Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Religious Reconciliation

Last week my wife's brother got engaged. I celebrated this moment as it marked the end of numerous phone calls and e-mails from him asking me how I "knew" my wife was the one for me. Aside from being grateful that I don't have to pepper myself with that question anymore, this experience got me to thinking about my decision-making process and how it compares to others, especially those in the LDS church. All too often I feel that members of the church rely too heavily upon a spiritual confirmation and become paralyzed from action and almost obsessive in their frantic quest to "do what Jesus would do." (This is obviously not unique to the LDS church, but this is where I personally see it the most). To be quite honest, I just don’t understand this line of reasoning. I have always believed that God judges us by the decisions that we make, NOT by the decisions that he makes for us.

I realize that the Book of Mormon admonishes us to “counsel with the Lord in all thy doings” and to “let all thy doings be unto the Lord” (Alma 37:37,36), not to mention praying over everything from our families to our sheep. This school of thought is often championed by general authorities who teach that the Spirit is involved in the intricacies of our lives.

However, I’ve always subscribed to the scripture which says "it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is slothful and not a wise servant" (D&C 58:26). As a result, I approach the aforementioned scriptures from Alma as metaphorical references to the omniscience of God and the insignificance of man. Consequently, I find myself discounting (often unfairly) those who accept a more literal reading of these verses and hesitate to act sans divine approval. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to reconcile these schools of thought more evenhandedly.

Obviously, this is not the only subject that requires reconciliation. I find a similar tension between the constant counsel to get out/stay out of debt and the encouragement to get the best education possible. There is often friction between the focus on personal revelation and the command to unquestionably follow the directives of our church leaders. I’m sure there are numerous other examples, but I think you get the point.

What are your methods for reconciling these (and other) teachings? Is there anything to learn from the experience of Adam and Eve?


At 9/22/2004 02:21:00 PM,

This is a great post, Doug. It's something I've been wrestling with lately. For a long time I was convinced that there was a specific life path I had to follow or I'd miss out on any number of important things I needed to do in life. Lately, though, I've become a little skeptical about that whole idea. Waiting to "know" is paralyzing.

My tentative answer to this conflict is that we should live open to life-alteration revelations, but when those don't come, as usually happens, we should use our brains and decide based on what we do know. I figure this: God is nice; he's not out to screw us, so as long as you're open to revelation, and you make reasoned decisions based the principles you do know, things will work out. If there's something you're missing, or if there's somthing you wouldn't figure out on your own, that's when explict revelation happens.

I think that "counseling with the Lord in all your doings" implies being open enough to accept direct guidance on anything at anytime. But that doesn't imply that it's all given to us in double-spaced 12-point-font inter-office memorandum format. Oftentimes, a revelation only gives a single premise that leads to a larger conclusion. Nephi's dialogue with himself regarding the Laban incident is telling--the Spirit only tells him to kill Laban, and then Nephi goes through this long line of reasoning based on that premise (1 Ne. 4:12-18).

I ramble. I suppose in the end, it's a balancing act. If you slide too far in either direction (i.e. trusting yourself to take care of everything, or trusting God to do the same) things become harder than they need to be.

At 9/23/2004 04:10:00 PM,

I think that the debt vs. education thing is an especially big issue for LDS women. I know of many women who have chosen not to get an education (especially grad school) because they were afraid to go into debt, thinking that no man would marry a girl with debt. I don't think that the same reasoning (marriage) ever factors into a guy's decision.

Do we just make decisions and then justify them -- pick and choose the scipture that we like best, or best fits our needs?

At 9/24/2004 03:55:00 PM,

I have never personally seen a problem with going to debt for education. I have heard some of the brethren (I won't take the time the scan lds.org for the references--you can, though) talk about a modest home, education, and even a first car (Joseph B. Wirthlin!) as an exception to the general mandate to stay out of debt.

In my mind, were the church to discourage going into debt for education, that would be essentially "keeping the working class down" leaving only "old money" Mormons to pay for their schooling out of their trust fund (do Mormons ever have trust funds?), and keeping people like me probably teaching high school for 45 years before being forced into retirement.

I can't read the previous posts as I write this, but I think Chris suggested that we keep ourselves open to the idea that God may have some clear advice for us personally in any of our significant decisions. I feel like he has for me, at least, and when that's not the case, why don't we just do our best, "study it out", and use the process of decision-making to learn more about ourselves and and the pragmatics of revelation.




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