Larry just voted for an increase in taxes so that new public schools could be built in his city. Larry has seven kids.
Susan just voted for the candidate promising to extend unemployment benefits another six months. Susan has been unemployed for nine months.
John just voted for the candidates that were, “easy on the eye.” He just didn’t have time to study the candidate’s positions.
Steven just voted for the candidate that promised to raise defense budgets. His company is a defense contractor.
Candace just voted for the man who promised to take from the rich and give to the poor. Candace hasn’t paid taxes in fifteen years.
Terry just voted for a new law limiting the use of public lands. Terry lives in a big city.
Brian just voted for the woman who promised to protect wildlife by limiting oil exploration in Alaska. Brian lives in Florida and works for a large oil company.
Carl just voted for a new law that makes it illegal to hire someone without the government’s approval. Carl’s town has seen a dramatic increase of illegal aliens.
Cindy just voted for the candidate that would require employers to pay a minimum wage of $10 per hour. Cindy is nineteen and has never earned more than minimum wage.
The First Big Vote
Of course, a vote is just a choice. Our first choice that we know of was in the pre-earth life, where we existed as spirit children of our heavenly parents. We had the choice to follow Heavenly Father’s plan, which had Christ’s support, to come to this earth and receive a body and experience agency (the freedom to choose for ourselves), or to follow Lucifer, whose plan was to take away our agency. There is much we can learn from this first choice.
Like Adam and Eve, we figuratively chose to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil when we chose to come to this earth. Like Adam and Eve, because of our choice, we will experience good and evil, and we will experience physical death.
Indeed, the scriptures refer to the results of this first choice as a “war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7). This war must have been an awful war, where we witnessed one-third of our brothers and sisters make a very bad choice, a choice that would affect them for eternity.
Isn’t it interesting that the battles we fight here on earth are for our liberty, our freedom to choose?
Take a moment and answer this question about our first big choice: Given that we use our brain to make choices, if we did not get a body, which includes our brain, until we came to earth, how then did we make the decision to come to earth? What part of us has the capability to make that choice without a physical brain?
The answer is that we are not our brain! Use your brain and think about that for a moment!
You Are Not Your Brain!
The implications of this distinction are huge! Our brain is a part of our body that was given to us as a gift from God. It is up to us, the eternal part of us, to choose how we use that brain. By removing our identification of who we are from what and who our brain tells us we are, we become aware of the eternal part of us—our eternal self.
Have you ever accidentally smashed your finger? I think most of us have done that at one point in our lives. Could you think of anything else as you felt your finger throbbing? In a way, your hurt finger was controlling you and what you think. Your brain works in a very similar manner. If you misuse or abuse your brain, your brain will begin to control you. Indeed, we have to stay in control of what we are thinking, and take care of our brain and body, or our brain will control us.
Our brain is our tool, our spirit’s tool, to use as we wish. We must be careful how we use our brain. Thoughts enter our brain, and we must determine the source of the thought. Thoughts are things. (This can be proven scientifically, but we will leave that for another day.) Was the thought planted there by the Spirit, or the natural man? Or, was the thought planted there by our brain based on past experience or our environment?
I love to think of a spirit when it enters the body of a baby. We get to watch and get excited as that spirit learns to use that body to rollover, crawl, eat, walk, talk, run, play racquetball, etc. We also get to watch how that spirit will use the new brain that he or she has been given. Or, on the other hand, we will watch how that brain uses that spirit!
Elder D. Todd Christofferson describes how our brain and spirit can work together.
“We must begin by becoming one within ourselves. We are dual beings of flesh and spirit, and we sometimes feel out of harmony or in conflict. . . As we endeavor day-by-day and week-by-week to follow the path of Christ, our spirit asserts its preeminence, the battle within subsides, and temptations cease to trouble. There is greater and greater harmony between the spiritual and the physical until our physical bodies are transformed, in Paul’s words, from ‘instruments of unrighteousness unto sin’ to ‘instruments of righteousness unto God’ (see Rom. 6:13).” -D. Todd Christofferson, “That They May Be One in Us,” Ensign, November 2002, 71–72.
Clearly, in order for our bodies to become righteous instruments, our spirits need to be in control, not our brains. The spirit led by the Spirit, can lead the body to righteousness, creating harmony, but the opposite can also happen: the body can lead the spirit towards sin and destruction. King Benjamin references this condition as the natural man in Mosiah 3:19 which states:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. -Mosiah 3:19
Meet your Natural Man
Many of us don’t recognize that there are three voices in our head. It really is like the cartoon that shows the angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other shoulder, and there we are in the middle getting to choose whom to listen to. The following is an example I have used in the past to help others identify the natural man’s voice in our head so they can begin to fight against his influence.
I drive up to Wendy’s, one of my favorite hamburger joints. I have so many choices at Wendy’s. This is one of the reasons I like this restaurant so much. So I pull up to the drive-thru menu and am presented with all of the wonderful choices Wendy’s has to offer. That is when the battle in my mind begins!
The natural man comes out and begins to help me choose what to order. See if you can recognize his arguments. If I order the salad, I might shed a pound or two. That would be good. I would really feel much better about myself if I could lose just ten to fifteen pounds. This is the only body I have; I should take care of it. Heavenly father gave us the Word of Wisdom for a reason. Jesus called our body a temple. But then to really lose weight, I would have to order salad every day. How much fun is that? I could order the chili; that’s pretty healthy. But I have worked hard all morning! I deserve a burger; a single would probably fill me up, but the double is perfect! I can start my diet tomorrow. I’m really not that fat. As long as people don’t see me naked, I can cover up pretty good with some baggy clothes. Okay, I’m going with the double burger. Of course, the burger isn’t a meal all by itself; I have to go with the combo. BIGGIE SIZE! And as long as I’m starting the diet tomorrow, I will go for the full-strength Coke with all of the sugar and all of the caffeine. After all, after working so hard, I am pretty tired. I could use the extra pep the caffeine will give me. Somehow, I have got to make it through this day!
I place my order, the friendly girl at the window hands me my order and change and I’m off down the road, eating my well-deserved lunch. Man, that is a great burger! How does Wendy’s do that? The Coke washes the burger and fries down as if it were the nectar of the gods. Being an expert in the field of burgers, I can really appreciate fine food such as this. The fries top it off. You know, Wendy’s fries are good for you; they have less trans-fats than McDonald’s fries. What a great meal. I should have gotten a frosty! Twenty minutes later, arriving back at my office, I’m feeling stuffed. That was a big burger! After the biggie-sized fries and Coke, I am feeling like a stuffed whale. I walk up just one flight of stairs to my desk, and I’m short of breath. I sit down in my chair and start to wonder why we have never adopted the idea of a siesta here in the States. I’m feeling a little depressed. I was going to start my diet today. I was really good with my diet for breakfast. I ate a very healthy bowl of oatmeal with a banana. Now I have blown it! I’m never going to lose weight. I’m going to be fat forever. Man that was a good burger – with fries and a Coke, does it get better than that? Maybe it’s worth it to be fat? It’s not like people don’t like me because I’m fat. In fact, I think they like me better this way than if I were trim and better looking. If I were hard and firm, my wife wouldn’t think I was as cuddly. I wouldn’t want to intimidate others with both my brains and good looks; that might be more than some could handle. And on and on and on.
If you have ever struggled with your weight, I’m sure you could relate to some of my natural man’s arguments. You probably could add to my arguments. I have heard some real whoppers!
Now it’s time to analyze. Can lunch at Wendy’s be a sin? I think most of us don’t think twice about eating out at Wendy’s. Certainly, when someone in the office invites us to go to Wendy’s, we don’t think, “Ooh, that is sinful. Get thee hence, Satan!” We may, however, say that about cheesecake!
Let’s break it down to what Jesus might do. Let’s break it down to what I know I should have done. Let’s break it down to the molecular level. My goal in this molecular level breakdown is not to make you or me feel guilty about eating out at Wendy’s. My goal is simply to provide evidence of the natural man in our lives so that we can be more aware when he is trying to deceive us (especially at the voting polls), so that our choices will be more fully aligned with those of the Savior.
First of all, should I have even gone to Wendy’s? The prophet has told us over and over to get out of debt. I certainly could have brought something from home. The natural man says, “Oh, that is so embarrassing! Adults don’t brown-bag it to the office. After working so hard, you deserve to go out to lunch.” The reality is that for twenty percent of the cost of my Wendy’s lunch, I could have brown-bagged a much healthier meal. Let’s see, if I saved five dollars every day for twenty days, that is one hundred dollars. If I took that same amount of money and put it towards my credit card payment, I could pay it off six months earlier. The natural man says, “Six months; that is not that big a deal out of sixty months! Who are you trying to impress, anyway? You’ll just charge it back up with other things.” If we were really committed to what the prophet has asked us to do, would we spend extra money eating out every day?
Now let’s take a look at my food choice. Wendy’s offers some very healthy menu choices. If I were to treat my body like the temple that it is, I would have ordered a chicken salad with a low-calorie dressing, and no fries! Or, a small bowl of chili, without the extra cheese. Not only is it cheap, it’s very healthy. I could have treated my body—my gift from God—as the temple that it is. I could have treated it with love and respect by making good choices.
What about my drink choice? Can you imagine Jesus standing next to you as you go to order? What would you order then? A Coke? My guess is that you would both order something very healthy, nourishing, and on sale. Water is free! While I have never heard a General Authority come out and say that caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom, I have heard them say that addictive substances are not to be taken if we are to follow the Word of Wisdom. So, maybe caffeine is an addictive substance and maybe it is against the Word of Wisdom? The natural man has many strong arguments in this area. As a Diet Coke addict, I know this to be true! “You are too tired. You will get a headache if you stop today. You have a headache, better drink a Diet Coke. You need some energy for this task. You need to lose weight, and the caffeine helps keep your metabolism up. The Word of Wisdom is for coffee and tea, not Diet Coke. The prophet has never said caffeine specifically.” And on and on and on. The reality or truth of a non-caffeinated life is that you will have more energy, you will be healthier, you will feel better about yourself for beating the addiction, you will feel sorry for those who still suffer the addiction, and most importantly, you will be closer to the Spirit. Elder Boyd K. packer said this:
“I have come to know also that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation. . . . If someone ‘under the influence’ [of harmful substances] can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.” -Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign, November 1979, 20.
I knew I was in trouble with caffeine addiction when one freezing winter morning I pulled into the gas station to get my ice-cold, forty-four-ounce, Diet Coke refill, and I came up with a great invention. I told the lady at the counter that someone needed to invent warm Diet Coke. She looked at me, smiled, and said, “They have! It’s called coffee!”
My challenge to my caffeinated friends is to go off of caffeine for one month and find out if you are not closer to the Spirit.
Please know this about addictions both physical and political. Synergistic power, like gasoline poured on a fire, is granted to your natural man when your body suffers from any addiction. It’s the natural man on steroids. He loves the power of addictions. It is the beginning of, and catalyst to, captivity.
The natural man rejoices in his conquests. As I sat down at my desk, as a diet failure, the natural man chalked up some points on his side. Once again, he had beaten me. I was depressed. I had blown my diet. This is when he is most dangerous. His argument that I am going to be fat forever is stronger than ever. After all, he has evidence! Lots of evidence—proof that I am a failure. He even provides arguments about why it is good to fail. This is the time when we need to step back and look at the truth of the matter. We need to understand that the natural man is the biggest liar of them all, and then act by calling down the powers of heaven in our own behalf.
(Note: Does drinking a Coke, eating a fry, or splurging on a meal equal a sin? If it does, I’m going straight to “H E double-toothpicks!” – unless of course, I repent. But I don’t really know. Here is what I do know. We have choices all of the time. Some choices are simply better than others, and understanding the natural man can help us make better choices. And better choices lead to better lives.)
The Natural Man Versus Liberty
With the example above it is my hope that you can start to recognize the voice inside your head that is attempting to persuade you to do the opposite of God’s will. This voice argues for Satan’s plan here on Earth. His goal is and always has been to destroy man’s agency. Any legislation that takes the property, liberty, or agency from man, can and should be considered evil. The natural man argues for regulation and control of your neighbor who is not behaving the way you want them to behave. The natural man argues for the redistribution of wealth. “Take from my neighbor and give to me – as long as it is legal.” Not exactly “love thy neighbor!” The natural man is sneaky. He argues that since the public voted for it, or that the government is responsible, it must be right and for the good of all. Arguments for the “the greater good,” send up red flags that someone is about to lose their agency. Satan, by using the laws of the land to get what he wants, limits the freedom and choice of every man.
Consider your own addiction to government programs. How much do you rely on public schools, public health programs, public utilities, etc…? How many of us don’t save because the natural man reminds us that we have government programs such as unemployment and Social Security to fall back on? How many of us stay on unemployment because the natural man argues that there are no “good jobs.” How many of our politicians buy into the arguments of the natural man and sell them to us as answers to man’s problems? Like physical addictions to drugs, addictions to government programs take man’s agency and bind the soul.
My hope and prayer is that each of us can recognize the natural man in our lives – and in our government. “The natural man is an enemy to God!” His arguments are powerful. Reconsider that one-third of the hosts of heaven bought into these arguments in the pre-mortal life. Satan’s plan to take man’s agency has not changed. He wanted to take our agency then and he wants to take it now. As a people we must continue the war here on earth and fight for our agency. If we are to stay on God’s side, we must fight for our neighbor’s right to make their own choices whether we agree with them or not. I pray that we, as members of the Church, will set the example by defending the rights and privileges God has given us. I pray that we will follow the “enticings of the Holy Spirit.”
Image: LDS Media Library