On the Dangers of Being Obedient Because We Expect a Quid Pro Quo from God, and of Concluding That God Gave Many of the Seemingly-Most-Obedient a Raw Deal While Seemingly Blessing The Wicked So Abundantly
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: The following was cross-posted today at the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board in response to an inquiry which essentially asked, “Why bother being obedient when so many of the most obedient seem to have gotten such a raw deal, while so many of the most wicked seem to have it made?”
If I’m determined to see only the empty half of that half-full glass no matter what, it doesn’t matter what the Lord blesses me with. It’s like the story of the twins, one an optimist and the other a pessimist: wanting to change the pessimist’s outlook, for his birthday, his parents got him every toy, gadget, and other amusement they could think of one year, and all they got for the pessimist was a box of manure. On the morning of their birthday, the optimist comes down the stairs, sees all of the gloriously-wrapped presents, and says, “Is that all you got me?” The optimist comes bounding down the stairs and rips into the box of manure saying, “There’s gotta be a pony in here someplace! There’s gotta be a pony in here someplace!”
It’s simply a question of outlook. I could drive myself crazy wondering about the seeming injustice in the world, but I’d rather be like that optimistic twin. Do I waver in that conviction sometimes (OK, a lot? Heh-heh!) Sure. That’s human nature (but then I remember Mosiah 3:19). Wondering why all the people who SURELY deserve it haven’t gotten theirs yet (whether “theirs” is “good” or “bad”) simply cankers the soul. As pie-in-the-sky as this might seem, I’d rather simply trust God to treat us fairly in the long run. (See Isaiah 55:8-9).
And I’m always a little bit wary of those who, in the name of “charity” and “compassion,” look at someone who, by all appearances, got a raw deal and conclude that since God is so unfair (if there is one) there’s no point in believing in Him. (Such charity and compassion, if they lead to that conclusion, are as much tools of Satan as are hate and cruelty.) Many of the people we’re absolutely convinced got a raw deal don’t see their situations the way we do. Their lot in life is between God and them. My lot in life is between God and me.
Update – March 26, 2013: A Few Thoughts on Why One Should Be Wary of Concluding That S/he Would Do Things Differently—If Only S/he Were God
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: In a vein that is related to the above, I posted the following on the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board on May 11, 2011 in response to a post positing that no god would allow as much suffering as exists in the world today. (Hence, there is not one.) Here’s the “money quote” from the post, followed by my response: “I am human, and if I wanted to teach a child to die, I would do it quickly and painless. I would not slowly torture them with the very many developmental diseases that biology has discovered. Only an immoral god would do that to an innocent child. Only an immoral god would command us NOT to abort children, and yet do so himself in the far more hideous ways.
“Don’t even get me started on neurological diseases. . . .”
I’m sure you can come up with what seems to an outsider to be a litany of perfectly hideous neurological conditions which are far worse than mine; I’ll concede that point at the outset. That said, since I can only speak to what I know, I’ll use myself as an example.
I have Cerebral Palsy. I was born nearly 10 weeks prematurely, a virtual death sentence back then. Indeed, the doctor told my dad not to expect me to live throughout the night; when competent medical authority tells you it’s likely that your child will die shortly after birth, it’s also likely that no one is taking bets that he’ll have a very good quality of life even if he does manage to survive.
I survived; if someone had bet on me back then instead of betting against me, he or she would be a multibillionaire today! ;-D Has it been easy? No. Can I say it has all been worth it? Not yet. Do I think that, eventually, I’ll be able to say it’s been worth it? Well, I have faith that I will … eventually.
I was “mainstreamed” in school from Day One, with all that it entails (almost none of my peers were my friends, at least, not at first); I’ve had my left hip reconstructed three times, including having hardware implanted and removed; I’ve had surgery on every major muscle in my left leg; I’ve spent a total of about six months with my lower body completely immobilized in plaster; I’ve used every ambulatory device imaginable, including canes, crutches, braces, and a wheelchair; I’ve undergone thousands of hours of painful, grueling, often-seemingly-fruitless therapy.
I haven’t yet found someone who, from my perspective, can truly see what she’s looking at to the degree necessary for her to agree to spend Her Eternity with me; I haven’t yet found a suitable, stable, comfortable, reasonably well-remunerated occupational niche; I’ve alternated between being nipped at, and almost being devoured whole by, the dog of a psychiatric diagnosis. (Dr. Sidney Freedman [of M*A*S*H fame] once said that war is the most efficient enterprise ever invented for separating a person’s brain from his buns: some of the things I’ve gone through are a close second! :-D)
Does a spirit that inhabits a body like mine (or worse) have the free will to say, once he actually gets here, “Forget it; I know I said I was eager enough to get a body that I’d be willing to settle for one that’s less than perfect, but this isn’t what I signed up for”? Maybe. There’s been a lot of speculation about that among me, my family, and my friends. If, indeed, I chose such a lot, there’s really no sense in bellyaching about what that lot entails. One just has to follow Mrs. Gump’s advice [the fictional novel and movie character, Forrest Gump’s, mom] and do the best one can with what God gives one.
With all of this, I’ve done pretty well: I’m an Eagle Scout, and there’s no “asterisk” by my name; I did everything any other Scout in my Troop did to get that award. I received a scholarship from my peers when I graduated from high school as a token of their respect for me, given that I graduated with them (my challenges notwithstanding). I’ve gone on to earn three degrees. In the interest of full disclosure, one of them is an associate degree, in case you think that shouldn’t “count”. Still, I was first nominated for, and later received, similar recognition from my peers at the institution which awarded that degree. I’ve studied abroad in Mexico. I’m a published and award-winning poet, editor, and author.
If I cannot yet say for certain the reasons why I’ve been through everything I’ve been through (I can for some of it, but not for all of it), I’m not going to try to guess the reasons why someone who has (at least from the perspective of an outsider looking in) a worse lot, is called upon to go through what s/he goes through. I do strongly suspect, however, that I’m a much different person for what I’ve gone through than I would be without it: I believe it has made me a more empathetic, articulate, intelligent human being. As for the reasons I don’t yet comprehend, I can only shrug and, along with Nephi, say, “I know not the meaning of all things; nevertheless, I know that God loveth His children.”
But I’d be wary of looking at someone else’s lot and trying to conclude anything about why God does what He does, why He allows what He allows, or that you would do things much differently (if only you were He!)
Update: 4 April 2013 – I love this excerpt from Carlfred Broderick’s little book, The Uses of Adversity (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book )
http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/60536-did-we-really-choose-which-family-we-would-be-born-to/#entry1209244373 (scroll down; for some reason, the link takes you to a deleted post, while the one which captured my interest is the next one down).
Update, 4 May 2014: Yet More on God as Santa Claus and on Quid Pro Quo Obedience
By Ken K. Gourdin
In response to a query at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion about why we should be obedient in the hope of receiving blessings that never seem to come, I replied:
I get your cynicism; I really do. The promises of eternity can seem so ethereal and illusory at times. (That darn veil, and those darn vicissitudes of mortality! ) The only thing I can say is that often, we’re not fully cognizant of all of the blessings we receive here in mortality. For example, it’s easy, if we’re inspired to take a different route home and we learn from watching the news that there was a major accident or incident along our usual route at about the time we normally would pass that spot on our commute, to say, “Wow! What a blessing!” And thank our Heavenly Father. (As for those who did not escape such a fate, it’s easy [and only natural] to wonder why they did not receive the same blessing: As the lyrics in the song, “Slip Slidin’ Away” put it, “God only knows. God makes His plans. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.”) When we’re “saved” from a particular occurrence, on the one hand, while it befalls others, on the other hand, it’s natural to wonder how both things possibly could be consistent with God’s will. I don’t know. I only believe that neither His thoughts nor His ways are my thoughts or my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). I only believe that “all flesh is in [His] hands” (Doctrine & Covenants 101:16). I only believe that “[A]ll things [both “good” and “bad”] work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). With Nephi, I can only say, “I know not the meaning of all things. Nevertheless, I know that [God] loveth His children” (1 Nephi 11:17).
While I do believe that there are dangers in quid pro quo obedience, in treating God as though He were Santa Claus (who gives us presents when we’re “good” and who doesn’t when we’re “bad”) and so on, while not everyone who is not under covenant to obey the Word of Wisdom is an irresolute drunkard, I do know for sure that no one who obeys it is; and while not everyone who is not under covenant to obey the Law of Chastity is a crazed, disease-ridden sex fiend who is a slave to his appetites, I do know for sure that no one who obeys it is. And so on. But while there are blessings that accrue to everyone who obeys the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity (escaping disease, avoiding addiction, and so on), I believe there is increased power and additional blessings in keeping covenants. On the 1,735,450,500th “Is the Word of Wisdom Really Worth it … Because (Did You Know) Coffee Has Antioxidants In It[?]” thread, I said, “I don’t care if it is the very Elixir of Life. I have covenanted to not drink it, and I know I’ll be blessed for keeping that covenant.”
Having said all of this, the Dog of Clinical Depression has alternated between nipping at my heels and threatening to devour me whole for many years. That, and any other psychiatric diagnoses, can severely impact one’s outlook and, perhaps, one’s ability to live the Gospel (at least with respect to the “Do” commandments, if not with respect to their “Do Not” counterparts). It certainly has in my case. But I believe God will be as merciful as He can at the judgment. (Else why the Atonement? And of course, Christ took upon Himself not only our sins, but our infirmities, as well, so He could know how to succor us.) The bottom line is, I often don’t feel like doing the things required by the “Do” commandments. (For example, sometimes it’s a struggle to get to Church). But I ask myself if I’ll feel better or if it’ll solve the problem if I don’t do whatever it is I (temporarily) don’t feel like doing, and the answer’s always, “No.” And even if I feel terrible, almost without exception, I feel better mingling with my fellow Saints than I would if I were not to do so.
And do the things God asks me to do fill my soul, depression notwithstanding? They do. For what it’s worth.
In response to a Bishop’s lament over a missionary who returned early from his mission as a result of transgression who asked, “What LDS girl would want to marry a guy like me?” and of whom the Bishop said, “I wept for him, and still do,” I replied:
One need not be guilty of major sin (or of not being forthcoming about it) to find himself in that situation. I’m a not-so-YM (young man)-anymore. I don’t believe in God-as-Santa-Claus and in quid pro quo obedience. I’m far from perfect, but the things I do in the Gospel, I do because they fill my soul, and not because God won’t give me “presents” if I’m not “good.” I haven’t gone inactive, and (God willing, will not). I served an honorable mission, have held many callings in the Church, am an Eagle Scout and seminary graduate. But I got stuck short of marriage in the whole go-on-a-mission, come-home, start-school, start-dating, find-a-mate, start-a-career, start-a-family thing. I ask myself that same question. I still haven’t found an answer. “Major sin” or not, no one can make it halfway through this life or into the next without the Savior. Why haven’t I gotten married or found at least modest success in a career? “I know not the meaning of all things; nevertheless, I know that God loveth His children.” I could drive myself crazy repeatedly asking myself the questions I don’t have the answers to, but why bother? What’s the point? My biggest struggle is refusing to be defined by what I lack.