A while back, I heard a rather innocuous story about honesty at stake conference (ok, so it’s not as prestigious as general conference…). I didn’t care much about the choice of story he used, since it seemed trite (it was some Chinese feel-good fable), but as I read a passage in the scriptures today (and realized I had been misinterpreting it for a while now), I realized a whole new realm of meaning. One that may interest you.
The story, to summarize (the story I heard is slightly different than the one I linked, so go with my summary) is that a Chinese emperor, lacking any male heirs (I suppose you could anachronistically substitute for a Empress Dowager if you like gender equality), is trying to choose a successor. He gives a challenge to the most talented young men of the nation: to raise a single seed which he will give them. After all, if you can’t raise a plant, you can’t raise a nation, can you? Chinese wisdom.
So, each of the young men (including our star, Chang [the name changes every retelling, so don’t get too attached]) goes home to try their best at cultivating the seed. They research best practices for growing, fertilizing, maximizing sunlight and controlling climate.
But our star, Chang, can’t grow his seed, no matter what he does.
The competition ends, and Chang reluctantly heads for the palace with his seed — still just a seed.
At the palace, everyone (but Chang) shows the Emperor their magnificent flowers and plants, and the Emperor inquires about their methods, their diligence, and their plants. What was most challenging? And then he gets to Chang.
He demands to know this plant-less boy’s name, and Chang reluctantly gives it. He asks where Chang’s plant is, and Chang admits that he doesn’t have one.
The emperor says, “Very well,” and announces to all that he has found the successor: Chang. The Emperor reveals that he had given every one of them a boiled, dead seed, yet all but Chang had connived and lied in an attempt to gain glory. Only Chang had integrity.
(In the version of the story I heard, Chang doesn’t know the seed is boiled — so he despairs that his failure to grow it is his failure. I like this better, and you’ll see why.)
So…pop quiz: what scripture was I reading?
If you can’t guess, it was Alma 32. In it is the famous comparison of the Word to a seed (note: that song lied to me! although you can find faith-seed action in Matthew, but that’s a bit different.) Therein, Alma says (I’m quoting Timothy Wilson’s Plain English Reference to the Book of Mormon to be edgy and modern):
“Let us compare the word to a seed. If you make a place to plant a seed in your heart, and if the seed is good, or true, and if you do not discard it by your unbelief, or by resisting the Lord’s Spirit, then it will begin to grow. And when you feel it growing in your heart, you say to yourself, ‘The seed (word) must be good, because it is starting to enlarge my soul. It is beginning to enlighten my understanding and satisfy my soul.’
…As the seed continues to grow and sprout, bringing joy into your heart, you feel that it is good, and that feeling strengthens your faith even more. After having these feelings, are you sure that the seed is good? Yes, you are, for only a good seed would grow. If a seed does not grow, it is not good, and you throw it out.”
The first realization from a proper reading of Alma (even with the conventional BoM) is that faith isn’t the seed…but rather faith is the willingness to plant the seed. Alma theoretically allows for the conclusion that the seed could be bad, and you’d throw it out, but he asserts boldly two things 1) the seed will grow if you don’t screw it up (song) and 2) the feelings you have can assure you of the goodness.
…at least in the version of the story I heard, Chang didn’t know the seed was boiled…so he continued diligently trying to grow what could not. How many times do members (including ourselves) in the church (or in any endeavor) do this? How many times do we look elsewhere to rationalize that the seed must be good and growing, so that we can continue?
And intriguingly, if there is an emperor out there who has given us boiled seeds, will he praise those who were “creative” and tried to pass off frauded plants or will he praise those who have integrity to face doubts head on?