Monday, July 09, 2007

Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

this is a talk i gave in my ward yesterday. enjoy.


In the 2007 General Young Women Meeting, Sister Susan W. Tanner, the Young Women General President, while speaking to the Young Women of the church, gave an inspired message of great importance to all of us who at times in our lives find ourselves lost in the expanse of the world around us. She begins,

Youth often experience a crisis, wondering who they really are. The teenage years are also a time of what I describe as “identity theft,” meaning that worldly ideas, philosophies, and deceits confuse us, buffet us, and seek to rob us of the knowledge of our true identity.
One very good young woman said to me, “Sometimes I am not sure who I am. I don’t feel Heavenly Father’s love. My life seems hard. Things are not turning out the way I wanted, hoped, and dreamed they would.”

This young woman is not alone. All of us at some time in our lives find ourselves suddenly small and alone. In the Pearl of Great Price, we read about Moses receiving a powerful vision of the universe and his reaction to it. In the first chapter of the Book of Moses, beginning with the eighth verse we read:

And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.
And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

“I know that man is nothing.” What did he mean by this? A couple things have given me some greater understanding of what Moses may have meant here. The first is a scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life called “Live Organ Transplants” (also known as ‘The Galaxy Song’). In this scene, some men from the organ donor center are trying to convince Mrs. Brown (whose husband, Mr. Brown, just died while donating his liver) to donate hers as well. In an effort to convince her to donate (which would obviously kill her), they call on the Man in Pink (played by Eric Idle) who steps out of her refrigerator to sing this song:

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious, or daft,
And you feel that you've had quite enough,
Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving,
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

After hearing this song, Mrs. Brown replies, “Makes you feel so, sort of, insignificant, doesn't it?” and then agrees to have her liver removed.

The second is from the religious philosopher, D.Z. Phillips. In his book, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God¸ D.Z. looks at different theodicies (or explanations of the problem of evil – why do bad things happen?) and questions the common notion that the world and our lives in it were specifically crafted for us individually. He says:

[T]he chief use of suffering is to teach us that we are nothing. . . . To recognize that one is nothing, is to recognize that one is not the centre of the universe. The ‘I’ is not sacrosanct, immune from harm. The world can reach out and touch it at any moment. Nor is the ‘I’ the possessor of a cosmic right that will guarantee that things go in its favour.

Let’s go back to Moses now. God tells him that his creations are endless and that he is going to show Moses just one part of it. Moses then sees the world and every person on it. Like Mrs. Brown, suddenly he is insignificant, he is nothing. He is merely a single grain in an eternal beach of sand. Moses came to the stark realization that the universe was not created just for him and he certainly is not the center of it. To make things even worse, the scriptures say that after having this vision, “the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself.” Moses was suddenly small, insignificant, and alone. Perhaps he also said to himself, just like the young woman, “Sometimes I am not sure who I am. I don’t feel Heavenly Father’s love. My life seems hard. Things are not turning out the way I wanted, hoped, and dreamed they would.”

It seems then to be no coincidence that it is at this very moment that Satan appears to Moses – to attack him at his weakest. The scripture continues: “And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

Like Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club, Satan and the world wants to yell into your ears “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” He wants to break you down, strip you of your divinity, and then convince you to follow him.

Yet, even in his weakness, Moses was able to muster up strength to withstand Satan. “And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten.” What gave Moses strength was his knowledge that he was a child of God. Despite his apparent nothingness, he was something – something wonderful and powerful.

This was the very response that Sister Tanner wished to engrain into the young woman who approached her with her own feeling of nothingness. Sister Tanner says,

“What I said to her I now say to young women everywhere: I know unequivocally that you are a daughter of God. He knows you, He loves you, and He has a plan for you. I know this is a message Heavenly Father wants me to share with you.”

More than just a descriptive claim of our origin, the declaration that “I am a child of God” is also a prescriptive claim of our value, potential, and part in the world and the eternities. While we may not be the centre of the universe, it centers us and our place in the universe.

As the French existentialist Albert Camus, says:

One envies what one does not have, while the rebel's aim is to defend what he is. He does not merely claim some good that he does not possess or of which he was deprived. His aim is to claim recognition for something which he has and which has already been recognized by him, in almost every case, as more important than anything of which he could be envious.... He is fighting for the integrity of one part of his being. He does not try, primarily, to conquer, but simply to impose.

While Satan and the world want us to accept our nothingness and follow them, the assertion that ‘I am a child of God’ imposes our true nature on Satan and the world. It is essentially rebelling against Satan and the world, saying ‘This is who I am. Who are you? And how dare you treat me and expect me to live as if I were something less!’

Yet the assertion that ‘I am a child of God’ is not only a claim about me. This assertion extends beyond my own self and is both descriptive and prescriptive of every single person. By saying ‘I am a child of God’ I am simultaneously saying that you are a child of God and that everyone are children of God. Along these lines, Camus says:

Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in oneself worth preserving? It is for the sake of everyone in the world that the slave asserts himself when he comes to the conclusion that a command has infringed on something in him which does not belong to him alone, but which is common ground where all men—even the man who insults and oppresses him-have a natural community.

“I am a child of God” says “we are children of God.” The assertion tells us how we ought to see all those around us. It is prescriptive of how we should see and treat our loved ones, our enemies, the poor, the rich, the weak, and the oppressors. It’s the standard by which we should treat those we date, the old lady who cuts me off on the rode and then proceeds to drive 15 under the speed limit, and our roommates and friends who may occasionally annoy us. It is the standard by which we should treat ourselves.

As Sister Tanner puts it,

“In relationships we must remember that others are also children of our Heavenly Father. . . . The Lord said: "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; . . . for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” In families, friendships, dating, and marriage, we should value not just beauty and résumés, but rather character, good values, and each other's inherited divine natures.

This leaves us with three last questions that I’m going to largely leave unanswered. The first of these is: ‘How, as a child of God, should I treat myself, and how should I treat other children of God?’ This I leave unanswered because you already know the answer.

The second and third questions are more difficult. ‘How can I know that I’m a child of God?’ and ‘Once I’ve come to know it, how do I keep that knowledge with me?’ I don’t think there is an all-encompassing answer to these questions. For some it’s simple, it’s a matter of fact or a matter of faith that they have always had, or have found with relative ease. For others it’s a difficult road. It may take work for some, and may just fall on others. My only suggestion is to live it. Stand up and say ‘I am a son or daughter of God’ and then live that to the fullest.


  1. Awesome, awesome talk.

    Man, church would be so much cooler if more people quoted Camus and Monty Python.

    But seriously, great talk. Thanks for posting.

  2. I enjoyed it, Loyd, and heartily agree.

  3. Loyd,
    You seem to have changed
    ...a lot.
    Good talk, though.

  4. Great post Loyd.

    I have perused through you blog at various times over the past few years and enjoy your insights.

    They should add your blog to the Mormon or

  5. If I had to listen to that load of crap that you just spewed I would set my hair on fire and then put it out with an ice pick.

  6. I'm impressed, Fight Club AND Meaning of Life in one talk. You've got my vote.

  7. Interesting. Lots of good stuff in here, very unique and personal and... good!


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