Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Gospel Principle That Can Save Us

Continuing his tradition of writing to his former missionaries in the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time each year, my father has asked me in recent years to help him prepare his semi-annual message. What follows is the most recent one.

Dad is in his ninety-third year now, and is gradually deteriorating badly physically. He still has a sense of humor about his obvious shrinking frame, however, as he refers to himself as "the freak." Amazingly, at one time in their lives he and President Monson were the same height. What is still in tact, however, is his mental acuity, for which I am grateful.

President Thomas S. Monson, L. Brent Goates
Yesterday, he had a surprise visit from President Thomas S. Monson, who had heard about Dad's most recent medical challenges. Dad had a malignant melanoma removed from his back, and then developed some cellulitis in his leg.

President Monson came with "healing in his wings," like the angel of love and mercy he has always been to our family and everyone else he can serve. He listens to the Spirit and then responds.

He offered a priesthood blessing to Dad, but before he pronounced a blessing the two of them reminisced about their memories of their association with one another dating back to their time at the University of Utah. There were smiles and laughter all around to the delight of both.

He cheered, lifted and blessed my father, as he has done again and again throughout his life. Dad said to him, "Tom, you have changed the Church with your example of Christ-like service to others." And so he has. . . How grateful we are to President Monson as a family. There is such love for others in this man.

* * *

October, 2014


Many careful students of The Book of Mormon have observed and stated that each time they finish reading these amazing scriptures they are usually rewarded with a new perspective of enlightenment. My most recent experience has likewise impressed me and in some ways even surprised me.

For many decades past I simply accepted the obvious – that the Nephites were the chosen and favored tribe, and the Lamanites were their constant antagonists and evil tormentors. This division is taught in the very beginning as the separation of Lehi’s sons takes place and the elder two sons, Laman and Lemuel oppose their father and his more faithful son Nephi. Thus to Nephi and his posterity went the birthright, the government and the priesthood leadership, with the rebellious Lamanites doomed to offer constant resistance toward righteousness.

Yet, the final scorecard offers no such one-sided victory for the Nephites. Both tribesmen, indeed, all of the Lehi descendants fail to fulfill our Father’s hope for a righteous brand of Israelites to flourish in the New World. Their descendants regress to savagery and fall far short of the glory promised.

In reflection, it is easy to be beguiled and view the distinction between these two segments of brotherhood as being so totally black and white in contrast. The Nephites had their marvelous moments of righteous leadership with many famous prophets who taught us glorious gospel doctrine. We are so grateful to the several Nephis, to Mosiah and his son King Benjamin, and to the mighty warrior Ammon. Consider the inspiring works of Alma (both of them), and the shining hero, Moroni, of whom it was said, “If all men had been, and ever were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17). They and others fought valiantly to lift their brethren from stages of wickedness. They deserve our veneration as prophets.

But it must be remembered that the Nephite leaders were the ones writing this history. Their bias would naturally lure us to be sympathetic to their viewpoint.

The outcome of this family history was revealed early in the book in the vision of Nephi, who saw their end of days, and wrote:

And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed. . .
And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. (1 Nephi 12:19; 22-23).

The Prophet Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, treats the judgment even-handedly. While he denounced the wickedness and depravity of the Lamanites, he said of his own people, “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites.” (Jacob 2:35). How could we have so easily minimized that evaluation?

This same reversal of roles was recorded by Nephi, who wrote of the people of Zarahemla:

. . . ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity. . .
For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.
For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent. (Helaman 7:21; 23-24).

So, who are victors in this battle of unrighteousness - the backsliding Nephites or the depraved Lamanites? Hear now the conclusion of noted scholar, Hugh W. Nibley, who says, “The answer is written all over The Book of Mormon – the righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked whoever is not repenting.” (BYU Studies 25:1, 10, 1985).

Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. It appears with the arrival of mankind in mortality and is reaffirmed and emphasized at the outset of every dispensation of time through the teachings of angels and prophets.

These same painful lessons are essential in our day of wickedness to meet the trials of the last days. There is no more important and vital principle of submission and contrition than to show forth daily sincere repentance. It alone can protect us and give us the assurance that when all else is failing around us, we can still flower in God’s grace – if we will repent.

Always, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates

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