One of the things I have done in my scripture study is examine words and phrases that seem unexpected. This is one of the ways I apply Elder Holland’s counsel carefully. Speaking to teachers of the gospel he said,
“Invite [your students] to read more slowly and more carefully and with more questions in mind. Help them to ponder, to examine every word, every scriptural gem. Teach them to hold it up to the light and turn it, look and see what’s reflected there. For some student, on a given day with a given need, such an examination may unearth a treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of great price, a pearl beyond price” (Jeffrey R. Holland: CES Video Conference, 20 June 1982, videocassette).
I found such a word in Doctrine and Covenants 18.
“Behold, the world is ripening in iniquity; and it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance, both the Gentiles and also the house of Israel” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:6).
I believe that one of the major themes of our General Conferences is that the world is bad and getting worse. We need to be stirred up. We need to watch. We need to be aware. We need to be sober and vigilant (see 1 Peter 5:8). We do not need to be crippled by fear.
“Therefore, what I say unto one I say unto all: Watch, for the adversary spreadeth his dominions, and darkness reigneth…” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:5).
This was also a theme of Elder Holland’s address to young adults.
“In any case . . . the citizens of the nations to which we are beaming this broadcast tonight–have, since September 11, 2001, been dangling off balance, have been made more fearful, and have been alarmed by international events and the almost wholesale new use of the word terror. Not many years ago that word was reserved almost entirely for B‑grade movie advertisements and Stephen King novels. Now, sadly, it is daily fare in our newspapers and so common in conversation that even young children, including the schoolchildren in Russia, are conscious that the world in which we live can be brutally, criminally affected by people called “terrorists.” And there are other disasters of other kinds, natural and otherwise, documented in the news that remind us that life can be fragile, that life can present fateful turns of events” (CES Fireside for Young Adults, September 12, 2004, Brigham Young University).
I have sensed, as we all have, the increasing darkness of the world, and the enlarging of Satanic dominions. Paul was right. In the last days, perilous times have come (see 2 Tim. 3:1). But not paralyzing times.
“Perilous times? Yes. These are perilous times. But the human race has lived in peril from the time before the earth was created. Somehow, through all of the darkness, there has been a faint but beautiful light. And now with added luster it shines upon the world. It carries with it God’s plan of happiness for His children. It carries with it the great and unfathomable wonders of the Atonement of the Redeemer” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Dawning of a Brighter Day,” Ensign, May 2004, 81,ff).
In Doctrine and Covenants 18:6, the Lord tells us what really needs to be done. He offers the great solution to all of the mortal manifestations of evil that afflict mankind: “It must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance.”
Which brings us back to that phrase, stirred up. In other scriptures the Lord uses words with like called and commanded with the word repentance. We are told to cry repentance and say nothing but repentance. But here the phrase is stirred up unto repentance.
I asked myself what the Lord wanted us to understand from his use of that phrase. The dictionary says that some of the meanings of the word ‘stirred’ are:
- To pass an implement through (a liquid, for example) in circular motions so as to mix . . . the contents . . .
- To introduce (an ingredient, for example) into a liquid or mixture . . .
- To mix together the ingredients of something before . . . use . . .
- To cause to move or shift, especially slightly or with irregular motion: A breeze stirred the branches.
- To prod into brisk or vigorous action; bestir . . .
- To rouse, as from indifference, and prompt to action.
- To provoke deliberately: stirred by trouble.
- To excite strong feelings in.
[from Middle English stiren, from Old English styrian, to excite, agitate.]
Most of those definitions apply in some way to the preaching of the Gospel and to stirring people up to repentance. I love the imagery. Since the world is ripening in iniquity, we must stir things up. Unless people are jarred from their complacency, unless they are moved into a new perspective, unless they are troubled enough by their environment to begin to regard their lives in new ways, they will continue to deteriorate with the world. We must do what needs to be done to stir them up. After all . . .
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is noneCand thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Nephi 28:21-22).
Satan leads people by the neck with a flaxen cord (2 N 26:22); he poisons them by degrees (Alma 47:10). People need to be stirred up to awareness of their awful state.
The Lord will do his part as well. Doctrine and Covenants 43:25 suggests a number of instruments that the Lord might use for his part of the stirring:
“O, ye nations of the earth, how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not! How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:24 – 25, emphasis added).
It is clear that the world is ripening rapidly.
“Therefore, in this hastened ripening process, let us not be surprised that the tares are looking more like tares all the time. During this time when nations are in distress, with perplexity, there will actually be some redemptive turbulence: For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance” (2 Ne. 28:19).
“Being so ‘stirred up’ will be a real thing, though we can only speculate as to how it will be achieved” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 62).
Missionaries and priesthood leaders and The Book of Mormon are all spoons, that have been stirring things up for 185 years. In some places the sediment has settled to the bottom and stirring takes time and effort. I had a brother proselyting in Holland while I was serving in Brazil. His letters made me feel that stirring in Brazil where I served was easier. Not more important. Easier. But we must be about stirring. Whether we are teaspoons or tablespoons; ladles or scoop shovels, we must be about the business of stirring.