I find Hugh Nibley’s description of Abraham deeply moving.

We must do the works of Abraham. And then we are told specifically in the Doctrine and Covenants, that mean sacrificing, if necessary, your own life. Abraham was willing to do that, and everyone at some time or another will have the opportunity to show he’d be willing to do that. Remember we’re told that Abraham was tested to the last extreme, to the ultimate extremity, as we are told in the Doctrine and Covenants. Unless you are willing to give everything you cannot claim eternal life. It’s not to be cheaply bought. These are the great blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…

As there’s a story told in the Midrash. It begins with Abraham sitting in the door of his tent in the plain of Mamre in the heat of the day. But this was a hot day, you see. It’s probably what inspired the story. It was a hot day. It said it was a day like the breath of Gehinnom. Like the breath of Hell was coming out, and you can see the kind of country it was, and is, when this so, the heat and the dust and the sand…that’s utter desolation.

And he was worried, of course, because he says some poor stranger might be lost out there. Someone might have lost his way, and be perishing, because you’re not going to last an hour in this. So he sent his faithful servant Eleazer out to look everywhere. He sent him out in all directions and he came back, “No I can’t find anyone anywhere.”

Well he was still worried. He says “there might be someone out there.” <tearing up> You have these feelings…so he went out herself, though he was very sick at the time. He was sick and ailing, and old, and he went out into that Hell. And he looked and searched, but he found no one. And at the end of the day he came back exhausted toward his tent. As he approached the tent the three strangers were standing there.

It was the Lord and the two with Him. Because the Lord goes with His two counselors so to speak. He throws himself down on his face, and then it is that He promises him Isaac. As a reward for what he had done. This supreme offering. It’s a very moving story. He’d gone out to look for his fellow man and … out in that dusty hell, you see, all alone. Eleazer couldn’t find any, and he said, “I think I can find someone. ”

Well he found something. He found the answer to the thing he’d prayed for all his life. His son Isaac. It’s a beautiful story.

Telling the same story another time, Nibley observed that Abraham “seemed to be generous to the point of lacking common sense.” He was both generous and compassionate, spending his strength to serve others. Neither scripture nor tradition portray him as a shrewd businessman, again and again showing him yielding to others demands.

This superman is simply Everyman. What office did he hold? We know of none. What miracles did he perform? What dazzling appearances? He lived in the heroic age, a time of great migrations, of epic literature, but we read of no mighty combats, blow-by-blow, or challenges boasting heroic genealogy. His ten trials were Everyman’s trials. He was in trouble in business. The grass, water, and grazing rights on which he depended were often withheld from him. He never drove a hard bargain (the first rule of success according to Mr. Marriott), not even with the king of Sodom, or the generous Ephron the Hittite, who would have given him the burial cave for nothing. He yielded to Lot’s greedy cattlemen and gracefully withdrew. We never hear of him punishing anyone, though when the time came to get back his nephew’s property, he struck the marauding chieftains with brilliant strategy and knockout force. He forbade his children to marry into alien races, but they promptly went ahead and did so.

While swift and decisive to defend others and their rights, when it came to preserving and expanding his own property he preferred to withdraw rather than compete.

As brother Nibley points out, we must do the works of Abraham if we hope to be numbered among his seed (D&C 132:29-32). That includes being willing, as Abraham always was, to sacrifice our property and even our life in the service of our fellow man and at God’s command (Lecture on Faith 6:7-8).

His attitudes toward his fellow man and toward his own possessions were unreasonable by conventional standards. It is expected that people will drive a hard bargain. It is expected that they will resist attempts to take advantage of them. It is not expected that they will arise from their aged sick bed and search for potential travelers in the hellish desert heat. As strange as Abraham’s personal culture may be to us, heaven is populated by people like him. It is no wonder that the angels felt at home with him, and that the Lord could visit him and make promises. The citizens of heaven are people who condescend, succor, sacrifice themselves, and endure evil treatment while making intercession for their oppressors.

When they reach out to us, it is to invite us to become like them and adopt their culture.

As John the Baptist warned of the destruction facing the wicked, he said

Luke 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

The people responded

10 …What shall we do then?

What does it mean to bring forth fruit meet for repentance?

11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.

The first step required of these people involved beginning to adopt heaven’s irresponsible attitude toward personal property. They were to give away the things of which they had any excess. The only requirements given for a recipient of clothing or food were that he “hath none.” These are concrete instructions. They require no philosophizing, hemming and hawing, spiritualizing, or metaphorizing. They are not ambiguous. The coat and food are not metaphorical. John goes on to give similar instructions to publicans and soldiers:

12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?

13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.

14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

Be like Abraham. Be at peace with those around you, and don’t covet that which isn’t yours. In fact, don’t even covet that which IS yours (D&C 19:25-26).

This isn’t the final step on the path, but the first. This is fruit meet for repentance. Everything after depends on maintaining an unreasonable level of generosity. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). The people were begging for that remission with hands outstretched. How can we expect God to fill our cupped hand if we leave our neighbor’s empty? How can we expect bread from heaven if we don’t share earthly bread with the hungry.

King Benjamin dwelt on this at length in his great sermon at the end of his life. His people had received a remission of their sins, and he laid out the terms by which they could retain it:

Mosiah 4:26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

His injunction to wisdom and prudence is an important reminder. Surely Abraham, of all people, understood this. He looked out of his tent at the punishing heat, looked down at his frail injured body, looked inward at his heart, and decided that making sure there was no thirsty traveler was more important than his own well-being. His interpretation of “wisdom,” “order,” and “strength” seem extreme, because he had ascended to heaven and been initiated into heavenly society. His culture was heavenly, rather than earthly. King Benjamin’s definition of these things may have been as extreme as Abraham’s, because the only exception to the command to give to those who ask is for those who have nothing to give:

Mosiah 4:16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— 18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. 19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. 21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. 23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.

24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. 25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.

Likewise, the commands of Jesus reiterated in parallel sermons given in Matthew, Luke, and 3 Nephi seem extreme as well. Jesus wasn’t trying to teach us how to live well in a telestial world. He was giving us the blueprint for godliness:

3 Nephi 12:38 And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;

39 But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.

43 And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; 44 But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.

How much wrestling does he expect us to do with these things to adapt them to real life? His formula seems to be simply that we “hear”, then we “do.”

3 Nephi 14:24 Therefore, whoso heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock— 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.

26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand— 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Jesus’ words, particularly when confirmed by the inspired translation of the Book of Mormon, are meant to be sufficiently clear that by hearing them you can understand them well enough to obey them.

Heaven’s culture doesn’t seem to adapt well to this world. It is alien. It is either to be lived—which in this state will require the sacrifice of all things—or not lived. To attempt to change it is to lose it.

Advertisements