The examples of Enos, the sons of Mosiah, Alma the younger, and Korihor were given in the previous article to exemplify a true testimony (except in Korihor’s case who is an example of an anti-testimony). Each of the examples given of a true testimony followed a certain pattern. In first seeking to obtain a testimony, a person prays for their own welfare and forgiveness of sins, as they seek repentance and begin to align mind and hearts to God’s. Once they receive a remission of their sins, their thoughts turn to the eternal and temporal welfare of their own people. It is the final stage of a testimony, however, where the natural man is ultimately destroyed, as the truth and realization of our divine kinship with our initially perceived temporal and earthly enemies gives way for our desire to see them blessed. In short, the final stage of a testimony is a spiritual and physical realization concerning the true nature of what it means to follow Christ’s command to “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44), for such a command is not merely a passive feeling but a daily and active endeavor towards those who we considered our “enemy”. Indeed, it is in the final stage of testimony that we realize through living the Christ’s command to love our enemies a monumental and eternal truth: In reality, we have no enemies!
The Difficulty of Realizing the Final Stage of Testimony
In 1978, Dr. Michael Hart, a Princeton trained physicist, compiled an academically awaited list of the 100 most influential people in history. The results of his list were rather shocking to those academics that had waited for it, because of Hart’s top-three most influential people. It was widely considered that Jesus Christ would easily rank as the most influential person of history, yet, when the book was finally published, Jesus Christ ranked #3 – behind the prophet Muhammad and Sir Isaac Newton.
Regardless of the author’s unspoken personal beliefs or prejudices that certainly went into compiling the list, Hart’s stated reason for listing Jesus Christ third reveals a saddening tale that should cause every person who calls themselves “Christian” to contemplate. After explaining how many of Christ’s teachings (e.g. the “Golden Rule”) were not original teachings of Christ’s earthly ministry (each principle having already been expressed in various cultures and texts prior to Christ), Hart writes:
It does not seem reasonable to consider Jesus responsible for all the things which Christian churches or individual Christians later did in his name, particularly since he would obviously disapprove of many of those things. Some of them – for example the religious wars between various Christian sects, and the barbaric massacres and persecutions of the Jews – are in such obvious contradiction to the attitudes and teachings of Jesus that it seems entirely unreasonable to say that Jesus inspired them…
Does this mean that Jesus had no original ethical ideas? Not at all! A highly distinctive viewpoint is presented in Matthew 5:43-44:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said; Thou shalt love thy neighbor, 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.”
And a few lines earlier: “…resist not evil: but whosever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Now, these ideas – which were not a part of the Judaism of Jesus’ day, nor of most religions – are surely among the most remarkable and original ethical ideas ever presented. If they were widely followed, I would have had no hesitation in placing Jesus first in this book.
But the truth is that they are not widely followed. In fact, they are not even generally accepted. Most Christians consider the injunction to “love your enemy” as – at most – an ideal which might be realized in some perfect world, but one which is not a reasonable guide to conduct in the actual world we live in. We do not normally practice it, do not expect others to practice it, and do not teach our children to practice it. Jesus’ most distinctive teaching, therefore, remains an intriguing but basically untried suggestion. (Hart 47, 50-1; emphasis added)
How is it that those who call themselves “Christians” can so readily dismiss the most unique of our Savior’s commandments? The sad realization that we must admit is that as Christians, we really don’t give more credence to this command of Christ’s than a mere “untried suggestion.” Even President Obama, while still an Illinois Senator, put forward the quandary:
“Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.” (June 28, 2006)
The statement from then Senator Obama is quite telling of the near universal thought towards Christ’s unique doctrine of loving our enemies.
This final stage of testimony does not come easily, nor is it readily accepted in society as realistically obtainable. When the world so adamantly disparages the things of God – even and especially by those who profess his name – it is no wonder that social convention and norms so adamantly hinder individual perception from seeing the realistic practicality of the greater truths of eternity. From scriptural accounts, only those who have received the witness of the Holy Ghost will seek for the welfare, benefit, and blessing of their enemies after much prayer and fasting (Alma 17:3), honest repentance, and absolute humility (Moses 1:10; Mosiah 4:19-21).
The Power and Consequence of Loving One’s “Enemies”
More books have been written and songs voiced on the subject of “love” than anything else. There is much discussion as to what it means to “love,” let alone what it means to love one’s enemies. The Greek word used in Matthew 5:44 to denote “love” is “agapaō” (ἀγαπάω), and is closely associated with the Greek word “agape” (ἀγάπη). This type of love is the Christ-like love spoken throughout the scriptures, and, more consistently translated, means to “to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.”
To love our friends and family with this agape-type love – i.e. to welcome, entertain, be fond of, and love dearly – comes relatively easily to most of us, but such love for those closely associated to us is hardly worthy of Celestial blessings (Matt 5:46-47). However, when applying this principle to our enemies – the seeming problem is readily manifest. Who, as Christ is speaking, is our enemy? “Enemy” here, as it comes from the Greek, is “echthros” (ἐχθρός), and it describes any person who is (1) hated, odious, or hateful; (2) hostile, hating, and opposing of another; and (3) any man set an enmity with God in their sin who (a) opposes God in his mind, (b) is hostile to man or God, (c) is a certain enemy, or (d) is the/a devil who is the most bitter enemy of the divine government. In other words, the “enemy” spoken of here is any person whose nature and actions are openly, physically, and spiritually hostile, opposing, or hateful towards other men and God.
We might do well to ask whether God has any “enemies,” and consider how he treats them. It is the natural man that is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam. In reality, what constitutes an “enemy,” if we are to see things as God sees them, is someone who has yet to offer up their natural man to God and “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…” (Mosiah 3:19). The natural man will manifest in various and countless ways – for there are countless ways to sin, injure, and cause offense; however, there is only one God, one truth, and one way back to our Father in Heaven. Only those who are valiant in their testimony – having a sure evidence of knowledge made truth through the witness of the Holy Ghost – will progress throughout eternity (D&C 76:51, 58-60). It is through this testimony that we obtain a “pure knowledge.”
The beauty of a pure knowledge (D&C 121:41) – the knowing and realization of truth – is that we can know of things from the inside out, as opposed to the world’s temporal method of learning things from the outside in. The point here is to understand what love is without having to look at its copious attributes, for the experience of learning truth (real truth as understood through the Holy Ghost) does not rely on the knowledge of attributes. Truth is the understanding of what is, even a “pure knowledge,” as obtained through the witness of the Holy Ghost – to know of things for who/what they are from the inside out and on their own terms, not what we perceive them to be from their attributes (from the outside in).
In my previous article on testimony, two examples were given of the process of a testimony – Enos, and Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah. These, however, are not the only examples in the Book of Mormon that demonstrate the realization of the final stage of testimony – even the loving of one’s enemies. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis are excellent examples, as they refused to take up arms to fight against their perceived enemies.
It is common, at first glance, to easily justify any method of self-defense as an immediate response to an attack by one’s perceived enemies. Through such justification we often hear, as the world’s solution, “the best defense is a strong offense.” I have often wondered how it is that the Lord’s stated creed of “defense” is, in fact, “defense” – it is not until an “enemy” comes against us more than two or three times that we are justified in defending ourselves (D&C 98:23-48).
Few stories in scripture, I believe, so clearly and tenderly exemplify a true testimony in Christ, of eternity, and of love for one’s enemies than that offered by the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. These were a people who once acted in ignorance – following after the murderous and wicked traditions of their fathers (Alma 24:7-10) – yet who, when they “were brought to believe and know of the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin” (Alma 24:19).
The Anti-Nephi-Lehis represent a group of cultural, social, religious, and political Nephite “enemies” who were converted to the gospel of Christ through the actions of Nephite missionaries who, amidst the laughing jeers of these Nephite missionaries’ peers, looked with a Christ-like love and testimony to the eternal welfare of their culturally perceived “enemies.” Concerning these Lamanites, the Nephites – the supposedly enlightened and righteous Church-going members – had mocked and ridiculed Alma and the sons of Mosiah for harboring such a seemingly asinine proposition that a Lamanite could ever change, repent, and come unto God. Ammon recounts the narrow view held by those still pained with the natural man:
Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?
For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.
And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.
But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls (Alma 26:23-26).
As already shown, not only were the Lamanites ultimately converted to the gospel of Christ, but they “would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin.” Indeed, it was not merely for their own individual salvation that they refused to fight their brethren, but, because of their own testimony of Christ, they grew strong in Christ-like love and desired the benefit of their enemy over their own lives.
And this they did [bury their weapons of war], it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands”(Alma 24:18; emphasis added).
These were not people who were merely resigned to their own self-imposed defenseless destruction – these were proactive, willing, and humble disciples of Christ who had a pure knowledge of their eternal state. These were not hopeless ideologues, but these were men and women who understood truth and were divine realists. These people were anxiously engaged in a good cause – so much so that when their enemies approached them to destroy them, “they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Alma 24:21).
Through bearing their burdens patiently, the Lord delivered them out of the hands of their “enemies.” Lives were lost and blood was shed, but this was not the point – the point was that they had surety and knew of the dealings of that God who had created them. They had confidence in something greater than this temporal sphere, for they were able to meet their Creator righteously – for “there was not a wicked man slain among them” (Alma 24:27).
There are possibly no better examples in written text then that of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who so personally, intimately, and tenderly demonstrate the words of Christ when he commanded:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak as well. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt 5:38-42 ; emphasis added).
If these once murderous enemies could repent and offer themselves completely to Christ that they would lay down their own life rather than injure another; If the only sinless man to walk this earth could, at the moment of his execution, beg the Father’s forgiveness for his murders – then how much is required of us today in regards to our enemies?
As we work and strive to follow the Lord, a testimony – if it is a true testimony – will soften our hearts and lead us to desire the benefit and welfare of our perceived “enemies.” To love our enemies – i.e. to honestly, willfully, and intentionally desire the benefit, eternal salvation, and temporal well-being of those who we perceive intentionally seek to injure, harm, and deride not only us, but God – is the one teaching of Christ that has, as Dr. Hart explained, largely “remain[ed] an intriguing but basically untried suggestion.”
How blessed are we today to have examples before us of those who lived up to this stage of testimony? How grateful should we be for the mercy of the Lord in blessing us with the knowledge of these examples – of those who have had a knowledge of truth and were true to their understanding?
The gospel of Christ is not an unobtainable utopian message for ideologues – it is a realist doctrine. The gospel of Christ is not fanciful mysticism or complex superstition, the gospel is empirical and demonstrable – but only to those who desire to know it by living it. To the world, Christ’s doctrines are impractical, for the world seeks to turn things upside down (2Ne 27:27) by advocating the effectiveness of its solutions to its own problems. The gospel of Christ is the only practical solution – it is not only the best solution that we have, it is the only solution.