When I volunteered at the State Prison, I remember a time an inmate, Michael, was going to be released on parole the following day.
He was so exited to get back into "the real world." As I prayed with him, he gave one of the most honest prayers I have ever heard:
"Lord, it is hard in here. Bless those who leave this place to never come back." I sensed he was referring to himself. That was his greatest fear: to be freed but find he couldn't "make it" on the outside.
According to the US Department of Justice, recidivism rates are a big problem. Approximately two-thirds of those who are paroled will reoffend within 3 years of their release. For many, the criminal justice system is a revolving door.
Michael prayed in the most childlike manner; he said, "Lord, thank you for our Only Begotten Son." (Not your Only Begotten Son ― because for Michael, Christ had become his, too).
When I returned on my next visit, I asked Michael's friends what they thought he was doing "on the outside." They all said in unison, "Eating calamari!" (Apparently that was the first thing he wanted to eat.)
Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it, when we're released from this earth-prison, what will be the first thing we want to do in "the real world?"
Visiting Hours for Angels
Something I learned in prison is that it's impolite to ask a person what they were "in for." Often an inmate would volunteer the information, but if not, you were left to speculate based on the length of their prison term.
I once asked a group, "Why are we here?" What I meant was, "Why are we here on earth? What are we here to learn?"
But one man, Greg, misunderstood and thought I was asking, "Why are we here [in prison]?"
Greg blurted out unabashedly, "Grand theft auto."
Another inmate, Harold, was over 80 years old; he had a full head of white hair and resembled a wild Old Testament prophet. He often quoted from the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, in a way you knew he loved those books.
He walked with a cane and shuffled over to me one day, grabbing my arm, and pulled me close. "You know the greatest problem in the world?" he asked.
I could think of several.
He answered, "Zoning laws."
I'll always remember the time, after we had become friends, that Harold shared with me an account of being visited by an angel behind bars.
Prison walls cannot shut out God's love.
Harold's eyes misted as he recounted the experience. "He was no-nonsense," he said, describing the heavenly messenger.
Harold has now passed on, and I smile when I imagine his shock, crossing over to the other side, and witnessing heaven's "zoning."
Catch Me if You Can
While society has laws to make criminals pay their debt to society, is the same true of breaking spiritual laws? What sort of debt do sinners owe?
Because, the way God engineered earth-life it seems like the wicked can avoid receiving immediate repercussions for their bad behavior.
I mean, where are all the angels with flaming swords ready to haul us downtown to the precinct? Instead, we witness people spiritually looting stores with abandon and setting the word of God ablaze like go-lucky arsonists, nary a siren in sight.
Indeed, the wicked seem to prosper!
O Lord, let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?
How can God be called "just" when He allows the wicked to run amok? And this isn't just Jeremiah's complaint, either; it is a recurring refrain from many of the prophets. "Do something, God! Show the bad guys who's Boss!"
Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?
Job is saying the wicked live to a ripe old age; they enjoy might and power and riches, and go about their lives never having to look over their shoulder for an angelic sniper.
In fact, if we really want to "get ahead" in this Babylonian wonderland, then breaking God's laws is a good way to do it (just look at the world's economies).
Job lamented how God lets all these bad guys bully us in the sandbox; why doesn't God act more like the recess Duty Guard and DO SOMETHING?
[The wicked] take the timbrel and harp and rejoice at the sound of the organ and spend their days in wealth [before they] go down to the grave.
"But Tim," someone says in an effort to comfort me whilst I sit in my ash pile of puss as the wicked parade their heavy-laden camels past us without a second glance, laughing behind their silk veils. My friend says, "Tim, God will make it right in the next life; all those wicked chaps will be sorry, just you wait!"
Ah, yes; that is exactly where Job goes with it, too, but to the opposite effect:
The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? [i.e., what good does that do us now?] they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath. [well jolly good, then ― as the wicked gleefully tattoo our flesh with the searing heat of oppression]
But Job says such comfort is cold, indeed; useless, in fact ― for how is the knowledge that our oppressors will suffer in a future life going to help their victims, here-and-how?
Who shall repay him what he hath done? He shall remain in the tomb [where] the clods of the valley shall be sweet to him, and every man shall draw after him, as there are innumerable before him.
You see, Job is saying, "For every wicked person that bites the dust, there'll just be a hundred more springing up after him." The wicked keep salting the earth with their iniquity and it never ends.
Isn't that depressing?
Let it Rain
The miracle of God's forgiveness can free us from our individual prisons and private hells.
But when we do not forgive someone, we're holding them hostage to the person they were, denying them the chance to become the person God wants them to be.
How cheaply we treat God's grace when we seek to close the windows of heaven against those who are "unworthy."
The Psalmist asked:
Whither shall I flee from thy presence? [i.e. is there any place we can hide from God's love?]
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. [wait: God is in hell??]
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
Thus we see, God is with us always, no matter where (or what) we are: whether it be in the lion’s den or the whale’s belly.
Jesus beautifully described God's love in the parable of the prodigal son; even after the son had squandered his inheritance and had sinned grievously, the Father ran and fell upon the neck of his son (and how fast can God run, who can stop time and reverse the course of the sun in the sky?).
And we think we can stop God's love from reaching the wicked? How could the wicked ever turn from the error of their ways, if not for God reaching out to them and offering His hand to them?
The work of God is not accomplished in the destruction of the wicked, but in their redemption.
For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye [only] love them which love you, what reward have ye?
Does God really love his unworthy, wicked children? I am not ashamed to declare it when the scriptures attest to it.
Some of us may think, though, that God's loves his good children more than his bad ones (we really are that insecure and egotistical), imagining a God who parcels out favors and love like Santa does his gifts from a Naughty and Nice List.
Certainly we can risk His displeasure, but God's love is infinite: you cannot divide or subtract from infinity.
His holiness allows Him to love us in spite of our sins, and He craves the company of His children, desiring us all to receive eternal life and return to Him ― and not as second-class citizens, either, but as equals (D&C 76:95).
The fact we would want God to love some of us less than others merely shows how unlike Him we are.
Forgiving ourselves is one way we accept the gift of grace and show God we trust in His merciful atonement.
Choosing not to forgive ourselves is like stamping “Return To Sender” on the Cross.
Why would we want to suffer for our own sins when Christ has paid for them already?
Maybe we convinced ourselves that since we have sinned, God stopped loving us. But the Lord is not keeping score like an umpire, waiting for us to strike out and shouting, "You’re out!"
Life is a pasture in which we are bound to step in cow pies, and yes, it stinks. Paul taught "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15).
But the good news of the gospel is this:
Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins [what percentage is "all"] behind thy back.
Since Christ has cast our sins behind His back, why would we gather them up for our scrapbook?
Which Gospel Do We Believe?
I want to end with a quote from Tim Keller:
"Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending Bible-believing, religious people of his day.
"However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect.
"The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people.
"The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on the people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."
Jerome was a large man from Chicago. He rarely spoke and sat with his arms folded in the back of the room. He was also a visionary man whom the Lord had led to Salt Lake in dreams.
He was married and looked forward to his release from prison so he could be reunited with his wife. He was lonely.
I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
As I sat with him, we read John 17, the Lord's Intercessory Prayer.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth . . . that they all may be one . . . that the world may know . . . thou hast loved them . . . that they may all be one.
Jerome looked at me and asked, "Does this apply to us living in prison?"
Especially at Church (I even stopped wearing an ascot so as not to appear eccentric). You won't even find a bow tie in my closet.
On Sundays, dressed in a white shirt and conservative, non-sports-team-themed-tie, I dutifully return my chalk to the library; I volunteer to substitute in the primary; I open the door for others and sing the hymns in Sacrament Meeting each week.
The problem? I can't help being . . . me.
Several years ago I was an instructor in the High Priests Group (before they were disbanded). One Sunday I was teaching from the Book of Ephesians and asked the class, "How many bodies does God have?"
Shortly thereafter I was summoned to meet with a counselor in the Stake Presidency, who told me to stop teaching "deep doctrine" and to stick to General Conference talks.
The Counselor in the Stake Presidency told me "priesthood meetings are not an appropriate place to discuss the mysteries."
I asked him innocently, "But President, if we can't discuss deep doctrine in High Priests Group, where can we?"
He had no answer.
Misadventures of a Gospel Teacher
After meeting with the Stake Presidency I felt terrible. I had tried so hard to blend in; to not rock the boat and to behave like a model Mormon man should (back when we were still Mormons).
The worst part? Wondering who the anonymous tipsters in my quorum were who had gone behind my back to complain to leadership (those snitches), whilst shaking my hand with smooth faces and smiles.
Why didn't these guys tell me they had a problem? Didn't the scriptures direct them to come to me, personally?
And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone.
Conflict (even in the Church) is typically handled passive-aggressively ― which is why, as an attorney, Ward Council gives me the creeps: in Court, at least, they don't allow ex-parte communications (meaning you can't talk about a party in front of the Judge (bishop) unless the party is present to defend themselves).
Whereas in Church, leaders often report to the Ward Council information they've heard second-hand (hearsay) or read on Facebook (lacking foundation), spreading gossip (under the guise of "member needs") ― all while the subject of the rumors is not personally consulted or included in the conversation.
But back to my story: among the High Priests Group, I no longer felt safe; trust had been breached. So in our next meeting I stood before them and said:
"I am sorry if some of you have been offended by my lessons. After several of you complained, I was reproved by leadership. But now I feel like I have to record everything I say to use as evidence in case someone lodges another complaint against me."
And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking.
A high councilor was present in the priesthood meeting and accused me of having the "spirit of contention." That made me feel even worse. My wife wisely counseled me, back at home, "All you can do is kill them with kindness."
So I grabbed my kids and we took homemade cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting over the high councilor's home, trudging through the snow (it was wintertime), and standing on his doorstep, I handed him the cinnamon rolls, saying, "I was not angry, only hurt. But I love you and hope you'll forgive me."
I was released soon thereafter.
History Repeats Itself
Fast forward several years, and under a new administration (same ward, but we have a high turn-over rate) I was called as an Elders Quorum Instructor.
I think many of you can relate: my lessons were either loved or loathed; they attracted strong opinions on both sides (but they were never boring). Mind you, I wasn't trying to be divisive; but regardless of how hard I tried to fit the mold, I failed.
It wasn't long before a member of the EQ Presidency complained about my lessons to the President (and my unorthodox views) and asked for me to be released.
On my last Sunday teaching I taught on the doctrine of the atonement and on becoming "new creatures" in Christ and the relationship of time with eternity; that was several years ago.
Since then, I've been shuffled around in non-public callings, like Quasimodo, where, it is hoped, my spiritual nonconformity won't offend others.
Recently a friend told me he had been in Ward Council and heard the Bishop say, "Pray for brother Merrill; he's struggling with his testimony."
I reacted shocked. "What? I am? That is news to me."
My friend said, "Tim, your problem is, you know, you're just too Christian for the Church."
I quipped, "Well, whose Church is it?"
But afterwards I sensed the sad irony of what I had said; how could a person ever be "too Christian" in Christ's own Church?
So what Church was I in?
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
(2 Nephi 25:26)
"Teach One Another?" You're Kidding
But enough about me. Let's look at what the Lord said about teaching in the Church. I take confidence from His words, when He said:
I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another [okay; but teach what, exactly?] the doctrine of the kingdom [which doctrine?].
Right away, the thing that strikes me as odd is the fact the Lord recruits us as His teachers ― when the Holy Ghost is a far superior teacher. And surely the angels would make better gospel doctrine instructors (or are they too busy sharpening their scythes?).
So why us?
It seems a bit strange when we consider the stakes; just think about how unqualified we all are ― like God rounding up a bunch of rowdy kindergarteners on the playground during lunch recess and telling them, "The Yale English Department is coming tomorrow to see if there are any promising students; Mrs. Montgomery went home for the afternoon and left instructions that you should teach each other John Milton's Paradise Lost."
. . . and we can barely read. "Go Spot, go. No Spot, no go Yale."
"A mind not to be changed by place or time / The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n."
"See, Spot run. Run Ivy League, bye."
So why does God conscript us clumsy fools into teaching each other when our eternal lives hang in the balance? Sure, some of you are given "the gift of teaching," but what about the rest of us?
For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom; And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge.
No, the whole enterprise seems doomed for failure when we realize how absurd it is ― that is, if the Lord's goal were to get us to be smart, fresh-faced minions who march in time.
But what if the Lord had an entirely different purpose in mind? What if He wasn't worried about educating us to beome a bunch of smarty-pants, vying for magna cum laude honors?
No, it seems God is quite content with us being a class of simpletons:
That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed [by prophets? Spiritual stud-muffins? San Dimas High School quarterbacks? No, no] by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.
"Reporting for duty, Lord: the 'weak and simple.'"
Grace Shall Attend You
When it comes to gospel instruction, look at what the Lord has in mind, specifically:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you.
See that? The goal of gospel instruction is more than just gaining knowledge, far more: it is to receive God's grace.
Any egghead with a laptop and a set of scriptures can "understand all mysteries" of the gospel (1 Cor. 13:2) from the bowels of his basement, by home study.
Then why send us to the public synagogues on Sunday, where we pick up germs and get bullied? How does that bring "grace" into our lives?
Well, for one thing, grace loves a good party:
Where (1) two or three are (2) gathered together (3) in my name, (4) as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them.
We are commanded to teach one another ― not to get gooder, but to get gracier.
The "doctrine" the Lord wants us to teach each other is pretty all-encompassing; He tells us to build our temples of faith with theories, principles, and laws:
That you may be instructed more perfectly in: (1) Theory, (2) In Principle, (3) In Doctrine, (4) In the Law of the gospel, (5) In all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God.
We'll need a little bit of everything; combined, these things give us a very wide net with which to catch some delicious fish to sup on with the Savior, shoreside (He's got the coals ready and is waiting).
The Lord taught using a diversity of techniques and styles; so can we. You know why? Life is messy; love is a lottery; marriage is a gamble; happiness is a firefly blinking in an out among the stars. And through it all, God wants us holding hands, teaching and strengthening each other with His grace.
Because of God's grace, the inadequacy of the teacher becomes swallowed up in the love (edification) that is shared between class members.
So congratulations ― you've taken a leap of faith just by waking up and wanting to teach the gospel.
Staring into the black eternity of unknown tomorrows, holding hands, let us follow the glimmering colors that reach outwards, towards Christ ― and in His grace, teach one another.
Leap of Faith
Teaching is tough because it requires us to become vulnerable; we share a part of ourselves with our classmates, and what if we're misunderstood? Or (as I felt in my priesthood quorums) rejected?
Christ, having been cast out of the synagogue for the things He taught, and facing the Cross, said:
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever [casteth] you [out] will think that he doeth God service.
And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
We don't need a crystal ball to predict our future; by following Christ we know how it ends.
Following Christ, we enter into the fellowship of His suffering. But Christ showed us it can be done. He sprinkled blood on the straight and narrow path so we might follow the scent. "Be of good cheer; don't worry; be not afraid. Follow the smell of cinnamon."
Last year was a changing point for me (at least in terms of how I approach my time at Church). I learned an important lesson. People are not "woken up" by being told they're wrong; it was useless for me to go around Church, trying to wake others up by hitting them over the head with the hammer of "truth."
Yes, it's true we need to "awake from the slumber of death" (Jacob 3:11), but people at Church come "to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul" (Jacob 2:8).
I realized that many of the words I spoke at Church were cutting, not healing. And so I decided to change. I learned the way to wake someone up is not all at once, by splashing cold water on their face, but with the smell of breakfast (bacon) cooking on the fire.
People are waking up; that is God's doing, not ours. Our job is to have something hot for them to eat when they hear their stomachs growling.
People will be attracted to our fire and will share our scrambled eggs when they feel our love, not judgment; when we teach them to see the divinity within themselves more than the sin which so easily besets them.
Clark Burt is like that, patiently tending the coals of the fire and waiting for stragglers. They come, one or two at a time, and he hands them a hot chocolate.
Clark commented once to one of my posts: "My friend Mike once had a dream after an experience similar to yours. In his dream he saw people who had oil all over them and they were upset because it was messy and they couldn't wipe it off.
"He realized that the oil was light and truth for the virgins' lamps, but his Quorum members were not ready to receive so much light and truth.
"Sometimes we give them too much and it shouldn't surprise us if it gets messy."
A Paradoxical Path
The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of plot twists; the Lord loves a good "mystery."
We saw that using "straight-line, right handed power" (i.e., force) to achieve righteous ends is misguided ― it is an absolute death knell for grace (Treason and Triumph).
This applies to preaching the gospel, too. Using right-handed power will snuff out grace quicker than we can say lickety-split. In order for grace to abound, there must be love and liberty, else the Spirit will be quenched and grieved.
Ironically, by imposing our will on others, we thwart the very good we're seeking to accomplish.
Jesus showed us that freedom is found in submission. Jesus yielded to Pilate and Herod; He placed Himself in the hands of the Roman soldiers (never summoning the legions of angels champing at the bit to swoop down and rescue him). He showed us that to transcend our enemies, we must submit to them.
I say unto you, That ye RESIST NOT evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
(Matt. 5:39, 41)
As a Teacher, everything Jesus taught was filled with grace; He showed us how to speak the truth in love. Because we'll never convert a single soul to Him by condemning others (this goes both ways).
Instead, Jesus tells us to walk a mile (and more) with them, beside them, and learn their names, their hopes and fears, and to become brothers and sisters with them.
Can we become more precious to each other than the preciousness of our cherished values?
Question: Can we really claim we're following Christ's command to "love our enemies" when we're engaged in a virtual spitting match with them ― as if we're no better than Caiaphas (see, Matt. 26:67)?
Teaching What For?
In 1831, right at the outset of the Restoration, the Lord gave us the Law of His Church (Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants).
The Law is an excellent blueprint on teaching:
(42:12) And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospelwhich are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
Well, now we know there's a textbook for our subject, at least. The principles of the gospel in their fulness are found in the scriptures.
(42:13) And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them (this refers to Section 20), and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.
Mmm; that's interesting: our teachings are to be "directed by the Spirit." Which is right in line with what Moroni taught in Moroni Chapter 6 about our meetings being guided by the gifts of the Spirit.
(42:14) And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.
Well, this explains a lot.
(42:16) And as ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good.
Now we come to it: the Lord invites us to teach one another so His grace may attend us in order for us to have the Spirit . . . so we may prophesy.
Isn't that what marriage is? A conversion of our hearts, leaving behind our former flames for our one-true-love?
I had dated for several years before meeting my wife; I like to call it love at first sight (it was a blind date). When I saw her, there was something special about her; she took my breath away. My previous relationships had been like orange poppies, beautiful but brief; and my wife, a blood rose.
So it is with God. We're told in the New Testament that eternal life is to "know" God.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
But wait. "Know" Him? Surely not in the "biblical sense" of the word, right? Right?
Umm. Let's look at the Greek: γινώσκωσιν (ginōskōsin).
A form of this same verb (to know) is used in Matthew Chapter 1 in relation to the virgin birth: "And [Joseph] knew her [Mary] not till she had brought forth her firstborn son" (Matt. 1:25).
It's time we sit down and have a Define-The-Relationship (DTR) with God.
But I am getting ahead of myself. This post isn't about the virgin birth or becoming the brides of Christ; it's about, "How is it even possible to KNOW God?"
And, more to the point, "Once we get to know God a little, why are the chances we'll wish to remain 'just friends' and not take our relationship any further?"
Prince Charming? Not so much
Becoming acquainted with God is one thing; but actually "knowing" Him? Just how close do we need to get for eternal life?
God's ways are foreign to us; they are higher than our own. It can be daunting, entering into a new culture (and often, learning a second language, the language of the Spirit).
Just to complicate matters, our significant-other summers in Kolob and doesn't know how to pick up, apparently, a cell phone. (You know what they say about long-distance relationships.) But before we go any further, we should ask ourselves the question, "Is wanting to be in a relationship with God even appropriate?"
After all, Bruce R. McConkie said:
"[Some people] devote themselves to gaining a special, personal relationship with Christ that is both improperand perilous.
"I know that some may be offended at the counsel that they should not strive for a special and personal relationship with Christ. It will seem to them as though I am speaking out against mother love, or Americanism, or the little red schoolhouse."
What can I say? On the one hand, the Book of Mormon prophets urge us to:
Come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him.
Oooookay. But on the other hand, Elder McConkie tells us, "Sure, come unto Christ, but don't get too close; He's Mr. Christ to you; stand behind the red rope; give Him some space."
How personal does God want to us to get? He seems to know everything about me; so does it go both ways?
Does He want us to know Him, down to His eye color and laugh lines and Social Security Number and birthdate? (You know, to protect against spiritual fraudsters who pretend to "know" Him but are actually imposters, like the Nigerian Princes who have been trying to reach us about our lapsed car insurance: "Hello, I am your ministering brother reaching out to check on your temple recommend renewal").
If we're going to err, do we err on the side of being too personal, or too impersonal?
In Doctrine and Covenants Section 93, it seems like the Lord wants us to "know" Him on a quite personal level.
I beheld his glory . . . [what is God's glory?] full of grace and truth . . . and I, John, saw that he received NOT of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace. . . and thus he was called the Son.
I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know (!) how to worship, and know (!) what you worship.
(D&C 93:11-14, 19)
Without wanting to oversimplify the matter, I want to suggest that the only way to know God is to receive His grace.
That's it. That's all.
If I took a poll, most people would define "knowing" God by certain spiritual "milestones" (like the Second Comforter), but not me.
We know God through the grace He has given each of us, which fills our lives. And we continue to grow in grace until, at last, we will have received "of His fulness."
I previously mentioned 'windows' (the "windows of heaven") that go both ways; we exchange "grace for grace" with those on the other side of the veil.
"The glory of God is reciprocal. A seal, in other words, symbolizes the opening of a space (kingdom) for two (or more) things to be united; but the sealing occurs only if those two (or more) things share in each other's grace (light and truth); this is the Glory of God. This is how we become "one" with each other and Him.
"Unless, of course, we're talking about the flip-side of the sealing power, which is the power to "loose" on earth and in heaven; that is, to sever the link between two (or more) things so that they are "cut-off" from each other ─ which means they cannot share grace between them."
The Paradox of Glory
Now we encounter one of the thorniest paradoxes of all, the problem of God's glory.
'Knowing' God requires us to partake of His glory; but at the same time His glory prevents uncleanness from entering His presence. Sort of a chicken and egg problem.
"Tim," someone says, "The glory of God is wonderful! How can you say anything negative about it?"
Well, the glory of God is like gravity; wonderful, yes, and a necessary life-giving force ─ until you fall off a 10 story building.
You see, gravity keeps things united together in orbit in their orderly movements; but it can also prevent two planets from coming closer to each other (keeps them apart).
Have you ever wondered why God doesn't let anything "unclean" enter into His presence? I mean, what's the use of all that glory if it's just gonna keep your children away from you?
Couldn't God set aside His glory for a second in order to give us telestial punks a hug, without us catching on fire like Cornflakes doused in kerosene in the brightness of His coming?
Oh wait; that IS exactly what Christ did when He was born on earth as a babe in Bethlehem.
What is Grace?
How does God's "grace" solve the problem? How does grace relate to glory, and uncleanness?
Whenever someone gives a talk in Church on grace, they quote the Bible Dictionary. (In case you weren't aware, Robert J. Matthews assembled the LDS Bible Dictionary by obtaining copyright permission to use as its backbone the bible dictionary published by the Cambridge University Press. The scripture committee then altered the entries to give it an LDS-flavor, like adding Tabasco Sauce to our eschatological eggs.)
"Grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts."
That answer it for us? So now we know grace is "divine help." Good, good. And God's grace is imparted in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. Excellent, excellent. Bible Dictionary saves the day again!
Well, except for one thing: no one really knows, still, how grace works.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Let's see if we can learn something about grace from the Garden of Gethsemane. How was grace manifested in the garden? How was grace given, and how was it received?
To get an insider-view, let's look at Gethsemane through Christ's eyes.
In the garden, Jesus opened Himself and "made HIS soul an offering" (Isaiah 53:10).
If that sounds familiar, it should: remember what we read earlier from the Book of Mormon?
Come unto Christ and offer YOUR whole souls as an offering unto him.
Waaaait a minute. Just who is offering their souls, exactly? Christ or us?
What if Gethsemane is where Christ offered His soul and finished his "preparations unto the children of men" (D&C 19:19), but until we offer Him our souls (two-for-one deal), it is not complete?
"Hold on, Tim," someone says. "I wasn't in the garden. How could our souls join as one?"
Really? We weren't there? There, where our sins were, when Jesus suffered for them? Had we made other plans, sending our sins ahead with our regrets?
Christ may have walked the winepress alone, but He wasn't alone: there were also the olives and grapes.
So the thing I want us to focus on is that for the atonement to be infinite and eternal, it needed two souls in the offering for it to be efficacious. For Amulek taught, if we do not open our souls to Christ, then it is "as though there had been no redemption made" (Alma 11:41).
When Christ made His soul an offering, we stared into eternity and got a good look. What did we see? What did we find as we peered into the very heart of God, so that we might "see the travail of HIS soul and be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11).
Put yourself in Christ's shoes: how vulnerable was He? How much of Himself did He share with us? Did He hide any part of Himself from us?
This brings us to grace. For a moment, what if we defined grace as the giving-of-one's-soul-to-another?
When we fail to receive what Christ has offered (and to return it in kind, albeit to a lesser degree) ─ standing there in the garden with Him, while He says to His seed: "I want to share everything I am, everything I have, everything I dream about, and desire, with you. Are you interested? Will you be Mine? Will you spend the rest of eternity with Me?" and gets on one knee, and falls on His face . . . what happens if we reject Him?
Can there be any healthy relationship when one of the parties offers more than the other one is "willing to receive" (D&C 88:32)?
No wonder when Christ appeared to the Nephites He told them to offer up "a broken heart and contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20).
After all, we broke His.
Sometimes when people fall in love, they write love songs and poetry to their beloved.
Here is one such song (psalm); look carefully at the imagery:
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.
No one can read that without feeling its pathos. If you've ever been in love and broke up with other person, then you know what it means to be broken-hearted; you know the agony of unrequited love.
Everywhere you turn, you are reminded of the one who rejected you, and it brings fresh pain.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand.
Here's the point: Christ's gift of grace is an invitation to step into Gethsemane with Him; He gave us His heart; will we harden ours?
A New Interpretation. I want to suggest that this is the "stone" cut out of the mountain without hands, smiting the kingdoms of this world to smithereens: it was, and is, His heart.
The heart of God, like the stone, was "cut"; Daniel's prophecy was a prophecy of God's love, which shall roll forth and fill the whole earth.
It cannot be stopped.
Where I Attempt to Re-Write the Bible Dictionary
(1) To know God one must become God. For how can one "know" something one is not?
(2) The way we become like God is by receiving His grace. What is grace? Grace is the freely-given bestowal of a portion of one's glory upon another person.
(3) But the gift of grace is not like giving a gift on Christmas morning. Since grace is an aspect of one's self-essence (glory), it cannot be (1) purchased, (2) taken by force, or (3) stolen (sorry Lucifer). Giving it exacts a toll. In other words, giving grace is more like donating a kidney to a sick child than giving a kid a bicycle.
(4) But there's a catch; God is not overbearing; His bestowal of grace is commensurate with our ability to receive and bear it (else we would be "consumed" and perish).
(5) The one who gives grace is called the "Father" (for what is a Father but He who imparts of His Self (knowledge, light and truth) to His child?) The one who receives grace is called the "Son" in scriptures (see D&C 93:13-14).
(6) You might think the gift of grace is something everybody would want, but not so. Most often we "hide" from God's grace (like Adam and Eve who searched for fig leaves to cover their nakedness with aprons of legalism rather than to be vulnerable (in a relationship) with God).
(7) God will always initiate and renew His offer of grace to us, again and again, worlds without end, regardless of how many times we reject Him, seeking a relationship with us (although these periods may be temporarily suspended if one is "cut-off").
(8) Grace is meant to create a bond (sealing) between beings; the one who receives also gives; and the one who gives also receives. Thus the Son is added upon, and the Father's glory is increased.
(9) Receiving all God is and has ― to know Him ― does not occur all at once, but requires an exchange of ever-greater portions of grace until the two parties achieve parity (equality) (share in a fulness of each other's grace). Once there is parity between beings, then they may "see as we are seen, and know as we are known" (D&C 76:94).
The Tricky Part
Now the tricky part: two people baring their souls to one another and becoming "one" sounds great; but what's it all for?
(10) At a certain level, the exchange of grace between divine beings forms a celestial circuit or conduit (Godhead) which attracts (draws) other intelligences into their orbit (union), thereby increasing Their glory (light and truth).
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light leaveth unto light.
(11) To be clear, the self-existent principle of intelligence (light and truth) means that intelligence cannot be created but only aggregated.
(12) So if God cannot create intelligence ex nihilo, how did He become "more intelligent than they all?" How does His glory increase if intelligence cannot be created? To put it another way, since God did not create the intelligence of man, it may be asked, how came man to be His Son?
"Wanna grab an ice cream sometime?"
Looking around, it is sort of surprising how many of us reject God (for what is sin, but to alienate ourselves from Him?).
Maybe it's because we aren't attracted to God; after all, He doesn't satisfy our carnal, sensual, and devilish minds.
I think most of us prefer Satan as a suitor, with all his trappings. He's well-spoken, good-looking, and wealthy; he offers us security (which may explain why our churches are the way they are).
But what does God have to offer? Sure, He's faithful; but imagine if a person today lived the lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth; would you want to go on a second date with them?
Me: "Umm. You're unemployed?"
Him: "No, I work for my Father."
Me: "Sure, sure. Does that pay well?"
Him: "Not in money, no."
Me: "If this gets serious, I need a stable home to raise children in."
Him: "I mostly couch-surf at my friends' places; foxes have holes and birds have nests."
Me: "Right, right. So, where do you see yourselves in five years?"
Him: "Ascended; I'm not long for this world."
Me: "Tell me you have good life insurance."
Him: "In a manner of speaking."
You see, the devil has far better prospects. However, Christ offers us something the devil can't: love.
The problem is that Christ's love is pure; we prefer our love mixed with a little flattery and make-up.
Christ's love is a firehose when we're holding a squirt gun. It's like we accepted a date to the Soda Shoppe because we just wanted an ice cream, not a marriage proposal.
Here's the point: As long as we want ice cream, and that's all we want, God is willing to take us out for ice cream, ad nauseum. He's willing to engage with us on whatever level we desire. He won't ever pressure us beyond what we're willing to receive (the law of reciprocity).
And you know what? I think He actually appreciates those dates at the Soda Shoppe, sitting with us as we nibble on mint chocolate chip for half an hour on Sundays, if that's all we're ready for.
But I believe He wants more; if I may be so bold, I think the Lord is ready to take our relationship to the next level.
When I begin writing a new post, as I'm doing now, I often feel as eager and as nervous as a boy placing a wrist corsage on his prom date: equal parts anticipation and anxiety.
(And blessed be the person who invented wrist corsages ― allowing boys everywhere to avoid the awkwardness of pinning sharp pearl-headed needles on the bodices of their dates, their fingers a-fumbling, as her mother snaps photographs.)
I have never been the sort of person to do things by half-measure; I'm the kind of guy who falls in love at first sight and who eats at buffets without worrying about food poisoning; who skips in the hallways at work and likes to ride on public transit where I can meet strangers. Consider me the Nicean's Creed worst nightmare ― full bodied with parts and passions aplenty.
That's why when I'm asked, "Tim, how do you come up with things to write about?" I respond, "It's not having something to say (there's much we haven't even scratched the surface of yet), but figuring out the right way to sayit that's hard."
This is the reason I feel butterflies in my stomach at the moment, fumbling for the right words that might infuse our topic with the Spirit. Frequently I lament as Joseph Smith did:
"Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen and ink ― and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language."
(Joseph Smith to William W. Phelps, November 27, 1832, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2002), 284-87.)
I believe in the proposition that "truth is manifest in the proving of contraries." That's why you often see me taking a contrary view; it helps us see the opposite side more clearly. Distance often brings perspective.
And so together, arm-in-arm like Hansels and Gretels, we shall seek for the heavenly tongue, a pure language to express wonderful things better intuited in the Spirit than articulated, by holding each other ― and contraries ― close.
But beware: following the trail of breadcrumbs as often leads to the witch's house as to home.
A Linguistic for Love
Sometimes I wish I had studied linguistics in college because I'm intrigued by the philosophy of words and sounds.
What is spoken language, after all, but noise? It is all nonsensical ― that is, until we form words from those sounds.
If I were in Hong Kong and heard someone speak Cantonese, there would be no understanding because I don't share a common tongue with the speaker.
Now, can the same thing be said of love? Are things "lost in translation" when we don't share a common bond of love?
And so we must search for the origin of language.
Their children [Adam and Eve's] were taught to read and write, having a language [love] which was pure and undefiled. . . according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it [was] given in [their] own language.
(Moses 6:6, 46)
That's wonderful, of course, but we no longer have a "pure and undefiled" language. Or a pure love.
How, then, are we to commune with God as if our tongues had been cut out and our hearts had grown hard?
Enter: real intent.
Have you ever wondered how words are created? Modern English is a hodge-podge of Danish, Norse, and French.
But who got to decide that "waffle" means a delicious breakfast food; and at the same time, describes halting between two opinions?
The person who creates or discovers something new gets to name it, right? Why do you think we call Jesus "the Word"? Because He is the Creator who gave us names, who called us forth and whose voice formed us.
And what is a name, but a word? And what is a word, but sound? And what is sound, but breath? And what is the breath of life, but meaning? And what is meaning, but light? And what is light, but glory?
So we see: glory is found in the name of God.
In your name.
Calls His Sheep By Name
How do we know what a particular sound means? Is it because our parents taught us that "cow" is that animal over there eating grass? Or that Joshua-cum-Jesus-cum-Jehovah-is-Salvation is that Man over there healing the leper and comforting the harlot?
You see, sounds are meaningless in-and-of-themselves, until someone teaches us what they mean. Christ taught us the meaning of His name, and it is love.
When enough people get together and form a society, they need a common tongue to communicate or there could be no united action; no coordinated labor; no shared vision.
And so we all consent to a construct in which "blue" means blue; and marriage means monogamy; and God means . . . what? What does the term God refer to? Dieu. Allah. Elohim.
Likewise, when a group of people get together and love each other with charity, they communicate heart-to-heart as with the tongue of angels (because the angels speak the words of Christ, which is to say, love).
My point is, language is a function (creation) of community, in which we are all "one minded" and swear allegiance to the meaning of "hamburger" ― policed by dictionaries and librarians and 3rd Grade grammarians; or in the spiritual realm, by mercy and justice and wisdom.
Have you ever heard someone speak your language with an accent? That's one way to tell they are not a "native" speaker.
What does love look like from non-natives? If we teleported backwards in time to Tudor England, could we understand a lick of anything a British person speaking English 500 years ago said? Could they understand us?
Let's assume for a moment that we are the foreigners, the aliens, the non-native speakers in heaven. If we stayed overnight in Kolob, how foolish would we sound to the bellhop?
Are we beginning to see that we need a common spiritual tongue when it comes to charity, with which to commune with the Church of the Firstborn?
Jesus Christ is the Logos of Love.
Jesus teaches us the meaning of love as if He were teaching Helen Keller to read and write; and we're all Helen Keller, spiritually-speaking: deaf, blind and mute.
Just to make His job more complicated, remember that language diverges and forks between the written word and spoken word.
You may not have thought of it this way, but there are really two entirely different forms of English: identical and utterly different; one seen and one heard; one spoken with lips to make sound, and one written by hand to make symbolic etchings.
Like musical notation, a person might hold sheet music and have no idea what it would sound like if played on the piano. Or a person could sit down at the piano and play something beautiful, but have no idea how to transcribe it onto paper.
Both written and spoken language share the same goal: to convey meaning.
And that is just our native tongue! When we account for translation from Chinese to English (transposing music written for the clarinet as you play the violin), there isn't a direct equivalence (word for word) because each language has its own vocabulary and grammar.
Without a translator, we'd be lost. There would be no way for an Egyptian to communicate with an American, or a telestial being to communicate with a celestial being (despite what the movie Stargate would have us believe).
Practice Pointer: the Holy Ghost (the Spirit) is a Translator; he manifests the things of God to those of us who are illiterate.
But here's the good news: we can become "translators", too! We can become bilingual by learning to speak the language of the Spirit.
Translating the Will of God
When we talk about obtaining "the will" of the Lord, what we're asking for is to become translators; to perceive the meaning of the Lord's desire for us which is communicated in a way that we comprehend it.
When we become translators, we begin to understand God in a new way.
Jesus is the greatest Translator of all: He "comprehendeth all things" (D&C 88:41).
Whatever sinful, forked, fallen tongue we may speak with, and address Him with, He understands us.
And with understanding comes compassion.
Gift of Tongues
As a missionary in Paris it took me months to understand a tiny bit of what the natives were saying (now I can order off a menu, but don't ask me to pass any medical boards in French. Or English, for that matter).
You see, the written word is often garbled in our mouths. When I say, "I dunno", you know what I mean; but someone who learned English in the classroom may not understand because they learned the textbook-formal-way of saying: "I-do-not-know," pronouncing each syllable as if holding audience with the Queen.
Speaking of linguistic limitations, you've seen me quote Le Petit Prince where it says "Words are a source of misunderstanding" (le langage est source de malentendus). This is why we have multiple translations of the same text. Why do so many New Testament scholars translate the Greek differently? Whose translation is "exact" (none of them) or at least the most correct?
Ah, now we see a spiritual problem we face in the Church: while the Lord's voice is pure and singular, the way we interpret and "translate" it differs based on our culture and experiences.
The Lord could be speaking to my wife and me so that we both "hear" Him, but our translations may vary in the details.
We see this in the scriptures; while the Standard Works contain the words of God, the prophets do not speak univocally; they each speak the word of God with slightly different accents.
This invariably leads to confusion and causes contention over the Lord's points of doctrine (see 2 Nephi 3:12).
But it gets worse! The interesting thing about language (at least ones like English; maybe not Adamic) is that we can deceive with our words. In fact, we can "lie" while technically speaking the truth.
So language makes comprehension possible, but is also the means by which confusion is created.
Heaven help us!
Curve Ball: If we're talking about angels who communicate using telepathy, or the Holy Ghost that speaks into our "minds and hearts" (D&C 8), we face a whole new conundrum.
Can we even call it "language" if we're not using sound waves or symbols ― as the angels and Spirit attempt to convey meaning directly into our minds and heart?
How does an angel "speak" into our minds? Are their "words" filtered through our own experiences?
Just like when we learn to speak a foreign language (that opens our minds to new ideas and connotations), so too does the language of the Spirit increase our awareness.
Our cognitive awareness (spiritual consciousness) is somewhat limited by the words we have. Dr. Seuss can write a nice book like Cat in the Hat with only 236 words (did you know Green Eggs and Ham only has 50 different words?).
But you'll need over 16,000 unique words (!) to write the Bible.
Now imagine if we knew all the languages on earth and all the vocabulary in heaven! How would our awareness expand? Would our comprehension extend to the furthest reaches of the cosmos?
Would we be able to consider things we're currently not able to fathom ― or even conceive of ― because of our linguistic prisons?
How else could we ever hope to peer into the very mind of God?
Babel and Black Swans
Thanks to the Tower of Babel (whether figurative or literal is not important for our purposes), we encounter the problem of "confounding" communication.
I can say potato and be thinking of a russet potato and you are picturing a yukon gold. I can hear someone give a talk on tithing and hear "priestcraft"; someone else may listen to the same talk about hear, "I need to sacrifice more."
All this highlights the fact that the universal translator the Spirit uses (which bridges all differences) is love.
The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
Charity joins what is separate, rendering one person's conscientious choice to not pay tithing as valid, and at the same time another person's choice to pay tithing as equally valid.
How can that be? How can two people interpret God's will differently, and behave in opposite ways, and still both be "right"? And remain "one"?
God's gift of charity allows for diversity of thought and behavior; His love allows two people who speak entirely different languages to communicate in a way that both are edified, without control or compulsory means.
Love also opens a door in which we can communicate ideas and spiritual truths to those who have no way to contextualize them because they haven't experienced them before.
I mean, wasn't that what Jesus was doing? Sharing the mystery of God (mysteries of Godliness) with those of us whose lesser "intelligence" make it hard to grasp the truth?
The Black Swan theory states that if a person has only seen white swans, then they have no reason to believe black swans exist. So they make rational decisions and go about their lives without a second thought given to black swans.
The problem arises when, one day, their life is turned upside-down because they encounter a black swan. Now their paradigm has to account for a new factor.
With God, we continually encounter "Black Swans." Our spiritual lives are dynamic because He keeps elevating us, opening our eyes to new, greater realities.
The Church, in my opinion, has a "White Swan" problem. We are so committed to there being ONLY white swans (such as a heteronormative heaven) that God cannot "speak" to us because our minds are held captive by our dearly-held white-swan-beliefs.
If God by chance showed us a Black Swan, what would happen? Experience shows that we would likely find ways to try to get it to fit our "mold"; or we would reject it and go back to our old ways of understanding things.
What is God whispering to our hearts that we are unwilling to listen to?
Hearing God's Voice
Remember how long it took you to learn to talk as a baby? No? Well, ask your parents. It took years.
And we didn't start speaking in complete sentences all at once. Even when we did start holding conversations with our parents, our knowledge was pretty much limited to labeling things and figuring out how they worked. "Stove. Hot. No touchy."
That's probably the level we're currently at in our progression. "Heart. Broken. Love you."
Then our parents shipped us off to boarding school so we could continue to learn greater skills and how to use our forks at fancy dinners with polite manners.
I'm in my 40s and I am still learning words! All my life I've used the idiom, "Chomping at the bit," until someone corrected me: "It's champing at the bit." What?
"Champing stems from an old Middle English word that has been around for at least 600 years and relates to the grinding of a horse’s teeth." (Grammarist.com)
Who knew? Spiritually, we are all going around using words incorrectly.
But that's okay; we're learning! You know the most effective way to improve a young child's language skills? Reading to them; hearing becomes linked to seeing the words on the page.
Let me repeat: Hearing becomes linked to seeing (you see where I am going with this?). How can we "see" Christ if we can't "hear" Him?
But the reverse is also true: sometimes it is easier to "see" than to hear, such as when the Lord appeared to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11 and they saw a man descend but had trouble hearing the voice.
When the Lord invites us to "hear" Him, we have to learn to speak with a new tongue; when the Lord invites us to "see" Him, we have to learn to see with new eyes.
When our eyes become bilingual, then:
The veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am [I AM]― not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
In this way the scriptures create an equivalency between "deafness" and "darkness" ― both refer to spiritual sensory deprivation.
What is God? We Are
I am stumbling over myself to make the point that you are God. That might sound odd, as if I were speaking Chinese, but remember what Joseph Smith taught?
Watch for Joseph's use of the word "comprehend":
"If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves."
God's will is not alien to us; we would do well to stop treating God's will as something external.
Why? Because God's will is in fact within us. Already. This very moment.
He who came unto his own was not comprehended. [see the problem? We didn't share a common tongue]
The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. [how do we comprehend God? Is that possible?] The day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, [okay, you have my attention. Tell us how, please!] being quickened in him and by him. [what does that mean?]
Then shall ye know ye have seen [heard] me, [really? we have?] that I am [I AM], and that I am [I AM] the true light that is in you.
"I am the true light that is in you."
We do not find God "out there" by looking up; we find Him by looking within.
If we can't hear Him, it is because we have not learned to listen to ourselves; our own divine voice remains Greek to our mind's eye.
Practice Pointer: The Holy Ghost is "a Revelator" in the sense he helps us to translate the word of God (in us) into language our spirits (in us) can comprehend.
We each hold within our hearts the "record of heaven."
It is given to abide IN YOU; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
And now, behold, I say unto you: THIS is (!) the plan of salvation unto all men.
Umm, what's that? The "plan of salvation"? Wait, where is the covenant path on this list?
You probably wouldn't be surprised by the fact I cringe when I hear the catchphrase "keep the commandments" (don't worry; I still sing along in Church when the organ plays Hymn No. 303).
"But Tim!" someone says. "Are you spiritually insane? How can you say that? Didn't Christ tell us to keep the commandments?"
No, no He didn't.
Look at what Jesus said:
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
See the difference? Jesus doesn't want us to keep THE commandments; He told us to "keep MY commandments."
Whomever we love, we obey. If we love the Church, then by all means, keep the (their) commandments; but if we love God, then we will keep His.
He that hath MY commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Perhaps the reason sightings of Christ are as rare as hen's teeth is because we're keeping THE commandments instead of keeping HIS commandments ― you know, listening to Him as opposed to what our parents, leaders, and religious traditions tell us.
Jesus himself was a good example of following the words that came directly to Him from God and not from man:
I love the Father; and as the Father gave ME commandment, even so I do.
And so when it comes to "keep the commandments," I can't help but channel my inner Dr. Seuss:
I do not like that little phrase or the way we give it praise. I do not like it here or there, It is not part of the Lord's Prayer. I do not like it when we preach man's law is something not to breach.
"Vague and Ambiguous"
The problem with the telling others to "keep the commandments" is that nobody knows what it means. Those three words are ambiguous; they're undefined.
What commandments are we referring to? Whose commandments? I think the phrase has become short-hand for "follow the prophet." But that is no help at all, either. Which prophet?
To help, let's turn to the Book of First John.
Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
(1 John 3:21)
Question: Does our doctrinal emphasis on keeping the commandments increase or decrease our confidence?
How confident are you feeling today? How clear is our conscience?
And how can our conscience be clear if there are so many commandments flying around we can't even keep track of them all ― let alone keep them!
It seems many of us are a bit shy in God's presence: somewhere between "Mountains-fall-on-me-please" and "Let me come boldly to thy throne".
If confidence came from keeping the commandments, then the answer itself becomes another problem. Because who among us keeps all the commandments?
Sin is the transgression of the law. [remember this: sin = breaking the law] Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: [Really, why not? Are they perfect?] [For] he that committeth sin is of the devil. [Umm, sending greeting cards on Father's Day just got awkward]
(1 John 3:4, 6-7)
Are you sinless?
Keep Your Eye Single to the Glory of the Commandments
When I hear someone say, "Keep the commandments," I immediately begin to inventory my sins. "Let's see, I'm doing well with a-b-c at the moment, but I really need to work on x-y-z."
Do you see what happened there?
Where was my attention drawn? Upon what did my eyes focus? Not on God, no: but on the commandments.
In this way, my (1) obedience to the commandments substituted itself for (2) my relationship with God. They became interchangable.
How anemic is our spiritual life if we base it more on our relationship with righteous behavior than with our Righteous Father?
I don't know about you, but I am a sinner; where does that leave me?
If "sinlessness" were the standard, what's to become of someone like me who eats too much fried chicken like a glutton, who has the meat-sweats and stinks of telestial B.O.?
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.
(1 John 3:9)
Does this mean if we sin we haven't been "born of God"? Close the curtains; stop the music; the show is over. Because we all sin.
Shall we become discouraged? Do we cast away our confidence?
Whenever someone gets on their "Just-keep-the-commandments-and-stop-sinning" High Horse (as if they were a jockey riding a pony named 'Can U See My Phat Pharisaical Gluteus Maximus From Over There?'), I like to quote the following verse to them:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
(1 John 1:8)
Huh; it's a catch 22, isn't it? If we claim to be sinless, we're deceived ― but we're told to be sinless!
Which is it?
Instead of 'Keeping the commandments' Try This
What a mess we've made of repentance. We mock God when we heckle each other.
There's a big difference between "keeping the commandments" [plural] and "keeping THE commandment" [singular].
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep HIS commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
(1 John 3:21)
The next verse, I think, holds the key to this whole matter:
And THIS is HIS commandment, [singular; finally we're getting somewhere] That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another [well, that was two things, but let's focus on the "love"] as he gave us commandment.
(1 John 3:22)
What is THE (only true and living) Commandment? To love. To love God and our neighbor.
What if "sinlessness" was nothing more or less than living in a dynamic state of charity?
How better to describe the constant cleansing of sanctification than to be awash in the river of God's unending, pure love, sharing it with each other?
Is this how we retain a remission of our sins? Not by being sinless, but loving? Because if we want a clear conscience, we need look no further than King Benjamin's people:
They were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience.
So how did all these sinners (reprobates) get there? Why were their hearts purified?
[Ye] have tasted of his love and received a remission of your sins . . . [and are] filled with the love of God.
(Mosiah 4:11-12) Here's an experiment: What if we took the thousands of commandments [plural] everyone talks about (and fails to keep) and set them aside for a moment, and in their place, we just love God and each other? You know, like Christ told us to (Matt. 22:36-40)?
Instead of quibbling over coffee and hemlines.
All this underscores the point that:
The law does not change hearts; the law does not create a Zion-people.
You know who I feel sorry for? Uzzah from the Old Testament who steadied the Ark of the Covenant (no good deed goes unpunished).
In ancient Israel, during King David's reign, Uzzah "put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled" (1 Chronicles 13:9).
The Lord smote Uzzah and he died (but really, blame the clumsy oxen).
I think it's safe to assume Uzzah was an important person since he was entrusted with transporting the Ark of the Covenant (you don't let just-anybody drive the cart carrying the Lord's precious cargo; I can see the bumper sticker: "Cherubs On Board").
You may think the death penalty for something as minor as steadying the ark was a bit harsh (then again, we're talking about the law of Moses where you could be stoned for gathering firewood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) ― especially when we consider Uzza's motives were well-intended. Would I have done the same? After all, nobody wants to see the ark tumble out of the wagon onto the interstate, dumping its contents of manna and rods and stone tablets and denting the angels' wings ("I know a guy who can buff that right out").
But you know the rules: only Levites could carry the ark and others were forbidden: "They shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die" (Numbers 4:15).
So what does this have to do with us? Well, the idea of "steadying the ark" has become a sort of urban legend ― a scary tale we tell our children at bedtime to caution them against questioning the way things are done in the Church.
And it's effective: just a nip of children's Tylenol, a bit of warm milk, and a terrifying tale about a vivid shaft of lightning coming to kill you if you complain. A winning combination!
"Today there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. There are those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, those who would extend some unauthorized blessing, or those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. These are ark-steadiers."
Oh dear; am I an ark-steadier? I toss-and-turn like a toddler in his Snoopy sheets, tucked in my bassinet so tightly I can barely breath, watching the mobile above my head circle endlessly. The official narrative, you see, is to get us to close our eyes and go to sleep; let the leaders take care of things.
And so we drift off to sleep, riding along on the dreamy cart with the ark tucked safely in the back, without a worry in the world ― untroubled by those nasty potholes up ahead.
But does that interpretation withstand scrutiny?
"Make Moses Great Again!"
What's the point of being "anxiously engaged" in good causes if the Church itself is off-limits?
It's like the Brethren are saying, "Go and make the world a better place: but not here ― not at Church where you spend half your lives. Hands-off the Church. The rest is fine, but do you see the NO TRESPASSING signs we've posted on the rusty barbed-wire fence around our prerogative? We recently electrified the fence, too ― concerned for your safety, of course, because we don't want you to contract tetanus."
Well, the Doctrine and Covenants weighs in on the matter in Section 85:
While that man, who was called of God and appointed, [Oh, oh, oh: so we're NOT talking about lay-members after all. This was a warning to those who were "called and appointed" ― which means it applies to the leaders, not the members] that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.
The point I want to make is that we have misused this metaphor by turning it on its head, giving it the opposite meaning than what the Lord intended. Why did we do that?
Not convinced? Take a look at this quote by Joseph Smith who personally interpreted it for us (how convenient). Joseph provided the earliest commentary we have, reported on January 1, 1834 by Oliver Cowdery in a letter to John Whitmer, specifically addressing the "steadying the ark" revelation (now D&C 85) and what it meant:
"Brother Joseph says, that the item in his letter that says, that the man that is called &c. and puts forth his hand to steady the ark of God, does not mean that any had at the time, but it was given for a caution to those in high standing to beware, lest they should fall by the vivid shaft of death as the Lord had said."
(Letter, Oliver Cowdery to John Whitmer, January 1, 1834, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.)
According to Joseph, who was the warning for? "Those in high standing."
Okay, does that refer to the nibbling, hungry waifs who sit under the table hoping for scraps? To us? Nope. So we can relax, because you and I can't steady the ark. Only the leadership can.
Summer School for the Prophets
It never ceases to amaze me how we can take things out of context to serve the interests of the establishment. A classic example of this is the Joseph Smith quote that says:
"That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly that that man is in the high road to apostacy." (History of the Church, 3:385).
Have you heard this quote before? I bet you have: its fingerprints are all over the official curriculum (you'd think they'd wear gloves to better cover their tracks; but no, they don't seem worried). Are you curious how the Church interprets this statement? Look:
"Joseph Smith taught the importance of sustaining our Church leaders." (Chapter 27, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.)
Ah, I see; the Church is saying Joseph didn't want us finding fault with the Brethren and was telling us to not criticize them. Is that right?
Umm . . . it's actually the exact opposite. Joseph spoke these words directly to the Twelve Apostles; he was telling THEM to not find fault with "the Church." (That's us.)
Not convinced? Here's the historical introduction from The Joseph Smith Papers for the quote:
"JS and his counselors in the First Presidency went to the home of apostle Brigham Young in Montrose, Iowa Territory, where the presidency met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the apostles’ wives, and members of the Quorums of the Seventy. This meeting was one of several convened to instruct the apostles."
So Joseph was conducting a Leadership Training; he wasn't talking about you and me; he was addressing the Twelve, instructing THEM to stop fault-finding.
Just to calm our minds on the matter, we read in Joseph's journal for the occasion that Joseph wanted the leadership to "guard against self-righteousness and self-importance."Id. (Was ego a problem among the Twelve then? Is it now?)
Well, the rest is history. The quote was turned inside-out and has imbedded itself in the Church's collective consciousness, being used to bludgeon the original meaning of what Joseph intended. I can't make this up!
In the same way, the Church uses the story about Uzzah steadying the ark to silence criticism of leadership, to disenfranchise common consent, and to clip grassroot efforts to build Zion ― when in fact, all along, it was a warning to leaders to not trust in their own wisdom or to get in the Lord's way by mangling the affairs of the Kingdom.
(Why are members always getting the bum rap?)
Is It Time to Steady the Ark?
Why do we fill Church curriculum with lessons about sustaining our leaders and with things like "dress modestly" ― as if the most pressing issue on the Lord's mind was whether women have exposed shoulders?
Why is our faith stuck in the past, living as if it were still 1200 B.C.? Why does the Church want us all to be like Joshua lifting Moses' hands while battling the Amalekites instead of lifting our eyes to Christ?
God is standing beside us with a firehose of light and knowledge and truth and we want to turn off the spigot, setting fires and quibbling over coffee and caffeine?
Recently I read online a post from a reddit user which explains our predicament:
"One summer we went to Utah with our son to visit BYU, thinking one day he might go there. We went to Deseret Towers, which is where I lived as a student. I was full of nostalgia. My [Catholic] wife was impressed. Our kid was delighted at the fare offered at the Morris Center cafeteria.
"As we were preparing to have lunch there, a BYU employee came up and tapped my wife on the shoulder and told her she would have to leave because she was wearing a sleeveless shirt!
"It was such a humiliating moment for all of us, disorienting and anti-climactic. We all skulked out of the Morris center and that was the end of our visit to BYU. Definitely the end of my kid’s interest in going there, and definitely the end of my wife’s willingness to entertain the idea of being Mormon.
"Ironically, my wife is such a conservative and modest woman. For her to be humiliated like that in front of our kid is something she has never forgotten."
Which is more important: a shoulder or a soul?
[December 2022: Church Magazines Give Mary a Lesson in Modesty. The Church photoshopped this painting of Mary (above) to remove her cleavage.
In response, the Church's Scripture Committee revised the King James Bible to now read: "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the [bottle] which thou hast sucked" (Luke 11:27).
LDS Spokesperson goes on record and says the Church has no official position on whether Jesus was breast-fed, but Church members are now encouraged to use the term "fed pursuant to the mammary gland method" to avoid too-frequent mention of Mary's décolletage.]
"Keep the Commandments?"
Does preaching obedience to commandments produce a change of heart? Does shaming people improve their behavior? Then why do we shun wayward souls, thinking our disapproval will motivate them to repent?
Don't let the irony escape you: we think shoving "the law" in others' faces will produce life (when Paul told us it produces death) as if we were scripturally illiterate?
Here's the point: Preaching the gospel is the opposite of preaching the commandments (the law). That was Paul's whole message: we don't come unto Christ by obedience to the law, but through faith in Him. The gospel Paul preached was about Christ freeing us from the law, not yoking us to it.
Have we forgotten that Christ came, not to condemn the world, but to save it? Will we go on deluding ourselves by thinking our religious rigidity makes us licensed physicians to heal sick sinners, when we're just placebo-pill pushers snorting cocaine from a razor blade's edge that we've imagined to be God's own two-edged sword?
Case in point: My young daughter came to me the other night as I was watching a cooking show on TV in my bedroom; she saw on the television that one of the chefs had a sleeve of tattoos covering his arm. She said, "Daddy, can you go to heaven if you have tattoos?"
I nearly fell out of bed. I assure you she didn't pick that up from me; so where would my daughter learn to think that way?
Oh yes: at Church, from her teachers; from ward leadership at "Standards Night."
"Honey," I said. "Of course you can go to heaven with tattoos! Christ has engraved us on the palms of his hands. Maybe one day I'll get one of your name, written on my heart, because I love you so much."
She hopped away happily, but I was left wondering, when did we start measuring a person's worth to be proportional to their ability to "keep the commandments"?
Recently I watched British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey on TV, barking orders in a stainless-steel kitchen to a group of home cooks (contestants). Drama ensued as to whether he could whip the sorry rabble into culinary shape.
If you don't know who Gordon Ramsey is, just know he is a lovable, colorful character. He samples the contestants dishes and spits them out, saying things like, "That tastes like Goat vomit!" He demands excellence from his cooks (who are amateurs, mind you) yelling at them, red-in-the-face, to "get it right!"
His objective seems reasonable enough: to make sure the food they serve is delicious and plated while it's hot for the waiting guests ― all in spite of the ineptitude of his cooks ("That cod is cold; start over!").
I found it sadly funny, thinking of the similarities between the Church and commercial kitchens (the former comes with more guilt but less profanity).
I am sharing this to make the point that we sometimes approach the commandments in a decidedly anti-Pauline fashion.
When we elevate "keeping the commandments" above people themselves, we behave a little bit like chef Gordon Ramsey does in the kitchen.
We've all seen leaders in Church frustrated with their line cooks; they preside like Executive Chefs thinking it's their job to keep us from botching things (I mean, it might embarrass their reputation if the kitchen sent out a piece of overcooked salmon).
Who can blame them? Someone has to be in charge of quality control. Imagine a ward where you didn't have someone giving orders, making assignments, pointing out laziness, collecting reports, distributing the tithing, etc.
Isn't the leaders' role to tell us our julienning is uneven; assigning us to peel more potatoes; and to point out the fact our hollandaise sauce has broken?
We are trained to respond to it all obediently: "Yes, Chef!"
"If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen"
No one can argue with Ramsey's results. His leadership style is effective: the cooks scurry around the kitchen hoping to please him, having the fear-of-beef-wellington seared into them as if their pants were on fire.
The problems surface, of course, when we begin to value the dishes we're serving over those who prepare them.
Here's my point: Was man created to serve the commandments, or were the commandments created to serve man?
(We could keep going all day: Were members made for the Church, or the Church made for members?)
In my analogy, the food we're cooking = the commandments, with the leaders telling us how to get it right ("That's too many earrings"; "This is how to bear a testimony properly"; "It's not appropriate to wear hats in the Church hallways").
As I sit in leadership meetings, I often sense the leaders wringing their hands that they ordered their steaks medium-rare, but the members are cooking them medium-well.
And so they scold the kitchen staff, critiquing their production, performance and rigueur.
My friend told me recently that in ward council the bishop lamented we were short staffed; that there were only, like, three brethren in the whole ward who could possibly fill the vacant leadership positions, wishing he had more qualified candidates.
Which was utter nonsense, of course; knowing the brothers in my quorum, I would be happy to have any of them serve as President. Take your pick! So why was the bishop's opinion of our prospects so poor, thinking there was slim pickings?
I presume he was not actually criticizing persons per se, but their levels of production and performance and rigueur.
I can hear Gordon Ramsey's voice, "The dream ends for one of you tonight. I'm sorry Bobby, it is time for you to turn in your apron."
We are cut because our risotto fell short; and thus, we are found wanting.
"I Fought the Law and the Law Won" As a former prosecutor for 13 years, I've spent a great deal of time around criminals. You know the types ― people who imbibe too much wine while deglazing their beef bourguignon; who add too much horseradish to their remoulade sauce; who are clumsy with the kitchen knives and who steal from the back pantry.
What do we do with cooks who burn our food and who leave band-aids in our cobb salad?
Do we take them out of the kitchen and have them scrub the toilets instead, where they can't cause trouble? Fire them? (And what will become of them if they are unemployed?)
How should society handle people who break the law? And how should the Lord deal with sinners?
Does God care more about getting His pasta al dente or the person sweating over a hot stove to make a meal for their Master?
So what is God to do with all of us terrible cooks? Become a vegetarian? Take up fasting? Send us all to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for cooking classes?
We are eternal beings; so the problem extends beyond this life. There are eternal beings who act like immortal criminals; they break God's laws and want to make others miserable. ("Please Lord, solitary confinement would be preferable to being assigned as his cell mate for eternity!" ― says every wife at some point.)
If, let's say, there are evil spirits roaming the cosmos, do we shun them? Or engage with them in some sort of limited fellowship, hoping they are reclaimable? And if not, is there a form of capital punishment for uncreated intelligence? Or can intelligences be annihilated and returned to the primordial soup to be recycled? Is our eternal organization insoluble?
And if God issues a prison sentence to someone (say, for example, the one-third part of the hosts of heaven who followed Lucifer) and sends them to hell, is God their Warden?
Or does Christ's condescension and death between two thieves demonstrate that He dons the orange jumpsuit of a common criminal and circulates among the general prison population, as if one of them, in hopes of turning some few from the error of their ways?
Retribution vs. Rehabilitation
God "hath given a law unto all things" (D&C 88:42). It has been my life's quest to understand those laws. Let's begin with telestial law.
1. A Law Cannot Enforce Itself.
Laws, by themselves, are utterly powerless. Why? Because laws cannot enforce themselves. They're just ink on paper; a construct (here we're not talking about physical or natural laws, like gravity, but legal laws that govern societies and communities).
It's like what President Andrew Jackson said after the US Supreme Court ruled against his administration: "John Marshall has made his decision, no let him enforce it." And so the President simply ignored the Court.
In order for mortal laws to have teeth, you'll need:
a) a police officer b) a prosecutor c) a judge, and d) a jailor.
So we see, the law itself is uncompulsory; it does not force anyone to obey it; it just "is" (existing independently) ― whether we take notice of it or not.
2. We Each Know the Law.
"But Tim," someone says in Civil Procedure 101, "That's not fair! If we don't know the law, how can we be expected to obey it? Doesn't God have to tell us what the laws actually are, rather than expecting us to figure them out ourselves?"
Good point; where are these "laws" we're going to be judged by? The scriptures might be a good place to look, but even they are a bit confusing and contradictory, subject to interpretation. Where's our unfailing legal standard?
Ah, there it is: it is Jesus Christ, whose Light is given to each person. In other words, the Laws of Hammurabi are fully published in our spirits, allowing us to tell good from evil as clearly as we can tell day from night:
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully . . .
I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ [sure, search the scriptures too; but salvation is found only in Christ; if you really want to be safe, trust in His light] that ye may know good from evil.
So none of us can plead ignorance at the last day! The prices were clearly listed on the menu.
3. Laws prescribe penalties for breaking them.
What laws do is pretty straight-forward: they prescribe a punishment for breaking them. That's it. According to Lehi, "the ends of the law" (its purpose) is to "inflict the punishment which is affixed" (2 Nephi 2:10).
If we break the law and are caught, it will not be the law that punishes us, but its enforcers. (And is there any way NOT to get caught when God is our judge?)
Take, for example, the law requiring drivers to wear a seatbelt. If a person chooses not to buckle-up, they can be given a ticket and ordered to pay a fine.
And if they snub their noses at the fine and don't pay, they can be thrown in jail. But the statute does not throw us in jail: the sheriff does (pursuant to the judge's orders).
Who is the sheriff?
4. Without Law There Could Be No Sin.
Now the important part: there's a relationship between law and sin. This relationship is pretty well fleshed-out in the scriptures, particularly the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.
If . . . there is no law . . . there is no sin.
(2 Nephi 2:13)
Let that sink in. We can't have one without the other.
This explains, I think, one of the reasons Paul was so giddy that Christ fulfilled (ended) the law of Moses, because by freeing us from the law, Christ removed our ability to sin thereunder.
Therein lies a mystery.
Interlude: My Time in Prison
For a time, after I left my day job, I would go to the Utah State Prison (when it was still in Draper) and talk with the inmates.
(My favorite missionary joke: "Do you know the difference between prison and the MTC? In prison they let you watch TV and have conjugal visits.")
Well, guess what surprised me the most about the men I met in prison? How incredibly active and animated the Holy Ghost was among them!
As I sat with these men ― we're talking about former members of the Church who had been excommunicated for murder, grand theft auto, sex crimes, and so forth ― I marveled that the Lord had not forgotten or abandoned them.
Now I realize there are no boundaries to the atonement; the Savior's arms of mercy are infinitely long (Alma 34:10). To paraphrase W.W. Phelps, there are no outside curtains with which we can enclose God's redeeming work, saying, "Here, but no further." His love extends unendingly and cannot be shut.
One time I shared some of the special experiences I had at the Prison with members of the Church and afterwards I received an angry visit from a woman and her husband. She berated me for speaking about these inmates.
Why was she mad, I asked. She answered she had been a victim of abuse and saying the things I did was insensitive to the pain those men had perpetrated on their victims.
I often ponder on that conversation.
5. Laws Are Unnecessary (for those who govern themselves).
It may surprise you that I believe laws are unnecessary (considering my career), but it comes with a caveat.
If we go back to our example of wearing a seatbelt, and before the Utah Legislature passed the law in 2015 mandating drivers buckle-up, many of us already chose to wear our seatbelts. We didn't need the law to tell us what to do, and were able to govern ourselves.
Which raises the question: When we do something not required of us by the law, is that being "lawless"?
Or would a better word be "extralegal?" We're beginning to see why Paul and Nephi characterized the law as something "dead."
If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law [the point Paul is making is that the law does not produce life, for life is found only in faith in Christ].
[But] Christ hath redeemed us [from what? Sin? Umm, not exactly:] from the curse of the law.
(Galatians 3:19, 13)
So those who govern themselves through faith in Christ don't need an extrinsic standard to tell them right from wrong; they are guided by their internal light given us by God.
This is why we don't need to be "commanded in all things."
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things. . .
But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded . . . the same is damned.
(D&C 58:26, 29)
Okay, it's all-good-and-fine for those of you who follow Christ's word and are not under the bondage of the law. But what happens when some of us refuse to be self-governing? For example, if my neighbor blasts down the street recklessly at 100 mph and won't stop driving like a madman?
Well, one option is to go to down to City Hall and petition the Council to pass a law against reckless driving.
Will that stop your neighbor from driving like a maniac? No. But now when he does, they can send him to jail!
(But what happens when he gets out of jail and is placed on parole?)
6. Increasing the severity of punishment does not effectively deter criminal behavior.
What do we do with Bobby who keeps shoplifting televisions from Walmart, who is clearly not capable of governing his own behavior (that klepto)?
Well, let's say Congress passes a law to make shoplifting a felony offense; instead of a jail sentence of 3 months, now Bobby can be sentenced to 3 years. Okay, would that deter Bobby from stealing?
Maybe, if he were rational. But how often are we in our right minds? Criminal justice studies show that increasing the potential punishment does NOT effectively deter crime.
Why? Because when Bobby breaks into Walmart to snab a Slim Jim and steal a TV, he isn't thinking to himself, "Oh, dear me, I am facing a 3 year prison term if I’m caught and convicted."
The studies show that what Bobby is thinking is actually, "Where is the Loss Prevention Officer? How many cameras are there? Can I get away with this?"
The best way to deter crime, they've found, is to increase the criminal’s belief they're going to be caught (which is why cameras and increased police patrols do more to prevent crime than the legislature passing stiffer penalties). It comes down to the immediacy of consequences.
Whoops. Guess what? This life is terrible at dishing out immediate consequences. Which, when we think about it, explains a lot.