What Kind of Rules are Commandments?

“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.”— Robert G. Ingersoll

If I had to select one thing that sets my adult spiritual understanding apart from the one I had as a child (i.e. until my late 30s or so) it would be that the adult me has adopted of a religious version of the decidedly non-religious writer Robert Ingersoll’s perspective above: I no longer see God as a rewarder or punisher in the sky, but as a natural force that helps us understand natural consequences.

Let me drill down a bit. One can understand most of the things we call “commandments” in two different ways: as edicts from a divine power who uses our obedience as the grounds for giving us blessings or making us suffer, or as descriptions of the way that both physical and divine nature work.

Take, for example, the Word of Wisdom, perhaps the clearest example of what I am talking about. From one perspective, this is a list of dietary requirements that we should “obey” in order to qualify for “blessings,” such as, say, good health. Switch the lens a little bit and it becomes a straightforward description of the way that nature works: if you abstain from certain harmful things, and eat a moderate, grain-based diet, you will be healthy, not because God will bless you with good health, but because doing those things is what “good health” means. It is a definition, not a transaction.

The longer I live, the more I see pretty much all of the commandments working like this. God doesn’t sit somewhere up in the sky and issue orders for us to obey; He simply describes the way that stuff works and then let’s us choose what we want. “You wanna go to the Celestial Kingdom–this is what it looks like. You want Terrestrial glory, you can do that to. I’m not here to tell you what you want. I just describe the way the universe works”

This distinction relates to a game theory concept that was important to a number of early 20th century linguists: the distinction between “regulative” and “constitutive” rules. Regulative rules constrain play. In football (so I am told) one cannot cross the scrimmage line before the ball is snapped. If you do, and a referee sees you, you get a penalty. If not, you get away with it and secure an advantage. Constitutive rules, on the other hand, create the game. In chess, bishops move along diagonals. This is not a rule that you have to obey or else get a penalty. It is a rule that you have to follow or you are not playing chess. You are doing something else.

The more that I read the New Testament, the more I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is a lot more like chess than like football. When Christ speaks of commandments and the Kingdom of God, He is speaking of constitutive and not regulative rules. The Kingdom is not a place that we can go or a reward that we can qualify for; it is the natural consequence of being a certain kind of person and living among similarly certain kinds of people. Commandments like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are not requirements that we have to fulfill so God will let us into Heaven. They are simply descriptions of what “Heaven” means.

This seems like a simple switch, but it has profound implications for the way that we view things like God, agency, and obedience. Viewed as a regulative, transactional commandment giver, God is a fearsome thing. Not so much God the Father as the Godfather— a powerful but deeply insecure dictator who can be benevolent to his friends but who, when crossed, makes sure that you wake up with a dead horse in your bed. No matter how we try to pretend otherwise, “obedience” to such a God is always going to be based in either greed or fear.

Shift the lens a bit and we end up with something very different: not a force who exists outside of nature issuing rewards and punishments, but a being who understands nature profoundly and, through what we call “commandments” gives us a glimpse of how that nature works. What we do with that information is up to us and is at the heart of what we mean by “agency.” Not all of us will go to the Celestial Kingdom, I suspect, because not all of us will want to—not because we are inferior, but because we prefer different things.

If this is true—and I am pretty certain that it is—Celestial glory is not something we earn; it is simply the definition of what happens when certain kinds of people are together. Salvation and damnation are not rewards and punishments, but consequences. God is not a scary lawgiver, just a really good description writer. And the ultimate reward for living a good life is a good life.

Comments

  1. Brilliant.

  2. Aaron Brown says:

    I like it.

    Anyone who disagrees is a moral troglodyte.

    Aaron B

  3. Allowing for a fairly large translation problem–do we get the descriptions right?–this makes sense. (In a completely confirmation biased way, in that I’ve thought and taught the same thing, although never so well articulated.)

    Since I’m working on a reflection and thought piece on the Church’s disciplinary/worthiness system, that’s where my mind goes. It seems to me that an extension of ‘commandments as description’ could be that the worthiness system (interviews, confession, discipline, recommends) might be thought of as completely voluntary. If you perceive it to be a help in your own efforts to conform your life to God’s descriptions, use it. If not helpful, then don’t.

  4. A great description

  5. Happy Hubby says:

    I like it. I am struggling to even care to go to church and have huge issues with the history, but I do really like Elder Oaks talk from 2000 called “the importance of being” where he says this isn’t a life where we get our check on the “good side of the ledger and on the bad side” and we just tally it up. It is more what kind of person you become. What person ARE you deep inside, not how many times did you help an old lady cross the street.

  6. Thanks for this. I like this; I bristle at any view of God as a vengeful taskmaster.

    But I would love from you more examples of how “the Gospel rules” are constitutive and not regulative. (And how does the role of Jesus Christ play into this worldview? Is Christ’s role less a sacrifice for sin and more the example of a life well lived?)

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I like it as well. Good stuff.

  8. good

  9. I had almost this same conversation last night with my daughter when she was telling me about the 3 degrees of glory lesson from primary.

    To address Hunter’s question, I don’t think thinking of commandments in this way means writing off the redeeming role of Jesus. Because of the fall–because of the nature of the world–we are all damned by our failure–and inability–to be good. It’s not that God is punishing us for being bad, it’s just that fallen human nature is fundamentally incompatible with righteousness. But if we have faith in Jesus, then we can hope to have our nature changed. So if we are redeemed, then we can receive celestial glory, not because we “deserve” it, but because that is where, being redeemed, we fit.

    It’s for this reason that I really do believe that the purpose served by most commandments is not to teach us how to live (though they do that as well) but to lay bare our failure to keep them, destroy any hope we might have of trusting in our own righteousness, and drive us to Christ. That only works, of course, if we are unflinchingly honest with ourselves about our own disobedience.

  10. I’ve been thinking of this ever since putting together the essays on Zion: the idea that Zion is a place we make of our own accord instead of it being forced upon us feels much more natural.

    Also similarly, I’ve been musing on a “do no harm” theological system. There have been and are harmful practices and policies that do more harm to people in the here and now in some effort to secure celestial glory and deny it to others.

  11. Are the constitutive and regulatory views mutually exclusive? Is there room in the analysis for a God who may chastise us to help us so as to help us “become,” or “change our preferences,” as you put it, even if the law of natural consequences might not have had any reason to get upset?

  12. To tie it into a previous post, we can look at Baptism, Endowments, Sealing, etc, as constitutive rules, where we have this life and the next as time to complete.

  13. Katie M. says:

    I really like this and very much agree with pretty much all of it. But I do find the points at the end a bit too relativistic, in that I think we can say the good life is earned, and that choosing the good life is not just a matter of taste (you like this and I like that), but something we can render a value judgement on as inferior or superior. If I was to lose weight by following the law of nature that one must burn more calories than she consumes, than I think it is appropriate to say I “earned” my weight loss. And I think it is appropriate to say that eating healthy is a superior choice to eating junk. And leaving behind earthier examples, if I choose to be compassionate rather than cold hearted, is that not the superior choice?

    The fact that we can call the good life, good, indicates that there superior and inferior ways to live.

  14. Careful JKC, you’re steering very close to Christian orthodoxy there.

  15. This is great, but it could be even better! The OP tends a little too far toward a deistic idea of the universe as a free-running mechanism in which God might help us recognize natural consequences and might even help us navigate those consequences, but nothing more. Better is the notion that “nature” and its consequences are constituted largely (not exclusively) by what we do and say. Our relationships with each other and with God are what matter most. On this view, God effects our salvation—and actively shapes the conditions of our salvation—by loving us and speaking to us. God doesn’t just show us natural consequences; he teaches us how to enter into righteous, eternal relationships with him and with each other.

  16. This lines up nicely with the Buddhist idea of “right living”. Many of my Buddhist friends like to tell me they dont really have commandments and sin etc. But if you have right living you obviously have wrong living! The difference is tone is very significant, though.

    The idea of right living and “constitutive rules” [right living does sound better!] also lines up nicely with our uniquely Restoration viewpoint of their being eternal laws–laws that are not arbitrary. Even God can cease to be God.

  17. Thomas Parkin says:

    This is so good. It gives language to a perspective I’ve held for many years, but have never able to communicate so succinctly and clearly.

  18. Loursat, I approach your same observation from the other direction, thinking that the requirements version of commandments derives from a too-small vision of god. The image of god as a white-haired dictator in the sky naturally lends itself to rules and requirements. The image of an as large-as-creation god (which may be deist but doesn’t need to be) naturally lends itself to descriptors of ways to connect.

  19. Coming from you, Kullervo, I’ll take that as a compliment!

  20. Very interesting! I really like this idea that you present and tend to agree with you. However, in the modern church, we are so often taught over the pulpit that God is more like Santa Clause, rewarding those who follow the commandments and punishing those who don’t. D&C 130:20-21 comes to mind for the former and 2 Ne. 23:11 for the latter. Obedience and “exact obedience” are held out as carrots to missionaries that there will be great rewards as they follow the rules, and no talk about tithing is complete without the threat of being burned at His coming. Likewise, all references to obtaining the Celestial Kingdom as an earned reward for obedience. I also hear people speak with almost a glee about those who don’t follow the commandments will get their punishment. It is just so pervasive and tied up in religion that your thoughts (as good as they are) may be reflected on and logically agreed to, but the dominant narrative will unfortunately continue as is.

  21. Charles DeWitt says:

    God is not a scary lawgiver, He is a Loving Lawgiver. We choose to come to earth and there will be a certain level of glory for almost all of us. If we choose poorly and not repent before we die, there will be a temporary punishment (Doctrine and Covenants 76:81-85) and then go to the lowest glory…but still a glory for having chosen to follow God’s Plan and come to earth.

  22. Isn’t the Word of Wisdom precisely the counter-argument for this view? Despite Legrand Richards move in A Marvelous Work and a Wonder to view the Word of Wisdom in terms of practical health consequences there’s always been a big tension there. For one, the health effects of tea and coffee in moderation seem at worst neutral and more likely a reasonable net positive. Sure tobacco is an easy win in decreasing significantly bad health. But the rest seems constroversial at best.

    I think a stronger sense is that they are things God asked us to do that separate us from others and help us maintain an identity. (The fact that the more overt health aspects of grains and fruit aren’t emphasized as much suggests this quite strongly – it acts somewhat like Kosher meals do for Jews)

    That’s not to say there aren’t consequential aspects to most of the commandments. I think there are. However the danger to seeing them purely in that way is that we miss the “trial of faith” aspect of being obedient to God asking us something that isn’t obviously ethical or consequential.

  23. James Campbell says:

    I generally like the article and the perspective it presents but I am left with some questions.

    First: If a commandments are simply descriptions of the way that both physical and divine nature work and if we are simply to follow the directions given by a philosophy of following rules of right living (no disrespect to the divine Siddhartha intended) to achieve both physical blessings and divine blessings does this not make God simply some sort of super cosmic mechanic or Guru instead of a creator God?

    Second: I think the part of the description of commandments as describing how physical nature works begs the question of how such a view squares with real world observations. For example individuals who strictly follow the word of wisdom sometimes still get stomach cancer. Does following the commandments as described in the article work all the time, most of the time, sometimes or just occasionally. If the rules don’t work all the time in the physical world how can we know they work differently in the divine sphere.

    Third: If the scriptures are correct God does, for various reasons, intervene in human affairs. Think Noah, Job, The atonement, the conversion of Saul, the First vision. If all we need is a list of commandments why the interventions.

    Fourth: How does Satan figure into this theory of commandment? For that matter if “Not all of us will go to the Celestial Kingdom, …. because not all of us will want to—not because we are inferior, but because we prefer different things.” why would an atonement be necessary.

    I think the article does present a interesting and perhaps a more adult spiritual understanding of some aspects of what commandments are and are not. However, I do not think it is a complete view. I would hope that if someone has a more complete view perhaps they could enlighten all of us.

    JEC

  24. LaVonne Clark says:

    Beautifully on the mark! Love your analogy of the Commandments. However, I believe Divine intervention is available to us through prayer. Your analogy comes inline
    with the Lord’s statement that He came to give us life more abundantly. What a lovely, fair way to think on the Commandments! Thank you!

  25. James, it’s late, and I’m off to bed, but I’ll take a shot. I’ll try responding in the morning if there’s more.

    First – What we have isn’t an exhaustive set of rules. There’s quite a lot we’re not privy to. I agree with the mechanic, though I’d go more of a programmer (as it’s my field), just on a level of complexity much higher than we can currently comprehend.

    Second – I’d again go to the complexity. For any individual person, we’ve no idea what other things are involved. Could be following the WoW added years that wouldn’t have been otherwise. Admittedly, this can make it hard to trust, since we can’t depend on any one rule being the absolute “trump card” for every situation.

    Third – wow, same. It’s being a bit frustrating that I seem to be going a lot to “just have faith that God’s got it all in hand”, but ultimately I’m not sure where else we can go. Kind of like a 3 year old wondering why someone as smart as a doctor is sticking a needle in them.

    Fourth – the easier one. Atonement is necessary because without it there would be no possibility of any rewards whatsoever. As for Satan, he’s using the rules he knows to try and mess up God’s plan, but will ultimately have made little difference to the outcome. Satan thought giving the fruit to Adam & Eve would make him “God of this world”, the spot already planned for Jesus. Satan thought he knew the rules, but got it wrong and continues to throw a tantrum about it.

    Anyway, that’s all my take on things. Hope it helps, and hope others will also chime in with their thoughts.

  26. Penny Roche says:

    Exactly…..”We can have eternal life if we want it, but only if there is nothing else we want more” Bruce C. Hafen

  27. Emily U says:

    “The more that I read the New Testament, the more I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is a lot more like chess than like football.” Yes. I see obedience much the way you do, Michael Austin. I wish I’d reached my conclusions through pondering scripture rather than through painful experience, but I guess experience is what life is for. My religious education was full of God as the “regulative, transactional commandment giver” and shaking that off and replacing it with God as a loving describer of constitutive rules was risky business, in that replacing the former with no god at all felt like (still feels like) a very valid possibility for me. I’m raising my kids on the idea of the latter, and I’m very interested to see how this influences their spiritual lives, long-term.

    jimbob asks an interesting question above. I’d like it to be true that God the rule-describer can intervene as a regulator at times, but there isn’t much empirical evidence for that in my experience. I kind of wish there was.

  28. Good thoughts, in both the OP and the comments. For me, the problem with either view of God is our interpretation of his communications to us. My experience is that personal spiritual communication is devilishly difficult to decipher. I’ve been dead sure at times that I knew what the Spirit was telling me, but in the end I was dead wrong. My observation indicates that the prophets struggle with the same difficulty. Consequently, we get doctrines such as the necessity of accepting and living polygamy in order to get into the celestial kingdom or the infamous priesthood ban. There are numerous other examples of “commandments” that seem all too influenced by human prejudice or narrow interpretation. We have this nice little myth that the prophets speak God’s will with perfect clarity, but reality tells us that it isn’t quite so simple. Go work for the corporate side of the Church, and you’ll see how off some of the stuff coming down from the authorities is. Believe it or not, they are fully capable of making bad business decisions. We still accept them as inspired, but we need to be careful about granting them de facto infallibility.

    So, what is heaven really like? Is it like the corporate Church? I hope not. Some of the “descriptions” of heaven we get through official channels in the form of “commandments” would make heaven into one grand eternal bureaucracy.

  29. I determined long ago (in my pre-Mormon days, actually) that sinful acts aren’t such because God says so, but that some acts are sinful because they separate us from God. Too often — and this happens in LDS Mormonism a lot — the purpose of life seems to be to follow an arbitrary list of rules and cross certain ordinances off the list. But the purpose of life is so much more than that — it’s to become the same type of person that our Savior was, one with God.

    And the fact that we are empowered to do that is because of the grace given to us in some mysterious way through the life, suffering and death of Jesus.

    Thanks, Michael, for this excellent post, and thanks, JKC, for your comment that made the post complete for me.

  30. Bro. B. says:

    Clark, I have to agree with your example of the WOW being an outlier to the constitutive rule idea. It does seem to be a “distinguisher” more than a constitutive rule, like kosher food to a Jew, just that unlike the Jewish rule, WOW compliance is still required for one to be an official card carrying member of the LDS faith (a rule that I hope someday gets supplanted like kosher did, or modified). It’s hard to take the eating of grains as a constitutive positive rule when you see celiac disease and chronic diabetes resulting from so much flour consumption (granted, most people are adding too much sugar consumption along with it–but flour just gets processed to sugar in the body). IMO most of the constitutive rule benefits to the WOW are the unspecified things inherent in it, like eating in variety and moderation, the prohibition from drug abuse, etc.

  31. Mark Clark says:

    Your view of god as description giver (and a bad one at that, seeing as how Mormonism is replete with ambiguities and contradictions) implies that some sort of natural force created god and that god is simply describing what is needed for the best possible outcome with this natural force, being reaching the Celestial Kingdom (and it is not exactly clear in Mormon teachings why inhabiting the Celestial Kingdom is inherently better than inhabiting the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms). The problem is that in describing god as a description giver and not a lawgiver, you are describing a religion that is different from Mormonism. The leaders of the LDS church organization are the only ones who can provide a legitimate definition of what Mormon beliefs are and should be, not the intellectual followers. The Mormon god is a lawgiver and punisher. He is the judge of where we go after we die, not nature itself. Plus the Mormon god is a tricky rule changer. Not drinking alcohol used to be a mere recommendation, now it is a requirement.

    Sorry, but you do like so many other intellectual Mormons do, including many on this blog: you come up with a version of Mormonism that is just not compatible with what the LDS leaders teach and with the parts of the LDS cannon that they emphasize as the most relevant. What you claim is Mormonism just isn’t so.

  32. In partial response to questions about how this could work, and ‘aren’t you setting up a false god to make it work?’ my response — somewhat repeating myself — is that I start with God as creator making the universe and human beings within the universe in such a way that the several “commandments” are instruction and direction and definition of how we can form a relationship with God (whether through positive action, or JKC’s mediated failure, it’s still the relationship that counts). Then the pieces fit together for me.

    Not incidentally, the relationship approach I describe above has no place for a vending machine god, where a dime gets you terrestrial and a dollar gets you celestial. But it has plenty of room for an interventionist deity, however you think that works in practice.

    For those who would make an issue or distinction of the Word of Wisdom, I wish you would distinguish between the Joseph Smith version and the Heber J. Grant version. It seems (to me) completely fair to read Section 89 on the whole as definition rather than transaction. Grant did move us rather far in the distinguisher and transaction direction, and by particular emphasis on the coffee/tea/alcohol/tobacco left us with a mismatch to almost any modern version of a health code. But I persist in the thought (heretical to some, I know) that the Grant version has a significant element of early 20c social philosophy and political culture to it.

  33. What roles do the atonement and ordinances play in this model? Can I dwell with Celestial beings as a good Lutheran, for example?

  34. IMHO, Excellent thoughts in the OP and some comments. I agree with many of them. But what attracted me to this post is the initial quote from Ingersoll (not that I know who that is). In the mid-1980’s I found this exact wording (but with no attribution) in a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant and saved it because it very succinctly articulated something I believed . I had, prior to that, come to the conclusion that God is not the origin of “punishments” or “blessings” or “rewards.” Rather, they occur by chance or due to our own action/inaction…consequences.

  35. At first it sounds like a nice theology, but it leads to deism, and ultimately to Spinoza, who accidentally proved that God was irrelevant. It’s like the opposite side of the coin to double-predestination Calvinists, whose God is also irrelevant, though for different reasons. [One of the more amusing experiences of my life was when a double-predestination Calvinist tried to convert me. When I asked why I should worship his God, he was forced to waffle about grace.]

  36. Michael H says:

    Havent read comments and I may be oversimplifying your post, but do you think the non-regulative God you describe contradicts procedures like the Temple Recommend interview?

  37. Christian, while I’m very sympathetic to distinguishing between D&C 89 proper and what we call the Word of Wisdom today as a practical matter, I’m not sure that resolves things in the least. The basic problem is that D&C 89 simply raises things like coffee that don’t have the consequentialist results demanded. Yes, one can always appeal to more neglected aspects of 89 such as the conspiracy angle (certainly true with snake oil salesmen in the 19th century) as well as technological aspects (the comments about summer consumption seemed tied to lack of preserving technology in the 19th century). I’m not sure that ultimately saves the idea of commandments being purely consequentially.

    The big problem is of course that if you decide all commandments are merely consequential, you can then simply dismiss anything that doesn’t fit as “not really a commandment.” As others note that pretty well puts one well towards the deist-like position. Further it avoids the obvious question of commandments of ritual that don’t have obvious consequentialist aspects. Effectively what I’m saying is that both D&C 89 and the 20th century form have a ritualistic component. By treating consequentialist commands as all that matters you are effectively repressing the place of separation and ritual. Yet if you restore ritual to prominence, then you pretty well have to abandon the consequentialist perspective since ritual has such a significant arbitrary component.

  38. Mark, I think we have to distinguish between God as lawgiver from God as lawmaker. My sense is that much of what God does he does because it’s good and he’s seen it done on prior creations. I certainly don’t deny that many commandments ultimately have strong consequentialist components. God gives us laws because they help us. Yet it doesn’t take much thought to realize that some useful things have an arbitrary component.

    Consider raising kids. There are lots of principles to raising kids such as teaching them the value of work. But how one teaches them the value of work seems to have an arbitrary component. I can command them to mow the law, do the dishes or other chores. Yet in deciding what chores to assign them there is that arbitrary component. If we demand that commandments have only immediate consequentialist aspects then we neglect this arbitrary aspect. There’s still a consequential aspect to the commandment, but there are many different ways it could have been implemented.

    The constant danger is people can decide it’s all about consequences is that their views upon what is consequentialist becomes all that matters. That is the commandments themselves become secondary. This has to effects. First off it effectively makes secular ethics the only real commandment. Secondly it completely hinders ones relationship with God since God’s attempts to engage with us through commandment are neglected with only the proven non-consequentialst angles accepted. While ritual is one example of that I’d argue that in religion most commandments have a ritual component just as they have a consequential component.

  39. “if you restore ritual to prominence, then you pretty well have to abandon the consequentialist perspective since ritual has such a significant arbitrary component” — I don’t see that at all. It is perfectly logical, and I believe ‘true’ in some sense, that ritual is an important part of religious practice and therefore return to or developing a relationship with God.

    I would allow that the sometimes Mormon concept of a particular ritual, including its apparently arbitrary components, being the one and only correct and necessary form, does challenge the consequentialist view. However, I hold to a more (lower case) catholic view of ritual and in that sense have no difficulty including ritual in a consequentialist view of commandment.

  40. Christian, I think you miss the point though. It’s not the issue of whether it’s the only way it could be done. It’s the question of whether it the way God asked it be done. A subtle but important difference. To reuse the analogy, if I ask my son to do the dishes and instead he sweeps the floor and says it’s arbitrary, I don’t think he’s learning what he needs to be learning.

  41. If I ask my son to mow the lawn and he cuts diagonals instead of spirals . . .

  42. Exactly! Which is why one of my sayings is “choose TRUE liberty.” So many people think they can choose whatever moral course they want and happiness will come just because they want happiness. However, that is not how this works. Every moral course has a moral consequence–good or bad–“And [we] are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death.” Thus, true liberty–true freedom–comes only from making correct moral choices.

    God knows that and has told us what those moral choices are–in an open book test! Now, it is up to us, as Neal A. Maxwell used to say, to “educate our desires” and WANT to make those choices.

    Another of my sayings is “God, Politics, and Natural Consequences: Why God’s Law makes Good Law.” His laws are the best!!! Which is why Latter-day Saints call it the Plan of Happiness! Not conforming our moral lives to God’s Laws is, like the Lord told Saul, just kicking against the pricks. It will get us no where fast. Or, as Cecil B. DeMille told BYU students way back in 1957, “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them—or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God. God means us to be free.”

  43. Thank you for this good seed and deed of thought. It must be tilled to see its true fruit of which I am sure can be good

  44. LOL – like so many others, I agree that this is a brilliant essay, because you have articulated so well something that I myself believe but have never put into words quite so well. :)

    There is no one so brilliant as the person who concurs with you! :)

  45. Old Man says:

    I think Blake Ostler presented some similar thoughts.

  46. Old Man says:

    “Not all of us will go to the Celestial Kingdom, I suspect, because not all of us will want to—not because we are inferior, but because we prefer different things.”

    I believe you let a bit of moral relativity creep into your system. I am pretty sure that hanging with Hitler and Stalin in the Telestial Kingdom is very inferior to enjoying the fellowship of Mother Teresa and Spencer Kimball in the Celestial.

  47. Really enjoyed the post. However, I’m not sure about the description of God as an objective, descriptive writer. I think He’s deeply biased about what our preferences should be. And for that reason I think he does send bad things our way — suffering, trials, extreme wealth/poverty, Scout Leader calling — in order to help effect a change of heart (i.e., change of preferences) in us. It’s not retributive, mind you. It’s all about agency. But I don’t think that the gospel is just about laying out the menu of choices and letting us pick what consequences we happen to want. The gospel is deeply, unapologetically interested in affecting our choices. But it does so through subtle changes to our habits of being. God is the ultimate nudge-based sovereign.

  48. ” I am pretty sure that hanging with Hitler and Stalin in the Telestial Kingdom is very inferior to enjoying the fellowship of Mother Teresa and Spencer Kimball in the Celestial.”

    Lets see, a light estimate of 15 billion people just from this Earth strewn over the millennia, times however many “endless worlds” mean, what 1000, a million? There’s quite a good chance you could wander any of the Kingdoms for several eternities and never meet anyone from your mortal planet, time period, and region.

    Also considering there will be a number of people who will choose Terrestrial, even with God and Jesus in front of them (as there were 1/3 who didn’t want to even come as far as this mortality), why wouldn’t people decide that Telestial is what’s for them? People make all sorts of decisions that someone else considers “inferior”. You can do your best to convince others that your way is the really superior one, but in the end, it’s their choice, eh?

  49. Aplineglow says:

    In many ways I agree with this. But I think viewing everything this way can cause problems. I’ve been reading a lot about Eliza R. Snow’s views on polygamy recently. The early Saints came up with all sorts of narratives to make polygamy make logical sense. They were then satisfied that this folk doctrine explained the laws of God. (Same with the Priesthood/Temple ban.) The problem is that these folk doctrines made (false) assumptions about “why,” and those assumptions then infected culture in really unhealthy ways.

    Personally, I would rather just sit with “I know not, save the Lord commands” in some cases than come up with grand explanations for how God’s law works that then cause other problems. Sometimes, God’s commands are truly mysterious to us. I want to be able to say to God, “This makes no sense.” I want the possibility that His response is, “I know; this is a trial that I will work for your good but doesn’t have grand cosmological meaning.” And I don’t want fellow Saints gaslighting my concerns by coming up with logical justifications about what a command tells us about how the universe operates.

    Moreover, to me, this “I will obey, but this makes no sense” approach leaves room for both humility and incredulity, both of which are important for further revelation. I think we can get too complacent when we assume everything makes sense somehow.