Notes for my writing

This blog is made up of notes on the gospel as found in the only true and living church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes notes that are either excerpts from or ideas for books I either have in draft or may yet write.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

God is more merciful, and more terrible

Joseph Smith taught:

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 257)

Since Christ and his father are one, the statement could just as well be about Christ. Christ always did exactly his Father's will. If we had seen Christ, we would have seen the Father.

I think Joseph Smith hit the nail on the head in expressing what it is about Christ that is most completely missing from our mental picture of who Christ is. I have observed many times that it is bizarre how our notion of what is Christian behavior is so completely uncoupled from what Christ actually said and did. To demonstrate how far the two have diverged here are 12 unchristian things to say or do. In every case, of course, they are something that Christ has said or done.


Unchristian things to say or do
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1. It would be unchristian to refer to those weak in the faith, or those who don't believe in the true Christian faith, as dogs or pigs.

2. It would be unchristian to tell a man he is an offense to you because he values the things of men rather than the things of God.

3. It would be unchristian to make a whip and use it to forcibly drive people out of the temple.

4. It would be unchristian to call some of God's children vipers.

5. It would be unchristian to state that the people you are talking to are of the sort that are going to hell.

6. It would be unchristian to refuse to respond to a woman speaking to you asking for help  - particularly if after persistent entreaties you stated that you were doing so because of her ancestry (e.g. what we call ethnicity).

7. It would be unchristian to embarrass someone who is trying to embarrass you.

8. It would be unchristian to tell people if they don't repent they will be destroyed (3 Nephi 9-10).

9. It would be unchristian to rebuke someone who just did something miraculous for their lack of faith. (Peter walks on water, but is reproved for fearing and sinking)

10. It would be unchristian to foreordain some because of their exceeding faith and good works based on personal righteousness, as being christian means being inclusive. (Alma 13)

11. It would be unchristian to keep any one out of Christ's home on earth, because Christ loves everybody. It would certainly be unchristian to keep other christians out, or any members of Christ's own church.

12. It would be unchristian to offer people the reward of heaven for repentance and obedience, but the sufferings of a lake of fire and brimstone for rebellion and disobedience, even if one includes the offer of mercy on condition of repentance.

This last one is key I think - it expresses an important aspect of who Christ is. It reconciles the Christ of the old testament and of the new testament. He is the kind of being who offers a heaven beyond the imaginings of man's heart to those who will obey and follow him, and he offers a hell beyond the comprehension of man's mind to the wicked and rebellious. He is merciful and invites the wicked to repent and be healed, but if they will not repent during the day of probation he says that he will put them in hell until their repentance is complete and they have changed so that they will willingly bow the knee, and acknowledge and follow him as their Christ.

Which honestly isn't really that different than what he offers the living in 3 Nephi 9-10, or to the Book of Mormon people in general: if you keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land, but if not you will be cut off from my presence. It isn't different than what he offered the Israelites in mortality. In Leviticus chapter 26 Christ enumerated what would happen to the Israelites if they kept the commandments, and what would instead happen if they rebeled against him. One is better than they could have hoped for, the other is worse than they could have ever guessed.

Christ healed a man on the Sabbath, but he also commanded the Israelites to stone a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. We cannot reconcile the different actions of Christ if we don't realize what is expressed in Joseph Smith's statement that I opened with. There is a huge distinction in how Christ acts in the Old and New Testament and that distinction has to do with whom he is dealing with because he is more tender to the righteous than we suppose, and more terrible to the wicked than we suppose. A rebellious Israel in the Old Testament that was forever lukewarm instead of hot or cold was dealt with much more strictly than the honest seekers of truth and the truly penitent people that Christ's dealt with so personally and tenderly in the new testament. But it really is Christ both times. Christ spared the woman committing adultery in a day when no one could be killed without Rome's permission (and it should be added, in a day with lots of adultery that nobody else was being punished for). But what did he spare her from? He spared her from being executed by the law he personally had given in the Old Testament.

Our cultural picture of being Christlike doesn't fit particularly well with the sort of things Christ said and did. Yes he was merciful to the penitent and cared for the poor. No, he was not merciful to the wicked and rebellious except on condition of repentance and then he was very tender and merciful.

Yes he grants sunlight to the righteous and the wicked. No, he doesn't necessarily grant them both rain (see the JST to Matt 5, as well as any number of scriptural incidents when rain is withheld).

Yes he commands his followers to forgive all men. But he says that he, the Lord, will forgive whom he will forgive.

Some of the things that are missing from our picture of Christ are that (1) he chastens and reproves those he loves, (2) he really does require obedience, (3) he is genuinely angry with the wicked.

There is nothing fake about his anger with the wicked. Fortunately for mankind, he is very merciful to those who repent. Any who will repent, and come unto him, he will receive. He is merciful to the penitent. Again, recall Joseph Smith's statement which gives a much truer portrait of who Christ was and is than the modern phrase "christian behavior" even comes close to:

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 257)

Last of all, in modern days there is this idea that if one repented of one's sins there can be no penalty or punishment the Lord will inflict because that would contradict the idea of forgiveness. I don't think that is true at all. One can turn, for example, to President Kimball's teachings to see that this is a new idea, and not a fundamental truth of the gospel. He portrays moral transgression as having a hard and thorny road, that may well continue a great time past the point when one is allowed all the benefits of church membership again. This modern idea that forgiveness implies there is never an accompanying punishment certainly doesn't fit the scriptures. Limhi's people suffered terribly for their rebellion before being freed by the Lord's hand, and they knew it was the hand of the Lord that brought their suffering, and that it was the hand of the Lord that freed them. When the cup of suffering was full, the Lord miraculously delivered them. Adam's transgression was forgiven (Moses 6) but that didn't mean the Lord immediately freed Adam from the effects of the fall.

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