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Ezra and Isaac were missionaries who received their call back in Section 52 with many of the other elders. They were called to go to Independence, Missouri and to “preach along the way.” These two men were missionary companions, and though they shared similar opinions at one point, they took dramatically different routes by the end.
Ezra and Isaac took on their call and headed towards Missouri.
Apparently, Ezra became fairly discontented when he learned that Joseph Smith had traveled to Missouri by boat and stagecoach. He didn’t love Missouri too much and became disappointed with the lack of converts there. Ezra had originally been converted to the gospel when he saw Joseph Smith heal the crippled arm of Elsa Johnson and became frustrated when he couldn’t perform the same miracles.
Ezra returned to Ohio from Missouri by boat and stagecoach (despite receiving revelation that he needed to be preaching along the way) and started openly opposing the church. Three days after having his missionary call revoked, he began writing a series of letters to the Ohio Star newspaper with criticisms of the church and leaders. He complained that Joseph had a “spirit of lightness and levity, a temper of mind easily irritated, and an habitual proneness to jesting and joking.”
The Lord responded with Section 64 around this time in history.
Doctrine and Covenants 64:16 They sought evil in their hearts, and I, the Lord, withheld my Spirit. They condemned for evil that thing in which there was no evil; nevertheless I have forgiven my servant Isaac Morley.
They condemned for evil that thing in which there was no evil. I feel like I stress this message a lot. Are we perceiving evil where there is no evil?
So Ezra was already frustrated and disillusioned. To make matters worse, on the way home to Ohio, the patience of the elders started running thin. All of these men had found their patience running thin in the August heat. In verse 7 of Section 64, the Lord is very clear that Joseph sinned too. And yet, despite the fact that Joseph had sinned too, the Lord specifically told Ezra that he was perceiving evil where there was no evil.
Joseph did sin, right along with the rest of them, and Ezra complained about Joseph’s irritated temper in a public newspaper. We don’t know the nature of the arguments that happened between the elders as they travelled back from Missouri. We simply know they occurred, and obviously, Joseph had been as much a part as anyone.
So if Joseph sinned, why did Ezra get in trouble for calling him out?
That may seem like a silly question to people who have come to love the prophet Joseph, and yet I ask it because even though we may be understanding of Joseph when he was imperfect, are we extending the same hand to those who make mistakes that affect us? Are we just as understanding for our personal leaders? Do we come to the defense of our priesthood leaders the way we come to the defense of Joseph?
So why was Ezra really in trouble?
Doctrine and Covenants 64:12-13
12 And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation.
13 And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver-
Back in verse 7, when the Lord calls Joseph out for sinning, He also makes sure to say that He forgives those who confess and ask for forgiveness. These verses teach that when someone will not repent, we follow scripture and revelation to know what to do with them. Sometimes this means having their names blotted out.
The Lord is also very clear about the attitude we should take when people’s names are blotted out. In verse 13, we learn that blotting out a name in the church is not about revenge. It’s not about anger. It shouldn’t come from a lack of forgiveness on our part or a lack of compassion. It’s about not offending God.
Why would it offend God to not blot out a name?
I am reminded of the parable in the New Testament about the servant who was forgiven his debt of 10,000 talents. This servant then threw his fellow servant into debtors prison over the tiniest fraction of that debt.
The Lord has given freely in His church. He owes us nothing and never did. If we could remember our forgiven debts and our forgotten punishments, it would be far easier to not assume evil where there is no evil. The Lord forgives our debts and erases our punishments when we are baptized. When we fail to extend a fraction of that mercy to our brothers and sisters, the Lord revokes His blessings. Our names are blotted out, and we no longer receive those gifts through baptism.
To pretend that someone can claim the mercy of Christ without extending pathetically small amounts of mercy offends God. Hence, names are blotted out and baptismal blessings are revoked.
The Lord indicates that He was upset with both Ezra and Isaac, and so I assume that Isaac originally shared some of Ezra’s feelings. However, the Lord also indicated that Isaac was forgiven. I’m assuming this was because he repented. Isaac immediately obeys a command to sell his farm (which, by the way, was prosperous). Isaac then goes on to face bodily torture and false imprisonment throughout the years when the Saints were persecuted before eventually founding Manti, Utah with a man named George Washington Bradley.
Because he was willing to forgive Joseph (and probably the other elders too), Isaac retained his baptism and consequent blessings.
Me and You
Our own perception of evil where there is no evil can likewise canker our souls.
Do not mistake me. We can call evil what it is. Joseph shouldn’t have become irritated, and neither should the rest of the elders. I shouldn’t become irritated as often as I am. We attempt to banish those evil parts of us because they do not serve us. They’re evil; they do not serve us.
The problem comes when we assume evil where there is no evil. And because it is impossible to know the heart of another person without revelation from the Lord, we would do well to assume the best of others.
Like many of you, I’ve had people assume the worst of my family. I know what it is for others to think that we’re bad people. I know what it is to watch people think they’re righteous and holy and condemn my family for things that don’t truly matter to the Lord. I think it’s most frustrating when people reject you because they think they’re righteous.
I have found myself making snide remarks about them. I have found myself arguing with them in my head while I mop my floor.
And yet, when I’m truly honest with myself, I can see that they’re doing their best too. It is wrong to assume you’re better than someone, and I can call that evil because it is evil. But if I pause to remember what the Lord has done for me, it becomes much easier to see them for who they are. They’re Heavenly Father’s children. Perhaps they’re caught up in culture or caught up in varying amounts of self-righteousness, but they are not evil.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. And haven’t we all?
Haven’t we all gotten caught up in self-righteousness? Haven’t we all thought we were better than someone else even subconsciously? I wasn’t evil; I was just stupid. Excuse the word, but it fits perfectly. I just hadn’t learned better yet. I hadn’t learned enough of my own weaknesses. I didn’t know enough about what truly matters to Heavenly Father. I was clueless. Thinking I was better than someone was evil, but I was not evil. I was just clueless and naive and ignorant.
Don’t assume evil. You can recognize when someone has done you wrong. You can make a judgement call about whether someone is unhealthy for your life but “…not because ye forgive not, having not compassion…” (verse 13). Take the time to recognize that we’re all trying and that we’re all failing and that we all have baggage. We all have a long way to go before we truly become like the Savior. Do not assume evil where there is none. It will take you away from the Lord.