Thursday, October 10, 2013

Beyond Our Present Conception: Truman G. Madsen's Four Essays on Love

What a great time to be alive!  Have you ever wondered why you were born when you were born, and not, say, in some distant land during some obscure period of the earth's history?  You and I are alive today, a season that prophets have longed for over millennia, and that poets and philosophers have anxiously anticipated!  Addressing a group of students at Brigham Young University in 1979, Ezra Taft Benson declared:

“All through the ages the prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us” (Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” inSpeeches of the Year, 1979 [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1980], p. 59).

More recently, President Thomas S. Monson proffered these encouraging words:

“This is a wonderful time to be on earth. While there is much that is wrong in the world today, there are many things that are right and good. There are marriages that make it, parents who love their children and sacrifice for them, friends who care about us and help us, teachers who teach. Our lives are blessed in countless ways.” – President Thomas S. Monson

Just imagine... the future is brighter still!  Yes, this is a wonderful time to be on earth; a great time to be alive.  And yet, the Apostle Paul prophesied "know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affectiontrucebreakers, false accusersincontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Of these perilous times prior to His second coming, Jesus warned that "because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." (Matt. 24:12)  In a glorious vision of the latter days, the ancient prophet Enoch beheld that the God of Heaven "looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept." (Moses 7:28)
Puzzled, Enoch meekly asked His Father in Heaven, "How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?"  (Moses 7:28-29)  

To this inquiry, God, perhaps with tears still running down His heavenly cheeks, replied: "Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; / And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood." (Moses 7:32-34)

As Enoch continued to listen, God told him "all the doings of the children of men" and Enoch "looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook." (Moses 7:41)  These verses paint a picture: God, with tears streaming down like rain, and Enoch with arms stretched forth, a picture that pointed to the moment in time when Jesus would be hung upon the Cross, fulfilling the greatest act of love in time and all eternity.  This is the love that conquers hate and transforms the world.  God planned it, Jesus fulfilled it, and Enoch knew it:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

Charles Dickens began his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities with an observation that could well describe the time in which we now live: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"

Every once in a while, an author comes along who is able to capture in words, to the extent that it is possible to do so, the kind of love that conquers hate and transforms the world; the kind of love that makes bad times good; that bestows wisdom; that makes incredulity unbelievable; brightens the darkness; and makes a springtime out of winter.  With this goal in mind, and in the tradition of others who have approached the topic of love directly (such as Plato in his Symposium, and C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves) Truman G. Madsen composed a short volume called Four Essays on Love.  I recommend that this little book be used as a hopeful spark to kindle fires of love in the hearts and homes of those who wish to read it. It has the potential to bring the reader closer to understanding that which Joseph Smith termed "one of the chief characteristics of Diety":

"Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." (History of the Church, 4:227)

The four brief chapters of Madsen's book are "Joseph Smith and the Sources of Love," "How to Be loved and Beloved," "The Language of Love at Home," and "Human Anguish and Divine Love."  In less than 100 pages, this book will delight you as it brings to your remembrance things you already knew but may have found difficult to describe.  And it might just teach you something that you didn't know, or that you were just waiting to discover... namely, in the words of Madsen himself, that "we have capacities and privileges for love beyond our present conception." (Four Essays on Love, p. 25) Enjoy!