Who Am I?- Luke 15:11-13, 17-22, 24

A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he came to himself, he said, I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

COMMENTARY

Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me
The son took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son
Previously we considered how the disciples had already carved out identities for themselves before Jesus gave them a new role to fill. In the parable of the Prodigal Son we meet another who tried to carve out an identity for himself, this time to devastating results.
For the Prodigal Son was born with an initial identity, but he rejected it in favor of his inheritance. He did not care to be his father’s son, he would rather be a spender and an enjoyer. But he found that we was unable to sustain that role, and when it was gone he was left to instead play the part of hungry and ashamed.
After suffering for a time, he had a glimmer of hope, and chose yet another identity for himself: not a son to his father, but a servant. Thus he went from a son to a rioter to a starver to a servant.

But the father said, this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found
And this is why God disrupts us in our lives and gives us identities that we did not ask for. Because the ones that we give to ourselves aren’t very good!
We might assume that when we are left to our own devices we will give ourselves the identity of hard-worker, or accomplished man, or beautiful woman, or great friend. But when left to our own devices that is never how things actually play out. Instead we end up putting ourselves in the roles of sinner, ashamed soul, and self-doubter. When we try to define ourselves, we define ourselves as bad.
But when we go to our Father, He meets us on the road, takes away the toxic role that we have chosen, and gives us the identity of Son or Daughter instead.

Sacrifice and Consecration- Summary

I had very personal reasons to do this particular research. Which makes sense, this is a personal blog. But even if my situation was different from yours, I do believe that the principles we have discussed are generally useful.

The differences between sacrifice and consecration are an excellent example of how the gospel is both wonderfully simple and delightfully complex at the same time. To satisfy both laws all one has to do is give to God whatever their conscience moves them to give. One’s duty is not any more complex than that.

But behind that simplicity there are systems and reasons. Behind the “what” we are supposed to do there is always the “why” we are supposed to do it. I am grateful for a God who recognizes that we will be naturally curious, and takes the time to explain things to us. My faith is reaffirmed whenever I go to the scriptures, and there discover that He already wrote the answers before I even conceived of the questions.

We Sacrifice Our Obstacles

Jesus might have done away with animal sacrifice, but that does not mean that sacrifice itself was done away with. That law is still in full force. The only difference is that instead of giving up our animals, we give up whatever things obstruct us from fully following God.
Most obviously this means our sins. We sacrifice anything that he has declared unworthy, anything that makes us feel guilty. We also sacrifice our excesses. For example, there is nothing wrong in entertainment and media…though we need to keep these indulgences within moderation.
This is not all, though. At times our conscience will prompt us to perform other sacrifices, too, even of things that are not inherently evil. I once had a dream to become an artist. I tried my hand at it and found it did not provide me the joy and fulfillment that I had hoped for. Artistry is a very right thing for some people, but after some soul searching I concluded that it was not right for me. I let that dream go.
3 Nephi 9:19-20- And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

We Consecrate Our Talents

There are things that we do not need to sacrifice, but that we do still need to offer to God. These offerings are called “consecration.” It means that we will set apart this thing for His work and His glory. This fundamentally alters the thing that we offer, but it does not destroy it.
Our talents are an example of something that we consecrate. Each of us has unique abilities and skills, and we are meant to use them for building up God’s kingdom. He does not ask us to give up the things that we were born to do, but He does ask us to do them in the way that He intended.
For myself, I have decided to consecrate my writing to God. Any novel that I intend to publish will purposefully be written with His messages at its core. It will be designed as a tool for promoting His kingdom and helping His children. But this is just the right choice for me and it might not be the right one for you, even if you are a writer. It is a personal thing that you have to work out with God.
2 Nephi 9:39- But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.

Consecration Preserves Forever

In the end our talents die with us. That which we perform on Earth, one day we will perform no more. And if we used our talents to obtain worldly wealth or glory, then all those will be lost when we pass on.
But if instead we used our talents to give a goodness to the world, that good will persist after we are gone. And if we used our talents to give glory to God, that glory will yet remain with Him because He is undying.
And God has declared that it is His intention to share His glory with us, and so that glory which we gave to Him will be returned to us in the hereafter. It would seem that karma does not end in the grave.
The more we understand consecration, the more we will want to commit our lives to it. In fact the idea is that we commit our whole selves to God, which then allows Him to restore us back in full measure. Each of us will live again, but only those who consecrate will have their heart waiting for them on the other side.
Matthew 16:25- For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Service to Others- Luke 10:34-37

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

COMMENTARY

And went to him, and bound up his wounds
Go, and do thou likewise

What was it that the Samaritan did for the wounded man? Binding wounds, healing and anointing him, carrying his burden, placing him in safety…he gave him the sustenance of life.
When Jesus told us to “go and do likewise” I don’t think his injunction was only to watch out for men dying on the side of the road. I mean, yeah, if we ever see that we should do something about it! But more generally I believe he is asking us to give the sustenance of life to others.
And as we do so, we should remember that not all wounds are visible and not all hungers make a noise. Just as people need food and drink, they also need to feel seen, appreciated, heard, and wanted. And these are the needs that people are usually the most starved for, because these are the ones they cannot give to themselves.
We have an epidemic of emotionally dehydrated people. Every now and again one of them will cry for help, but more often they stay quiet, walking around and looking “perfectly fine” on the outside.
When you give service to others it isn’t just “doing something nice,” it is literally preserving life.

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.