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In the Village: Grateful for hard times? Wealth is not the reward for righteousness

Published: Thursday, Nov. 17 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

In my last column, I mentioned that there's a stanza in Emily H. Woodmansee's poem "As Sisters in Zion" that I wish we could add as a fourth verse in the next edition of our hymnbook:

The Lord hath established the cities of Zion,

The poor of His people are trusting in Him,

He makes us a source for His poor to rely on;

Oh! shall we not brighten the eyes that are dim.

This verse is a reminder that Relief Society was founded as a part of the spirit of consecration, that it was charged with taking care of the poor and providing for those who were building the temple.

But this is a matter for all the Saints, not just for the sisters.

When I wrote the script for the current Hill Cumorah Pageant, I was assigned to go back to the Book of Mormon and find its message.

Overwhelmingly, the primary message was the Atonement of Christ, and that is where I focused the script of the pageant.

But the second message was also pervasive: It was an often-overlooked aspect of the "pride cycle."

We so often hear the pride cycle explained as "righteousness leads to prosperity, prosperity to sin, sin to destruction, destruction to repentance, and repentance to prosperity again."

But in this reading of the Book of Mormon, I was struck by the fact that in every case but one, the sin that led to destruction was explicitly stated to be pride in wealth, demonstrated by persecution and mistreatment of the poor.

Mormon and Moroni saw our time and shaped their abridgment to teach us what we need to know. Clearly, we needed to know of the Atonement of Christ. Just as clearly, they thought we needed to be reminded again and again that pride in our wealth and persecution of the poor are the sins that lead a people to destruction.

I have often in the past written about how zoning laws deform our wards in the Mormon Corridor, where Saints are thick on the ground and wards take up only a few blocks of a neighborhood.

The result is that there are often rich wards and poor wards. I have seen and experienced the way that people in rich wards too often get the attitude that the poor "man has brought upon himself his misery," an attitude that King Benjamin warns can cause us to perish forever, and have "no interest in the kingdom of God" (Mosiah 4:17-18).

This attitude is often expressed in a "doctrine" that is utterly false and yet extremely widespread in the church: that if you are righteous, you will make money.

That is one of the world's favorite lies: that people with money are somehow better than people without it.

It is true that a righteous people will, as a group, prosper materially, if only because they will be at peace and have a spirit of cooperation, and all will be working hard for their family's sustenance, and they will look out for each other.

But each household or individual is not necessarily going to have wealth as the result of righteousness. We will have "enough," but often the blessing is to teach us what "enough" really means.

The world bestows money, not by merit, but by rules which reward some people far beyond anything they need or deserve, while many who deserve much more are "rewarded" with far less money than they need.

What worries me most is that too many Saints judge themselves by the world's false standard.

They say in their hearts: Haven't I been paying tithing, fulfilling my callings, teaching and praying with my family, obeying the commandments?

Why, then, do I make so little money? Why are we still living in this too-small house? Why did our car pick this week to break down? Where is the reward of righteousness?

The reward of righteousness is not wealth; it is not high status in the eyes of a sinful world. Nor is poverty the penalty for sin.

The reward of righteousness is joy. The penalty for sin is misery.

I have seen joy in tiny houses, in families where there is hunger, where the children dress in hand-me-downs; I have seen misery in large, fine houses, among people with expensive clothes and cars.

In parlous times like these, when many breadwinners have to change careers from high-paying to low-paying ones, or have no work at all, when many people lose their fine houses and give up many or most or all of their luxuries, are we not also seeing in these events the blessings of God?

God does not measure his children by how much money the world has bestowed upon them. Neither should we judge each other that way.

Nor should we condemn ourselves for poverty, as if a lack of money meant that we had somehow failed.

Hard times can be a blessing, just as prosperity can be a curse, depending on what we make it mean in our lives.

Rich or poor, those who turn their hearts outward discover that joy comes from loving God and their neighbor, from sharing their "enough" with those who have less.

"He makes us a source for His poor to rely on;

Oh! shall we not brighten the eyes that are dim."

Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. Leave feedback for Card at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.

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