Saturday, April 1, 2017

Noah revisited

Noah’s story has some similarities to today.

Genesis 6:11-12:
“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”
The world we live in is a corrupt place, but it is not quite as bad as Noah’s day. There is much good. Zion is being built, and it is gathering goodness, and that goodness is growing both inside and outside the church. What exciting, wonderful things are happening! But anyone can see that the flood of worldliness and wickedness is also rising at an alarming pace.

Genesis 6:18:
“But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee.”
Like Noah, God has established his covenant with me, and with each one of us who is baptized. There is a reason the flood is often referred to as a baptism of the earth. Our own baptismal covenant by water ushers us into the ark. The ark? Yes, because the ark is a great metaphor for the Church.

The ark was a common symbol used often to represent the church in ancient Christianity. Sometimes they would actually build their churches to resemble ships. In many churches, people still call the main chapel area the “nave” which is the Latin word for ship. Noah's ark was a common painting in early Christian churches and religious structures in the first several centuries after Jesus’ death. The idea is that the church is like the ark. You board the ship, quite literally at least once a week, to stay above the rising flood of worldliness and sin, or else you drown.

Since the restoration, Brigham Young brought the boat symbol back to the Church when he talked about “The Old Ship Zion":
“We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. ‘I am not going to stay here,’ says one; ‘I don’t believe this is the “Ship Zion.”’ ‘But we are in the midst of the ocean!’ ‘I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.’ Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the ‘Old Ship Zion,’ let us stay in it.” (As quoted by Elder M. Russell Ballard in Stay in the Boat and Hold On!)
The ship is solid. It is a true ship. It is guided by our captain, Jesus Christ. Just like when the apostles went sailing with Christ and they thought they would perish in the storm, and wondered why on earth their Master seems to be just sleeping, we collectively face stormy waves and wonder why it is such a rough voyage. It is helpful to reread the words of the hymn “Master the Tempest is Raging” in that context. The church, founded by Christ and bearing his name, is unsinkable. “No waters can swallow the ship where lies / The Master of ocean and earth and skies.” (Sorry I pounded this song on the piano too loud when growing up, Hayley!)

Of course, we can leap off the ship whenever we want. Lots of people seem to be doing fine floating around attached to little buoys of truth, and staying afloat without the fancy schmancy ship of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But leaving the ship will result in some kind of spiritual drowning. You just get waterlogged with worldly philosophies, and when the waves get big enough, anyone’s lungs may eventually choke with the incorrect doctrine and sinful practices that engulf them. Most importantly, leaving the ship of Christ means spiritual death because you are separating yourself from the only captain, Jesus Christ who can sail you safely home. Keeping our covenants by staying aboard binds us to him.

It is possible to not always see eye to eye with fellow members of the ship’s crew. If you disagree with God’s first mate or a member of his crew, either the apostles or your bishop or your Relief Society president, fine. But stay aboard, have faith, wait it out, work it out with God with humility and prayer, and for heaven’s sake don’t go leaping into the wild blue deep over it. (Again, see Elder Ballard’s talk Stayin the Boat and Hold On! 

For more reasons on why the Church matters and why we can’t just sail to heaven alone on our little rafts of personal understanding, Elder Christofferson offers some great breakdown here: “Why the Church?” 

What role did the ark/church play in Noah’s journey? Was it just an aimless vessel, floating around until the flood dried up? We read the ark had a specific destination. For Noah, the ark sailed out through the worldly flood and landed itself on top of old Mount Ararat.

Genesis 8:4:
"And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat."
To me, that is significant. This is where Joseph Smith’s restored truths get so exciting to me. Just like the ark guided Noah and his family to a mountain where he offered sacrifices and made covenants with God, the church brings us to the temple. Just like the ark started with the baptism of the earth, we start with our own baptism, the ticket that gets us on board, and then we get to ride out the storms of our lives, staying aboard the ship, until we get to the temple and make more covenants. Then, like Noah's family, we descend from that mount and build a godly society, multiplying and replenishing however we can, and remembering the covenants we have made.

In the gospel, family is a key part of both our church and temple experience.

Genesis 7:7-9:
"And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth,there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah."
It gets almost painfully repetitious in the verses in Genesis. Male and female, all the animals, all the people, two by two.

The Church is an organization with the goal of creating eternal families. “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” I believe that. I believe that is true, because I believe it is the pattern of God—my Heavenly Father as well as my Heavenly Mother—to have an eternal family. God want us to enjoy the same blessings they have got. Family is not easy, as we can all attest, and even God himself weeps and pains over us, but it is also wonderful and beautiful when it centers on love. I also believe firmly that Jesus Christ and his gospel is the only way to make our families eternal, and he has given those keys and the sealing power to our current prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

I know a bit about the difficulty this doctrine of family causes for those whose life doesn't fit the mold, having experienced some of the confusion of not fitting the ideal myself. There are many who feel they are alone and single on an ark full of 2 by 2-ers. Obviously not everyone in this church has the ideal situation of a happy, 2 by 2 marriage with children, but the promises of posterity and family are available to any and all who accept the gospel, thanks to the Savior and his atonement and His power to heal. While we board the ark two by two, the Lord always blesses us one by one.

I believe in prophets today. Not because it is easy for me, or because I always like what they have to say, or because it is convenient. I like having a prophet because they make me stretch in painful, wonderful ways, and then after the stretch comes peace, confirmation, and the Holy Ghost. That spirit makes me feel safe in this tumultuous world.

I believe in prophets because their words are like an ark to me that keep me afloat, buoying me up in this flooded world.

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