Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Must it be So Hard?

And it came to pass that the people hardened their hearts, and would not hearken unto their words; and the prophets mourned and withdrew from among the people.
Ether 11:13

Picture the following scenario:

The first thing to pierce your consciousness is the pain. You don’t know where you are or why there is such terrible pain, nor why you can't seem to move your legs. As you open your eyes, the scene comes slowly into focus, yet makes no sense. You recognize you are in your car, but everything is out of place. The roof is mostly caved in above your head, the windshield is shattered, and you aren’t sitting in the driver’s seat. You’re more wedged under the steering wheel, against the dash board and you’re stuck. The car isn’t sitting level, either, and there are tree branches, boulders, and a river outside.

Through the broken glass, you can see your car is mostly demolished and isn’t even on the road. The last thing you remember is driving on the mountain road and worrying about sliding on ice. 

As you try to move, the pain intensifies: both legs are trapped, and as you look to try to free them, you see blood pooling on the floor. Lots of blood.

An unkempt-looking, bearded man appears at your window, and yells at you to cover your head with your hands while he breaks out the window with a rock. Once the glass is out of the way, you can see him better. He’s wearing an oversized, threadbare coat over a dirty T-shirt and he appears to be quite weathered. He would look more at home holding a cardboard sign at an intersection than breaking out your window in a mountain ravine. He says the following:

“You’ve been in a terrible accident and your life is in danger. Your leg is nearly severed and bleeding badly. Help is on the way, but if we don’t stop the bleeding immediately you’ll die before help arrives. So here’s what I want you to do. I’m going to give you my handkerchief.”

“What do you want me to do with it? Where do I put it?”

“Don’t put it anywhere. Just touch it.”

“What? What do you mean? Just touch it?”

“My handkerchief has special healing properties. If you touch it, your bleeding will stop and you will live. That’s all you have to do.” 

“How is that possible? GET ME SOME HELP! I need paramedics, not a magic handkerchief! I’m bleeding to death! Hurry!”

“I know it doesn’t seem logical. But please, for your own sake, just do as I say. Touch my handkerchief.

And with that, he holds it out to you. 

Do you touch the crazy, homeless man’s handkerchief? Is there any chance at all that doing so will save your life? Or will you place your faith where it belongs, in the paramedics who are slowly making their way up the slick mountain road 17 miles from where you are?

Now think about it another way. Let’s just say that man’s name is John—the same who was called beloved by the Savior—the same who was translated and tarries still on the Earth. And let’s just say he really was sent to save your life. In fact, let’s assume, just for discussion, that every word he said is true. 

Of course, the only way you would find any of that out would be to do as he asks and touch his handkerchief. And maybe you aren't inclined to do that. Maybe magic healing handkerchiefs don’t exist. Maybe as you lose consciousness, your last hope is placed in the paramedics, and John withdraws in sorrow, unable to help you. 

Now, I know this is a bizarre, contrived story that bears no resemblance to reality and seems a bit ridiculous, but it’s very similar to another story we find in scripture. When Moses led the Israelites in the wilderness, you may recall the incident with the fiery serpents:

And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Nephi 17:41 )

When the people were bitten by the serpents, all they had to do was look at the brass serpent Moses raised up on a pole. If they looked, they would be healed and live. If they didn’t look, they would die. Sadly, many refused to look and perished.

They didn’t die of snake bite. What killed them was a heart condition known as hardness.

But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? (Alma 33:20-21 )

Heart Disease is the Leading Cause of Death

Hard heartedness is a much-misunderstood condition, difficult to diagnose without experience, and seldom even considered as a possibility. It is a terrible and universal affliction, and if left untreated, it will ALWAYS lead to the loss of eternal life. And yet, we almost universally consider ourselves immune to this problem.

Just as it was with with the Israelites, so it is with us. Too often, when we are offered gospel truth, we reject it outright because of hard heartedness, unable to recognize what we are rejecting. Ironically, our reasons for rejecting truth are rooted in false religious belief, more commonly called unbelief. We refuse to accept truth because of what we already think we know. We point to our belief system as evidence we don’t have hard hearts, even as we use those beliefs to reject truth.

We cannot overcome our own hard hearts until we understand the affliction. So here’s a primer on hard heartedness. As you read these scriptures, ponder how they may apply to you:

1. If your heart is hard, you will not—and cannot—receive or understand truth.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
See also Mosiah 26:3Alma 16:17Mosiah 3:152 Nephi 33:21 Nephi 15:11
In general, those with hard hearts reject new ideas outright that conflict with their existing ideas. In other words, if you have a hard heart, you cannot learn anything new because you assume you already know everything about the matter. It's a very effective tool of the devil to tell you that you have all you need, and therefore should reject anything more. It goes like this:
That’s not true!
--Why not?
Because it can’t be true.
--Why can’t it be true?
Because I don’t believe it. 
--Why don’t you believe it? 
Because it’s not true.
And so on.

The hard-hearted response may also involve a cursory search for evidence to support the ideas you already hold. Maybe you pull a few quotes or scriptures to prove you're right. This approach cannot lead to truth, because it is not a search for truth. It's merely a search for weapons to win a battle.

If your first response is a desperate attempt to prop up your own position rather than considering the opposite position, you will never learn anything beyond what you already think you know.

2. A hard heart makes you angry at the truth
And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord. (Mosiah 10:14)
Why should a new idea make you angry? In reality, it comes down to fear. You fear being wrong and you fear your ignorance. When this fear is coupled with potential loss and everlasting consequences, the emotions heighten and fear becomes anger. 

3. This anger even leads to violence
And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually. (Mormon 4:11)
See also Ether 8:25Helaman 10:151 Nephi 22:18
When faced with a troubling message, the hard-hearted reaction is often to attack the messenger. I've received several responses to what I've written that generally go along these lines: "I'm not confident enough to discuss doctrine, history or what you wrote, so instead I'll just go ahead and attack your style, motives, and personality. That way I can safely discount your message without ever giving it a fair hearing."

Attack the messenger. Destroy the message. This is the coward's way out. 

4. A hard heart prevents repentance
Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. (Alma 34:31)
 See also Alma 21:12Alma 33:21Alma 12:33Alma 12:37Jacob 6:5
Repentance requires us to re-learn and re-think existing ideas in light of truth. As long as you are too correct to ever consider you may be wrong, you simply cannot repent.

5. If your heart is hard, you cannot enter into the Lord’s rest, and you will be destroyed.
And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first. (Alma 12:36) 
See also: Alma 12:35
6. A hard heart is a tool of Satan
And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come. (Helaman 16:22)
See Also 3 Nephi 1:22
But perhaps most amazing is how heard-heartedness functions in those who are religious. When Christ came to the Nephites, he brought new doctrine, new truth, and a higher law to replace the Law of Moses. The prophets knew this would be the case before it happened, and actually feared their children would reject Christ Himself because of the religious law they already accepted:
Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away. (2 Nephi 25:27)
Imagine that! They feared that Christ Himself couldn't teach the people because their hearts would not be prepared to accept anything new--even from their God!

And yet, as the record shows, this very nearly happened. The people were not able to receive Christ's word without more preparation. He almost left them to try again later:

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. (3 Nephi 17:2-3) 
At the last moment, because the people wanted him to stay, our Lord improvised an ordinance involving the children to save their parents. It's breathtaking in its beauty, and it brought about the necessary changes so the people could be taught. The key was the children, whose hearts were soft. This aligns perfectly with what Christ had just taught the people concerning his doctrine:
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:37-39)
Why Little Children?

Little children have the following qualities:
  1. Children are inquisitive. Ever spent time with a 4-year-old kid? How many questions per minute were asked? Heaven responds to questions. Joseph Smith's life is ample illustration of this principle. James 1:5 applies. You must ask.
  2. Children are open. Not only don't they know much, but they KNOW they don't know much. They happily accept new truth and readily believe it.
  3. Children are humble. They generally don't argue with what you teach them because they think they know better. They eventually learn this behavior, of course, but they learn it from adults.
  4. Children are believing. How many adults believe in Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny? Tooth Fairy? And yet, are we asked to believe in anything less miraculous in the atonement? The difference is that most adults have lost that sense of wonder, magic, and the divine. Do we really believe in miracles? Children do.
You might not reach for the handkerchief, but I guarantee a child would.

Here’s the upshot:

In this blog, I’ve taught truths that contradict our tradition. I’ve supported what I’ve taught by using scripture and historical record. These things are important and worth consideration. 

Too many of us respond to the truth with a hard heart. And remember, a hard heart cannot be changed unless it is broken--something Christ is willing to do for you, if there's no other way. He will break your heart, if he must, to save you, having already suffered himself the heartache you will experience. I can't imagine the love that motivates such a sacrifice! 

And even then, many will not respond. 

Why not choose instead to be humble?

The only remedy for a hard heart is recognition and repentance. We must voluntarily choose to soften our hearts, even to the point of breaking, so that the Lord can intervene and give us a new heart that is like His.

He CAN, He WILL, and He DOES work this miracle in the hearts of ALL who will come to him and seek it. I am a witness of this miracle. He IS mighty to save.

In Closing

I recognize there are many good folks who read what I’ve written and are desperately troubled. Faced with the cognitive dissonance between historical facts and scripture on the one hand, and long-held tradition on the other, you must make a choice. 

Either you can consider what is offered, and study it out, or you can close your mind, ignore the message, and try to pretend you never saw it. One is an act of faith, and one is an act of fear. One requires a soft heart, and one is a symptom of a hard heart. 

And that's the heart of the matter.


  1. It doesn't need to be so hard, but we, as people, like to complicate things beyond what they need to be. It is hard to identify and shake off old ideas, and no one likes to be wrong (or admit it anyway). I think we tend to get annoyed with questions as we get older. Some are very impatient even with small children that are only seeking to understand. It is very difficult when you have questions but no one to ask. I have always struggled in getting answers to prayers and figuring out questions. Most assuredly it has something to do with this hard heart you wrote about. I really try to listen (at least I think I do) but nothing ever happens. No direct answers to simple questions like "Is the Book of Mormon true?" I believe it, and I believe it teaches me new things all the time, but I have never experienced a direct answer. Throw that on top of the cognitive dissonance and you have a real struggle on your hands. Thanks for the thought provoking posts!

    1. My own experience has been similar. One thing that seems to be helping is to ask very narrow questions, not because we need to limit the Lord in His responses, but because we need to have thought out what we're asking first. I might ask, "is the Book of Mormon true?" but what does that mean? Entirely true? Perfect? That it along with my interpretations of what it says are perfectly true? Does it, like the D&C says of the Apocrypha, contain much that is true? I've had much more meaningful and clear experiences asking specific questions like, "the scriptures tell me Christ is the only way I can be saved. is that correct?" That question brought an answer.

  2. Thank you for giving words to what we feel. We are introducing our family to these teachings and appreciate your straight forward style and the simplicity with which it is laid out, your clarity of thought, as well as organizing scriptures that teach the doctrine in plainness. We pray that God will soften the hearts of many to receive the truth that is again being poured out.

  3. I have always been intrigued by Alma 12:10-11. God is not telling us that the mysteries are off limits and shouldn't be sought after, but he is actually teaching us to seek them. The way to learn them is to be open to receiving them, and then ask the Lord for him to reveal them to us. He wants us to ask and receive. When we ask God questions, it gives him the opportunity to open the heavens to us and then we may be privileged to associate with angels and be taught from them. Joseph Smith taught that a man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge. This knowledge must come from God as revealed to us from his servants and the Holy Ghost. If we have a hard heart, as Alma teaches, we will only receive the lesser portion of the word until we know nothing concerning the mysteries, and then we will be taken captive by the devil and led by his will down to hell. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. In order to receive more saving knowledge from God, we must have a soft heart and realize that we don't know everything, just as children do, and yes children are inquisitive, I have seven of them, and sometimes I tire of the questions! I'm glad God is so much more patient than I am! I greatly desire to learn God's mysteries and progress up Jacob's ladder. We think we all have everything figured out in this telestial kingdom and there just really isn't that more more to learn, but in order to become like Christ, who we are commanded to become like, we must learn the mysteries. The more we learn here, how much better off we will be in the world's to come!

  4. I don't know if it's just a coincidence, but it'd probably be appropriate to reference JJ Dewey's "The Immortal" which tells of John the Revelator's present-day efforts. In the story John has a handkerchief capable of easing suffering and suspending illness. The book contains challenging assertions, and as such, I haven't concluded if the entirety of it is truth but certainly worth reading since the first book of the series is free to download. Just might be an answer to someone's prayer.

    Not that endorsements should necessarily count for much, but for some it might help to know that Rock Waterman believes in it and openly supports the message.

  5. Thank you for the post. Hard heartedness not only prevents us from learning truth, it also prevents us from forgiving one another. This will also damn us. If we hold ANY malice or grudge towards another individual we will be unable to gain forgiveness through the Atonement for our own sins and become exalted. This is where charity comes in. If we have charity, our hearts will be softer. We will have greater capacity to love and care for others, even those who knowingly wrong us. The Savior was our perfect example of this, of course. If we are to become like Him, we must develop charity and release any hard feelings we harbor towards another, which can be very difficult to do. We do some horrid things to one another, sometime intentionally and sometime inadvertently. Charity helps prevent this. Soft hearts allow for charity.

    Thanks again for the post.

  6. My brother put me onto your blog. Great work Brother Larsen. Thank you for your efforts. GOD bless you and your family.

  7. Many people report defending beliefs like those you espouse before stake councils, trying to rely on scripture, only to find those present were unwilling to listen to the scriptures used. Some would even say, "We know what the scriptures say. Quit reading them and just tell us what you're trying to say." This behavior is easily condemned, but surprisingly, I felt myself doing the same thing as I read this post. I'm in a hurry this morning, trying to do various things, but wanted to get through this post before starting. I knew the story of the fiery flying serpents, and so I found myself skipping the scriptures because of course I already knew them and had read them. That realization has humbled me -- not enough, but I'll keep working on it! I thank you and I thank the Lord for providing that opportunity.

  8. I've read a number of your posts. Great stuff.

    I loved this post on hard hearts. When Alma taught the poor of the Zoramites he referred to the Word being a seed. A soft heart, like soil, can receive the seed. It can be nourished and can grow.

    The problem is that many will cast the seed away because of unbelief. Their hearts are so hard that there is no fertile ground for the seed at all.

    It's great that you bring up the children. Jesus talked about putting new wine in new bottles. With the new truth coming forth it will require new bottles to receive of the new wine. We can have new bottles in two ways, one we can be physically born again (this creates a new bottle) without any traditions or hangups and accept the new truth. Or two, we can be born of the spirit so that our body is changed to receive of the new truths.

    You'll find something fascinating in the Book of Mormon, and keep in mind as you read these things that the Book of Mormon was written for us, our day.

    Most of the anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon believed in God. The question we need to ask ourselves is why would Mormon keep including stories of people that were anti-Christ, but NOT anti God. Yes, there's a huge difference.

    The reason I bring this up, is all these people believed in God, but did not believe God would come and take on flesh as a Son. Satan hardened their hearts against the idea that God could take on flesh. Abinadi was killed because he said that God himself would take on flesh.

    Mosiah 17

    7 And he said unto him: Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death.

    8 For thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me and my people.

    Hopefully we will not harden our hearts against him when he sets his hand again the second time to recover his people.


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