(Originally a Book of Mormon Seminary Lesson from Wednesday October 6, 1994. TG Entry: Bondage, Spiritual)
This lesson might be entitled “We All Suffer When Someone Sins.” It demonstrates how bad behavior can not only keep those misbehaving from realizing the blessings of righteousness it affects those who do not sin. We are not good at predicting the impact of our misdeeds.
One morning, when I was serving as a seminary teacher, I woke up at about 2:30 am, and couldn’t sleep. I was worried about a problem at work and had a lot to get done. So I got up and worked until about 5:10. I hadn’t done any preparation for my seminary class the night before. So I took a shower. As I got out of the shower I dressed, and kneeled down to pray about what I should teach at seminary. I then listened, and ‘felt the words’ as the scriptures talk about reminding me of some small ideas I had had for a lesson. I then distinctly felt that I should go and prepare more for my trip.
That was a very unusual feeling. I rarely am told to do more preparation for work, and less on spiritual matters, but I was told that. So I went and packed my bags. I then spent a few minutes in the early morning light talking to my wife before leaving for seminary and then on a business trip. It was such a nice conversation, and I wouldn’t have taken the time if I felt like I needed to prepare more for my lesson.
As I was about to leave, my wife suggested I should go get donuts for my students. It was somewhat an unusual suggestion, but as I was driving to the church, I could not shake the thought. So I turned around, and went and bought donuts.
One student showed up close to on time. We started class. To start with, I asked him why Nephi had quoted Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. He replied that he did it because the Spirit prompted him to. I thought that was an interesting observation. It gave me an idea. I went to the board and drew something like the following:
We talked about 1 Nephi in light of this chart. It was interesting, and I believe it is even more so in light of my morning. I could see how I could tell him about my morning, and explain that if we are doing what we should be doing, the Lord will give us direction that flows naturally from who we are. If we gain experience with listening to that inspiration, He may at times inspire us with things that are unusual. But those things will be less often than those that are in line with our expectation, and much less than all the things we do that are just plain the right things to do. We talked for a while and I could see that there was plenty to talk about. I felt very free in speaking.
II Bind My Tongue
A few minutes latter, I heard students out in the foyer, so I went out to get them. It took me a few minutes to get them into class. I had a little cooperation early on in class, but got less and less the more we talked. It was as if I could feel my tongue being bound. I stopped a number of times, and tried to think of ways to get them back into the discussion. I did everything I could short of getting upset and balling them out. I didn’t want to do that. I knew that would just hurt our relationship.
Finally after about 20 minutes of attempting to talk more about Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (a decidedly difficult discussion for any class), I gave up. I decided to talk about something they might care about, something that would keep their attention.
III Free to Choose
So I asked them why I should care if someone I did not even know should have an abortion. One of the girls gave just the perfect “incorrect” answer I was looking for: “You shouldn’t care. It is their life, and what difference should it make to you. I think abortion is terrible, but I don’t think you should care. They should be free to choose for themselves.”
IV Impact of Unknown Causes
I then changed subjects hoping again to keep their attention. I started to talk about the people in southwestern Utah, who lived there during the testing of the atomic bomb. I noted that the people who built the bomb did not know what the effects of radiation really were. They knew what radiation was, but did not fully understand what it does to the body. Radiation cannot be seen. It can’t be felt (except I guess at extremely high levels). Yet it has a serious effect on everyone exposed. Even people who knew nothing about the atomic bomb were affected by the radiation.
This is a pretty good example of choices we make having an impact that no one on earth could have understood or predicted.
V Impact of Mistakes
It is funny but the following day as I recorded this lesson in my journal on my flight home from the business trip, the plane we were to fly on had a problem. We boarded the plane, and went out to the runway. We started to take off. Then the pilot stopped, took the plane off the runway, and went back to a gate. There was something wrong with the plane. I had thought, somewhat flippantly, just prior to starting to take off “Today wouldn’t be a good day to die.” We got on another plane, flew home without incident.
But I wonder. I will never know, but I wonder if something perhaps was done, perhaps during a repair, that was wrong. The person that built the oxygen tank stirrers for the Apollo 13 flight made a mistake. It was made nearly 2 years before the space ship took off. But because they used the wrong size wire for the electrical connection, the electrical short caused the tank to blow up, and nearly cost three men their lives. That was a mistake that could have been avoided. But the consequence of that action was far removed from the act.
That is an example of a mistake having an unintended impact.
VI Our Actions and Their Impacts
That morning I then asked how good they were at determining the results of their actions. They didn’t want to admit it, but amidst the interruptions, some of them had already been talking about bad decisions and the impact those decisions had on their lives (usually through their parents).
I then told them that we are all affected by the actions of others, even if we do know the person.
I tried to read to them a quote by President Hunter, and could not get half the students to listen. I started feeling somewhat disgusted. I had hid the donuts before class so they would not be a distraction during class. But while standing there, I decided those students did not deserve them. They could not be rewarded with donuts given the way they had acted. I dismissed them without even telling them about the donuts.
After class, I started to think about what had just happened. There was one student there, who had been pretty good. His willingness to listen to the gospel had inspired me, and I was able to teach, to teach things I had not prepared. I was receiving inspiration about things I had never thought of before. Then the other students came. They were able to stop me from being a good teacher. They could bind my tongue by their actions and attitude, similar to Nephi’s brothers on the ship. I could do nothing to help them. They would not accept it.
In the same way, we bind the Lord, either by our listening and obeying, or our not listening.
10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. D&C 82:10
God cannot rob justice, and so if we do not asked for help, he must allow us to be turned over to the buffetings of Satan.
But I think the most interesting lesson from this experience for me was the impact on the one good young man. That one good student did not get any donuts, just the same as the bad students. I could not have him stay after, and give it to only him. That would have damaged my ability with the other students too much. I couldn’t distinguish between those that were just a little bit bad and those who really caused problems. So, I decided I could not give the donuts to any of them.
It made me wonder if there are not times when God is not able to bless the righteous with certain gifts when wickedness is so rampant. Perhaps he could bless us with the solution to the use of fossil fuels, but because of wickedness he cannot. Perhaps he could show us a cure to cancer, but because of wickedness, we can’t receive it. The good suffer much because of the sins of the wicked.
But God is merciful, and all things shall work together for our good. In the end, all things will be fair. But for the here and now, the righteous suffer right alone with the wicked.
(Initial inclusion and editing in TGC May 2004.)