Still looking at Grace and the language of “enabling power” etc., Looking at Brad Wilcox’s BYU speech this morning. Here’ are some parts of his message that really get at the heart of what he is saying, I think:
Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.
In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.
They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place.
As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.”
But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”
A lot of what he says I like, but a lot I’m still uncomfortable with so far. This paragraph helps me explain what I’m unsure about:
We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are.
I get the idea, but the attitude doesn’t follow for me. I get the idea that we spend a lifetime changing, but I don’t get the idea that after we have given into grace that we still need to be coaxed into keeping the commandments. From my experience, either I’m oriented to God or I’m not. What happens is that I have a moment of decision to give my heart to God, and from that follows a lot of joy and peace. Then at some point I choose otherwise, and I can feel that I’ve chosen that, and then I’m not oriented to God and I have to repent of that mis-orientation. Of choosing something other than fully giving myself to God. Even if it wasn’t “sin” that was the problem. I can tell when I’m loving something more than God. Even something that seems completely innocent or justified. It’s like taking a few extra minutes at the store when you know your spouse is waiting for you. It isn’t sinful to check on one more sale. But it isn’t putting your spouse first. It’s something like that with being oriented to God. “Sin” designates certain unacceptable actions. But for me, it’s where my heart is that makes the real difference. (Something like Augustine and the Pear tree – it wasn’t stealing that really bothered him later, it was just doing something “bad” for bad’s sake – it was giving in to the wrong orientation that really bothered him later.)
So the statement “if Jesus did not require endurance to the end…” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in my head. If we’re still feeling like this is a matter of requirements we don’t want, then we haven’t really made the change of heart in the first place. Perhaps it’s not bad, though, perhaps it’s something like Alma talking about “if you no more than have a desire to believe.” Perhaps the group Wilcox is addressing are those who have a “desire for a change of heart.” And that’s still awesome. But it makes me a bit sad and uncomfortable at the same time, because I feel like it’s still a sad and uncomfortable way to live! For me it’s one or the other – completely in grace and stress-free, or slightly out of grace, and stressed.
I think that is why I like this quotation from Eliza Snow:
When I am filled with that Spirit, my soul is satisfied, and I can say in good earnest, that the trifling things of the day do not seem to stand in my way at all. But just let me lose my hold of that spirit and power of the Gospel, and partake of the spirit of the world, in the slightest degree, and trouble comes; there is something wrong. I am tried, and what will comfort me? You cannot impart comfort to me that will satisfy the immortal mind, but that which comes from the Fountain above. And is it not our privilege to so live that we can have this constantly flowing into our souls?
That is how I experience Grace. I am filled with that Spirit and I can see how nothing stands in the way of God’s work! But if I “partake of the spirit of the world, in the slightest degree” then yes, “the trouble comes.” I’ve felt like that a lot over the last few days. But, fortunately, there is a comfort that comes from the “Fountain above” – it’s His Grace, which is ready at every instant to take me back again.
What I haven’t talked about here or in the last post is what happens after we “give in” to Grace. Then comes the other side of the coin – consecration. A consecrated life is one in which we see that “the trifling things of the day do not seem to stand in my way at all” because we are working together with God. We see things as they really are – God is fully in charge. We are just along for the ride. The change I think is seen quite clearly in that we stop asking God to help us in our work, and we start asking God how we can help in His work. I see in my mind the council of the great women and men that surround God’s throne, all counseling together about how to do good in the world and push God’s work of saving souls forward. Then at times I see myself also in that council, and/or being assigned by that counsel. I feel like I’m on the “inside,” a part of plans and great schemes to help in God’s work. And that’s fun and exciting, and very very real. It feels like the realest thing I could feel. It’s so happy and just perfect.
And for some reason I don’t stay there?!? That’s the most surprising thing in all of this. That the “world” or my “flesh” could ever call me away is amazing. But, it does. But, the Holy Ghost is always calling me back, asking me to “yield” once again (Mosiah 3:19). It’s just a matter of giving my heart all over again, and trusting, when I jump over that line, He’s there to catch me. And also, that when I jump over that line, He really is in charge of everything in this world and I can live again in trust. It really does feel like being a child again, trusting that your parents have everything under control, and you can let go of your stress and just start exploring and enjoying the world again.
So there’s my thoughts on Grace and why I’m a bit uncomfortable with Brad Wilcox’s talk. Lots of it I like, and I think describing it as to those who “desire for a change of heart,” like those Alma was talking to in Alma 32. But I think there’s a big way in which it misses the peace and joy that can come from really giving all of one’s heart and jumping in with both feet. Yah, that’s the way to say it. It’s jumping in, but keeping a hand or foot on the side still and thereby never really fully experiencing the love and joy that I’ve felt (though not constantly). And so it leaves me feeling a bit saddened, even though I know it’s still pushing many in a good direction. I just worry that it can’t push them all the way.