A month or two back I was praying and pondering in the shower (my preferred spot of solitude in a house of 4 kids) about the story of Adam and Eve. For some time I have believed the dramatic story of the Creation and Fall, as written in the scriptures and found in the temple, to be mostly a symbolic teaching tool and instruction for our lives and our journey through life as opposed to a literal historical account. The particular part of the story I was thinking about was right after Eve has partaken of the fruit and approaches Adam. Eve asks Adam to partake and he says he cannot do it. She then asks the question that had me pondering: Do you intend to keep all of Father’s commandments? Adam, full of righteous sincerity replies in the affirmative. Eve then presents the paradox. She says, “I am going to get kicked out of the garden which will keep you from keeping at least one of the commandments (remain with Eve and multiply and replenish the earth), so what are you going to do now?”. Adam seems to really struggle with this, and certainly could have rejected Eve (maybe God, who is all powerful could provide another solution to the multiply or replenish the earth thing). Whatever his options may have been doesn’t matter because of course Adam chose to go with Eve and leave the garden. The irony of this situation is that the main reason Eve took the fruit, according to the drama, was to bring the knowledge of opposites into the world we all live in: Virtue and Vice; Good and Evil; Happiness and Sadness, and by her choosing this it caused Adam to have to choose between opposites.
So, as I was pondering and praying, I was hit with some deep impressions and realizations. I felt like the opposites of life, the opposing forces, the seemingly conflicting directions, choices, and opinions we find ourselves surrounded by are more important in how we learn to become better human beings than I realized. They are so important that they are at the center of the most important teaching story we have been given by the Lord. They are a primary reason we came to this earth.
“And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil..” Genesis 3:22
I think I always viewed these “opposites”, defined symbolically as Good and Evil, as a struggle to embrace one and suppress or avoid the other. However, as I have been thinking about this idea, I am starting to think that we MUST experience (or at least understand) both sides of all opposites in order to understand and appreciate things the way God does. The knowledge we are seeking to gain in this life is conditional upon our experiencing the opposites together.
This scripture illustrates somewhat what I am thinking:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” 2 Nephi 2:11
One of the interesting phrases in the scripture is, “all things must needs be a compound in one”. The word compound means a mixture, a composite whole, an amalgam, or a blend. I’m not certain whether this is saying that we must choose to experience them together or in order to grow spiritually we needed to be placed into an environment where everything was a mixture of good and bad. However, I am certain that we’re not always able to separate the good from the bad, and perhaps we need to make choices and learn the important lessons of life based on the totality of the situation.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
One of the principles of Mormonism that I hold the most dear is the idea that we believe in gathering all truth and circumscribing it into one great whole. We embrace the things that are true into our belief system. Sometimes people dismiss anything that is bad or evil as not part of that, but in reality the union of opposites is at work in the idea of truth and light. Their opposites of falsehoods and darkness are necessary for us to understand the truth and the light. We don’t have to follow or adhere to darkness and falsehoods, but we must be aware of them. This is sometimes very hard process and takes work and practice – to learn to discern and see the falsehoods and the subtle evils around us. We are blessed to have guides in the journey (parents, scriptures, prophets, prayer, etc.) However, learning the good and evil is a main purpose to our mortal journey. How we look at both sides of an opposite is one of the keys to how we assimilate and learn from them, and therefore become more like God.
A few weeks ago my 6 year old son Ben and I were driving from a cousin’s birthday party in Provo back to our home in Highland. On the freeway Ben posed a very good question, “Dad, why is the huge “Y” on the mountainside painted white?” For those who are not familiar, Brigham Young University has a large “Y” that is made of white-painted rocks that can be seen for miles on the mountainside above the University. I responded, “It is the easiest color for us to see it.” He asked me why other colors wouldn’t work like, light brown (the color of the mountain), or Black, or Green, and I eventually explained the idea of contrast to him. That white, in this instance, was the most opposite color from the surrounding color and that made it the easiest to see. He seemed satisfied with the explanation, but I am sure he will have follow up questions…:)
I wonder if the idea of contrast is part of this union of opposites thing. When I was contemplating the color white and the surrounding colors, I wasn’t confused about what I was looking at. I saw clearly the “Y” that was intended to be seen. If the “Y” would have been light brown, my mind would have been confused and had a much more difficult time interpreting what was meant to be seen. The message to be seen isn’t even white or the other colors, it was the “Y”. Even though analogies always fall apart at some point, the analogy here became really clear to me. The point isn’t always in just understanding the difference between virtue and vice, sadness and happiness, sickness and health, truth and falsehood, although understanding the difference is quite valuable and a huge benefit. Sometimes the messages that are from God, the revelations we all are seeking, and even the mysteries of life, or the “Y” are found in the contrasting of the opposites. The message is found in the experiencing and learning of the opposites. Just like my 6 year old needed to understand things in black and white now, so it is with opposites for us. Super contrasting opposites like Happiness and Sadness are like the baby food of our mortal journey, and as we grow we learn to better sense the more subtle differences in the world that becomes more gray as we get older. The opposites become harder to see, but even more important to experience and understand.
Consider the following scripture passage:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
What does it mean to be perfect, and how on earth can we accomplish it? (There are many great explanations and probably a topic for an entire post.) However, I think if you look closely, in the union of the opposites is where we can find that message to us. What would it take to love your enemies and to do good to them in the same manner in which you love your friends and your brethren? You would have to recognize their differences for what they are as opposed to only focusing on how their differences are affecting you? Right? Our pride is the factor that impacts how we feel about those stark and maybe even terrible differences. However, in recognizing not only their differences, but also their similarities (children of God, probably had difficult lives too, etc.) then maybe we can see their differences from a better perspective. This different perspective requires seeing both sides of the coin so to speak and allows us to develop a love for someone who is different from us.
When I was a teenager, my aunt married an African-American man. My great-grandmother was mortified. She was so angry that she would not even allow their children to come into her home. It was such a sad situation for everyone involved. However, over time as my great-grandmother was forced to get to know my cousins, especially the oldest, she changed how she felt and they actually became two of the closest people at the end of her life. I think we all know of examples of people who are able to change the way they see people when those they love actually become one of “those kinds of people”. The Lord is clearly challenging us to open our eyes and learn to love everyone. The opposites in life can help us with that.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:27
One other thing about differences and conflicts in our personal relationships, especially those which are more gray in nature, that cannot be understated is their potential refining and humbling power. There is a growing trend in our society to protect our children and ourselves from all conflict, competition, or failures. We tend to migrate politically, religiously, and socially to the places where people are only like ourselves. This can be very helpful in supporting and sustaining our righteous behaviors, but it also creates a huge bubble of protection from the “bad things” all around us and also the differing opinions and ideas of those who are similar to us in many ways. When young people leave their home for the first time either to attend college, get a job, or go on a mission, find new ideologies on the internet, or get exposed to different cultures they are sometimes shocked as their proverbial “bubble is burst.” Even though my mission was challenging, it also helped me grow like nothing besides being a parent has. This was primarily because, for the first time in my life, I was faced with the opposites and diversity of life. I was thrust into spending 24 hours a day with guys that had dissimilar ways of thinking and were raised in completely different circumstances from me. Additionally, I was confronted with different cultures of people I would meet, the tension I would feel between what I felt would be effective and what the mission leaders wanted us to do, misery from rejection and rejoicing from the blessing of someone accepting the gospel, and many other examples than I don’t have time to relate here.
A faith in Jesus Christ that is powerful, is one that is refined and tried, as “We receive no witness until after the trial of our faith“. I believe it is impossible for us, or those close to us to truly build this kind of faith without experiencing, and learning from the opposites of life. Taking the time to evaluate the conflicts and opposites in our lives will bring us closer to God. Being grateful when things are bad, being humble when things are excellent, being forgiving when we are being offended, being patient when stress is high, being understanding of differing points of view, trusting our kids when they are rebelling and exploring their individuality, seeing the good in those whose political viewpoints are different than ours, admitting our faults but not putting ourselves down, and embracing our strengths without rejecting the help of God are all practices that help us in this journey.
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” Eph. 4:13-15
I think it would be a mistake in our minds if we believe that when the scriptures talk about being of one heart and one mind, and a unity of a faith, that it is referring to us all thinking exactly the same about everything. The people of Enoch, and the future society that Paul was talking about, were without a doubt different in many ways, in their viewpoints, experiences, relationships. Not everyone had the “ideal” family, there were singles, divorced, children-less, old, young, liberal, conservative, and yet they came to a unity of the faith. I believe that the answers of how we do this, and to what extent we need to experience the opposites of life come as we seek to understand and love one another, especially those closest to us. I pray that we can all spend more time in pondering and praying and studying the contrasts in our lives so we can do more to bring about a unity of faith and to come closer to the Head of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.