Doctrine(s): #3) No matter how good we are, good choices don’t erase sin. Only true repentance does. #4) God’s plan for us is not about sailing through or avoiding consequences, it’s about using consequences to learn, repent, and become like Him.
Many people leave the church over political or media issues and concerns. They perceive an injustice by a person in the church or a church funded/sponsored organization and become afraid that the perceived injustice is contrary to how God would act in such a situation and therefore contrary to how the church funded/sponsored organization should act. They take offense at the person or organization and by consequence the church. They begin to fear that somehow they’ve been hoodwinked and that this issue is showing a side of the church they never imagined existed.
When this happens I am always surprised. But, I don’t leave the church over media issues because my first instinct is to ponder an issue and determine the purpose of God behind it. Instead of taking offense I seek to understand why the person or organization would take such an action. I ask, “What would Christ do or say in this modern instance? Or, how is this a part of God’s plan for us, these people, or this person?”
I asked myself two questions in the aftermath of a recent controversial event. First was, what would Christ have done? However, in all situations in the scriptures, Christ dealt with sinners differently—personally. So, I could quote an isolated example to make a point for either side of this recent controversy. One example would prove one side’s feelings and another example the other side. We can always find isolated evidence to support our views if we are determined to prove them. I didn’t want isolated evidence, I wanted an over-arching truth.
So, stepped back even further and looked for the over-arching principles that Christ used to judge. What did I find? I found a principle that is fundamental to the doctrine of grace. That principle is that no matter how many commandments we keep, our good choices don’t erase our bad ones. No matter the sin or the righteousness, Christ always invited people to progress, to go and sin no more if they were sinners, or He invited the righteous to sacrifice what they loved or wanted in order to become even more Christlike—more like Him. There was never a time where being good in one category erased the other categories where people needed to improve.
In Christ’s dealings with humankind there was never a right side or a wrong side, there was only God’s plan for them/us. Indeed, we keep commandments, or rules, or standards, to “become godly” not to balance the scales of justice or to right a previous wrong. Indeed, the atonement is what removes our spiritual debt for bad choices IF we repent (see previous blog on The Purpose of Grace). God doesn’t say, well, if you are nice to your Mom and help her around the house because she’s handicapped, or if you report the robbery that took place next door by a guy you sort of know, then I’ll forgive the fact that you are committing fornication twice a week with your boyfriend/girlfriend. God doesn’t say, well, if you give money to charity I’ll forgive the fact that you embezzled the money from your company.
We don’t have commandments that we keep in order to subtract sins from a spiritual account. The only thing that forgives sins is repentance: confessing and forsaking (i.e. changing). While God is bound to bless us for righteous acts (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10) He is not bound to forgive sins or waive the consequences of sins NOT repented of in light of other, unrelated righteous acts. As well, even repentance can’t remove (in this life) some of the consequences of sin. If we repent of substance abuse the addiction isn’t usually physically removed. If we repent of a prolonged anger habit we still have to work to create habits that help us avoid our anger moving forward. The consequences of the habit we formed don’t automatically disappear. Repentance is not about avoiding being caught, or avoiding consequences (worldly sorrow); it’s about being sorry about our offenses to God and following the path He sets for us to change and become more like Him (Godly sorrow). (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
So, the second question I asked regarding this recent controversy with the viewpoint of God’s plan being paramount was, “Is this seemingly harsh consequence going to help this girl receive grace and help her move forward in God’s plan, to become more Christlike, even if it slows her down in her temporal goals?” The answer was resoundingly yes. People often think that this life is about doing all that we want to do and trying to become godly on the side, when we have time, or if it fits in with our “expectations” for our life. If there’s a hiccup to their desired path, they freak out and start thinking that everything is against them, and they claim they just don’t understand why this had to happen or why they have to go through something or suffer consequences for this or that.
Consequences and suffering (from unwise or sinful actions) lead us to evaluate our lives and our actions and to repent and change and to become more godly. The purpose of this life isn’t for everything to be easy, to sail through mistakes and sins with little repercussion and consequences—to get mercy without meeting the conditions for it. The purpose of this life is to learn from mistakes and sins so that we can repent and understand how to become more like Christ. We’re here to do God’s will, not our own. It’s as simple as that.
To some people that seems unmerciful. But, it’s incredibly merciful. Tough love—true love—is what God has for us. Helping us face truth and have the opportunity to change is far more merciful than letting us run around deceived and deluded about where we are in the path back to God until some unknown point when He is finally willing to let us suffer the consequences for our actions, seek repentance, and finally find peace. By denying consequences He would effectively deny us the opportunity to learn and grow and find true joy. What God allows to happen, what He allows us to suffer, is always about us learning about Him, ourselves, and receiving all that He has for us. It’s about the road to true happiness and joy, not the road to temporary happiness.
C.S. Lewis said (Mere Christianity, Book1, Chapter 5, last paragraph), “I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true. Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use trying to go on to that comfort without first going through dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. Most of us have got over the previous wishful thinking about international politics. It is time we did the same about religion.”
Continue to PART FOUR