I studied Chapter 18, Beware of Pride, in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church – President Ezra T. Benson manual last week after Church (I work in Primary, so home study is the only way I get these at the moment) and it was powerful! At first, I thought I was probably just going to get more of the same counsel regarding pride that we’ve all had before; but it was nothing like that! Instead, it was fantastic. The lesson is, like all the chapters in the Teaching of the Presidents of the Church series, taken from several sources – multiple articles, sermons or books by the prophet. In this chapter, President Benson explains that what he is about to share is a message that had “been weighing heavily on my soul for some time. I know the Lord wants this message delivered now” (ETB, chapter 18, section 1). He obviously really did, because what the prophet goes on to share shows such great clarity and insight that it’s evidently inspired.
First, President Benson points out that we need to understand how God uses the word pride, not how everyone else might use it (such as in people calling something righteous pride). And he demonstrates that God uses it specifically and somewhat differently to what we generally hear. In scriptural parlance, it’s not just self-centredness and arrogance, but enmity. President Benson teaches that this is the real problem with pride; this is what makes it so dangerous and destructive, and it’s why the proud are those who will be burned as stubble at the end of this world (the worldly world), and the meek are those who will inherit the earth. Not because the meek are nice and gentle and good (although that’s probably true, too, in some cases), but because they’re without enmity towards God and their fellowman. Enmity is “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition” (ETB, chapter 18, section 2). It’s what makes people pit their wills against God’s; to say, “I can and will do what I want, and you cannot tell me not to”. It is a person’s own will, like a small child’s, against what church leaders, the Spirit, parents, and the Lord counsel them to do. In President Benson’s words:
The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6). They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.
Our enmity toward God takes on many labels [in the scriptures], such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed-up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them.
I found it helpful to learn that these labels, used so much in the scriptures, are all examples of enmity – which must be why they come up so often.
Another little gem in this part describes the consequences of enmity:
Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled.
Later, President Benson says that pride caused the destruction of the Nephite nation and the city of Sodom. Connecting these two confirms that the problem with Sodom and Gomorrah was that pride, or enmity, allowed their ‘desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled’, and they were caught up in sin and personal gratification to the point of becoming predatory, as Genesis makes clear in a horrifying sort of way. They ceased to care about anyone else, because their physical appetites had grown into monsters that needed to be fed with ever more base amusements. So yes, Sodom’s problem was about homosexuality; there’s no way of getting around it. It was a problem because that attraction (which alone, as Church leaders have emphasised, is not the sinful part) became an appetite that had to be satisfied, and once that choice had been made, it kept being made; the desire grew into an untameable beast that had to keep being fed by whatever was to hand (see Genesis 19:4-9); it caused people, need, charity, kindness, worship, sacrifice, and everything else that makes up life, to go unnoticed and undone. It’s not a problem that belongs to this sin alone; it belongs to every thing that would cause us to forget one another, except as means to feed our appetites for whatever it is – power, glory, money – that holds us… The very dangerous problem with pride is that it overrides everything else. It consumes and does not give; it destroys and cares not what damage it causes.
I also thought it was interesting that President Benson included “living beyond our means” as a manifestation of pride – pride that looks up from below. It makes sense, of course; you live beyond your means because you think you deserve those extra things, or want to impress others, or pretend that your actions don’t have consequences – except they do, and if you don’t feel them, you can be certain that others will. He also listed selfishness, obviously, and then explained it in a lovely phrase that I think perfectly describes the central theme of some popular movements today:
“How everything affects me” is the centre of all that matters….
Not, “I am the centre of the world”, but “how everything affects me”. Can’t you hear it in so many loud arguments spoken today?
I thought also of terror organisations when President Benson included secret combinations in his pride/enmity line-up, as well as drug cartels (obviously), industry monopolies, pharmaceutical giants who encourage parents to drug children so they’ll be easier to handle and gain google-amounts of money for it…and all the other rackets they run, corrupt governments that rely on cronyism and bribery, and all the things that keep so much of the world desperately poor or in other sorts of slavery. He foretells that these things “will yet be the cause of the fall of many nations”. Wow. And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how.
This post is getting pretty long, and there’s still more goodness that could be shared! So I’ll finish here by mentioning that contention is also on the list, which President Benson elaborates on with “generation gaps, riots and disturbances”. This explains why I’ve always disagreed with protests – public demonstrations with shouting and placards, etc. – as a form of ‘free speech’ in democratic countries. I feel uncomfortable about them, and even when I feel an issue is important, I don’t think they’re the right way to respond; I find it undignified, disrespectful, and unbecoming of people who are enfranchised and have many other avenues of designing change. The same goes for the rude language and attitudes increasingly shown towards government leaders. I’m so glad, then, that a prophet made it all clear by including these as examples of enmity – pride from below, perhaps. Oh, and very last thing: after all of the manifestations of pride that President Benson lists (I’ve just shared a few), he says:
Pride affects all of us at various times and in various degrees. Now you can see why the building in Lehi’s dream that represents the pride of the world was large and spacious and great was the multitude that did enter into it.
Yes, I can. Wow. I was so impressed with the powerful teaching of this prophet on this subject; enlightened as I didn’t think I could be about a topic I thought I’d been taught so much about already. I saw instances of pride that I often demonstrate, instances in my family, and in the world at large. It makes me sorrowful to consider all the pain that’s caused by this problem – the war, oppression, poverty, and general suffering. But there are also powerful ways to overcome it – and to find those out, you’ll just have to read the chapter for yourself.