Monday, June 13, 2011

"I Have to Disagree . . . Just a Little"

I was sitting in Relief Society listening to a lesson about obedience and experiencing one of my days where I raise my hand more than I should. Most of the lesson was focused on how we can receive blessings for being obedient. But the more I thought about that, the more I realized that we keep trying to fit obedience into an equation. Obedience + Sacrifice = Blessings.

And there is some doctrinal basis for that line of thought. In fact, one might argue that the entirety of scripture demonstrates that when we obey, we are blessed.

But I think there is another level to that, beyond being blessed for obedience, that comes as we truly learn to love the Lord. We obey not because we are blessed, but because we love Him and trust Him. The blessings that we get are not part of an equation, but are much more complicated and less guaranteed. There is some evidence of this in scripture, Nephi slaying Laban, Paul preaching the gospel, even Mormon and Moroni guarding the plates. Sure, we can point to how the Lord blessed them, but the bulk of their personal blessings came as a result of being obedient, not as a result of the actions they took by being obedient. There was no expected personal blessing that one could point to and say "because you did this, you got this." In fact, most of the blessings in such cases weren't for them, but for others. They, themselves, had sorrow, death, and loneliness as their reward for obedience.

I think that this is eventually an important concept to understand, and felt moved to share my perspective with the class by referring obliquely to a personal commandment I received which, like Nephi's, went against the general commandments of God, and which had little to no personal benefit. (I had to hasten to add that I hadn't killed anyone!)

I think that suggesting that not all obedience results in a causation blessing made several people uncomfortable, because we would all like to believe that we can somehow control what blessings we receive. One woman raised her hand and said that she disagreed with me "a little," that ALL obedience comes with attached blessings.

She disagreed with me more than a little, but she was not willing to say it. Another woman chimed in and said we were both right, trying her best to make peace. Embarrassed, I thought about trying to clarify my point, but got the feeling that those who needed to hear what I said, if any, had heard it. I felt distinctly that not all in the room would benefit from understanding more what I was saying. So I let it lie there and turned hideously red (curse that pale Scandinavian skin).

The reason I'm sharing this here is because I think that as we gain knowledge by experience, as we gain a greater appreciation for the Savior and His love, as we come to develop a desire to serve those around us, we will find ourselves mimicking His teaching style more and more. Opening our mouths is important, when moved upon by the Spirit, but sometimes shutting our mouths is appropriate, too.

And it is okay to disagree more than just "a little."

The gospel is like a stretchy shirt. It is one size fits all, but that doesn't mean it looks the same on everyone.


  1. This is brilliant, thanks for sharing. I'm pretty good at opening my mouth, but I'm rather bad at shutting it.

    "The gospel is like a stretchy shirt. It is one size fits all, but that doesn't mean it looks the same on everyone." I love this! It's a much better gospel-as-shirt analogy than others I've heard.

  2. Are you speaking of having no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually?

  3. Blessings for obedience? Of course. But not always right away or even in the way we expect. Think about Joseph in Egypt: kept the law of chastity and went to jail. Bummer.

    This is a great post. And good for you for forbearing, despite your scandanavian skin. Those who needed to hear you likely did, as you say.

  4. I like this. I also tend to comment more than I feel I should.

    I thought of this "But If Not.." talk as I read your post.

  5. " one of my days where I raise my hand more than I should." That realy made me laugh, it is so the story of my life in church.

    How I experience and think about Mormonism has changed dramatically from my days as a missionary, but one constant has been how I think about the connection between obedience and blessings. I still don't understand the connection or whether one really exists. I know that it is practically an article of faith that the connection is rock solid but that just hasn't been my experience nor does it really match my observations of others. The result is that I find the notion of obedience for the sake of gaining blessing to be less than motivating. But I like your attempt to understand it as more properly growing out of love and trust. It fits well with what I see as a common theme in your writing, gaining an authentic relationship with Christ and the meaning that gives your life. Thanks for the post.

  6. Perhaps the concept was too confusing in your explanation. For instance, was it necessary for your point to say it was a commandment that was against general commandments? It seems like that is off topic and confuses the issue.
    Was your main point that you hadn't been blessed? Or that your blessings were invisible at this point.
    If you had said that you hadn't been blessed (that you could see) and you were talking to me, I would probably have suggested that you HAVE been blessed spiritually, just not temporally. Your spiritual strength and your relationship with God might have been strengthened? Perhaps you have learned new insight? You might have felt that the Lord knows your individual circumstances? Perhaps you might have a greater testimony that the Lord will ask of you and you are willing to step up? Or perhaps you learned humility?
    Anyway, I can see myself arguing that blessings are given for obedience, even if we can't see them right away or we can see them from a worldly perspective.
    Language is imperfect. I often am unable to explain exactly what I mean.

  7. SilverRain,

    If I understand what you have said, I agree that blessings for obedience can be "unpredictable" in the sense that we may not know how or when we may be blessed.

    I believe that we are blessed for every right choice that we make. Wayne Dyer quoted a study that showed that acts of kindness produced higher serotonin levels and boosts to the immune system in both the giver and the receiver. I wonder if in a similar way, every good choice that we make results in blessings, many of which we may not even see. I believe our capacity to continue making right choices is increased by making right choices, and I view that as a blessing.

    I think the scriptures clearly teach that obedience results in blessings.

    On the other hand, paraphrasing President Kimball, if rewards and blessings were immediately were bestowed upon the doer of good, there would be no evil, and all would do good for reward only (see full quote below).

    I think for most of us, we may have multiple motives for most good things that we do.

    Would any of us consistently strive to be obedient if there was not some reward, either now, or a hope for some eternal reward in the hereafter?

    From Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 97: "....If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil-all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls...."

  8. "Opening our mouths is important, when moved upon by the Spirit, but sometimes shutting our mouths is appropriate, too."

    Totally agree. I remember one occasion where I was moved to be silent and another class member answered a question far more effectively than I would have been able to.

    On a semi-related note - I think that our definition of blessings and God's definitions are sometimes very different. He has a longer and clearer view than we do, and often we are unable to recognize or even perceive some blessings. Great post. :)

  9. "The gospel is like a stretchy shirt. It is one size fits all, but that doesn't mean it looks the same on everyone."

    I love this. This post is very good. I am the best at keeping my mouth shut rather than saying what needs to be said.

  10. Nice work. I came across your blog while “blog surfing” using the Next Blog button on the blue Nav Bar located at the top of my site. I frequently just travel around looking for other blogs which exist on the Internet, and the various, creative ways in which people express themselves. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I like what people say about God not being a vending machine for the righteous. We don't put one obeyed commandment into the vending machine and extract a blessing. I know I've received undeserved blessings. And I don't that I've obeyed commandments when the blessings weren't immediate or even apparent. If there are those only being obedient to receive blessings, they're doing it for the wrong reasons.

  12. Perhaps what you are trying to say is:
    It is who we become through obedience not the act itself that is important.

    Who we are is more important that what we did. Moroni says that same "act" could be evil or good depending upon the heart of the person doing it.

    Moroni 7:6

    "...a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing."

    The Lord looketh upon the heart and there is where the blessings come. We often talk about D&C 130 as though it were a simple formula:

    D&C 130:

    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

    To a degree this is true. An example would be the Word of Wisdom. Ironically many people live their lives ignoring it and seem to function fine physically and live to be a hundred puffing away on their cigar. Others live it faithfully and die of cancer. Still others will testify of overcoming illness by following the interpretation they give it. So, it doesn't seem to be that Obeying Word of Wisdom = Perfect Health. Is something wrong with this picture? You only receive a blessing by obeying that law upon which it was predicated yet disobedience or obedience to the WoW does not produce consistent results.

    Because members fall into thinking ACT A = BLESSING A they make judgements about their brothers and sisters circumstances. Thus, you have a gentleman in a very rich ward bearing testimony that he knew they were all in that rich neighborhood because they paid their tithing.

    Back to (emphasis mine)D&C 130:

    20 There is A LAW, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which ALL BLESSINGS are predicated—

    Is it possible there is A LAW upon which ALL BLESSINGS are predicated?

    Just thinking out loud this morning so I hope this has made sense.

  13. Lucretia, that's exactly it! So much better formulated than I put it.

    It is not 1 Law => 1 Blessing, it is a Law to govern the giving of blessings. And D&C 82:10 takes on new meaning when read in context. It seems more a warning than a promise.


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