Monday, October 1, 2012

Obedience, Grace, and Love


It is said that Christianity deals primarily with the problem of sin—acts that violate the will of God. Through sin, we are told, we are cut off from God, and through repentance, we return to his presence. However, this one-dimensional view only explains the will of God for us and not the will of humankind with regard to God. Why, it should be asked, are we such deeply religious creatures? The answer is that we’re not so much burdened with the problem of sin, but separation. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their separation from God was not only finalized, they also became self-aware. They became separate from everything—the Godhead, one another, Eden, their posterity (as children literally come out of you). To borrow a term from one of my favorite philosophers, Charles Eisenstein, the human race is suffering from the “wounds of separation”. The problem of separation is not exclusively the concern of Christianity, but is universal across all religious traditions, simply because the problem is universal to the human condition.

Through partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, humankind became carnal. That isn’t to say it became inherently evil, only that by becoming self-aware men and women came face to face with their impending mortality. There was undoubtedly death before the fall, but was it understood, or anticipated, with such great anxiety? Thus, men and women became preoccupied with matters of the flesh, i.e., with self-preservation. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is nothing more or less than the “right and wrong” of survival, pleasure and pain, etc.

It is only by partaking of this fruit that wisdom can be gained. Wisdom is a hard word to pin down, but it means applying knowledge in a way that yields a strategic advantage. It means you are competent in life or death situations, seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, securing your own well-being, etc. Before the Fall the human race survived by instinct; we were just another animal. After the Fall, we survived by wisdom. We are, all of us, still partaking of the tree of knowledge. Without duality, subject and object, all things would remain a “compound in one”, and nothing could be known.

Earlier, I asked why humans are such deeply religious creatures. What are we trying to accomplish with religion? After giving it a lot of thought, I have concluded that, at its most fundamental level, religion is trying to answer two very challenging questions: 1) Who am I, and 2) knowing who I am, how ought I do be? The following is a look at how we, as humans, try to answer these questions.

1. Saved by Satan. The wrong way of the Tree of Knowledge

Lucifer is, of course, a liar. It could be said that he is the father of all lies, but his main lie is the one he told Korihor, which is that “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.” In short, he told Korihor that everyone is completely and utterly alone; and if alone, then vulnerable; and if vulnerable, then we have great reason to fear. Lucifer is himself paranoid and distrustful. In response to this paranoia, he seeks to amass power, which he obtains through exploitation, oppression, and all out war. Because he perceives that he is alone, everyone is an enemy, including God and nature. Everything he says to Adam is meant to incite fear. Lucifer’s self-aggrandizing plan—which is in essence converting life or livelihood into wealth—works by separating negative actions from consequences, or more accurately, by making others responsible for his choices. Lucifer makes a lot of deals that he can’t honor (for example, “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it.”), but the terms are always the same: “I have the answer. I have the way. I have the money. I have the power. I have the status. Give me your power, and I will preserve you.” In other words, we trade our freedom for security. Of course, the end result is utter chaos and destruction. As absurd as this plan sounds, Lucifer is the god of this world. We are all under bondage to this plan.

2. Saved by the Law. The right way of the Tree of Knowledge

Of course, after reading the above heading, the Law of Moses comes to mind for most of us. But it could apply to any law or set of codified laws we use to protect ourselves. It even includes natural law. The scriptures tell us again and again that the Law cannot save us, and in fact, will only damn us. Yet we keep slogging away—especially the Latter-day Saints. That isn’t to say the Law isn’t important. It is. However, the Law without love is cruelty. It does not unite, but divides. With knowledge comes rules, with rules comes rigidity, and with rigidity comes division. This is because if you abide one law, then you think you are right, and if you think you are right, then anyone who doesn’t abide your law is wrong. This is why Christianity has a thousand different sects. Joseph Smith was told to “join none of them, for they were all wrong,” and “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight”. This is why we have Christians and Muslims, Mormons and Evangelicals, Liberals and Conservatives, Communists and Fascists.

However, suppose everyone in the world miraculously abided by the one set of rules. Would everything work out fine then? Without love, you have one kind of law, carved in stone (the Ten commandments), unchanging, inflexible. However, is it always wrong to lie, to steal, to kill? Nephi lied, stole, and killed, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Circumstance changes everything, meaning the law is impossible to follow in all cases. Rather than carved in stone, the law must be written upon the heart. This only occurs when guided by the principle of love.

Finally, suppose the law—carved in stone—was possible to follow in its entirety. Suppose it didn’t just condemn us. Many of us are under the false impression that perfect obedience to the Law, in theory, can save us. However, the law alone does not bind us together in love. The first and second great commandments are to love God and one another. Yet, unlike the other commandments, love cannot be forced. The Law by itself is reactionary, neither kind nor merciful. Somebody steals your Xbox, you seek restitution. Somebody cuts you off on the freeway, you give them the finger. As Paul tells us, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” The law is means to an end, not an end in itself. It is impossible to abide by law without love, but it is also impossible to be bound together in love without it. “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.”

3. Saved by Grace. The “other” right way of the Tree of Knowledge

The Law of Grace, admittedly, resides higher up the Tree of Knowledge, but it is not the ever-elusive Tree of Life. Again, it is only a means to an end. Grace is a difficult subject to approach because hardly anyone can agree on what it is. We have one version that finds its origin in the Reformation. This version suggests that Christ will save you in your sins, if you but have faith in him. However, Alma asks, “Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.” And of course, the Book of Mormon is right. Christ cannot and will not do for you what you must do for yourself.

However, even more harmful is the popular Mormon interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23, which reads “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” We translate this to mean “Do your best, and Christ will do the rest.” We use this verse to excuse our shortcomings, but ultimately it only compounds our suffering. This interpretation is harmful because it keeps us under bondage of the law—it gives us false hope in eventually being justified. We tell ourselves that if we almost live the law, maybe ninety percent, we can still be saved in our sins. Thankfully, this is not what Mormonism actually teaches. Many will disagree because this distorted interpretation is pretty well entrenched. However, it keeps us from partaking of the Tree of Life, and instead keeps us enslaved to the Tree of Knowledge.

Besides, none of us can honestly say that we’ve done our best; none of us can say we’ve done all we can do. None of us.

As I said, the Book of Mormon is clearer on the matter elsewhere. In 2 Nephi 10:24, Jacob preaches, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” That’s true Grace. It is meant to forgive people of their sins only after they have turned away from them. For “unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return” (D&C 82:7). This is what Mormonism actually teaches. Though it may seem harsh, I believe it serves a greater purpose.

4. Saved by Love. The Way of The Tree of Life.

If the Law damns us, and grace cannot save us in our sins, what are we to do? Many people find this frustrating. If they are honest with themselves, they will agonize over it, and some will even abandon Mormonism altogether. Nevertheless, the problem (as always) is that we are still partaking of the Tree of Knowledge, trapped in a Telestial frame of mind, concerned only with our self-preservation, hopelessly carnal. We pray to God to give us what we need, and seek out the Holy Ghost to tell us what is right. In this frame of mind, the law will inevitably defeat us, and so will grace. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it….”

Love is an ambiguous term. Many will counter that love is not enough. For love without the law is ruinous. By love I mean something like Christ-consciousness, or possessing the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It means being connected—to everything, because God is in everything through the Light of Christ—and knowing that you are not alone. Guided by the principle of love, the law is no longer carved in stone, but written upon the heart. It becomes flexible rather than inflexible, changeable rather than unchanging. “All things are lawful for me,” Paul writes, “but all things are not expedient.”

The crushing lesson we learn from the scriptures is that if we are in it for ourselvesto save our liveswe will fail. The Tree of Life is guarded by cherubim and a flaming sword. We must all pass through this sword, which will cut our ego to pieces. If we remain carnal, concerned with self-preservation, our hearts will be irreparably broken. But with that broken heart we may finally turn to Christ, embracing the law of love. Only wisdom coupled with love will provide us with what's necessary to obey the Law—and only then will Christ’s grace be sufficient for us. "Yea, [the Tree of Life] is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things." This is Celestial Law—the law of love—the Body of Christ functioning in perfect harmony and understanding.

The scriptures are full of warnings. These are meant to frighten those who remain in a carnal state of mind. However, one who is guided by the principle of love, possessing the Holy Ghost, is impervious to such warnings. They don’t faze him. Christ is love and faith is loyalty to the cause of Christ. One who is truly rescued cares nothing for his own life and is instead fully engrossed in healing the world. To take upon you the cause of love is Eternal Life. I don’t live for the cause of reconciliation for my own sake; I do it for the sake of the world.


Does grace still serve a role? Is the Law still important? Grace for grace (D&C 93:12), Jesus was filled with the Light of Christ so that he was Christ. By the same token, I would say that Gandhi was Christ, or that Buddha was Christ. We, too, can and must become Christ. Jesus is THE WAY, the standard, the example to follow. It is in that sense that we are saved by grace, leaving our old sins behind.

Regarding the Law, we must forge a middle way. The trick in life is to avoid getting too caught up in the it. Instead, we must recognize that the struggle is merely part of the plan. This is what it means to let go. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." If love is our guiding principle, we see that the Tree of Knowledge, the Telestial phase, is an necessary part of our spiritual maturation. We no longer fear, having nothing to lose. Nevertheless, if we are intent on saving ourselves, we will remain slaves to the law.

Reconciliation is the opposite of separation, and it is what the heart truly desires when not clouded by the delusions of a carnal mind. As is written elsewhere on this blog, “the Mormon endeavor towards reconciliation is exemplified in—and finds its culmination in—the ideal of Zion.” We struggle not for ourselves, but for the cause of Zion. “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). We cannot save ourselves; we must be saved together. We must carry the cross as one.

Our current understanding of heaven is the vain hope of a carnal mind. We think that if we are “good”, we'll die and be rewarded with eternal bliss. Thus, our deeds remain wholly self-serving as we continue in a telestial haze. Nevertheless, we, too, are meant to be the second coming of Christ! “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We must become Christ, as Jesus was Christ. We are not going to heaven. The Earth is our Celestial inheritance (D&C 29:22-24; 63:20-21; 88:17-20, 25-26; 130:9). If we want heaven, we must build it here. “And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:5). “And this is the secret: Christ lives in you” (Colossians 1:27, NLT). The Celestial Kingdom starts with Zion, and Zion starts with “Christ in you”.

Again, what are we trying to accomplish with religion? As I noted earlier, with religion we pose to ourselves two very challenging questions. 1) Who am I, and 2) knowing who I am, how ought I do be? Mormonism has the right answer, as does all good religion, but since Christ cannot compel us to love, nor can he save us if we lack love, we arrive at the answer with tremendous difficulty. Nevertheless, the purpose of religion is to remind us of a long lost truth. The answer—that is, the great reminder—is that we are one, so we ought to live as one. Separation is a myth, a Telestial veil, a carnal delusion—and so we must be reconciled with God, whose light fills the immensity of space.


  1. I love ya Noah, and what you say is food for me...but this phrase, doesn't work for me, "Thankfully, this is not what Mormonism actually teaches." Elsewhere, you say, "Mormonism has the right answer, as does all good religion," yet I feel that the word religion is loaded, to me it implies that idea you speak of, but loaded down and hanging with bells and whistles and junk and strings attached to other stuff. Not sure if there is a better term though.

    Interesting, about the word grace from the Hebrew word חן is described in detail here.
    It parallels pretty well the dictionary definitions:
    1. Elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action.
    2. Mercy; clemency; pardon

    Which interestingly enough, relates to what the last post about Art touches on. I never saw this connection till just now.

    I think your wording/description is accurate:"However, even more harmful is the popular Mormon interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23, which reads “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” We translate this to mean “Do your best, and Christ will do the rest.”

    Ya know, when you said, "One who is truly rescued cares nothing for his own life and is instead fully engrossed in healing the world. " I thought of Ammon. He wasn't concerned for his own, life, that is why he had life, so much that a band of people couldn't take or even touch his life. Same with Jesus. He was so full of life, by not being concerned about it, that no one could take his life. Does that make any sense?

  2. My first paragraph should be two...
    I love ya Noah, and what you say is food for me...but this phrase, doesn't work for me, "Thankfully, this is not what Mormonism actually teaches." What is Mormonism? I think there are many versions of Mormonsim and some do teach that. Even though the particular flavor you enjoy doesn't accept that. Ya know what I'm saying?

  3. "Ya know, when you said, "One who is truly rescued cares nothing for his own life and is instead fully engrossed in healing the world. " I thought of Ammon. He wasn't concerned for his own, life, that is why he had life, so much that a band of people couldn't take or even touch his life. Same with Jesus. He was so full of life, by not being concerned about it, that no one could take his life. Does that make any sense?"

    I agree with Rob, but I would add just one thought. overcoming preoccupation with the state of one's soul happens as we repent and let go. Two more examples that come to mind are Enos and Joseph Smith. Enos was preoccupied with his own soul when he first started praying, but after receiving forgiveness, his thoughts instantly turned to his brethren. With Joseph Smith, his first visit from the angel Moroni occurred after he kneeled down to find out his standing before God. And again, once he received that comfort, he let go and was able to help others.

    1. I like it tbone. So then perhaps the great lesson in this, is that we have to find ourselves first. Which does deal with the two questions Noah posed. Which then has to do with Christ being in us. I like all of this. It's such an important transition, yet so many don't see it, let alone understand it.

    2. I think it may be an issue of semantics. Language fails me. In this case, I'm referring primarily to the scriptures. However, it does include statements made by modern day leaders. In retrospect, my statements about obeying the law but not being enslaved by it seem the most contradictory. Honestly, in our present state, I think the law is meant to thwart us. Without getting into the details, the law is not meant to be broken, but to break us.

      Tbone, I agree with you about repenting and letting go. I don't know how literally I take it, but I recognize the power the concept alone holds.

  4. Been thinking more about what you said, Rob. This quote comes to mind:

    "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons'." — Joseph Smith

    By virtue of their creeds, dogmas, and beliefs, they're all wrong, but that isn't to say they are never right either.

    Truthfully, I'm beyond caring about beliefs, right vs wrong. It's irrelevant to me. I care about attaining a state of being, and attaining that state with others. Beliefs just get in the way.

    1. I'm feeling the same Noah. Do you think a big reason is because we weren't raised with historically Eastern philosophies and now crave them after tasting it since they are somewhat exotic to us? I'm hoping it is just gathering in the true principles.

      I agree about not caring about beliefs, rather recognizing the idea of being.

    2. Rob, I'm not consciously trying to rip off eastern philosophies. However, I've borrowed a lot of this from Max Skousen, and it appears he may have been influenced by the eastern traditions. Ultimately though, I think this is straight-up Mormonism--even if it isn't unique to Mormonism. I think that this is what it teaches us if you read between the lines. The fact that it apparently has something in common with eastern religions only solidifies my belief that the pure gospel exists every culture, religion, philosophy, etc. The only thing that really changes is our perspective, i.e., how we frame the experience either personally or collectively.

  5. This is good. I don't agree with all of it, but I'm not currently a fan of religion right now. I like your last comment though, especially about beliefs just getting in the way. That statement is blatantly true right now.

  6. Belief, if you go by the original meaning of the word, is merely something that you live by. If you don't have belief, then you're not living by anything, and I've yet to see anybody actually accomplish that.

    In that sense, saying belief only gets in the way misses the point. Belief is the only thing that gets us anywhere at all.

  7. Dead Poet, what don't you agree with? I'd love to talk about it. I've been trying to organize my thoughts for some time now and would welcome the opportunity to iron the kinks out. I hope you take me up on the invitation.

  8. KR, I agree that if taken to the extreme it breaks down. A clear example would be disagreements in belief between family members or even friends. Our desire for 'togetherness' trumps belief I think, and I think we know that people don't necessarily have to believe the same to share intimate experiences. Put another way, we should not let differences in beliefs be disruptive or divisive in terms of family, friendships, or community. Some shared beliefs are probably necessary in any relationship, but this nonsense of I'm a Mormon and your a Baptist, therefore we can't be friends is absurd and unnecessary. That's why when I walk into a Church building now, I don't really care what the people there believe. What matters more is their hope and desire for togetherness, etc. Admittedly, that itself reflects a belief, but I'm speaking in terms of hard, inflexible beliefs (dogma, creeds, etc) that tend to divide and even lead to violence.

  9. As I mentioned on the Facebook Group ( ), I recently attended a Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) church service. The pastor, Vickie, has actually contacted me by email since then. In my reply, I ended up elaborating on many of the themes I’ve presented here:


    Vickie: As I mentioned, we have just finished an intensive visioning process. One of the clear areas that came out of our visioning was the desire to connect with Mormons or others who are looking for a community where there is more openness and freedom for expressing their spiritual views, questions and ministry. I'm not sure where this might lead, nor do I want to impose my views on others, but one of the things we could offer is simply a safe and sacred space to meet in. Maybe it becomes a Book of Mormon study, or maybe it becomes a social justice group that is meeting needs in the community. There are so many possibilities.

    Me: My reasons for showing up at the CoC service are complex. When people ask me, I don't say I'm an ex-Mormon or an "inactive" Mormon, I say, "I AM a Mormon." One way of interpreting that is to say, "Mormonism contains the language and ideas I use to share my experiences about God." So in the same breath, I might add that I am also a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Jew, etc. I belong to every religion and no religion at the same time, but the language of Mormonism is the one I am fluent in, so that's how I communicate with others. Beliefs (hard, inflexible dogmas and creeds) often lead to divisiveness, perhaps even violence. I think this is what God was indicating when he told Joseph "that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight." Contrast this with Joseph's later statement--specifically in reference to other religions--that "we should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true 'Mormons'." The LDS Church, of course, is just one of many sects now. I'm not looking to adopt a set of beliefs. Some religions are admittedly better than others (and some certainly resonate with me more than others), but they are all trying to deal with the same basic problem, which is the problem of "separation", and they all offer worthwhile approaches. My goals relate to finding a supportive community that offers opportunities to serve. Community is more important than conformity. 'Togetherness' (and inclusivity) is more important than 'belief'.

    On the other hand, when we think primarily in terms of securing the survival of the congregation or preserving its identity, I think we set ourselves up for failure. The LDS Church didn't build a $3,000,000,000 shopping mall to facilitate the Lord's work. I don't necessarily think Pres. Monson and Co. built it out of greed, but rather as an act of self-preservation. I think all sects generally do this even if the LDS Church happens to be the main offender--what with its many profitable ventures and slick PR department. If we are in it for ourselves--or even for the group--and not for love, then we fail. I mentioned on Sunday that we shouldn't be trying to convert others to our religious and cultural traditions, but converting them to Christ instead. To me, Christ embodies love, and so we should be strengthening others in their respective traditions. This, to me, is what it means to be "the salt of the earth".

  10. Your post reminds me of this, from Jedediah M. Grant:

    "If you want a heaven, go to and make it."

  11. There is a difference between BELIEF and BELIEFS...In some ways it is like the term LIBERTY and LIBERTIES...they pluralize it in order to break it up just a bit and our psyche with it...then from there, we like Alice going down the rabbit-hole start to com-part-mental-ize everything we see. FREEDOM as an eternal principle and fundamental of reality...becomes FREEDOMS and ends up as OPTIONS.
    So there are certain elements of the Universe and they are helpful to understand as parts of a unified multi-verse. But even when people say they don't believe in anything....they really mean they no longer use belief firsthand...but have relinquished that god-given right and responsibility over to others and they use it for their many divided belief[s]. It's draining, dangerous and deadly. We really ought to stop.