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Thoughts on Elder Christofferson & conditional love

October 14, 2016

I have a new post up at Wheat & Tares…this one is on Elder Christofferson’s recent conference remarks on God’s supposedly conditional love.

After disaffecting from Mormonism, I’ve tried to look at various concepts from the perspectives of other denominations. It has been enlightening, although I don’t know if I’m just falling into different heresies. On this point, I’m more and more inclined to think that it’s not that God’s love is conditional, but rather that we still have the choice to accept or reject. Adam Miller pointed out that we should see God’s grace as not just about the Atonement, but also about the Creation and Fall as well — in this sense, we expand our view of what is so freely given. It’s not just salvation, but also our very bodies, our planet, the universe, existence itself.

Yet we are radically free with what we do with these gifts, and because they overwhelm us, we reject them or misuse them. That was the fall, but that is also sin. At least, as far as I am thinking now.

I didn’t get a chance to post this at Wheat & Tares, but I am thinking that when we talk about sin in its various forms, we are ultimately talking about a couple of things. The first is in rejecting the gift itself: rejecting the piano or our piano teacher or our lessons or our ears or our hands (to use the analogy from Brad Wilcox’s His Grace is Sufficient). But the second is in misunderstanding the gift as a gift — which can either happen because we think we have to earn the piano or live up to our piano teacher or deserve the lessons (and so we run away from these things, thinking we haven’t done enough to deserve any of it), or because, to the contrary, we think we already have earned our skills and ability (and thus, we are where we are because of our character strengths, and those less fortunate or less skilled are where they are because of their character flaws.)

  1. Agellius permalink

    I read your post on W&T and pretty much agree with you.

    Regarding sin, I see your point here: We can despair — I’ll never learn the piano so there’s no point in trying; and we can presume and judge — I have what I have because I deserve it, and those who lack what I have don’t deserve it.

    But another type of sin is the attitude that the piano is mine and I can use it any way I please. I don’t need to do what the teacher says. Sure, I can sit at the piano properly and operate the keys with my fingers; I can do that any time I want; I just don’t want to. I prefer to sit on top of the piano and bang the keys with my feet, or bounce up and down on them with my rump; or make the piano into a lamp, or fill it with dirt and use it as a planter box.

    God says not only, here is a piano, but there is a right way and a wrong way to use it, and your happiness depends on choosing the right way. And here is a teacher to show you the right way. Apply yourself to her lessons and you’ll be happy. Even if you’re not perfect, so long as you’re honestly working at it I’ll continue to provide the lessons for free.

    What God doesn’t do is say, this is the way to be happy, but if you choose instead to fill your piano with dirt, I’ll make sure the piano continues to function perfectly anyway; and I’ll make sure the piano puts out beautiful music in whatever way you choose to bang on it.

    Perhaps hell is where people use their pianos, and violins, and saxophones, in every way but the right way for eternity.

  2. Agellius permalink

    This may help to explain my problem with the idea of universal salvation: If attaining salvation is like learning to use your piano in the right way — your “piano” meaning basically your whole being, body and soul — and if we have freedom to apply ourselves to our lessons or not, then what would universal salvation mean?

    In terms of Mormon theology, it’s my understanding that virtually everyone is “saved”. Even if you don’t make it to one of the higher kingdoms, at the very least you go to the lowest kingdom. The exceptions are those very few who go to Outer Darkness because they really *like* bad piano playing. What, then, is the lowest kingdom like? Is it full of those who utterly neglected their lessons, and yet it’s somehow *not* full of bad piano playing?

    Sorry, just musing at this point …

  3. Agellius,

    I think there are a couple things at play, both with Mormonism’s different kingdoms, and then with the concept of universal salvation.

    Addressing universal salvation first, I think there are a few considerations: one is the staggering length of eternity. I know for me, at least, I don’t know if it makes sense for there to be infinite punishment for what happens during a finite period of time. (So in this sense, I think that concepts like purgatory…or especially purgatorial universalism…make more sense here. But I thought I heard that several years back, the Catholic Church said it was moving away from the concept of purgatory — is that true? And, even with purgatory, y’all still believe some sins cannot be forgiven, so there is still Hell, right?)

    But secondly, it seems that a God who created us all should be able to appeal to every single person in some way, shape, or fashion. So to me, the Calvinist idea that people who go to Hell were destined that way, created as “vessels of wrath” as it were, makes more sense than just to say that God is reaching out to everyone but simply fails at convincing some people.

    (in a different conversation — one of the ones on subjectivity, you wrote:

    . Someone who can’t — or rather won’t, since he offers it to everyone — get happiness from God simply cannot be happy, and therefore will be unhappy for eternity. Being unable to find happiness in God, is tantamount to being unable to find happiness in reality, since God is the source of all that is real

    I mean, how does someone get to such a place where they *cannot* be happy? That doesn’t seem like something that is chosen [even inadvertently].)

    Addressing Mormonism’s different kingdoms though…

    It seems like there are a couple of things going on here.

    Firstly, I think it’s trying to account for the unlevel playing field of mortal existence. Like, if God is offering this free gift of salvation and discipleship but not some people fail to accept it because they didn’t hear that offer in the same way, at the same time, with all the reasons that they would be personally responsive to (like someone else may have), then that’s different than someone who heard the offer, heard all the reasons, etc., etc., and then explicitly rejected it.

    I think if we talk about the piano playing analogy, we can say things like, “Well, the piano and everything about the piano was a gift, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter how well you play [you’ll always make mistakes], just as long as you tried…” but couldn’t we say nevertheless that there are better piano players than others? I mean, we can grade piano players in some sense.

    So, it seems to me that different kingdoms is one way to account for this.

    • Agellius permalink

      “But I thought I heard that several years back, the Catholic Church said it was moving away from the concept of purgatory — is that true?”

      What you probably heard was that the Church was moving away from the doctrine of limbo, which is similar to purgatory only in the sense that it is neither heaven nor hell. Other than that they are totally different. : ) Purgatory is a dogma, limbo is really nothing more than a theory of what happens to unbaptized infants in light of the fact that baptism is held to be necessary for salvation.

      “And, even with purgatory, y’all still believe some sins cannot be forgiven, so there is still Hell, right?”

      We believe that unrepentant sins cannot be forgiven. The unrepentant can go to neither heaven nor purgatory: They can’t go to heaven because filling heaven with unrepentant sinners would make it no longer heaven; and they can’t go to purgatory because that would mean purging them of their sinful attachments against their will. God forces no one to repent.

      Something I was trying to get at with my comment about the lowest kingdom in Mormon theology, is that heaven and hell are not just places that anyone can occupy as long as they happen to be physically present, and which just happen to be pleasant or unpleasant places to spend time, depending on how they are decorated and their relative temperatures. Rather, what makes heaven heaven and hell hell is the attitude of those who occupy them.

      Cardinal Newman once wrote that if you don’t like church, then you won’t like heaven. Basically, this is because the purpose of church is to worship God, and worshipping God is what heaven is all about. Saying that people should be allowed into heaven regardless of whether they lived good lives or whether they love God, is like saying that people should be allowed in church regardless of whether they wish to worship God. OK, you can allow them in, but will they *want* to come in? If you make them come them in, will they enjoy it, or will it be more like jail?

      Hell being eternal is not a matter of deserving punishment of unlimited duration, due to sins of limited duration. It’s a matter of being no longer able to repent. It’s the fact that once you die, your attitude towards God remains what it was at the moment of death. If you have repented of your sins then you are repentant for eternity; if not, then you’re unrepentant for eternity.

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