Sunday, April 01, 2007

Love and the Law

Love is the perfect motivator. Not only does it dictate our ends, it also tempers our means. This was never more evident than it was with our Savior. His constant call was, "Come, follow me. I know the way to joy and peace. Do what I'm doing, and you'll get there." During life's battles, He was always on the front lines. And He never asked anyone to do anything He wasn't willing to do Himself.

And it was love that motivated Jesus' atoning sacrifice. Never had man or woman suffered, nor will man or woman ever suffer pain to the degree that Jesus suffered in Gethsamane and on Golgotha's cross. In an incomprehensible way, Jesus shrunk beneath the aggregate of mankind's sins, but glory be to the Father, Jesus partook of the bitter cup because He so loved the world and His Father, our Father, so loved the world.

How stunning to think that as the Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, spat on Jesus, mocked Jesus, and drove nails through Jesus' hands and feet, He suffered it "because of his loving kindness and his long suffering towards the children of men." 1 Nephi 19:9.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of God's love for us and the greatest gift of all the gifts we have received from God. We have received more gifts than we can number from God, and all of them are to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. Moses 1:39.

As hard as we may try, there is no way we will ever be able to repay our Father and Savior for their gifts to us. But what do they ask of us to say thank you? They ask us to keep the commandments. Mosiah 2:22.

"If ye love me, keep my commandments," Jesus pleaded. John 14:15. Additionally, Jesus summed all the commandments into the two Great Commandments: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Matthew 22:37-40. Thus, to love is a commandment.

Like it or not, love and the commandments are inseparable.

And it is precisely because God loves us that He has given us commandments, some of which may seem excessively restrictive. But consider this: If there were no commandments, there would be no sin, and if there were no sin, there would be no condemnation. Without condemnation, there would be no need for a Savior.

Jesus didn't have to go through the agony of Gethsemane or the horrors of Golgotha.

The easy way, the painless way, would've been to withhold the law, commandments which God knew we would break anyway.

As evidenced by God's willingness to give us commandments that we would not always follow and His willingness to send His Son to satisfy the demands of the broken commandments, there is more to the commandments that the restriction of our "freedom."

Commandments are an invitation to become like Christ and our Heavenly Father. They possess a fullness of joy. They know true happiness. And obedience to each commandment tempers our characters and natures until we become like Them, "purified as [they] are pure." Moroni 7:48; 1 John 3:3.

What we do not recognize when we sin is that by so doing, we are acting in a manner contrary to the nature of God and contrary to the nature of happiness. Alma 41:11.

With each commandment, God is pleading with us to be happy!

Additionally illustrative of God's love is His treatment of the sinner. Regardless of our religious denomination, we often receive the counsel to hate the sin but love the sinner. And Jesus showed us how in John 8:1-11:

While at the temple, the Pharisees brought before Him a woman caught in adultery, only murder and denying the Holy Ghost are worse sins. See Alma 39:5. "The law says," they quoted, "such shall be stoned. What sayest thou?"

Jesus, paying little attention to them said, "Let he among you his without sin cast the first stone at her."

Convicted by their consciences, the mob dispersed, and Jesus was alone with the sinner.

"Has no man condemned thee?" Jesus asked.

"No man, Lord."

"Neither do I condemn thee; Go and sin no more."

The time for final judgement was not yet, and there was still hope for this woman, a daughter of God, caught in sin's snare. But her hope and future happiness hinged on sinning no more, for if she continued in sin, Jesus would have no choice but to condemn her on the day of judgement.

But I suspect Christ's love for her in not condemning her while unequivocally condemning her sin wrought so powerfully upon her that she went and sinned no more. And she began living in accord with the nature of happiness.

In the Americas, after Jesus' ascension and resurrection, He commanded the leaders of His Church to forbid the unworthy from participating in the ordinances of the Gospel, but instructed them, "ye shall not cast [the unworthy] out from among you, but ye shall minister unto [them] and shall pray for [them] unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that [they] repent[] and [are] baptized in my name, then shall ye receive [them], and shall minister unto [them the ordinances of my Gospel]." 3 Nephi 18:30.

When we recognize that the commandments are a manifestation of God's love for us and are calculated to bring us joy, it becomes much easier to obey. And it becomes easier for us to follow the example of Jesus as we deal with those who are caught in sin.

I testify of God's love for us in giving us commandments and in sending His Son to save us from broken commandments. I testify that love and the law are in harmony because of Jesus Christ. And I testify that as we treat each other as Christ would treat us, we will inspire each other to love God and keep His commandments.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well put. Just a few questions, more so requests for definitions.

"Like it or not, love and the commandments are inseparable."

What commandments are you referring to?

"I testify that love and the law are in harmony because of Jesus Christ."

What do you mean by "the law"?

Craig Pankratz said...

The commandments I'm referring to are those contained in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and the directives of modern prophets. The only exclusion to that list is the Law of Moses, which was fulfilled with Christ's sacrifice.

My use of "the law" is as a synonym for the commandments.

One of the best explanations of how the law, justice, and mercy all meet is found in Alma 42 of the Book of Mormon. You'll really like that explanation.

-Best,
Craig

Anonymous said...

ok, so where do the two that jesus spoke of fit in that list? is one commandment more important than another?

Craig Pankratz said...

Great question. The two Great Commandments encompass all other commandments. Love God is the most important and encompasses all commandments dealing with devotion and worship. And it even encompasses the commandments that we don't know the reason for having them: We obey those because we trust and love God.

"Love thy neighbor" encompasses all the commandments that deal with our relationships. And loving and serving our neighbors is the way we show that we love God. See Mosiah 2:17.

And that's part of what I mean when I say love and the commandments are inseparable. If we truly love God and truly love our neighbors, then we will keep all the commandments we've recieved.

And, honestly, loving God is easy, but loving our neighbor. . . .

Anonymous said...

so then why didn't Jesus say just say by two commandments i really mean 2,000 (or however many there are).

to me the 2 commandments are the paradoxical simple complication.

humans attempts to define what those mean by adding more commandments confuses, in my view, what is already a confusing issue.

therefore i am with you in spirit but i can't go down the same road in practice.

i entrust my wandering confusion to the words of Christ and not the words of men

Anonymous said...

Good Friday/Easter quote

"Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose it must be at an end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine."
---H.J. Iwand

Anonymous said...

Anon. back again. I really like the song "new law" by derek webb, I think it sums up my reservations with having more than the 2 commandments jesus gave.

vs. 1)
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus)
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

(chorus)
i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

(vs. 2)
don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
Lyrics
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus/chorus)

(bridge)
what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

Craig Pankratz said...

Anon,

Those are some interesting lyrics. And I have a few thoughts:

Do you really love God if you don't put Him before any others?

Do you really love God if you worship worldly things?

Do you really love God if you profane His name?

Do you really love God if you fail to honor His day?

Do you really love your neighbor if you fail to honor your parents?

Do you really love your neighbor if you kill them?

Do you really love your neighbor if you fail to live a chaste life?

Do you really love love your neighbor if you steal what is rightfully his?

Do you really love your neighbor if you lie to him?

Do you really love your neighbor if you covet his possessions?

I could go on, but I leave the answers to you. It is my conviction that the commandments that I am asked to keep are how I manifest my love to my God and my neighbors because if I fail to keep one of them, I fail to love.

Again, I always wish you the very best as you strive to love and live as you believe God wishes you to.

And I do enjoy our conversations. This Sunday I'm responding to a question about Mormon attitudes toward minorities. I'm sure it's a topic you'll enjoy reading about, based on one of your earlier comments about some of the art on my blog.

As always, I am your humble servant,

Craig

Anonymous said...

Do you really need to ask yourself those questions if you really try to love god and love your neighbor?

In other words do you really need more than the 2 commandments to be your compass? Do you...?

Craig Pankratz said...

Yes, I do need more than two commandments because I need to know what it means to love and how to love. I guess I'm just not smart enough to figure it out on my own by just reading the Two Great Commandments.

The additional commandments show me what it means and how to love. I figure that's why God gave them and commanded His servants to communicate them to us and write them in the Scriptures.

Best,
Craig

Anonymous said...

figuring out how to love like christ is hard.

however you don't need to say that your not smart enough to figure it out by just reading the 2. sure, as a rhetorical tool that comment gives your point of view strength by submitting yourself to the complex weight of the 2; but the thing is who said that you or I had "to figure anything out." that implies there is an answer, that implies that the point of the human struggle is the destination and downplays the all important journey.

i think i understand you as saying that it isn't that the 2 aren't good enough, what it sounds like you are saying is that in fact the 2 are so hard that there is no way to really wrap your heart around them without more guidance. if so i totally agree with that, the 2 aren't enough for me to "figure anything out" either; but they are good enough for me to struggle trying.

the way i see it is that before the temple veil was torn, humans were so far separated from God that they needed intermediaries and rules and laws and sacrifices in order to close the gap in communication and put us back in union with god.

christ was the personal gap closing, unifying, relationship building conduit- a perfect mediator, counselor, teacher, pastor that tore down all the law that could be kept but that ultimately got people nowhere.

so christ gave us 2. 2 really hard things that individualize the struggle and more importantly individualize the relationship.

anything other than the 2 is arguably an individual struggle, but it is not as dynamic of a struggle in my opinion.

for example, say someone can meet 65% of the laws in the Pearl of Great Price. they are really good at 65% of the stuff so they start to work on the 35% they are not good at. soon they are good at the 35% but are starting to fall behind on the other 65% they used to be good at.

although the struggle to adhere to the Pearl is individualized to an extent, that original 65% may not have been that much of a struggle to begin with, so what was the benefit from doing it well? and what is the benefit to now being able to do the 35% well.

so what i am getting at is that the 2 laws allow for personalized, individualized struggle that is not confined by checklists.

i know from my experience that i used to think i had to do x,y, or z in order to be in communion with god. that just created a viscious cycle of self-flaggelation in the end; for when i failed, which i was destined to do I beat myself up over my failure. i am not saying every person will do that, but i sort of see that same sentiment in your comment about how your not smart enough to figure things out on your own (a comment which you have made in some vein previously).

if we think that we are too dumb to figure out how to love like christ that is fine, it is stating the obvious, but that should be a pit stop on the journey. a quick acnowledgement and nothing more.

we need to get back out there and struggle, we need to try to catch up to jesus on that road and be covered in the dust of our rabbi.

stopping along the way to check off our progress doesn't always but can in effect trap is into the role of the constant map-checker who doesn't see the 2 signs that are there in front of us to guide us.

what is ultimately the most important part of the 2 is how they bring us out from the grave.

depression, alcohlism, addictions, abusiveness, etc are all things that when you are the one experiencing those things seem like they are pits you will never escape.

what i think the 2 does is find that person, that alcoholic or addict where they are at. the 2 does not through a mess of stuff at them, but it gives them a rope of hope out rather than a ladder of law.

i use the analogy to rope because it is harder to climb a rope then walk the rungs of the ladder.

each rung can represent a law, but once you have passed one it is no longer necessary or it becomes less apparent as a necessity to the overall journey.

a rope on the other hand is hard to climb, it can be coarse and burn you, but you have to have your whole body wrapped in it to effectively use it.

one reason i think religions are so popular is because they offer more than the 2. that is why i have personally moved as far away from "churches" as i can and truly desire to be in a community of rope climbers.

when i studied the black muslim movement in the u.s at the time that malcolm x was moving up in the ranks of the nation of islam i realized that one of the reasons it was so attractive was that it provided young black men in particular a way out. it gave them structure, and it gave them confidence, it gave them support. it taught them how to love themselves when before they had not felt they could do anything. it also taught them how to love god. it did this by providing them laws. what it didn't do was teach them how to love others just as much as they loved themselves. the militant nature of the movement is ultimately what allowed for the peaceful nature of MLK's movement to draw in enough white support in washington to bring change--- the alternative to accepting MLK was having to deal with X and his growing army.

i say all of that about X because i see in almost every evangelical denomination a sense of militantism. i see rules and laws.
i see these rules and laws as being mostly good, but i am never impressed by mostly good things, especially when they can in some rare occassions turn into really bad things: the crusades, the persecution of jews, and of course even the horrible abuse and persecution of Mormons.

so i recuse myself to the 2, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. not because i don't need help trying to figure anything out, but because i don't even know what the anything is.

Craig Pankratz said...

Anonymous,

That was extremely well put. And you're right that if we keep the hardest two commandments, we keep them all. And your third paragraph does encapsulate my point of view precisely.

Excellent, excellent comment.

Best,
Craig