Monday, April 6, 2015

Grace: Like An Oasis in the Desert

Like an oasis in the desert, President Uchtdorf's sermon "The Gift of Grace" was itself, for me, a grace. For years I've blogged about grace, almost feeling like I was being subversive, and meeting with resistance from fellow Mormons long steeped in a tradition that preached works so loudly that even the loud orchestra of grace found in the Book of Mormon was deafened. Mormonism began to hear the music louder beginning in the 90's, and it has been increasing in volume ever since.

Even still, after feeling as though I was being individually refreshed by the waters of Christ's grace, I've at times felt like a wanderer in a desert of Mormonism that traditionally hasn't collectively been embracing grace with equal enthusiasm. Individually, Latter-day Saints here and there have expressed their gratitude for grace, but it has felt more like a grass roots effort rather than something coming from the top down. (Parenthetically, Adam Miller's new little book is a must read whether top, bottom, or anywhere in-between: "Grace Is Not God's Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul's Letter to the Romans.")

And for too long, we equivocated about the meaning of 2nd Nephi 25:23, particularly the line: "It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." Thus yesterday felt like a joyful and historic shift, to me, as that message of grace came loud and clear directly from a member of the First Presidency, one sustained as a "prophet, seer, and revelator." No more do Mormons have any excuse to misunderstand:
I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase “after all we can do”. We must understand that “after” does not equal “because.” We are not saved "because" of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we've expended every effort before he will intervene in our lives with His saving grace? Many people feel discouraged because they constantly fall short. They know first hand that "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." They raise their voices with Nephi in proclaiming, “My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” I am certain Nephi knew the Savior’s grace allows and enables us to overcome sin. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his children and brethren "to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God." After all, that is what we can do! And that is our task in mortality!

I had never yelled amen as many times and with as much gusto as I did during and after his marvelous sermon:

Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased with the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.
President Uchtdorf continued
If grace is a gift of God then why is obedience to His commandments so important?...We obey the commandments of God--out of love for Him! Trying to understand God’s gift of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude. As we walk the path of discipleship, it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him, and it leads us back to His presence. "The Spirit of the Lord [our God]" brings about such a "mighty change in us,...that we have no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually." Therefore, our obedience to God’s commandments comes as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God. This form of genuine love and gratitude will miraculously merge our works with God’s grace. Virtue will garnish our thoughts unceasingly, and our confidence will wax strong in the presence of God.
Incidentally, another speaker in conference used a quote that stood out to me, one by Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Gratefully, my hope and my witness is that Mormonism is seeing with "new eyes" the real good news of the gospel; it is a beautiful landscape. The "good news" isn't Mormonism itself--the "good news" is Christ's grace. And it's the only thing that can save us, both individually and as a church collectively.

With Christ's grace as our only hope for salvation (whether from crises individual or institutional) we'd be wise to separate "the Church" and "The Gospel" from here on out. Christ must be more than a back seat passenger in Mormonism. For too long, too many have traditionally focused on ancillary things: family history, family, temple work, home teaching, "follow the prophet", food storage, tithing, callings, etc, etc. etc. In short, too many focus too much on "the church" itself. Christ's grace needs to emerge from the backseat and sit front and center. And we need to do more to make Christ the focus of all of our meetings, teachings, messages, and families. In short, we must make Christ and his grace more explicit rather than implicit in all that we do and say.

Keeping in mind that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established", here are a couple of other eye-witness reactions that caught my eye from some faithful Mormon scholars I deeply respect:

Jacob Baker:
President Uchtdorf's Priesthood and Sunday morning addresses are essentially one magnificent sermon on Grace, the most significant and Scripturally Christian theological address to come out of the Mormon tradition by an apostle, possibly in all of LDS history, in my opinion. It can and should be studied, not just quoted from, in the future.

Dr. David Bokovoy:
Today was a great day. I especially enjoyed President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s sermon “The Gift of Grace” and wanted to share a few personal thoughts. Shortly before my now 20 year-old daughter left on her full-time LDS mission in Chile, we enjoyed a fun, playful conversation.

“Dad,” she said, “I’m a bit nervous."

"What if I teach something that the Church doesn’t really believe?”

“Why would you be worried about that?” I asked.

“Well I am your daughter,” she jokingly replied.

“So you think I’ve taught you false doctrine?”

She smiled and replied, “Well, Dad, we all know you’re really big on grace.”

“Teach grace, Kate,” I said. “Teach grace.”

Though this conversation was somewhat whimsical, I do believe it captured one of the hermeneutical challenges within Mormonism. It’s admittedly not easy to fully reconcile an LDS emphasis upon obedience with the concept of salvation through God’s grace. The two perspectives create something of a religious paradox. In LDS scripture, God states “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). Historically, many within the LDS community have used these types of statements to support a type of Pelagianistic belief that humans can earn at least some form of salvation through a work-based effort. Today, President Uchtdorf taught that this view is incongruent with God's plan of salvation. 
“Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience,” he declared to a world-wide audience, “it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth." 
President Uchtdorf continued: 
“If grace is a gift of God then why is obedience to His commandments so important? We obey the commandments of God out of love for Him. Trying to understand God’s gifts of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude. As we walk the path of discipleship it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him, and it leads us back to His presence.” 
This was a remarkable conference sermon. Theologically, if we believe that God should save us because of our faithfulness then Jesus may be a helper; he may even be our example and inspiration, but he is not our Savior. Instead, we are our own saviors. This point is admittedly a challenging theological notion, which is why I was so fascinated and touched by President Uchtdorf's sermon. 
It reminded me of one of my favorite books on the topic of grace—The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. Keller is a great Christian theologian. He is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The Prodigal God is a powerful devotional reading of the famous parable in Luke 15:11-32. Keller explains that the parable describes two lost sons, one who abandons his father entirely in order to live a sinful life, and the other who lives a life of strict obedience in order to bind his father into giving a reward.

As Keller explains, it’s easy to recognize that the “younger brother” in this story is spiritually lost. Yet it’s much more difficult to see that the older brother—the one who faithfully attends Church and keeps the commandants-is likewise lost. “I never transgressed your commandments at any time," the older brother reminds the father. “And yet you never gave me a kid so that I could make merry with my friends.” This constitutes an extraordinary statement, and yet the father never denies the claim. The older brother in the parable had obeyed all the commandments.

So why was he spiritually lost? The answer is that the older brother obeyed the father for the wrong reason. He obeyed the father so that the father would feel forced to grant rewards. This explains why the older brother felt angry, and could not accept the grace extended to the younger brother who spent his share of the father's inheritance on riotous living. 
If our obedience to God derives from a desire to control divinity then our morality consists of a way to use God as an instrument to grant our desires. As the parable illustrates, this mindset causes us to look down upon younger brothers. Efforts to bind God through obedience creates elitism and classism (both of which are spiritually problematic or "lost" conditions). This is why the "older brother syndrome" fosters resentment towards younger brothers and divinity. On this point Keller writes: 
"The first sign you have an elder-brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter. Elder brothers believe that if they live a good life they should get a good life, that God owes them a smooth road if they try very hard to live up to standards. What happens, then, if you are an elder brother and things go wrong in your life? If you feel you have been living up to your moral standards, you will be furious with God. You don’t deserve this, you will think, after how hard you’ve worked to be a decent person! What happens, however, if things have gone wrong in your life when you know that you have been falling short of your standards? Then you will be furious with yourself, filled with self-loathing and inner pain. And if evil circumstances overtake you, and you are not sure whether your life has been good enough or not, you may swing miserably back and forth between the poles of 'I hate Thee!' and 'I hate me.'” (pp. 49-50).

It’s not that obedience and good works are insignificant for the Christian life. It’s that they must be performed for the right reason—the reason President Uchtdorf explained today in General Conference: because God is "prodigal" with humanity. He gives his grace so fully that there is nothing else left. God is the type of father we encounter in the parable, a father who runs out and embraces younger brothers and gives them all that he has. Christians should obey a God like that because we love him. Because he is so good we want to do more than do. We want to serve and become.

17 comments:

Johnny M. said...

So, here is the order of things:
1. Accept Christ.
2. Receive His grace.
3. You will follow Him as a natural outgrowth of His grace.

This is NOT it:
1. Be obedient.
2. You will then be worthy of His grace.

Marie said...

Wow, yes. I was alone, driving and listening to Conference on the radio when Uchtdorf was speaking and when openly and specifically reinterpreted 2 Nephi 25:23 I took both hands off the steering wheel, clapped, and hollered "He fixed it! He fixed it!" and then went into perma-grin mode. I've been floating ever since. I hated that scripture all my years growing up and it kept me distant from God and unimpressed with Christ. If I had to do impossibly well on my own before they'd save me, what kind of love/power is that? Some meth-powered saints might do well enough to get to meet Jesus, but I never would. During my college years I was struggling with that scripture and it occurred to me that I'd seen the word "after" used to mean something other than "subsequent to"--rather "in spite of." Sure enough, right there in the dictionary. So I clung to that definition of "after," which made that scripture jibe with the New Testament, and hoped I was right and wasn't justifying myself into apostasy. I was pretty sure I wasn't, but with that continuing revelation thing it's always possible that your scriptures have been rendered incorrect by the latest prophet...and it's hard to believe you could be right about something when it would mean that people who are better saints/scriptorians than you are, are wrong.

Four years ago, in an effort to feel better about occasionally preaching this stuff to others, I did a search of all the old Conference talks from 1897 to the present (and now BYU has a database that spans 1851 to the present) to see how that scripture has been interpreted over time. No mention of it from 1851 to 1905. Then in October 1906 George Reynolds used it in the same way Uchtdorf used it, and it's clear from how he talks that he assumes his listeners use the same interpretation of the scripture. Next use of the scripture isn't until 1923, in a talk about recordkeeping (no discussion of the grace portion of the scripture). Next use I could find was in 1941, when Marion G Romney uses it in a talk about true conversion and seems to be using it as Reyolds uses it. It's in the 1950s that the current dominant interpretation emerges--in both Conferences of 1956 Harold B. Lee puts forward the earn-grace-with-works interpretation and after that the scripture is quoted much more often, and the Reynolds interpretation doesn't appear again until....yesterday. (Though the take of some of the talks in that period on 2 Nephi 25:23 specifically is somewhat unclear, none of them that I could find were clearly de-emphasizing works' role in gaining access to grace like Uchtdorf did.)

I also realized a couple years ago that "after" is used to mean "in spite of" in Alma 10:5, further evidence that the scripture in 2 Nephi could easily be doing the same thing. And 2 Nephi 25:23 taken in context clearly is pointing to grace and the deadness of works in the project of salvation.
My theory is that before the earn-grace-with-works interpretation emerged in the 1950s, there was little reason to quote that exact scripture much (just 3 times between 1851 and 1955), because everyone was interpreting it in a way that jibed with NT scripture on grace (i.e., the interpretation Reynolds used)--it was a nice scripture, but just another scripture on grace. Only when the 1950s interpretation emerged did it suddenly become uniquely useful in urging good works/obedience and therefore more frequently quoted (39 times--in 35 talks--between 1956 and 2014). The attitude toward grace has been shifting, but yesterday was the first time that specific problem scripture has been confronted in Conference, the 1950s interpretation questioned, and a new (well, old) interpretation proposed.

Also interesting that Elder Bednar used the scripture in his talk on Saturday with the earn-grace-with-works interpretation.

Marie said...

Here's the relevant portion of George Reynolds's October 1906 Conference talk on good works:

“God grant that we all may see the truth in this light; that we may use all the energies and faculties that God has blessed us with to His service. And while I am saying this I am aware of the truth taught by the Prophet Nephi, that it is by grace we are saved, after all that we can do. But grace having performed its work, and we having received the benefits of the atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we should endeavor to do our part by serving God with all the strength we have received from Him.”

Clean Cut said...

Marie! I could kiss you! :)

Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience/research! Perfect.

Tiani said...

Yeah, the reinterpretation of 2 Nephi is huge. I immediately wrote about it, too. I hope it sticks! (But if it does, we should be re-evaluating our approach on many things).

Clean Cut said...

I definitely agree we need to be re-evaluating our approach on many things--grace included. I attended a session on Grace and Works at Sunstone in Salt Lake City last summer. It was a really amazing panel. I was sitting next to Lavina Fielding Anderson (LOVE her) and I remember that she commented to me at the end that we had heard more gospel in the past hour than in the last 6 months at church.

So, yes, grace is still not being focused on like it needs to be within the LDS church. I hope that President Uchtdorf's sermon can help change this.

Clean Cut said...

I want to quote from one of the Sunstone panelists here--Katie L. I think her story and her experience can be very instructive, lest we forget that President Uchtdorf's sermon represents a significant improvement over what Modern Mormonism has typically provided:

"I grew up in a strict Mormon home, where keeping the commandments and following the rules was a very important part of being acceptable. In the process, I became something of a perfectionist. In fact, I developed scrupulosity, which is religious-themed obsessive compulsive disorder.

"I have yearned for God for as long as I can remember, and my upbringing taught me that the way to God’s heart was through obedience. And so I obeyed, oh how I obeyed.

"There reached a point, though, that the anxiety was unsustainable. Surprisingly, around that time, my husband who is not now super devout and had not ever been super devout, went through a short period of super devotion. He began dialoguing with evangelical Christians online. Well, I say dialoguing but I really mean arguing, because it was with some very conservative counter-cult types. And one thing they went the rounds on over and over again was grace and works. I watched these conversations from a distance.

"For my entire life, grace was something that those other churches did. It wasn’t something I could seriously consider. But I needed it so badly, my mind and heart opened up a little bit. I began searching for any Latter-day Saint justification I could find to believe in grace.

"I read Robert Millett and Stephen Robinson and they gave me juuuuust enough to think that I really could be a Mormon and believe in grace at the very same time. And at a certain moment, I can’t pinpoint it exactly, I decided I could embrace the reality of grace.

"At first, this is what grace meant to me: that I didn’t have to worry about hell. Since being rejected from the presence of God was what I feared most, really believing that I was okay, that I could be accepted, that I didn’t have to do anything more to be embraced by God, was transformative.

"Suddenly I had head space, life space, energy space that was no longer consumed by trying to make God love me: I realized God had always loved me, no work required. For about six months, I went around calling myself an “evangelical Mormon.” Then I realized I couldn’t do the whole “infallible/inerrant” scripture thing.

"But the point, that salvation was by grace, and grace was free, was a key point around which my faith oriented. Now, how Mormon is this idea? I don’t actually know. I think there is space in the theology for it, but I think the way the teachings and narratives are currently constructed, mine is definitely an outlying position.

"The Mormonism that I grew up with was a salvation-by-works system, and even though I fought hard to find a little space for grace, I don’t think there’s much of it right now in mainstream, contemporary Mormonism.

Clean Cut said...

She went on:

"From this place of security about my eternal fate, I was able to grow again in grace. I see my opening up to grace as a conversion experience to God as revealed through Christ, so I began to study and reflect on the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth. I began to see his message of the Kingdom of Heaven as central to the gospel.

"Of course, many people assume that the Kingdom of Heaven has to do with where we end up in the next life, but Jesus was clear: The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, He said; the Kingdom of Heaven is WITHIN YOU. So instead of being so next-life oriented, I found myself more and more being this-life focused: how can I expand the borders of the Kingdom of Heaven, right here, right now?

"Grace takes salvation from the realm of what’s to come and puts it squarely into the here and now—I am saved, redeemed, right now and thus I am free to live into heaven right now. This is where works come in. Grace reminds us that we’re okay, that we’re loved, that we’re accepted, that we’re whole. And from this place of wholeness, we can reach out and minister to those around us. We can listen to the promptings God gives us to serve and to bless others and we can put it in action. We are blessed to be a blessing.

"There are as many different ways to do good works as there are people, as many different callings and opportunities to live into grace as we can possibly imagine. Grace is what makes it possible in the first place, because it frees us from the pain of inadequacy and shame by telling us we are loved just as we are. Then grace enables to see pain around us, and grace gives us strength to tend to that pain.

"Grace is what fills our actions with meaning. If I could sum up my theology around this point in three simple words, it would be that grace fuels works."

Clean Cut said...

Katie ended her part of the panel talking about how grace and Mormonism interact, and she quoted an evangelical Christian who studied at BYU and therefore is VERY familiar with BOTH the LDS Church and traditional Christian teachings about grace. I personally think she was exactly right in her analysis:

"My good friend and evangelical Christian, Bridget Jack Jeffries, wrote a blog post a couple of years ago called “Can Grace Save Mormonism?”

"In it, she makes the observation that Mormonism has a problem right now—a problem of control of information and of history. The fact of the matter is that we have built up idols under ourselves of infallible leadership and obedience. And as all idols do, they crumble when confronted with truth. So now you have invested, believing Mormons encountering information online that proves that the story they’ve always been told isn’t actually true—that leadership haven’t always behaved as paragons of personal righteousness, that they haven’t always been right, that it’s possible for them to lead us astray. For many, this revelation brings the entire system crashing down, and we see mass exodus and deep, deep pain.
But Jack suggests that grace can save Mormonism—in her blog post, she writes:

'A grace-centric paradigm would hold that the LDS church is God’s church, not because the Mormon church is more righteous or more holy than other institutions, but because God has graciously chosen it to be his church in spite of its failings and flaws. A grace-centric paradigm would maintain that LDS prophets and apostles do speak with God. However, they are capable of letting their own sinfulness and hard-heartedness cloud his voice, even to the point of misleading people for a time on important points of salvation, and it is by God’s grace that they remain as his servants in spite of their hard-heartedness.

'The church’s current approach to the race issue is to insist that it was from God, that former leaders did not err in blocking people from a fulness of salvation based on the color of their skin. A grace-centric approach would allow the church to acknowledge the wrong-doing inherent in its former policies. This grace-centric approach could even give the church room to acknowledge that polygamy was wrong—whether in its very nature or merely in the way that so many Saints (Joseph Smith included) practiced it—yet through the grace of God, this “wrong” practice still became the vehicle for a kernel of truth: i. e. eternal families.'

https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/can-grace-save-mormonism/

"I confess, I don’t see any way forward for our people. We MUST embrace grace, as individuals and as a Body. And just as embracing grace enabled me to stop spending so much time, effort, and energy managing my ability to “make it” in the next life, at the expense of happiness and service in the here and now, so can grace enable our church to stop spending so much time, effort, and energy managing our image and the message, and instead exert that time and energy doing the good works required to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

"I pray for a revolution of grace among our people, and all people, for wholeness, health, and healing, and for the peaceable Kingdom to roll forth."

Richard Alger said...

I think faith and works is by design a paradox. I think the Lord wants us to learn that we have to put in our effort. The Lord cursed the world after Adam fell for our sakes. How could that be for our sakes? So we would recognize the consequences of the fall. So we would see how hard it is to scratch out a living.

Childbirth, natural disaster, disease etc. These are all the effects of the fall. Our own sin separates us too. I love the parable of the piano. It seems to balance grace and works.
http://richalger.blogspot.com/2012/08/his-grace-is-sufficient.html

From my own perspective and experience, I have seen the conflict in the messaging of faith and works. I was ambushed in high school by my christian friends and their pastor at a hamburger place. Aside from learning that arguing is not a good idea. I learned that they do believe in works but only as a natural expression of their gratitude.

"I like President Uchtdorf’s comments on grace in combination with Elder Wilford Anderson’s comments about hearing the music versus merely learning the dance steps. The two talks together nicely articulate why those of us who have felt the spirit (and continue to feel the spirit) do obey and rejoice in obeying. It is not because we feel we can purchase salvation by our works, but because the spirit moves us to obey because we trust God and love Him."
http://www.millennialstar.org/april-2015-conference-sunday-morning-session/comment-page-1/#comment-148966

This is essentially what Meg Stout said and what I agree with.

Brad Wilcox quoted Elder Oaks, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [1991], 223; emphasis in original)

So I agree with everyone in this thread. I agree that we should encourage more people to search the scriptures. In them is a correct understanding of grace and works. Especially as guided by the Holy Ghost.

I also agree that somehow in our teaching, those that do not search the scriptures have gotten the wrong idea, From 1992 Stephen E. Robinson wrote

' I once counseled a man who said, “Bishop, I’m just not celestial material.” Well, I’d heard those words once too often, so I said, “You’re not celestial material? Welcome to the club. Not one of us is! Not one of us qualifies on our own for the presence of God. So why don’t you admit your real problem? Why don’t you admit that you don’t believe Christ can do what he says he can do?”

He got angry. “I have a testimony of Jesus!”

I said, “Yes, you believe in Christ. You simply do not believe Christ. He says that even though you are not celestial, he can make you celestial—but you don’t believe it.” '
https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/04/believing-christ?lang=eng

President Uchtdorf more explicitly than any other apostle has definitively interpreted 2 Nephi 25:23. I noticed that right off the bat. I doubt that any other apostle will send a contridictory and similarly explicit message. So this is a red-letter day for balancing our understanding between grace and works.

http://richalger.blogspot.com/2009/04/believing-christ.html

Richard Alger said...

Sherry Work Using grace as a synonym for faith when discussing the balance between faith and works (the traditional source of contention) isn't quite accurate. Grace enables both our faith and our works.
1 hr · Like · 1

Richard Alger Yeah, I guess you are right. Somehow I saw grace as a better expression of faith. But I think you are correct.
1 hr · Like · 1

Richard Alger A grace of God is the creation. a grace of God is our creation as spirit children. a grace of God is granting us our daily breath.

Faith is our own willingness to trust in the grace of God to lift and empower us.

Clean Cut said...

Brad Wilcox's Piano Analogy is really solid. In fact, his whole book "The Continuous Atonement" is really solid: “Jesus doesn't make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”

"Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice...

"When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13)."

Clean Cut said...

At the same time, while the parable of the piano is good, I still think people can take from it an unhealthy emphasis on "perfection", which is exactly what Mormonism has gotten wrong in modern times. Even if done out of love, a focus on "perfection" can still be unhealthy in my view, especially those prone to anxiety or other mental illness.

God loves us NOW, in our imperfections. Sure, let's try our best to try to be like God, but I think that's more of an internal "condition of your heart" kind of thing rather than outward commandment keeping kind of perfection.

I absolutely LOVE how Chieko Okazki put it in her book "Lighten Up":

"He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief."

The commandment that matters the most is LOVE, all the other things Mormons obsess and judge each other's "worthiness" over have fallen off in their importance to me.

We are good enough. He loves us NOW. As far as I'm concerned, exaltation and perfection can wait, especially if their obsession robs us of happiness and well-being in the here and now.

Tiani said...

Yes, Clean Cut, thank you for further sharing. We've become very obedience oriented, and thus are behaving more like the people in Christ's day who rejected Him than like His people who embrace His message of love, peace, hope, and healing. We focus a lot on "qualifying for the Celestial Kingdom," which leads to constant comparisons, guilt, judgments, self-righteousness, etc. But grace is everywhere in the BOM. Unfortunately, we've done what we claim we've rejected: created a theology that says that scripture must ultimately be interpreted by those in authority in the institution, which removes the Spirit, the Life out of the scriptures, in essence not giving people permission to be taught directly by Him. And so, over time, grace has been "removed" from our scriptures. But when read with the Spirit of Christ, the very same words can have entirely different meanings. My theology seemed to be teaching me that I had to mold my children into something they weren't, and when they "rejected" the "perfect conformity," I judged them as not choosing God, and feared that they would not be with me, and hence without realizing it, I loved them less, which is not happiness. I had to learn that God loves everyone for who they are, and as they are . . . . For example, I came to the realization that we've been misunderstanding the "council in Heaven." We've always said that Christ wanted to give us our agency to choose, but Lucifer wanted to force salvation upon us. We've said that Christ valued our agency so much that it was worth it for him to let some of us choose evil and be forever lost. (And then we define agency mostly as being able to choose, with consequences for a set of prescribed WRONG choices). But agency is really about LOVE. Christ atoned for us because He Loves us and wants to be ONE with all of us. It's about allowing others to LIVE, not trying to control others, but trusting in the Atonement, that all may experience life's challenges and hardships with hope and not fear. --I've come to realize that Lucifer's plan was simply flawed . . . it is impossible to save people via obedience (force) because that is not love and only love can save, which makes Christ's plan the Great Plan of Happiness because it is the only way that all may be saved. We think we'll be condemned for making wrong choices, but that that's ok because we're here to be tested to see what we'll choose (again, will we be good enough?). But I think that it's only by having the agency to learn for ourselves, and the experience of choosing both good and evil that we can learn to recognize the True good and choose it. The Good is Christ and His Love. That's all we have to choose is Him and His Love. It's not about who's good enough; it's about gaining experience so that we can learn to LOVE as HE LOVES. So that we can learn to rejoice with both the early and late laborers, so we can waste away our days unsatisfied until everyone has the joy of partaking of the fruit of His love. So that we can be filled with virtue, and not hypocrisy or guile. Etc., etc., etc. Yes, Christ's gospel is a whole different gospel than what we've made it out to be. But it's all there in the BOM, PofGP, most of D&C, etc., if we look directly to the Source to understand, and don't rely solely on fallible mediators to tell us what it all means. When we understand God's grace, we don't need to hang on with fear to prove that we have truth in a box, or that we're the only ones with authority. We rejoice at the truth that's been restored with us, as well as anywhere else; we recognize that the restoration is ongoing, and we rejoice at all who have Come unto Christ.

Clean Cut said...

Beautifully said, Tiani. Thank you. Isn't it such a liberating way to live in the gospel? Love really is freeing and refreshing. It's not about control. D&C 121 really got it right--it's about persuasion, kindness, and love unfeigned.

Yet despite what is written, religious institutions are run by humans and all too often end up trying to control rather than support an individual's journey to seek the divine and love God and our neighbor.

THE greatest commandment is indeed to love God and love our neighbor. It really is that simple. Christ taught the parable of the good samaritan, but too often we insist on complicating His message by setting up all kinds of different "requirements" and obligations as though that is what God desires, and people give passive assent to a lot of crap simply because they equate a mortal trying to represent God as best they can FOR God. Idolatry. History repeats itself again and again.

I don't want to trespass on anyone who sincerely tries to do the seemingly endless things "authorities" say come from God, but unquestioningly delegating my own volition to religious authorities is certainly no way for me to live--I don't want to become a modern day Pharisee.

As far as I'm concerned, we ARE led astray if ever the institutional church turns toward legalism and away from Christian love.

Tiani said...

Amen.

Siyasanga Norm Matshayana said...

Thanks for your enlightening comments