Nothing but…

Nihilism teaches that life is meaningless and that morality is a superficial construct of no importance. Consequently, personal behavior is driven by personal advantage if anything at all. Everything is nothing and nothing is everything. This philosophy resonates with some people. However, I live on the hope of something. There are degrees or types of nothing which are actually something. Therefore, the type of nothing that I will focus on is the nothingness of nobility, of chivalry, of generosity. Bias alert: I like certain kinds of nothing. My male brain is built this way. (Watch Mark Gungor’s humorous rendition, A Tale of Two Brains.)

The nothingness of nobility contrasts sharply with the something of narcissism. Trust is a good example. A self-centered person will often be heard to say that trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Trust is something that must be earned over years or even decades, and it can be withdrawn in an instant. This is not a noble stance. It suggests that the other person must perform extensively before the narcissist will extend himself even remotely. Employment is another example. Usually a worker must labor for two weeks before obtaining payment which is not rendered until after the third week. “But, but, but, the employer would be taken advantage of if it were the other way around. That’s no way to run a business.” Yes, perhaps that is true, but it’s just another example of how the one in power takes the advantage before extending some benefit to the counterparty. We have a preponderance of doctrine to make us feel justified in being stinting with our resources.

This is not the way of God. God trusts us before we have earned it. God provides before the labor is rendered. Jesus expressed this profoundly. He was surrounded by a society which taught that God favors some above others–that he blesses the obedient more than the disobedient. Of course, the established hierarchy identified the disobedient as those who didn’t obey them. Jesus simply looked around at how God actually behaves and noticed–in contradiction to the religious teachers of his day–that “God causes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In other words, God is unstinting in his generosity. He gives something and requires nothing in return.

On another occasion, Jesus was teaching when his disciples urged him to send the multitude away so that they could eat; it was late and they were getting hungry. He simply told his disciples to give to the multitude liberally of what they possessed, which wasn’t much. Honestly, I don’t think that five thousand people were fed with five loaves and two fishes. I think that it inspired the multitude to likewise give liberally of what they were hiding from each other. Requiring nothing, inspired a great something.

Joseph Smith also expressed this idea in stunning contrast to our vulgar ways. “There is one thing under the sun which I have learned and that is that the righteousness of man is sin because it exacteth over much; nevertheless, the righteousness of God is just, because it exacteth nothing at all.” Think about it; he’s right. In attempting to be righteous, we demand a great deal of others before we will give a speck of ourselves. We lay a heavy burden on our fellow man before we will exert the twitching of a finger. According to Joseph Smith, God’s nothing will inspire a great something, for, as he taught, if you will emulate the virtue of God, “thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” In other words, the people that you have inspired with your abundant generosity will return an increase without measure and it will come from the abundance of their hearts, and by nothing else, not by control, nor by coercion, nor by threats.

To be like God, exceedingly generous and nothing demanding, is a tall order indeed. If we’re not ready for that level of play yet, let’s admit it and stop projecting our stinting characters upon God. We do not have the seemingly endless resources that he has. After all, even the most greedy among us can’t take a penny from his domain. It is truly staggering to consider the magnitude of it. Nevertheless, we have something and we ought to wrap our heads around the notion of giving a pittance of it and requiring nothing in exchange. This is the path to true nobility.

Photo credit to Kate Ter Haar (here).

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