Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Dangers of Riches and Inequality

There are many examples of the dangers of pride, riches, and inequality in the Book of Mormon. It almost seems that as soon as the Lord began to prosper his people, they began to set their hearts on their riches, and turn their back on Him. And this is the principle sin that often led to other heinous crimes against the Lord and their neighbors. We talked earlier about Alma and his words in the land of Helam concerning the dangers of pride. Alma's son–Alma, great-grandson–Helaman, great-great-grandson–Nephi, and great-great-great grandson–Nephi, also contended with these problems arising among the people.
During Alma "the younger's" time, according to Mormon's abridgment of the record we read:
"...the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.
"Now this was the cause of much affliction to Alma, yea, and to many of the people whom Alma had consecrated to be teachers, and priests, and elders over the church; yea, many of them were sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among their people.
"For they saw and beheld with great sorrow that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and to set their hearts upon riches and upon the vain things of the world, that they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.
"And thus, in this eighth year of the reign of the judges, there began to be great contentions among the people of the church; yea, there were envyings, and strife, and malice, and persecutions, and pride, even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God.
"And thus ended the eighth year of the reign of the judges; and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.
"And it came to pass in the commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church, and he saw also that the example of the church began to lead those who were unbelievers on from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction of the people.
"Yea, he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.
"…And now it came to pass that Alma, having seen the afflictions of the humble followers of God, and the persecutions which were heaped upon them by the remainder of his people, and seeing all their inequality, began to be very sorrowful; nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him." (Alma 4:6-12, 15)
I think it is important to note that the pride of those in the church because of their riches exceeded that of those who were not of the church. Sometimes we might think that our church, or religion, or code of ethics, etc. somehow makes us immune to these dangers. It is obvious that this is not the case at all. Also, it is important to realize that this pride among the members of the church became a "stumbling-block" to those who did not. Another danger of riches then is it can create distrust and enmity, and in doing so can cause the work of God to "fail in its progress." Additionally, I want to point out another phrase, seen in verse 12, that we will see crop up again later in the Book of Mormon: "great inequality." And once again, in verse 15, we see the word, "persecution", but here it is linked specifically to the "inequality" that Alma began to see among his people. It is easy to simply look around in the world today and see that a GREAT inequality exists, when it comes to wealth and the distribution of resources.
Helaman saw a similar thing happen among his people. Mormon explains:
"And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God—
"And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.
"…And it came to pass that the fifty and second year ended in peace also, save it were the exceedingly great pride which had gotten into the hearts of the people; and it was because of their exceedingly great riches and their prosperity in the land; and it did grow upon them from day to day." (Helaman 3:33-34, 36)
Again, we see the word, "persecution" here in these scriptures. It should be pretty obvious now that there is a direct connection between riches and the persecution of the poor and humble. And once again, the church was not immune.
By the next chapter, Helaman has passed away and his son Nephi has replaced him in the judgement-seat. In this chapter, we read how this friction had gotten so bad among the Nephites, that some of them joined the Lamanites and started a war with their brethren, resulting in the Nephites losing the "possession of almost all their lands" (Helaman 4:13). And what was at the core of this great destruction and loss of life? Mormon tells us:
"Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
"And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—" (Helaman 4:11-12)
So, Mormon attributes this great destruction to their "wickedness" and "abomination", caused by their "pride…because of their exceeding riches". And once again, Mormon reminds us that those in the church were not immune to this great wickedness. Also, it is important to note that this pride due to riches is what led to a multitude of other sins, as mentioned in the latter part of verse 12. In fact, this is not an isolated occurrence in the Book of Mormon. Just a few years later, after this war, again we read:
"…they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain." (Helaman 6:17)
Once again, this pride because of their riches led to other sins, including even murder.
Nephi's son, Nephi, finds the people again turning toward their riches, despite the fact that the people had witnessed amazing signs signifying the birth of Christ. Mormon tells us:
"But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
"For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
"And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
"…And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.
"Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
"And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.
"And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness.
"Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God." (3 Nephi 6:10-12,14-18)
There are a few important things I want to add, regarding these scriptures. First, as mentioned in verse 18, it is important to realize that they were not sinning ignorantly. Earlier, in PART 1 of this article, I mentioned that the true principles I am going to discuss here are of such a nature and of such importance, that the light of Christ which is within all of us, would prompt everyone of us, in our pure state, to live by them. And when we live contrary to these principles, we are rejecting that which we know to be good and true. Therefore, one cannot reject these truths in ignorance. I believe Mormon also saw that these people living in sin would not be able to explain away their abominations, using the argument of ignorance.
Also regarding these scriptures, can anyone read this account of the state of the people in the Book of Mormon, soon before the great destruction following Christ's death, and His subsequent visit to those who survived because they were the "more righteous" (3 Nephi 9:13) among them, without seeing the similarities to our society today. I read these words in 3 Nephi 6 and feel almost as if I am reading a commentary of our day. Just a few examples:
"pride and boastings because of their exceeding great riches", "many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers", "people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and and their chances for learning", "great inequality in all the land" (I told you we would see that phrase crop up again in the Book of Mormon), "church began to be broken up", "Satan had great power", "all manner of iniquity", "seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world", "in a state of awful wickedness"
This reads like a bucket list of things that Satan would want to squeeze in before the end of times. And it sounds very similar to the situation we find ourselves in today. And this is the situation the people in the Book of Mormon were in just right before the massive destruction of their civilization and Christ's appearance. Think about how often in the scriptures we are told that what is recorded in the sacred word of God serves as a "type" or "shadow" of things to come. Scary thoughts perhaps? At least they ought to be, for the wicked. And what seems to be at the heart of it all. I'll give you a hint, what word is mentioned in these scriptures 4 times? That's right: "riches". Am I painting a sufficient picture here?
Paul understood this concept also, as I believe all true disciples of Jesus Christ do. He talked about the "perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness" and tells us, "from such withdraw thyself" (1 Timothy 6:5). He goes on to say:
"But godliness with contentment is great gain.
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
"And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
"But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." (1 Timothy 6:6-11)
In a similar fashion as Jacob speaking to the Nephites, here we see that Paul has associated a definite outcome to being rich, not just a probable outcome. He says that "they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition" (verse 9). He could have indicated that there is simply a chance that riches can be harmful in such a manner. But he did not describe this cause and effect relationship in such a passive way, because such dangers are just a given. They simply come with the territory. Such is the nature and potentially destructive power of money. 
That is why there are such bold warnings coming from these men of God. They understood that the danger is just too high. And that is why Paul used words here like "destruction", "perdition", and "evil". These might seem like strong words, but they aren't any more forward or damning than words like "abomination", "condemeth", and "destroy…souls"  that Jacob used in the Book of Mormon. These words ought to create great concern and even put fear into people's hearts who are guilty of such sins. But unfortunately, I don't think that they do, not nearly enough anyway. As mentioned in PART 1 of this article, I suppose that the primary reason this is so, is that people justify themselves in claiming that the only sin is in consciously doing wicked things with riches. And that to simply be rich and live rich is not a sin. I hope that these scriptures I am sharing are helping to illuminate that this is simply a lie, one that is perpetuated by Satan to "lead away the hearts of the people." (3 Nephi 6:16)

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