For Our Own Good- Summary

There is a natural aversion to rules that we don’t understand. In our fallen world there are countless examples of laws and rules given to suppress and oppress, to maintain power for tyrants, to be followed without question, no matter how they destroyed the very people that obeyed them. Even if a rule doesn’t seem intended to harm, we still want to know the reasons why we should exert effort to follow it.
And I would say that our need to understand the rules that we follow is actually a good thing, even God-given. Yes, there is a need for following by faith alone, but also God intends for us to dig into the gospel and find answers. He gave us a hunger so that we would work to satiate it with understanding.
But even as we seek understanding, there will necessarily be a period of time before we have received it. From my study I believe there are a few principles which can help us through that intermediary time.

A Healthy View For Ignorance

One of the hardest things can be to admit that we don’t know something. Each of us has been through that unpleasant experience of being spoken to us as if we already understood, when really we did not. It might be in an education or training setting, or someone disclosing their personal feelings, or during a philosophical discussion. It isn’t that we don’t wish to understand, but that we simply don’t. In fact, many times, we don’t even know what it is that we don’t know, or how to put together the question whose answer would unlock our ability to comprehend.
And while the gospel can speak directly to our soul in such a way that no words are necessary, there are still elements of it that are difficult to fully grasp. We are divided beings, after all, one part spiritual and the other part carnal. And that carnal part just “doesn’t get” certain commandments and principles.
Instead of feeling shame for our lack of knowledge, and instead of pretending to understand more than we do, we need to be able to accept that we are ignorant, that all are ignorant in some way or another, and that this is a perfectly acceptable platform to begin our spiritual journey from. But we also need to know and accept that we can learn. Our lack of understanding is not proof that we cannot understand. Perhaps the words don’t click with us now, but one day the feelings will.
2 Nephi 28:30- For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
1 Corinthians 2:14- But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

An Environment for Learning

As mentioned above, we have both a spiritual and a carnal part to us, and the carnal (or natural, as Paul called it) cannot understand that which is spiritual. As a result, the capacity for one to understand the principles of the gospel will be directly tied to how far one dips into a spiritual lifestyle or a carnal one.
The more we surround ourselves with worldly messages, the more we indulge in carnal pleasures, the more we identify ourselves by the flesh, the harder time we are going to have perceiving and comprehending the spiritual. Our understanding will be more and more limited only to carnal understanding. On the other hand, the more we seek messages of spiritual enlightenment, the more we do the things that satiate our conscience, the more we identify ourselves by the entire soul, the more we will accumulate spiritual understanding instead.
Much of being educated is in just putting oneself in an environment of learning. If you wish to develop your sense of music, you should surround yourself with music and those that live in it. If you wish to grow more analytical, you should surround yourself with algorithms and those that solve problems by them. You find a place where you can breathe in its atmosphere, you find mentors, you look for sources that can answer your questions, and you learn by pure osmosis. It is no different with developing a fluency with the soul.
Galatians 3:24-Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Ruth 1:16- And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

The Blessing of Learning

Finally, let us make clear that this natural ignorance and this difficulty of acquiring knowledge is not a mistake. The fact that we have to work for this understanding is by design. For while it is important for us to learn things, it is even more important for us to simply learn how to learn.
God did not send us here to know everything right from the start. He did not send us here to be perfect from the outset. Rather He sent us broken, flawed, and confused. The reason being that if we already possessed all, we would never develop the wisdom and quality of character that can only come by walking the journey. We would be stagnant, and would not develop ourselves as individuals.
God gave us the blank slate that we start off with, but also the desire to change that state. We feel in our hearts that it is better to know than to not know, and so we chase and pursue, we study and we discover, we invent and we explore. The greatest things we make and do, we make and do because God made us both flawed and self-aware of that flaw. These two qualities are both the fuel and the spark, the power and the catalyst of our great journey. They drive us into defining and becoming who we are and will be. Where they will take us we get to choose, but it will be far.
Ether 12:27-And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

For Our Own Good- Personal Example

I never had trouble understanding why I needed to say prayers. Talking with my Father was clearly going to be the best way to receive guidance, and to draw my mind into spiritual reflection. And studying scriptures made perfect sense as well. How could I live his word unless I knew it? When I was young I struggled with boredom attending church services, but later in life came to understand the more you put into community, the more you get out of it. Tithing has never bothered me either. Sacrifice feels cleansing, and it feels good to give something away for the things I truly value, just like giving gifts to my loved ones.

There was one practice of discipleship that I never really felt the purpose for, though. Fasting. I heard other people say how it helped them to master their appetites, how it helped their spirit have the upper hand over the flesh, and I didn’t doubt that that was their genuine experience…it just wasn’t how it felt for me.

I became very hit-or-miss about the practice, and would go months without remembering to do it. I frankly didn’t feel very guilty about it, either, because it didn’t feel like I was gaining anything meaningful when I did try to do it.

And then, just recently, that changed. I really cannot say why, either. I’d like to be able to point to some key piece of understanding, or meaningful life experience, which made the practice fall into place for me, but I can’t.

Just one time I started feeling it, and I have been feeling it ever since. Maybe this was always here and I just wasn’t picking up on it? Maybe I just had to mature a bit more? I don’t know.

Interestingly, though, it isn’t quite the same experience for me that I have heard others share about. In my experience, it’s about going through the crucible. Because lately, without fail, every time I fast everything falls apart. Relationships become strained, everyone gets on their worst behavior, stress mounts up, and powerful waves of depression wash over me. It frankly feels like being cursed, where everything I touch just turns out wrong. And then, without fail, everything turns right at the very end of the fast. In those last hours pride dissipates, problems work out, stings are soothed, and I feel at peace. During the crucible I start to lose faith that things will work out…but then they always do before the end.

And I guess…I still don’t really understand fasting. Why is this experience happening this way? What is going hungry essential for God to show me this? I don’t know. But at least I can attest that it’s doing good things in me.

For Our Own Good- Galatians 3:24-25

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

COMMENTARY

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ
Before we can have the correct attitude towards the commandments, we have to be able to acknowledge that we have flaws and that our behavior needs to change. It is all-too-easy to fall into justifying ourselves, stating that our strengths are sufficient and that our failings are only minor. So long as this is our position, then the commandments will feel like a personal attack, asking for changes that we insist we have no need of. We will become defensive, or even hostile.
Good cannot teach us anything if we “already know everything.”
But if we can be humble and admit that there are changes that need to happen in our lives, then we are open to being taught by a schoolmaster. Now we are teachable.

For Our Own Good- 2 Nephi 28:30, Luke 2:52

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

COMMENTARY

I will give line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man

When it comes to commandments that we do not understand the reasons for, it is important to know that there is nothing wrong in our ignorance. There is no shame in saying “I do not understand why this matters.” As we see in these verses, it is the natural and expected course for us to learn one step at a time, which implies that we have not attained all knowledge yet. Even Jesus followed this pattern. Though he showed great wisdom in his youth, that does not mean he came to earth knowing absolutely everything. In fact the record showed that he learned and grew, just like the rest of us.
Consider, also, the example of a small child that has yet to learn addition. Yes, they need to learn that skill, it is important, but there is no shame that they have not attained it yet. For now, mastering counting is sufficient for them.

For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have
What would be concerning, though, is the child that refuses to learn to count, and by extension refuses to learn every higher form of mathematics. It is okay to not know all things, but it is not okay to stop learning.
It can be tempting to take what commandments we do understand and say “I’ll just keep these ones and not worry about the rest,” but that would be limiting ourselves. Neither should we look at the commandments that we do not understand and say “I feel deeply ashamed for my ignorance,” that would be abusive. As with so many things, the middle path is the right way forward. We can accept that we are ignorant, without shame, and also strive to grow past it.

For Our Own Good- Question

I can see why the commandments of God are often seen by the world as a burden. They do, many times, put restrictions on the things that we would otherwise do. I think it is fair to say that were it not for our conscience, we would all live a far more hedonistic and sensual life, catering to the carnal tastes that are in us all. Thankfully we do have our conscience, though, and as a result, overcome many passions for our own greater good.

But even with the help of our conscience, we inevitably come to another sticking point. Sooner or later we will encounter a commandment which we do not necessarily feel the importance of. Perhaps we totally get why it is wrong to steal and kill, and will gladly restrict ourselves from such behavior, but keeping the sabbath day holy? Living a chaste life? Paying our tithes? If we list out enough commandments, sooner or later each of us will likely find one that just doesn’t resonate in us as much as the others.

What is one to do in such a circumstance? Do we ignore the laws that we don’t understand? Is it possible to gain full benefit for following them in a state of “just going through motions,” where our hearts are not in it? I would like to consider these questions, as well as contemplate why we even come to this conundrum in the first place. In the meantime, I would be curious to hear how you have dealt with the laws that you did not fully understand the reasons for? Did understanding come eventually? If so, what did you have to do to gain it?

The Need for Law- Alma 11:37, Helaman 5:10-11

And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.

COMMENTARY

And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins.
The Lord should come to redeem his people, but not to redeem them in their sins.
It is important to note that the gift of Christ’s law, which rescues us from the condemnation of divine law, does not give us free license to sin and carouse about without a care for the welfare of our soul.
We often make the mistake of thinking of law as simply being a set of punishable rules, but really it is a guide for living a purposeful life. We obey the laws of our nation not only to avoid being thrown into prison, but also that we may establish a community that is nurturing and safe. Imagine if we could break the laws and steal and cheat and kill without punishment. Yes, we would avoid imprisonment, but also our societies would disintegrate into utter chaos.

Not to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely cosmetic. It does not take sinners, who remain sinners, who indulge in sinful thoughts and actions as a way of life, and then stamp them with a “fit for heaven” label that doesn’t belong. Rather it takes sinners, and it teaches them how to live purely.
Obviously there is a delicate line here. Because even those who are sincerely trying to follow the gospel are going to make wrong choices along the way. And I don’t just mean ignorant mistakes, I mean that they will willfully and intentionally do something that they know is wrong. And for these sincere-hearted, but imperfect souls, there does need to be grace. There does need to be some degree of understanding and pardoning of guilt.
To what degree? Well, that isn’t for me to judge. That falls under the purview of Christ himself, and he alone can tell us how aligned we are in his eyes.
What I do know, though, is that he intends for us to repent when we have these shortcomings. Even knowing that we are sure to slip again, he does expect us to keep moving. And when we do commit to try again, he gives us a purer heart that wants all the less to sin. He is saving us from our sins, slowly moving them apart from us until we have no more desire for them.

The Need for Law- Galatians 3:19, 24

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

COMMENTARY

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.
The law of Moses was an intermediary law, one given after the ancient Israelites rejected Moses’s guidance time and time again. On one occasion Moses literally broke the tablets of stone, upon which the law God had intended for them was written. Then, later, they were denied access to the promised land, instead consigned to wander the wilderness for forty years. Thus, there were elements of Christ’s law that they might have had, but the people were deemed not ready to receive them.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.
And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
But the withholding of Christ’s law, and the giving of Moses’s law instead, was not some sort of punitive punishment. Moses’s law was a very strict law, but it was actually given for a loving purpose. It was what God knew the people of Israel needed, to train them up, until they were ready to receive the law of Christ. And though it is called the law of Moses, it was not Moses’s invention. Instead we learn that it was ordained “in the hand of a mediator,” meaning it was given by Christ. Thus it was divinely appointed as a sort of “spiritual training wheels.” It was a law of Christ, given to prepare them for the law of Christ.
And so, too, Christ may do for us. To each of us he gives customized requirements and training, helping us to come to that common destination of his full law. We receive those customized instructions through the yearning of our hearts. And so, on top of the ten commandments, and the one to love our neighbor, and all those others, it becomes a personal commandment to start eating healthily, or to call up our son and apologize, or to go back to school and finish that degree. We still have the core law of Christ, but we also have our own law as well. One that is personalized, given to be just what we need. Not given to replace Christ’s law, or to excuse us from any of its principles, but to extend upon them, and bring us into better harmony with them.

The Need for Law- Alma 7:12-14, 2 Nephi 9:41

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

COMMENTARY

And he will take upon him their infirmities, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities
The Son of God suffereth that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance
Once again, we see how the atonement of Jesus Christ is given so that he may blot away our sins and make us clean. But further we see that it permits him to understand our sufferings on a very personal level. He knows firsthand how it feels to be on the wrong side of the law, and he knows it in the very personal, individual way that I have been so, and the very personal, individual way that you have been so.
Thus he knows what unique ways each of us need to be trained into following the law. Different children require different methods, and he has the freedom to teach us according to our requirement. The commandments are still the commandments, and each of us is still expected to live all of them, but the intermediary steps we take towards being able to meet them is personalized.

The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
Thus we all know what the final destination for all of us is, but the next step toward it will be different for you and for me. I have not been elected to judge over you, and tell you what next actions you must do to improve yourself.
Yes we have teachers and priests, we have those that we confess to, we have those that counsel and bless us according to the words that God gives them. But they are not meant to be our new masters, only guideposts to point to the one master. As this verse attests, there is no servant employed, no barrier between us and Christ. If we want to know what personalized law he intends for us to adhere to today, we only have to ask.

The Need for Law- Jeremiah 31:33, 3 Nephi 11:31-33

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

COMMENTARY

But this shall be the covenant that I will make, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people
As we mentioned yesterday, Jesus became the mediator between us and divine law, having purchased the right to save all of us according to his own terms. And even before being born in the flesh and performing his saving atonement, he spoke through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah of this coming covenant.
In that pronouncement he made clear what his mission statement for this new covenant would be: to put the law into our hearts, to be our God, and to cultivate us into being his people. The purpose of Jesus’s gospel, therefore, is to bring us in harmony with heaven. Through his tutelage we are meant to learn to love the law, to desire to follow its precepts, and to willingly choose God for our God.

And this is my doctrine, and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

To repent, to put away the old, and to be born again as a new creature. These are the stipulations of the new law given by Jesus. Unlike divine law, perfection is not required, but that does not mean that effort is not required. He forgives us for not completely following every commandment of divine law…but he forgives us so that we may then try again. And when we fail again we are must to try once more. Over and over.
Thus the mandate of divine law is perfection, but the mandate of Christ’s law is not perfection. It is to try and try again. So long as we sincerely are trying, so long as we are truly repenting and recommitting, then that is it, we have already satisfied our part of Christ’s law. Thus the mandate of divine law is to already be heavenly, but the mandate of Christ’s law is to work on becoming heavenly. So long as we are sincerely becoming better, then that is it, we have already satisfied our part of Christ’s law.

Free Will vs God’s Control- 2 Nephi 2:5, Moroni 7:16

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

COMMENTARY

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil
Another way that God intervenes for our liberty is in giving us commandments and instruction. These include those written within the scriptures, of course, but also the ones written in our hearts. For into each of us God placed the spirit of His Son, commonly referred to as the conscience, and because of it we can innately perceive when we have done something that is right, or something that is wrong.
If there were was no law given, and if there was no conscience to direct us, then there would not be any moral choices to be made. For example, we would not be able to perceive the difference between helping or hurting another, and thus could not make any conscious, intentional choice about which act to perform.
This would not be freedom, this would be the bondage of homogeneity. One can be made a slave by not being allowed to make their own decisions, but one can also be made a slave by not being able to have their decisions mean anything. For even if one can choose what they do, if those choices carry no moral weight they still cannot choose whom they will become.
Thus our freedom actually depends upon the control of a God. We require Him to place rules in our books and in our hearts so that we can choose meaningfully. He comes into our vacuum and gives us something to either push off of or pull into, and thus we begin to have movement.