Sunday, September 27, 2009

Adultery and Idolatry, or, “With All Your Heart”

I have long been intrigued by two of the greatest kings in all of Israel. David and his son, Solomon, were men of great character and ability. More than that, they were chosen of the Lord. In 1 Samuel 13:14 we learn that David was a man after the Lord’s own heart. Solomon was given wisdom unlike any other before or after him. (1 Kings 3:12) But for all their admirable qualities, both monarchs had lives that were punctuated with tragedy and disappointment, because of where they placed their hearts.

Just before the Lord gave Moses the commandments and the law on Sinai, he told Moses the blessing he was about to give Israel. In Exodus 19:5-6 we read, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” The Lord’s blessings are certain when we are obedient. This understanding has caused me to wonder what seeds David and Solomon chose to place in their hearts that spoiled their gardens with weeds.

After the fall of King David with Bathsheba and Uriah, the prophet, Nathan, queried David and asked, “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:9) At some point before his sin, David’s heart turned from the Lord. It was this choice that led to his great sin of adultery, which was followed by murder and deceit.

Solomon followed a similar path to his father and allowed his wives to turn his heart. In JST 1 Kings 11:4, 6 we read, “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, and it became as the heart of David his father.... And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord as David his father, and went not fully after the Lord.” Solomon then promoted idolatry by building up high places for the worship of the gods of his wives.

While we may not intend a deliberate attack on God, our failure to remember Him demonstrates a serious misplacement of our devotion. The prophet Nephi taught, “For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say trample under their feet but I would speak in other words–they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.” (1 Nephi 19:7)

It is sad to note that David’s adultery, followed by Solomon’s idolatry, led to the division of the kingdom that David worked so hard to successfully unite. He and his son frustrated their life-long efforts because of what they allowed into their hearts. While this pattern may not be the same for all who misplace their devotions, it is a tragic ensign that waves before us.

What a special and sacred place is the heart. It is the container of hopes and dreams. It is the house of our faith. It is where we keep that which is most dear to us. Most importantly, the heart is the receiver in our communication with God – it is where we feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost. But this can only happen by choice, when we treasure the word of the Lord. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (3 Nephi 13:21) It should be no great surprise that one thing we often treasure most is love.

While we are commanded by the Lord to love everyone, there are only two people that I am aware of whom we are commanded to love with all our hearts. On one occasion a scribe asked Jesus which was the first of all the commandments. Jesus answered him saying, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30) Similarly, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith in the Doctrine & Covenants the importance of loving our spouse to whom we are married. He said, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.” (D&C 42:22)

To love with all your heart implies that you are willing to offer everything you have, including the treasure that you may keep in your heart. When I treasure God and my wife above all else, it isn’t hard to offer that relationship back. If I treasure other things and am willing to offer them, too, then I show that nothing takes preeminence over the two primary relationships in my life. However, if I treasure something else so much that I am not prepared to give them up willingly, I should probably question whether I truly love with all my heart.

For much of my life, I believed that I loved God with all my heart because I could say I had kept the commandments. I don’t worship idols. I haven’t murdered or committed adultery. It wasn’t until I looked at the instruction from the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount a little closer that I gained a greater understanding of what it meant to be truly obedient. In Matthew 5:27 we read, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Jesus was speaking, not to the letter of the law, but to the intent of the law. It is in the intent where the seeds of sin begin to sprout.

Returning to the earlier question, “What seeds did David and Solomon chose to place in their hearts that spoiled their gardens with weeds?” I believe the answer lies in the inception of personal desire where intent is born. The issue has everything to do with fidelity with their two primary relationships. The word fidelity represents loyalty, faithfulness, and devotion. Fidelity is not just the abstinence of sin, it is the commitment that we make when we love with all our hearts. When we allow anything to interfere with that commitment, or our covenants, our fidelity is weakened, as is our faith.

With this understanding, the commandments given to Moses have increased depth and meaning for those who are truly faithful. If Jesus was trying to focus on the intent of our hearts when He taught the Sermon on the Mount, I would propose that we begin to practice idolatry in our hearts when we let anything affect our fidelity with God. Similarly, we begin to practice adultery in our hearts when we let anything or anyone affect our fidelity to our spouse. Thus adultery and idolatry have less to do with specific acts and everything to do with our covenants with the two primary relationships given by commandment.

So why are these seeds so important to stop at their inception? Continuing in Doctrine & Covenants 42:23 we read, “And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.” Not only do we deny our faith in God, because we have set him at naught and have ignored his counsel, we are no longer faithful in either of our covenants. This offends the Holy Spirit and causes it to withdraw. Our situation becomes even more precarious because of the powerful emotions that are involved when we love. These emotions evoke feelings that are so strong, they can mask, block, and even eclipse the promptings of the Holy Ghost. If we replace those promptings that can warn us of danger with feelings of emotion that have no restraint, we may find ourselves on a path without the ability to recognize that we are in danger. We put at risk, not only our covenants, but our ability to receive divine help, peace, and happiness. We also risk losing life-long investments in relationships that were meant and intended by the Lord to last forever. Ere we are aware, like David and Solomon, we misplace our devotions and find ourselves lost.

Recently a friend of mine told me of a couple that had fallen out of love. Their story could likely be retold by many who have been deceived into thinking that there is more to life than what they currently have. I am not certain that two people can fall out of love because their relationship slowly evaporates. I believe it likely, in most cases, that their desires go unchecked and shift to another focus. They allow them to be redirected or given to someone else.

Sometimes it is only a matter of priority. If we let something else, such as career ambitions, interfere with our faithfulness to our covenants and our fidelity to our two primary relationships, we risk losing the spirit. If a job eats up too much of our time so that we don’t spend a sufficient amount with a spouse, that relationship can become weaker. Once weakened, we may find that our desires for love also transfer to another focus. If that job becomes so important that we find it hard to keep the Sabbath Day holy, our relationship with Father becomes weaker. Once weakened, we may find that our desires turn to wealth, entertainment, or even selfishness. We become, as the apostle Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, “lovers of [our] own selves,” and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Thus selfishness becomes a strange form of idolatry.

Because we live in perilous times in the last days where the behavior described by Paul is so prevalent and common, it may be even harder for us to perceive that something is wrong. It becomes easier to fall prey to the temptations of the adversary to break the covenants with our two primary relationships. Conditions around us make it easier for even the very elect to be deceived. (Matthew 24:24)

If we wish not to be deceived, the answer is simple. Keep the commandments and take the Holy Spirit for your guide. Keep your desires in check and maintain absolute fidelity in your relationships with God and your spouse. We find the strength to keep these covenants when we combine for a common purpose. When we pray, we can ask Father for help to strengthen our marriage. As we plan out our lives with our spouses, we can ask for and give support to each other in keeping these commandments. I have found immense happiness and contentment as I have done these two things. My love for my God and my wife have only grown stronger and stronger. I know this has been the source of my happiness. How grateful I have been for the counsel to place my devotions appropriately and truly love with all my heart.

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