In foretelling dire conditions that would precede the visit of the resurrected Christ to the Nephites, Samuel the Lamanite spoke of "slippery" treasure.
"And behold," he said, "the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.
"...And then shall ye lament, and say:... O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.
"...Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land" (Helaman 13:31-33, 35).
In this year's gospel doctrine course of study in Sunday School, Church members have been reminded of parallels between that time in Nephite history and our day as we are preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (see Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual, Lesson 35).
In recent days in the United States, we have witnessed the collapse of major financial institutions due in large measure to unwise practices in the borrowing and lending of money. Individual Americans have been immediately affected by the resulting downturns in the stock market, as they have seen their mutual funds and other investments drastically devalued.
Aggravating the situation has been a dramatic rise in energy prices over the past months, coupled with a weakening economy characterized by substantial increases in the cost of food, foreclosures on mortgages and employment layoffs.
While it is not wise to panic, it is sobering to view our current situation, especially in light of the condition Samuel warned about, of riches that slip away.
Like the Nephites in Samuel's day, were we warned in advance? Let us go back 10 years to October general conference of 1998, when President Gordon B. Hinckley recounted Joseph's interpretation of the Pharaoh's dream about the cattle and grain.
"Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future," he said. "But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.
"So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings.... I am troubled by the huge consumer installment debt which hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people....
"I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow to get a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite for as long as 30 years."
At a more recent general conference, April 2006, President Thomas S. Monson spoke in a similar vein: "Avoid the philosophy that yesterday's luxuries have become today's necessities. They aren't necessities until we make them so. Many enter into long-term debt only to find that changes occur: people become ill or incapacitated, companies fail or downsize, jobs are lost, natural disasters befall us. For many reasons, payments on large amounts of debt can no longer be made. Our debt becomes as a Damocles sword hanging over our heads and threatening to destroy us."
In ominous times such as we are witnessing, those who have heeded prophetic counsel can take a measure of comfort in the safety and blessings that flow from such obedience.
For those who have not so hearkened, it is not too late. As Samuel told his hearers, "Thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me" (Helaman 13:11). This is true in all matters of righteousness and prudence, including temporal matters.
In all things, we can follow the prophets. We can pay a full tithe and thus claim the blessing that the Lord will "rebuke the devourer" for our sake (see Malachi 3:11). We can start today to live within our means, formulating a budget so that the things that matter most are not at the mercy of the things that matter least.
As this Church News issue appears, general conference is convening in Salt Lake City. Concentrated in two days will be timely counsel that the Lord has for us through His servants. Let us be alert to their wisdom as it pertains to our individual situations.