Man is Nothing
The people respond to King Benjamin's words by acknowledging their carnal state and their "nothingness" and "worthless and fallen state" (see v. 2, 5). As I read verse 5, I was reminded of Moses coming to the same conclusion with regard to the state of man. Verse 5's footnote references Moses' conclusion.
After Moses meets God face to face, he is left alone and he fell to the earth (Moses 1:9). Moses was left utterly weak for several hours and after he received strength again, he said to himself, "Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed" (Moses 1:10).
I wonder how many of us reason the same as Moses did. Do we still slumber in seemingly blissful ignorance with regard to our position in the eyes of God? Do we truly understand that we are indeed less than the dust of the earth? Having this realization is key in our worship. If we "make flesh our arm" (see 2 Nephi 28:31), then we fail to understand our true nature and we will be cursed.
The Gospel: Plain and Simple
King Benjamin simply sums up the path to salvation and happiness. We must "trust in the Lord," "be diligent in keeping his commandments," "continue in faith" until the day we die, repent and forsake our sins and with sincerity of heart, ask God forgiveness (see v. 7, 10).
Next King Benjamin admonishes the people about how they can retain a remission of their sins. If we constantly remember the greatness of God and our nothingness and if we pray to God daily and faithfully believe in the prophecies of the prophets then we will enjoy many, many blessings.
We will always rejoice and be filled with the love of God. We will always retain a remission of our sins. We will grow in knowledge of our Heavenly Father. We will have no desire to hurt others and we will live in peace and deal justly one with another. We will care for our children and teach them the Gospel. And we will give to the poor.
Ye Will not Have a Mind to Injure One Another
One of the blessings of living the Gospel is the having the desire to be good all the time. Occasionally we may slip and make a mistake, but generally speaking when we live the Gospel we have a desire to do good … to do the right thing all the time. Wouldn't the world be a much better place if everyone had no mind to injure one another and there were a spirit of forgiveness?
Giving to Beggars
As a missionary, I struggled with giving to the poor. I served in Guatemala where the vast majority of people were economically poor. My heart ached to see the depths of poverty. My first area was in Guatemala City in a middle-class suburb. Despite the fact that most of the people in that suburb had homes, there were a couple of families that lived in shacks. I was completely astonished the first time I saw a woman sweeping her dirt floor. My inexperienced mind did not comprehend the need to sweep dirt. Everywhere my companion and I went, there were beggars. Almost always, we did not give money to them. I struggled to reconcile my inaction to give to the poor with Mosiah 4:16-27. Some of the same thoughts I had with regard to the poor were the same thoughts Benjamin warned the people against.
By the time I left the city, my heart had become somewhat desensitized to the abundant poverty … it became somewhat normal to me. But I would soon be shocked again when I saw the ravages of poverty magnified in the country-side (as opposed to the city). My next several areas were in perhaps the poorest part of all Guatemala. I still remember one visit my companion and I made to a part-member family far up on the mountain-side above a village called La Tinta. A woman and her children lived (if you call it that) in a shack made of bamboo sticks and palm leaves. The place was smaller than the 8x8 cubicle in which I work. I doubt the shack kept all the rain out. Her possessions were truly meager. Her bed was the dirt. I was truly shocked at the sight of the depths of her poverty.
Many times, people would beg for money from us "Gringos." The fact of the reality was that our allowance was very small, but we would sometimes give people some money or food. Generally speaking, among the missionaries, we felt that any needs or wants by the members should go through the branch (fast offerings). My heart truly wanted to give money, but at the same time, I understood that if we constantly gave people money, we would cause them to become dependant on the missionaries and it would be viewed by other people that we were paying people to join the Church. King Benjamin, after thoroughly expounding on the subject of giving to the poor said, "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order" (v. 27). This line at least gave me some comfort in that sea of poverty.
In my second to last area, I found myself again in a middle-class urban city in the highlands. It was rare to see people living on the streets. Most people had a decent home. But there were plenty of beggars and I still struggled to find a balance. I also struggled with how the other elders would view me if I always gave to the poor … it was a sign of toughness not to give to the poor. But as I look back on that reasoning, I find how childish that thinking was.
In the last area I served, there was a family who was investigating the church and one of the first times we visited them, they asked us for money. We told them that we were not there to give people money, but to teach the gospel. They understood and still continued with the discussions. A few more times they asked and we kept telling them the same thing. All the experiences I had had with beggars those 21 months before came crashing down on me and I was tired of the feelings of guilt every time I denied a request from a beggar. I finally decided that I was not only going to contribute a little, but I was going to really help this family (they were asking for money to buy medicine). I had some extra money to buy souvenirs and so I took some of that and gave it to them. I think it more than covered the cost of the medicine.
I don't tell these stories to brag, but to demonstrate that this is a weakness for me and to show that giving to beggars is probably a big issue among missionaries and members of the church. How many times have we seen a family that basically lives off the ward (members' food and fast offerings)? Is it alright that these families do this? I don't think so … it's a form of theft. Yet how do we discern between the beggars who are in real need of assistance and those who are abusing the kindness of others? King Benjamin teaches that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and administer to their relief both spiritually and temporally according to their wants (as opposed to their needs) (v. 26). Of course he qualifies that statement by saying that "all these things are done in wisdom and order" (v. 27).
Just yesterday (March 7, 2007), a co-worker came into my office and said that there was a man out in the lobby who couldn't speak English and spoke Spanish and needed some help. I went out to the lobby and chatted with him. The best I could understand was that he was from El Salvador, had been walking around all day and needed to get to the Consulate of El Salvador. All I could say to him was that I didn't know where it was and that I was sorry I could not help. After I got back to my desk, I remembered that the Consulate of El Salvador was just down the street and I probably could have offered him a ride there. But then in my mind's eye I saw him pulling a knife on me while I was driving him there. Again, I struggle with finding a balance. What should I have done? In retrospect, I probably should have told him to wait while I go back to my desk and go to maps.google.com and find the Consulate of El Salvador and then print off a map for him so at least he wouldn't be wandering the streets aimlessly. But hindsight is always 20/20. This example shows how I'm fundamentally not seeking to live this commandment … helping the poor should not be done in haste, but at the same time we need to be ready to help in some degree when confronted with a beggar (and I am not strictly referring to money beggars).
I hope I can change my attitude and have a greater willingness to help others who are in need. Not only should I give a generous fast offering, but I should always be willing to listen to others' needs and render assistance as much and as wisely as I can.
All through the scriptures we are counseled to look outside ourselves … to serve others and be less selfish. But at least one scripture in the Book of Mormon tells us to constantly look on the inside.
King Benjamin concludes this chapter with a warning. If we do not watch ourselves, our thoughts and words and deeds and observe the commandments of God all the days of our lives, then we will perish. He sums up his warning, "O man, remember, and perish not" (v. 30).