About Corazon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zoramite Prayers and "Strange Fires"

An Essay on the
Evils of Pride

Preface: This post is a little different from my usual ones. I almost never delve into religious, sermon-type postings on this blog. I usually prefer to stick with posts on history, family, etc. But as I state on the blog description, "everything is fair game."

In my readings of the Book of Mormon, I have found the story of the Zoramites to be particularly troubling. In the Book of Alma we read of how the Zoramites had driven out the poor from amongst them, along with all those who didn't believe as they did. In addition, we are told that the Zoramites constructed a "high place" for worshiping God where they uttered the following prayer:

15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.

16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.

17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.

18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
Setting the Zoramite prayer aside for just a moment I also want to mention a second story from scripture that I have also found to be equally troubling. It is the story of Nadab and Abihu, who were the sons of Aaron the High Priest. In the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 10 we read:

1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.

2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.
On the surface, the verses probably don't make a lot of sense and are easily passed over. After all, the Old Testament is full of tales of how the Israelites blasphemed God and ended up paying the price. How is the story of Nadab and Abihu any different?

First off, Nadab and Abihu were not your average Joe's. These were the eldest sons of Aaron and as such were the rightful heirs to not only the Levitical (Aaronic) Priesthood but also to performing the tabernacle (temple) ceremonies. Their inheritance and responsibility was not that of the average Israelite.

So what did they do wrong? What's with the "strange fire"? First off, the removal of the tabernacle censers (fire pans) from the altar was inexcusable, since they were as sacred as the altar itself (Exodus 27:1-3; 38:1-3). Nadab and Abihu had certainly been educated sufficiently by their father, Aaron (and uncle Moses) to have known this. Each should have guessed that, since his censer was a holy object, only fire from a holy object (the altar) would be suitable to put in the censer. In addition, Nadab and Abihu erred in starting their own (strange) fire as opposed to what the Lord had prescribed. Leviticus 9:24 states very clearly that the Lord would provide the fire to consume the offering, not man. In other words, Nadab and Abihu chose to do their own thing, in their own way, according to their own understanding.

So what does the Nadab and Abihu story in Leviticus have to do with the Zoramite prayer in the Book of Mormon? Nothing really. The reason I chose to unite both of these stories is because I am amazed at how intelligent people, who have been given incredible blessings from God, can choose to be so incredibly stupid. How is is that the Zoramites could pray to God and at the same time thank Him for "choosing" and "electing" them over the poor and those who think differently than they? How could the children of Aaron (and nephews of Moses) be so stupid as to ignore the prescribed rituals of the tabernacle when they themselves had seen first hand the miracles of God?

The answer is simple: pride.

One of the central themes of The Book of Mormon is how pride can destroy a person/family/civilization, and the Zoramite prayer, along with the Nadab and Abihu story, are perfect illustrations of this reality. Unlike other sins, pride is one that can ensnare us without our even realizing it. After all, pride doesn't necessarily require us to make any overt act. Pride doesn't require the click of a mouse to enslave us like pornography does, nor does it rely on the lying lips of those who bear false witness to get its point across. No, pride is much more subtle. Pride can take an otherwise intelligent, righteous individual and twist him/her into a false sense of security. Yes, pride can make the very best of us justify our "chosen" prayers and our "strange fires."

But surely we of the modern era wouldn't offer Zoramite prayers or make "strange fires".

Al contraire.

I think it is more than abundantly clear that pride is the most common and progressive sin in the world today. I am reminded of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's excellent talk from the 2010 General Conference in which he stated:

At its core, pride is a sin of comparison, for though it usually begins with “Look how wonderful I am and what great things I have done,” it always seems to end with “Therefore, I am better than you.”

When our hearts are filled with pride, we commit a grave sin, for we violate the two great commandments. Instead of worshipping God and loving our neighbor, we reveal the real object of our worship and love—the image we see in the mirror.

Pride is the great sin of self-elevation. It is for so many a personal Rameumptom, a holy stand that justifies envy, greed, and vanity. In a sense, pride is the original sin, for before the foundations of this earth, pride felled Lucifer, a son of the morning “who was in authority in the presence of God.” If pride can corrupt one as capable and promising as this, should we not examine our own souls as well?
So what are some of our modern day "strange fires"?

They aren't hard to find. You see them all around us. The list of prideful acts could fill an entire encyclopedia. With that said, here are three examples of of modern day "strange fires" that I believe seem to infect us (without our knowing it)on a national and personal level:

National Pride:
-- There is no better example of collective national pride than partisan politics. When a partisan political zealot insists that his/her views on the issues of the day are the only acceptable (or truly American) solutions to a given problem, rest assured that his/her convictions come not out of political savvy but are rather the result of pride. When one insists that being conservative/liberal is more in harmony with the ideas of our nation's founding and/or more in agreement with the will of God, that person does not possess deep political understanding but rather has fallen victim to the delusions created by pride. Partisan politics are all about pride. Let me say that again. Partisan politics are all about pride. The problem is that most refuse to see it because they have camouflaged their pride by wrapping it up in the American flag or justifying it by a bizarre appeal to religion. I am reminded of a couple of dear friends who once told me that "you cannot vote for Obama and be a Temple Recommend holder." WHAT!!! The absurdity of such a statement is staggering. Reality is that God cares as much about your political leanings as he does about the toppings you like on a pizza. To borrow from the great William Shakespeare, partisan loyalties are "much ado about nothing." Yes, there are many "strange fires" in American politics today.

-- Another example of national pride is the assumption some make that one nation is more preferred/special in the eyes of God. The stupidity of such a viewpoint would be laughable if it wasn't so widely accepted. In reality, nations are no more than imagined communities. God never created a single nation nor will he. The pretend lines that we draw on maps and accept as "borders" may be political necessities but they carry little weight in God's eyes. Does this mean that God hates patriotism? Not at all. I believe God would have us be a patriotic people. HOWEVER, God DOES NOT approve of nationalism. So what is the difference between patriotism and nationalism? Patriotism is the quiet, steady devotion and appreciation for the blessings provided by the land in which one lives. Nationalism is the arrogant assumption that one nation is inherently better than another, and that as a result, God has given it favor over others. Simply put, patriotism is gratitude, nationalism is pride.

Personal Pride
-- All of us want to feel like we are successful. It's an important component to our sense of personal fulfillment. It is for this reason that we all put tremendous effort and emphasis into our work, schooling, etc. But as is the case with most societies, different trades are met with different levels of status. The lawyer and professor are usually held in higher esteem than the trash man or the plumber. But to God, all are alike. No one trade is better than another SO LONG AS THEY ARE HONEST TRADES!!! But sadly, we as mortals don't see things that way. Too often we puff ourselves up like the Zoramites of old by exalting our status above others simply because of our education and/or employment. And though we should be proud of our personal achievements, there is nothing in a degree, certificate, title, honor or pay grade that makes one any better than another. Unfortunately, too many people of "position" or "education" make the prideful prayers of the Zoramites. They climb their high places and give thanks that they are "better" than others.

On the flip side, pride is also exhibited by those who are jealous of those who have achieved great goals. They see people who have gained an advanced education as being "out of touch" or lacking "common sense". They criticize these individuals, their goals and achievements in an effort to salve their cankered and prideful hearts. They are angry that they did not achieve the same "status". But in the end, the only "status" that matters is the status we have before God. Are we grateful for what we have? Do we give thanks for our blessings? Are we happy and secure in our homes? Cars? Jobs? Or do we complain and always long for the greener grass on the other side? Yes, there is nothing wrong about wanting to improve one's conditions, but to sacrifice gratitude on the altar of pride truly is "strange fire."

In the end, the words of Proverbs 16:18 ring out loud and clear: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." Instead of climbing our tall places and offering up our prayers of superiority, let us remember that pride is ever-knocking at the door. Offering "strange fires" to the Lord is a surefire way to contract the virus of pride, which can spread quickly and ferociously without warning. As the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scripture) states: "The ego's pride is a barrier that prevents meaningful dialogue between this world and the next." Only a broken heart and a contrite spirit can help us to safely navigate the oceans of pride. Or as William Penn put it:

Humility and knowledge in poor clothes excel pride and ignorance in costly attire.

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