Friday, November 30, 2007

Lacunae, Part 2b - The Spirit, Charity and the Law

Okay, I know it's been a long time coming, but here it is. For this second part, I'd like to preface it with an admonition. When examining the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law in others (the most readily available research source) do not judge their hearts, always look at them in the most charitable light. By this I mean that in seeking to become like God, never forget that you cannot be like Him without love for His children. That is His single, greatest attribute. All else radiates from this quality. This is not the Relief Society "I love you sisters" sort of love. This is a bittersweet, lay-down-your-life but be-willing-to-live-your-life-for-them sort of love. Christ didn't just die for us, He lived for us. That is what the Gospel holds at its core. When you feel His love, even in the smallest part, the tenets of the Gospel suddenly fall into place. It is important to understand that in a discussion like this, because it is far too easy to begin examining others and categorizing them. (Often people do this by labeling the "Liahonas" and the "Iron Rodders".) This only serves to divide, when I hope to bring points of doctrine together.

When trying to discover how to more fully follow the will of the Lord, it quickly becomes obvious that the law leads to the spirit which leads to the law. There is no one place to start. When you read scriptures such as Galatians 3, it begins to seem that there is no need for law if one is faithful enough. According to Paul, the law is a temporary measure when one is in a state of sin, a taskmaster to teach those who do not have the Spirit how to behave. When reading this, however, it is important to remember that Paul is talking to a group of people affected by the Pharisaical Mosaic Law. The Pharisees took the laws of God and turned them into a god of their own merits - a god that could be interpreted and manipulated at their pleasure. They did not understand that when Christ came, He fulfilled the law and gave the law of the Spirit. He did not change the law, he fulfilled it. There was nothing in the law of the Spirit that contradicted God's principles behind the law of Moses. The spirit of the law does not supersede the letter. You cannot live the spirit of the law while breaking the letter of it. Even Nephi killing Laban was within the bounds of the law under which he lived.

Although one cannot live the Spirit without living the letter, it is obvious how easily one can begin redefining the letter of the law to suit one's own purposes. Simply watch any time a conference speaker says something controversial. In the world of LDS blogs, for example, the pattern of outrage, reasoning and rejection will quickly emerge. It is so easy to define the words of the prophets by one's own understanding, yet we have been taught not to lean unto our own understanding. Yet, learning is not evil. As we discussed before, it is necessary to know the Gospel in order to live it. So, how do we live the Spirit of the law AND the letter without falling into our own trap? How do we approach from the side of law without losing grasp of the spiritual goal? The answer is "easy": we become learned, but listen to the councils of God. To do that, we must be humble. To be humble, we must not only know the gospel, we must understand it. To understand it, we must reach a deeper rapport with the Spirit than simple yes-no answers. We must realize that we have the same access to complete Spiritual revelation as the prophets. We must come to the place between humility and the vision of glory. We must fill the gap between the Law and the Spirit with patience and humility. We must remember that our lack of understanding pales in the light of the love of Christ - an attribute that can only be felt through the Spirit.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for this! I have had some experiences lately which helped me see some ways that we can "fill the gap between the Law and the Spirit with patience and humility."

    Perhaps some of the perceived conflicts between the letter and spirit of the law come when we confuse what is merely a rule or practice (which may change with circumstances) with an actual law of God.

    I'm still striving to achieve the degree of humility King Benjamin spoke of in Mosiah 4, but occasionally I have glimpses of the glory and joy he describes. Those are enough to keep me going through the rough times, and persuade me that every so slowly I am growing in the knowledge of God; and as I feel His love, I am allowing Him to help me change my nature.

    Learning to see how the letter and spirit of the law are related, and avoiding the traps of self-justification and self-righteousness are, for me at least, difficult, but very important parts of that desired change!


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