Discussing Spiritual Differences- Missionary Work

Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

Optimism in a Falling World- Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11, 2 Nephi 9:41

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

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

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
I’ve discussed the desire some have to see the world burn, to see the wicked made accountable for all that they have done wrong. To this sentiment come the verses I have quoted above. God will see to the matters of judgment and forgiveness on His own. We are governed by His law, judged by His eye, and doled out mercy or retribution at His discretion.
He employs no servant in the matter of gatekeeping. He doesn’t need or want our help in deciding who is worthy of heaven. Will some be saved and others damned? Surely. Does it matter to us one bit which they will be? Not at all.

Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother remaineth in the greater sin
But of you it is required to forgive all men
The question of this study is how to not despair as the world embraces evil. It is about how we keep our faith in humanity and work with our brothers and sisters, rather than leave them to their fates. And I believe part of the answer is how we deal with the sins that humanity commits against us. Each of us is affected by the growth of evil in the world, each of us is hurt by the collective abuse of human selfishness.
And our faithlessness in humanity often stems from that initial hurt we received from society, that time when some worldly darkness first broke our innocence. We might know that we need to forgive individuals, but as recorded in these verses what about the requirement “to forgive all men?” If we’re ever to get our faith in humanity back we have to make our peace with the world at large. We have to forgive society first before we can help it.

Knit Our Hearts- Luke 17:3, Matthew 5:39

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

COMMENTARY

If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him
Resist not evil
There is a variety of opinions among the faithful whether we are justified in correcting those that are wrong or not. When we gently call out a brother or sister that mistreats us are we doing them a kindness, as I suggested yesterday? Or are we guilty of unrighteous judgment, of trying to take out the mote while a beam is in our own eye?
To add to the confusion is that both sides of this debate have verses to back them up. Consider the two I have laid out here. Are we supposed to rebuke another, or turn the other cheek?
However a closer reading of these verses will dispel any perceived inconsistency between them. If one looks at what is said, we will realize that these two different behaviors were prescribed for dealing with two different sorts of people.

  1. If thy brother trespass against thee…
  2. Resist not evil

The first verse is describing how disciples are meant to behave towards one another. We are supposed to love each other, and help each other become the best that we can be. That means encouraging, guiding, and when necessary, correcting. So long as our intentions are brotherly, all is well.
The second verse is describing how disciples are meant to behave towards evil. There are those in the world that have no positive intent when they interact with you. When they cast stones at the church they are purely trying to do harm. To these our counsel is simply to mitigate as much damage as possible. Do not provoke, do not return cruelty for cruelty, just meekly let their storm pass and move on.
With this clarification we can see that these two different behaviors are actually supporting the same basic principle: to be a peacemaker. We improve the world where it is possible, and we do no harm where it isn’t.

Knit Our Hearts- James 3:2 (NIV); Proverbs 9:9, 27:17

We all stumble in many ways.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

COMMENTARY

We all stumble in many ways
Give me a list of moral dilemmas, ethical quandaries, and human behaviors to judge. I will answer each one and I will invariably feel that all of my answers are the right answers, or in other words I will feel that my opinion is the same as God’s. Every man believes that he judges rightly.
But if I ask you to answer this same list of questions, you might answer some the same as me, but you will inevitably answer others of them differently. And for all your answers you will be just as convinced of your own rightness as I am of mine, and this would mean that at least one of us must be wrong, even when we are convinced that we are right.
If we’re being perfectly honest, though, it isn’t just one of us that is wrong. Neither you nor I will be totally right in all of our judgments because we are flawed and imperfect beings. In one of our disagreements I might be the one in error, but in another disagreement it might be you.
Every man believes that he judges rightly, but every man is at least somewhat mistaken.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser
A man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend
Exploring the differences in our beliefs can be a painful exercise, because it is very easy to get one’s pride tangled up in it. If one is not careful, then feelings are hurt and bitterness comes out. However, if both parties are willing to shelve their pride and sincerely seek truth, then something remarkable occurs.
First we can examine our areas of disagreement objectively. By questioning our motives we may discover a bias that blocked our discernment. With time and care we can each improve, or sharpen, the other’s understanding.
There is another benefit as well. Though we may have differences of opinion, we also certainly have agreements. As I suggested yesterday, in those places where our opinions overlap our confidence in having judged rightly greatly increases. There, in our mutual agreement, we begin to see God in our midst.