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The Pride and Prosperity Cycles

I used to think of the pride cycle as this long, ongoing, inevitable course that civilizations and people follow in their lives. We certainly see from the scriptures and history that these things repeat themselves and sometimes we focus so much on the disasters and consequences of sin that we don’t really consider when those moments of disaster were averted altogether. How do we reconcile these truths in our current “Pride Cycle” model?

The Pride Cycle

Above is our good old fiend the ‘pride cycle’. Now this cycle isn’t incorrect, as was said before we have seen this happen over and over again, but righteousness and prosperity do not always necessarily lead to pride and wickedness. I remember in a college course on Human Relations the professor asked the question: “What is the number one cause of divorce?” I knew what he thought the answer was but I decided to give the correct answer. I learned the correct answer from Spencer W. Kimball:

“Every divorce is the result of selfishness…” (“Marriage and Divorce” a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on 7 September 1976)

So I raised my hand and gave the answer, “selfishness”. He looked at me for a moment with a thoughtful expression and then said, “No, it’s money actually.” So according to his thinking, you can cause a divorce by dropping by someone’s home and dumping some money on their front door step ;) No, money is not the cause, it’s something deeper, it’s the corruption within the person that is already there and left unchecked and anything left unchecked is a ticking time bomb. We are counseled to ‘avoid’ this pride cycle, but how do we avoid something that seems so inevitable?

The Prosperity Cycle

There was one portion of the Book of Mormon that always caught my eye, and it’s the story of Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah. They were going about seeing to destroy the church, they were spoiled children of the king and prophet of the Lord and they were not destroyed or burdened with any kind of physical harm, they were visited by an angel and they turned from their wicked ways. Then there is Enos, King Lamoni and his father and many others who repent without having to face a destruction of any kind. The most notable example of the pride cycle being averted that I can think of is in the Old Testament where the city of Ninevah is spared because of the preaching of the reluctant Jonah.

Jonah 3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

Then there were the Lamanite converts during the minsitry of Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah:

Alma 23: 6 And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them—yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.

If you stop and think, it is quite incredible to ponder the fact that these people ‘never did fall away’. They never descended back into the pattern of wickedness and destruction. So in some cases, the ‘pride cycle’ becomes a kind of ‘prosperity cycle’. Before we talked of things being left unchecked, but thankfully, God does in fact have ‘checks’ in place and these are his prophetic warnings that he will ALWAYS give before unleashing his wrath upon the wicked. The ‘pride cycle’ then becomes something like what is illustrated below:

While the pride cycle seems to be focused on pure justice, the prosperity cycle factors in the mercy of God as he warns us and reminds us of the consequences of continuing in our course. So what happens when we consider both of these concepts in a single model?

An Alternate Model

Below is an attempt to illustrate how the cycles of pride and prosperity might be viewed as interconnected with neither being inevitable, but choices within a continuum that we are constantly moving upon. Usually we think of this cycle as it applies to the rise and fall of nations, but if we look a little closer, we can see how this cycle presents itself across many different aspects of our lives.

agency-continuum-1

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If one begins at a the point of the ‘key choice’ they are presented with opposition. The determining factors of what path will be chosen can be determined by one’s own conscious will; such factors may be a propensities toward: pride or humility, fear or faith, selfishness or benevolence, wickedness or righteousness, distrust or trust.

For the sake of example, let’s say that one buckles under temptation and pursues wickedness, this would result in the loss of any previous strength in goodness or innocence they once possessed. The results of this choice will inevitably include consequences that justice demands such as: darkness, bondage, suffering, damnation or destruction. No matter how deep the descent into wickedness, the opportunity to change will always present itself or it may even be present the entire time according to the tender mercies of the Lord.

With an opportunity to change comes a moment of key choice where opposition presents itself again.

If the individual resists temptation and begins to pursue righteousness they are strengthened as the blessings of the Lord come upon them. These blessings may be: light, freedom, joy, progress or prosperity all of which are sure to come if the individual is penitent and aligns themselves with that which is just and true. Just as mercy and the opportunity to change will always present themselves, trials of faith are sure to come; these may present themselves as a trial from the Lord or a temptation from the adversary, both of which will bring us again to a key choice.

Resisting temptation or standing strong under a trial of faith will have the same effect; increased strength will come as the path of righteousness is chosen, and thus the cycles repeat themselves. A simplified version of the above illustration is as follows:

A simplified idea of what was presented above is a constant cycle of right or wrong with a person’s agency as the determining factor of their state at any given time as they respond to opposition. Choosing right or wrong will bring the consequences of justice that will either promote or hinder the progression of the soul. The influence of God entices us one way and the influence of the adversary entices us the other way; we are left to choose. There is no such thing as neutrality in this cycle; neutrality is impossible because life is motion and choice governs movement.

Checks

Websters 1828 Dictionary defines ‘check’ as:

CHECK, v.t. 1. To stop; to restrain; to hinder; to curb. It signifies to put an entire stop to motion…

The illustration above indicates that the key to staying on the path of righteousness is to keep oneself in check, to understand that all that stands between one and the consequences of wickedness is a simple act of agency – a choice. We must learn to keep ourselves in check by never allowing ourselves to cross the line that marks transgression. This is illustrated perfectly in the Book of Alma when Alma and Amulek establish a church in Sidom:

Alma 15: 17 Therefore, after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing a great check, yea, seeing that the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts, and began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction—

There was a ‘great check’, the people were ‘checked as to the pride of their hearts’ which allowed them to constantly stay on the cycle of prosperity. If they were nearing too close to the edge, they would stop in their tracks and go no further. It stands to reason that we must do the same if we are desirous to follow in the same course. If we do not keep ourselves in check, our future is uncertain, it’s possible that we may always fall on the side of righteousness, but the opposite is evidenced in scripture.

Even with our current system of branches of government and separation of powers in the United States, we see that both just governments and individuals prosper with checks and balances. A free government without checks and balances will descend into tyranny just as an individual without checks and balances will descend into wickedness.

Life is not static, we cannot stand still in place, we are constantly in motion and being bombarded by real forces; some to our destruction and others to our salvation. Our own state of mind is the determining factor as to which course will be pursued, but if we ‘[watch] and [pray] continually, keep an open awareness of our state of mind and our surroundings and seek after additional strength through the atonement to help us continue on the path of righteousness, we can continually prosper.

Examples of ‘checks’ for a Latter-day Saint could be:

  • An attitude of repentance
  • Family Home Evening
  • Daily prayer & scripture study
  • Sabbath Day observation
  • General Conference attendance (satellite, tv or the web counts of course!)

There are so many periodic checks or reminders in our lives occurring at varying intervals that if we take advantage of these checks we can maintain a prosperous course.

An example of continual prosperity in the Book of Mormon

Almost without fail, we see this ‘pride cycle’ continuing in the Book of Mormon throughout the ages and it often seems that this course is just the way things must unfortunately be. But thinking this way would reject the idea of agency and that good can prevail and continue.

In opposition to this cycle of pride we see in the Book of Mormon, there is a shining example of the pride cycle being avoided altogether. This is the 200 years of peace that existed here upon the American continent after the visitation of the Savior. Generation after generation lived and died, never changing course, and preserving the cycle of righteousness. After a few generations, their descendants rejected their goodness and blessings and switched over to a course of wickedness that resulted in their destruction, but we can’t ignore the fact that an entire nation along with multiple generations of citizens never faltered.

Just as the Wright Brother’s proved that human flight was possible by only flying 12 seconds through the air, that small achievement opened the door to the modern aviation and spaceflight that we observe today. In like manner, we can take these small examples of victory in the scriptures that the gospel can prevail despite temptations, trials and the records of the past – continual prosperity is proven possible. The Zion civilization in the Book of Mormon could have been discouraged by looking at their past and the seemingly endless cycles of wickedness, but they looked forward instead, they trusted in the promises of the Lord and generations lived out their lives in prosperity without descending back into destruction.

We can’t change the past and we certainly cannot guarantee what the future holds for generations who will follow, the only promise from the scriptures is that we can have complete control over our present, our own lives and our own destiny. We too, like the Saints in the 200 years of peace, can live out the rest of our days in light, freedom, joy and prosperity, never returning again to a path of wickedness if we simply keep ourselves in check through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Alma 23: 6 And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth…according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them—yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many…as believed…and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away.

——- Updated: September 14, 2010

  • David Borough

    No comments? Wow — this was pretty cool. I do think one thing, however — as members of the Church, we often consider ourselves invincible to the power of money, wealth, riches and prosperity. We tend to ‘worship’ success, when everything we have comes from the Lord. Dallin H. Oaks spoke about several strengths we have, but warned they can become our weakness. One he said was a PARTICULARLY MORMON weakness was self-reliance. As we rely too much on ourselves, we start to see ourselves as the reason for our success and come to believe we have somehow ‘earned’ our position of wealth and prosperity — after all, we were self-reliant, worked hard, and it came. What we sewed, we reaped. We also hide behind the protection of promises that by obeying commandments, and listening to the prophet, we can never go astray — but then follow those commands to a letter, instead of the spirit, believing that by paying tithing we have done what the Lord has asked. I think the value of hard work that turns to riches begins to mask the greater law. I think this is why Jesus spoke so much about it, as does the Book of Mormon. And as members, we tend to buy into the idea that anyone that is suffering or not well off must not have worked, and acts entitled, since we worked hard and ‘earned’ what we have. We are truly all beggars. We all need the same thing — and no amount of works makes up for what the Lord offers us through his atonement.

    Still all that said, I really enjoyed this article and as an individual working hard to be like the Savior, I appreciate the encouragement the examples give for my own self-improvement. I agree that prosperity doesn’t always lead to wickedness. But I think the Lord understands the correlation well.

    • oneclimbs

      Truth be told, David, I have only recently added the ability to comment on articles. For now, this is working fine and I’ll leave it this way as long as there is no abuse.

      As for your insights, I think that you are right on target. It is easy to see how the true path can be so hard to find and how powerful the mists of darkness are at leading one astray. The pendulum of the gospel is meant to sit fixed upon one course but too often we seek to swing it toward our own philosophies and vain ideals and traditions.

      Mormons are often confused of seeking to “work their way into heaven” and although many deny this accusation and our doctrine is certainly unsupportive of it, how often do we become so focused on obedience and accountability that we set aside the healing and empowering grace of Christ?

      I’m glad you understand that prosperity doesn’t always lead to wickedness and, on the other hand, are aware of the tremendous propensity of man’s heart to be consumed by wealth or, perhaps more dangerously, comfort.

      Many are aware of this danger but I feel that we focus so much on it that we consider it an inevitability, which is why I wrote this article. Although the “cycle” is perhaps likely, I don’t believe that it is inevitable, especially in our personal lives. I deeply believe that the power of the atonement can create Zion within us if we are truly one in Christ.

    • oneclimbs

      Truth be told, David, I have only recently added the ability to comment on articles. For now, this is working fine and I’ll leave it this way as long as there is no abuse.

      As for your insights, I think that you are right on target. It is easy to see how the true path can be so hard to find and how powerful the mists of darkness are at leading one astray. The pendulum of the gospel is meant to sit fixed upon one course but too often we seek to swing it toward our own philosophies and vain ideals and traditions.

      Mormons are often confused of seeking to “work their way into heaven” and although many deny this accusation and our doctrine is certainly unsupportive of it, how often do we become so focused on obedience and accountability that we set aside the healing and empowering grace of Christ?

      I’m glad you understand that prosperity doesn’t always lead to wickedness and, on the other hand, are aware of the tremendous propensity of man’s heart to be consumed by wealth or, perhaps more dangerously, comfort.

      Many are aware of this danger but I feel that we focus so much on it that we consider it an inevitability, which is why I wrote this article. Although the “cycle” is perhaps likely, I don’t believe that it is inevitable, especially in our personal lives. I deeply believe that the power of the atonement can create Zion within us if we are truly one in Christ.

  • Nick

    Great article. Just about to teach a gospel doctrine lesson on the pride cycle and found this very useful!

    • oneclimbs

      Awesome, glad that you found something you could use. I hope the lesson went well, did the class come up with any other interesting insights?

  • Janet

    I liked your figure 8 model very much. I also like your set up of your site–very easy to pick and choose past posts, unlike some others I have looked at.

    • oneclimbs

      Thank you, I’m glad the site is easy to navigate for you.

  • Jeff

    Have you thought about adding a 3rd dimension to the Agency Continuum model? Imagine you’re looking from the top down on your model. There are essentially two circles – on the right going clockwise and on the left counterclock. Now rotate the model to look at its side. On the right side the circle is really a spiral – like a slinky – going upward, and on the left the circle is a spiral going downward. The more you make right choices the higher you go – and the corollary to the left (and perhaps the Savior is an elevator? :)

    • oneclimbs

      It’s hard to capture reality within something that isn’t reality, but I see your point. The continuum is more of an illustration of how agency allows for the possibility of continual, uninterrupted, prosperity.