Your Friday Firestorm #3

While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.

Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Love,” Ensign, Feb 2003, 20



  1. Love in scripture has two different meanings. There is the intense emotional attachment meaning and there is the covenantal meaning. When God tells Israel to love him and no other in Deuteronomy, this language parallels Ancient Hittite treaties wherein the vassal was told to love their Lord. If the vassal failed to live up to their obligation, they were said to hate their lord (in the treaty). Loving and Hating in this sense is a reference to keeping or not keeping covenant (this is, I believe, also the sense in which Samuel the Lamanite was using love and hate when he said that God loved the Nephites and hated the Lamanites). I think that Elder Nelson wanted to emphasize the covenantal aspect of God’s love, which is necessarily conditional, to the emotional aspect of God’s love, which I (and Paul) would argue is unconditional.

  2. Matt W. says:

    just seeing this quote makes me think of Blake Ostler. His Book #2 in his Mormon Thought series does an excellent Job at fleshing this out.

  3. Yes, I remember cringing when I heard that line at the time Elder Nelson gave the talk. But I took it in the same way that John C. has described in # 1.

    It seems clear that in an emotional sense, God loves all of his children unconditionally. An example is how Enoch observes God weeping because of the abominations of his children. Because he loved all of those children, it made him intensely sad that they would not fulfill their full potential because they chose evil rather than good. This actually fits in with Elder Nelson’s point, which John C. formulated a bit better than Elder Nelson, I think, about the covenantal aspect of divine love, which unarguably is conditional.

    Elder Nelson might have phrased it better by speaking in terms of covenant and blessings/potential associated with obedience to commandments within the covenant. I suspect that he was tempted to phrase it they way he did in terms of love because of how the “feel-good God” of “I’m okay, you’re okay” periodically pops up in the general culture.

  4. Eric Russell says:

    Sorry Steve, I don’t think there’s much fire to be had here unless we start delving into equivocation fallacies.

  5. I seem to remember another firestorm starting with a declaration that there was nothing to talk about. We’ll see.

  6. Aaron Brown says:

    After explaining that God’s love for us is conditional upon our keeping the commandments, Elder Nelson suddenly queries:

    “Does this mean the Lord does not love the sinner? Of course not.”

    But if a sinner is someone who, by definition, doesn’t keep the commandments, than Elder Nelson has just contradicted himself halfway through the piece. It seems to me he had John C.’s covenantal notion of love in mind, and then he redefines the term halfway through his speech. Obviously, this has created a lot of confusion, and this definitional shift is a primary reason why.

    If we’re going to start using “love” in this covenantal sense, it’s important to really spell out what’s going on, without muddying the waters by confusing the two concepts. But do we really want to make this move at all? I think that all this is going to do is give anti-Mormons more fodder for trying to show the world how “not Christian” we are. The whole world, Christian and non-Christian, uses “love” in its emotional sense, for the most part, and I wonder whether we really want to take on the project of having to explain a different definition and combat people’s initial impression that we’re painting God as a harsh and uncaring being.

    The problem that I think Elder Nelson is speaking to (i.e., a world where everyone wants to believe God is indifferent to their behavior) could have been addressed differently. He could have said, “Yes, God loves us unconditionally, but His love should not be confused with indifference to our behaviors, or tolerance of sin.” An easy distinction to draw, I think.

    Aaron B

  7. Not to offend, but is sounds like pure BS. I’ve always thought so since I first heard it.

    I’ll have to check out the Ostler book.

  8. Julie M. Smith says:

    Wait . . . it’s supposed to be the Friday AFTERNOON firestorm. What’s it doing up before 9am? I demand a retraction!

  9. Stephanie says:

    I have to say, I think the article is rather pointless. All it does is state things that are quite obvious. Perhaps Elder Nelson was reading about love as exaltation one day and got all worked up over it. It’s silly, because when 99.9% of the Christian world talks about God’s love, they are talking about Him loving us as His children.

  10. Johns C and F, while I agree with your apologia regarding the article and the two meanings of divine love, Elder Nelson does not use two meanings of divine love. He uses one, and this is it. I’m more of Aaron B.’s mind on this, oddly enough, and I feel like this is in some ways straight out of McConkie’s view of divine love which was in some respects a direct challenge to the typical Christian view (along with this comes a challenge to the notion of salvation by simple acceptance of Christ as savior).

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    There was a lot of discussion of this when it first came out. I think Aaron’s right, that there is an equivocation of the term “love” used in the address.

  12. Conditional love? I’m skeptical. The rains fall on me, just as they do my neighbor.

  13. As Matt noted, Blake Ostler really does do an excellent job of fleshing this out in the second volume of his Mormon theology series. He had a funny line in the book about it too:

    Thus Elder Nelson teaches that we should only give of our love to our children if they obey us (p. 19)

    But he comes back and explains that in the way Elder Nelson is using the ever-nebulous word “love” his statement works just fine. Here is my review of that chapter if anyone is interested.

  14. I thought it was interesting that Steve brought up McConkie…

    This is a favorite doctrine of Joseph F. McConkie (BRM’s son). I took a couple of classes from him at BYU and he highlighted this teaching in both of them. In fact, when the Nelson article was published he assigned it as extra reading. He also attributed the teaching that “God loves everyone no matter what we do” to the homosexual rights movement, but that was stated parenthetically after class – I don’t know how much he actually believes it.

    Both times this was brought up in class it caused a quite heated discussion (maybe he wanted more class participation?). I think this was mostly because the students got the mistaken idea that if they did not keep the commandments that God would not love them.

    My personal view is more of a continuum than a black or white, “God loves you or he doesn’t” view. I think that God will love us as much as we will let him. Or that certain things we do or do not do allow us to experience different levels of God’s love. People who keep the commandments are likely better able to experience God’s love.

  15. MikeInWeHo says:

    “…all this is going to do is give anti-Mormons more fodder for trying to show the world how “not Christian” we are…”

    That’s an understatement, Aaron. I can’t think of a Protestant, Catholic, or Evangelical group that wouldn’t choke on this. Surprised this talk hasn’t already been pounced on by the anti-mormons.

    To be candid, when I read that talk I was rather appalled. Maybe it’s a milk-before-meat situation and I never got past yogurt. When you join the Church you start out with a belief that our Heavenly Father loves us unconditionally, then later on find out there are many, many strings attached (cynical view). Or perhaps it’s so grating because he’s referring to the CK as “eternal life,” and the degrees-of-glory stuff is all very confusing to outsiders.

    Can anyone link to other conference talks which highlight God’s universal, unconditional love for all his children?? Seems to me I remember some that have a very different tone.

  16. Mike, Elder Nelson discusses God’s universal love in this talk as well (also an answer to greenfrog’s quip), so he is not using unconditional love as synonymous with universal love, which is I think how many of us understand it in casual conversation.

    I think Elder Nelson should have worded it differently because I think that John C. is right that the talk affirms God’s universal unconditional emotional love for his children (or at least does not deny it) while discussing a covenantal love that logically cannot be unconditional.

  17. MikeInWeHo,

    I am one of those outsiders . . . choking over this.

  18. I think Elder Nelson’s use of the word perfect as the first adjective describing divine love is important. Just as the perfect Atonement can balance justice and mercy, perfect love from our Heavenly Father is likewise a balance, and again, one which we cannot fully understand. The born-again belief that they are once and forever forgiven by accepting Christ is a depiction of salvation unbalanced. Likewise, a fundamentalist religious approach that lacks the doctrine of true mercy is going to be unbalanced. Perhaps that is the greatest way of telling whether something is from God or not: Is it a balance that we can’t quite grasp in mortality?

  19. Thomas Parkin says:

    What amuses me is an Evangelical choking on the idea that receiving the benefits of God’s love is provisional. (The thrust of Elder Nelson’s points.) They have a provision as well, the provision that one beleives in a certain set of theological ideas. If one fails to believe, in spite of being a Buddhist, Hindu or Mormon who deals justly and honorably all his life, then one is subject to permanent and awful punishment. Now, there is a model that it is tough to find the love in.

    Elder Nelson’s comments are not organized as I would have done. His assertion, that is right there as plain as day, that God’s love is infinite and covers all people, should probably have lead off rather than being brought in half-way through. But it is tough for me to see how this can be read in good faith, by any person of middling intelligence, without understanding that two things are being talked about: the love and concern which God has for any person,- which isn’t really the point of his comments,- and the idea that we benefit from that love based on how we position ourselves in life.

    I fail to see the Firestorm. I beginning to get that everything is a potential firestorm.


  20. a random John says:

    Does anybody think that the average Mormon listening to this talk was making mental distinctions between coventant based love and emotional love? Reading it carefully it seems he is saying that blessings have conditions attached and then assuming that “love” does.

    I really think that this talk could have been made much more clear. You have to make some serious assumptions about what Elder Nelson means in order for it to make sense. I hope that my assumptions are right, but it is hard to tell.

  21. John F. #3, is God’s love less because we disappoint Him? It seems to me that it would be better to distinguish between God’s pleasure and God’s love rather than bifurcating the meaning of love.

  22. Ug. Someone please fix my html!

  23. And my English. approved = improved

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Thomas: “I fail to see the Firestorm. I beginning to get that everything is a potential firestorm.”

    Thomas, the beginning of true wisdom!

  25. re # 21, I agree. That’s why I said that Elder Nelson should have termed this whole thing differently. Anyone (with an LDS background) willing to read this objectively will see that Elder Nelson is getting at what John C. explains in # 1. In fact, Elder Nelson discusses and affirms God’s universal love in the talk (universal love being what is equated in usual conversation with unconditional love).

    Saying God’s pleasure rather than his love is an interest way to improve the phrasing to make the meaning clearer. The current way this comes across is unfortunate because I am fairly certain that Elder Nelson believes that God loves every human being ever born, living, or to be born in the future. He was trying to say that God doesn’t approve of all of our choices and much of our eternal potential is conditional on obedience to God’s law. Aaron B. pointed out that the distinction would have been very easy to convey if expressed differently.

  26. Thomas Parkin says:

    If everything is a potential firestorm, then we’ve got no end of material! We might even change the name of the blog to “Eternal Firestorm.” I’m sure that would please someone or other.



  27. re # 19, Thomas Parkin, very, very well put. It was Latter-day Saints choking on that doctrine who welcomed the revelation of the concept of baptisms for the dead.


  28. DeconstructionistGirl says:

    Russell Nelson is dead wrong. I was angry the first time I heard this and I’m angry again. The church leaders should have pulled this talk. The fact that they haven’t yet means they fully support it. Which means that everything in I learned in primary about “jesus loves me” is wrong. Which means this is yet another blatant contradiction proving that the LDS church is wrong and has no more claim on the truth than any other religion.

  29. re # 29, did you read the entire talk or just the one sentence Steve quoted. If you read the talk you will see Elder Nelson’s affirmation of God’s universal love.

  30. Latter-day Guy says:

    There seem to be a number of arguments that do not follow in this article. For example, Elder Nelson’s mention of Nehor. He is there equating the gift of Eternal Life with God’s love; while related, they aren’t synonymous. I would have been much clearer had he taken a moment to DEFINE God’s love for us before proceeding with the rest of his comments. (I suspect that, having had to really pin down his subject, his comments would have been different, or at least more measured.)

  31. Latter-day Guy says:

    Not “I would have…”, but “It would have…”

  32. Thanks John F.,

    Back to #19,

    Is there more that I can do in future days to intensify God’s love for me?

  33. D-Girl,
    Once the talk has been given, it is rare for the Brethren to change it. Also, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with the talk, as john f. notes, he just unfortunately is unclear. Allow me, with all the authority I wield as a faceless internet voice, to assure you that Jesus loves you.

  34. Steve Evans says:

    John C., are you channeling Elder Scott?

  35. Peter LLC says:

    Wait . . . it’s supposed to be the Friday AFTERNOON firestorm. What’s it doing up before 9am? I demand a retraction!

    Ah, but Julie, in the One True Time Zone in which I live, it was afternoon already.

    At any rate, I’ll be waiting for a few more GAs to chime in with similar assertions before believing that Nelson’s personal, though well-considered, opinion is doctrine.

  36. Steve, he wasn’t looking at her when he said it.

  37. Todd, I think Thomas Parkins’s point to you was that it is interesting to see you say you choke on this concept when you believe it yourself. After all, I take it you don’t believe that Mormons and Hindus are going to avoid everlasting damnation and torment, do you? Well, so much for God’s unconditional love.

  38. Aaron Brown says:

    “The church leaders should have pulled this talk. The fact that they haven’t yet means they fully support it.”

    Ah, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this were an accurate description of the world. Alas, it isn’t.

    DeconstructionistGirl, maybe you ought to read carefully many of the comments here, as a number of folks have adequately explained what’s going on in a way that makes your over-the-top anger unnecessary. (Not that you shouldn’t be entitled to some irritation about it … it irritated me too).

    Aaron B

  39. Smartguy says:

    This proves I am smarter than the general authorities as I always suspected.

  40. I don’t this is much of a firestorm. I mean I’m assuming it’s supposed to be about the classic christian conondrum right? God loves us he’s the perfect parent. Yet, his love seems conditional at times, IE: You’ll only get this if you do as I say, etc. And all over the scriptures there are things about him being vengeful, jealous and killing sinners. Which then would make him no better than me and in some cases worse than me.

    This has been around since the St. Francis and before. Not exactly a firestorm.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    ronito, not all firestorms are impossible and endless polemics, I guess. But I don’t think that this is just about a classic christian conundrum, as you say. This is much more about Elder Nelson, correlation, perspectives on love, and where we stand on grace vs. works.

  42. Todd,

    “Is there more that I can do in future days to intensify God’s love for me?”

    Nope. You get it all by virtue of being a son of God.

    The greatest description of the love that God has for all of us sinners, no matter what we do, is in Moses 7:28-41. I am in awe when I read that.

  43. Considering John C’s and John F’s interpretation for a while, I am no longer sure that Elder Nelson is merely confusing terminology.

    According to Kenneth Burke, rhetoric is about identification.

    While I cannot know what was on Nelson’s mind, it is the case that LDS leaders like himself would benefit if believers subscribed to the notion that performance, conformity, and obedience will result in God’s love.

    Of course, if one were to threaten people with the loss of salvation then one can extract similar benefits for religious officers.

    On the other hand, it does make a difference to the acknowledged sinner to realize that God still loves him or her. The believe into God’s unconditional love may well be a resource for spiritual and emotional self-reliance.

    To believers, all of this might amount to meaningless hairsplitting but keep in mind that one recurring complaint on the DAMU is the never ceasing pressure to perform (no matter how much I do, the bishop always wants me to do more).

    The last thing that somebody who feels this pressure needs to hear is that God’s love is conditional. Inadequate is one thing. Unloved takes it to another level.

  44. I know more than one, non-Sunstone, non-liberal, non-Bloggernacle member of the Church who were shocked and hurt by the article. As one confided in me, “I thought God always loved us, even if we sin.”

    I can agree with the article if it is interpreted to me that God loves everyone all the time (even if we sin), but His blessings are conditioned on our obedience.

    I also agree with Blake’s commentary that the article could be construed to mean that we as parents should love “conditionally”, which, in my opinion anyway, is unhealthy for us as parents or for our children.

    I think, at the end of the day, Elder Nelson’s talk does not really mean that God does not love us “unconditionally”–after all, if His love is universal and infinite, that sounds unconditional to me.

    I think it just means that the term “unconditional love” is relegated to the same correllation junk pile as “free agency” and “pre-existence” (or using “you” in a prayer). While we probably won’t see those terms again in approved Church materials for a couple of generations, I also doubt we will hear many more sermons preaching that God’s love is “conditional” or that our agency is not really “free”.

  45. Hellmut,

    I fully agree. There is a perception outside of the Church (and sometimes inside it) that the Church and its teachings are about “control”. The article could be construed as adding the threat of a loss of God’s “love” as another tool in the arsenal to bring about conformity.

  46. Costanza says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression is that most folks on the DAMU reject the basic truth claims of the LDS church (i.e., they reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the church’s claim to being Christ’s true church on the earth, the reality of the first vision, restoration of priesthood keys, etc). If that is true, then isn’t the issue with the folks you mention the fact that this “never ceasing pressure to perform” is exerted by a church that they do not believe has any moral authority or divine mandate, rather than the simple existence of this pressure? If the bishop did not demand more, would they find it easier to accept the church’s truth claims? If not, then why should they care about what the bishop demands? I know that the issues are more complicated than this, but I’m genuinely curious about your thoughts.

  47. john f (#16): You note that Elder Nelson’s talk answers my “quip,” but it really doesn’t. While Elder Nelson applies a different label to the “rain” verses from the New Testament than he does to the other verses he cites as evidence of conditionality, the basic elements of the two sets of situations are, insofar as I can tell, simply contradictory. To be fair to Elder Nelson, I don’t think the contradiction arose for the first time in his sermon — I think the scriptures are explicitly contradictory when it comes to this topic.

    But as this thread addresses the specific sermon, within that context: Elder Nelson says, “Divine love is universal. 8 God ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.'”

    Given what the New Testament says, Elder Nelson can’t very well argue that rain is not heaven-sent, but rather just a function of climate and weather patterns. So it’s a function of God. And Elder Nelson (not particularly far out on a limb from that trunk) says it’s a function of God’s love. Contextually, it’s pretty explicitly unconditional — i.e., whether one gets the divine benefit of rain has nothing to do with how one comports oneself. In a passing rainstorm, even Hitler’s garden would get watered.

    But then Elder Nelson says, “Divine Love Is Also Conditional.” And he proceeds to cite many scriptures that indicate the conditionality of God’s love. Though he doesn’t articulate the two sets of examples as inconsistent, he does try to develop a “carve-out” to the divine rain by saying, “some (higher) things are conditional, while other (lower) things aren’t.”

    Presumably, he’s ascribed rain to the category of lower things. If he’s right, then great, though textually, the rain scripture doesn’t suggest any such higher/lower qualifications. But here’s the rub: he then cites scriptures that make clear that there is no justification for such a higher/lower dichotomy: “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

    If “any” means “any,” it means “rain,” too.

    The only way out of the conundrum that I’ve devised is one that probably isn’t very palatable to many people: what we think of as blessings from God are not really a function of the divine beneficence of a deity Father figure, but just the way the universe works. Karmic clockwork.

  48. This discussion has its roots in the distinction between “love” as a noun (something felt) and “love” as a verb (something done). Even in our own day, it is one thing to say “I love you” and quite another to demonstrate love in a tangible way. I can tell my children I love them (feel it) until I am blue in the face, but the proof of that love is in what I am willing to do for them. Likewise, they will benefit from my love not to the extent that they feel it (as important as that is) but specifically to the extent that they accept it (do something about it). If I stop giving my money to a son who buys drugs with it, my love for that son has not decreased one bit – but his ability to benefit from it has been damned.

    All throughout Christian history, every single religious leader of whom I am aware has made the exact same distinction that Elder Nelson makes in his talk – they just phrased it differently.

    Even those in our own time who preach the most extreme form of “confess the name only and be saved” are doing the exact same thing by articulating that distinction. In their own doctrine, they exclude those who do NOT confess the name from receiving the blessings of God – the demonstration / manifestation / gift / reward / whatever that comes from doing what He asks us to do. In point of fact, as Thomas pointed out, they often distort that very claim by denying salvation to someone (like me) who literally has “confessed His name” but fails to meet other criteria.

    The only possible way to argue a position that is substantially different than Elder Nelson’s is to adopt a Calvinist / Jehovah’s Witness extreme – that God predestined salvation and damnation, that there is a set number of people who are meant to be saved, and that there ain’t a thing individuals can do about it – except praise God for their own salvation and pity the poor bastards (in the literal sense) who will burn in Hell forever simply because God chose to roast them. Every “chosen people” throughout time is tempted to adopt that view, and many Mormon pronouncements skirt that dangerous edge.

    My concern is NOT with what Elder Nelson said (other than perhaps the wording) but rather with the alternative.

  49. Thanks for your question, Costanza. There are many different reasons why people leave the Church. Discomfort at Church motivates some to take a second look at Mormon truth claims.

    There are other people who study the gospel and Church history more deeply because they want to become better teachers or they want to defend the Church. Some of them leave the Church when the gap between their correlated experience becomes too big.

    I belong to the uncomfortable group, for example, although my problem was no longer being overworked (I had realized during my mission that it is too precarious to rely on Church leaders to consider my interests and that I had to take responsibility for setting limits).

    To make a long story short, if I had not been uncomfortable at Church then I would not have questioned my testimony.

    When I found out about the September Six, I could explain the discrepancy of my testimony and my negative Mormon experience. However, that was the arrival, not the departure of my “journey.”

    Finally, it is important to realize that the knowledge claims of Mormonism and overbearing demands by members and leaders are directly related. Without the knowledge claims, people would not have claims on your time and behavior.

    The philosopher Karl Popper wrote about that connection in The Open Society and It’s Enemies. The first three pages of his autobiography Unended Quest provide an entertaining summary of the knowledge/power nexus.

  50. #38 – Ok John, let’s go a little deeper. I think Nelson would reject God’s individual electing love.

    I don’t throw out God’s unconditional love illustrated in biblical revelation so easy.

  51. Todd: Why don’t you answer the question?

  52. “I think Nelson would reject God’s individual electing love.”

    I understand all the individual words, but put together in this order, this makes no sense to me. Please explain, Todd.

  53. Eric Russell says:

    I’m not buying that there is any disagreement of substance anywhere in this thread. If everyone who has commented here – to include Todd Wood – were to sit down with Elder Nelson for just a few minutes, I think we’d all come out in full agreement with each other.

  54. StillConfused says:

    I like the quote. I have had people say to me “If you love me then” typically followed by something unChristian. I imagine people probably say that to God sometimes too.

  55. Last Lemming says:

    I think we’d all come out in full agreement with each other.

    Would Elder Nelson agree with me (and others above) that his wording was atrocious? That is what the firestorm, is about.

  56. Steve Evans says:

    Alas, Eric, ’twere it were so. But as with your prior comments on my firestorm threads, people rarely seem to listen to your sage counsel.

  57. MCQ – Because of scripture evidence, I firmly believe that there is nothing I can do that can intensify the Father’s love for me. Do I understand this kind of love? I understand conditional love but not this kind. In this kind of love, only God gets the glory.

    John C. – perhaps I am overreacting. I haven’t read the Ensign article; I am just choking over Steve’s bloggerbite. If I was LDS, believing in the Father’s conditional love based on fulfilling covenants, I would be down at the I.F. temple every waking spare moment to ensure my place in celestial love before the Father. And I would be most miserable, craving if I have met the conditions each day for reaching the highest of celestial love.

    But the Father’s love for me (and my ultimate salvation) is rooted in His Son not my achievements or strong faith, etc. I believe God’s foreknowledge and gracious election is unconditional (in other words, it is not based on the fact that Todd Wood is intelligent and smart and believes, therefore God elects.) God loved me first (unlovable and His enemy) to where I now love Him. To be bathed in celestial love, I put the responsibility fully upon the unconditional love of God. Period. And I will be dumbfounded forever in heaven.

    Eric R., I would love to sit down with Elder Nelson. Is there any possibility that he could make a brief comment on this thread or somewhere else for clarification?

  58. #54 – Amen, Eric.

    The blurb is jarring, but the message of the entire talk would be sound theology in some of the most liberal Divinity Schools and Protestant congregations in the country. To be WAY too simplistic, it says, “Come follow me and experience the fullness of my love. Don’t, and, while I still will love you with all my heart, you won’t experience the fullness of my love.” IOW, “I desire with all my heart to share my all with you, but you must accept me and turn over your heart to me and allow me to turn you into who I want you to be in order to experience that.” IOW, just about anything I could construct to show that I can’t sit back, do nothing and expect to receive the fullest blessings of His love. Again, even a simple “confess His name and be saved” ideology includes that message, because it requires that confession – a real “qualifier” in every sense of the word.

  59. Todd, I truly respect what you are saying, but I have to ask, “What is it that divides those who will be dumbfounded with you and those who will not be?”

    I have heard various people answer that question, and the only one that does not include some condition (even a small one) is hardcore Calvinism – that God made that decision for us, meaning that he chose to show His love to some and His wrath to the others. Some sing eternal praises in thanks; others scream eternal cries in pain.

    I don’t say that flippantly. I can’t wrap my mind around the type of “loving God” who would create beings with feelings and emotions just to use them as kindling for an everlasting fire through no fault of their own. Within that construct, there is amazing and unfathomable grace – but there also is an equal amount of amazing and unfathomable cruelty and sadism.

    I really want to know how you reconcile both sides of that coin (indescribable love and capricious cruelty) – if you, in fact, do subscribe to that type of Calvinistic belief. If not, how do you answer my original question? What separates the saved from the damned?

  60. Todd, the question is whether you believe that Mormons and Hindus (and everyone else who hasn’t recited the trinitarian creeds) are going to burn in hell forever. If you believe that, then you are being disingenuous by claiming to choke on the soundbite that Steve has quoted from Elder Nelson because you believe the exact same thing that you are (incorrectly) projecting on Elder Nelson.

  61. Ray, you seem to be confusing the consequences of our actions for God’d love. Do you love your children any less because they get hit by a car?

    Of course not. The claim that God loves us less when we do not perform is bad English and bad theology. More importantly, it is unrelated to the work versus grace debate.

  62. #6 – In a church where we can attain some level of comfort with the changing of a word as specific as “preside” into, essentially, “not preside,” I can’t see getting het up over monkeying with something as nebulous as “love.”

    #22/24 – I had to laugh at the idea of something being *improved* by being run through Correlation. Don’t hear that much around the ‘nacle. [Insert Evans-despised LOL smiley here.]

    #29 – As you were quickly reprimanded in #30, this will be redundant – but there is nothing wrong with the text nor its author. The problem is you, my friend. Plus, you shouldn’t feel the anger you feel – anger is bad, and indicates that you are Wrong.

    #34 – Two words: Elder Poehlman.

    #39 – I totally agree. Add this to the list of other things that are allowed to be “out there,” and neither repudiated nor commented on at all. Not “active” doctrine, nor yet clearly “rejected” to the doctrinal trash heap. Mormonism has the most passive-aggressive doctrine in the world. [One more LOL smiley, please!]

    #47 – I assure you that there are plenty of current, strong members who feel the pressure and control.

    #54 – I doubt it. And the chances of anyone sitting down with Elder Nelson are pretty slim anyhow. We’re not even supposed to write letters, right?

    Clearly, my sarcasm runneth o’er. I just get seriously tired sometimes of the fact that there are a lot of good, faithful LDS whose concerns, questions, honest inquiries and soulful searching, simply are left to go begging. The ‘nacle is a nice place to talk about it all, but it doesn’t change anything about church and the experience of church in the lives of many. At the end of the day, the members who have questions are simply told (sometimes explicitly, sometimes through reliable old social control mechanisms) that they are wrong to feel what they feel, and that if they had only repented and softened their hearts, they wouldn’t feel bad at all. Therefore, their own unhappiness indicates their sinfulness. I can’t think of anything that crystallizes this more for me, personally, than the “God’s love is conditional” notion that this Firestorm was launched with.

  63. Antonio Parr says:

    Years ago I read a book published by Deseret Book (I believe that the author was either Sterling W. Sill or David O. McKay) that made reference to the concept (paraphrasing) “what a gift it would be, to see ourselves as others see us”. The discussion surrounding Elder Nelson’s talk reminds me of that principle.

    Our fellow Christians — Catholic and protestant –as well as members of the other Abrahamic religions (Judaism and Islam) teach of a God who is Supreme in every sense of the word. A God who has always been God; A God who has always reigned as God. Worship of such a supreme being seems like the most natural thing in the world, and expressions of worship run rampant in all three major religious traditions.

    The LDS concept (non-canonical concept, I might add, as it is nowhere to be found in any of our scriptures) of God being an exalted man who used to live on another planet with other equal beings is a concept that is genuinely offensive to the majority of adherents to all three traditions. If we tack on to the LDS dogma the notion that our God is not uniquely all powerful (and, in fact, is subordinate to the process of eternal evolution) with the concept that he doesn’t really love us fully (in the sense that we love our own children), then you have created a God that is not the type of being that most people would seek out.

    In light of our confusion over the nature of God, and our corresponding portrayal of Him as someone capable of the more unseemly aspects of humanity, we should not be surprised that our missionary work amongst churched people suffers.

  64. OK, folks.

    I agree.

    The Calvinist God is not a God of love. He is a capricious, cruel God. If you can live with that, fine. But call a spade a spade. As noted by Ray, all other Christian Gods set some conditions for salvation. I believe that Mormonism is the only Christian church that takes the implications of this seriously.

    Also, still don’t have a clue what you meant.

    Your conclusion doesn’t flow from your evidence, so I don’t know what your point is.

    The ironies and exceptions in my statements were intentional. I also think that you reading myself and others too harshly, FWIW.

    I am trying to find the connection between what you said and the rest of the thread and I am failing.

  65. Hellmut: The claim that God loves us less when we do not perform is bad English and bad theology. More importantly, it is unrelated to the work versus grace debate.

    There are reasonable readings of this talk that can and should be reached without throwing up our hands and declaring this “bad English and bad theology”. You need to put a little more hard thought into this before throwing in the towel like this. Giving up on the address so quickly reflects more on you than on Elder Nelson in my opinion. Here is my recap of what Ostler wrote about this (see #13):

    Ostler concludes his first chapter by addressing a recent Ensign article where Elder Nelson taught that the love of God is not unconditional. I chuckled at this nervy comment from Blake: “Thus Elder Nelson teaches that we should only give of our love to our children if they obey us” (p. 19) After getting my attention with that humdinger Blake goes on to explain that Elder Nelson is actually teaching a correct principle because there are different levels of God’s love for us. On one level His gracious and charitable ongoing offer of an I-Thou relationship is completely unconditional; but on a higher level the love and intimacy shared within an I-Thou relationship can necessarily only be given when we accept his offer of such a relationship and thus keep his commandments. Interestingly, this view tends to reconcile the classic grace vs. works debate very cleanly as well. The primary manifestation of unconditional grace in the world is God’s ongoing offer of an I-Thou relationship to us; the primary work required of us is to except that offer and embrace God in an I-Thou relationship.

  66. Antonio Parr says:

    My post was intended to connect Elder Nelson’s teaching regarding the purportedly conditional nature of God’s love with the way that non-LDS people of faith view Mormonism.

    We are a missionary Church that expects every one of our sons (and sometimes our daughters) to go out and convert the world. I question whether we are providing them fertile fields to harvest when we perpetuate non-canonical teachings about God that portray Him in a way that is less magnificent than the God of other Abrahamic religious traditions. A God who loves us only when we are on our best behavior seems almost petty, and pales in comparison (by way of example) to the God of the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

    Love is a powerful message. We would do well in our missionary efforts to sound forth the glad news that God loves us, perfectly.

  67. DeconstructionistGirl says:

    Thank you for validating me John C. And yes, I have read the whole talk, more than once. Probably because I couldn’t wrap my mind around it!

    Someone noted my irritation earlier. Thank you for noting that. I tend to become irritated easily, which brings me to the following question. I noticed there was a lot of admin editing in the “Don’t Com to My House” comments. How irritated of a comment can I post before it gets edited? (I have a fear of being edited. I’m working on this in therapy.) :)

    [Note: this comment has been edited by the BCC admins. The only change we made was to add this note.]

  68. Think of this quote:

    “God loves his people unconditionally, but he also loves them more and more, in response to their obedience” – a leading conservative theologian, John Frame

    But I am not seeing this yet in Scripture, though I take dead serious the conditions in such passages as James 4:7-10.

    How about this? There are conditions in an OT covenant of hesed, but this flows from an unconditional covenant initiated by God alone (Gen. 15, Ezek 16). You see when God loves someone in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3). All the conditions have already been met in Jesus Christ – “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace”.

    Here is the musical chorus of a heart that has been redeemed – “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Isn’t being accepted in the beloved, the height of unconditional celestial love?

    And to Ray & John C., I disbelieve that the Bible teaches clearly a double predestination. I understand the logical extension but I find empty the scriptural connection. No one can charge God as sinfully, maliciously evil.

  69. So, Todd, just to make sure I am not misunderstanding, are you saying that God loves all unconditionally, but that we experience that love conditioned upon our obedience – that the ultimate fulfillment of His grace occurs when our will is indistinguishable from His? If so, I think we (and Elder Nelson) are in complete agreement as to the overall issue, even if our “conditions” are a bit different.

    Is that how you see it?

  70. Yeah, Todd, instead of quoting everyone under the sun, why don’t you just come out and tell us what you mean?

  71. MCQ, have I been quoting everyone under the sun? Just one quote by Frame and some phrases in Ephesians? Actually, from past lessons, I am really trying to keep my comments short on BCC.

    Ray, I believe that God initiates an unconditional love with his people. His people will “experience that love” more and more as they grow in their understanding and resting in the gospel of grace. As I look into Romans 8, I believe that from the initial calling to final glorification – these are all gifts freely given by the Son.

    MCQ, when the apostle Paul says that the Son freely gives, I don’t believe God promises glorification to me based on conditional merits of my own. OK? I don’t know how to be any more plain than this. All the conditions for my exaltation are met in the Father’s Son.

  72. Todd, Thank you. I appreciate that input, but it still leaves me with a basic question – and I apologize for having to ask it in such “Mormon” terms:

    What separates someone who is saved from someone who is damned? IOW, it almost sounds like you don’t believe in everlasting damnation. If that is not true, what qualifies someone for that damnation?

  73. BTW, Todd, I read your explanation as a very good description of the basic Mormon concept of a degree of glory for all – except the Sons of Perdition. Is that what you are saying in a nutshell – that all of God’s children are blessed by His love and grace, except for those who consciously choose to reject it? If so, we agree completely; if not, I will leave you to answer my question in #73.

  74. Ray, thanks.

    I do believe in everlasting damnation. Though my emotions desire for there to be a universalism in God’s salvation, the wishful thinking doesn’t square up with biblical data. Scripture does speak of those separated from God.

    Someone who is damned, rejected light revealed to him or her by God. This individual never was a spiritual child of God but in rebellion – a child of wrath. This person is in hell because of never wanting to inwardly submit to the glory of God. This destiny resides completely with the individual’s free will run full course.

    But in all the lump of rebellious humanity, God entered into a grace-filled unconditional relationship with some, freeing them, redeeming them through the work of his Son . . . a propiatory work.

    Those in heaven are there because God foreknew them before the foundation of the world. Of course, Ray, the slight controversy concerning those saved is this: which comes first – God’s regeneration of the individual’s heart or the heart being obedient by responding in faith.

    And that I can’t answer clearly.

    But presently, I do see two truths very clear (a main point from the Calvinist side and a main point from the Arminian perspective):

    1. God’s Gracious, Unconditional election of some individuals
    2. Christ died for all mankind

    Both true Calvinists and true Arminians call me inconsistent. But if I logically reason from point one or point two, I wipe out the other. So this is what I see in Scripture, a marvelous mystery.

    thanks again, friend.

  75. Todd, that helps tremendously. Thank you.

    I think we are very close in our view on this, at least when you get past the semantics of specific phraseology and dig down to the root meaning. There is a difficulty for anyone who wants to take either position exclusively – and I believe that it is “natural” for us in our human state to try to gain simplicity by gravitating toward one extreme or another. I have said somewhere else that I see my journey as a “muddle in the middle” – and I appreciate talking with someone else who apparently is with me on that journey.

  76. BTW, Todd, I think Elder Nelson’s message from the entire talk is pretty much the same. It’s hard to see that when the terminology is so different (when the actual words one uses carry different meaning to others), but I really do think we’re on the same page with this topic. (or at least in the same chapter) :-)

  77. Mark D. says:

    I think this whole episode is an unfortunate case of failing to distinguish between distinct senses of the same term.

    I think this discussion requires at least three senses of love: (1) sincere concern for another’s welfare, (2) showing favor, and (3) “tough love” – or showing disfavor due to concern for another.

    I believe that (1) is the dominant contemporary sense and (2) is the dominant scriptural sense. (3) is the contemporary term derived from the distinction between the two.

    To me the talk makes a fatal equivocation between sense (1) and sense (2). We appear to be hard wired for a naive realism where a word is mentally indistinguishable from its one true meaning. That tendency is a prescription for theological disaster if not watched for very carefully.

    Does anyone suppose that God punishes and otherwise shows divine disfavor to anyone without a view to their eternal welfare? We have good reason to believe that hell itself (spirit prison anyway) largely exists for that very purpose – see D&C 138.

    Unconditional love in sense one, and conditional love in sense two are absolutely necessary for the plan of salvation to make any sense. If divine favor (blessings) were unconditional we would all become brats every bit as spoiled as if our mortal parents followed the same policy.

  78. Mark D, do you remember the story in the N.T. about the same wages paid out to all the workers at the end of the day, though they worked various lengths that day? No trick question, just interested in your interp . . . Do you think undeserved favor was shown to the one who worked the least though he received the same wage?

    Honestly, sometimes I just submit what makes sense to me (my reason) to biblical authority.

    And any divine favor (blessings) for me have created the opposite attitudes (fruit of the Spirit very unnatural to me). And knowing my heart, I realize the favor was totally undeserved.

  79. Which boils down, I believe, to: 1) “Do the best you can to accept the Savior’s grace and follow Him to the best of your ability – then try to recognize His love working in your life.” Followed closely by: 2) “Quit trying to gauge your own progress/received grace/spirituality/oneness with the universe/whatever in relation to someone else’s.” Finished perhaps by: 3) “In this process, don’t condemn even those caught in the very act of extreme sin, but instead revert back to #1 and cycle continually.”

    I really like to hear how others articulate their perspectives, because almost every one of them influences mine in some way. My exaltation is mine and my wife’s alone in some ways, but it also is shared among the community – on both sides of the veil, if prophets are to be believed. Another one of those mysteries, perhaps, Todd?

  80. Antonio Parr said: The LDS concept (non-canonical concept, I might add, as it is nowhere to be found in any of our scriptures) of God being an exalted man who used to live on another planet with other equal beings is a concept that is genuinely offensive to the majority of adherents to all three traditions.

    Antonio, I don’t understand why this teaching would be any more offensive than the idea that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, became mortal on a planet. I’m not sure what you mean by “other equal beings,” but if you mean that God was truly human like others, then that is exactly what the creeds assert of Jesus. Moreover, I suggest that John 5:19 seems to give at least some support to the view that the Son only does what the Father does. At the very least, Joseph Smith believed John 5:19 provided scriptural support for his admittedly novel teaching. If the view that the Father became mortal on another planet is offensive; then this teaching is in the good company of he offensive view that God became mortal on this planet.

    Antonia said: If we tack on to the LDS dogma the notion that our God is not uniquely all powerful (and, in fact, is subordinate to the process of eternal evolution) with the concept that he doesn’t really love us fully (in the sense that we love our own children), then you have created a God that is not the type of being that most people would seek out.

    I would like to know where it has been taught in any recognized LDS source that God is subject to the “forces of evolution” (whatever that could mean). The notion that God progresses is not the same as the notion that God is subject to natural selection. Moreover, it seems to me that even a very loving parent is more than justified ine expelling a son or daughter that has become abusive or whose actions damage the other siblings. Certainly the loving parent will always love the abusive son in the sense of wishing him the best; but that doesn’t entail that the son must be allowed to remain in the home where he can abuse other members of the family. Thus, it is consistent with love to recognize that close and abiding fellowship is a mutual choice to be in relationship. As I see it, the commandments merely teach us how loving people treat each other. If one refused to keep the commandments; in essence, one if refusing to act is a way consistent with being in a loving relationship. That is why the Gospel of John repeatedly emphasizes that to abide in God’s love keeping the commandments is a necessary condition. Anyway, that is how I see it.

  81. Todd: I think you and Mark D. are talking about two different things. The story you mention seems to me to apply to the first part of he atonement, that is, the part that by grace all are saved from death and are resurrected.

    But there is another part. By grace Christ has granted that, because he took upon himself our sins, we can be forgiven if we repent. But we do have to repent, Todd. Therefore, your assertion that nothing you do has any effect on your salvation is not accurate, in my view.

  82. Blake,
    the Father became mortal – yes it is offensive because of John 4.

    the Son took on flesh – yes, thankfully, John 1, to condescend in loving humiliation to us.

    And John 5 . . . well, our community in Idaho Falls will start delving into the chapter this next Sunday.

    There is no better Trinitarian book in all of Scripture compared to John’s Gospel.

    And Blake, the way I see it in the Gospel of John, you can tell a Christian has been completely, inwardly changed by God’s unconditional electing love by the obedient creature’s love back to his Creator.

  83. Antonio Parr says:


    In response to your inquiry

    I would like to know where it has been taught in any recognized LDS source that God is subject to the “forces of evolution” (whatever that could mean).

    I respond first by stating that I don’t think that it has been taught in any “recognized LDS source” that God the Father used to be a man. Moreover, I am an active Latter-Day Saint who doesn’t believe that God used to be a man who evolved into “a” god; I believe that God has always been God, and feel confident that there is a host of scriptural support for such a belief.

    Nevertheless, it is fairly well established by Latter-Day Saints “in the know” (as opposed to the converts who stream to our Church believing in a God who has been eternally all powerful and all knowing) that the King Follett discourse is true as it pertains to its declarations regarding the nature of God. I read King Follett discourse to stand for the proposition that “God” — the supreme power — is not any being (such as our Father in Heaven), but, instead, a process that transforms mere mortals here and there into godhood. This process — this divine evolution — dictates that folks like you and me (and, according to the King Follet discourse, like our Father in Heaven) can become gods.

    I believe that this concept diminishes our Father in Heaven, and implies that He is ultimately subordinate to His own other Father in Heaven, in the same sense that we are subordinate to our Father in Heaven. Such a teaching would be most troubling to our Jewish and Islamic brothers and sisters, as well as to our non-LDS Christian family.

  84. We don’t “deserve” to be saved, no matter what we do. Our church teaches that, but we get accused of believing that we are saved by our works all of the time. I see much of this “debate” as the by-product of fighting what others say about us, not necessarily as a strong difference of opinion with what you are saying.

    If I read what you are saying, Todd, correctly, you would say, “We love Him, because he loved us first.” Also, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (not “works” but fruits connected to and fed by the vine) In short, you would say, “It’s not what you do; it’s what God’s love allows you to become – a tool He can use to accomplish His will.” If this is correct, you and I agree without equivocation.

    I think you are concerned that the way Mormons tend to phrase these things tends to emphasize our part over God’s – that it seems like we take the credit for the end result, instead of “giving the glory to God.” Unfortunately, that perception is correct too often about our phraseology, but I don’t think it reflects the actual doctrine of the Church and the beliefs of most members. I think, rather, that it reflects the historic effort to reject the puppeteer of hardcore Calvinism – an attempt to articulate that we have some degree of responsibility for accepting the Father and the Son and allowing their love to penetrate our hearts and guide our actions. It is our way of staking out the middle ground you and I described a few comments ago.

    FWIW, I think it’s almost impossible for us to say it the same way without effort, because we are positioning against different extremes – you against the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law of Moses (devotion-less “works”) and we against Calvin’s predestination (mindless “grace”). We should respect each position, since we each are trying to repudiate an incorrect extreme.

  85. Todd W.,

    Yes, I am familiar with the parable of the laborers. I think it is relevant to a discussion about grace and divine discretion, but a little off topic here. It can hardly be counted as evidence for unconditional divine favor (in sense 2) given the reams of biblical evidence referring to clearly conditional punishment and judgment.

    My main point is that conditional divine favor (sense 2) is actually evidence of unconditional divine concern (sense 1). He whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and all that.

  86. I do think that in the LDS culture and faith tradition, there is a belief that we “earn” our salvation/exaltation and our blessings. “Grace” and “mercy”, I believe, seem to play lesser roles in our dialogue and, perhaps in our personal soteriological understandings.

    Examples from recent general conferences:

    In the October 2006 conference, Sister Dalton related how Elder Gordon B. Hinckley had advised her and her husband at their wedding as follows: “He said, ‘Always live in such a way that when you need the Lord’s blessings, you can call upon Him and receive them because you are worthy.’ He said: ‘There will come times in your life when you will need immediate blessings. You will need to live in such a way that they will be granted—not out of mercy but because you are worthy.'” Elaine S. Dalton, “Look toward Eternity!,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 31–32 (emphasis added).

    April 2003. President Faust explained, with respect to “exaltation” (which for many LDS is the only kind of “salvation” that matters), how much must be “earned”: “[B]ut exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned.” James E. Faust, “Dear Are the Sheep That Have Wandered,” Ensign, May 2003, 61 (emphasis added).

    October 2004. The way we define “grace” is consistent with this emphasis on our personal roles–we refer to “grace” as an “enabling power” rather than a “gift”. “Grace”, in this conception, is not something Jesus does for us so much as it is something that “enables” us to do and thereby attain eternal life. “‘This 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’”. David A. Bednar, “In the Strength of the Lord,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 76 (quoting LDS Bible Dictionary) (emphasis supplied).

    While I concur that this is certainly inconsistent with the Calvinist evangelical tradition, I do not think it is entirely inconsistent with an Arminian evangelical view–although the LDS view could be said to be Arminianism “on steroids.”

  87. David, I honestly don’t see how the quotes you provided aren’t consistent with what I said – basically that the words we use emphasize our role in the process, but that it is only the Lord’s love and grace that enables us to achieve what we hope to achieve. I am in the King Benjamin “unprofitable servant” camp as to how I see our fundamental doctrine regarding this topic, and I think the quotes you included show my basic point – that we are arguing against predestination, not for a return to Pharisaic Law.

    We are arguing against, “It’s OK to father and neglect children with multiple women as long as you confess the name of Christ,” or “It’s OK to confess and pay in advance for the sins you intend to commit in the future,” or “It’s OK to cheat your business partner as long as you confess the name of Christ,” or – the extreme – “You have no control whatsoever over your actions, since God picked you for salvation or damnation before you were born,” etc. Facing that type of belief, we emphasize true faith as a belief and hope that is so strong that it motivates us to do all we can to obey Him – we emphasize our need to act, not just to profess.

    One of the common threads in what we hear preached is that we cannot do this on our own. We need to read to understand His will, pray for help and strength beyond our own natures, submit to Priesthood leaders and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, etc. Yes, all of these things detail what we must do to “earn” exaltation, but every one of them admits that we need help to “earn” that reward.

    IMHO, the central message of the Atonement as it is taught in scripture and over the pulpit is that we are required to give all we can even though that isn’t enough. Another way to say it would be that we can never do enough to “earn” exaltation; that eternal life is the greatest gift of God. That last statement is included verbatim in every tome we accept as scripture.

    We are to offer our all to Him, then He will take that unworthy offering and consecrate it to our good. He will change our nature – or allow us to change our nature. I personally like the first wording, since I would rather err on the side of supplication (“Please change me and accept my puny effort to earn exaltation.”) than to err on the side of demand (“I earned it on my own; give it to me.”) I don’t think any of the quotes you provided imply the latter – or that those who said them would presume to say that.

  88. JJ
    Well said.

  89. Antonio Parr says:


    Your post reminds me of the importance of repentance in LDS theology, and our belief that God expects more from us than magical incantations of the name “Jesus” to fulfill our purposes here on earth. We are expected to become new creatures, and are expected to shun sin. When we fall short — when we miss the mark — then we are to repent/change, with the confidence that our turning away from sin will free us from the bonds of our past acts, thanks to the Grace and sacrifice of our Lord.

    In spite of this beautiful doctrine, there nevertheless remains considerable conflict over the tension between faith/grace and works. Specifically, we teach that we are saved by grace “after all that we can do.” The challenge of this teaching is that we all fail to do “all that we can do”. None of us is focused 100% of the time on living the Gospel. Each of us has bouts of slothfulness and envy and lust and anger and pride. Thus, when we come to the judgment bar, we all will have to acknowledge that we failed to try 100% of the time and failed to give our all. We will not have repented fully of all of our sins.

    Are we then condemned/damned eternally? Will God withhold his love and presence because we did not do all that we could during our mortal existence. Or will each of us rely upon the Grace — the “tender mercies” — of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ to carry us to our promised mansions?

  90. Antonio:

    We both believe that the Father has always been “God” (by that, I mean fully divine) without beginning. I Latter-day Saints who don’t. My point was that the idea of the Father becoming mortal is no less and no more offensive than the idea of the Son becoming mortal on a particular planet.

    I don’t believe that the notion of “grace after all we can do” means in the least that we must do all that we can before receiving grace — as implied in Robinson’s bicycle analogy. That clearly isn’t grace. Rather, I read 2 Nephi, the point is that we have been made free to choose for ourselves by the atonement, whereas without the atonement we would forever be captive to our sins. Thus, the atonement makes a free to choose as a matter of sheer grace; we are received into relaionship with Christ (that is, we are justified) by sheer grace. However, we must freely choose to accept the relationship graciously offered. To enter into the relationship is to begin the process of sanctification. Sanctification is a process of growth in light, glory and love.

    Now the important part. This is where the confusion about grace and works comes in. Works always related to judgment by works. We receive what we sow. We are judged by our works. Everyone. Reward is based upon works. So we are made free to choose and received into relation as a matter of sheer grace. However, once in the relationship, we abide in the relationship by doing works of love (Gal. 5). We abide in the relationship by keeping the commandments. Thus, the role of grace and works is not at odds. However, these two notions have caused no end of confusion among evangelicals and some Mormons.

  91. Oh you naysayers who said there was nothing to say about this quote….

  92. Thomas Parkin says:

    re: “after all we can do” and me sermoning on Grace

    I noted that a Seventy – don’t have time to hunt it down – changed this phrase in his GC talk to say that we receive Grace “while we do all we can do …” That seems much closer to the mark – certainly much closer to my own experience. I really feel that as we approach doing all we can, we approach receiving a full measure of grace. And that ‘all we can’ may not be much, certainly for some it is very little. We, in no way, earn the grace that is afforded us. We are always, in King Bejamin’s words, unprofitable servants. We are always infinitely in the debtors column. We can never, however we are, whatever we do, get in a position where the Lord owes us a single thing. He keeps his covenants and his promises. But they are very one sided to our advantage. It is, as Jesus says, those who have been forgiven most who love thier Lord best. And that is potentially everyone, as we come to understand the dimensions of our debt to Him.


  93. I also have no problem with using the word “works” – but as I said to Todd, I personally like the word “fruits” better. Works can imply or be read as something we do on our own; fruits connotes the visible result of being connected to roots or a vine. IOW, fruits become dead when they are separated from the source of their nourishment, just as our works become “dead works” if they become detached from the Savior. (He condemned otherwise good works more than once; He said those who do good works for worldly praise and glory “have their reward”; and Matthew 7:21 emphasizes doing the will of the Father, not just performing good works.) The real question, IMO, is not whether we are performing good works, but whether we are “doing the works of the Father and the Son through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.” Are our works His fruits?

    Based on this construction, we are allowed to “earn a great reward” even though we don’t “deserve” it. I personally like the reading of “after all we can do” that changes the order of the phrases and says, “After all we can do, we still are saved by grace.” We tend in our modern time to read “after” as a chronological indicator. We tend to forget that it can be a summary dismissive, as well. When I say, “After all of that, I believe this,” all I really am saying is that nothing I heard changes what I believe. In this sense, “after” simply means “when you get past”. Using this meaning, the quote reads, “We are saved by grace, when you get past all we can do.”

    If we look at it that way, I think much of the tension between our phraseology and Todd’s disappears – without sacrificing any of our beliefs or compromising any principle of the Gospel.

  94. Thomas:

    The quote to which you allude, in which grace is extending while, not just after, we are doing what we can, is in the April 2004 conference by Elder Hafen.,5232,23-1-439-33,00.html

    Elder Hafen states: “It also means learning from our mistakes in a continual process made possible by the Savior’s grace, which He extends both during and ‘after all we can do.'”

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