After a long hiatus of blogging, I’ve returned with a series on the basic reason why I believe along with the answer to a particularly difficult doctrinal problem I’ve struggled with. The following is part three of the series.
Why do we treat sin as something horrible? Before the Atonement, sin was deadly, it’s consequence the inevitable fate of all mankind to become the doomed angels of Satan. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob laments the state of man before the Atonement, but then after he details God’s plan for His children, he exclaims: “O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell” (Jacob 9:10)! Sin is horrible only if we refuse to accept the Atonement, and so we should rejoice of the great gift God has given us! The goodness of God comes not from abandoning His children to an impossible situation but preparing a way to defeat that awful monster, death and hell. Sin is overcome; Satan has no power over God’s children as long as they hold to the Atonement and carry it with them in their hearts.
The great people within the scriptural narrative understood this concept. Passion, not passivity, ruled the hearts of those who lived accomplished lives. Peter denied Christ not just once, but three times (and the denial of deity is a most grave sin), yet became the rock on which Christ established the early apostolic church. Paul participated in the murder and persecution of Christians, yet became one of the greatest missionaries that ever lived. Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah went about actively tearing down the Church, but later lived to convert a nation. All of these figures hold one common characteristic – they could care less what people thought of them; they only wanted to do what was right. And when they sinned, they didn’t commit easy sins. Paul pursued Christians relentlessly, convinced of its cancerous qualities to traditional Judaism. Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah went about fighting against the established state religion of the time – this takes strength, courage, and a conviction in the truth of their beliefs, and Alma knew it; his father had stood in judgment for people brought forth because they attempted to pervert the pure doctrines. Peter smote off the ear of a Pharisee to protect someone dear to him; smiting generally takes passion and bravery, not a passivity and timidity we sometimes exhibit in the world.
All of these people sinned; they not only sinned, they sinned horribly. But they also sinned passionately. And if passion is one binding characteristic among this colorful group of people, one more characteristic they share – when corrected by the Lord (for corrective experiences come to all of us, no matter how timidly we live our life), they embraced the correction whole heartedly and began to live passionately the right way, abandoning anything they felt as untrue. The desire for truth, not public acceptance, ruled their hearts. When they discovered the incredible healing and liberating power of the Atonement, they threw themselves into the work. They still sinned; Paul and Peter argued openly and privately (sometimes bitterly), sending contradictory letters, jabbing at each other in front of the church members. But nobody would deny their faith and passion for the Gospel.
Many people believe passion has little place within our church. Many more subscribe to the idea of a “Prozac Jesus,” a sedate, always calm savior who played with butterflies and sat innocent children on His knee, presumably to ask them what they want for Christmas and if they were a good boy or girl. They clean up the passionate Jesus, the one who cleaned out His Father’s house in a fit of righteous rage, braiding a whip, beating the moneychangers, and kicking over cages full of bleating goats. They forget the passionate Jesus who wept when He heard of the death of Lazarus, His dear friend. And who can read the heart wrenching passage in the parable of the olive trees as the master of the vineyard cries in anguish, his eyes stinging with frustrated tears, “What more could I have done for my vineyard?” (Jacob 5:48) without feeling God’s intense emotion for His children? (Note: This has not stopped many a bored student in Sunday School and Seminary from reading this passionate verse in the most monotone voice ever).
We do well to remember that the Lord spews out not hot or cold, but lukewarm. The fence sitters, not the passionate, God must reject. It is illustrative that God went to one who persecuted and helped murder and torture Christians, not a timid Christian who belonged to the Church but refused to let go of his fears.