Obedience is the key to understanding why Mormons and non-Mormons alike have similar spiritual experiences. While they may have different concepts of God, and indeed may observe different forms of worship, when they are both “obedient” to the same commandments, ordained of God for blessing His children, they are entitled to have the same spiritual blessings. Obedience is also the key for testing the substance of the Mormon’s claim that they have the “fulness” of the gospel—meaning that all who accept it are entitled to have greater blessings, and enjoy greater light, than they currently enjoy, however blessed they may then be.
(a) The Linkage Between Obedience and Blessings
How and why Mormons and non-Mormons, though approaching God differently, can enjoy similar spiritual experiences is elucidated by a well-beloved, and frequently cited, revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in April 1843, recorded in the 130th Section of the D&C: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” D&C 130: 20-11. This seemingly simple statement is central to the order God has imposed in regulating the affairs of men upon the earth and setting the bounds within which they exercise their agency during the “probationary” period given to men.
The statement bespeaks of three themes: the order in God’s kingdom; the fairness of God; and the ability of men to rely upon God’s promises. It also suggests that the fruits of “obedience” should be the same for anyone who is obedient, whether Mormon or non-Mormon, whether Christian or non-Christian—each entitled to claim the blessings promised by being obedient to the commandments God has given.
Modern science constantly reminds of the orderliness in the world around, expressed in terms of physical laws allowing us to understand how plants turn light into energy, the orbits of the planets, the tides, why apples fall to the ground, and a myriad of physical events. God as the creator put into place a universe governed by physical forces, whose regularity can be described in mathematical terms. Hence, it should not come as a surprise that there should be order in the world of human affairs governed by spiritual forces, whose regularity can be expressed in terms of “obedience” to certain principles and promised blessings. This is consistent with belief that God is a god of order and that He is the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be in the future.
This revelation also speaks to the fairness of God: Promised blessings come to those who satisfy the demands required of the “obedient.” If they do what they have been commanded to do, they will be blessed. He is not a respecter of person—meaning that lineage, ethnicity, religious affiliation, status, rank, or position do not entitled one to receive blessings. He is willing and will reward all who bring themselves into compliance with the specific laws He has ordained. Actions count—a theme repeated over and over again in the New Testament—which should not be lost in the debate over the relative importance of grace and works in leading to salvation. No one can save oneself—Christ’s atonement is the sine qua non for salvation. Yet at the same time, “works” clearly matter. No one is saved unless he/she is obedient to the basic principles Christ himself ordained. Christ underscores this theme when reminding certain Jewish leaders that they will not escape the wrath reserved for the wicked merely by pointing to their lineage through the great patriarch Abraham, even though the Old Testament speaks of specific blessings granted to Abraham and his seed. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation o vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Matt. 3: 7-10. The blessings promised were blessings to those who repent—not to those who are descendants of Abraham, even though Abraham was promised that great blessings would come to his seed.
Lastly, the principle of “obedience” shows men what they may rely upon. God is not arbitrary and capricious. He does not act upon whim. This “reliance” is the natural outgrowth of the “orderliness” inherent in tying “promised” blessings to obedience to commandments. When obedient, men and women have claim to the prescribed blessings. When not obedient, they have not such promise. This formulation gives men confidence and a framework for acting morally. They are confident that if they bring the lives in line with God’s commandments they will be blessed. “Who am I saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled? I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing. Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.” D&C 48: 31-33. The promised blessings are forthcoming, even if individuals are not aware of the “relationship” between the prescribed conduct and the blessing, and even if they are not intentionally trying to get the Lord’s blessings. It is enough that they bring their lives into the proper relationship.