Greatest Talks, Etc.: “The Joy of the Penetrating Light”

The talk “The Joy of the Penetrating Light” was given at the October 1984 General Conference by F. Enzio Bushche, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.  Though it is not related to this specific talk, the October 1984 General Conference also featured a talk entitled “The Gospel and the Church” by Ronald E. Poelman, also a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.  Apparently someone higher up than Poelman was not happy with the contents of his talk, and he was made to alter and re-record it after the fact for the official record.  (In 1984, in case the irony was not apparent.)

In any case, “The Joy of the Penetrating Light” is about an alleged new convert to the LDS church who is reflecting on how wonderful life is since he met the missionaries and joined the Church.  He has learned that God loves him, how to really pray, that the light of Christ is wonderful, etc.  I suspect that I liked this talk at the time I read it for two reasons: firstly, I was a missionary and missionaries introduced this person to the gospel and I could, too!  Secondly, it goes on and on about how wonderful our lives are when we have the truth of the gospel, and that was a message I was always ready to reassure myself with, because I often felt I wasn’t really good enough, for reasons I’m sure I’ve gone on about before.

Now, however, this talk comes across as containing contradictory messaging, backhanded holier-than-thou jabs at those who don’t belong to the Church, and of course an obligatory reference to tithing.  (“Obligatory” being hyperbole, naturally, but I think the tithing reference was really shoehorned in here.)

First, prayer.  The new convert remembers when he “learned… how to truly pray—not to say just a few nice words, but to open up his heart in sacred communication with his Heavenly Father.”  Later he “understands… that the words of his prayers became fewer and fewer until he became quiet and was changed from someone who was speaking to someone who was listening.”  So he isn’t supposed “to say just a few nice words” but rather “open up his heart,” but really he’s only supposed to say a few words and listen instead of speak.  Which is it?

Next, worldly people aren’t as good as he is, but he can “love them anyway.”  The thoughts are not directly connected in the text, but it’s difficult to ignore that he is referencing the same group of people:

He sees the people of this world as they are—running around in their vanity, in their vain ambitions, and their lack of awareness of the greatness of God and His plan of salvation.

[He] is not afraid of what is his friends and relatives might think of him now that he has taken upon himself Christ’s name.  Perhaps they will not understand, and maybe they will make fun of him.  But he feels now how easy it will be to love them anyway, because he understands them better than ever before; and he will do everything that is in his heart to show real interest in them, that they might be filled with light to penetrate the darkness of their lives.

And remember, before he was baptized he was a person of the world, by definition.  So when he says, “I always thought I was not a big sinner.  I have always provided for my family.  I was a good father, and I was a good husband to my beloved late wife,” those are good things, but not good enough.  In fact, he’s still not good enough, because of the “need for constant repentance” and the “need for a constant change of heart.”  But now that he is a member of the Church, he “feels with each new day as if the sun of a beautiful spring morning is quickening and refreshing his soul after a long, dark, Arctic night.”  (By the way, that is silly imagery.  If you’re in the Arctic, you aren’t waking to any fancy spring morning.  It’s just lighter, but guess what?  Still cold.  Maybe that’s why the gospel is so miraculous?)

Next, sin only comes from laziness, and it is the only reason to feel bad about anything in life:

[The] only burden, the only pain, and the only frustration of a human being is the burden of wrongdoing—the burden of sin… no matter how numerous the sins of a human being can be they can all be traced back to one single source or origin—the laziness, complacency and blindness that keeps us from looking and searching for our God and King in every phase of our lives and becoming totally his disciples.

This is terrible logic.  Let’s say you break up with your girlfriend because she cheated on you.  You are (naturally) sad and frustrated, therefore you sinned, therefore you are lazy and/or complacent.  Possibly your laziness forced her to cheat on you, so really, it was your fault, you filthy sinner.  But don’t worry!  Because you have gospel knowledge like this new convert, you possess “awareness of the need for constant repentance,” and are “able to fill all the hours of [your] life with the presence of this Spirit and, therefore, with great joy.”  Be happy she cheated on your sorry, complacent butt.

Last, the tithing reference:

He understands, in the light and the power of the Holy Ghost, what a privilege it is that the Lord allows and commands us to pay a full tithe and invites us to give service, that we can show through our actions every day how much we love our Heavenly Father.

Without the tithing insert, that’s a great sentiment: “I love God and His children, and I want to show it by helping out where I can.”  However, note that he said we are invited to give service, but allowed and commanded to pay tithing.  “Go ahead and help out, I guess, but don’t forget how awesome the Church is for letting you give us money, so make sure you do!”

The talk closes with an invitation to the membership to reflect if they, too have been truly converted, and are doing everything they are supposed to be doing, citing verses from Alma chapter 5.  After everything I just read about how much better the Church members are than the poor worldly people, though, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Zoramites on the Rameumptom.

I no longer consider this a Greatest Talk.

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