To Live Freely: Part Six

Summary)

I have been discussing two examples of how we try to make someone’s life better by convincing them of a fundamental lie. I have attempted to refute both examples, and to illustrate how each ultimately causes further harm to the individual.

The first issue I have presented with “helpful” lies is that they disconnect the victim from reality, and if the person ever falls back to that reality by discovering the truth of the matter it causes them great pain. They have the pain of the truth now compounded with the fact that they were deceived and left to act in a way that was against their own wellbeing.

The second issue I presented is that someone lying to protect others from disagreeable notions is ironically reinforcing those same hated notions. If one has to lie to cover something unpleasant, it generates suspicion that the unpleasant thing is, in fact, the truth. Think of a suspect of a crime, giving an alibi that is proven to be false. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he committed the crime, but it definitely fosters suspicion that he has. A “protecting” lie only undermines itself in the long term.

The Human Desire)

In both of these cases there is a strong sense of lies getting in the way of the person being deceived. Let’s explore that a little bit.

When all is said and done, everyone is trying to live their lives and accomplish good things along the way. We all want to secure basic comforts, we want to belong to something greater than ourselves, and we want to achieve things that we can be proud of. And while these are simple criteria to list out, they are by no means simple or easy to accomplish! Life is genuinely difficult, and there are all manner of frustrations that naturally arise and must be overcome if we are to ever realize our deepest desires. In fact, we all need help if we’re to meet these ideals, and if someone isn’t able to help, then we at least expect them to stay out of the way!

Every distraction or confusion is an unnecessary hurdle, adding to the already difficult work of life, and a lie is certainly both distracting and confusing. By definition, a lie warps, obfuscates, or completely masks the truth. It makes the path ahead more difficult and sometimes impossible to perceive, thus increasing the chances of us stumbling along our way.

Consider that all of the offenses that we might commit against another person are, at their fundamental level, a frustration of the other person’s ability to achieve these core life desires. To kill, to steal, to abuse, to insult, to lie; all of these get in the way of life, comfort, belonging, and/or purpose. This is why these behaviors are considered antisocial. They are wrong to do because they unjustly take what matters most. Lying is often the most subtle of these aggravators, which is why we sometimes disregard it, but it still remains just as fundamentally wrong as all the other types of harm.

Self-Delusion)

In these most recent posts I have been arguing why it is wrong to set another person on a deceitful precipice, but it is also just as wrong to do it to ourselves. My core contention in this series is that we must recognize and overcome our tendencies towards self-delusion and self-minimizing.

There are hard truths that we don’t want to face, realities that we would rather pretend away, lies that we would prefer to live. And because we are the ones doing these things to ourselves, we somehow feel that it is okay. But as we’ve just discussed, living under this delusion frustrates our core desires, even when they are self-imposed. It’s never okay to stand in the way of our own dreams.

The thing about self-delusion is that only the self can choose to come out of it. Someone else can call you out on your folly, they can even stage an intervention, but none of that makes the real difference. You can hear everything that they say, you can even admit that they are right, but still go right on living detached from it all. Only you hold yourself prisoner, so only you can set yourself free.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 34:5, 7-10

5 And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come.

7 And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done.

8 And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife.

9 And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you.

10 And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.

Shechem’s father Hamor showed just as much disconnect from his conscience as his son did. Never in his proposal did he offer any apology for what his son had done, and never did he acknowledge the abuse that Dinah had been made to suffer. Instead he sought to flatter them with arms wide open, welcoming them into the community like this was a joyous occasion.

And maybe that was typical of the cultures in that time, I’m not sure, but verse 7 makes abundantly clear how Jacob’s sons were seething at the offense. The Israelites were not here to be part of these godless, pagan cultures. They were called to be a “peculiar people,” distinct from all their neighbors, holding themselves to a higher standard.

Today it is the same. There are many philosophies that seek to minimize guilt for harmful actions, that try to laugh off serious offense, that tell us depravity is just how life is supposed to be. And as followers of the gospel we are meant to reject that emphatically, to hold ourselves apart as a “peculiar people,” to be bold enough to live better.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:25-26

25 And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away.

26 And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.

Previously we read how Abimelech asked Abraham to swear that he would always treat him in an honorable way and Abraham had readily agreed. And it is fascinating that Abraham did that, given that we learn in the very next verses that Abraham did not feel Abimelech had been honorable with him!

Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away one of Abraham’s wells, but Abraham had still been willing to make this pledge to the man. Presumably Abraham’s commitment to treat his fellowman with dignity was not based on how well that fellowman was treating him in return. Abraham’s commitment came from within, and he would be honorable even to those that did evil to him.

Though as Abraham found out, Abimelech was not aware that his servants had taken the well in the first place. They had certainly not done so at his behest. It does not say in the biblical record, but one would assume that Abimelech quickly made restitution.

Dealing With Failure- Psalm 82:3-4, Matthew 18:10

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones
These verses have an obvious literal interpretation: to protect and defend the helpless and the young. But also, as I considered the topic of this study, I thought of a figurative interpretation for them also.
The fact is, when I do something that I know is wrong, something that causes harm to my heart, I have a sense like that of a child crying inside. There is a youthful and needy soul within me, delicate and sensitive, and it has to be protected.
Indeed, every wrong action is an act of self-harm in some way, for we are fundamentally composed of a divine spirit, that cannot help but be wounded at the presence of vice. Self-correction, therefore, ought to be considered an act of self-protecting love.

Respect in Our Differences- Romans 14:2-3, 5, 14-15

For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

COMMENTARY

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Any moral code is going to stipulate some actions as being worthy and others as unworthy. This is not only true of the moral codes within organized religion, even a rubric as vague as “what’s currently trending in society” still advocates for certain behaviors over others. Of course, different moral codes will disagree with one another as to which actions are worthy and which are not.
Proponents of these different moral beliefs often waste a lot of time arguing their points to those that do not even subscribe to the same tenets. Because each side values entirely different criteria, the vast majority of these debates are completely pointless, destined to generate aggravation, not understanding.
Why don’t we take Paul’s advice? Let us maintain the code we truly believe in, and let others do the same. We do not have to demand that everyone else agree with us, only that they be sincere in their own morals.

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Tolerating another’s beliefs is good, but we can also take it a step further. Paul points out that we can take special care to not step on that which is sacred to others. Even if we don’t agree with all of their restrictions, we can govern ourselves by them while in their presence.
One does not even need to be religious do this, only socially polite. Those with vices still often put their cigarette out around non-smokers, choose jokes that don’t offend any present demographic, and avoid swearing around children.
Paul isn’t trying to tell us to be disingenuous, he simply wants us to be courteous.

Knit Our Hearts- Matthew 5:23-24, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

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.

COMMENTARY

First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift
I have been speaking about the need to forgive those that have wronged us, but I also wanted to make a point about our need to seek forgiveness as well. I find very interesting the order that is established in this particular verse. First be reconciled, then offer thy gift. If I try my utmost to serve God, but yet remain guilty of having wronged a brother, then all my efforts are in vain. My offerings are hypocritical. I am like Cain who made sacrifice to God while seething with hatred against his brother.
And that word “reconcile” is pretty meaningful, too. Jesus did not teach us to “apologize” to our brother. He did not say to “express regret” to our brother. If he had said those things, we could say a few words of remorse and if they were not accepted we would still be off the hook.
But instead he said “reconcile,” and that means to return to a peaceful and friendly state. So if my initial apology lands on deaf ears my obligation is not absolved. An apology only requires words, whereas reconciliation might mean a long period of owning one’s mistake, sharing a burden, and making restitution.

For he that forgiveth not his brother, there remaineth in him the greater sin
Of course there must come a point where one is released from this obligation. When a brother continually refuses to accept the reconciliation that is offered, the offender should not remain condemned. In these cases God will have to judge between them and absolve the offender when He feels their penance is sufficient. When exactly He will do that is between the individual and Him.

Knit Our Hearts- Colossians 3:13, Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

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.

COMMENTARY

Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye
Of you it is required to forgive all men
Thus far I have examined the need for companionship in our faith, and how two disciples improve one another when they are united in a cause. I have also discussed that when a brother or sister wrongs us we can lovingly invite them to make amends. That is the first of our obligations, and the second is to forgive.
But of course, doing either of these tasks is easier said than done, especially when we are still in pain. If it was an accidental hurt followed by an immediate apology, those can often be dismissed right away. But an intentional wounding, or one brought about by gross negligence? And one where our so-called “brother” or “sister” denies having done any wrong?
In those situations we feel inseparable from our righteous indignation. Thus it doesn’t feel like we are being asked to “let go” of our anger, it feels like we would have to tear it right out of our core.
I have felt that way myself. Sometimes I still feel it. From my experience I believe that forgiveness is a muscle that can be exercised, a skill that can be developed. Thus I can acknowledge that “I am bad at forgiving…. But I can get better at it.” To that end I have established for myself a daily ritual of letting go of all the offenses I have felt. I hope to cultivate a spirit of forgiving, one that can let go of the bigger things as well.