty to the charges in a deal that will result in a long prison term.

I do not know the Brown family, and I do not presume to know what happened except for the scant details that have surfaced in the media reports.

What I am familiar with is the dynamic we see repeated here of attempting to hide our deepest, darkest secrets from God.

President Spencer W. Kimball
"There are no corners so dark, no deserts so uninhabited, no canyons so remote, no automobiles so hidden, no homes so tight and shut in but that the all-seeing One can penetrate and observe. The faithful have always known this. The doubters should take a sober look at the situation in the light of the electronic devices which have come into increasing use in the last few years and which are often delicate and tiny but so powerful as almost to annihilate man's personal privacy. . .

"In the light of these modern marvels can anyone doubt that God hears prayers and discerns secret thoughts? A printer's camera can make a negative three feet square. What magnification! If human eyes and ears can so penetrate one's personal life, what may we expect from perfected men with perfected vision!" (President Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 110-11).

This attempt by fallen mortal man to hide our sins from God is as old as Adam and Eve. "I hid myself because I was naked." As the mortal offspring of Father Adam and Mother Eve, we have inherited that nasty tendency to think we can hide from Him. The truly tragic reality of our mortal existence is our deepest, darkest secrets are rarely hidden from others. We only have the mistaken perception they are. Have you ever noticed how piercingly accurate your awareness is of the mistakes and faults of others? At least you think you know. Then suddenly, as with the Browns, a deep dark secret unknown to their peers emerges and then we become aware of just how little we truly know about each other. But sooner or later truth rises and everyone knows what you thought was hidden away and neatly disposed of in the recesses of your mind and the memories of those you have offended.

We may deceive others for many, many years, but God does exist, He does know us, and we are all accountable before Him. These are absolute truths from which we cannot ultimately escape. We will all die. We all stand before Him to be judged. We learn by experience, there really is no other way, and what we learn compels us in time to trust Him. We learn His mercy through the atonement of His Son Jesus Christ is sufficient for each of us.

President Spencer W. Kimball testified some years ago. "That is an absolute truth. All. . . of the children of men on the earth might be ignorant of him and his attributes and his powers, but he still lives. All the people on the earth might deny him and disbelieve, but he lives in spite of them. . .  In short, opinion alone has no power in the matter of an absolute truth. . .  The watchmaker in Switzerland, with materials at hand, made the watch that was found in the sand in a California desert. The people who found the watch had never been to Switzerland, nor seen the watchmaker, nor seen the watch made. The watchmaker still existed, no matter the extent of their ignorance or experience. If the watch had a tongue, it might even lie and say, 'There is no watchmaker.' That would not alter the truth." ("Absolute Truth," 1977 BYU Fireside and Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Publications, 1977], 138). I wrote recently about these absolute truths we know as Mormons.

When stories like the Browns' surface, there is something salacious and almost magnetic about it that also says something about us. We are drawn to these very public and embarrassing disclosures as part of our "human nature." It is as though we are anxious to discover something about ourselves. Can we hide ourselves from God much longer, or will we, like Keith Brown, think we can sin and remain free from judgment? On the day he appeared in court, his attorney said, "Today was the next step in a very long process of accountability for a reprehensible act." He said the plea deal will minimize the harm a public trial would cause the family. We look upon this train wreck and secretly wonder to ourselves, will I be different? Can I escape accountability for my hidden works of darkness? Can I escape the all-seeing eye?

In our mortal journey there is one indispensable gift for which we must seek. It is the gift of discernment. I don't mean the gift to discern between right and wrong, because the acquisition of that gift is assured at birth, and it is referred to as the "light that lighteth every man" -- the light of Christ. (D&C 88:4-13).

Rather, I speak of the spiritual gift to discern between what is good, better and best. Few people would entertain thoughts of sexually molesting their children. There is a natural barrier between fathers and daughters and mothers and sons over which the vast majority of fathers and mothers will never step, nor are they ever even tempted with the thought to violate that natural barrier. I wonder if a gift of discernment that helps us choose primary over secondary causes isn't really more valuable.

President Boyd K. Packer
President Boyd K. Packer warned: "As we test the moral environment, we find the pollution index is spiraling upward. . .  God grant that we will come to our senses and protect our moral environment from this mist of darkness which deepens day by day. The fate of all humanity hangs precariously in the balance."

C. S. Lewis
There is a classic exchange in the C. S. Lewis masterwork, The Screwtape Letters, which has one of the archdevils, Screwtape, giving instruction to his nephew, Wormwood, about how to deceive those who have become Christians: "The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call 'Christianity And.' You know — Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing." (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters [New York: Touchstone, 1996], 115-16; italics in original).

The devil, except in rare instances like this isolated deep dark secret in the Brown family, doesn't need to persuade us to steal or lie or molest our children or commit adultery. All that is necessary for Satan to deceive us is to have true believers merely undersell, understate, minimize and thus underestimate the awesome powers, appropriateness, and relevance of the restored gospel as the antidote for sin in these last days. The magnitude of the sinning suggests we need to step up our game too.

As a society we have made quantum leaps in our ability to harness information, discovery, and technology. I have witnessed young people who have mastered texting on their cell phones to the degree they are doing it with each other in a living room setting, as though a real conversation is somehow passe and antiquated. At the office we chat electronically to co-workers who are a few feet away and we tend to manage by e-mail as a substitute for human interaction.

I wonder sometimes if we are letting go of that which is fundamental and loosening the fasteners day by day that anchor us to the simple truths of the gospel. Some things as long as the earth shall stand will never change, however. I believe those are situations, tangled Gordian knots of human conflict and seemingly impossible resolutions, that can only be realized through divine intervention. The Apostle Paul said in Christ "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Colossians 2:9-10; italics mine). Only in Him can all knots be eternally done and undone.

I bear witness that the real hope of the world is Jesus Christ, who is the Mender of all broken things. He is the "Wonderful Counselor" (Isaiah 9:6). He succors us because He knows us, knows our deepest, darkest secrets, in fact, has already suffered the consequences and the penalties for them and awaits our acceptance of Him as our personal Savior. The road to our self-awareness and acceptance of our accountability before the Almighty God does not have to be "long" and tortuous for our reprehensible acts or even for our choices that tend to mire us in the thick of thin things. I am convinced it can be easy and the burden light, because He promised us it would be if we would come unto Him for our healing. (Matthew 11:28-30).

Having said that, I am acutely aware of mental or social-emotional problems resulting from a chemical imbalance, addictions and other counseling needs that may require intense and extended therapeutic intervention. But I can also assert that even these are not ultimately healed based upon charismatic human personalities or the theories and philosophies of men and women, even men and women of good will. Rather, I rely more upon the blood of Christ, His transforming power to love even the vilest of sinners, the Spirit of God, and the blessings of the holy priesthood. I am eyewitness to miracles I cannot deny despite all the healing man can offer, knowing how therapeutic and helpful they can be. We are warned specifically not to take lightly the things we know through the revelations published in the Book of Mormon and other Holy Writ. (D&C 84:54-61).

I wonder if the "taking lightly" isn't just as good a victory for Screwtape, as a public and embarrassing disclosure of child sexual abuse.

President Ezra Taft Benson
President Ezra Taft Benson said it this way: "The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. . .  Yes, Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world." (Italics mine).

President Harold B. Lee reminded us way back in 1970, "We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation. . .  The power of Satan will increase; we see it on every hand. . .  We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet. . .  There will be some things that take patience and faith" (in Conference Report, October 1970, 152).

President Harold B. Lee
Then President Lee added a warning when he went on to say that we may not always like what comes from the authority of the Church, because it may conflict with our personal views or interfere with some of our social life. However, if we will listen to and do these things as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, we will not be deceived and great blessings will be ours.

We can give up not only our deepest, darkest secrets to know Christ, but we can keep ourselves aligned with His servants and focused on the things that matter most, are best, and ultimately secure joy and peace for our families.

Remember, the final outcome in the struggle between good and evil is already known, and it is clearly revealed. There is only one question -- on which side of the line do we stand? It was English philosopher Edmund Burke who said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
As we discern carefully and learn to sift through our choices, we may set aside both the sordid and the secondary. As I have given father's blessings to my children, I am often reminded of their goodness and their righteous desires. For them it is not so much a choice anymore between good and evil, but more a choice between an array of good things, some better, some best. They routinely humble me with their goodness and their excellent choices. On those sacred occasions when I lay my hands upon their heads, I feel like Moses, who was told, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5).

For each of us, that "holy ground" can be wherever and whenever we are knit together in faith and love as a family. In those moments we stand revealed before God and each other, and whatever deep, dark secrets remain may be blasted away in a burst of light and truth.

Darkness has no power.

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