Three Universal Laws

By: Nate
December 10, 2013

On a recent international flight, I found myself engaged in a gospel conversation with my seat mate, attempting to describe the Plan of Salvation: pre-existence, mortal life, spirit prison, and the three degrees of glory.  My seat mate gave me an indulgent smile and said he thought my beliefs resembled a Parker Brothers board game, with all its little rules, stages, degrees, and “get out of spirit prison free” cards.  I reluctantly agreed that my beliefs didn’t seem very aesthetically pleasing the way I had described it.  Then I explained that what I liked about the Plan of Salvation was not all the theological details, but rather the Universal Laws underpinning it all, the concepts of eternal progression, grace, works, and justice which all beautifully intersect in LDS theology.  Needless to say, my seat mate wasn’t able to appreciate the abstract view any better than the overly detailed one.

Since that disastrous conversation, I’ve thought more about the Universal Laws underpinning the details of LDS theology, and how I might be able to better articulate them.   I’ve thought of three basic Universal Laws, out of which seem to spring all of the theologies, practices, and doctrines I can think of.  This is too abstract to use as a missionary lesson, but it might be of some use to members who are fatigued by the fastidious details of Mormonism.  Ultimately, I believe that our doctrines and practices may be temporary, but that these Universal Laws are eternal, and ultimately, that they are the essence and what is most important about all the little details.

1. The Law of the Harvest

This Law is about much more than just hard work and reaping fruits.  It is also about the fruits of our evil works, justice.  You reap what you sow.  An eye for an eye.  By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread.  He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.  Eternal progression.  You will become a God.  Mormons, more than any other Christians believe strongly in the Law of the Harvest.  It is the cardinal law of the Book of Mormon “If ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.”  We also share this emphasis with Buddhists and Hindus, who call it Karma.

2. The Law of Grace

Mercy.  Atonement.  Love.  Answered prayers.  This law allows others outside of ourselves to gift to us blessings and advantages which we did not merit or deserve.  It allows for forgiveness and repentance.  But it is also fundamentally unjust.  The Book of Mormon says that we all deserve eternal hellfire, and that anything above that is thanks to God’s grace. It is not just God’s universal grace, but God’s arbitrary grace.  In the parable of the laborers of the vineyard, the Lord gives the same reward to those who work all day as those who only work for an hour.  It is God’s prerogative to bless whom He will bless.  “I will forgive whom I will forgive.”  God is entitled to promise salvation even to rebellious children sealed in the covenant over those not sealed in the covenant.  He is entitled to promise salvation to children who die before the age of accountability, even if they were not tested and tried as others.  Jesus healed the sick, but only the few who happened to cross his path on earth.  So the concepts of mercy, atonement, and forgiveness are part of this law, but also the concepts of predestination, foreordination, and a “chosen” people.  It allows people outside of ourselves, like Alma, to pray for special advantages to be given to their children over others, and for God to honor their desires.  But God’s grace is also said to be sufficient for all men from an eternal perspective, as far as their ultimate salvation in the Kingdom of God, which is a promise no one deserves, but everyone is given.

3. The Law of Faith 

Obedience, sacrifice, surrender, trust, humility, submission to authority.  Honor thy Father and thy Mother.  Keep my commandments.  Humility.  It is a universal spiritual law that we cannot progress and bear fruit eternally, unless we submit ourselves to a higher power, someone who knows better than us, and who can guide us along the path.   On earth, we submit through faith, to God’s priesthood representatives, in the absence of His physical presence.  Whenever we go somewhere new, we need a map, and we follow its instructions.  When we cook a meal, we follow a recipe.  When we are a child, we follow a parent to become an adult.  When we are a soul, we follow a God to become a god ourselves.   God frequently requires intense humility for submission.  He gives us weak and despised priesthood leaders to rule over us.  He forces us to chose the foolishness of God over the wisdom of men.  But it is only through this intense humility that we are able to truly submit and surrender to him, as a child to his father.

Conflicts Between the Laws

The Law of Grace and the Law of the Harvest are in conflict.  God states that he is no respecter of persons, yet he also chooses some people over others.  People sin, yet they are not punished for those sins if they are lucky enough to hear about and accept the atonement of Christ.   I can define my own life in terms of the Law of the Harvest.  I am reaping the rewards of choices I made as a young man.  I am successful because of my own efforts.  But I can also define it in terms of the Law of Grace.  There but by the grace of God go I.  I only succeeded in school because of my nagging mother.  I had huge advantages in my life by virtue of my DNA, my family, my church, my culture, the age I live in.  All these things conspired to give me the greatest possible chance of success.   Additionally, the grace we extend to others does not diminish us, but increases us.  We cast our bread upon the waters and it returns to us tenfold.    The Law of Faith is also in conflict with the Law of the Harvest, because faith works upon counterintuitive principles.  “He who seeketh his life shall loose it.  He who looseth his life shall find it.”  Power to change and grow comes from surrender to a Higher Power, not from trying harder, as they teach in AA.  It doesn’t make rational sense, yet it is true.

Mormonism’s Advantage: an  Emphasis on All the Laws Equally

Because of the conflicts inherent in these Laws, most religions end up emphasizing one Law over another.   Evangelicals overemphasize the Law of Grace and de-emphasize the Law of the Harvest.  Eastern religions overemphasize the Law of the Harvest, and de-emphasize the Law of Grace.  Liberal Christians de-emphasize the Law of Faith and Grace and overemphasize the Law of the Harvest.  How different Mormons are.  On the one hand we have Wendy Watson publishing a book which emphasizes the supremacy of the Law of the Harvest called Not Even Once.  And at the same time we have dozens of popular Deseret Book authors championing the Law of Grace, with titles like Chances Are You’ll Be Exalted.  There is a constant conflict in our church between Grace/Works/Faith, and it keeps our Gospel Doctrine classes interesting and gives us lots to fight about with Evangelicals and Liberal Christians.  I think this is something we should be proud of.  It is natural that a real religion would reflect the realities and paradoxes of life.

Doctrines and Practices are Temporary, Universal Laws are Eternal

I find the church of the Old Testament wildly different from the church of the New Testament.  I also find the church of the Book of Mormon wildly different from the church of the Doctrine and Covenants.  It has always bothered me that we say, “God’s laws never change” when it’s obvious from the scriptures that they change all the time.  But understanding Universal Laws has helped me see that even when there are changes to theology, practice, and doctrine, the Universal Laws are still constant.   The diverse theologies of varying dispensations still reflect the same Laws.  What is important about the Law of Chastity for example, (which at various times has included polygamy, polyandry, eunuchs, celibacy, concubines, monogamy), is the fact that it is a commandment from God, in whatever iteration it happens to be in at the time.   Thus it is under the universal Law of Faith.   As a commandment, it challenges us, demands submission, and bears the fruit of that discipline and denial of the flesh.  But the details of that commandment need not be eternal: whether we are humbly trying to love and be faithful to our many wives and concubines, or whether we are struggling to love and be faithful to a single wife.  Underpinning all the temporary theological differences are universal constants: faith, grace, works.

Questions:

Are there other Universal Laws that should be included in a more comprehensive list?

Do you agree that LDS theology can be overly detailed?

Do you agree that some of our theologies, doctrines, and practices may be temporary?

Do you find it useful to think of doctrine in terms of the application of Universal Laws?

Are Mormons guilty of overemphasizing the Law of the Harvest over Grace, or vice versa?

Do you find Universal Laws to be in conflict, and if so, how do you resolve these conflicts?

26 Responses to Three Universal Laws

  1. fbisti on December 11, 2013 at 5:00 PM

    After over 40 years of reading and talking with others, my current cosmology (the nature of things/reality) disagrees in many basic ways with what you have so clearly and intelligently articulated here. I would never propose that the rank-and-file be taught what I think is the truth. It wouldn’t be good for them. However…

    To point out just one broad area of disagreement: Agency is the most basic/core truth/principle and is at the root of everything. We make our “selves” good or bad, better or worse via the strength of our will. While God can (seemingly, if one believes much of “scripture”) cause good and bad things to happen that affect us, there is actually no such things as punishments nor rewards–only consequences. Therefore, it is not necessary for God to forgive me in order that I can “enjoy” some blessing. If I have changed and become better (so-called Repentance) it is due to my exercise of Agency, not His forgiveness.

    The concepts and beliefs of our religion and (I would expect) all “religions” oft times serve well to motivate us to be better, become better. That motivation is the justification for their existence and their all too often inaccuracy (non-literalness). They are not actually the truth, e.g., We are all going to hell without the gift of grace from God. Obey or be damned–and many similar to these. It is only by our choice and will that we can become more righteous (internally, the intent of our hearts, etc., not just external behavior).

    I know there are many “scriptures” that contradict my conclusions/my worldview/cosmology. The quotation marks convey my skepticism that very much of them are actually true–though they “may” have emanated from good and holy men, including God. If you don’t think God can lie (obviously with good intent) then what is the origin of most of the book of Genesis to name just one example?

    IMO

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  2. Howard on December 11, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    The more that is written about a subject the less it is understood. The Universal Law is: oneness. Fear prevents oneness. Love facilitates oneness. All that isn’t love is fear.

    But this has to be dumbed down to allow us to rationalize our natural man behavior rather than actually transcending it so we parse the gospel into good vs bad so we can convince ourselves that we are good or we can become good. Religion is the mortalization of spirituality so the gospel moves downward in steps of dumbness and upward in complexity from the purity of spiritual oneness to the messiness of pharisaical bright line rules that are revered and worshiped even though they barely hold any recognizable relationship to spiritual oneness.

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  3. Nate on December 11, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    fbisti, forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted what you are saying, but I think you are describing the concept of Karma, which is what I am calling the Law of the Harvest. In a world without grace, we simply move up and down the ladder of progression based on our choices. I’ve wondered myself about the nescessity of reptentance. Why can’t we just live out the consequences of our own sins and move on? Why do we need a Savior?

    My personal conclusion is that there is so much in my life, and in the world I see around me, that is out of my control, including some of my weaknesses, that I am really helpless to “pick myself up by my bootstraps” without some kind of outside help. This outside help is what I call the Law of Grace. While I agree that the concept of sin and repentance could perhaps be a bit arbitrary, I think that underlying these doctrines is the very real principle that we simply cannot progress on our own. Yes, we much choose to grow, and work towards it. But we also must be given a helping hand by someone. Many people who see themselves as having accomplished something in life, are unaware that so much of their accomplishments were facilitated by acts of grace: good breeding, education, opportunities, freedom which was paid for by the blood of millions, etc. All these are unmerited gifts of grace.

    I think this is also related to what Will is saying, Oneness. We help others because they are a part of us. Maybe that is the Universal Law underlying all Universal Laws.

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  4. Nate on December 11, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    Oops, sorry Howard, not Will. Too much sparring with Will these days!

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  5. ji on December 11, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    I appreciate your posting.

    For me, the three universal laws are faith, hope, and charity, all centered in Jesus Christ.

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  6. Nate on December 12, 2013 at 2:25 AM

    Thanks Jj. I think that faith, hope, and charity may be another way (maybe better) of looking at the three laws I put forth. Faith (law of Faith), hope (law of the Harvest), Charity (law of Grace). Hope motivates work, which is why I link it with the Law of the Harvest. Why would we work if we didn’t have hope for any fruits from our labors, or “hope for a better world, even at the right hand of God.”

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  7. Jeff Spector on December 12, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    I really like your post. I am a firm believer in agency and the choices we have. Having said that, we are all sinners and without the Grace of God and the Atonement, we can never return to our Father in heaven. Without the Law of the Harvest, we would never consider the downside of our choices.

    But, relative to your conversation. the starting point usually has to be that someone has a concept a higher power, who is interested in our life here on earth. Without that, it is hard concept to discuss.

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  8. fbisti on December 12, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    Nate, #3:
    Thanks for translating for me. Seriously. I have trouble interpreting language (religion-speak) such as yours (though many Mormon writers are very much ‘worse”). However, I disagree with likening my belief of natural consequences to the concept of Karma. To my understanding, Karma assumes God or some supernatural force closes the “what goes around comes around” loop. In my conception, Agency is the label for the process wherein each of our “actions” (thoughts, intents, actions) directly effect changes in our character–for better or for worse. We (our state of righteousness, our character), at any moment are the sum of previous “choices.” We are the “Book of Life” being “written” in (though the so-called Judgment Bar is nothing more than an allegory). And, to fully clarify, Agency was not a “gift” from God. It is a completely natural aspect of reality for our species. We have always had and will always “have” it. All we need to activate it is “knowledge” (the allegorical forbidden fruit in the Garden).

    You commented, “so much of their accomplishments were facilitated by acts of grace: good breeding, education, opportunities, freedom which was paid for by the blood of millions, etc. All these are unmerited gifts of grace.”

    That is a good example of what I find problematic in your Universal “Laws” concepts. And, it may all rest on my reaction to your language and my mistranslations. In my understanding, this thing called “Grace” has long been limited to whatever was accomplished by the Atonement. You are applying the label to essentially everything that helps us. I just have a strong dislike of such hyperbolic, ambiguous, pious, mystical… terminology. Such terms imbue comments/GA teachings/scripture with meaning and importance that may not exist. They evoke too much and make me confused (therefore suspicious) of what the author is actually claiming/meaning. So, for example, I much prefer “principle” over “law.” The word law implies it was passed/created by someone. Our God has created none of the “laws” that enable us to progress. They are pre-existing, natural principles/immutable realities that He used to become what He is. Humility, charity, honesty, et al, are eternal principles. Tithing may well be a “law” created by God. Its value to our righteousness derives from eternal principles such as sacrifice, greed, community. To the degree we practice/accomplish these principles we are better and more righteous–those consequences are not blessings, nor gifts. The word blessing connotes/evokes a giver of the blessing. The “blessing” of not “burning at His coming” is pure hyperbole–as is the more colloquial, traditional teaching of financial benefit from tithe paying–though it may be very beneficial for one to believe such benefits have their origin in God.

    I sometimes regret that I am, naturally, so didactic and unable to be succinct.

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  9. nuovoiconoclast on December 12, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    I like the way you’ve laid this out, Nate, and I don’t necessarily think that it conflicts with or contradicts what fbisti says about agency. (I’m not sure, but I don’t think that his description necessarily meshes with “karma” in the technical sense; I simply think he’s saying that most, if not all, actions have consequences both temporal and spiritual. And if that’s not what he’s saying, I’ll say it. :) )

    By agency we decide to exercise Faith; by agency we decide to take the action (“Sow,” if you will) that leads to a Harvest; by agency we take the action (“Repentance”) that activates Grace. In fact, next only to life itself, agency is the most important gift of God to us, because without it, your three Laws would be irrelevant. Whether you submit doesn’t matter, what you do doesn’t matter, grace is unnecessary – “not a soul shall be lost.”

    Why can’t we just live out the consequences of our own sins and move on? Why do we need a Savior? Ay, there’s the rub. Since the BoM explains the “why” pretty clearly (“it must needs be an infinite atonement;” “if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants”) I think what you’re really asking is, “How does that work,” i.e., what are we humans missing that we cannot atone for ourselves and bridge the gap? And why was the man Jesus, because of his premortal and mortal choices, enough better than us or enough different than us (while still being just like us) that he could do it for us? When you get right down to where the bear barfed in the buckwheat, the standard explanations about the natural man, and the reassurances of the prophets that the Savior and the Atonement are necessary, are really just God’s way of telling us, “Because I said that’s the way it is, that’s why.”

    And that might really be as good as we get for now. It might be the equivalent of trying to explain to a fifth-grader why he can’t work up enough heat to weld steel by rubbing two pieces of it together fast. We might not be able to grasp it at this point, so we have to hear that “God placed cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life” rather than whatever physio-spirito-mechanical explanation is the actual nuts and bolts of the thing.

    Maybe you forgot “The Law of Aggravating Patience.” :) Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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  10. annegb on December 12, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Someone on another blog used the term “the obedience of faith.” Which I love, but don’t fully understand.

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  11. Kullervo on December 12, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    First, you derive three universal laws from Mormon doctrine. Then you congratulate Mormonism for doign the best job of balancing these three universal laws.

    The name for this is “begging the question.”

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  12. Nate on December 13, 2013 at 2:19 AM

    Kullervo, ha ha, you have a good point there! I was actually thinking of a previous post I did on the “religious health-o-meter” where I speculated that Mormonism came out better than other religions because they were more well-rounded, according to the values the author of the health-o-meter had set. Another commentator mentioned there that it’s no suprise that Mormons are best at being Mormons!

    fbitsi and nuovoiconoclast, thanks for your insightful comments. I do think that it’s probably more accurate to say these are Universal Principles, rather than Laws. I use the word “law” to evoke a sense of immutability, but not that they are created by a lawgiver.

    Regarding the principle of Agency, I might do well to add it as a 4th Law, as it is so fundamental. Agency facilitates Faith, and Works (law of harvest). But I disagree that it facilitates Grace. Actually, Grace concerns the agency, not of ourselves, but of others outside of ourself. Grace is a choice others make to help us, or not help us, to give, or not to give.

    In Mormonism, I don’t think Grace is well understood, because it is so often described as “universal atonement.” But that kind of grace is simply a universal charactaristic of the Plan of Salvation. As such, it is simply another thing we access through agency: choosing to repent. I don’t like this definition, because grace is no longer grace, rather, it’s a given. What everybody gets, everybody deserves. It becomes a right. So it’s true what Evangelicals say about Mormons: we are totally works-based, or agency based.

    But real repentance, in my mind, is not “work.” And forgiveness is not universal (in the sense it is reserved for those who happen to know about it and have a heart for it). And in real life, people are not all given equal opportunities. Grace is fundamentally arbitrary. It is fundamentally unjust. It has to be in order to be “grace.”

    There was a scripture in the Book of Mormon I used to hate, but now I love which goes something like this: “They went down and preached the gospel to the Lamanites, because they couldn’t bear the thought that any soul should endure eternal hellfire.”

    I used to hate this scripture because it insinuated that those who don’t hear the gospel will go to hell. And that’s not fair, and I was obsessed with justice. But now I realize that the sons of Mosiah understood that if they didn’t do it, nobody would. They would alleviate real suffering, not only in this life, but in the life to come. We say “you’ll get a chance in the next life,” but who is going to give them that chance? Aparently, angelic missionaries. But are there enough angelic missionaries? How long will it take? How much hell and suffering will these poor souls have to endure before the grace of the righteous is able to come and save them?

    I don’t buy the assumption that the next life will be absolutely “fair.” I think it will be a continuation of the inequalities of this life. What makes the universe ultimately “fair” is that it is eternal, it extends for so long, infinately. Someone is given 1 talent, and if he stumbles along in eternity, adding one extra talent to his cache every thousand years, he will eventually have an infinate number of talents, because 1 x infinity = infinity. That is why the universe is “fair.” But here and now, life is not fair. It will never be fair at any single present moment, either in this life or the life to come. It is only in the contect of forever that it is fair.

    That is why I think Grace is so fundamental to understanding the nature of life. It is about extending and giving love to an individual, not to the whole of humanity. It is about throwing that one starfish out into the sea out of the millions of others perspiring on the sands. Love for “everyone” is not real love. Jonathan Franzen said this about it:

    “Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.”

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  13. New Iconoclast on December 13, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    …grace is no longer grace, rather, it’s a given. What everybody gets, everybody deserves. It becomes a right. So it’s true what Evangelicals say about Mormons: we are totally works-based, or agency based.

    Hmm. Let me suggest another interpretation. First off, I don’t think that evangelical Protestant thinking on Grace is very clear. It’s logical, by their lights, but its conclusions are faulty and it makes God arbitrary and unjust. You say that it’s “fundamentally arbitrary. It is fundamentally unjust. It has to be in order to be ‘grace.’” I don’t know that I agree; it seems to me that you’ve swallowed a faulty Protestant (and specifically a Calvinist/Lutheran/predestinationist strain of Protestant) definition hook, line and sinker without considering what the real definition of “grace” might be.

    Ask a Protestant to define “grace” and they get that uncomfortable, weaselly, vague look that they get when you ask them to define the “Trinity,” or that a Roman Catholic gets when asked to explain transubstantiation. It’s a mystery, because they’ve intentionally made it undefinable. It’s an inevitable consequence of inventing yourself an undefinable God.

    Those folks need to make it arbitrary because they ignore clear Scriptural (and common sense) teachings about works, giving far too much weight to a few isolated statements of Paul and minimizing the clear teachings and example of Jesus. That leads them to the error of assuming that grace must be arbitrary, since our works don’t matter (except the “work” of believing, if you’re a modern Evangelical) and we’re all predestined to salvation or damnation as Calvin and Luther taught. It has to be arbitrary because they weren’t willing to go as far as Universalism, so some people had to be damned; how else to explain that other than by some mechanism known only to God that seems arbitrary to us?

    Bzzzzzt. Thanks for playing, Monsieur Calvin.

    In reality, however, grace is not arbitrary at all. We qualify for it by keeping the commandments, as ancient and modern prophets have clearly taught. Perhaps best summarized by Nephi’s statement “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do,” it seems clear to me that our works do not qualify us for salvation and exaltation. They qualify us for Grace.

    My kids used to get paid a disproportionately large sum to mow my dad’s pitiful postage stamp of a lawn. They got more than they deserved. He showed them grace.

    Grace is, simply, another manifestation of God’s loving condescension and generosity toward us. He allows inadequate effort on our part to result in reward beyond our merit, as long as we put forth that effort, acknowledge and accept the great atoning gift of his son, and do our best. Giving us more than we deserve – that’s Grace.

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  14. Nate on December 13, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    New Iconoclast, you are correct in charechterizing my views as somewhat Calvinist. I have a fondness for the idea of a certain kind of limited predestination. Not that I deny works or agency. Rather, I embrace both Works and Grace fully. In my post I describe the Law of Grace and the Law of the Harvest as being fundamentally at odds. It’s a paradox most religions can’t deal with, as you have described with the Protestants. They either choose to emphasize Grace, or emphasize Works. They can’t do both because they confict, and they can’t deal with paradox.

    There are paradoxical statements in your own example. You say that “we qualify for grace by keeping the commandments…saved after all we can do.” But then you say that grace is like your Dad giving an exhorbantant sum of money to your kids for doing very little work. That’s not the same as “saved after all we can do.”

    In life, we have kids like yours, who have generous grandparents who bequeth them a heritage of wealth and good upbringing for doing practically nothing. They go on to become like their parents, good, honest, hardworking, and successful. And then we have kids who are beaten and abused by their parents and grandparents, and left with nothing. Consequently, they themselves become abusive, criminally minded, and unsuccessful. There are exceptions, but most don’t escape from the curses and blessings of their parents.

    This is a kind of limited predestination, and it is scriptural: “I will curse them to the 7th generation.” “I will shut their eyes and stop their ears that they see not and hear not, and be not converted.” “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

    But my question is this: If we can see how this kind of limited predestination works here on earth? Why wouldn’t it continue in the next life? What makes us think that in the next life, everything is suddenly going to be fair and equal? That some very saintly Mormon, who comes from generations of blessed, hard working, generous souls, will suddenly be struck down to the same level as a poor prostitute, who never got a chance to do any good, but nevertheless tried just as hard in her own way, as the saintly Mormon did?

    When all is said and done, the saintly Mormon will always be ahead of the good-hearted prostitute, because he has been given so many advantages, and been spared so many debilitating weaknesses and temptations. Joseph Smith said that whatever level of spiritual knowledge we gain in this life will rise with us in the next, and those who have accumulated more will have so much more the advantage in the next life.

    So the next life starts out just as unfair as this life. Some Mormons get around this by reasoning that saintly Mormons must have been extra-righteous in the pre-existance to merit the advantages they were given in this life. Mozart must have practiced the piano harder than anyone else in the pre-existance. But I don’t believe this is true. It may have some influence, but it’s not the whole story of why we find ourselves on such wildly different footings.

    The poor prostitute and the saintly Mormon may both inherit the Celestial Kingdom eventually. But what defines godhood in the Celestial Kingdom are the powers, faith, talent, and love aquired through both hard work, and the gifts of others. The prostitute will take much longer to aquire the same level of godhood as the saintly Mormon because she was given no gifts, and the saintly Mormon was given many gifts, and had so much time to capitalize upon those gifts.

    Some might say that God specifically designed a trial of a hard life for the good-hearted prostitute, and this trial was “tailor-made” to be exactly what she needed to return to her Father in Heaven. I don’t believe this. There may be value in some kinds of trials, but pain and suffering is highly overrated. Not only that, but it is often not productive, but debilitating and truly tragic.

    God is fair, because his promises are sure, and in the context of eternity, everyone can arrive at any goal, as 1 x infinity = infinity. But that doesn’t mean that in the hear and now, predestination isn’t a big part of who we are.

    I see life as so incredibly arbitrary, and my own advantages as being so incredibly undeserved, that I yearn to embrace a doctrine which can help me explain this great inequality. The Law of Grace does this for me. The doctrine of Paul. To me it makes perfect sense, and it puts love in it’s proper perspective: as something individual, emotional, empathetic. Something we reach out and give to someone. A real gift that makes a real difference. What we give to others MATTERS in this life. Who we pray for matters. It’s not all just a temporary game to play before God gives all the winners and loosers their three degrees of glory.

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  15. New Iconoclast on December 13, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    But then you say that grace is like your Dad giving an exhorbantant sum of money to your kids for doing very little work. That’s not the same as “saved after all we can do.”

    I’m probably not explaining myself very clearly. It actually is the same, in that:

    1) The kids had to mow the lawn to get the $20; we have to obey/repent to get the crown.
    (I never got a dime for mowing that lawn, BTW.)
    2) Once they/we complete the work, they get the money/we get the crown.

    3) The reward is disproportionate – they have not worked hard enough by normal Earthly, labor-market standards to have earned that much money, yet they get it anyway. We have not worked hard enough by divine eternal standards to have earned exaltation, yet we get it anyway.

    The crux is not that they, or we, “did very little work.” It’s that we get something we didn’t earn, because the giver of grace decides that we get it anyway.

    That either makes it clearer or totally mucks it up. :) I’ll note on the side that, as inadequate as English sometimes is for conceptual explanation, Italian is much less adequate. The history and evolution of English gives it a much larger and more nuanced working vocabulary than most other tongues. I went nuts on my mission trying to communicate subtle things to members and investigators in Italian. ;)

    I do mostly agree with your take on limited predestination, although my revulsion for the foul Satanic heresy that is Five Points Calvinism will probably prevent me from ever calling it that. ;) I certainly think that, in the example of the prostitute you cite, it is much too simplistic to blithely and complacently say, “Well, she must have been extra-valiant in the pre-existence to be able to handle all this tribulation!” I firmly believe that we are incapable of fathoming the depth of the love which Heavenly Father has for each of us, saint and sinner, apostle and apostate, prophet and publican. I can’t even imagine the joy and relief we’ll each feel when we return and really find that out.

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  16. Nate on December 13, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    That’s interesting that you were bold enough to try and explain this on your mission in Italy. Anch’io sono stato un missionario Italiano! Ma in quel periodo io ero troppo ortodosso di dire qualcosa di così delicato. (you know you suck when you have to use google translate to help you with your mission language!)

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  17. Kullervo on December 16, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    I do mostly agree with your take on limited predestination, although my revulsion for the foul Satanic heresy that is Five Points Calvinism will probably prevent me from ever calling it that.

    1. “Predestination” is not one of the five points of Calvinism.
    2. All orthodox Christians (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestants of all stripes including Lutherans, Arminians and yes, Calvinists) believe in predestination, not just Calvinists.
    3. Paul talks about predestination in Romans and Ephesians just off the top of my head. It’s in the Bible.

    The issue for Christians is not whether or not you believe in predestination, but what kind of predestination you believe in.

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  18. New Iconoclast on December 18, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Nate – Italy Catania, 1987-89. I forget a lot of the language, too. :)

    Kullervo: Mormons are not “orthodox” Christians, which is why you think we are pernicious and dangerous heretics. The adoption of real heresies like predestination, as a result of the misreading of scripture (see 2 Peter 3:16) is one of the things that necessitated the Restoration. As to Calvinism, U+L+I= predestination.

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  19. Kullervo on December 18, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    Mormons are not “orthodox” Christians, which is why you think we are pernicious and dangerous heretics.

    Well, I think that what I said was that Mormonism is an insidious and possibly damnable heresy. Just, if you’re going to throw what I said back in my face, at least quote me right.

    As to Calvinism, U+L+I= predestination.

    Whatever. Again, all orthodox Christians, including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants of every stripe, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Arminians and Calvinists all believe in predestination. There is certainly significant disagreement about just what precisely “predestination” means, but no orthodox Christian will deny predestination.

    In fact, I don’t think Mormons really deny predestination either; you just don’t like the word. You don’t agree with the Calvinist view of meticulous Providence, but nothing about Mormon “foreordination” is so totally out of step with, say, Molinist, Thomist or Arminian views of predestination that you couldn’t just say “predestination” and disagree with calvinists about what it means like everyone else does.

    Nitpicking the word is ridiculous.

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  20. New Iconoclast on December 19, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    You’re at least partially right; I don’t like the word – and would note that LDS theologians (to the extent we have any; that word is connotation-laden as well) have tended to explicitly reject it in favor of “foreordination.”

    The Arminians might come close, but I don’t know if anyone comes right up to free will like we do. You may see that as “nitpicking,” but I see it as a fundamental detail in our understanding of who and what God the Father is, which is of course our main bone of contention with “orthodox” Christians. Frankly, the Calvinists are closer to the Lutherans/Catholics/Anglicans etc. than to us, because of their view of the ultimate relationship of man to his Father.

    And my apologies for the misquote. We’re not as pernicious as we’d like to be. :) I was shooting from memory and should have taken the time to get it right. That was not meant to “throw it back in your face,” but it is a key issue on where we differ. Unlike most people who aren’t enamored with the LDS, you have your facts straight.

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  21. Kullervo on December 19, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    The Arminians might come close, but I don’t know if anyone comes right up to free will like we do.

    Free will baptists? I dunno–I’m not an arminian and I haven’t really spent a huge amount of time grappling with Arminianism, but I have the sense that Mormon doctrines about free will have Wesleyan (ergo Arminian) roots–when I first left Mormonism I remember looking closely at the historic doctrines of different Christian denominations and feeling a lot of familiarity in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. I imagine that, differences about the anture of man and God notwithstanding, Arminian Protestants and Mormons are really pretty dang close on issues of free will and predestination, yet the Arminians are fine with using the word “predestination” to describe the same dang thing as Mormons insist on saying “foreordination” to describe.

    You may see that as “nitpicking,” but I see it as a fundamental detail in our understanding of who and what God the Father is, which is of course our main bone of contention with “orthodox” Christians.

    I think your choice to use the word foreordination instead of predestination is nitpicking; I don’t think that your doctrines of free will are nitpicking at all.

    In fact, I’ll say this: given an omnisicent God and creation ex nihilo, I think that a Calvinist understanding of free will is logically inescapable–certainly I think that Arminianism and Molinism are incoherent.

    On the other hand, since Mormonism rejects creation ex nihilo, I actually think that Mormon doctrines of free will and foreordination are perfectly coherent. Just wrong. ;)

    I just think you could use the word “predestination” unproblematically to describe what you call “foreordination.” Such a strong reaction to Calvinism seems out of place now, given how comparatively few Christians globally are Calvinists–the vast, maybe overwhelming, majority of Christians use “predestination” to mean something other than what the Calvinists mean, so i’m not sure why Mormons can’t.

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  22. New Iconoclast on December 19, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    since Mormonism rejects creation ex nihilo, I actually think that Mormon doctrines of free will and foreordination are perfectly coherent.

    I think that’s what I was trying to say. We get each other here, I think.

    I don’t think it’s an accident that many (“most” would be accurate) early LDS leaders had some exposure to or roots in the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition. Although I’ve heard Methodists assure me they’re not Arminians, I think that speaks more to the inadequacy of language to define certain subtleties. “Our angels dance, and in large numbers, but not on the head of that pin.”

    Which is the cart and which is the horse – Mormons are semi-Wesleyan because early Mormons were Methodists, or early Mormons were Methodists because the free-will aspects of the restored gospel wouldn’t appeal much to Presbyterians and their ilk – well, probably a little of both.

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  23. Kullervo on December 19, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Although I’ve heard Methodists assure me they’re not Arminians, I think that speaks more to the inadequacy of language to define certain subtleties.

    Or just unfamiliarity with theology. I strongly suspect that those Methodists who assured you they were not Arminian, if you pressed them for details about what they believe about salvation in terms of free will, predestination and God’s foreknowledge, they would go on to give you an explanation that was 100% Arminian.

    My impression is that such is the case for the vast majority of American Evangelicals–while they wouldn’t label themselves as “Arminian,” their beliefs nevertheless are thoroughly Arminian. If not heretically Pelagian. (Sigh.)

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  24. New Iconoclast on December 20, 2013 at 7:35 AM

    Out of curiosity, what are your views (not necessarily your beliefs) on “light-switch salvation” and eternal security? I’ve always found it curious, as a recovering Catholic, that many evangelicals can point to the day on which they were “saved” – that concept is strange to me. And I know that there is a debate amongst them as to whether that is permanent or whether the individual can at some point forfeit it.

    I always figured, if it were permanent, that would be license to do watever you wanted, or that’s how you’d think about it in a year or so when your initial fervor had worn off. But evangelical friends of mine seem to think that this would either mean a) that I hadn’t really been saved, or b) that I was just kidding myself about having free will. I’m not sure I get it, but there seemed to be a lot of possibly unintentional sophistry involved.

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  25. Kullervo on December 20, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    I’ve always found it curious, as a recovering Catholic, that many evangelicals can point to the day on which they were “saved” – that concept is strange to me.

    It wasn’t strange to Augustine…

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  26. Kullervo on December 20, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    In all seriousness, the short answer from a Calvinist perspective, I suppose, would be that the person who gets religion but then utterly repudiates God was never elect, and thus never saved, in the first place.

    With a huge caveat that you dan’t know what’s going on in someone’s mind and heart, and you can never really know in this life whether someone else is saved or not–for all you know, that same person still may well genuinely repent and turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ by the grace of God. From God’s perspective that person’s name may have been written in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the Earth, but from our perspective it hasn’t happened yet.

    The long answer deserves a full blog post that I should probably write (after the terror of my year-end busy season is over).

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