Topic Study: Violence

(March 2010)

This e-mail to a Bishop when serving as Stake Young Mens President give some thoughts on this topic:

Bishop:

I will continue to think about your question about the impact of games, but let me share with you some thing I already know, that perhaps might be useful to you.  I don’t think we consider the impact of violence upon our ability to receive promptings of the spirit.

I have edited portions of this significant talk.  If you would read it first, then I’ll explain how I would, if I were Satan, try to prevent people from feeling the power of the Atonement.


“The Very Root of Christian Doctrine”  By THOMAS B. GRIFFITH14 March 2006 BYU Devotional Address.

Joseph Smith said:

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. [Teachings, 121]

In the temple recommend interview, we are asked, “Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?” In my experience as a bishop and a stake president, I can happily report that I have never had anyone answer that question other than yes; yet I have long had a concern that we don’t fully appreciate that question. I think it significant that of the many roles of Christ, we are asked about only two: His role as Savior and His role as Redeemer. There must be something about these roles that is particularly important to the temple—a place where He binds us to Himself through covenants.

….While thinking about this one day, I was reading my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon—3 Nephi 11—and I noticed some things I never had before.

Many have commented that the visit of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ to the Book of Mormon people was a foreshadowing of His Second Coming. As we pay careful attention to what the Book of Mormon tells us about that experience, we can learn valuable lessons as we prepare for Christ’s return. These people were the righteous remnant, those who had heeded the warnings of the prophets. They were prepared to meet the Lord. The story of that encounter is dramatic and moving and has profound implications for each of us.

And it came to pass [that] they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them. [3 Nephi 11:8]

They were in awe and a little confused. The Savior’s first act of communication was “stretch[ing] forth his hand,” showing the symbol and evidence of His sacrifice. Then He “spake unto the people, saying: Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:9–10). Those who were nearby couldn’t help but notice the wound in His hand. He was not timid about that wound. He wanted it to be seen.

Next he said, “I am the light and the life of the world” (3 Nephi 11:11). He wanted them to understand that He is the Creator of this universe and that by Him the world is sustained today. Do you remember the next thing He wanted them to know about Him? His Atonement:

I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning. [3 Nephi 11:11]

That was His message. He is the Anointed One of whom the prophets had testified. He is the Creator. He suffered for us.

Notice the response:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ should show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven. [3 Nephi 11:12]

What followed is, to me, the most sacred part of this experience. Jesus commanded them to come forward one by one and do something difficult:

Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. [3 Nephi 11:14]

There is a gruesome quality to this command. In our culture we hide scars, we don’t display them, and we certainly don’t ask others to feel them. But Christ wanted these people to have physical contact with these emblems of His suffering.

And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth [all 2,500 of them]. [3 Nephi 11:15]

Some have suggested that this sacred experience took several hours.

Now please note carefully what happened next:

And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:

Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him. [3 Nephi 11:16–17]

Notice what just happened. The second time these people fell at Jesus’ feet, they “did worship him.” That didn’t happen the first time. The first time they may have fallen to the ground for any number of reasons: fear, awe, peer pressure. I don’t know. But the second time they fell to worship Him. Why the different reaction from the first time? The second time they cried out in unison, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us, now!” Why were these people, the righteous remnant, crying out to Christ for salvation now?

Let me suggest a possible answer. Although they had been obedient, perhaps they had not yet come to know Him as their Savior because they had not yet felt the need to be saved. They had led lives filled with good works. They knew Jesus as God, as Exemplar, maybe even as Friend. But maybe they didn’t yet know Him as Savior. Their prayer wasn’t, “Thank you for having saved us in the past and reminding us of that by your presence today.” No, the prayer was a current plea: “Hosanna!” or “Save us, now!” That suggests to me that they were just then coming to know Him as Savior.

What had done that? What had turned them from good, obedient people to good, obedient people who now knew Jesus Christ as Savior? What had caused them to fall down at His feet to worship Him? It was physical contact with the emblems of His suffering.

That was what our stake needed so they could come to know Christ as their Savior and Redeemer: physical contact with the emblems of His suffering. But how do we make that happen? Then it occurred to me: We have that experience every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We eat the broken bread, a token of His slain body. We drink the water, a symbol of His spilt blood. These are striking symbols intended to shock us, to evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude. Every Sunday you and I have physical contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering.

….

Brothers and sisters, we must come to know in great detail and with insight and feeling the events that make up the Atonement of Christ….

I think there are some great truths in this talk.  If we do not feel empathy for the suffering of the Savior, and his ability to help us avoid that suffering if we will partake of his Atonement, we will not partake.

Knowing this, consider how one might go about keeping people from feeling that empathy.  One way it might be done would be to desensitize people to the sufferings of others.  What if the sight of wounds in hands and feet of the Savior had caused no feelings in the people?  Would they have worshiped the Savior?  Would they have fallen at his feet?  Would they have wept?

How would one go about desensitizing people to the impacts of violence?  Trivialize it, make it common, make it meaningless.  Doing so over and over again, little by little taking away the impact of the pain that comes from seeing pain inflicted on others, and then help so that we become the instruments to inflict such pain on others.  Make doing so rewarding, achieving a sense of accomplishment.  It becomes the objective.

I think this verse in Alma, and the ending of the Book of Mormon should warn us of the end of this course:

4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their adesire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their bwills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction. (Book of Mormon | Alma 29:4)

There were many years in the Book of Mormon, before the end,  when the people practiced violence in their minds.  Before they physically inflicted the pain on each other in war, they mentally did so.  Having practiced mentally for a long time, they became capable of doing so physically.  The wars at the end of the Book of Mormon are the result.  Practicing violence may not lead to becoming mass murderers.  But it often leads to verbal and spiritual violence in the home and in other personal interactions.

35 Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren.  Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.  And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.  (Book of Mormon | Jacob 2:35)

Parents should be warned of this.  I am shocked when I hear of children watching violent movies; parents steal their innocence.  They remove the natural sensitivity children have to the sufferings of others by exposing them to these images.  And unless we are born again, and again gain a sense of empathy for the sufferings of others through that process, we cannot and will not partake of the Atonement.

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