19 March 2012

Obedience as the first law of heaven

Ha, cleaning up files today, I found a letter I wrote to a friend who was serving a mission in 2003.  I don't remember all of the context, but apparently I was responding to something he'd written to me.  If I remember right, he sent me e-mails because it was easier than writing hand-written mail, and this was back in the day when missionaries were newly allowed to use e-mail, but only for writing immediate family.  I remember shaking my head and thinking he should be more obedient, but I also smirked and shrugged it off because I figured we were good enough friends that I could let it slide.  It's interesting to read this now, with different perspective, but being able to remember and sympathize with the thoughts of 9-years-ago me.  Without further ado, please enjoy this sermon on obedience from the pre-heathen O-Mo.

I do not say there are no exceptions.  Just look at the examples of the shewbread and the apparent exceptions Christ made.  The Mosaic Law had been added to by mounds of man-made rules and regulations, void of the inspiration of God.  And even the Mosaic law was fulfilled in Christ.  There was a reason for change.  Jehovah, himself, was here to command men and guide them.  He can change things up whenever he wants to.  We can't.  Look where that got the Pharisees.  So I guess the question is where your mission rules come from.  Did they come from God, or were they the uninspired creations of a frustrated mission president?  I guess they could be either.  But I do know one thing: if you obey, you will be blessed, and so will the people you teach, EVEN IF IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE, OR YOU CAN'T SEE HOW IT WORKS, simply because of your attitude of humility towards the Lord and desire to serve His people His way.  That's something way too many missionaries never get through their thick skulls.  They think the way that makes most sense to them must be the right way. 

If you obey, with the right reasons (submission to God and his inspired leaders, desire to provide an example for those you teach), your obedience will not be destructive.  There may be times when other missionaries trying to villainize you for being strict WILL be destructive, but that's not your fault.  Exceptions will come.  You will know them.  They will be obvious.  The Spirit will guide you if you go into those situations with an attitude of obedience and love for the Savior and the people you teach.  Nephi didn't decide, on his own, that if it were someday necessary, he would kill a man.  He was committed not to.  But in an hour of need, the Spirit prompted him, SEVERAL TIMES, that an exception must be made.

Christ was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father.  He had _fulfilled_ (was not 'disobedient to') the Mosaic Law—and I would recommend your ZL not use the word ‘disobedient’ in conjunction with Christ again; it sounds like subtle craftiness J.  With his arrival and atonement, the Spirit played a larger role—it gave life to the commandments.  Most of Christianity would have us believe we have no more commandments.  They see the 'law' as merely a way of showing us how imperfect we are and how incapable of meeting its demands.  There is truth in that, but we are still expected to strive, and sometimes the only way of knowing whether we are willing to submit in all things is to obey a seemingly stupid rule.  If you have a concern regarding a rule, talk to your mission president.  I got so sick of hearing elders say they 'didn't want to bother the president with stupid questions.'  For most missionaries, that was a copout, in my opinion.  It takes less than a minute to ask him about a rule and get a quick reply.  If he tells you certain rules are flexible and that he trusts you more than other missionaries to make the right choices, so be it!  If he tells you the rules are inflexible, then so be it.

Human love is flawed.  Human love is jealous.  Human love is clouded by limited vision.  Human love wants everything rosy, even at the expense of learning and building of character.  Human love is frequently motivated by guilt or selfishness (looking good to others or needing affection).  The love of Christ is, to me, very different from human love.  It is perfect, unconditional, serving, and wants the best for its recipient, even at the expense of their affection or praise.  Charity, the pure love of Christ, comes from a testimony of Christ and familiarity with the way God deals with His children.  That’s what I meant when I said charity fosters obedience: we love our Heavenly Father and our Savior and want to do things his way because his love is perfect, and we care enough about those around us to do what he asks. 

OK, I'm REALLY long-winded.  I'll try to wrap up.  There are rules, yes, that can make some things less convenient.  I say get over it and adjust the work to fit the guidelines you've been given rather than trying to adjust the guidelines to how you think the work should be done.  If you honestly feel the Spirit--that is, the Lord himself--is telling you to do it a certain way, and the rules conflict with it, then what more can I say?  But unless you receive revelation or spiritual confirmation regarding your own situation, then a disregard for any rule is an UNINSPIRED disobedience, no matter how logical it may seem. 

There is danger in trying to be 100% obedient so you can be ZL, or so you can prove something to yourself, or so you can be praised of men.  There is also danger in disregarding 100% obedience because some people do it for the wrong reasons.  For me, I believe in obeying a rule, and showing the Lord my willingness to do it, and following the guidance of the Spirit should an exception arrive(though not determining beforehand what constitutes an exception).  I loved the people.  I tried for 100% obedience (in fact, I was famous for it...or infamous).  My love didn't always show the way people expected.  I do wish I had made my love for the people more obvious.  I could have softened up on my strictness some.  But I know I loved the people, and I know I did my best to be obedient, to serve them the Lord's way and as well as I knew how.  I don't know where missionaries get the idea that loving the people and obeying the rules are contradictory.  We're commanded to do both, and the Lord provides a way for all his commandments.

Is there Celestial glory in store for all who love?  Is there Celestial glory in store for all who are obedient?  I would submit the answer to both questions is 'no.'  Does that mean I should love halfway or obey halfway as a compromise?  Not at all.  We can and need to strive for both.  It's a package deal that can really only come with the Atonement of Christ.  When he says, 'Be ye therefore perfect,' I think that means to strive for perfection in every way, and allow him to make up the huge gap that will still be left.  He was the only perfect man to walk this earth.  He said to follow him and do the will of his father.  Paul tells us that without charity, the PURE love of Christ, simply going through the motions is useless.

My advice: strive.  Prove to your Heavenly Father that you're willing to do even that which doesn't completely make sense to you and which is hard.  Love the people with the pure love of Christ.  Let it show.  I think if you honestly strive, you’ll find an acceptable balance.


El Genio said...

Mission rules... uhg. I still have nightmares about them every once in awhile. Thankfully, I am no longer at a point in my life where waking up 30 minutes late is a sin.

JonJon said...

That was like a trip to bizarro world.

Adam said...

This is kind of fascinating. Did I ever meet pre-heathen O-Mo? Are you able to recognize any of yourself in the person who wrote this? There are times when I look back at things I've written in the not so distant past. Sometimes I am surprised that I was once so convinced of something that I now question or about which I have reached an entirely different conclusion. Sometimes I am embarrassed. That I ever thought a particular way about a particular thing. Sometimes part of me feels sad. Like I've lost something. Sometimes I want to mourn that loss. Sometimes I don't know how to reconcile the past me with the current me. Like they are two different people. Sometimes I want to ignore the past me. Or disown him completely. Pretend that he never existed so I can create someone new. Someone who never thought those things that the previous me thought. But then, sometimes I tell myself I shouldn't be so hard on the past me. And that I should at least acknowledge his existence, however deluded or inexperienced. And not be so quick to apologize for his naivety.

Sometimes I try to convince myself that the past me never _really_ believed those things that he thought. He was only convinced of them because he didn't know better. Or because he was surrounded by people who believed those things. But I have a hard time convincing myself of that. Whether they are right or not, I think he did really believe them. They were more than just transient visitors. He owned them. How can I possibly disown something like that now? How can I possibly trust myself to exercise sufficient objectivity in this matter? Does the question of whether my original thoughts are right or wrong even matter anymore if I can't trust myself to do that? What will version 3.0 think of all this?

If you had a chance to talk to your past self, what would you say? Would you try to convince him of things you've learned? Would he listen?

I think I need a drink... :)

jimf said...

That was a high cognitive load you were bearing
in those days. ;->

> I do know one thing: if you obey, you will be blessed,. . .

Had you heard of Stanley Milgram at that point in your life?

Speaking of psychology, here's a book I've been reading
that you might also find interesting:

_The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics
and Religion_
by Jonathan Haidt

Haidt claims, in his "moral foundations theory" to have identified
five (or six, more recently) innate dimensions of human moral intuition:
Harm/Care; Fairness/Justice; Loyalty/Ingroup; Respect/Authority; Purity/Sanctity.
He says a significant difference between liberals and conservatives
in this country is that the former base their moral judgments primarily
on the first two dimensions (and largely ignore the other three),
whereas conservatives judge on the basis of all five.
Haidt also points out that what he calls WEIRD ("Western, Educated,
Industrial, Rich, Democratic") culture -- e.g., the culture
of political liberals in the US -- is indeed weird (an outlier)
among human cultures in general.

Your concern with obedience, of course, corresponds to
dimension #4 (Respect/Authority) of Haidt's moral space.

It might be amusing for you to try to guess how your own location
in that space has shifted since you moved away from the church.

Bravone said...

Interesting. I can see myself in your post.

Adam, very touching and relatable. Sometimes I mourn the more confident, all knowing me from years past. Things seemed simpler then.

Original Mohomie said...

Adam, I can relate to your questions, though I don't doubt I believed it. I mean, according to what I thought was belief. But yeah, when I testified, I believed I was sharing truth, not a mere opinion or nice notion. But I don't have a problem with the idea that I was just plain wrong about certain things, even though I still believe in more universal principles behind most or all of it. I've also been in love and thought things about relationships that did not prove themselves, but I know we can convince ourselves of a lot. Not a complete comparison, but the experiences feel similar in many ways.

I could also be wrong now as I believe I was then. I've always said that. I do the best I know how, and I no longer need to believe I can't be wrong. I'm not afraid of "not knowing" anymore.

What would I say? I don't know. Then-Me wasn't about to be swayed by anyone's rhetoric, nor did he trust anyone else's experience. He had to experience some things for himself and lose some fears and pride.

I don't value simplicity as much as I value truth, so while it's been uncomfortable accepting certain kinds of complexity, I wouldn't go back, and the complexity is not daunting as it used to be but is awe-inspiring and motivational.

I used to believe in Santa. Christmas seemed a little less magical without him at first. But there was so much more richness to Christmas that I might have missed if it had only ever been about Santa. I'm not comparing Santa to God (not that I never would in certain ways): I'm saying sometimes looking back on simpler, more magical times carries a totally understandable nostalgia, but I believe I cannot and should not "go back" by ignoring experiences or realizations in order to retreat from the challenges and unknowns of admitting I'd been wrong about something. I value truth-seeking over comfort, partially because truth-seeking has brought me something I believe is more lasting, secure, and meaningful than the kind of comfort I used to feel. It's not easy to convey. :-)

Jimf, I hadn't heard of Milgram that I know of. I still am unfamiliar, to be honest. I am familiar with some of Haidt's work, which I find fascinating and engaging. To be honest, the Respect/Authority thing always felt a bit forced for me, which may be why I was so overboard with some of it: make it work! And Loyalty/Ingroup almost didn't matter at all. Honestly, I don't think my moral reasoning shifted after leaving the church. It shifted way before. I held on for years. :-)