I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    I Have a Question

    Should I do schoolwork on the Sabbath?

    Henry B. Eyring, deputy commissioner of Church Education Suppose you were invited to the office of the president of a nation to meet him about an important government appointment. Would you concentrate easily as you read your algebra book in the minutes before you walked from your hotel to the nation’s headquarters? How comfortably would you slip into writing an essay on philosophy in the hours afterward? If you read before or after, it would almost certainly be either the president’s prior statements or information on topics relating to the office you were being considered for. If you wrote afterwards, it would be about your impressions, your insights, your recollections of your conversation.

    If a visit with a president would blot out interest in unrelated studies, what could be the effect of a visit with the Creator? The Sabbath is an invitation from the Master to commune with him, and we are striving, not for an office, but for eternal life. He arranges lessons to be taught from his own scriptural texts; he instructs his priesthood to serve you the sacrament; and then he promises his presence:

    “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20.)

    But once the meetings are over, what is wrong with schoolwork? Nothing, intrinsically. Schoolwork is a good thing to do—on most days. However, every hour you study secular subjects on the Sabbath is an hour you don’t spend in the Lord’s service, in the ways he asks us to spend his day.

    Although time outside meetings on a Sunday can be well spent with the scriptures, I’ve felt the love and companionship of the Holy Ghost and of the Savior as often, or perhaps more often, in service to others. Most Sundays during my years as a student at the Harvard Business School, I drove out in a red Volkswagen to visit some branch of the Church in the New England countryside. My 600 classmates would be recovering from a night of parties or having worked until late Saturday; then they’d start homework sometime Sunday. I didn’t begin that work until early Monday.

    The rewards of those years aren’t the fact that I did better academically than most, but more that I remember the warmth of the Master’s presence in those cold, old halls and on those wooden folding chairs in Providence, in Worcester, or on Cape Cod.

    My desk still holds a pack of slightly faded five-by-seven cards on which I wrote outlines of sermons, never given, which came to me on rides with President Wilbur Cox as we headed home in the Sunday twilight. I’ve long since discarded the class papers I turned in during those years.

    When I’ve tried it, I’ve always found this scripture true; Sabbath delight has crowded out school study:

    “If thou turn away … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

    “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isa. 58:13–14.)

    Why do we observe the Sabbath on Sunday when the biblical Sabbath seems to have been on the seventh day?

    Robert J. Matthews, chairman of the department of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University The Sabbath has several purposes. It is a holy day specified in the scriptures as a day not only of rest but also of worship. The word sabbath is derived from the Hebrew shabbath, meaning “to break off” or “to desist,” and in this can be seen the idea of rest.

    But in the best sense, rest does not mean idleness; it signifies rather a change of emphasis. In plain terms, “keeping the Sabbath day holy” means to cease or to rest from the secular labors of the week and to use the specified day in worshipping God and doing good to our fellow beings. It is a day for spiritual works and refreshment as compared to the secular accomplishments of other days.

    The various dimensions of the Sabbath are sometimes spoken of separately in the scriptures. For example, one mention of the Sabbath is found in Exodus 16:23, [Ex. 16:23] and has to do with instructions for the Israelites to gather a double amount of manna the day before the Sabbath so that such labor should not be performed on the Sabbath.

    However, Exodus 20:8–11 and 31:12–17 [Ex. 20:8–11, Ex. 31:12–17] deal with a different aspect of the Sabbath and emphasize that the Lord rested on the seventh day after having created the world. This reconfirms the event told in Genesis 2:1–3, [Gen. 2:1–3] reminding us that the Sabbath was inaugurated in the very beginning. No doubt the sacredness of the Sabbath day was known to the true believers from the time of Adam, although the Bible is not very clear on this point. The scriptures appear to establish the Sabbath at the time of Moses, but this is probably due more to an incompleteness of the earlier record than to an absence of teaching at the time of the early patriarchs.

    Still another dimension is shown after the exodus from Egypt, wherein the Sabbath is used to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from bondage. (Deut. 5:12–15.)

    And in the last days the Lord has explained that another purpose of the Sabbath is “that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world” by keeping it holy in the way he has commanded us. (D&C 59:9.)

    In New Testament times the Sabbath day was called the “Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) and was observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb. In the present dispensation the Lord called the day of worship “my holy day” in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on Sunday, 7 August 1831. (D&C 59:9–10.) Since Jesus is Jehovah, the Creator and the God of Israel, these different aspects of the Sabbath all bear witness of the same Lord Jesus Christ but emphasize different features of his ministry.

    When the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking ears of corn on the Sabbath, Jesus explained to the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

    “Wherefore the Sabbath was given unto man for a day of rest; and also that man should glorify God, and not that man should not eat;

    “For the Son of Man made the Sabbath day, therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” (JST, Mark 2:25–27.)

    Not only does this manifest a practical view of the Sabbath, it also illustrates its multiple nature: (1) the Sabbath is for man’s benefit; (2) it is a day of rest; (3) it is a day of worship; and (4) Jesus is the maker of the Sabbath and is the Lord thereof in any age of the world.

    Public and private worship. Proper observance of the Sabbath is a sign and even a test that distinguishes the covenant people of the Lord from those who follow the ways of the world. (See Ex. 31:13–18; Neh. 13:15–22; Isa. 56:1–8; Isa. 58:13–14; Jer. 17:19–27.) In this respect it serves a purpose similar to the Word of Wisdom and tithing, which soon divide the believers from the nonbelievers in their performance.

    Sabbath observance entails more than simply staying at home. It also involves public worship. It was and is a day for the believers to meet together for worship and for instruction. The New Testament informs us that Jesus, “as his custom was,” frequently went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. (Luke 4:16.)

    The most extensive revelation in the current dispensation that deals with the Sabbath day is recorded as Doctrine and Covenants section 59. In this communication the Lord emphasizes the public nature of Sabbath worship by indicating that one should “go to the house of prayer” on the Lord’s holy day and “pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” (D&C 59:9–10.)

    Which day is the Sabbath? The Sabbath has eternal significance. The Old Testament declares the Sabbath is to be observed as a “perpetual covenant” (see Ex. 31:13–17), which does not necessarily mean that it should be forever on the same day, but rather that the Sabbath is a covenant for eternity—that is, of eternal significance—and is needed by mortals in every generation for their frequent spiritual rejuvenation. The context of the passage seems to make that point clear. It is evident from the Bible that the sacred day was the seventh day of the week during Old Testament times, whereas in the New Testament it was observed on the first day of the week by the church after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.

    Traditionally The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recognized Sunday as the day of worship, according to the pattern given in Doctrine and Covenants section 59. [D&C 59] However, in the Middle East today, some branches of the Church observe the Sabbath on days other than Sunday, consistent with the custom of the countries in which they are located. This is necessary so that meetings can be held at a time when the members of the Church can be present.

    Since the Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath, with its purpose not only to be a day of rest for the individual, but also to be a day of spiritual instruction and public worship, it is important that the Sabbath day be observed at a time when the people can attend. The significant fact seems not to be which day is observed so much as how and why the day is observed and that the local group of believers observe the same day each week.

    In the Church the matter of Sabbath-day observance can be settled quite effectively from the fact that the twelve successive Presidents of the Church from the Prophet Joseph Smith to President Spencer W. Kimball have all seen fit to observe Sunday as the proper day, and have thus set the pattern. The important factor is that the programs of the Church are under the direction of the holy priesthood and have the approval of the President of the Church—the prophet, seer, and revelator, and the Lord’s representative on earth. When rare exceptions to the established day have seemed necessary, as noted above, the proper priesthood authority is able to make the decision.

    What benefits do children receive by partaking of the sacrament before the age of accountability?

    Elliott D. Landau, chairman of the Child Committee, Sunday School General Board Although children under the age of eight “cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me” (D&C 29:47), it has been the practice of the Church to offer children the sacrament.

    Partaking of the sacrament serves to remind worthy individuals (1) to remember the broken body and spilled blood of him who was crucified for the sins of the world, (2) to take upon themselves the name of Christ and always remember him, and (3) to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:44.) Allowing children to participate does not indicate that they have the same need for repentance as an adult; however, partaking of the sacrament can help teach them to love the Lord and to obey his commandments.

    Observation has taught us that growth processes having to do with such things as attitudes, habits, and dispositions begin at a very early age. We are often impressed with the idea that children, in our homes and in Church services, are making a limited but effectual spiritual response to attempts made to motivate them on the level of spirituality. We may also observe that their response to spiritual things often precedes or exceeds their intellectual understanding.

    In other words, we may see spiritual responsiveness and growth before a child “begins to become accountable” for his moral choices. His moral innocence does not necessarily imply complete spiritual incapacity. A child may get a feeling about God as he repeats a prayer or hears one. He may think momentarily about Jesus as he is instructed to bow his head and close his eyes—especially if he has been invited to do so just preceding the prayer.

    It is especially important that the less tangible religious lessons be given most careful attention and repetition. The sacrament is one of the most important vehicles available to us to do this. Although the attention span is short for young children, the feeling may develop that partaking of the sacrament is a special occasion, that Jesus is a special person, and that the bread and water somehow relate to him. But becoming accountable is gradual, not sudden, and the more mature idea of making a promise to Jesus and receiving blessings through him may well have—and should have—its beginnings before the age of eight.

    In both the Junior Sunday School worship service and the sacrament meeting, children see their families and their older peers partaking of the sacrament, and this weekly repetition from toddler days to the age of eight helps them to model themselves after these important persons.

    Under the above circumstances, partaking of the sacrament may not only start a pattern that will go on in later life, but it may also become a dynamic, vitalizing, and developmental foundation for spiritual growth. Therefore, children partaking of the sacrament when they are emotionally immature and relatively ignorant of the doctrines of salvation is not necessarily an idle gesture. Spirit may speak to spirit, attitudes may generate attitudes. Although children may not get the same thing out of partaking of the sacrament that adults do, they may have some of their important needs met through that ordinance.

    Even though I’m careful to organize and budget my time, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the good things I ought to do. No matter what I accomplish, I feel guilty about all the things I didn’t do!

    Kathie Johnston Brough, Relief Society Education Counselor, Livermore First Ward, Pleasanton California Stake I know the feeling: you finish with Christmas shopping and wonder why you never found time to help with the community Sub-for-Santa project!

    It seems there was a clause in the free agency portion of our contract that said that not only would we have to make decisions between bad and good, but also we would have some tough decisions to make between good and better!

    My husband and I have found a system that helps keep us from getting discouraged about the fact that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. We can’t do everything. But if we get our priorities straight, we can be happy about what we can do.

    Every four to six weeks we set aside part of our family home evening to review our long-term priorities and set some immediate goals. We chose the Relief Society program as a model, dividing our long-range priorities into four categories: Spiritual Living, Social Relations, Homemaking/Home Improving, and Cultural/Intellectual/Physical Refinement. Another good framework would be the Personal and Family Preparedness program of Church Welfare Services. (See June 1977 Ensign, pp. 6–9.) Whatever your approach, your overall goals should help maintain balance in your life and really represent what is most important to you, and I believe you should seek the guidance of the Spirit in setting them. After we had selected our categories, we listed some general objectives: for example, under “Spiritual Living” we listed, “Increase familiarity with scriptures; keep the Sabbath; improve personal relationship with Heavenly Father; do work for the dead.”

    At each review session we decide when our next review date will be—four to six weeks away—and then write down the specific goals we want to achieve in each area before that review date. Often one goal can meet more than one general objective: inviting a new family in the ward to go to the temple with us helps us improve in Spiritual Living—and also helps with our Social Relations goal to fellowship new ward members.

    Using this system hasn’t added any hours to our days, but it has added satisfaction. There is more meaning in washing a window when you have planned to do it as part of your goal to become a better homemaker. And it is easier to accept a dirty window when you remember that you weighed your priorities and temple attendance came out ahead of window washing.

    There will never be enough hours in anyone’s day to work on every good thing. The criterion for being happy with today’s accomplishments is that you have worked on the most important goal for that day—and that you will do something each month toward maintaining your true priorities. The satisfaction of reviewing your accomplishments each six weeks also helps wipe out the discouragements we all experience.

    The most important thing is to write down your goals and set a definite time, not too distant, to review them. Then concentrate on your plans for this review period: those other pressing projects are for next time!

    “Why is so much of the Book of Mormon given over to military accounts? Do we know why this material is supposed to be important to us?”

    R. Douglas Phillips, chairman, department of Classical, Biblical, and Middle Eastern Languages, Brigham Young University When Mormon set about making his abridgment of the entire Nephite history, as contained in the Large Plates of Nephi, he was (as he repeatedly observes) faced with a mass of materials and sources of every type, both “secular” and “sacred,” and a major problem may have been deciding what to include in his history and what to leave out. (See 3 Ne. 5:8–19.)

    If we today feel that Mormon’s inclusion of lengthy military accounts is somehow not in keeping with the sacred and religious purpose of the Book of Mormon, then we must remind ourselves that he, unlike most modern historians, had a theological or religious concept of history. In his view, war was not to be explained merely in terms of political, economic, or racial causes and effects, but was rooted in moral, spiritual, and social problems and unrighteousness.

    Above all, he saw the wars in Nephite history as a verification (to use his own word) of the prophecies of Lehi regarding the terms and conditions for occupying the promised land. (Alma 50:19–20.) Though always stemming from the wickedness of men, still these wars were often viewed as occasions of divine punishment and retribution on the one hand and of divine deliverance on the other:

    “Their abominations … brought upon them their wars and their destructions.

    “And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered.” (Alma 50:21–22.)

    Mormon was also acutely aware that the final Lamanite wars of A.D. 322–85, in which he himself played the leading military role, were the fulfillment of prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite and a testimony that the principles of the law of the harvest and divine retribution were in full operation. (Morm. 1:19; Hel. 13:5–11.)

    “But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.” (Morm. 4:5.)

    Such an outlook was due in no small part, of course, to Mormon’s personal experience as a military leader. Like the Greek historian Thucydides he was not only a general but was also destined to be the historian who had to account for his nation’s defeat in a terrible war. War was a major element in his life, which virtually coincided with the long period of the final Nephite–Lamanite conflict; and no doubt he saw as one of the main purposes of his life the tragic task of writing the “record concerning the destruction of my people, the Nephites.” (Morm. 6:1.)

    But we must be careful not to overstate Mormon’s preoccupation with war. Although he frequently mentions its occurrence in the various periods of Nephite history, he judiciously limits himself to recounting in detail only a few of the many accounts that were at his disposal. Except for his rehearsal of the sixty-three years of war in his own lifetime—with the full account of the causes of war, preparations, battles, retreats, and further battles, including the final one at Cumorah with its losses—Mormon devotes most of his interest in military accounts and wars to the period 75 B.C.A.D. 25, and in particular to the fourteen years of Lamanite wars at the time of Moroni, which fill some fifty-six pages in the book of Alma.

    It was natural that Mormon should have been attracted to Captain Moroni—the brilliant, energetic, selfless, patriotic, and God-fearing hero who had been instrumental in preserving the Nephite nation. So great was his admiration it may be more than simple coincidence that he gave his son the same name. In Mormon’s eyes, the peaceful days under Moroni were a golden age in Nephite history. (Alma 50:23.) But the military exploits of Moroni seem to have particularly interested Mormon. With great care he recounted Moroni’s courage and patriotism in the desperate military and political state of affairs arising from Lamanite invasion from without and sedition from within, his efforts in mobilization and defense, his own and his lieutenants’ brilliant tactics, their sharply fought battles with frightful losses, and their miraculous victories. But throughout his account we perceive the hand of God making use of devout and just military leaders and statesmen in preserving the righteous. (See Mormon’s eulogy of Moroni, Alma 48:11–13.)

    If in his account of Moroni, Mormon saw war, at least in part, as a means of divine deliverance for the Nephites, he shows us that the final war fulfilled prophecies of destruction of the nation. With terrifying clarity we witness with Mormon the tragedy of a people that has passed the point of no return socially and spiritually and is bent irreversibly on its own destruction. The law of the harvest will be permitted to run its course.

    The implications of Mormon’s accounts of war are clear: the people who occupy those lands today are under the same conditions as the earlier inhabitants; they are subject to the same principles. But it is his son Moroni who, even before he had placed in his father’s record the grim account of the Jaredite destruction, warns the inhabitants of America today against placing themselves in the precarious position of the ancient Nephites (Ether 2:11–12), and warns them to accept with gratitude the lessons of an earlier destruction:

    “Give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.” (Morm. 9:31.)