Time To Cash It In–Cha Ching

In October Conference 2000, Elder Oaks stated that "The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account." He was explaining that more important than what we accumulate or have is what we actually become. However, I believe his analogy also carries forward to imply that there is no straight, temporal quid pro quo in the gospel. It is not a bank account where we store up good works that equal a certain sum of blessings to be withdrawn when needed. By which I mean, if you pay your tithing you can’t always expect that mystery check to arrive the very next day.

Yes, we can store of spiritual strength for times of trials–we can build a spiritual reserve to help us in our lives. What we cannot do is commit a certain act and expect or demand an exact specified blessing. Where this pseudo-doctrine is most often taught is through tithing and the Word of Wisdom. We often hear that if we pay our tithing we will be monetarily blessed–often this is taught that we will never want. In the case of the Word of Wisdom it is taught that if we live it we will always be healthy.

The root of this pseudo-doctrine is often conjured through D&C 130:20: "There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated and when we obtain any blessing from God it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." We often read this to mean that for every act there is an exact blessing assigned. First, this seems intuitively incorrect. There are no good examples of gospel laws for which the obedient always receive the same blessing. Both Job and Christ often received tribulation and physical strife in place of certain temporal blessings. Which brings us to the second point: we desire to place this scripture within the context of temporal, physical blessings. Of course, what Christ and Job have in common is the teleological result: both receive exaltation. The scripture does not indicate any quid pro quo. It merely indicates that living the laws of God brings blessings. It does not indicate whether these blessings will be realized in mortality or whether every law brings an exact specified blessing in tow.

In the case of the Word of Wisdom, many who adhere to the WoW (as currently constituted as a ban on certain substances) end up getting very sick or having chronic bad health. Many who live the law of tithing suffer enormous financial setbacks from which they never recover. I am not saying that there are not times when we receive that unexpected check in the mail after paying our tithing in faith (knowing it will mean no groceries next week). Or that we do not experience health benefits from living the WoW. I am stating that living the commandments only brings ONE guarantee: reception of the grace of Christ and opportunity to use the Atonement to receive forgiveness. This guarantee brings with it the peace of the Spirit and a blessing that exaltation is possible. It does not bring with it a promise of good finances or robust health.

If we desire a guarantee, best to invest our money in a low risk manner–such as government bonds (or never fill a bank account above the FDIC insured amount). Temporal guarantees in the gospel, however, seem in very short order. After all, the gospel is an eternal endeavor with eternal goals.


  1. You don’t cite the biggest source of this theme in Mormondom. The frequent axiom in the Book of Mormon that if you keep the commandments you will prosper. Now, I know that this is more of a utilitarian construct, i.e., there will always be a gradient of prosperity; but on average, society prospers economically when people keep the comandments. At least in the Book of Mormon. No?

  2. alamojag says:

    This is why I have had such a hard time with tithing. For many years, I could tell when I had paid tithing, and how much, for that was the amount of time my car was in the shop, and how much it was going to cost me. Just last month, before the check was written the car was in the shop again, needing a new starter–the third in as many years. Of course, the part was warrantied, but the total labor cost was about $15.00 more than the tithing check.

    That’s MY testimony of tithing.

  3. Thanks for bringing this up, HL. That’s one of my favorite GC talks ever.

    Though it goes beyond what Elder Oaks says, I’ve long wondered if the blessings received from becoming a more Christ-like person is being a more Christ-like person itself. If true, this is proof in itself of whether or not we have really become a Christ-like person. The fundamentally proud person who is doing “good deeds” with the motivation of external blessings – whether temporal or eternal – will be very disappointed when he discovers that being good was the blessing itself.

  4. Mark B. says:

    I learned this lesson early from my father. In part it was a reaction to a ghastly story that Dirty Uncle Ernie Wilkinson (R.I.P.) used to tell, about how he paid his tithing when he was a struggling young lawyer and he got a big case and nailed the defendant for a fat judgment and got a big cut as his fee. The counter example my dad would always cite were his grandparents who settled the Little Colorado valley in Eastern Arizona, lived and served faithfully, and never had a dime. They had too many years when the crops failed, too many when the irrigation ditch was longer than the water it was supposed to carry.

  5. It seems like anyone who’s done any living at all will understand this. But maybe my life’s just been harder than most people’s.

  6. a random John says:

    It seems to me that doing good while seeking blessings is something of a lesser law. The higher law being to seek to have charity towards everyone and not worry about the consequences.

  7. HL Rogers says:

    I think this is an idea that sounds intuitively right and obvious when it is articulated as such. However, I think as we live our lives it becomes more difficult in discrete situations to keep this idea in front of us. Often, we seek assurances that our difficult tasks will bear out temporal or even specific eternal blessings–even though in theory we know this will not always be the case.

  8. N Miller says:

    I guess I agree to the psuedo-doctrine in that perhaps it is generally misunderstood, but I think HL Rogers is mistaken in his reasoning and shows that he understands it like many people in the church. When tithing is paid, it doesn’t mean that your temporal welfare will be taken care of, nowhere is that promise made. It does state that you will receive blessings, so much so that you can’t recieve them all. What about spiritual blessings? I have no doubt about that these spiritual blessings will be a large part of these stated “blessings”. But will you recieve it as promised? Of course you will.

    Additionally, you bring up the WoW, but only the “abstain from” portion of it. There is so much more to it than not abstaining from stuff, but also partaking of good things. Also, it states to do so with thanksgiving. If this is part of it the revelation, then if we don’t abide in this we can’t expect God to do his part. I believe we have got to be exact if we expect God to bless us.

    I think too many people, myself included, go about doing half good on the commandments and still expect the blessing. But when we do not what He expects, He does not have to give us a blessing. I like the wording in D&C 82:10, as it does not state that he won’t bless us if we don’t follow the commandment, but that he does not *have* to. A big difference in my book. So sometimes he blesses us even when we don’t deserve it (according to the commandment) and yet we see it as he is blessing us, therefore we take it as his way of telling us that we are doing the correct things. This is false. Read King Benjamins sermon on unprofitable servants for more information on that (Mosiah 2).

    He will bless us according to the commandments we follow and will bless us at other times as well.

  9. HL Rogers says:

    N Miller,
    You mention a often used rationale for exact actions = exact blessings. This rationale goes something like this: well of course it doesn’t happen every time because people don’t live the commandments exactly so they can’t expect those exact blessings. This rationale has a lot of problems. Just to mention one: If the promises only apply when we perfectly execute than the promise is eviscerated as none of us can perfectly execute on the commandments.

    This appears to be more of an ad hoc analysis to deal with the pesky fact that you can’t find a one to one correlation. I think properly understood we can and do receive blessings for living the commandments as best we can–many of us can testify to the fact that striving to do something has brought what we perceive to be a certain blessing. However, the larger point is that the the real blessing we seek is to return to the presence of God. And that there is no one to one correlation: often we do something right and also pass through immeasuarble pain and often the pain comes for the very fact that we have obeyed a commandment.

  10. Justin H says:

    The place where I saw this quid pro quo applied most often was in the mission field, where the equation ran something like: Set (improbable) goals, obey exactly the letter of the law, and God will be forced to satisfy your goals. Often it seemed to be implied that the more improbable your goal, the stronger your faith, and therefore the more God would be held to your command.

    I don’t mean to advocate rule-breaking or speak out against setting goals with faith. I just always felt uncomfortable with the implied equation.

  11. N Miller says:

    HL Rogers – You speak that nobody can follow any commandment exactly. I am unsure where you deduct to this conclusion. Nobody is perfect true, but some are perfect in some things, perhaps not forever, but at least for some time. Will they get the blessing for following the command? Yes. What about the others who don’t follow in exactness? As stated in my last post, they may still get the blessings or perhaps a portion of the blessing. God is the giver of good gifts and may aptly give them to whom He wishes when He wishes. But if He promised a blessing to a specific commandment, He will follow through with it. If not, what is that saying about the character of God?

    The same is true with a father telling his son that if the son mows the lawn, completely, the father will pay the son $50. But when the son complies to the satisfaction of his father, the father says, good job, in the long run this will build your character, but for now I am not giving you the promised $50.

    Although I agree with your thought that we ought to work for our salvation than for simple blessings from God, I do believe that there are one-to-one commandments-to-blessings that can be recieved as we live them.

  12. Tommy: Let’s think about this for a sec, Ted, why do they put a guarantee on a box? Hmm, very interesting.
    Ted: I’m listening.
    Tommy: Here’s how I see it. A guy puts a guarantee on the box ’cause he wants you to fell all warm and toasty inside.
    Ted: Yeah, makes a man feel good.
    Tommy: ‘Course it does. Ya think if you leave that box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter.
    Ted: What’s your point?
    Tommy: The point is, how do you know the Guarantee Fairy isn’t a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy, but we’re not buying it. Next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser and your daughter’s knocked up, I seen it a hundred times.
    Ted: But why do they put a guarantee on the box then?
    Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of ****. That’s all it is. Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for right now, for your sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality item from me.

  13. HL Rogers says:

    N Miller–perhaps we are talking around each other a bit. Why don’t you postulate such a one to one relationship between commandment and blessing and we can discuss the concrete example. My post does not deny that certain one to one relationships do exist–it is a commentary on what does and does not exist in the one to one venue.

  14. St. Teresa of Avila once said, “Father, no wonder you have so few friends. You treat them so badly.”

    Things happen! Good things happen, and that’s good. Bad things happen, and that’s bad. But it’s just life. God is not some celestial bean-counter, doling out blessings tit-for-tat based on our righteousness. There are plenty of highly blessed scoundrels in the world.

    Eric (and Br. Oaks) nailed it. The blessings aren’t what we get. They are what we become.

  15. HL Rogers says:

    Thanks for credit–sheesh!!

  16. HL: The scripture does not indicate any quid pro quo.

    The problem with this sentence is that it is just plain inccorrect. There are gobs of places where the scripures describe God’s quid pro quo arrangement with humankind. You qualified this much better in the first paragraph:

    …there is no straight, temporal quid pro quo in the gospel.

    I agree with that sentence.

    We talked about this in a discussion recently at the Thang too. The fact is that there is a reward for every obedience. The scriptures make that abundantly clear. But as you aptly pointed out, we can’t dictate what the reward will be. (Well at least we can’t do it very well.) So I agree heartily with your overall point that we obey because we love God and we have faith in eternal payoff, but there is not denying a direct payoff at some time for every obedience to eternal law…

  17. HL: The scripture does not indicate any quid pro quo.

    The problem with this sentence is that it is just plain inccorrect. There are gobs of places where the scripures describe God’s quid pro quo arrangement with humankind. You qualified this much better in the first paragraph:

    …there is no straight, temporal quid pro quo in the gospel.

    I agree with that sentence.

    We talked about this in a discussion recently at the Thang too. The fact is that there is a reward for every obedience. The scriptures make that abundantly clear. But as you aptly pointed out, we can’t dictate what the reward will be. (Well at least we can’t do it very well.) So I agree heartily with your overall point that we obey because we love God and we have faith in eternal payoff, but there is not denying a direct payoff at some time for every obedience to eternal law…

  18. Anonymom says:

    I thought my husband was the only person who teaches Gospel principles with lines from Tommy Boy.

  19. N Miller says:

    Command = Baptism Blessing = The Gift of the Holy Ghost

    Command = Partake of the sacrament (along with remembering Christ and his commandments) Blessing = The spirit will strive with you

    Command = Prayer Blessing = He will answer your prayer

    Command = Honor thy father and thy mother Blessing = “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”

    Command = keep the sabbath day holy – blessing =
    D&C 59
    16 Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;

    17 Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;

    Command – Tithing Blessing = (among others) “shall not be burned at his (Christ’s) coming.”

    Command = Repent Blessing = Forgiveness (and what a sweet blessing this is!)

    And if we are exact in the command he will be exact with his blessing.

    I am not suggesting that by doing these things you are saved, but he does give you promised blessings if you are exact in what you do. If you are not exact in your obedience, you still might receive these blessings. Any father who loves his children will give rules to live by to help them prepare for life. If they follow those rules, they will get the blessings or rewards their father promised them. If they don’t follow it exactly, the father is still likely to give them some or all of the blessing for trying. I don’t think God is any different. We often receive more than we deserve according to his commandments.

    Furthering the analogy, most fathers want their children to have all that they have (not so much in temporal goods, although that can be part of it, but in knowledge and ability [and probably a host of other traits as well]). They will give them rules to follow that will help them achieve that desired outcome and rewards for doing certain things. However, the only way the child is going to gain the knowledge that the father has is if he actually learns the lessons himself and becomes what his father is. The rewards are just helps along the way from a loving father and are not summed up to see if the child has become like his father.

    BTW, I am sure that I can go on with more commandments and the blessings we get for following them, but if this isn’t enough to show one-to-one commands and blessings, then more probably won’t help.

  20. D&C 82:10 is another prooftext for the quid pro quo theory. My mission president was always telling us to “bind God,” which seemed a little presumptuous to me.

  21. HL Rogers says:

    N Miller, I think that is a helpful response and it fleshes a couple of things out.

    1. There is a difference I think between temporal and non-temporal blessings that I will get into a little later. For now, it is interesting to note that promises such as honor parents = days long upon land, seem to be verifiably wrong. “Seem to be” because I supopse we can’t know for sure (this is what makes the exact obedience caveat such a dangerous tool: one can always respond, “well he didn’t get the blessing, probably wasn’t living exactly.” This leads to us judging the personal, unverifiable–in the strong sense that we witness no disobedience but judge the person disobedient) but apparently many people have honored their parents and not lived long–I can think of a few (Abel for instance, or better yet, Don Carlos Smith, JS’s brother). So either the promise is wrong or we can’t understand it as an exact one to one relationship. Some sort of interpretation is required–this can take several forms and even, I think, remain literalist in certain senses (but that is a different post).

    2. There is a difference between the temporal and non-temporal blessings. I would like to get into the distinction but this might be a whole other post entirely. I think we agree on this–we are working toward becoming something and returning to our HF, in that way the non-temporal blessings are the ones we are ultimately striving for and I think the only ones with guarantees.

    3. Tying one to one relationships to temporal blessings also brings the problem of reversing the logic. If we are blessed for doing something than we are cursed for not doing it. This also does not seem to hold in the temporal setting as many non-tithing payers, for instance, are very wealthy. I don’t think this destroys the thesis for those who argue for the quid pro quo in temporal blessings but I do think it raises a problem that must be answered (perhaps as easily as “you can’t reversse it”)

  22. D&C 130:21
    “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

    (I’ve never posted before, but this seemed relevant)

  23. Sorry, I know it’s mentioned in the original post, but it seems pretty clear.

  24. HL Rogers says:

    But what blessing is the key–and is there an exact correlation btwn a specific act and a specific blessing

  25. I guess it’s an interpretation of the term “specific blessing”. There will always be exceptions to the rule. Pres. Kimball had throat cancer. . Etc.

    I’m seeing your point of view more from people who would say “I don’t understand why I’m having finical problems when I pay my tithing?” or “Why am I so sick when I keep the Word of Wisdom?” I don’t think that means the blessings aren’t financial security or good health in those cases but that the (burden, test, trial, learning experience, whatever) for that person is going to include this experience for now.

  26. N Miller says:

    HL Rogers,

    As I stated earlier, I think you are wrong that the blessings of tithing were not stated that you would be temporally provided for (however, I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t pay tithing who is starving, but my realm is relatively small). You seem to always refer back to that commandment to be your crutch. Read through Malachi again and see if it says you will be rich through paying it. It doesn’t.

    Concerning your third point about the reverse logic, I have already countered that one. God can do as he pleases, including giving or taking from anyone at any time, perhaps as rewards, trials, or none of the above. All I state is that when we live the commandments to his satisfaction, he will give us his promised blessings. That is a character of God that is inherent in him, that he does have integrity, complete and honest integrity. I also don’t think it is an interpretive error on our part.

    Concerning the temporal blessings, we are still promised these blessings, but most of the time they are more conglomerate in nature. Jacob states;

    18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.

    19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

    So in this case, I believe that God does promise to bless us temporally. Will he follow through? Again, I say that he must. Do I have any evidence? As you stated above, it is hard to show who has followed the law completely and who hasn’t. But if we sit at the gospel essential that God has integrity, he will bless us as he promised.

    BTW, welcome A Gant to the Bloggernacle, run now or you’ll turn into one of us!!

  27. The problem with the quid pro quo school of thought is that while we may think a commandment falls under one type, it may really be another. For example, I’ve always thought that the law of tithing was not a financial law, but a sacrificial law. So, when I pay my tithing, I’m not guaranteed that my finances will be OK, but I get the blessing that I am learning to understand how sacrifice works. In fact, if I immediately receive financial returns because I paid tithing, then it’s not even a sacrifice to pay tithing. It’s just a celestial investment program.

    The real blessings of financial plenty come by living the laws of financial soundness, e.g., eliminating debt, long-term savings and investments, living well below one’s means, etc.. I don’t think that tithing is a financial commandment in this light.


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