Optimism in a Falling World- Summary

I think the studies that do me the most good are the ones that expand my understanding of what it even means to be a follower of Christ. The more I am able to redefine my paradigm to be like his the more I am able to walk in his footsteps. And this study absolutely made me take a long, hard look at what it really means to be a Christian. And along with that realization came another: I’m often not a very good one.
Which might sound like a self-condemning conclusion, but really it is not. Realizing how far one has yet to go is a sign that they are actually upon their way. One must first have a solid foundation in a subject before they can appreciate the full depth of their ignorance.
This isn’t what I expected to find when I began this study. I really wasn’t sure what the answer to my periodic cynicism towards the world would be, but I didn’t think it would be: the problem is in you, so become a better Christian. A sharp, yet loving reproof. An invitation to become more so that I can be more happy.
Here are three fundamental concepts that came up while conducting this study.

Cynicism is a Product of Despair)

Some of us are naturally more optimistic than others. Some see the glass as half full while others view it as half empty. Yet I am convinced that pervasive cynicism is not anyone’s natural state. Each of us begins this life as children, and children as a whole are far more believing and optimistic. They have to learn to see the world more darkly.
At some point each one of us has our brightness broken. To one degree or another each of us was mistreated while still innocent. At the very least, every small child comes astray of someone having a bad day sooner or later. But it isn’t just what others do to us that break us, either. There are also the times we violate our own conscience. Through each of these processes we feel guilty and dirty, our souls are distressed, and we cannot correlate the promise of eternal joy with how wrong we feel inside. In this we come to understand what it truly means to be in hell.
And so long as we cannot see our own way to brighter fields we’re never going to be able to see it for the world either. If forgiveness seems inaccessible for what we have done, if our wrongs are more than we can ever do, then surely it is the same for the world’s even greater evils. In short, it does not seem humanly possible for that which is broken to be made whole once more.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Matthew 18:3- And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Believing in Others is a Product of Being Saved)

But of course there is a message of hope for those caught in such dire straits. When I began this study I really hadn’t intended to cap it off with yet another examination of Jesus Christ’s atonement, yet it found its way to the heart of my research even so. Because at the end of the day every worldly problem has its root in those fundamental problems of a fallen world and moral compromises. And those both have their solution in his atoning sacrifice.
If we ever want to have more hope in the world, then we first need to be able to have hope restored in ourselves. And if we want to have hope in ourselves, then we need to stop seeing our happy ending as being dependent on our own actions, and instead let it rely on the actions of one who has already succeeded. Then we start to see our triumph as a sure thing, and our hope becomes unshakeable.
When the reality of these facts truly sinks in for our own selves, then it is easy to see that the same sure triumph is available to all the rest of the world, too. We stop seeing other peoples’ problems as being their responsibility to solve. Just as with us, we know it has already been solved for them if they will just accept it. There no longer remains any question of whether they are now “too bad” or “too far gone” to make their way back. I mean, yes, they absolutely are too far gone to bring themselves back, but now we know that that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are never too far gone for him to bring back.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57- The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 19:25-26- When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

The Salvation of Self Must Come First)

Of course feeling reclaimed from our own guilt and despair isn’t just a one-time thing, either. We will feel the reality of Christ’s redeeming love once initially, be filled with hope for all mankind, but then need to refresh those feelings many times over throughout our lives. In my case the old pessimism comes over me gradually when I am not paying attention. I have thought that I was still in a good place, but then suddenly looked all about me and wondered how I had wandered once more into fields of despair.
I began this study by trying to focus on the despair and not on where I stood. I began by looking at the external and not the internal. But at least I was looking, and over the past couple weeks my focus has gradually shifted back to where it needs to be.
And this leads me to the final point of this study. If I ever look at the world, see naught but wrong, and cannot fathom of any way to correct it, then my first instinct should be to consider what is amiss in myself. I cannot help lift anyone until I first stand on firmer ground, just as Jesus could never have pulled Peter upwards if he had also been floundering in the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Luke 22:32- But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Our Dual Nature- Summary

The notion of a dual nature has long existed in many different cultures and religious beliefs. One side is generally considered to be good, while the other is not. The way that “bad half” is viewed varies greatly, though. Is it something to be ashamed of and to wish we could be rid of? Is it something to give in to by letting go of all our inhibitions? Is there some sort of balance that has to be maintained between the two, neither allowing ourselves to become “too” good or “too” bad?
Alongside of these questions is the one of basic human nature. Evidently we have a good and a bad part, but which represents the real us. Are humans fundamentally good or evil?
I hope this study has been helpful to any seeking answers to these questions. I have been touched in this research to find that God’s opinion of our good-but-flawed selves is one of care, patience, and understanding. He wants us to embrace our best selves, but He also knows it is beyond us to do on our own.

Imperfection is Necessary for the Pursuit of Perfection

The existence of both good and evil is essential, so that we may define ourselves in relation to those two. Each of them presents certain pros and cons. On the one hand we have to exercise patience but will receive eternal joy, on the other we receive instantaneous gratification but will suffer for it afterwards.
Though to the rational mind the correct decision may seem obvious, our mortal shell’s are deeply swayed by the promises of carnal pleasure. This sets the stage for inherent conflict. There is no way to progress down a path of good without being beset by attacks from our own body. There is no way to progress down a path of evil without being panged by the pleadings of our own conscience. We are locked in the most difficult war possible: the war with ourselves. To reach either potential destiny requires overcoming one side of our nature or the other.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
Moses 6:55- They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good

The Struggle Protects Our Freedom

This natural opposition that exists down each path ensures that each step is made consciously and intentionally. Not a one of us will accidentally fall into our own salvation, not a one of us will be forced into damnation against our will. When we stand at judgment we will be able to appreciate that what we have become was our own decision.
To remove the struggle would be to remove our agency. It would mean our destiny would be the result of either random chance or another’s will being imposed upon us. God’s desire is not for His children to be good, it is for them to choose to be good, for them to want to be good, for them to prioritize being good over all other ways.
Moses 6:66- And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves

Free Will Comes at a Cost

Necessarily our freedom comes with terrible pain. Not a one of us fights against our evil nature except through great effort, and also moments of defeat. By our struggle we are all made intimately familiar with failure, shame, unworthiness, and isolation. The weight on us is heavy, indeed, but we are not the ones taxed most heavily by it.
If we were left to our own devices, we would indeed gain the knowledge we required, we would learn the value of virtue and the foolishness of sin, and we would ultimately decide that happiness was the path we wished to pursue…only to now find that that way was closed to us forever. Having paid the price to understand, that understanding would be futile if not for an atoning sacrifice to make up for the mistakes we made during our learning experience.
Though at times our lot is hard, God has given the greater sacrifice by far: the life of His perfect Son. The atonement of Jesus Christ not only makes succeeding in this earthly trial possible, it even allows us to hold a miraculous peace and joy while in the midst of it.
Psalm 23:4-6- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Justice and Mercy- Summary

I began this study with the thought that justice and mercy might simply be two sides of the same principle. As I worked through the scriptures, though, I’m starting to think I was wrong. Each is distinct from the other, but both work together for our good.
The way I would define them now is that justice is the principle of fairness by which sin is punished and virtue is rewarded. Mercy is the conduit by which the punishment of justice can be diverted to Jesus’s atoning sacrifice, and the blessing of justice can be received by us.
In any case, I’ve certainly gained a deeper appreciation for why both of these principles needs to exist. Without both, God’s plan for us could not be fulfilled.

Laws Provide Blessings When Followed, but Curses When Broken

Commandments are not given to restrict or condemn. They are given to enable our betterment. It is by receiving and following law that we receive blessings. Every blessing comes as the result of adhering to some law of God’s, and our spiritual maturity is developed by bending our will to His.
However a law cannot simply include a principle and a reward for when it is followed. A law must also detail a punishment for when that principle is defied. Once both consequences, one good and one bad, are affixed to the principle, then the demands of justice will swing one way or the other dependent upon our behavior.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21- There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.

All of us Have Fallen Short of God’s Laws

This certainly seems like a straightforward plan to receiving all that is good, and avoiding all that is bad. All one has to do is keep the law perfectly. And it would be a simple path to perfection, if not for the fact that we are born with a tendency to sin. We are imperfect beings, with imperfect minds and bodies, susceptible to coercion, deception, and misunderstanding.
We all have our particular strengths, areas by which Satan always seems to fail in his efforts to sway us. But also have our weaknesses. And Satan does find them, exploit them, and sooner or later each one of us tastes of forbidden fruit and now stand condemned by the law that was supposed to have liberated us.
With all of the human race failing to attain perfection, we would be doomed as a whole to eternal damnation.
Romans 3:23- For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
Moses 6:55- And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter

Jesus’s Sacrifice Restores us to the Benefits of Justice Via Mercy

Except there was one man who didn’t break a single one of God’s laws. Jesus of Nazareth was the only human ever to walk a perfect life. I do not know how much of that was due to the extra dose of divinity that ran through his veins, or whether it was simply due to his personal nature. In either case, the fact is he was born a human, was therefore put under the same law of perfection, and he actually managed to fill that measure in its entirety.
While I do not know the reasons why, one requirement for being able to replace one law with another seems to be fulfilling the first. As the only one to manage that particular feat, Jesus was free to take the punishment for all of our failings on himself, supplant the demands of perfection, and grant us mercy instead.
Alma 34:14, 16- And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice.


Justice and Mercy- Matthew 7:2, 12

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

COMMENTARY

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law

We have discussed how the intervention of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice allows the demands of justice to be satiated in regards to our failures to follow’s God law. Which of course means we can be shown mercy, forgiveness, and all other blessings God has to bestow.
And that includes enjoying all of the positive sides of justice. Once we are no longer under fear of its punishment, then we see really it is a principle given for our own empowerment.
Following the golden rule is the right way to treat others, it is what God wants of us and it cultivates the best qualities in our soul. But even after all that, it also allows for justice to tip the scales in our favor. If we do unto others as we would wish to receive, then sooner or later we will receive that which we wish. We will knock and it will be answered, we will seek and we will find. If we forgive freely, then justice demands we be forgiven freely. If we look for the good in others, we will find the good in our selves as well. This is the side of justice God always meant to show to us. The justice of His mercy.

Justice and Mercy- Galatians 3:7, 2 Nephi 2:7, Alma 42:22

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.

But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.

COMMENTARY

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law

But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth
Because of our imperfections, each of us must face the punishment which justice demands for breaking God’s laws. At least so it would be if God had not already foreseen this dilemma and provided an escape from it. His plan was always to introduce a Savior that could intercede between us and the law, pay the penalty of our sins, and thus grant us mercy instead.
As Christ was able to perfectly fulfill the demands of God’s law, he was able to author for us a new law to follow, one that each of us is actually capable of fulfilling. This law is the law of repentance.
Christ’s mercy is freely available, but only to those that subscribe to this new law. To those that do, they do not only receive the reward tied to that law (forgiveness), they also receive the reward of God’s higher law of perfection as well (salvation).
Whereas before we could only ever see the curse of the law and never the blessing, now we have the opportunity to enjoy only the benefits of justice and never the penalties.