Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pick and Choose

On the Voices for Virtue Facebook page, a reader asked about the appropriateness in reproving someone at school who's a member of the church and knows the standards, yet still chooses to do things we have been taught are not okay (multiple piercings, immodest dress, etc.). While most of the answering comments explained that her job should be to live by example instead of reproving her friend, one put different levels of importance on instruction received by the apostles and prophets today. The commenter mentioned that commandments (the "thou shalt not"s) and "guidelines" (the standards found in For the Strength of Youth) are not to be taken with the same level of seriousness. She went on to say that if you break a commandment, you're sinning and God will hold it against you. If you don't follow a guideline, it's just a petty thing and you shouldn't worry about it.

Everyone (myself included) does this at one point or another: we rationalize why something doesn't apply to us because of said extenuating circumstance or why what I'm doing is okay and they just don't get it. Now don't get me wrong: If your house catches fire or if you have a medical emergency on a Sunday, please take appropriate measures to remedy the situation. However, when it comes to a majority of the choices we have to make, either a good or bad consequence will result, be it now or in the future. I know from personal experience (as I'm sure many of you do as well) that upon looking back, it was a continuous line of "petty" decisions that almost always led to bigger problems. Just because you or I may not fully understand the "why" of some things doesn't mean we aren't causing ourselves some level of spiritual damage by doing it.

I have occasionally heard the reasoning that if you can go to the temple worthily and still do whatever it is you're doing, then it's okay because you still have your temple recommend. It is true that you don't have to be following all prophetic counsels perfectly to go to the temple; the temple is a place for those striving to be better, not people who are already perfect. But as Marion G. Romney voiced back in 1983, that does not excuse us from setting aside a counsel we don't feel the need to follow.
Some members assume that one can be in full harmony with the spirit of the gospel, enjoy full fellowship in the Church, and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church and the counsel and direction they give. Such a position is wholly inconsistent, because the guidance of this Church comes not alone from the written word but also from continuous revelation, and the Lord gives that revelation to the Church through his chosen prophet. It follows, therefore, that those who profess to accept the gospel and who at the same time criticize and[/or] refuse to follow the counsel of the prophet are assuming an indefensible position. . . . [This] is not new. It was prevalent in the days of Jesus and in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
A great example of this is the Biblical story of the rich young man. He was keeping all of the commandments and asked Jesus what else he needed to do. The Savior's response and the man's reaction was as follows: "Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:21-22). We all have "great possessions" in our lives that we have been counseled to lay aside, so where's the disconnect between knowing you could probably do better and actually doing it?

David A. Bednar used the example of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's (a.k.a. the People of Ammon) to show that while having a testimony of the truth--belief and knowledge--is good, true conversion is what actually causes us to live in harmony with the gospel--to do what we have been taught:
"As many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth . . . as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away. For they became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more" (Alma 23:6-8).
They never did fall away and surrendered "the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more." To set aside cherished "weapons of rebellion" such as selfishness, pride, and disobedience requires more than merely believing and knowing. Conviction, humility, repentance, and submissiveness precede the abandonment of our weapons of rebellion. Do you and I still possess weapons of rebellion that keep us from becoming converted unto the Lord? . . . Note that the Lamanites were not converted to the missionaries who taught them or to the excellent programs of the church. They were not converted to the personalities of their leaders or preserving a cultural heritage or the traditions of their fathers. There were converted unto the Lord--to Him as the Savior and to His divinity and doctrine--and they never did fall away.
I think that's the kicker: Do we have only a testimony of prophetic counsel or are we converted to actually doing it? Do we feel that obedience to prophetic counsel and guidance is somehow less important than obedience to prophetic thou-shalt-not's? More than that, do we even know what the Lord's standards for our day are? Have we read the newest edition of For the Strength of Youth lately? Did we listen at General Conference? I have been consistently amazed at how many of the "ambiguous" questions about certain aspects of living the gospel actually have been answered through these and other church-approved materials. It's hard to change if you don't know what you're supposed to be doing in the first place.

In the end, the choice is up to us. Are we willing to start/continue changing our lives to live in full harmony with the gospel as taught from (1) the scriptures and (2) the counsel of our living prophets? If not, why? For some, the reason may be "it's a family tradition and they're all active, so what's the problem?" Others may see family and friends living a certain principle, but they themselves do not understand why it's important, so they don't do it. Some may know that a principle probably has some importance to it, but at the moment they prefer to be accepted by those around them more than they want to please God. For me, the main problem is that I haven't really cared to try...laziness. I need to change that.

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