Monday, November 04, 2013

Am I Wicked?

One of the most counterproductive things we can do with scripture is to take it out of context--even when it comes to the Book of Mormon. Actually..especially when it comes to the Book of Mormon.



If we read the Book of Mormon the wrong way regarding the concept of wickedness, it can be a real downer. If we read just a handful of verses out of context, for example, we might even think that it’s not worth trying to reach heaven anymore. Since depression and thoughts of suicide are clearly not what the authors of the Book of Mormon were trying to engender in us, perhaps we need to discover a little context surrounding the subject of wickedness in the Book of Mormon.

You may have noticed this seeming jab to the spiritual solar plexus about guilt and wickedness at the end of this verse, for example.
The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
The beginning of the verse begins cheerily enough, talking about the gloriousness of the resurrection--but then the tone seems to suddenly change as it reminds us at that day what we will feel like if we still experience guilt.

Let’s see--a perfect, resurrected body...that is still wicked? That doesn’t sound good at all. In fact it almost sounds like I just lost my ticket to the celestial kingdom. Or did I?

The following entire verse doesn’t seem to give much comfort either, and perhaps even less than the one above, if we take this verse, too, out of context:
For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
You mean all of my words and works will condemn me? Every mean thing I ever said? And that candy bar I stole from the grocery store is going to come back to haunt me? And God’s going to remember when I drank those few beers and smoke those cigarettes? Or that hand gesture and filthy language that I used to that little old lady who cut me off in traffic? Maybe God is Zeus after all. Just reading the above verse makes me a little bit uncomfortable even thinking about being in his presence. But should it?

Now, moving on to the next verse, as if my out-of-context self can’t get any more depressed, now I feel even worse because it seems to be inviting me to compare myself with those families who come to church every week, who seem to have everything going right for them and who have nary a care in the world--you know, the “righteous”.


we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; [but] the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.
But wait a second...is it really trying to get me to compare myself with anyone at all?


To make matters seemingly worse to the hopelessly out-of-context reader, the Book of Mormon reminds us that this earth life is a serious probation and warns us about wasting our time while we’re here:
I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
That sort of sounds like I have to fix all of my personal problems in this life before I die--because there’s no such thing as death-bed repentance, is there? Or is that what it’s saying at all?

The answers:
  1. No, I did not just lose my ticket to the celestial kingdom, 
  2. No, I’m not supposed to be afraid of some imagined, fire-breathing god because of my past sins, 
  3. No, I’m not supposed to compare myself with anyone else--especially those people who seem to have everything going for them (because deep down behind the scenes--they probably don’t have it all going for them, because God is probably giving them their own test that we don’t know about, to refine their own characters just as the tests he has given you and me are intended to refine our own characters.). And
  4. No, I don’t have to become perfect all on my own, all before breakfast tomorrow morning.
Here’s something interesting that I’ve come across. To me, it seems that the Book of Mormon prophets, in trying to ensure that they didn’t come off sounding as though they thought they were better or more righteous than others, went to the other extreme and gave the impression by the regular use of the pronouns “we” or “us”--along with a form of the word “wicked”--to make themselves look worse than others. I call it humility. I call it a respectful gesture on their part of not judging unrighteous judgment against anyone who might read their words, because quite often what we at first glance might see as a vile shortcoming in someone else is actually just them learning to become more like God through the individualized test that they, together with their Heavenly Parents in pre-mortality, determined was most calculated to make them become so.

This all reminds me of the time my wife asked me the question, “Do you think you’ll make it to the celestial kingdom?” and I said “I sure hope so.” She didn’t like that answer. “Why aren’t you sure that you’re going to make it?” she asked. My response was that I still had a lot of personality quirks to clean up and, by the grace of Christ’s atonement, I hoped that I would be able to one day receive from my Heavenly Father a clean spiritual bill of health. She breathed a sigh of relief when she discovered that I was actually not holding tight to one or more sins that I had determined absolutely not to give up at the expense of eternal life.

Book of Mormon prophets are not trying to give us a depression complex by telling us that we’re wicked. They’re just pointing out what happens to someone who is wicked.
Okay, then, so who is wicked? Is it me? Is it you? Here’s a hint. If you’ve gotten this far in this article, it’s not you. Let me explain...

One of the most difficult concepts that conscientious members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deal with is that grace really does work. We don’t have to do it all ourselves. In fact we can’t do it all ourselves.

Grace is found throughout the the Book of Mormon.  But somehow we seem to notice it LESS than we notice the stuff that talks about wickedness, so that we have a tendency to erroneously brand ourselves as wicked...

More to follow.....

 

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