Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Tender Mercies

Elder Bednar, upon his calling as an apostle, gave a blockbuster sermon concerning the tender mercies of God. The sermon itself is a great, powerful speech on the everlasting mercy of God. Most unfortunately, however, it spun off a new catch phrase that has gained a level of insipidness and inanity usually unseen within our church culture. Now, tender mercies, as my wife bitterly puts it, is attributing anything good that happened to you, from a timely green light to you finding ten bucks on the side of the street, to God. Everything is a tender mercy, and when everything is a tender mercy, the idea of mercy loses its potency. It also opens up a disturbing implication (Rebecca J discusses this in her blog post “Not Lucky, Blessed” if you want to read more of this).

The original scripture that spawned this cliche comes from the very first chapter in the Book of Mormon: “But Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20). At the time, Nephi had fled to a promised land, but along the way, his family has seen horrible trials. They almost starve to death in the deserts of the Middle East. They barely make it to a new land alive after a large storm threatens to sink their ship. Nephi’s older brothers, after years of abuse and beatings, decide they don’t like their uppity younger brothers and determine to kill them. They enlist others to the point that the famous Nephite-Lamanite rivalry escalates into full blown wars (at the loss of thousands of lives). In the end, Nephi has a vision of his own people growing to a prosperous nation that ultimately disintegrates and destroys itself from within because of unrighteousness. How, exactly, is the Lord showing any sort of tender mercy?

Why does Nephi, the first author of the Book of Mormon, introduce his memoirs by speaking about mercy? And most interestingly, why does Moroni, the last author of the Book of Mormon, close his writings with a plea to ask God about the veracity of the Book of Mormon by speaking of mercy? He writes, “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3). It’s obvious at this point, that when a book opens saying, “I will tell you about mercy,” and ends with, “Now think about the mercy I have talked about in this book,” mercy is an important thing to the writers.

But this isn’t the warm fuzzies, feel-good tender mercies we hear about so much in church. One prophet dies by burning before he sees a single convert. Entire groups are conquered into slavery simply because God wanted to test them. There are terrible wars that result in so many dead that it chokes up the rivers. Judges are asassinated, governments crumble, sons go astray, daughters are kidnapped and raped, entire sects begin to persecute each other, people are thrown into jail for religious beliefs, others burn all of the women and children in town who believe in Christ simply to taunt the prophets. And in the end, despite a visitation by Jesus the Christ himself, Nephi’s vision comes true – an entire civilization crumbles into dust and are wiped out because they fail to heed the word of God.

Where is the mercy in this book? What mercy keeps Nephi, though seemingly abandoned in a strange, new world, full of hope for the mercy of God? What mercy keeps Moroni from falling into crippling despair as he wanders the hostile, new world alone, his entire family and friends slaughtered by the onslaught of merciless enemies? God certainly wasn’t making their proverbial stoplights turn green or helping them find any ten dollar bills on the sidewalk.

Jeffrey R. Holland succinctly sums up this mercy thusly:

“The principle character in the book is Jesus Christ…Christ is everything in this book.”

“We are supposed to be Christ-like, we are supposed to be charitable, we are supposed to demonstrate love, but he is saying that were it not for real charity, capital C, the one time in all the world that real charity was demonstrated, i.e., the pure love of Christ, if it were not for that, ‘we could not inherit the place which thou has prepared in the mansions of thy Father.’ This is the chairty that saves. This is the charity that faileth not. Ours does not always save and it does sometimes fail. As much as we try, we fall short. But one time, by one Person, the pure love of Christ was demonstrated. Real charity was given to this world. Christ loved us perfectly and it lasts forever. That’s why we can say that real charity never faileth. He never fails us. The message of the Book of Mormon is that Christ does not fail us. That’s what we’re trying to tell the world. That’s what we’re trying to say through this basic missionary text of this dispensation. Christ’s love is pure love. He is the only one who has ever really mastered it while the rest of us are still trying to do so. His salvation will not fail, His ordinances will not fail, His Church will not fail…Life has its share of fears and failures. Sometimes things fall short. Sometimes people fail us, economics fail us, business or government fail us. But one thing in time and eternity does not fail us, the pure love of the Lord Jesus Christ as manifested in His atoning sacrifice.”

Recently, a Facebook friend put up a quote for her status that basically said the adversary will have us focus on a lot of meaningless things rather than the few meaningful things that count. While the quote bothered me (the intent is usually to insinuate that what I like is important; what you like isn’t), I cannot deny it’s truthfulness. And I cannot deny the fact that our Church sometimes falls guilty of that. We have reduced a very powerful phrase – tender mercies – encapsulating the crowning achievement of God in redeeming his children from sin and sorrow, the demonstration of perfect charity, given freely and paid with a terrible price, so that God can shift the burden of responsibility of our sins from us to him to help us return back from miserable exile – to simple coincidence and happenstance that marginally improves our lives and helps us feel better. This is a terrible shame.

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Sin Boldly! – Part Seven: Fear and Trembling

The penultimate chapter of my recent disgorging of religious belief. I’ve spoken extensively on the Atonement and what it means to me. Here I reject the traditional LDS cultural belief of what works necessarily means, and that perhaps we might not be as culturally far apart from the misaligned Pharisees as we think.

Then what about works? All of this sounds vaguely and suspiciously…evangelical. So all I have to do is believe in Jesus and I’m saved, no questions asked? That’s silly and naïve. Grace was too easy, there had to be a catch, some kind of small print I’m missing. I once thought this way, too.

First of all, what’s wrong with easy? After all, Christ says that His yoke is light (Matthew 11:30). The prophets lament that all we had to do was look, but because of the ease of the action, many perish (Alma 33:19-22). Naaman, the leprous man who visited the Old Testament prophet Elisha initially rejected his counsel because it was too easy for a great man like himself (2 Kings 5). Ease has nothing to do with the equation.

However, the scriptures are explicit that faith must be coupled in some way with good works. The epistle James famously declares that faith without works is dead (James 2:26); even Paul, that great proponent of faith, urges church members to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). What exactly do these good works mean?

Many church members think good works must exist as some kind of checklist; Elder Oaks famously compared the erroneous thinking as a spiritual bank account. Another group of people believed that good works meant strict adherence to the commandments alone, and Jesus openly derided them during His earthly ministry. He scolded them for their scrupulous, meticulous measurements for tithes of mint and cumin, and yet forgetting the weightier matters of the law, such as mercy and justice (Matthew 23:23). And what of Mormon’s warning that God rejects even good gifts offered up begrudgingly (Moroni 7:8)? Intention rules all when it comes to doing any good, for we begin to understand that good works themselves have no real saving power; intention empowers good acts to become manifestations of the grace of God within us. There is little power or morality derived from the things we do – morality exists within the intention, and the blessings of obedience grow as our intent eventually aligns with our outward actions.

However, we focus far too much on what someone does rather than how they feel or whether they have faith in Christ. Some of this attitude derives itself from institutional practice, which is lamentable (conflating the Word of Wisdom, for example, with having faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for temple blessings seems rather erroneous, even if from an administrative point of view some find it necessary). Still, much of it derives from our attitude towards the Atonement. When one embraces the Atonement as the key to everyone’s salvation, not just our own, we realize that our good merits earn us very little in the long run. We’ll still mess up and make mistakes. Instead of our actions as a tool to save our own skin, we begin to see our actions as tools to save others, to alleviate pain and suffering. Our decisions should focus on helping others and to show mercy to our fellow humans as much as possible.

Basic obedience is important – Christ obeyed all points of the law. However, the concept of perfect obedience becomes impossible when we understand we’ve already blown it. In addition, as an aside, Christ understood the difference between commandments of God and cultural commandments. Healing on the Sabbath infuriated the Pharisees but Christ felt that commandment held no power. Unfortunately, because of our natures, we cannot know without doubt which commandment comes from God and which from man – but it’s okay. Mistakes happen, and God already anticipated that scenario. So don’t stress it. If our religion orbits around the Atonement, then we understand that nothing matters but our acceptance of that gift and its cleansing power. All other things, such as obedience or prayer or church or attendance or the abstinence of coffee or food storage lead us to that center. When they cease to lead us to the center no matter how hard we try, perhaps it becomes time for us to reconsider their usefulness.

Still, we should devote our lives to good works. But what kind of good works? The For Strength of Youth pamphlet is a good start, but remember that Moses didn’t use the For Strength of Youth pamphlet to deliver Israel. Reliance on the Spirit and our own developing discernment is the ultimate key to good decision making, and unfortunately, we can’t exercise our discernment without making a few mistakes (silly mortals that we are). Good thing the Atonement took care of that potential disaster! We understand that committee meetings will not save us, to riff on an old, yet apt, Mormon stereotype, but ignoring the promptings to help a homeless man on the way to said meetings (regardless of our socio-political-economic beliefs on homelessness) could potentially cause us to release our grip on the Atonement. When we refuse to apply the Atonement to others and their mistakes, what does it say for us?

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Sin Boldly! – Part Six: The Atonement Isn’t the Conclusion; It’s the Premise

Recently, I wrote a four part mini-series about my faith and my conclusions after struggling with a particularly disturbing doctrinal problem. I have felt the need to further explain some of the basic ideas I believe concerning the Atonement and how they formulate the blueprints for my current theological mindset.

We often act like the Atonement is our fault. Because of this, we also treat accessing the Atonement as a form of weakness. We cluck our tongues and shake our heads when people walk mournfully into the bishop’s office to confess some grave sin and thank God that He doesn’t allow us to sin like the other weaker people around us (compare with Alma 31:17). But rather, life is the other way around – tapping into the infinite healing power of the Atonement exhibits strength of character; hiding in the shadows, our tails tucked between our legs, avoiding as much life as possible so that we can avoid sin as much as possible and thus avoid the Atonement as much as possible shows cowardice and a lack of faith in God’s promise. “I have overcome the world,” Jesus tells His followers right before their darkest moments (John 16:33). He reminds them that they need not live the same fearful, suffocating life as the Pharisees – He is about to set them free.

God planned the Atonement from the very beginning. The Atonement didn’t come about as a consequence of the Fall of Adam; rather, the Fall of Adam was an unfortunate reality, an inevitable occurrence derived from the basic fact of the Atonement’s necessity. When Eve ate the fruit and convinced Adam to as well, heaven’s courts calmly came down to the Garden to remind Adam and Eve the consequences as well as reassure them of the future Atonement. They did not freak out and scramble about for a contingency plan, pulling out blueprints and waking up Jesus from His nap to tell Him that the Worst Thing That Could Happen actually happened and now, He needed to experience the most horrific of experiences – taking upon Himself the crushing weight of humanity’s sinful nature and mortal pain – because of us and, gosh darn it, we really screwed things up.

As mentioned before, people associate repentance and accessing the Atonement with guilt – mostly because we as members impose that guilt upon others. We treat the church as a monastery for pious saints rather than a hospital for sick sinners. We forget after the years of membership within the church that we go to church every Sunday not to fulfill our calling or attend Sunday School or bear our testimonies but to partake within the priesthood ordinance of communion in order to re-baptize ourselves and cleanse ourselves from sin. We go to church because a necessary priesthood ordinance occurs every Sunday that allows us to personally tap into the Atonement and its cleansing power. We forget, sometimes, that we rely on Christ completely.

Christianity has the potential to liberate people, especially from guilt, especially from pain, especially from sorrow, especially from regret; instead, we strap people to a liturgy of commandments that we must strictly follow in all points, no exceptions. No coffee, no tea, no alcohol, no smoking. No R-rated movies, no video games on Sunday, no family brunches before church at the local buffet for grandpa’s birthday. We define church membership and our sense of belonging to the beverages we drink or the discrepancies in doctrine. We allow people to voice the idea that black people are the result of disobedience in a past life, but we refuse to give any say to people who say that perhaps homosexuality results from nature and not choice. We parcel out the monikers and categories, placing people in safe boxes labeled Good Mormons, Jack Mormons, Unorthodox Mormons, Coffee Drinking Mormons, Ex-Mormons, Disfellowshipped Mormons, Dry Mormons, and the ubiquitous Non-Member.

The Atonement, however, makes no distinctions. Christ will not turn anyone away from the Atonement. In the eyes of God, all of us sin and thus, all of us stand in need of mercy. When we begin to make distinctions we lose sight of the important fact that nobody can achieve any kind of better salvation than the other; no other categories exist. There’s good news and bad news, however. The good news is we can stop worrying about what people think and it becomes easier to forgive each other and ourselves when we realize that mistakes, slights, offensives and even really big screw-ups are inevitable. The bad news is we can never feel better than someone else based upon our adherence to the commandments alone. The one major tenant of Christianity all Christians can agree on regardless of denomination is that we all are sinners in need of some serious mercy. Even the prophet, the Pope, Rick Warren, or Billy Graham.

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Sin Boldly! – Part Five: The Atonement Isn’t a Worst-Case Scenario; It’s the Best-Case Scenario

After completing the mini-series, I’ve felt a need to expand more on my ideas of the Atonement and why I believe. This is the first part, detailing how as a church culture we often exhibit a very wrong attitude towards the Atonement of Christ.

Like the Pharisees, sometimes we may feel paralyzed from the fear of sin, or even the simple perception. We chide people who commit acts that might even have the inkling of evil. Members preach about the dangers of chocolate, because it has caffeine, and caffeine is in coffee, and coffee is against the Word of Wisdom. I knew a missionary who felt that working out was evil because then you would become physically attractive and if you were physically attractive you might break the law of chastity and even if you didn’t sleep around with beautiful women, people might think you were. We treat the Atonement as a worst case scenario – that if all else fails, if every other option is exhausted then we might think about accessing a little bit of the Atonement’s power. Our attitude towards the Atonement resembles our attitude towards food storage; it’s comforting to know it’s there, but heaven forbid we ever have to actually use it.

The truth of the matter is different, however. Rather than a worst case scenario, the Atonement is the best case scenario. We preach not the idea of perfection achieved by human will with an unpleasant backup plan. We preach the idea that despite our inevitable imperfections, God has provided a way to save us. The Atonement is central to everything we preach, yet often as members we push it aside as a periphery doctrine. I do not believe we do this on purpose, but accepting the Atonement means accepting some very unsavory concepts of ourselves – that as mortals, we lack ability to save ourselves, that no matter how hard we try, the world will sully us – this kind of thought can become disturbing for the most of us. So we push it aside. Instead, we talk about how the gospel strengthens our families, how we feel needed within our lay clergy church structure, or perhaps how without the Church, we have no idea how we could have raised our rowdy teenagers. We talk about temporal blessings or perhaps the sweet whispers of the Holy Spirit when we lie in our beds, our pillows wet with the tears of our sorrows and loneliness. We might talk about how the presence of the priesthood has blessed our homes or how our sons and daughters have become valiant missionaries. But none of this matters without the Atonement. Until we promote the idea that Christ has died for us, until we internalize the fact that the Atonement has freed us from sin, that we have no more need to fear the cold, ruthless hand of justice, until we actually begin to live as if God actually overcame the world and we no longer fear ourselves because God not only thinks we are worth something but actually put proved it, we promote nothing more than another philosophy, another ideology. We belong not to the body of Christ but to a social club where we parade our picture perfect families and swap mission stories and talk about our latest “tender mercies” while judging those who might not live as picture perfect of lives as us and quavering in fear that someone might discover our lives have become a facade as well.

“Before you were formed in the belly, I knew thee,” God reminds the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). “Before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus declared to the furious Pharisees (John 8:58). God knew the type of people we would become, even before our parents conceived us. He’s existed forever; He knows the drill. The sinful nature of mortal man is a constant in the universe, like gravity or the speed of light. Before the formation of the earth, before our narrative began, God began to concoct a plan. He wanted His children to grow, to learn, to love, to experience life. But He knew the constant of the universe – mortals make mistakes. And so, He planned the Atonement. He knew nothing humanity could do could redeem itself. God will come down, save humanity, and humanity will experience the wide range of opportunities known as life without the fear of spiritual death as long as they clung to the Atonement and its promises.

“Men are that they might have joy,” the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi declares (2 Nephi 2:25). A life of joy is not a life spent in guilt. We discourage people through negative association from accessing the Atonement because we emphasize the sufferings and deprivations of sin rather than the cure as (for?) a church culture. Too many bishops feel their job is to discipline, not to forgive. As judges of Israel, they would rather pass sentence rather than rehabilitate. The Atonement is not a gift in many members’ eyes; it is a punishment. It is a walk of shame which we must endure in order to appease the anger of a jealous God. But this thinking is wrong – not only do we make our potential conversation and relationship with God horrible and painful, we estrange ourselves from his His true character. We deny the aspect of the Atonement which establishes itself firmly as a gift, not a scourge to castigate, and instead of emphasizing His mercy as His Son did, we emphasize His anger. We have replaced mercy (and the Atonement) with the stern schoolmaster, not the other way around as Paul wanted (Galatians 3:24) – he’s probably spinning in his grave (or in heaven or the spirit world – whichever you prefer). This attitude only separates us from the power the Atonement has to offer and when we see others access it, we assume weakness rather than humility and strength, all the while forgetting that stating the fact of weakness in humans is like stating the fact that humans need to breathe to exist – it’s so ubiquitous, so natural, so common-knowledge that the fact loses any sense of wonderment or fascination. So why do we continue to delude ourselves into thinking that our sinful natures are some kind of bizarre aberration of who we are? And why do we refuse to see that the Atonement is the cure, not the cross, for sin?

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Sin Boldly! – Part Four: Real Faith

We reach the conclusion of my four part mini-series detailing what I believe, discovered during the grappling of a very real doctrinal problem.

Living a life of passion requires real, active faith. As we pursue a life of goodness and righteousness, pushing the boundaries of our faith so that we may grow, we make mistakes, we rush things, we mess up, we fail. We draw false conclusions, believe skewed or incomplete doctrines, and make outrageous claims. God looks into our hearts and knows why. Do we do this out of selfishness, out of a need to justify or rationalize our sins, or because we seek truth and we seek God? The Atonement has nullified the effects of an unavoidable sinful life. Instead of obsessing over whether our individual actions fall under the massive scope of our commandments, wondering whether or not skipping a church committee meeting to spend an impromptu ice cream night with your children is right or wrong, or whether driving the pretty secretary home without your wife in the car with you will put across the right or wrong message (or whether leaving her to walk in the rain would send the right or wrong message), we focus on intent. We fill our lives with charity, with compassion, with love, with forgiveness, and with a strong sense of right and wrong. When people tell us we’re too brash, we’re too passionate, we need to rein in our zeal, we take note, we learn, we adjust, and we quickly learn to temper our fire with knowledge, temperance, and wisdom. We allow the Maker’s hammer to beat us against the anvil so that we can become a useful tool in His hands, rather than hope that we can stay on the shelf, shapeless, formless, and safe. This way, the lump of ore thinks, I can never disappoint. I will never exhibit any imperfection. The thinking is false – the imperfections may never come into light (though eventually, all of them will), but they never go away. The lump of ore remains untested and impure.

When we understand our predicament as people, we can’t help but fill our hearts with charity. We understand that nobody stands in a better position, that we all need help, and that no matter how vile we become, God still thinks we’re worth something. That’s a powerful belief and a powerful sentiment. Faith becomes less an expression of public standing due to our outward appearances and acts but more of an internalized expression of faith and rejoicing within the powerful redemptive force known as the Atonement.

Examine this case scenario. When Alma the Younger’s son embarrasses him by running off with a harlot, instead of telling Corianton how ashamed he was, how he could never show his face at the local ward again, how now he must endure the prying eyes and furtive whispers, Alma gently reminds his son that all actions have consequences and then proceeds to teach him – what else? – about the Garden of Eden and the Atonement. Instead of warning his son to avoid sin “or else” or lashing him verbally for all the pain and trouble and shame and embarrassment his sin had caused, he reassures him of the peaceful, loving promise God offers all of his children: “And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance” (Alma 42:29). Then, in an incredible move of reconciliation and love, he reinstates his son as a missionary, and the scriptures tell us that his sons go out and preach the word with incredible success. The father who had suffered the harrowing pains of hell because of his own passion completely understood his son’s sexual passion. No need to put the fear of God into this child – only to teach him carefully about the Atonement, help his son to internalize it and understand its implications, and then show the same mercy God showed him.

Sin is inevitable. God teaches us this in the Garden of Eden. There will be times when you will face impossible choices, choices that perhaps it becomes impossible to sin, even when we strive so hard to do good. Yes, perhaps we may get a little dirty along the way; this is lamentable. But it is also inevitable. Even a life of strict asceticism and self-denial will lead to sin, for there will have no opportunities to serve humanity. But even from the beginning, God had a plan to counteract the deadly effects of sin. Christ has overcome the world, and it’s our job to use this liberating gift to do as much good as possible. It’s impossible to have acted perfectly in this life, our burden to bear as imperfect mortals. But perhaps it’s not impossible to have perfect intentions in this life and that’s what Christ wanted us to have when He commanded us to be perfect and when God began to tell us a story of how He set up a very tricky, impossible situation for His first children where sinning was impossible to avoid and maybe, that’s actually not as bad as we think.

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Sin Boldly! – Part One: The Paradoxical Garden

This blog has experienced a long absence of anything new posted because I lost internet for three weeks. This did not mean, however, that I had stopped writing. I began working on an extensive project to lay down what I felt was the groundwork of my current theological mindset – half an attempt at therapy because of my recent rapid loss of enthusiasm for a religion I felt marginalized and disappointed me, and half an attempt to put into words what I believe.

Lately I’ve been introduced to a quote by Martin Luther which has reinvigorated my theological outlook on life. Luther infamously declared, “Sin boldly!*” While Luther and I have come to theological disagreements, two things we believe in common – the mercy of God is paramount to any Christian faith, and it is impossible to get through life without sin. Reliance on Christ is the key. When Luther made his famous declaration, he meant not to go out and sin but that it is impossible to not sin. Therefore, we cannot sit idly by, petrified that we may make mistakes. Of course we’re going to make mistakes; this is inevitable. Thus, we go out and sin boldly, doing all that we can that we believe to be right, and rely on God’s ability to read our hearts and find our good intentions, despite our imperfect actions.

This idea comes into play when my wife and I recently discussed a most distressing and perplexing situation in the Garden of Eden narrative. My wife is of the opinion that the entire story is allegorical rather than factual. I’m more reluctant to abandon the Garden of Eden as a factual narrative. However, we both agree that the Garden of Eden is useful only if we apply it to our lives as a metaphor – we’re taught as much in the temple. This brought us to a very morbid conclusion. God gives Adam and Eve contradictory commandments – multiply and replenish the Earth, and don’t eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. You can’t complete one without breaking the other. What kind of a cruel, arbitrary God would do that? He counsels harshly against the prospect of sin and yet purposely sets up a situation where sin is impossible to escape.

This troubled my wife and I greatly. If the Adam and Eve narrative is a metaphor for our lives, it would then lead that perhaps our lives are also made up of contradictory commandments. In fact, we see this all the time. We are to honor our father and mother, yet cleave unto our spouse and leave our parents. God tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, but His Son tells us that sometimes, the proverbial ox falls into the proverbial mire, and you need to do everything you can to save the ox. Sometimes, it feels like God sets up the impossible situation for us as well; in fact, we may very well suspect this to be the case. He commands us one thing and yet commands another that seemingly contradict each other. Hence, we have a multitude of varying religious beliefs and ideologies that clash and sometimes war against each other.

Needless to say, the idea of such a God disturbed us. What would be the purpose, the intention behind such a scenario? My wife and I have struggled with this concept for years; I remember wrestling with this subject during the early years of my mission while she never found any comfort in the Garden of Eden narrative – only fear.

This whole adventure starts with the question of God’s somehow bizarre behavior – why does He propose contradictory commandments? What is He trying to say about sin? My gospel scholarship began to flower many years ago when a dear mentor of mine opened up my eyes while speaking about the Garden of Eden and connecting it to the Atonement; the experience instilled within me a love of the scriptures and theology in general. Thus, it seemed appropriate (even poetic) that as I investigated the Garden once more to answer some persistent questions, it led me on an intellectual and spiritual wild goose chase that ended in an eye-opening realization of God’s true mercy for us.

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* The full context of the quote is thusly: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.”

Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from:Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche SchriftenDr. Johann Georg Walch Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590

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An Open Letter to Christians

My fellow Christians,

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in conservative Religious Right rhetoric – on the one hand, we espouse that we want our freedom of religion and, interestingly, we invoke often our religion about how we need to resist interference in the government. Still, on the other hand, we wish to strong arm our own view of Christian morality (and I mean this in the most respectful sense of the phrase) to American society – using the governmental apparatus of laws. Surely, the left hand really doesn’t know what the right hand does in this situation.

I’m not saying we don’t need morality. If anything, in our post-modern landscape of “anything goes,” we need strong cultural mores to anchor us in a solid base of what we believe to be right. In a world of relativism taken to the extreme, sometimes we need rights and beliefs and values we strongly believe and demonstrate in our daily lives. But let’s take an observation from the Bible – when Jesus began to teach his radical message of love, peace, and forgiveness, he began in the streets and the crowds, serving all who came to him. He did not take his message to Rome, to the throne of Caesar, and convince him to legislate the Sermon on the Mount.

And so, this brings me to my next plea: Please stop using the government. As one Christian to another, I want to warn you – when you begin to use the government to control education and to enforce morality, you lose sight of the thing Christ wants us to have most and the one thing you profess can change the world. Faith.

You remember faith, right? Faith in Jesus Christ, faith in His Gospel, faith in His teachings, faith in His words. Our very religion revolves around this important concept of faith. We believe in the faith of our fathers and when we profess who we are, we witness to the Christian faith. This all encompassing word means so much for us that Martin Luther cried out sola fide! – faith alone!

But when you start to use the government as a hammer for our God, it will only lead to our destruction because of the lack of your faith.

You lack faith in your children to know right from wrong, to be able to determine themselves what is good and what is bad, what is truth and what is lies.

You lack faith in your fellow man, unable to see the good around you. Despite your constant declarations that America is a Christian nation, you exhibit a deep mistrust for your neighbors, who by definition, should be following Christian morals. You feel government, not good Christian judgment and witness, must stop this perceived immorality.

You lack faith in your religion. Instead of spending your wealth to fund missionaries, to fund programs, to fund churches, instead of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, you rely on man-made legislation and “political change” to protect us. You have more trust in the mortal, governmental arm of the flesh than the arm of God.

You lack faith in your own God, who promises to be your vanguard and your rearguard, to be a pillar of fire that will lead you to the promised land, insomuch you remain pure and unsullied from this world. Instead, you rely on politicians who profess a deep love and devotion for this country and our religion, but who will ultimately fail in some point in time as every man falters in his life.

And you have little to no faith in yourself. Though you claim to be sinful, you also claim to have felt that transforming power of God. But you are afraid that you cannot teach your children correctly, so you force the school boards to do it for you. Do you also feel that if abortion or gay marriage was a legal possibility that you would cave into such a temptation? That your fellow Christians will also falter at such a possibility? And do you believe legislating Christ’s laws into comparable but false laws of Rome will cease such sinful practices? That the power of Caesar is necessary as a weapon and shield to build the Kingdom of God?

Our nation is one that knows no borders. Our city is the city of God, not the city of man. Let us band together as Christians and change our lives and our homes first. Then, let us change our communities – but not with the corruptible laws of the world, but with the spirit of God that shines through our countenances. Let us enact real lasting change in people through example and faith and word and deed, not through the seal of human government, subordinate to the almighty power of God. Let us use who we are, not who we know, to teach others that there is real strength in building character and living morally. And let us remember, my Christian brothers and sisters, that the minute we touch the unclean thing we lose that spiritual power within us. The minute we take our eyes off of Christ and look about the storm surrounding us and lose hope and faith and attempt to swim against the storm ourselves, that is when we begin to sink into the perilous deep.

The arm of Christ is extended towards us. Let us catch hold of it and repudiate and reject the arm of the flesh before it is too late.

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