DOCTRINE: This life is about learning and obtaining godly attributes so that in God’s eternal plan (and process) we may become as He is—a god. Therefore, the purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ, which provides forgiveness for sin, the power to change desires and appetites, and a resurrected perfected body (we call it grace), is in place to perfect us (both body and spirit) since it is necessary to become imperfect and mortal in the godly-learning process.
The first topic I’m going to blog about is Grace. However, this topic is going to be broken into multiple parts because Grace is not something any one person can sum up in a few paragraphs.
Grace means many things to many people. From covering sins to helping us live a good life, grace is ultimately the power that most of us feel gets us back to God’s presence. But, I have to ask, why do we even need grace in the first place? Why did God place us here on earth in such a manner, or with a plan, that required grace at all? Isn’t that a bit unfair?
So, there has to be a purpose to grace. It can only be this generic, in-explainable, thing that we accept on blind faith for so long. At some point our faith has to be fed by understanding. By doctrine.
In Romans 8:15-17 we learn that God’s intention for us is to be led by His Holy Spirit to live in such a way that we can—through grace—become joint heirs with Christ and partake of the same glory IF we “suffer with Him”. It teaches us that we are the spirit-children of God. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe that as children of God each of us has the potential to become as God is, or indeed, joint-heirs, at some future point IF we learn to be like Christ.
However, this is often all people hear about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they write it off thinking we are nuts. I mean, after all, who can truly become a God? That’s for mythology and movies, right? Didn’t we see Bruce Almighty? Doesn’t absolute power corrupt absolutely? Has our religion paid attention to world history, even a current look at humanity? Sure, there are some good people. Sure, there have been some “saints.” But, are we really crazy enough to believe that all of us could really become a god?
Yet, I repeat, what’s the purpose of grace? Why put us here on a planet in the middle of an infinite universe, out of His presence, and then tell us to be good if being good has no purpose but to simply bring us back home again. I mean, what then was the purpose of leaving His presence to begin with? For example, this is what the current accepted purpose of grace is across the world and across many religions, “Hey kids, go outside and play in this big ol’ universe and if you are mean to each other I can’t let you come back inside the house. You’ll have to live forever in the basement. Oh, but if you are really sorry, then in order to get back in I’ll have to send my Only Begotten to suffer horrifically for your mistakes and then, if you believe in Him I’ll let you back in the house.”
Why not just keep us inside the house to begin with? Why would God send us outside at all if He knew one step onto the porch would make it so we couldn’t come back inside? Why purposefully create a need for something like the atonement, where His son would have to undergo some incomprehensible suffering to get us all fixed back up and back in the house?
This scenario only becomes more silly when we consider the vast, incalculable amount of human suffering that comes from being “set loose outside God’s house.” Injustice practically rules human life. And to what point? Depending on where you’re born and into what situation, you are either forever in bondage to poverty, starvation, political injustice, etc. or you are born into a situation where you can attain great wealth and power and use your free will to your own whim, damn the consequences to others. The rest fit somewhere in the middle of these two extremes enjoying some peace and happiness, but at best still spend most of their lives in difficult situations. Even the best people ever born on this earth made mistakes, offended others, and caused suffering in some shape or form.
Grace covers injustices, we may answer, but why should it have to? That’s the question.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 122 verse 7 we read:
“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
I didn’t include the list of things in the verses prior. But, how can so much pain and suffering be for “our good?” As well, any of us could plug any number of less poetic injustices and horrific circumstances into this verse and by doing so the statement “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” almost sounds ridiculous and totally unfeeling and un-godlike. Why would God say something like that?
So many times in our lives we ponder the question, “Why does God let happen?” In fact, it is often the reason people choose to no longer believe in God, or any kind of deity. They choose to abandon the idea of a higher being because this life and all its issues and problems seems to have little purpose especially when we get phrases from God like, “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
I have pondered this question for years based in part on the horrific scenes I have heard about in the news or witnessed and also in part from my own suffering. Why have the atonement of Christ at all? Why allow all this pain and suffering to happen? Why do we need grace?
But, when you place all this “experience” within the doctrine of Latter-day Saint belief, that we are in training to become like God, suddenly, there seems to be a bit of sense in all of this. For example, consider this thought. Who wants a God that doesn’t know what it’s like to have trials, pain, and suffering? To be all-knowing mustn’t one suffer—at least to a certain extent?
Now, I can say that I haven’t suffered all the things the people around me in life have suffered—yet—the things I have suffered have granted me insight into all kinds of terrible suffering: physical and emotional/psychological. I’m not saying I know it all, but I certainly know that having gone through some of the things I’ve gone through has taught me to have a lot more compassion on others who are going through similar, related, and sometimes unrelated issues. Because I know how hard it was to pass through my own trials, I can look at others and be impressed that they are getting out of bed when I believe they have every right to stay in bed and curse the world.
Who wants a God who hasn’t needed mercy and forgiveness and so consequently doesn’t understand the terrific need for mercy and forgiveness? Who wants a God who can’t control himself or herself physically or mentally? Who wants a God who can’t prioritize or who has an incorrect view of justice? Who wants a God who doesn’t have the wisdom to see beyond momentary pleasures into the life principles that bring consistent peace and happiness. I mean, I could make a list that could span thousands of pages. A whole lot of things, commandments especially, begin to make a lot more sense if we place them in the context of learning to become like God. Even LDS food storage is no longer about saving for a rainy day or some natural disaster that hasn’t happened yet. It becomes about learning to wisely manage earthly resources so that we have enough for ourselves, enough to share, enough to bless, and enough to fix problems–that’s what God does.
If the whole point of this life is to learn the traits and characteristics that will allow each of us the opportunity to—over a course of eons—become godly (if we choose to try), then suddenly, there seems to be a bit of sense to the statement, “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good [as you learn to become like Me].”
So, if God put us on this earth to suffer and make mistakes in a long, eternal process that helps us develop godly attributes; (a process which really sucks at times) then it makes sense, at least to me, that grace now has a purpose.
What is that purpose? Well, if we have to become imperfect to learn to be perfect and godly, like God, then we have to have a spiritual and physical restoration to perfection after we’ve gained the experience we need to be, and remain, perfect.
The purpose of grace is not as cursory as we might all have often believed. It’s not just so we can come back inside God’s house and strum harps and flap around with white, fluffy wings. Grace, bought by the blood, death, and resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son, was necessary and put in place so that we could learn to be like God (to eventually have our own eternal houses with spirit kids to raise and help become godly) without being condemned by the godly-learning process.
Grace = learn to become like God without being condemned by the godly learning process.
Christ’s atonement overcomes the weaknesses of those who bend their will to God’s will (Alma 5:21; Alma 11:37; 3 Nephi 27:19). It allows people to change, over time, a characteristic or personality trait that must be honed to a godly level (See quote by C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 4, paragraph 8). It allows people to learn about themselves and what they need to improve upon. It allows the wicked to improve, repent, and become holy; and it allows the righteous to become sanctified and godly. It provides a million+ do-overs as we wander around figuring out what this life is all about and if we want to use it to become like God—because it takes all of us differing amounts of time to encounter this decision and decide what we will do.
So, grace helps us become like God. It allows us to aspire to a level of power that can only be offered to those who have learned to become selfless enough to use it (and to be bound by the righteous laws of self-control and goodness that protect such power). I mean godhood, not everyone wants it. However, it is offered to all and everyone can choose it, if they want. Certainly, a heavenly father wants us to come back inside the house and grow up to become like Him. But, if we really don’t want to, we don’t have to. But, all His efforts are going to be to encourage us to try. And, why wouldn’t He?
This sort of makes me laugh because people think Mormonism is rigid and bigoted and behind the times. People think we lack mercy and grace. Yet, they want mercy and grace—indeed godly attributes—without law. To be a God, does there not have to be an ability developed, indeed a willingness, to follow law with perfection and to delight in that which perpetuates the proper use of godly power? Mercy and grace are nice, but what about other aspects of God’s power, like the ability to create worlds and manage universal forces? What about His justice, honor, and love?
It doesn’t so much matter what God commands but that we learn to do it with exactness and honor, partaking of grace when we need to improve, and granting grace to others without reserve as they also learn to be godly. But grace, as Christ showed in His mortal ministry, was never about condoning sin or tolerance, as we might label it today. Christ’s grace was about not condemning, or casting final judgment, on those who had sinned…until they had been given the opportunity to repent. He always recognized the sin but because of His love and mercy for the sinner He encouraged them to “go and sin no more.” He encouraged righteous, godly behavior with love and mercy and discouraged unrighteous behavior with strict teachings and promises of the consequences of sin.
I think I’ve made my point, but, if you’re still reading, then let me give an example of grace and how it applies to everyday LDS living. Or, how it should apply.
First, I’m convinced that whether or not I drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes matters little to God in the short-term. However, I believe that He commands such restrictions that I may learn to stand apart from “the norm”, that I learn to understand the importance of keeping my mind clear in the long-term. I mean, who wants a God ruling the universe while he’s drunk or hyped up on caffeine, nicotine, or any other drug? Or, even worse, who wants a God whose rule of the universe is put in jeopardy when he’s run out of his latest fix, or who places hot-fudge pudding cake or hard liquor over answering our prayers? Is it really that hard to understand why Latter-day Saints adhere to such restrictions? Health, yes, but far more important is the ability to control our physical appetites and keep our mind clear.
Yet, none of us is born with perfect control over our physical appetites. We need grace as we learn to control ourselves. Some of us Christians smoke, drink, take drugs, struggle with obesity, and all other issues. Yet, little-by-little, because we are commanded and we keep trying, we learn to gain control and understand the importance of the principles behind the commandments. Grace allows us to mess up and yet still change, or improve, and work toward godly attributes.
The purpose of grace isn’t just about being basically good. The purpose of grace is to help us become like God.