Some Thoughts on Good Thoughts and Bad Thoughts, and Good Deeds and Bad Deeds, and Zion and Babylon, and Sin and Repentance and the Atonement
By Ken K. Gourdin
I just posted the following at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion in response to a query about controlling one’s thoughts:
1. Although we are eternal beings, we currently have imperfect, mortal tabernacles here on earth; and 2. We live in a fallen world. Because our spirits are housed in imperfect, mortal, fallible tabernacles here on earth, we’re subject to all sorts of vicissitudes of, for example, biochemistry, and psychiatric diagnoses, and the efforts of an Adversary who “seeketh that all men might be miserable, like unto himself.” I do not, for a minute, think that people who suffer because of those things (Yours Truly included) “brought it upon themselves”: I think such conditions are one of Satan’s best tools for getting us to think like he wants us to think, because they don’t necessarily involve a conscious decision to think like those mortal conditions often make us think. That’s where the “pains and sicknesses” part of the Atonement mentioned in Alma 7 comes in: as much as we might want to point fingers at each other and say, “He did [x], [y], and [z]” (which are all not such good things), the Lord’s response will be, “Well, did you know anything about the burdens he was carrying at the time … ?”
Because we live in a fallen world, thoughts of various kinds that we don’t wish to entertain are likely to come, unbidden and out-of-the-blue, into our heads. But thoughts are like birds; they tend to land … “wherever” … but just because they land in our heads doesn’t mean we have to let them nest there. My dear Auntie (one of them, anyway; they’re all dear to me!) once told me a story of a lady who didn’t have a lot of experience in Primary (and probably not in the Church) who was asked to teach Sunbeams (of all classes! :blink:) about repentance (of all subjects! :blink:) one week. In the class, she asks, “Does anyone know what repentance is?” And a little three-year-old Sunbeam says, “It means we can twy agin.” That’s really all repentance … and the atonement, and the sacrament … is: it means we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and “twy agin.” (As much as we tend to complicate living the Gospel, it really is so simply beautiful and beautifully simple that even a young child can understand it. :-))
It’s worth pondering, too, whether we want to have “a primary residence in Zion, while still maintaining a summer cottage in Babylon.” Most of us are guilty of attempting to steal away (for just a brief visit!) to our summer cottages in Babylon. How do we, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone, spend our Sabbath? While it’s a perfect opportunity to spend a whole day in Zion, sometimes we even want to spend (at least part of) that day … of all days … in Babylon. (On the other hand, after having spent a sublime Sabbath in Zion, I’ve also experienced the dread of having to face the worldly demands and altogether much more ordinary pursuits of a manic Monday in Babylon … [Sigh!] :-o)
Surely, Satan has “bruised my heel” countless times; I hope, eventually and at length, to “come off, conqueror” and to be able to “crush his head,” but it probably won’t happen (at least, not completely) in this life. I hope and believe that there’s value in the struggle: it’s one thing to struggle, fail, and struggle some more; and it’s another thing entirely to struggle, fail, and give up the struggle. I think Satan wants both of those kinds of people to believe they’re in the same boat, but I don’t think they are. There are plenty of people in the world who want to abandon God so they can be comfortable with sin, and there are comparatively fewer people in the world who want to abandon sin so they can be comfortable with God. Fortunately, it’s not just what we do that counts, but also the thoughts and intents of our hearts. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said (paraphrasing), “Imperfect, fallible, mortal beings are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.”
Humans have an annoying habit of comparing our worst to everyone else’s best … especially when we only see the people to whom we are comparing ourselves at Church. Where else would you expect that it’s more likely that people would be on their best behavior and trying to put their best foot forward?! 😉 But, as I’m fond of saying, the Church isn’t a resort for the spiritually well; it’s a hospital for the spiritually sick. All of us are spiritually sick to one degree or another. Even if we have no major problems and our lives are going swimmingly (How would it be?!!! ;)) we’re still “spiritually dead” because we’re separated from God here in mortality. One of my favorite lines from the Church production, The Prodigal Son is when Jim’s wife, Joanne, tells him, “None of us can make it halfway through this life, or into the next, without the Savior.” You’re probably not a lot different than most of us, even if you think you are. I also read this thought on another board that perhaps is appropos to this discussion: “I don’t know how anyone can completely succeed at their religion, unless all it requires is breathing.” 🙂 My $0.02. I wish you well.