Sunday, February 21, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
"4 And they (the Gods) ... divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.
A) time is only measured unto man, not unto God, and in the grander scheme seems unlimited or at least abundant, which could lead to a conclusion of loosening up a bit and not being so uptight about his stewardship of the time Jiminy's given.
"Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
B) worthiness/rectitude levels must be a gradient rather than binary. Even in dispositive worthiness determinations such as exercising the priesthood or attending the temple, though one either does or does not, the line is placed upon a spectrum whose foundations change more gradually (see my post on slippery slopes). There is kind of a line in the sand as to temple worthiness and temple recommend question passage, but because some of the temple recommend questions, such as "are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men," are definitely not binary, the determination of temple worthiness is not binary either. To illustrate the gray area honesty question:
Honesty/full disclosure/integrity/truth-telling conceptions are definitely more nebulous than they are clear. When someone asks how you're doing, do you always tell them the truth, or rather presume they're just saying hello and respond "fine" to return the greeting? When you have a scheduling conflict, do you say "I can't go" instead of the truth, "I choose this other activity instead?" These two examples only evidence the lack of precision in language and the lack of truth telling. What about less than full disclosure? When you dislike something another does, must you to be honest immediately communicate that dislike? What about when you're asked a direct question but for a reason you remain silent? How about when a friend asks you to read his or her poem, asks you what you think, and you only tell the friend the positive thoughts instead of the critical evaluations as well? I could go on. The point is, even the seeming black-and-white of temple worthiness is gray.
Another example. Certainly no one must be perfect to merit the Holy Ghost's companionship, yet we are taught that the Holy Ghost is easily offended by misconduct. Does that mean none of us can enjoy his companionship since we are in every moment guilty of both sins of omission (have you fully discharged your kindness, family history, and missionary work obligations, for instance) and sins of commission? Or perhaps is the Spirit offended more by wicked disposition? Voluntas in delictis non exitus spectatur - "in offenses the intent not the result is looked at." The constellation of related intention concepts (desires, affect, feelings, intentions, attributes, character traits, inclinations, intentions, attitudes, susceptibilities, motivations, disposition) overlap both with each other and the zones within and outside our direct agentic control. For instance, in speaking of homosexuality, Elders Wickman and Oaks made a lot out of the difference between unchosen same-gender attractions and same-sex behavior. "Yes, homosexual feelings are controllable. Perhaps there is an inclination or susceptibility to such feelings that is a reality for some and not a reality for others. But out of such susceptibilities come feelings, and feelings are controllable. If we cater to the feelings, they increase the power of the temptation. If we yield to the temptation, we have committed sinful behavior." Later Elder Oaks notes how directly within agentic control behavior lies; feelings seem controllable as well (i.e. by volition/will you can change your feelings), but feelings seem less completely and directly controllable than behavior. "Whether it is nature or nurture really begs the important question, and a preoccupation with nature or nurture can, it seems to me, lead someone astray from the principles that Elder Oaks has been describing here. Why somebody has a same-gender attraction… who can say? But what matters is the fact that we know we can control how we behave, and it is behavior which is important." It doesn't seem like behavior is all that much more important or vital than disposition/desire/nature etc. which ultimately we must convert from their natural state into a godlike condition. And we cannot do so independently it seems- or at least, in all scripture instances that immediately come to mind, the Spirit was the causative agent of dispositional change, e.g. Mosiah 5:2 "the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty achange in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do bevil, but to do good continually."
Physical attributes, such as being diabetic or short or having two arms, seem to be outside the scope of agentic control (which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? [see my post for a tongue-in-cheek response]). In between these brackets seem to be some partially controllable realities - e.g. the selfish, intemperate, impatient, appetite-driven natural man, which man must choose to "put off;" homosexual feelings, which Elder Oaks says are controllable (though, seemingly ironically, he later suggests that homosexually oriented folks can't control their "challenge" and ought not to marry heterosexually: "Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith" emphasis added); a disposition to anger or gossip, which dispositions are not present in a fully Christlike individual; one's way of being/orientation toward a person or act (such as viewing a person as a person or as an object when disciplining him or her, see Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute; or the giver who chooses to give grudgingly out of an evil nature, resulting in his gift being accounted to him as though he hadn't given it " For behold, if a man being aevil giveth a gift, he doeth it bgrudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God;" the Pharisees, who looked beyond the mark, despite their high level of seeming compliance with the law of the Moses were nevertheless judged as hypocrites and deep sinners). It seems clear, then, that the Lord requires more of us than just behavior (i.e. attitude, disposition, motivation, intention, desire, orientation, etc.)- yet the primary criteria of judgment seem to be fully and solely volitional (Mosiah 4:30 thoughts, words, acts, and frequent scriptures indicating that we'll be judged according to our deeds).
An inclination to commit grave sin seems to be either be a part of your nature or not, unlucky you I suppose if it is: "no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature." JSH 1:28
Charity, as an example "is not an act but a condition or state of being. Charity is attained through a succession of acts that result in a conversion. Charity is something one becomes." - Elder Oaks, The Challenge to Become. Also from that talk: "many of his hearers cried out that the Spirit of the Lord 'has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually' (Mosiah 5:2). If we are losing our desire to do evil, we are progressing toward our heavenly goal. The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them." And, "the Master's reward in the Final Judgment will not be based on how long we have labored in the vineyard. We do not obtain our heavenly reward by punching a time clock. What is essential is that our labors in the workplace of the Lord have caused us to become something. For some of us, this requires a longer time than for others. What is important in the end is what we have become by our labors." I haven't figured all this out- but it's a key concept to tease out since agency plays such an important role in the plan of salvation.
Okay, my point. Let's say Jiminy has been keeping some righteousness goals lately, but he is still often distressed and angry (because of the frustration of not engaging his familiar behavior) and guilty about other errors. His evil nature hasn't dissipated appreciably. That state isn't too different from the distressed and angry and guilty state of not making/keeping the righteousness goals. So what's the net gain from keeping the righteousness goals? It seems to make more sense to carve out a little, but not a lot, of room for the sin in order to still keep net righteousness high but mitigate the angry and distressedness that results from crossing oneself. However, on the other hand, Elder Oaks teaches, "Don’t accommodate any degree of temptation. Prevent sin and avoid having to deal with its inevitable destruction. So, turn it off! Look away! Avoid it at all costs." We should be glad that Adam didn't look away and avoid the temptation of the fruit at all costs. Commonly for wo/man, one cost of making no provision for sin or temptation is almost constant anger and frustration and distress. That's a poor way to live when a slightly less stressed, frustrated, and angry lifestyle is so accessible. This places him in a position of choosing between a rock and a hard spot, the frying pan or the fire- if there is a difference, the margin doesn't seem to matter much when you get fully cooked either way. Since any degree of uncleanness will keep you out the kingdom, and since it's very easy to by intentional acts lose the Spirit but hard to by intentional acts gain it, it seems like an uphill battle with little value to consciously and intentionally seek righteous conduct. To do so is hypocritical anyway since your inner nature is an enemy to God, and Christ so conclusively denounced hypocricy: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt. 23:25–26; see also Alma 60:23). “Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
The most available examples of this conundrum I would posit are babies and sex. A woman has a significant natural (and not sinful) craving for her own baby; however, the gospel dictates that she deny herself that boon unless it is accompanied by marriage. Yet, desire for a baby alone is not a sufficient reason to get married. Similarly, a man has a significant natural (and not sinful) craving for sex; however, the gospel dictates that he deny himself that boon unless it is accompanied by marriage. Yet, desire for sex alone is not a sufficient reason to get married. The lack of the baby for the girl and sex for the boy results in distress and frustration for both, despite the rectitude of self-denial. Yet the only alternative would be the disastrous (and presumably worse) spiritual consequences of fornication. This seems at odds with the promise of peace for living the gospel: "But learn that he who doeth the works of arighteousness shall receive his breward, even cpeace in this world, and deternal life in the world to come." (note the emphasis on doing works rather than becoming)
"He quoted men seeking to justify their viewing choices by comparisons such as “not as bad as” or “only one bad scene.” But the test of what is evil is not its degree but its effect." - Oaks. That is a teleological rather than deontological distinction, and is a measuring cap which doesn't fit well on the many heads of bright line, deontological evils church members are obligated to avoid, such as not paying a 10% tithe, wearing more than one set of earrings, drinking coffee, not attending church each week, and wearing flip flops to church. Rather than asserting that one has a duty to abstain from pornography, period, cadit quaestio (the matter admits of no further argument), the standard is whatever offends the Spirit is evil. That does seem a superior moral standard- but because conduct is much more measurable than the degree of presence or absence of the Spirit, deontological standards are more workable and useful to those with the onus of third party judgment.
The "spirit of the law" argument is teleological- the ends the rule was designed for. Example: ending a meeting on time. Purposes are to provide time for other worthwhile activities and provide a reliable expectation for decision makers as they plan. If the value of the extra five minutes exceeds the aggregated loss towards the two objectives for which the rule was made, then you should break the rule. "Letter of the law" is a deontological one- you have a duty to comply with the rule irrespective of net consequences.
Take a thirty minute window. A man seeks out and views pornography for sexual stimulation. Elder Oaks taught that "Patrons of pornography also lose the companionship of the Spirit." Twenty minutes later he's in a home teaching visit and to support the teaching of his companion he testifies of the verity of God's visit to Joseph Smith the prophet. Does this man have the companionship of the Spirit or does he not? (I acknowledge the argument here that the Spirit is a continuous, rather than discrete, reality). Is the Spirit more easy to offend than he is to invite? And why does the Spirit leave when "the going gets tough"? When people are involved in sin that's when they most need the Spirit to help them know they're sinning and how to repent! Knowledge that one is sinning and knowledge of how to repent are gifts of the Spirit and cannot be gained in the Holy Ghost's absence. That's a catch 22 for someone ensnared in Spirit-offending sin.
More on the knowing one is sinning idea. Let's say the Spirit helps you realize your duty to perform temple and family history work. It's not that the Spirit just imposed a duty on you to do FH work; that duty existed before ("The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead" - Joseph Smith). Instead, you realize that you should've been doing the work all along. An apt legal comparison is when a supreme court announces a new constitutional rule of law that become retroactively applicable. Example: a court decides that the right to counsel attaches to a sentencing hearing. It's not that all of the sudden a new constitutional right was created by the court (since the constitutional right implicated was in the constitutional text a century or so before), but rather that the court finally recognized a right that was there all along. Therefore, the court was wrong to fail to recognize that right in the previous century or so, which is a strong argument for making the newly discovered right retroactively applicable. Similarly, the Spirit's reminder doesn't create a duty, but instead highlights your preceding and current error in neglecting so great and conspicuous an obligation.
"Her husband had also served in important Church callings for many years while addicted to pornography." How could he do this if "The immediate spiritual consequences of such hypocrisy are devastating. Those who seek out and use pornography forfeit the power of their priesthood. The Lord declares: “When we undertake to cover our sins, … behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37)." Can one serve in important church callings without the priesthood and/or the Spirit? It would seem so. What does that man's service count for towards his account? Is that service worthless? "8 For behold, if a man being aevil giveth a gift, he doeth it bgrudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God." " the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done... 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" -Elder Oaks. If so, it supports the Satanic conclusion that if you've messed up a little, you might as well sin a ton (e.g. by neglecting church and family duties).
Again, there seems to be an incentive here to not think too deeply about the implications of gospel principles. Those who are less aware of the teachings of the Brethren and the obligations imposed by the gospel are less culpable for failing to cause their conduct to comport with those obligations than those of lesser acumen, whose judgments on their own sinfulness will necessarily be more blunt. Maybe shallower thinking isn't bad, or maybe the deeper thinking I implicate is flawed.
Related blog on righteous conduct vs. spirituality vs. religiosity.
My blog about "it pays to be stupid/ignorant/naive"
3) Brainstem death: irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness and the ability to breathe.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
- Use all the information you can. Ask for evidence, gather information, seek to reduce emotional interference
- Question/examine assumptions
- Use ethical theories to provide a framework
- Try to understand others' perspectives
- Do not be afraid to change your mind
- Remember ultimately that only you are responsible for your ethical response and choices
Is it possible that we'll be resurrected as we were for most of our lives; the body we are most familiar with--shortly before judgment? And then, only later (and perhaps gradually) are our bodies glorified and resurrected? It seems like a big transition to go through (having a perfected body after being disembodied preceded by mortally embodied), and the Alma scripture says: "both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now." Perhaps our recollections are heightened, but the full capacities of a celestial or terrestrial bodies aren't yet realized? I'm just struggling to think of the magnitude and suddenness of the change.
A Man for All Seasons: The spectrum of moral reasoning
Kant and the categorical imperative
The Spectrum of Morality
Position 2: One can expect people to fulfill self-made commitments while simultaneously accepting the fact that people are mortal and imperfect.
I adhere to position 2.
I also think that position 2 is a virtuous position because maintaining a high expectation of person A in a context where most others reinforce a low level of expectation of person A allows him or her to rise to the higher level of expectation. But for that high level of expectation person A is likely to perform at the level reinforced by others' expectations.
Most people expect Brian Johnson to keep commitments he makes 50% of the time (that's about the social norm). Brian enters the mission field, and his mission president expects Elder Johnson to keep his word 95% of the time. This expectation is expressed in number of ways, including manifesting disappointment when Elder Johnson fails to follow through. After a year, Elder Johnson's commitments kept/commitments made ratio rises from 50% to 90%.
Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America - Chapter "Ambition in the US"
I've noticed that there is a propensity for those exiting college or graduate school to manifest far less idealism than when they entered it. Inasmuch as college quashes impulses to improve the world which would otherwise succeed (as opposed to merely tempering idealism with needed practicality and training), this trend appears net negative. It would be better for aspiring youth to enter the public, non-profit, or private sector right off and begin trying to change the world before the obstacle of college. It would also be better to detach the requirement of a degree from many positions and instead rely solely on occupational qualifications and skill sets. A better system might be to have education and training as you go, or midway through a career, rather than all scrunched up at the beginning when you're pining to make an impact.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
First: embellished story- *Sara was in the car with me and some friends. One person said something like "girls are almost always late." She vigorously challenged this conclusion, asking for the evidence to support it. An example was provided. She pointed out that an anectdote is one data point and is therefore insufficient to evince a trend. She gave a counterexample of a girl being on time and said that without a statistically significant study and her approval of the study's setup, her view that girls are on time as much as men would not be upset. She manifested the typical scientist's critical questions: What are the data? How were the data obtained? What are the limits of the implications of the data?
She was right in her criticism of the claim's validity- but she was wrong to be convinced that the claim was incorrect! She should have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to say that the claim was wrong and that there was insufficient evidence to say that the claim was right. The lack of sufficient evidence should result in being undecided: not accepting the counterclaim. The evidentiary expectation of her suggestio falsi (suggestion of a falsehood) counterclaim is just as high as that of the original claim. An affirmation of falsehood must be proven; an affirmation of uncertainty need merely criticize- ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat - the burden of the proof lies upon him who affirms, not he who denies. Affirmations of falsehood are very difficult to substantiate: compare to when Napoleon ridicules Uncle Rico's video as the worst ever. Kip replies, "Napoleon, how could anyone even know that?" Proving claims false is similarly difficult.
Second- in bioethics today we watched a star trek episode where one crew member claimed that introducing religion would inevitably lead to holy wars and inquisitions and chaos. One student challenged the claim, arguing that there wasn't enough evidence to show the inevitability of that scenario. She, non sequitur ("an inconsistent statement, it does not follow") claimed that the scenario wouldn't come to pass. Once again, showing the verity of a counterclaim is a sufficient way to debunk a claim (if an accused is innocent he or she is also definitely not guilty); but without evidence to support the counterclaim, her conclusion should have been that the dystopia might or might not occur, non constat- "it is not certain." By way of analogy to criminal proceedings, lack of evidence to convict AS WELL AS evidence of innocence both result in acquittal; only evidence of guilt, however, results in conviction. In these two scenarios, the "judge" should have concluded "not guilty" rather than either "guilty" OR the converse, "innocent." Allegans contraria non est audiendus - "one making contradictory statements is not to be heard."
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Where had I heard that phrase before? I don’t remember, but I was thinking hard about it yesterday. A week earlier I had asked a friend of mine, Jeff, a question about justice when I ran into him over by the Jamba Juice on BYU campus, perplexed about a problem I couldn’t get quite straight in my mind- I problem I will introduce you to in a minute.
First, let’s see if we’re on the same page about what justice is. Robert comes up to a stranger on the street, Trevor, and punches him hard in the arm, after which he runs off in the crowd. What does justice require in this case? Most friends I ask this question to respond that Robert should get punched in the arm too. If Robert gets punched in the arm, then justice is served.
Now let’s think about that punch in a mathematical way. I’ll use the French word, “tort,” meaning a twist or injury. We could say that Trevor, who started out with 0 “tort units,” then had a violation of his rights: an injury, or tort. We’ll arbitrarily say that Trevor, after the punch, now has a balance of -10: the punch imposed a -10 tort on Trevor. Justice is satisfied if Robert also has a punch imposed on him in the same relative amount: Robert and Trevor are the same age, size, etc. so a -10 punch to Robert makes them equal.
Here’s the problem I posed to my friend Jeff. A certain first grade teacher, Mr. Hopkins, pulls aside six-year-old Jenny for a private talk. “Jenny, I’ve been teaching you all this year,” Mr. Hopkins says. “I just don’t think you’re very smart. You’ll probably never learn to read, school will always be very difficult for you, and you’ll always be a slow learner.” As Jenny’s self-esteem plummets, few would contend that an injury has not been done to Jenny. Let’s say Jenny went from 0 to -20 tort units. Let’s also say that somehow a comparable tort is done against Mr. Hopkins such that his self-esteem is similarly abused- he’s now at -20 tort units. I asked my friend Jeff if justice has been done in this case. The answer is that yes, our concept of justice may be satisfied, but all is not yet right. Consider Jenny. The inflicting of a tort on Mr. Hopkins does nothing to restore her to her initial condition- her self-esteem is still much lower than it was. I think that the human spirit will not consider this situation “right” until Jenny is restored to the level of self-esteem she enjoyed before the abuse. Enter Robert and Trevor again.
Earlier we concluded that justice had been satisfied when Robert was punched in the arm after he slugged Trevor. Here we consider the phrase again: “two wrongs don’t make a right,” or, as we might say, “two equivalent torts don’t make the situation right.” Here we can also see that Trevor is still punched and has a bruise, even though justice has been served. Considering the universe as a whole, adding up Robert and Trevor now equals a net tort account of -20 (-10 + -10), not zero. Part of the human spirit’s conception of “rightness” demands that Robert be “unpunched,” or somehow returned to his original condition. Unpunching someone, though, is about as easy as unrearing a child or unchewing a banana. What can we call this “restoring to initial condition,” the unpunching of Trevor, or the confidence boost to Jenny?
I propose for the moment we call that healing or restoring to initial condition “mercy.” I define mercy as the opposite of a tort: an “uninjury” if we can imagine it. In Jenny’s case 20 “uninjury” units are required to restore her to her initial condition. I can now also conclude a narrow definition of justice, using the terms of the phrase we’ve already altered in part: “two equivalent torts don’t make a right” now becomes “two equivalent torts do make a justice.” (This is why we consider justice served if an assailant languishes for a while in jail. Sure, the assailant’s jail time doesn’t undo the wounds he inflicted on his victim, but if he’s injured in the same relative amount as he injured his victim, we consider that justice is served, even without the victim’s healing.) I have now separated a concept of rightness from dual constructions of mercy and justice. If we accept these two narrow definitions of justice and mercy, then we can make a third conjecture: the satisfying of both justice and mercy in any situation constitutes “rightness” in the tort category of human action. In the Jenny example, if Mr. Hopkins receives a -20 tort equivalent to that he imposed on Jenny (justice) and Jenny’s confidence is restored (say, her parents and other teachers praise her reading and talk about how smart she is and what a quick learner she’s turned out to be) 20 units (mercy), we would say that the situation is “right.”
So, how does this construction relate to the Atonement? “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an Atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42: 15). We commonly think that Christ “paid the price” for our sins. Let’s return to Mr. Hopkins and Jenny. Mr. Hopkins can be spared the 20 tort units that justice requires be imposed on him if Mr. Hopkins repents. In Mr. Hopkin’s case, not having 20 tort units imposed on him means he goes from an account balance of 0 to 0: Christ paid the 20 torts, and Mr. Hopkins gains a net 20 untorts (mercy). What about Jenny? Satisfying justice so that Mr. Hopkins can receive mercy has no effect on Jenny: her account is an entirely different matter.
Speaking of a sexually abused girl, Elder Richard G. Scott said: “She no longer suffered from the consequences of abuse, because she had adequate understanding of His Atonement, sufficient faith, and was obedient to His law. As you conscientiously study the Atonement and exercise your faith that Jesus Christ has the power to heal, you can receive the same blessed relief” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” Ensign, May 2008, 40–43). He notes that even Satan “understands that the power of healing is inherent in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” How is this so?
In physics class, students learn that there is an opposite and equal reaction to every action. Setting a book upon a table exerts a downward force of, say, 15 Newtons. The table exerts an equal and opposite force upward on the book of 15 Newtons- were it not so, the book would continue downward through the table. Similarly, justice requires an equivalent punishment whenever a tort is committed. For that punishment Christ, somehow, suffered in our stead. But what about the “power of healing” inherent in the Atonement? How does Christ “finance,” if you will, the restoring to initial condition of those injured, or as we termed it, the “uninjury” units that constitute the application of mercy? To answer, let’s consider another Book of Mormon scripture, Alma 7: 11-12: “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people… and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” In this sense, then, perhaps the magnitude of the Atonement is about twice what we usually think: the 15 Newtons downward + the 15 Newtons upward = 30 Newtons total. Second example: not only did Christ suffer justice’s demanded 10 torts for Robert, who slugged Trevor: He also suffered the initial 10 tort punch: 10 + 10 = 20. This way, He can extend mercy to Robert, but he can also heal Trevor because he “financed” the uninjury units by “taking upon himself” the initial tort or affliction. At the risk of moving ahead too quickly, we can also observe that the Atonement is greater still because Christ took upon himself all injuries done to us, including those not inflicted by other people (example: a bacterial sickness, a genetic predisposition for heart disease or blindness, or infertility). Consequently, He can “succor his people,” or restore them to their initial/innocent condition: from our earlier illustration, literally unchew the banana. What an incredible power to heal and bestow mercy! What a skilled restorer! Where are the universities that teach this trade? How can I learn “the healer’s art?” The aggregate suffering of mankind is immense- yet God has the capacity, somehow, to restore self-esteem, undo offenses, and heal every injury. This, to me, is a substantial realization."
(composed September 2008)
In the category of torts, we have shown how it might be that Christ can and does offer to us mercy: to the transgressor and the transgressed against, because of what He suffered and took upon himself. The application of mercy can restore us to our initial state- one of neutrality, with neither injuries scarring our souls nor sin staining them. However, a merely innocent condition (like that of Adam and Eve in the garden, or of each of us individually when we are born on this earth), is quite different from a condition of exaltation. Does the atonement help us bridge the gap?
We came to this earth with a primary purpose: to progress toward exaltation. The two-fold means of this progress can be generally categorized by learning through experience and choice-making away from God’s presence on the one hand, and gaining a body on the other. In that choice-making prong we all sin and fall, as did Adam: yet the Atonement can restore us, as we’ve shown, to a guiltless and uninjured condition. However, there is a gargantuan gap between exaltation (a life like God lives), which includes possession of attributes such as virtue, patience, charity, humility, knowledge, and power, each in their fullness, and the mere condition of being both whole and guiltless. God’s mercy bridges the gap between our sinful, injured state to a guiltless and whole state; God’s grace bridges the gap between a merely guiltless and whole state to an exalted state.
Although the scriptures do seem to connect grace with sanctification, forgiveness of sins, and other “tort-level” functions, it does more, as may be concluded from the Savior’s parable of the vine and branches found in John 15:1-11, which speaks of bearing fruit in addition to being clean. Ephesians 2: 5-10, which speaks of our salvation by grace, connects grace with the “good works, which God hath… ordained that we should walk,” supporting this construct of advancing the ball from 0 to exaltation through grace. We also observe several passages which distinguish mercy from grace, such as “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and his grace” (2 Nephi 9:8) or “because of grace and mercy… seed shall not be destroyed” (2 Nephi 9: 53). Progress along the pathway to exaltation (that state of doing and being very good), is substantiated further by John, quoted in D & C 93, who notes that he “received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.” Moroni teaches of the connection between perfection and grace: “then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (10: 32). That most famous grace verse, “by grace we are saved, after all we can do,” (2 Nephi 25:23) also joins this set of canonical passages in connecting grace with either our best efforts, perfection, or fullness. Why is this an important association?
If this connection is a strong one, we may deduce that these efforts or “pressing forward” consist of good works and endeavors to be and do like God, beyond merely repenting of sin. Nephi seems to describe this concept in 2 Nephi 31, using the imagery of an initial gate followed by a strait and narrow path: “the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” Only after this remission of sins “are ye in the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” Nephi notes that to attain exaltation we must “press forward” and “endure” by “following the example of the Son of the living God,” who was clearly full of good works and substantive divine attributes.
How do we bridge this gap from mere innocence to become individuals of power, knowledge, wisdom, and benevolence, like unto God? Can we make this progress on our own? Elder David A. Bednar taught that grace connotes “a strengthening or enabling power: the main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ” (Ibid.). Further, “the enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement helps us to see and to do and to become good in ways that we could never recognize or accomplish with our limited mortal capacity.” It seems that divine grace is the specific means constituting the “enabling power of the atonement,” specifically enabling of us to do and become good, far beyond what we could do and be without that grace.
Thus, it is indeed only through the grace of Christ afforded by the Atonement that we can “do and endure and overcome all things,” that crowning description of the exalted condition. The atonement does more that enable a full measure of mercy to each of us, for that would simply restore us to zero: rather, it “allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation” (David Bednar, In the Strength of the Lord, Ensign, Nov. 2004, 76-78).
This post composed in September 2008
Endnote: I haven’t figured out the mechanism behind the application of grace, nor how the Atonement supplies the “infinite grace” (Moroni 8:3) that was “made possible by his atoning sacrifice (Bible Dictionary). I’d also like to learn how to “tap into” this grace more. Please send me any insight into these three matters.
Endnote: I haven’t figured out the mechanism behind the application of grace, nor how the Atonement supplies the “infinite grace” (Moroni 8:3) that was “made possible by his atoning sacrifice (Bible Dictionary). I’d also like to learn how to “tap into” this grace more. Please send me any insight into these three matters.