Avoiding spiritual gangrene

God refuses to give his children an aspirin for treating the consequences of sin when what we need is surgery. He will refuse to give us a rubdown when what we need are splints or a cast. He is not a silent, indifferent monarch in the sky, nor is he an indulgent grandfather figure who will give his children the irrelevant and incomplete therapy of partial truth. Only a portion of what he knows can we understand; and so much of what he would have us avoid, we must avoid by simple faith in what lies behind his “divine don’t.” This leaves us in a position like that of Adam, who acted in part on faith: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” (Moses 5:6.)

 Neal A. Maxwell, “Talk of the Month,” New Era(May 1971).

More and more I am seeing a strange idea. The idea is often present implicitly, but I’m starting to see it stated outright, as a sort of axiom or self-evident point.

That claims is that nothing God will ask of us would make us unhappy, or cause us discomfort, or make us suffer, or ask us to give up something good.

Certainly, nothing God asks will make us unhappy in the long view—but that long view extends beyond death and into the millennial years of the Lord.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” however.

For those who push it, the utility of this point of view is clear, though—one can simply use one’s reaction against a commandment or demand as evidence for whether it comes from God.

With such reasoning, Lehi’s journey in the desert could have been safely discarded. Indeed, Laman and Lemuel did so, complaining years later that but for Lehi’s visionary nature,

it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions. Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy” (1 Nephi 17:20-21, italics added).

Those who so argue will find many with welcoming, itching ears. But, those are not ears that have listened very closely to Jesus’ warnings. Eyes and hands are unarguably good things. Yet, Jesus tells us that even they must be severed and cast from us, on occasion. And, not insignificantly, such warnings come in the context of sexual morality:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matthew 5:28–30).

One of the cruelest things people do is assure others that their sins aren’t sins, or that they won’t be regarded as sins for long. This distracts from the steeling of self to do the plucking out, cutting off, and casting away.

Such things will undoubtedly hurt. But, it is a poor physician who assures you that a soothing poultice will do when amputation is the only answer. Gangrene does, eventually, set in.

And when it does, the quack is nowhere to be found.

The ninth commandment is neglected, being seldom discussed at any length. There are so many different ways to breach “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). We can spread falsehood knowingly and maliciously rather than inadvertently. Perhaps that is the worst form of breaking this commandment. We can also spread falsehood by simply passing it along in the form of idle gossip without malicious intent, which is somewhat mitigating. Either way, the innocent victim usually experiences a double blow: first, damage to his self-image/self-confidence; second, the diminished regard of others. Additionally, the victim probably comes to have diminished regard, even anger, toward those who so traffic in untruth.

– Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe (Bookcraft, 1992).

It is interesting, and telling, that the victim in this case also has the added burden of struggling against a sin that he or she would not have been liable to: harsh feelings toward the gossip. The victim of gossip must overcome these feelings, but that doesn’t mean the gossip is guiltless of inducing the sin either.

I always sobered by how evil–or even careless–acts tend to ramify and spread. One hopes good acts are as hardy.

Neal A. Maxwell on bearing false witness

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 7: Other scriptures

Book of Mormon:

Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day. Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. 30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me….Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward….

And it came to pass that Alma went and judged those that had been taken in iniquity, according to the word of the Lord. And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out. (Mosiah 26:28-36)

 

Bible:

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.  For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without?  do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth.  Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:6-13)

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 6: Doctrine and Covenants

D&C 134:10

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them.  They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

D&C 42:90-93: Why are some discipline matters announced publicly?

And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many. And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed.  And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God. If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. And thus shall ye conduct in all things.

D&C 41:5

He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you;

D&C 50:6-9

But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such [those deceived by hypocrites] shall be reclaimed; But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world. Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.

D&C 64:34-35

Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land.

D&C 85:11

And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High;

 

Self-justification and sin

John Gee quotes an author who describes ideologies as necessary for empires to justify their hegemony to themselves.

This isn’t limited to conquerors or dictators.

We all spend an enormous amount of emotional and cognitive energy constructing such rationalizations and justifications to ourselves.

This is why repentance is so liberating when it is done–we can discard the burden of so much work. There’s a folk etymology (that’s a nice way of saying “false claim that lots of people believe that doesn’t stand up to scholarly scrutiny”) for repent coming from the French repentir (which is true) linked to re-penser (to “think again”) which is false. (It’s actually from the Latin, an intensive prefix on the verb penitire, to regret).

But, there’s wisdom in the folkways, sometimes. To repent is to rethink things–or, to be able to stop thinking or insisting upon all our intellectual justifications for ourselves and our shoddy behavior. The truth makes us free (even the truth of our own sin) precisely because it is far easier to live with truth than to prop up the lies and comforting fictions that threaten to tumble down around our ears.

This is why suggesting someone should repent is generally greeted with anger–you’re threatening a lot of work. And an ideology.

And, it’s also why the same type of irrational anger is directed at those that might even tangentially threaten an ideology, even if it doesn’t seem to impact the individual at all–for, that ideology is a protection, shielding us from confronting our sin and inadequacy. And, when one really comes face to face with that and ceases to make excuses, behavior must change, or we must (in a sense) go mad.

CS Lewis has a character who illustrates the dilemma:

He wanted to be perfectly safe and yet also very nonchalant and daring –to be admired for manly honesty among the Dimbles and yet also for realism and knowingness at Belbury–to have two more large whiskies and also to think everything out very clearly and collectedly. And it was beginning to rain and his head had begun to ache again. Damn the whole thing. Damn, damn! Why had he such a rotten heredity? Why had his education been so ineffective? Why was the system of society so irrational? Why was his luck so bad?

That Hideous Strength, 221

Note that the speaker wants to be accepted in two worlds–the (“good guys”) Dimbles, and Lewis’ academic stand-in for cynicism, relativism, and worldliness, Belbury. He wants to have his cake and eat it too, to serve God without offending the Devil.

And, because he can’t (no one can), he blames everything or anything–heredity, society, his education, even luck or the Fates.

The one person he cannot bring himself to blame is himself–because then, the only option would be repentance, regardless of what role the other factors played.