The major I chose to study in graduate school was Political Psychology. This meant I took a number of psychology classes in preparation for my dissertation. It was my task to take the theories developed in psychology and see how they might help us understand politics. The discipline of Psychology has many branches. I needed to choose which branch of Psychology to apply to the study of politics. Two of the more well known branches of Psychology are Personality Psychology and Experimental Psychology. Personality Psychology tries to figure out how to deal with psychological disorders. This branch of psychology produces therapists. In graduate school, we called them 'shrinks.' Alternatively, Experimental Psychology tries to figure out how the mind works, such as how the brain stores and recalls memories. This branch of Psychology produces scientists and researchers. In graduate school, we called them 'rat chasers.' Early in my graduate studies, I needed to choose between applying the theories of the 'shrinks' or the theories of the 'rat chasers' to my study of politics. I sided with the 'rat chasers.'
Most of us are familiar with the traditional psychological experiment of putting a white rat at the start of a maze and putting cheese at the end of the maze. The psychologist watches to see how the rat learns the maze. The psychologist will then do variations on the experiment: run the rat through the maze in the dark; run the rat through a mirror image of the maze; change the colors of the maze panels; change the type of cheese; etc. The possibilities are endless--only limited by the psychologist's imagination. Doesn't this sound like fun?
Do you think the psychologists want the rats to succeed in traversing the maze, or do you think the psychologists want the rats to fail, give up, and just go to sleep in the middle of the maze? Right, they want the rats to finish. Psychologists construct mazes in particular and precise ways in order to test various aspects of their psychological theories. For the most part, the theories can't be tested unless the rats make it all the way to the end. The psychologists really hope the rats make it. If the rats fail, the psychologists fail. If the rats succeed, the psychologists succeed.
Now let us imagine a particular kind of experiment. Let us suppose we wanted to test a theory about using rewards and punishments in learning. We want to see if the rat can learn the maze faster if we use rewards and punishments, than if we just let the rat wander aimlessly around the maze. So we need to construct an experiment that puts rewards along the right path and punishments along the wrong paths. Are you with me so far?
Let's think of a maze that has square tiles on the floor. We set up our maze by putting little walls along the cracks between the tiles. Then we put the maze in a freezer to make it cold. We will also attach electrodes to the bottom of the tiles. When a rat touches a tile in the right direction, we will warm up the tile a little bit. This is the reward tile. When a rat touches a tile in the wrong direction, we will give the rat a little electric shock. This is the punishment tile. The farther down the right path, the warmer the tiles get. The farther the rat strays down the wrong path, the stronger the shock gets. Do you think this set up of warm tiles and shock tiles will help the rat learn how to get through the maze faster? Probably so.
Do we think the psychologist wants the rat to stay on the punishment tile? No, of course not. Does the psychologist want the rats to stay on the warm tiles? Sure. The psychologist would be the happiest if the rat just stayed on the warm tiles all the way to the end. He just put the shock tiles in to help keep the rats on the warm tile. He doesn't want the rat to get shocked. It is not just bad for the rat, it is bad for the psychologist, because his hypotheses don't get supported. He puts in the shock tiles to help the rat succeed. Does this make sense?
Pretend for a moment we are the rat. We have no idea how to get through the maze. We want to get to the end, so we can go back to our nice comfortable cage. We would appreciate it if someone would give us some clues about how to get to the end of the maze. The warm tiles are good. But because we don't always know which way to go, even the shock tiles are good, because they help us know which way not to go. If we are not clueless, but follow the clues, we will have a nice warm trip through the maze with only a few shocks here and there along the way to keep us on track.
II. CHASTISEMENT -- BEGINNING
Our life on this earth is sort of like a maze. We know where we want to end up, but we experience many unexpected twists and turns on our life's path. We rarely know which way our life is going to turn before it happens. The future is obscure to us. As the Apostle Paul said, "For now we see through a glass, darkly;" (1 Cor 13:12) It is no coincidence that Lehi in his dream, "beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree." (1 Nephi 8:24)
We like to think of the Iron Rod as a long straight pole. But our own experiences teach us that the Iron Rod has many bends, some of them quite acute. As we follow the prompting of the Holy Ghost we take turns we never imagined for ourselves. Moreover, the loss of a job, or loss of our health, or loss of a loved one is a sharp turn. For some, getting married is like a wide turn in the road. For others, having children is a steep incline. Still others have a long unending bumpy stretch of loneliness. As life takes its turns--and jostles us on our journey--we sometimes feel our grasp of the Iron Rod slip.
It is at these times when we start to lose our way that the Lord steps in. Doctrine and Covenants Section 95 verse one states:
DC 95:1 - Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you--
Like the rat in our imaginary experiment, when we stray off the righteous path we receive a shock of chastisement. The chastisement is not random or capricious. Nor is Heavenly Father sadistic. He does not enjoy the chastisement. The chastisement has a purpose: to remind us to return to the rod and hold on with both hands.
I like to think of this "chastisement" scripture as the inverse of the the following verse:
DC 130: 21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
Let me rephrase the quote as follows:
DC 130: 21 (revised) And when we obtain any chastisement from God, it is by disobedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
So, in one sense, the chastisements we receive are self-inflicted. The best way to get out from under the chastisement is to repent. Some of us are quick learners and some of us are not so quick. This point is made eloquently in the following story.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS
by Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
Nelson, Portia (1994). There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery. Hillsboro, Oregon: Beyond Words Publishing Company.
Just as many of us incorrectly assume the Iron Rod is straight when it is really twists and bends, so too do many of us assume that the tiles in the maze stay the same size all the way to the end. At the beginning the maze of life the tiles are nice and big. This means it is relatively easy to stay on them without wandering on to the chastisement tiles. One might say there is a wide margin of error. However, as we repent and walk down other streets, the tiles get smaller and the margin of error becomes narrower. The more we abide by Our Father's will, the more rigourously he holds us accountable. Whereas when we begin life's maze we could take one or two steps to either side and stay on the tile, as we progress farther into life's maze we pretty much just have room for just our two feet. Even further into the maze, we might encounter tiles where we have to put one foot in front of the other. There is very little margin of error. And while, through practice, we get better and better at stepping on the smaller and smaller tiles, littler and littler mistakes produce a chastisement. Do you get what I am saying? Let me read the Lord's word on this subject.
D&C 132: 22 - For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.
We are using the word strait in the sense of the Strait of Gibralter or the Magellan Strait, which means constricted, tight, slender, or small. The entrance into the Celestial Kingdom is very small and it takes more than a lifetime of concerted and dedicated practice in living the gospel to navigate our souls to the opening. Finally, once we have learned to balance ourselves on the smallest of tiles, the Lord will want to know if we are delicately balanced or firmly planted on the small tiles. He does this by continuing the chastisement to the end.
DC 136:31 - My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
When we think of the Apostles at the meridian of time, one stands out as being the most chastised: Peter. The juniors and seniors in seminary studied the following story about Peter this week. Let me read the story.
Matthew 14:22-33 - And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good acheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was aafraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
So during the stormy seas, what happened? Jesus appeared. Peter wanted to go to Jesus, and Jesus bid him come. Peter walked on the water. When Peter began to falter he cried for help and Jesus immediately lifted him out of the water. As the two walked on the water together back to the boat the Lord chastised Peter for not having more faith. Peter had more faith than the others who dared not leave the boat, yet it was Peter that was chastised. Doesn't seem quite fair does it? Peter was chastised because he was way ahead of the other Apostles--walking on the little tiles. What is better, to have walked out on the water and suffer a little chastisement or not walk on the water at all? Walking on the water. Notice that as Peter was chastised, he was walking arm in arm with the Lord on the water back to the boat. None of the other Apostles got to do that. The good news is the Lord will walk arm in arm with us if we are willing to learn from the chastisement.
Traversing the maze of life is not easy. Many give up. It is just too hard for them. However, through modern day revelation we know what awaits us. We know the struggle to overcome our weaknesses and learn how to walk firmly on the small tiles is worth the effort. Heavenly Father stands ready to help us. There is great hope for us through Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost will strengthen and guide us. I pray we all may be humble enough to take the chastisements in the Spirit in which they are given, and receive the promised Glory of Zion.
In the sacred name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.