My Sacrament meeting ponderings today were all about the inextricable ties between obedience, struggle/sacrifice/suffering, and becoming.
One thing I have seen my entire life is that most people tend to fall rather firmly on one end or the other of a spectrum between Perfect Obedience and Perfect Acceptance, without a lot of people in the middle. On one end, theoretically, you follow the rules, which results in better consequences and more positive feelings from society at large towards you, and everything is lovely. On the other end, also theoretically, you love everyone no matter what, and accept with love everything they do or say or claim, and everything is lovely.
But both extremes are lies.
With the first, there are three falsehoods: 1) that all negative events or feelings in our lives are the result of some sort of sin, mistake, or transgression, and are therefore avoidable, 2) that every person is fully capable of taking care of themselves and all their societally-assigned responsibilities, and 3) that it is good teaching and following the natural order to withhold love, praise, or other good from someone until they have ‘earned’ it.
With the second, there are also many falsehoods. 1) That suffering or struggling are bad and must be avoided at any cost, 2) that each and every person must have exactly the same good consequences in equal measure, regardless of what they put into it, or else life isn’t ‘fair,’ 2) that everything a person believes is true about themselves must be true, and 3) that any negative experiences are a result of evil, or hate, or otherwise mean people.
But the reality is, the truth is in the middle. That’s why we require and received a Christ: to satisfy both Justice AND Mercy.
Because the bottom line is this: Entropy, the physical law that means everything is moving towards chaos and the great equalizer is eventual annihilation, is a powerful force that must always be fought. Unless some serious force is put against it, entropy will always make things fall apart and go wrong and age and die. That’s why God has laws the way that He does, to minimize entropy without requiring as much from us. Though we often like to think that somehow, in our tiny little lifetimes, and our finite minds, we have figured it out better.
The order of things, the way I see it, is this:
- God is perfect and is able to perfectly control entropy, but he also needed a purpose and family and love, so he had a ton of spirit children.
- Our mere existence wasn’t enough. He wanted us to be as fulfilled and happy as he is, but that required being a lot more than what we were, and since we could not be created into a perfect state (see next point), this requires a lot of learning and growth.
- Some of the things God loves about each of us are our individuality and autonomy. That meant he couldn’t just create or ‘zap’ us to a perfect state. We have to go through a process to BECOME that, which also requires it being our CHOICE.
- So he created the earth, put us on it, and gave us commandments. The commandments aren’t there as mere restrictions or because He’s a jerk. The commandments are there for at least three reasons:
- to help us to be happier, even though we generally don’t usually have the perspective to see how some of them will make us happier. For instance, He told us not to covet stuff and not to steal or sleep around. It becomes fairly obvious fairly quickly why stealing stuff is bad (though some people may argue), but sleeping around tends to be more enticing and has less immediate or consistently negative consequences, so many argue that the consequences should be changed, rather than the behavior. Barring coveting seems just plain silly to many: but if we manage to not covet, it is much easier not to steal or sleep around, AND we are just plain happier.
- To help us to understand that God really DOES know what he’s doing. If you keep the commandments with faith, you will find that, hey, your life is better (even if imperfect, because the causation is not 100%, and it’s more about changing our mind to see and feel and understand the good, than it is about eliminating the negative physical consequences). Just like the data from a well-conducted science experience supporting a hypothesis, this produces evidence that supports the idea that God is real, He really does understand everything, and that He loves you.
- To teach us, line upon line, about how the universe works, including the absolute necessity of loving each other, so that we understand the underlying principles (the WHY) behind the commandments.
If you want a real-world example of this principle, here’s this: as a kid, you are taught, clean your room. No, not shove everything under the bed, really clean it. It was a commandment. And many of us went to great lengths to cheat or avoid any amount of the work that we could. We also whined and complained that we wanted to do something more fun or that we were tired or that it was too hard or just plain that we didn’t want to. And some claimed that our Mom only told us to do it because she was mean, or she was too lazy to do the work herself (which, when we become parents, becomes the most ridiculous argument in the world), or she was being overly demanding. But in reality, she was doing it in part because the room needs to be clean, because there are natural unpleasant consequences if it isn’t (like bugs and smell and no clean clothes and I could go on and on), but MOSTLY she knows that if she doesn’t teach you to do chores (which is less ‘this is HOW you pickup/vacuum/make your bed/wash’ and far more ‘this is how you discipline yourself to do hard things that need doing even when you don’t want to’ and the vital understanding of the internal as well as the external good that comes when we work), then you will grow up lazy and entitled and in a very unhygienic mess and you will be very, very, VERY unhappy.
- God also knew that we were going to mess up. Sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose, sometimes because our abilities just aren’t equal to the task. The mistakes, too, are an absolute necessity. We have to know that failure is possible. We have to know the power of entropy. We have to learn why good feels good and bad feels bad (if that’s a hard concept, imagine this: hot and cold seem like very basic concepts, right? But if you had never experienced any temperature but 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or if your nervous system didn’t react to temperature changes, you would have zero understanding of hot or cold.) If it’s necessary, we have to experience it. But perfection is also required to have the power to defeat the entropy that would otherwise end in the destruction of all things. This is why we HAVE to have a Christ. We need the freedom to make mistakes and experience misery, but we need to have a way to recover from that. A safety line. The learning we need is not possible without the mistakes, but we must eventually become perfect. So the Justice that requires perfection must be tempered with Mercy. Neither is complete alone.
- The process of becoming that strong, wonderful, independent being we have the potential to become starts, therefore, with obedience. The obedience is like the early exercises at the gym. We can gain skills and see causal factors and truth through obedience. BUT! The obedience is a first step! Not to be abandoned later, but to be tempered as needed with the wisdom we gained from doing it to truly BECOME the loving, powerful, wonderful person you have the potential to be. That requires thoughtfulness and wisdom and love.
So this comes down to this: if you are too uptight and demanding, you are denying Mercy and throwing the plan off balance. If you are too lax and demand that consequences be taken away or nullified under the false belief that ‘love’ means ‘zero suffering,’ then you are hurting those you are trying to help by not letting them learn skills and grow and, most importantly, how to find the happiness that comes through autonomy and realizing the power they have–for good AND for ill–in the world.
Love people. Show that love. This means being kind and affectionate towards them, but it also means helping them be strong and happy with healthy boundaries, reasonable expectations, and appropriate consequences.