Resisting God in our Lives and in Our Minds
by H. Wallace Goddard
If obedience and consecration are turning our wills and lives over to God, then maybe faith is turning our minds over to Him. It won’t do to say we believe in Him while chafing and fidgeting against His purposes. That is why it is the first order of mortal business to know God.
A friend who had been raised as a Latter-day Saint, once asked me why she felt so totally alive when she was involved in illicit sex. She apparently wondered why she didn’t feel miserable in the midst of sin. It is an interesting question. The larger question might be, “Why is sin so often energizing while goodness often feels like struggling at piano under the austere eye of Ms. Dour?”
That is a hard question. As humans observe the chafings of mortality, it seems that a reasonable metaphor for life is time in the military. We are trained through hard experience to be perfectly obedient even as we suffer senseless indignities and grumble our way through.
Some years ago I met a mental health professional who captured the common perception of life: “It is our duty to suffer and die for the amusement of our creator. And I am doing my part.” Ahhh. No wonder that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau observed.
So the cosmic question is: Are you willing and able to live a barren, austere life of suffering so that you can go to eternity and take rare pleasure in laughing at those who suffer unspeakable indignities through eternity? Jonathan Edward’s (1703-1758) famous speech, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” comes to mind:
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; . . . you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince.
Prospects for the future life aren’t good if you believe Edward’s revivalist rhetoric. The best that can be hoped for in mortality is an uncomfortable resignation, an enduring gloom. Mortality crowned with infamy. Such grim predictions hardly encourage serene faith. It seems that the only options are to take pleasure in sin or to put on the Pharisaic robes hoping to slip by the final judges. For many, the former option promises at least some glimmer of gratification.
But there is a lie neatly woven into the argument that obscures the pattern from all but the spiritually astute. Each of us could list the pleasures that tug at us, the siren song that distracts us. Suppose for a moment that we abandoned all restraint and indulged all those pleasures with absolute concentration (“total abandon” is the common and telling phrase). Imagine that, for the balance of mortality, we ate everything that looked appetizing, seized all sexual opportunities, and snatched all resources that came to hand, would our lives be better? Would we be happier? What does your experience say?
Not only have most of us had our experiments with spiritual irresponsibility, all of us know someone who has turned the experiment into a way of life. The oft-replicated result of those experiments is surprisingly consistent. No matter how skilled the experimenter, the result is total darkness, soul-deep loneliness, utter meaninglessness, and nagging despair. Admittedly, for those who pursue the experiment half-heartedly, the result may be only partial misery but that misery is magnified by angst. A lukewarm soul feels like an amnesiac who has awakened in the midst of nordic blizzard: lost-enjoying neither the excitement of sin nor the purpose and peace of faith. As Alma the younger, an early-in-life experimenter himself, wisely observed: “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). It never was. It never will be. It never can be. It is contrary to the nature of happiness (See Alma 41:11).
Overeating brings acid reflux and soddenness. Immorality always brings gloom, loneliness, and relational fuzziness. Coveting brings shriveled focus and restless hunger. Wickedness may stimulate but it never satisfies. Satan offers crown jewels but delivers dunce caps. He is not to be trusted. He was a liar from the beginning (D&C 93:25).
Is the only alternative to sin a course of grim resolve and stubborn toiling? What does God have to offer that is any better than Satan’s titillation?
Sometimes we make the mistake of seeing God’s prescriptions as arbitrary dig-a-hole-here-and-fill-it-in-to-kill-time-and-to-make-me-feel-powerful exercises. That misjudges the Creator. His “commands” are simply the course to greatest joy. He charts the most direct path from where we are to the place of greatest growth, peace, usefulness, satisfaction-in a word, joy. He knows just how to help us fill the measure of our creation and have joy therein. Of course there is some slogging and climbing to do between here and there. But He knows the Way to Joy. He is Joy. And He wants us Home with Him.
At times we may journey sullenly: “Maybe I have to obey but I don’t have to like it.” We may reserve the right to evaluate His performance and complain about the convoluted course He charts for us.
“Poor, dismal, ugly, sterile, shabby little man…with your scrabble of harsh oaths…Joy, glory, and magnificence were here for you…but you scrabbled along…rattling a few stale words… and would have none of them” (Thomas Clayton Wolfe). Joy is the result when mortal-weary travelers throw themselves on the merit, mercy, and grace of Him who is might to save. Misery is the result of avoiding or resisting Him.
Brigham Young talked about the blessings that await the faithful. He said that some people see great reason “to be thankful” while others speak of their “constant trials, tribulations, difficulties, and disappointments which they have now to pass through, and gloomy forebodings of more in the future.” Then he makes this startling statement: “There is not a single condition of life that is entirely unnecessary; there is not one hour’s experience but what is beneficial to all those who make it their study, and aim to improve upon the experience they gain” (Journal of Discourses, Vol.9, p.292 p.293).
Not a single condition, not a single hour is wasted! Wow. I think Brigham was saying that when one’s growth is presided over by One who is perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and perfectly committed to our well-being, we may be fully confident. We may enjoy the peace of knowing that our limitations do not (can not!) put us beyond the reach of His saving power. The same claim can not be made for many drill sergeants. Unlike the typical military officer, Jesus “doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24).
If obedience and consecration are turning our wills and lives over to God, then maybe faith is turning our minds over to Him. It won’t do to say we believe in Him while chafing and fidgeting against His purposes. That is why it is the first order of mortal business to know God, His character, perfection, and attributes (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third). As we know Him, we trust Him and feel His comforting companionship.
When we abandon our desire for the side-trips we call sin, we are not consigned to a bleak, stark existence. The journey becomes not only more efficient but also more enjoyable. Brigham Young compared the sacrifices we make in the journey of mortality to giving up an old, battered coat.
“I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times . . . to a man wearing an old, worn out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake-I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering. . . . I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.348)
A new coat. Warmth. Comfort. A fitting metaphor for wholly putting on our covenants. We do not have to carry the burdens of sin or the boredom of unrelenting tiredness. When we turn our lives over to God, we are encircled and comforted in the arms of His love (See 2 Nephi 1:15).
In the journey of life it is common to confuse virtue with discomfort (as George Bernard Shaw accused the English of doing). God doesn’t want martyrs as much as He wants rejoicers; He wants people who are brim with holy exuberance. Henry Ward Beecher put the challenge directly: “The test of Christian character should be that a man is a joy-bearing agent to the world.” We may pray that God will fill our minds with His truths, fill our souls with His goodness, fill our lives with His purposes, and fill our struggles with meaning.
Maybe the fundamental lie in all of eternity is that Satan is a fun-loving, decent sort of fellow. While he may get us in some minor mischief, he will show us a good time and we will be dusted off when we get home. Satan does not want us to know that he is not only a liar and a cheat but also cruel and heartless. He is totally indifferent to our well-being. In fact, he has a very strong preference for seeing us suffer, even those who are his “loyal” subjects. “Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom” (Moses 7:37).
The fundamental truth in all eternity is that Father wants nothing for us but our greatest happiness. His whole purpose is to bless all of us to the very limit of our capacity. “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.255).
Many people carry heavy burdens through mortality. We should never belittle their load or chide the laborers. Yet we can all draw strength from the Heavenly assurance that “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).
All of us who have felt the heartache of sin and the joy of goodness, know that it is better (more meaningful, satisfying, purposeful, and rewarding) to wash dishes in God’s house than to party in Satan’s. That is quite a surprise! As the Psalmist observed:
“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee” (Psalms 84:10-12).
Whatever the reputed “rewards of sin,” they cannot compare with the blessings of discipleship. May we find joy in being led through mortality by our Perfect Friend.
2007 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.