Vagueness as a Gospel PrincipleBy: Jeff Spector
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; (D&C 58:26 – 27)
As you read the scriptures, listen to conference talks, and other materials about the Church, I get the feeling sometimes that things can be a little vague. Human nature seems to dictate that an absolute answer is always preferred over ambiguity and vagueness.
But in the religious realm, it is not to be. Vagueness is defined as not clear in meaning or application or, indistinctly felt, perceived, understood, or recalled; hazy.
The fact that there are so many religions and religious denominations seems to confirm this idea. For instance, if there is one God, our Heavenly Father, why does He seem to manifest Himself so differently to different people, to different cultures, and at different times?
For example, In the LDS Church, we believe that Baptism is an essential ordnance to enter the kingdom of God and to progress toward eternal life and salvation. And there are Christian denominations that echo that same idea. However, there are just as many, maybe more, who, reading the same scriptures, deny the necessity of Baptism for salvation. Vagueness occurs because the scriptures are not 100% clear on that point. Within the LDS Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith did make it clear, in the Fourth Article of Faith, that Baptism is essential.
In another, more contemporary example, many conservative Christians and Jews, for that matter, look at scriptures in Leviticus to proclaim that Homosexual activity is wrong. (Leviticus 18:22, see also Romans 1:27, 29-31, 32) However, religious organizations and individuals more sympathetic toward the Gay Movement have interpreted those scriptures very differently and say that they do not even address the issue of homosexuality. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh5.htm) The scriptures do not come right out and address the issue so clearly it cannot be open to interpretation. Vagueness.
In Doctrine and Covenants Section 89, the Word of Wisdom verse 9, “hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” But what is a hot drink? Anyone’s first read of that verse would lead them to conclude it was ANY drink that was HOT that does not seem terribly vague.
But wait, there’s more!
In 1842 Hyrum Smith, Assistant President of the Church and also the Presiding Patriarch, provided an interpretation of the Word of Wisdom’s proscription of “hot drinks”:
“And again “hot drinks are not for the body, or belly;” there are many who wonder what this can mean; whether it refers to tea, or coffee, or not. I say it does refer to tea, and coffee. (Times and Seasons, 1842-06-01, vol. 3, p. 800.
But it does not refer to hot chocolate, hot herbal tea, hot barley drinks, etc. But, many have also speculated as to why coffee and tea? Could it be the caffeine? If so, that means cola drinks, or anything else that might have caffeine in it. You mean like chocolate? Wait a minute! I thought hot chocolate was ok? What about Mountain Dew, it’s not a cola drink? Here is a case where something seems pretty straightforward but has been made somewhat vague.
So why would Gospel Principles be Vague?
First, maybe they are not all that vague. Maybe, you need to find the right source of information. If the scriptures seem vague, what have the Living Prophets said? If that is vague, what does the Lord tell you when you pray about it or what does the Spirit testify to you about it? Still nothing? What are you willing to take it on faith alone?
Second, we do need to develop faith. “NOW faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Some things have no immediate answer and must be taken on faith alone until a later time.
Thirdly, we are here on earth as a test. Ultimately, we decide for ourselves the path we walk. Like the verse at the beginning of this post, if we did not have our agency to decide for ourselves and had to be told each and every little detail, we would not progress to reach the goal of living with Our Father in Heaven and His Son throughout eternity.
Sure, things can be a bit vague and uncertain at times. But it is part of the great Plan of happiness for us to endure to the end.
So, the question at hand is how do you deal with the vagueness and ambiguity? Perhaps you think there is none.