Thursday, January 24, 2013

The "Bad" Guy's Testimonies

I thought it would be interesting to look at the testimonies of some of the folk in scripture we typically don't associate ourselves with, but which in reality may carry some striking relevance for us and our day.  We often thing of the "bad" guys in scripture as not having a testimony.  However they too believe things.  And sometimes it's strikingly similar to our own beliefs.

It's not helpful if we insist that we are only, and exclusively associated with the good guys in scripture; and therefore never look at how we may be guilty of the same errors made by the "bad" folks.  When we refuse to see ourselves as anything but the good guys we may miss a great deal of what the scriptures are trying to teach us and tell us.  It may even boarder on willful blindness.

Laman and Lemuel's Testimony

"And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words..." (1 Ne. 17:22).

"we know that they are righteous".... They had a testimony that the people they lived among were righteous. They "knew" it was true. They base this on some form of keeping the (outward) statues and judgments of the Lord and all his commandments according to the law of Moses (read checklist). This brought them comfort and pride.  From that position they incorrectly evaluated Lehi as being judgmental. As it turns out they were mistaken, their "foolish father" (as they called him) actually had the true view of the situation.  Lehi's view was that the residents of Jerusalem were in serious peril, and needed to repent.  Being outwardly religious did not necessarily mean the residents of Jerusalem (or Laman and Lemuel for that matter) were righteous.  All was not well even though they may have perceived and sang that it was.

Lehi on the one hand "prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people."  He came to know God.  Laman and Lemuel on the other hand would have seen no need for such a thing, because they "knew" the people were already righteous. So unless your testimony is based on the truth it seems it ends up mostly blinding you.  That's why it's so important to receive the truth through the Holy Spirit.  The arm of the flesh or flattering assessments by men are not trustworthy.

Sherem

And ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence. And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come.... (Jacob7:7)

And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea. (vs 10)

Sherem claimed he believed in the scriptures, and also in the law of Moses.  He saw himself as a missionary. He uses the words of scripture to teach and share his beliefs and witness.  But, regardless, his beliefs were false.  What we have recorded of his testimony is sort of anti-testimony since it deals a lot with what can't happen, what isn't going to happen, and who doesn't exist.  He claimed to believe and teach the "right way".  You see you have to claim yours is the right way or you'll never be an effective missionary.  The misled folks however would not have thought they were mislead.  They, like all of us, need to harken to true messengers and obtain God's word for ourselves, so we are not dependent on others who are capable of misleading us. The precepts of men are very misleading, even the humble followers of Christ are subject to such things (2 Nephi 28:14).  Interestingly the D&C teacher's manual lesson 42 (link) quotes Sherem in their description of the correlation committee.  They ironically quote an anit-christ in their description of their own existence.

Sherem disagreed with the law of Moses being "converted" into something that worshiped a future Christ.  He preferred the law of moses which he taught was the right way.  Instead of looking for the reality, he preferred the symbol.  

The Priests of Noah

...Behold, we have brought a man before thee who has prophesied evil concerning thy people, and saith that God will destroy them. And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain. And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper. And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man? (Mosiah 12: 9,13-15)

...Therefore, what teach ye this people? 28 And they said: We teach the law of Moses. (vs 27-28)

These priests had a testimony of the scriptures as well as the the law of Moses. These were leaders and teachers of the people. They recognized prophecy when they saw it. The problem is they didn't like how it made them look. Based on their teetering testimony, they assure Noah that he really hadn't sinned, because they keep the law of Moses, and they are guiltless, therefore any news to the contrary just HAS to be a lie because it just doesn't fit inside their testimony. As it turns out they were wrong. Who you choose as your advisers matters. They may be more off base than you.

These priests are another example of someone supporting or basing their testimony on outward appearances or religious observance.  Seems that when testimonies assure us that we are just so dang amazing, chosen, and guiltless, and prospering, such talk should raise red flags because they can set us up to reject anything and everything that goes against your "testimony", even if its a true message from God.        

Nehor

And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people. And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life. (Alma 1:3-4)

Nehor's Testimony is that the Church leaders should be "popular"!  They should be supported so they don't need to work to support themselves or families due to their church service.  He practices and promotes priestcraft.  His testimony helps the leaders get gain, get rich, and acquire the honors of men.  He wants them to be religious celebrities, awed, reverenced, and fawned over and celebrated. This is all done for the sake of "riches and honor" (Alma 17:16).  Many folks found this pleasing (guess who found this most pleasing?).  They even built synagogues after the order of this Nehor (Alma 24).  Seems their very religious architecture/statues, followed after the pattern of priestcraft.

Nehor basically testifies to the people they they are righteous...indicating  that they should not fear nor tremble (which is the true reaction to someone discovering their lost and fallen condition before God). In other places in the scriptures we are told to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) Nehor attempts to dispel fear with lies.  He was also skilled at using scriptural phrases, he "testifies" to the people but did so with lies and deceit and sets men up as a light. This would be like lulling someone to spiritual sleep, gently soothing their troubled conscience with partial truths, softly assuring them that all is well with platitudes and pretty flowered memes, and no harm will come due to their righteousness.  Apparently this kind of testimony was lucrative for the leaders.  

Zeezrom

Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being.  Now Amulek said: O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations? Believest thou that there is no God? I say unto you, Nay, thou knowest that there is a God, but thou lovest that lucre more than him...(Alma 11:22-24)

Zeezrom trusts in things like logic, deception, status, money, and social persuasion and manipulation. He relies on the arm of the flesh.  He tries to get the crowd to turn against Alma.  After all Alma was perceived as being offensive, offensive to the core almost.  The offending Prophet however revels that Zeezrom is in love with money.  Zeezroms's actions in the verse quoted are consistent with his love of money.  He would sell what matters for it.  However later on he undergoes quite an ordeal and experiences a mighty change.  The trouble in his mind over his wickedness brought an intense, scorching fever (Alma 15:3).  However through faith in the Lord he was healed and then was "Baptised unto the Lord" by Alma.  That should give us hope.  Rather than being soothed by others and flattered into disregarding Alma's troubling testimony Zeezrom repented, came to the Lord, and was baptized.        

Zoramites 

Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.  But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.  And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen. (Alma 31:17-18)

In Vs 28 Alma gives some insight into these folks hearts: 28 Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.

The Zoramite's testimony is that they are part of the true Church. They are grateful they haven't been deceived by all the other foolish and errant people living in their day.  They give thanks as part of their testimony.  A thankamony even! But it's empty gratitude. The gratitude may have been sincere to a degree, but it was false in that it was based on error, and motivated no true Gospel fruit.  Their testimony builds on pride. They again, perceive themselves as righteous. Alma tells us that they love nice clothes, they love jewelry, they love expensive stuff obtainable at the local places of commerce. The wealth deceives them into thinking they are favored of God while others perish.  That belief is so bad it causes Alma pain in his soul.  Alma wants them to come to the truth, and make a course change, but their strong testimonies make them a tough crowd....

And last but certainly not least is our friend:

Korihor

His testimony is that people have frenzied and deranged minds as a result of the foolish religious traditions they follow.  He claims that this hope in Christ is vain and foolish, and there is no Christ because we can't know of things to come. He's an atheist. I know a number of Psychological or other professionals who would agree with Korihor's assessment about peoples minds being deranged and frenzied by religion.  It's convenient to view all religion that way, it makes it all easier to dismiss.  You can dismiss entire populations of people as objects, and mere biological creatures over which we needn't show regard.  It appeals to the carnal mind.    

But here's the real interesting part of his testimony.  It necessarily flows from the above position about there being no Christ, no hope, and basically no God or accountability.  "and that every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime."  (Alma 30:17)

This part extends the Christ-less view of life.  He says "whatever man does was no crime".  In other words you can treat people as poorly as you need to in order to get ahead because people don't matter anyway.  They were just creatures, objects even.  Prior to that he says that man "fairs in this life according to the management of the creature".  You can find that teaching at any given college campus on any day of the week.  And often taught from the pulpit in church.  Don't people get rich depending on how they manage the creature?  Don't they conquer according to their genius and strength?  I mean, don't they?

A theme in all these testimonies is that none of them initially think they are wicked.  They think the opposite.  They believe they are either guiltless, sinless, righteous, chosen, favored, or completely safe.  But when an offending true prophet comes along and actually tells them what God thinks, they can't conceive of themselves as being the ones the message addresses.  They think the messengers sent from God are crazy, look wrong, are off the wall, out of line, judgmental, arrogant, offensive, overly critical, apostate, lacking the right calling and credentials etc....  Instead of the truth, their testimonies only allow room for what makes them feel good.  And there exists plenty who are are happy to sell them that very thing in any shape, size, or color that suits their (our) fancy.  Some even offer feedback surveys to ensure the audience is happy with the quality of the deception offered.  Hugh Nibley is a great antidote for Korihor.  If you haven't read Approaching Zion, that's a great one.

In closing, the "Bad" guys are people too.  Just like you and I, they lived with hopes and dreams, they were subject to the trials of life, deceptions, and all the rest.  We will learn better from them by viewing them as people, people who faced not so very different illusions and temptations than we face.  They too were subject to a myriad of challenges, false doctrine, false testimony, difficulties and enticements. As people they can teach us much. As punching bags and as people by which to make ourselves feel prideful they don't offer quite the same benefit to the reader.  Don't forget to regard and see them as people, in doing so we may come to see some reflections that can open our eyes.  

6 comments:

  1. Wow - Great collection of false "testimonies". Somehow, some of them sound familiar???

    Thank you for a great website.

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  2. I neglected to include perhaps my favorite "bad" guy testimony. Which is Korihor. So it got updated. The post just wasn't complete without his contribution. :)

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  3. What an excellent idea for a scripture study...thank you, I really needed this.

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  4. Thank you!!!!!! It is a light for to days situation in ch........

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  5. I also love how Laman and Lemuel, when Nephi asked them if they had prayed to know the interpretation of Lehi's dream, answered, "We have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us", meaning, "God hasn't told us to ask, so we haven't," or "God hasn't told us the interpretation, so we shouldn't ask". So familiar. :-(

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  6. This is a WONDERFUL article! Unfortunately, exactly the same patterns I see in conference and sacrament. :-(

    -- Jules

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