A Few Words of Wisdom Blog


Understanding “Perfection”Posted by Richard N. Skousen on Monday, October 3, 2016

The command of the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) has been a troubling scripture for some. But I appreciated the thoughts that C. S. Lewis had about this verse:

“The practical upshot is this. On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.”

When the Savior asked us to reach for perfection, He did not expect us to achieve it instantly, the first time we set our mind to it. The natural man is a difficult creature to conquer, as we quickly discover here in mortality. And, in reality, it is impossible to achieve perfection on our own. We need Him. We need the changing power of the Atonement. And we need to learn patience and self-control and a myriad of other little lessons here and there as we strive to become like Him.

But C. S. Lewis wasn’t quite finished with his thoughts on perfection:

“The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

So the Savior was not asking us for instant and absolute perfection, which I have discovered to be an impossible and frustrating feat. Instead, He was asking us to trust Him, and to follow Him through to the end, irregardless of the cost. I like this description that C. S. Lewis borrowed from George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I am grateful that we have a perfect being, who knows each of us so well, who can help us on this journey toward becoming like Him. We are preparing ourselves to enjoy living in His presence, to no longer fear Him, but to love and obey Him. What a wonderful day that will be for each of us when we arrive at that state with His help!

Looking DownPosted by Richard N. Skousen on Monday, September 5, 2016

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the wonderful chapter “The Great Sin,” which talks about pride in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. There are so many profound points in this chapter!

He finishes the chapter with some wonderful words of caution for those who are people of faith. He begins the subject this way:

”A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

This is an important point. How can I look up to God if am constantly looking down on my fellow brothers and sisters? Mortality has lots of distractions to keep me from looking up to God, and pride, by its very nature of being a competitive spirit, has a very strong pull. But looking down is not just an issue of comparing wealth or possessions or success. It can also apply to self-righteousness. C. S. Lewis continues:

“How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means that are worshipping an imaginary God. . . .  Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think that we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.”

I know that I can easily fall into this trap. There are times in my life that I make right choices, and through the help of the Savior, begin to overcome some of the bad habits and sins that come from the natural man. But it seems like it is not very long before I am looking down my nose at others who are struggling with their sins, and start thinking, “Well, at least I am not as bad as them....” Dangerous thinking indeed.

I like the counsel Alma gave to his son Shiblon: “Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: ‘O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy’—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times” (Alma 38:14).

I find that when I approach the Lord with this spirit of humility, I am blessed with answers to my pleadings. But when I have an attitude of self-righteousness, it is not long before I do something stupid which quickly reminds me how weak and unrighteous I am without the Savior’s help and mercy.

My God give us all mercy. For we truly need it. I know that I do.

RumorsPosted by Richard N. Skousen on Monday, August 1, 2016

Recently at church, my Stake President asked me privately if it was true that my grandfather, W. Cleon Skousen, had been excommunicated from the Church during his lifetime. I was grateful that this good brother had asked me this question so I could set the record straight.

I told him that Cleon was never excommunicated—nor even brought before a church disciplinary council—but this rumor had somehow gotten started. He thanked me for confirming what he already believed to be true, that Cleon had always been in good standing with the Church. My stake president had served in the mission field alongside one of Cleon’s sons, my uncle, and had always thought highly of the family.

This excommunication rumor has been very disconcerting to our family. But in thinking about it, I might have found the source of the false rumor that Cleon was excommunicated. It was many years ago that one of Cleon’s brothers was excommunicated for teaching things were not in harmony with the doctrines of the Church. At that time the rumor probably began to spread that “Brother Skousen” was excommunicated. While this was true, some people, without checking, were mixed up about which “Brother Skousen” was excommunicated. It was not Cleon.

When Cleon passed away in January 2006, he was firm in the faith of his fathers, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a faithful servant of God. I remember shedding tears of gratitude when a letter from the First Presidency was read at his funeral, in which he was thanked for his life of service and devotion, as “a powerful influence for good.”

Grandpa was a good man.

I miss him.

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