The other day while reading the scriptures I come to the story where Christ cleanses the temple. I’ve heard the story many times; it’s not at all unfamiliar. I breeze through it while thinking, “Thank heaven I’d never do anything like that.”
But then I stop myself. It’s true that I would never defile a holy place like a temple by using it to get gain. But…
But sometimes my heart dwells too often on things of the world – money, riches, wealth, and just plain stuff. I want a bigger TV, or a new video game, or other fun electronics to add to my future man cave. And not only that, but sometimes I get preoccupied with the things that I have, and I spend time with them instead of in my scriptures or out in the world serving my fellow man.
Suddenly I realize that I’m more like the pharisees than I let myself think, putting things of the world before spiritual things. And what’s worse, all this time I’ve been doing practically the same thing that the wicked Zoramites did! Weren’t they the ones who prayed,
“O God, [I] thank thee; and [I] also thank thee that thou hast elected [me], that [I] may not be led away after the foolish traditions of [my] brethren… And again [I] thank thee, O God, that [I am] a chosen and a holy [person]“ (Alma 31:14-18)?
It’s all because I compared myself to the wrong person. Now, don’t get me wrong, I could learn a lot from that story by putting myself in the shoes of the Savior. But I could also miss out on some precious insight if I don’t also put myself in the shoes of the ‘bad guy.’ In other words, I’ll miss out on important lessons if I don’t change shoes every now and again.
While I don’t wish to impose my weakness on the rest of the world, I imagine that I’m not the only one afflicted with this problem. I thought I’d share two instances where recently I’ve gained insight by changing the shoes I jump into when I put myself into a scripture story.
In 1 Samuel we find an obscure story of David while he is in exile, a story that James Ferrell teaches about in his book The Peacegiver. Let me sum it up briefly, and if you’d like you can read it for yourself in 1 Samuel 25.
During his exile, David helped some shepherds of a local man named Nabal. Nabal was a fairly wealthy man, and David sent some messengers to him, asking for supplies as payment. Unfortunately, Nabal rebuffed the messengers and refused to give them aid (“Ha! Screw you!”). When David heard this he was livid (“Them’s fightin’ words!”), and prepared his men to go to battle against Nabal’s house (“Let’s go kick some trash.”).
Nabal had a wife named Abigail. When she heard how ‘churlish’ her husband had been, she quickly gathered supplies and rushed out to meet David and his army before they reached her home. When she reached him, she begged that Nabal’s sin be placed upon her, and that her gift be received and the sin be forgiven. She said,
“Upon me, lord, upon me let this iniquity be…. forgive the trespass of thine handmaid“ (1 Samuel 25:24, 28).
So, who’s sin did she atone for? Nabal’s? Not quite.
David graciously accepts the gift and says,
“Blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand” (1 Samuel 25:33).
It’s clear that Abigail is the type of Christ in this story, which I think leads us too often to put ourselves in Nabal’s shoes. We think something like, “How great it is that the Savior, like Abigail, takes our sin upon him so that we, like Nabal, can be forgiven for the things we do.”
But for a moment, change the shoes. Abigail is still the type of Christ, but think instead about David as the one who represents us. It would have been wrong for David to have continued with his plan to destroy Nabal. Nabal’s sin had been paid for, and justly might I add, and David couldn’t ask any more than what had been given. That would have been wrong and unjust. Abigail’s atonement for Nabal’s sin made it possible for David to forgive.
Putting ourselves in David’s shoes we think something like, “How great it is that the Savior, like Abigail, took the penalty for sin upon himself so that we, like David, can forgive others because we know the debt has been paid in full for the things that others do. To refuse to forgive would be like demanding that a price be paid above and beyond what the Savior paid, and I can’t demand something like that.”
The Lord’s atonement is two-way:
- Between us (Nabal) and God/Justice (David)
- Between us (David) and those who wrong us (Nabal)
Changing shoes allows us to learn that through the atonement of Christ not only can we be forgiven, but we can be given the power to forgive others.
John tells us the story of the woman taken in adultery. This story, which I’ll sum up briefly below, is found in John 8.
While Jesus was in the temple, the Pharisees brought in woman who had been caught being unchaste. According to the Mosaic law the woman should be stoned, and the Pharisees were testing Jesus to see what he would say.
After some more pestering from the Pharisees, the Savior responded that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. The Pharisees, “convicted by their own conscience,” eventually left, leaving the woman in the presence in the Savior. After telling her that he did not condemn her, he gave her the admonition to “Go, and sin so more.”
There have been many sermons preached on this encounter with just as many different messages, but it’s not my intent to get into all of that here. What I will say, though, is that I’ve often put myself in the shoes of the woman, thinking, “How great it is that the Savior gives me, like the woman, a chance to change and repent for the things I do.”
But what happens if I put myself in the shoes of the Pharisees? I end up asking myself some serious questions. Do I parade the mistakes of others before my peers, looking for validation of my desire to “stone” them? Even if I am totally justified in demanding such severe penance (i.e., stoning), is that what the Savior wants me to do?
Of course not. I realize how much better it is to abandon hatred and bitterness, and leave it to the Savior to worry about what consequences to dish out for mistakes of others.
Changing shoes allows me to recognize when it’s better to forgive and forget rather than relentlessly pursue vengeance on others.
These are certainly not the end-all-be-all lessons from these stories. There are many different things we can learn from the scriptures, and often lessons change as do our circumstances (which is why it’s so important to re-read the scriptures no matter how many times we’ve previously read them).
I just hope that I’ve demonstrated the value of looking for other shoes to put on, even if those shoes belong to the ‘bad guy.’