The video was brought to my attention yesterday morning and I thought I would share a few thoughts. If you haven’t seen it yet please take the time to watch it so that we can discuss it.
At the opening of the video we hear a young man ask Elder Bednar the following:
“Ummm, If you like, stop reading the scriptures, what is the best way – how is the best way ta get back into reading ’em?”
I would have answered, “As soon as you realize you have neglected your scriptures just start reading them again. Some call this a course correction. (Uchtdorf. A Matter of a Few Degrees.)
That’s not how Elder Bednar, a.k.a. “Packer Jr.”, answered the boy’s question. In short, he gave an answer based on remarks given by George Albert Smith called ” the Lord’s Side of the Line.” (here)
4:59 seconds of Mormonspeak with a healthy dose of condescension, fear mongering and love. Yes I think Elder Bednar loves us. His problem is that he’s been raised in a religious and socioeconomic culture that fosters, nay, ENCOURAGES the use of fear as a motivational tool. It’s crap, but that’s how he was raised. I can’t hate him for that. The same goes for all fear and violence based messages in scripture- it’s not God that is a violent fear monger, it’s the well meaning jerk who wrote it.
The idea that there is a fixed demarcation between that of the Lord and the Devil is absurd. Elder Bednar, like George Albert Smith before him, has created a false dichotomy. Our earthly sojourn is much more nuanced. I dislike the phrasing. It’s too cold, rigid, and unfeeling. It creates unreasonable expectations and a distorted view of reality. I wish that he had chosen language that was more sensitive to our varied individual paths of discipleship.
As is so often the case when I listen to General Authorities, I try to hear what they meant to say. Does that make sense? Despite his poor choice of language I truly appreciate his love and concern for this young man and for those of us that would eventually hear his message.
Perhaps I’m hyper-sensitive to this type of message because I recently heard of a couple who got a divorce because of the wife’s infidelity (There were of course other contributing factors). After hearing about this sad situation, I asked myself,”did she just walk out the door one day and randomly pick the first clean shaven guy to have sex with?” I don’t think so. She gradually allowed herself to recede into a world of sin that increased in severity and complexity. In that ever increasing decline she slowly stripped herself of the armor of God. She quit reading scripture. She stopped offering meaningful prayer. She attended church because she had to not because she wanted to be nourished by the sacrament, the Spirit, and her fellow Saints. She increased in dishonest thinking and behavior until her final act of betrayal. It is to me a very sad story that mimics my own backsliding.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we all allow ourselves to be gradually swallowed up by sin; until one day the “flaxen cord” is tied tight and we are bound by our sin(s). (gradually is the world Joseph chose to describe the speed at which the pillar of light fell upon him. Perhaps this pattern can inform our understanding of our own spiritual enlightenment or unenlightenment)
All this prompts me to consider how my own actions affect who I am and who I’m becoming. Actions and behaviors are important, not because the action is good or bad, but because they have an effect on who I am and who I am becoming. Many of us adore the Savior, but too often we fail to emulate him. This doesn’t mean we are to do exactly the same things He did while in mortality, rather, we are to become who He has been throughout all of eternity- Love. It is apparent in my own life that as my heart turns away from God so do my behaviors. This turning away, facilitates a type of spiritual blindness where I am no longer able to see things “as they really are.” Sin clouds my vision and my ability to discern truth from error. When I turn away from the Savior I am no longer increasing my discipleship but decreasing my acceptance of His love and moral influence.
Here is a better way to look at this issue. From Elder Oaks:
“the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.
“The gospel challenges us to be “converted,” which requires us to do and to become.” (Oaks. Nov. 2000)
“Of course, worthwhile doing enhances our character and capacity, but mortal circumstances and opportunities differ so greatly. But amid these differences, we can still become more like Christ in our capacity to be–more loving, meek, patient, and submissive.
“God is infinitely more interested in our having a place in His kingdom than with our spot on a mortal organizational chart. We may brood over our personal span of control, but He is concerned with our capacity for self-control. Father wants us to come home, bringing our real resume, ourselves!” (Maxwell. October 2000)
Like the boy walking around on the Lord’s carpet (it was pointed out to me that the Lord’s carpet is exceedingly ugly) we all exist in a multi-dimensional mortal realm where the Lord is indeed the author of a compressed curriculum. Ultimately, the Lord’s side of the line is nothing more than an infinite continuum that expands into every direction and dimension in the Universe. We should focus less on what we are doing and more on what we are becoming. This is conversion, and it happens over and over. The most common byproduct of true conversion is an intense love that is focused outward not inward. Therefore, becoming like God has little to do with our actions and more to do with the level of our conversion. It is not our actions that allow us to enter the presence of the Lord, rather, it is who we are.
The Salt Lake Temple is a wonderful symbol of conversion. I sit down, I learn a little, I make covenants and then I move forward. From room to room I move forward and upwards. Always learning. Always growing. Always becoming. Until I can at last present to the Lord the correct tokens, names, and signs of the Priesthood– which are written on my heart…not my hands.