While reading his post on Godly Sorrow, he quoted a verse from D&C 128 and a word jumped off the page (or in this case, off the computer screen) and flew directly into my heart.
It pricked my conscience (Psalms 73:21). Guess which word it was?
Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received?
A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth.
The word was mercy.
Can you hear it? Or is it being drowned out by something else?
I craned my ear to listen and stood still, not wanting to frighten the skittish deer.
Was that heaven speaking? Not in English or French, but in the merciful tongue of God's love language?
I realized something. I rarely hear the voice of mercy at Church; why is that? Surely of all places, we should expect to hear mercy there, right?
Well, I've thought about it for several days. At Church I hear the heavily accented voice of duty, telling us to be faithful (the "or else" is implied), to pay tithing, to think celestial, to stay on the covenant path, to listen to our leaders. Lots of orders being given, like in the mess hall of the marines (but with less swearing), but little mercy.
So, just to double check, I searched for "mercy" in recent General Conference talks. What I found surprised me, actually. The word "mercy" was everywhere! It was mentioned in so many talks I lost count.
How could that be? Why was it, in spite of copious references to God's mercy, I had failed to get the sense or spirit of mercy from their messages?
What was lacking?
A Two-Edged Sword
The word of God is compared to a two-edged sword (D&C 6:2). Whatever else that means, I think it speaks to the duality of God's nature, which bears a fulness of justice and mercy.
But today I don't want to talk about justice (like Corianton, I am still figuring that one out); instead I want to contrast mercy with judgment.
Is God judgmental? Sometimes we think of Him as our judge who, at the last day, will render our eternal sentences (I mean, we actually call it the judgment day).
But isn't the spirit of judgment at odds with the spirit of mercy?
I judge no man.
What? Not even wicked people? What does He mean? Isn't God the judge of both quick and dead?
I do not condemn thee.
What? God isn't going to let all those sinners off-the-hook, is He? I must be misunderstanding.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.
On the one hand we're told that God and the Holy Ghost are offended (a lot); but the scriptures portray a very different God than Jonathan Edwards' "Angry God."
In the Book of Mormon, we read about the Nephite rulers sitting on the "Judgment Seat." Maybe we've come to think of God that way, too, sitting upon a judgment seat with a gavel in His hand.
But guess what? God actually sits upon the Mercy Seat.
The Mercy Seat
In the Old Testament we find a description of the Ark of the Covenant. The top of it had two angels whose wings met in the middle.
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with three from above the mercy seat.
Isn't it interesting that the physical representation of God's covenant with His people was crowned with, of all things, mercy?
So why is it, in the Church today, we find mercy buried beneath mint and anise and cummin (Matt. 23:23)? After all, mercy is one of the heavies; it's one of the "weightier" parts of the gospel.
"But Tim!" someone objects. "That is not my experience. I find oodles of mercy at Church. Just oodles."
I cannot argue with someone else's experience, but what I have observed at Church and General Conference is the spirit of judgment drowning out the voice of mercy through a long list of terms-and-conditions. Anyone who has read the fine print knows mercy isn't free.
Bishop: "Since you haven't paid a full-tithe I am canceling your temple recommend."
Member: "But bishop, my sister is getting sealed in the temple next week! I thought the Church placed family as the most important thing."
Bishop: "Not more important than tithing."
Member: "But bishop, I'm working three jobs as a widow and am still paying the hospital bills for Suzie's surgery. I can barely put food on the table."
Bishop: "If you're struggling with budgeting, I am happy to have the Elder's Quorum President sit down with you and review your expenses. I see you have a cell phone and are paying for basic cable, which are not necessities. Tithing is."
[Member pales, feeling tears welling, crushed beneath the weight of mint and anise and cummin.]
Bishop [continuing]: "And I will ask the Relief Society President to help you fill out a food order for the Bishop's Storehouse; that way, the money you've been spending on food can be paid toward your tithing."
Who knew the "Covenant Path" was patrolled by Highwaymen?
You see, we are taught that mercy is extended (if at all) upon conditions. Which, ironically, contradicts the very meaning of of the word.
I met a highwayman journeying to the Sea. Pity in his coral smile showed, so I thought, as he took my eyes from me, and much more, until, blind, in disbelief I cried, ”You cannot charge a toll on this straight and narrow road!”
Laughing, he said, “No living soul can pass this gulf without Charon’s fee. Did you think salvation would be (or ever could be) free?” And laughing cut my throat.
I fell among thieves who unburdened my boat as I sailed a forsaken, tempestuous Sea. I had no coin for their hungry purse as they bound me gleefully and severed my tender flesh, until, a eunuch, in agony I pled, “I’ve nothing left; just let me live!”
“There is always more to give,” they laughing said. “Bodies sink but corpses float to greet the devil’s hearse. Will you buy his token to pay the final fare in lovely lilac blood?” and slit my throat.
I sank beyond all breath into the depths of the cool, calm Sea. I asked, “Does no one care what happens to me?”
I heard a voice and looked up to see a man dressed beautifully in fairest silk and ivory pearl. He stretched his hands in prayer, smiling down at me, and kissed my throat.
“Of course I can help you,” Master Mahan said, “In death there is much to gain. Have you not learned the lesson descended down from Cain?"
"I Call the Prophet To the Witness Stand"
Me: Please state your name for the record.
Zechariah: Zechariah, with an "e", the son of Iddo.
Me: What is your profession?
Zechariah: I guess you could say I am a minor prophet.
Me: And in your expert opinion, does the Lord care more about money or mercy?
Zechariah [offended]: That's not even up for debate. As I've been trying to tell the Israelites for years:
Thus speaketh the Lord, saying: Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion,
And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor.
Me: Thank you. And in your opinion, do you find financial policies and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is called, "oppressive"?
Zechariah: Let me not say only, but let my brother, Hosea, so testify as a second witness.
Me: Very well. I call Hosea to the stand. Can you tell us, sir, whether the law of tithing, as practiced by the Church today, is merciful or oppressive?
Hosea: I can.
Me: And which is it?
Hosea [clearing his throat]:
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.
(Hosea 6:4, 6)
Me: The prosecution rests, Your Honor.
Bring On the Beatitudes
This is what confuses me: under the lesser law of Moses, mercy was supreme. Imagine its place, then, in the higher law of the gospel?
But tithing? It didn't even make Moses' Top Ten. Neither did tithing make it into Christ's Top Ten Beatitudes, either.
So how did Tithing worm its way to the top and re-write the script?
Blessed are the tithe-payers: for they shall obtain a recommend.
In reality, the Savior taught:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
I am using tithing as an example, but you could choose any of the commandments. How did the gospel become reduced to this, when Paul taught so plainly that even Nephi would have been impressed:
Not by works of righteousness [insert commandments a thru z] which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.
This explains, doesn't it, why the voice of mercy is so faint in our meetings; I think we've discovered the reason:
Could it be that we are not preaching Christ's gospel?
Did you know that the phrase "the great plan of happiness" appears only once in scripture (Alma 42:8)? But "the great plan of mercy" is mentioned three times! Winner winner chicken dinner.
And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them.
(Alma 42:31; see also 42:15)
I want to be part of that Plan. The "great plan of mercy."
So why aren't we teaching it in the Church?
"I've Come to Claim Christ, so I May Be Claimed by Mercy"
Not to mislead you, in the spirit of full disclosure, we find in the word of God that there IS a condition for obtaining mercy.
We just saw how Alma taught his son that "mercy may have claim upon them" when their souls were brought "unto repentance."
What does it mean to "claim" something?
Well, something interesting is afoot, because we find the exact same phrase where King Benjamin teaches his people about what it means to be Christians.
Mercy hath no claim on that man . . . if [he] repenteth not.
(Mosiah 2:39, 38)
Here we find the heart and soul of the "good news" of Christ's gospel! Repent (turn to Him) and His mercy saves us.
Will the Real Prodigal Please Stand Up?
I read online recently the experience of someone who attended a 5th Sunday lesson at Church. The lesson was on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The teacher compared the Prodigal to those who leave the Church.
The class discussion revolved around reasons why people are weak ("poorly rooted") and don't have strong enough testimonies to stay "faithful."
Well, the person said "it felt like one big shame fest. It was demoralizing."
But let's pretend, for a moment, the Lord was not referring to individuals who stray. What could he have been talking about?
Because to whom, exactly, was Christ speaking when He gave the parable?
The audience reveals a lot about what was going on. See, the Lord was happily preaching the good news to sinners and sick folk, when along came the Pharisees, challenging Him.
The Lord then gave this pointed parable to them― to the covenant sons of God who luxuriated in the law, who fed their faith with cornhusks and filled their bellies with falsehood (Luke 15:16; Hosea 7:1).
Now, once we understand the context of what's going on in the story, it turns everything upside down.
Two Very Different Groups
Is it possible the parable was an indictment against the prodigal Pharisees?
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
Notice who is "hearing" Him? These verbs are powerful: we find the bad crowd "drawing near" to Christ.
The sinners wanted to be close to Him; they were His captive audience, turning to "hear" their Savior's voice of mercy.
So what went wrong? Well, the cool kids showed up in the cafeteria wanting to exact their lunch money:
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured
So we have two completely different groups: on the one hand, the outcast, tattooed, immoral, drinking sinners; and on the other hand, the respectable, comely, law-observing Pharisees and scribes.
So why were the Pharisees bent out of shape? What in the world did these well-heeled scribes have to complain about? Look:
Saying, This man receiveth sinners
Ah! How awful (or should I say, how wonderful?).
What do the Pharisees want? A God who is offended by sinners, who shuns them, and rebukes them, and slays them.
But who was this, the Son of God, who had no qualms at all "receiving sinners"? Unacceptable. The bad crowd didn't deserve God's mercy.
But it gets worse! God not only associates with sinners, He actually breaks bread with them; He is friendly with them, he eats with them!
and eateth with them.
You see, the Church today is pretty much the personification of the Prodigal Son. Having had the truth, it choose to leave the celestial law of God for the lesser law of obedience and sacrifice.
Who needs mercy when one can live it up in "riotous living" by becoming millionaires (billionaires in the cases of President Nelson and Elder Stevenson)?
You see, what if we saw the Prodigal as a type and shadow of the Lord’s people, collectively? You know, the very people who broke His everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5) and who would reject His gospel (Acts 3:36)?
To them, Christ says, "Come home. I will embrace you and kiss you on the neck and put a robe and ring on you. Be done with lesser things."
Let me conclude with this cheery bit: my wife told me today that the Relief Society lesson planned for this coming Sunday is going to be on tithing.
"Really?" I said. "Didn't you just have a lesson on tithing last month?"
"Yes," she said.
I took a deep breath and wondered to myself, "Can I hear the voice gladness? The voice of mercy? The voice of truth?"