Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reasons the Linkages Are Not As Clear As We May Think--George's Post

A.   Reasons that the Linkages are Not As Clear As One May Expect

One wants to believe that good things come to good people and bad things happen to those who are bad.   This simple thesis is behind commonly held beliefs such as “karma, “good guys” win and “good” eventually triumphs.  There are at least five reasons why the linkage between goodness (here called “obedience”) and promised blessings, here in this life, breaks down, leaving the righteous or good subject to unwanted afflictions and trials, seemingly at odds with the promise that they will prosper and be blessed for their righteousness: (i) the pain and sorrow of human mortality, including those arising out of natural disasters, may fall upon all men, irrespective of their righteousness; (ii) the exercise of agency by others, whether or not they are punished, may harm or injure the righteous; (iii) if rewards and punishments were immediate, men would not be free agents in this life, but would be compelled to be “good;” (iv) men are often called upon to endure trials and afflictions in order to grow spiritually; and (v) there is no promise that the blessings of obedience will be awarded in this life—instead, all men will be judged at the time of the final judgment and then either rewarded or punished for their works. 

1.    Sun and Rain Upon Righteous and Wicked

“[F]or he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matt. 5: 45.  This aphorism, speaking to rains coming upon the just and unjust, is commonly used to capture the popular sentiment that no one, irrespective of their state of righteousness, is immune to the challenges common to all men and women.   All are descendants are Adam and Eve and as such subject to the challenges of mortality, the frailties of the human flesh and death.  When pronouncing punishment upon Adam and Eve for partaking of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, the Lord said to Adam[1] the earth would be cursed, bringing forth thorns and thistles to torment man, requiring men to labor to produce crops by the sweat of their brow.  Death would be man’s constant companion—from the dust man come and to the dust he would return.   To Eve, the Lord said that she would bring forth children in pain and sorrow and be subject to her husband’s dominion.[2]  Being human exposes all men to the vagaries of mortality—diseases, sickness, old age, death, loss of sight, pains of work, to name a few.   Some may have easier lives than others, but sooner or later everyone succumbs to the frailties of mortality.  Adhering to the Word of Wisdom increases the probability of a healthy and longer life, but does not rule out early onset cancer, heart attacks, or premature death.  Within this category one may add the challenges that grow out of natural events—such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, fires, epidemics, storms, bad weather—like problems arising from our flesh, these climatic events are outside of our control, causing mercy and loss to both the righteous and the wicked.  The occurrences of such events certainly deprive those who are good of many of the blessings they might otherwise enjoy because they have led righteous lives.

2.    Exercise of Others’ Agency

Human trials often occur due to the exercise of the others’ agency—again breaking the simple linkage that might otherwise exist between righteousness (i.e., obedience) and promised blessings.  Apart from life itself, the greatest gift bestowed upon men and women is the knowledge of good and evil and the power of agency—the right to choose from themselves whether to be obedient or not.  Certainly others can circumscribe the range of choices available to you, but at the end of the day, each of us, within one’s own sphere, decides how we wish to act, whatever the consequences may be.  “And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves….” Moses 6: 56.   The acts of others, taken through the exercise of their agency, may infringe upon others’ privileges, quality of life or even life itself.  The Lord does not, as a general rule, interfere, shortcutting the exercise of men’s agency, allowing them to act as they choose—whether it be to do good or evil.  They are left to themselves until, after this life, they are called up to account for their works.   The parable of the tares and wheat illustrates the forbearance of the Lord and patience in allowing men to live their lives without interference pending the Lord’s judgment. “[H]e said unto them, An enemy hath done this.  The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them [the tares] up?  But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”  Matt. 13: 28-30. 

3.    Preserving the Agency of Men

A third reason (apart from the human condition and the existence of men’s agency) why there may not be a neat correlation between righteousness and promised blessings is another more subtle way of preserving men’s agency.  If there were a perfect, and immediate, correlation between righteousness and promised blessings, and between wickedness and punishment, this would undercut the purpose of this life—to see if men, of their own accord, without compulsion, would choose good over evil.  If men were always, and immediately, rewarded for doing good, and if they were always, and immediately, punished for doing evil, no one would be free to choose for themselves.  The choices would always be clear.  Such a world is not far off the world envisioned by Lucifer, son of the morning, who proposed a plan in the premortal counsel in heaven whereby no one would be lost.  In fact, it is precisely because of this “slippage” that men are really free to choose—recognizing that choosing good does not always, nor immediately, bring rewards, even if in the long run such rewards are expected. 

4.    Higher Laws

It is often hard for us to understand what the Lord has in store for us.  Many scriptures suggests that general obedience to God’s commandments leads to prosperity and happiness in this life, a reassuring thought for us.  Yet, at the same time, the most dedicated servants of God are seemingly asked sacrifice much to up build the kingdom, and held to a higher standard of conduct.  In the Lectures on Faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith said that no religion had the power to save men unless it asked of them the “sacrifice” of all things.[3]  In like fashion, the Apostle Paul did not see his life in terms of a search for “happiness,” at least not if happiness is thought of as comfort, ease, spending time with family.  Instead, his life was one of constant service involving years of sacrifice and self-denial, through which he learned lessons of longsuffering charity and patience.  “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.   Yea, and all that will godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”  2 Tim. 3: 10-12.  One would not wish for such afflictions but out of them flowed the peaceable fruits of righteousness.  “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed.  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”  Heb. 12: 11-14.[4]  Moreover, promised blessings of happiness may be reserved for the next life, and only available to us after enduring well affliction and tribulation here.  “For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.  Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.  For after much tribulation come the blessings.  Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.”  D&C 58: 2-4. 

5.    Proper Timeframe

The faithful would like to see the blessings from living a faithful life credited to them in the “here and now.”  It would be disheartening to think there were no current benefit, and I think most of us expect that righteous living have its own rewards now.  It is hard to think that most of us could adhere to a life of righteous if we did not believe that such a life were not rewarded with blessings.  Of course, those blessings may not be thought of as “blessings” in the world’s eyes.  But nonetheless, one could not keep going without the hope of being rewarded.  Yet nothing in Section 130: 20-21 dictates that the blessings to which men are entitled as a result of their conduct during this life are “blessings” that will necessarily come to them during mortality.  Indeed, the scriptures are replete with passages reminding the faithful that they may be required to wait for many of the blessings that are in store for them.  The ledgers are only reconciled at the time of the final judgment.  “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  And sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”  Rev. 20: 12-13.  Indeed, it is easy to think that the real blessings that will flow from a lifetime of obedience are not those that may be experienced in the here and now, but instead are those reserved for the life to come.  Alma, speaking to his son of the “plan of restoration,” says: “I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things shall be restored to their proper order….And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.  And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil.  Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, everything to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on the one hand, the other on the other.”  Alma 41: 2-4.  It is also worth noting that all men, both righteous and wicked, just and unjust, will acknowledge the justice of God at the Day of Judgment. 

[1]Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it being forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  Gen. 3: 17-19. 
[2] “I will great multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”  Gen. 3: 16.
[3]  “Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”  Lecture 6: 7a, Lectures of Faith.  See also infra “Joining the Mormon Church for the Wrong Reasons.”
[4]The Prophet Joseph Smith received from the Lord similar counsel, when called upon to endure bitter persecutions:  “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”  D&C 121: 7-8.  “And if though shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against three; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.  The Son of Many hath descended below them all.  Art thou greater than he?  Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass.  Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.”  D&C 122: 7-9.