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January 24, 2008
In The Village
Prosperity cycle not specific to individuals
by Orson Scott Card

Years ago, when I was asked to write a new script for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, my assignment was to search the Book of Mormon and discover the messages that could best be delivered on the hill.

The primary message, of course, was of the coming of the Redeemer, and that was what gave shape to my script. It was a story that could be clearly told to an audience spread out over a lawn the size of a football field.

But there was another story, almost as important, that could not be told there because it required so much time. It is the endless cycle of the people of God.

The people are righteous; they prosper; the wealthy become proud and mistreat the poor and humble; the Lord withdraws his protection; all suffer together at the hands of their enemies; humbled, they repent; the Lord forgives them; they prosper again as a people.

What we usually hear, however, is the abridged version: "The people are righteous; they prosper; they sin; they stop prospering."

Too many Mormons interpret this to mean that if you're righteous, you'll be prosperous; and if you're not prospering, you must be unrighteous.

Oh, those silly poor people! Obviously they brought their suffering on themselves by their own bad choices!

Oh, wait a minute. Somebody's talking -- yes, it's old King Benjamin. What is he saying?

"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just--

"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God" (Mosiah 4:17-18).

What we too often forget is that "prosperity" refers to the people as a whole. Obviously, there must have been individuals who didn't prosper so much, or there would have been no poor-and-humble for the proud-and-wealthy to mistreat.

So if, as a people, we are righteous, then, as a people, we will prosper. But individuals will still be subject to the vicissitudes of life.

Pleasant and unpleasant things in life rarely come because God is rewarding or punishing us. They just happen.

Let me tell you a parable:

A little child is told by his mother, "Don't go into the street! Cars go fast and can't stop in time. If a car hits you, you'll be badly hurt."

One day, all by himself, the child feels the enticement of the street. With no one watching, he steps off the curb and ...

Nothing happens. No car hits him. What Mother said wasn't true!

So he does it again, whenever no one's watching. Not that the street is particularly fun -- he enjoys doing it only because it's forbidden, and he's getting away with it.

Then one day he bounds into the street and hears a loud screeching of brakes and looks up to see the front of a car only a few feet away, coming toward him. He only has time to think: Mother has sent a car to punish me for disobeying her!

Too often that's the way we think of the way our lives go. When everything's going fine, we think of at least some of the commandments as unimportant; after all, the Lord is blessing us, so whatever we're doing must be right.

Then, suddenly, something goes wrong, and we think, God is punishing me!

The truth is that God doesn't make up these commandments. They're already true, and he merely tells us about them so we can avoid the bad consequences. Like parents telling a little child not to run into the street.

And sometimes, to extend the parable a little further, drunk or careless drivers lose control of their vehicles and they jump the curb and hit a child who is obediently playing in his own front yard.

Being righteous doesn't mean that you'll be rich -- only that, one way or another, you'll always have enough.

And being wicked doesn't lead to immediate poverty. Quite the contrary -- the world bestows wealth according to rules that have nothing to do with the order of heaven.

In fact, when Latter-day Saints draw the conclusion that because they have money, they must be righteous, while other people, less wealthy, must be less righteous, they have already taken the next step in the complete cycle: They are now lifted up in pride, looking down on the poor because of their poverty.

The great secret is this: Rich or poor, our choices show God -- and ourselves -- what kind of people we are. So our mortal life accomplishes its purpose no matter how much money or other success we obtain.

God doesn't care if you're rich. He only cares if you're good. So don't start thinking, because you're rich, you must be good.

The prosperity of a righteous people is averaged across the whole population. But the pride and unrighteousness happen one person or one family at a time.

Fortunately, so do the repentance and the forgiveness.

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