The narrative of David’s downfall in 2 Samuel 11 is given with such detail and in such a matter of fact manner that it is impossible to miss the point. David made a series of decisions that brought him and those around him misery. There were several switchpoints in this experience that had he made a course correction, things would have ended differently. At each juncture his decision making ability worsened until he made the tragic decision to end another man’s life.
We spent time in class analyzing where David made his first wrong decision. We also spent considerable time applying David’s experience to the lives of the youth. All mortals find themselves facing temptation – how we handle ourselves will in large part determine our happiness. One of the driving motivators of David’s choices seems to be his desire to keep his mistakes hidden. This is a natural human tendency.
After David had Uriah killed and thought he has escaped justice, Nathan told David that his sin would be made known “before all Israel” (2 Samuel 12:12). I believe that if we continue in a path of sin that eventually our sins will be known. The sooner we make course corrections, the better off we will be.
Another important truth that this story helps to illustrate is that no matter how important someone may be, because we are mortal, we are all subject to temptation. For this reason it is important to empower youth with the tools to avoid temptation. The stronger they are, the more prepared the youth of this church are to resist the adversary, the happier they will be as they go through their mortal experiences.
I do not believe that giving in to the natural man or temptations is inevitable. Because of the teaching found in 2 Nephi 2, we know that all men are “afree according to the bflesh; and call things are dgiven them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to echoose fliberty and eternal glife, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be hmiserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27).
We are free to act. We do not need to live a life where we are “acted upon”. At every opportunity of our lives, we face a time of decision – we do not have to give in to the temptations which surround us (2 Nephi 2:14-16).
“All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], p. 181).
Control your environment
Working to control our environment is critical to withstanding temptation. The first part of our environment that we always have the ability to control is our mind. No matter our location or circumstance, we have the power to control our thoughts.
The second part of our environment has to do with where we choose to be and who we associate with, including what we pay attention to. Had David been where he was supposed to be (2 Samuel 11:1), or had he immediately withdrawn from his rooftop once he saw Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2), he would have had a better chance of avoiding his train of wrong choices.
Elder Hartman Rector, Jr. taught an important principle for overcoming temptation:
“In my experience, I have found that it is very, very dangerous to fly just high enough to miss the treetops. I spent twenty-six years flying the navy’s airplanes. It was very exciting to see how close I could fly to the trees … , and it is extremely dangerous. When you are flying just high enough to miss the trees and your engine coughs once, you are in the trees.
“Now let’s pretend that the navy had a commandment—‘Thou shalt not fly thy airplane in the trees.’ As a matter of fact, they did have such a commandment. In order to really be free of the commandment, it becomes necessary for me to add a commandment of my own to the navy’s commandment, such as ‘Thou shalt not fly thy airplane closer than 5,000 feet to the trees.’ When you do this, you make the navy’s commandment of not flying in the trees easy to live, and the safety factor is tremendously increased” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, p. 172; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 131).
What are some examples of flying at 5,000 feet that apply to youth?
Decide ahead of time what you will do
President Spencer W. Kimball stated:
“Then as I was out alone, milking the cows, or putting up the hay, I had time to think. I mulled it over in my mind and made this decision: ‘I, Spencer Kimball, will never taste any form of liquor. I, Spencer Kimball, will never touch tobacco. I will never drink coffee, nor will I ever touch tea—not because I can explain why I shouldn’t, except that the Lord said not to.’ … I made up my mind.
“That’s the point I am trying to make. I made up my mind then, as a little boy: ‘I will never touch those things.’ And so, having made up my mind, it was easy to follow it, and I did not yield. There were many temptations that came along, but I did not even analyze it; I did not stop and measure it and say, ‘Well, shall I or shall I not?’ I always said to myself: ‘But I made up my mind I would not. Therefore, I do not’” (in Conference Report, Stockholm Sweden Area Conference 1974, p. 86).
Access the Atonement
The power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ extends beyond just forgiving us of our sins. The Atonement has the power to grant us power to resist the natural man. By asking for the power of the Savior to come into our lives, we have added strength to resist the enticements of the adversary.
Joseph Smith had an incident where he had temptation overpower his ability to reason for a brief period of time (see: http://bit.ly/x5n5zC). Those relating this experience share that had he “prayed always” through this time, he would have fared better.
Reflection and Experience
Reflecting on why we sin, what our weaknesses are, and what led to the violating of Heavenly Father’s laws will strengthen us in the future. One person who shared with me his experiences in learning from his mistakes said, “I have taken the time to seriously reflect on why I make the decisions I do. I know that I am not happy and that the choices I have made have led me to where I am. By taking time to ask myself why I have made these choices, I now know how to correct them in the future.”
Oliver Cowdery had this to say on the role experience plays in avoiding temptation:
You will have wondered, perhaps, that the mind of our brother should be so occupied with the thoughts of the goods of this world, at the time of arriving at Cumorah, on the morning of the 22nd of September, 1823, after having been wrapt in the visions of heaven during the night, and also seeing and hearing in open day; but the mind of man is easily turned if it is not held by the power of God through the prayer of faith, and you will remember that I have said that two invisible powers were operating upon his mind during his walk from his residence to Cumorah, and that the one urging the uncertainty of wealth and ease in this life, had so powerfully wrought upon him that the great object so carefully and impressively named by the angel, had entirely gone from his recollection that only a fixed determination to obtain now urged him forward. In this, which occasioned a failure to obtain, at that time, the record, do not understand me to attach blame to our brother: he was young, and his mind easily turned from correct principles, unless he could be favored with a certain round of experience. (Early Scenes and Incidents in the Church. by Oliver Cowdery., Improvement Era, 1899, Vol. Ii. August, 1899. No. 10.)