Monday, September 30, 2013

Liberty and Grace

Having been familiar with the Plan of Salvation and the war in heaven virtually my entire life, its always been hard for me to understand why any of our Father's children--let alone so many of them--would choose what was so obviously a bad idea, if not an impossible one, over a possibility of exaltation.

If you're not familiar, a quick recap:  LDS theology teaches that before man was created on earth, there was a grand council in Heaven, in which our Father presented his plan for us: we (at this point only spirits without flesh and bone) would receive physical bodies and come to earth, to learn and grow and progress, and then we would be judged according to the deeds we did during our time on earth, and receive a reward commensurate with our obedience and virtue.  Realizing that we were unperfected spirits, our Father knew that we would make many mistakes and missteps--particularly given the fact that, in order to learn by faith and prove ourselves, it would be necessary to place a veil of forgetfulness over our minds when we came to earth--and that we would be incapable of meeting the demands of eternal justice on our own, and would thus require a savior: a perfect, unblemished soul who could and would bear the burdens of us all, that we might, with obedience and repentance, return home and gain what our Father wanted each of us to have: an eternal joy and glory.  Jesus, the eldest of our Father's spirit children, stepped forward and volunteered to pay that price for us.

There was another who stepped forward, as well, and presented another plan.  Lucifer offered a guarantee of "success", as he defined it.  Through compulsion, without the ability to make our own decisions, we would all do what was necessary to receive a guarantee for some pittance of reward, but no one would be lost--no one would be cast out, as we would lack the opportunity to choose those things which might cause us to be cast out.  But neither would we ever attain Celestial glory.  Much like a parent who, for his own selfish indulgence, infantilizes his children, who are then incapable of doing much of what is considered "normal" adult things: doing productive work, raising a family, supporting a community, etc.  For this plan--compulsion and a tiny ration of our Father's lower kingdoms, with no opportunity to learn and grow--he expected worship and glory.  Heavenly Father rejected his plan, knowing that we could never develop the understanding and abilities necessary to become like Him if we were denied the opportunity to make our own decisions and accept responsibility for them.  Lucifer, full of foolish pride, rebelled.  He fought the Father, and those who had accepted the Savior's plan.  And--this is the part that always astonishes me--one third of all the hosts of heaven, a third of all of our Heavenly Father's spirit children, rebelled with and followed Lucifer.  They were forever cast out, losing all opportunity to ever progress, to ever receive a body.

As a child, I found it nearly impossible to understand how so many souls could be that foolish, that proud, that power hungry.  As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that, even among those souls who chose the Lord's way, there are many who would seemingly rather rely on a guaranteed ration, tiny but enough to survive on, than take responsibility for themselves, for their own decisions and future.  So many of us prefer a guarantee of a loaf of bread over the possibility of a feast, and, as many people find out the hard way, when you live that way it turns out that there's not really any guarantee you'll even get the loaf of bread.  You may stand on line all day only to go away empty handed.

Freedom is a bit scary.  Its messy, unpredictable, and failure is not only possible, but more or less inevitable.  It happens all the time.  Many people are so afraid of the idea of failure that they won't take enough responsibility for their lives to even attempt success.

I don't want to turn this into an economic diatribe, but there are certainly parallels.  I'm no free-market ideologue, but I do believe it to be the best system we can have in a fallen world, because, of all the systems that have been tried in human history, it provides the greatest amount of personal freedom and responsibility for the largest number of people, and because I believe in the law of the harvest: you reap what you sow.  I believe this to be true existentially, so why shouldn't it be true in regard to property and wealth?  I realize that the law of the harvest doesn't apply perfectly because of the frailties of men, as well as our poor prioritizing, but it comes by far the closest of any economic system we know.

Due to the environments I've lived in, I've had plenty of opportunity to watch people accept their small ration--demand their ration even--while making no visible efforts to improve their life or their station:  many seem to have little interest in doing anything other than securing that little ration and indulging the natural man, with little concern for the consequences.

I have come to believe that a great many of those souls who were lost in that first war were not so much power hungry (though I certainly believe more than a few of them were) as they were insecure souls terribly lacking in faith:  they saw many of their limits, the many risks of personal freedom, and didn't think they could do it.  A guaranteed ration, however small, seemed better than nothing, and they were convinced that without the ration, they get nothing.

In the temporal world, people who rail against free markets disparage the lack of a safety net for those who have hit hard times, and I'll concede that they have a point--far too often, too many of us are self-interested and stingy.  There is much goodness still, and I know--because I've seen it--that there are families, communities, and individuals who care about the people around them, and will step up and help when someone hits a wall.  Those who rail against the idea of leaving the responsibility to provide that help, that service, to families and communities would seem to lack faith in their fellow man.

But eternal salvation is not temporal economics.  It comes by grace.  Those rebellious souls didn't lack faith in their fellow men--they lacked faith in the Lord's redeeming love. What these insecure souls, with their tunnel vision on failure and loss, seemed not to understand, or believe, is that we all fail.   Repetitively.  We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  But through the grace of the Savior, we do not remain spiritually indigent.  We have the opportunity to start afresh again, and again, and again.  And as we apply the lessons we learn from our mistakes, we get wiser, and we fail a little less often, or a bit less severely.  As we learn to recognize temptation better, and turn to the Savior sooner, and plead for his help more readily and humbly, we get stronger--things that once crippled us no longer even seem tempting.  Bit by bit, we improve.  It sounds counterintuitive when the Savior says, "Come unto me all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . .take my yoke upon you".  Basically,  it sounds like he says, "Hey, since you're tired from carrying a heavy burden, come over here and hitch yourself to my burden."  The reality is, the burden doesn't change much--we are still laden with weaknesses, sins, frailties and failures, but we are yoked to the Savior.  We're side by side with the most powerful companion in the eternity.  If we will just keep picking up our feet and moving forward, he'll shoulder most of the weight and supply most of the power.

Sometimes we get discouraged because we feel like we've been doing that, it started to get a little easier, and then all of the sudden the burden feels very heavy again.  Take heart: it means your share of the load is increasing a little, because your shoulders have gotten broader and your legs have gotten stronger, and the Lord sees that he can shift a little more weight your way and trust that you'll keep moving forward with everything you can muster.  Freedom is a weight: a responsibility, an opportunity.  Successfully moving forward isn't easy.  But no good thing ever is.

Don't fall for the old lie that a ration is enough--that you're too tired, too flawed, too weak.  There are celestial feasts that await you.

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