Matterething Not

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I don’t have a lot of “favorite scriptures.” The occasional verses so designated generally become proof texts that end up trying to support whatever somebody happens to believe. In fact, I would be hard pressed to come up with a favorite verse in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, or the Pearl of Great Price. But I do have a favorite scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants. Four of them, actually. They go like this:

D&C 27:2: For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.

D&C 60:5: But, verily, I will speak unto you concerning your journey unto the land from whence you came. Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis.

D&C 61: 21-22:  Wherefore, let those concerning whom I have spoken, that should take their journey in haste—again I say unto you, let them take their journey in haste. And it mattereth not unto me, after a little, if it so be that they fill their mission, whether they go by water or by land; let this be as it is made known unto them according to their judgments hereafter.

D&C 80:1-3: Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Stephen Burnett: Go ye, go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature that cometh under the sound of your voice. And inasmuch as you desire a companion, I will give unto you my servant Eden Smith. Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss.

I call these verses “The Mattereth Nots,” and I think that they convey a tremendously important spiritual message—namely, that we are called upon to make a whole lot of decisions in this life that don’t matter much to God. And, for some reason, God felt strongly about the bare fact of this not-mattering that He announced in scripture that (in these cases at least) He just doesn’t care.

Some things do matter to God, of course. These verses don’t portray Him as apathetic. But it’s the big end results that he seems to care about—preferring to leave the details and methods up to us. I read this pretty broadly. I tend to see God as a big-picture guy—someone who has provided a fairly basic framework for what constitutes a “good life” and has endowed people with enough intelligence and agency for them to figure out how to live one.

We also have some evidence that God thinks only low-level assistants need to be told what to do all (or even most) of the time (see D&C 58:26-28). You can train people to serve in this way, fairly easily, through a series of explicit instructions tied to immediate rewards and punishments. It is the same way that you train a tiger to jump through a hoop or a chicken to play tic-tac-toe. Ultimately, though, our Heavenly Father is not in the business of training servants.

I like to think that this is why I have never actually gotten an answer to any request that God tell me what I ought to do. Being omniscient and all, for example, God could have helped me out 25 years ago when I had to make the hardest decision of my life: the choice between law school and graduate school right after I graduated from His University in the early 1990s.  He knew which one would make me happier, and he knew the end points of the path each one would start me on. But did he tell me or even give me a nudge in one direction or another? Nope. Nada. Complete silence on all frequencies.

But in that silence, I imagined that I heard the faintest hint of a whisper of a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Do what you will, my child. It mattereth not to me. This is why I gave you a brain in the first place, and, since you’ve got to learn how to use it eventually, you might as well start today.”

And at least for me, it has always been thus.

Comments

  1. Thanks Michael! I have liked these verse too, ever since a wise singles-ward leader talked about the “mattereth nots” multiple decades ago.

  2. thanks. a great message!

  3. Autonomy is an important skill we all need to learn – and obviously one that God has mastered. The best masters give their apprentices room and time to mess up, make hard decisions and grow.

  4. I’ve been trying to convince my recently-returned missionary daughter of this concept without much success, so thanks for this excellent post.

  5. The problem is that we don’t (and cannot) know for certain which things fall into the category of “mattering not” to the Lord. As what’s his name said, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

  6. Thanks for a good post. I also think we too often assume there’s ONE path for us, and that we have to find it or else we will have messed up our life. I have come to believe that for many (most?) of us, our lives do not have a clear path that must be followed. We can reach our “destination” by many different paths, and we end up stressing over too many decisions that don’t matter in the larger scheme of our lives.

  7. Very nice–love the post title! In the end, isn’t this the basic meaning of grace–that, ultimately, it mattereth not to God, what we have done (good and bad), He will save according to His will?

  8. This idea manifests itself among the officer corps of our armed forces. When a general gives a colonel an order, he will tell him what he wants done, but he will ordinarily refrain from telling him how to accomplish that objective. Indeed, most junior officers will take exception to being told how to do their job. It is what gives our military, which of course is far from perfect, the flexibility and creativity required in difficult situations.

    And then, of course, there is this quaint, seemingly forgotten principle, articulated by a dead prophet, so I guess it doesn’t count for much any more: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

  9. Vinz Clortho says:

    I love any citation from Hamlet. Regardless of whether he’s contemplating suicide or not. I like the idea behind his statement, that fear (of the unknown) prevents action.

  10. I had a conversation about this last night–specifically about how miserable some people end up as the bounce from one job to the next (often involving some MLM along the way) trying to follow God’s will for them in their lives, rather than just making a decision and sticking to it.

  11. Nepos, I think your comment misses the mark. It matters a lot to God what we do, good and bad. His grace saves us, but it doesn’t transform evil into good. We can’t be happy if we persist in doing wrong, in spite of God’s grace. The message of these “mattereth not” scriptures is that often God leaves it up to us how to get the work done. He always cares very much that we are engaged in the work.

  12. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    Wait, what, Michael? I’m perplexed that you can say you “don’t have a lot of ‘favorite scriptures'” and that “The occasional verses so designated generally become proof texts that end up trying to support whatever somebody happens to believe.”

    I have plenty of favorite scriptures. These passages have nothing to do with proof-texting. They have everything to do with beauty and emotional power. To wit:

    “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

    Or this:

    “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
    Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
    Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
    Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
    Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
    When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

    What a terrible loss it is to read the Bible as if it were some kind of instruction manual.