One of the things that I and my LDS friends have been criticized (or just looked at funny) for is how “strict” our church is. I guess people think we have a lot of “rules.” In a way, they might be right about that. “Rules” really isn’t the best word for it though. Even the word “commandments” can make some people a little uneasy. When I hear it though, I have learned to think of it as a guide line. Basically God’s commandments say, “if you do this, you will be happy and you will become a better person. If not, you miss out on both of those.” Like someone just told me, “It is impossible to break the commandments. You can only break yourself against them.” I want to explain what this means and tell you why I do the things that I do; call them rules, commandments, or whatever they are.
To begin, two things must be understood. First off, I make choices for myself. I choose to live the way I do because I love it. It makes me happy and it helps me change for the better. Nobody makes me do it, and really, there’s not a ton of outside pressure to live a certain way. I’ve been taught good principles and I have discovered for myself that they are true.
Secondly, I’m no where near perfect. I struggle just like the next guy. I do make poor choices all too often and I suffer the natural consequences. That’s life. But I try to learn from it, try to do better, and seek the things that make me happy and give me peace.
In my church we have many commandments. But ultimately, Christ said there are two that matter above all else: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). If we do that, we are set.
I have learned recently that the “thou shalt not’s” aren’t really my main problem. It’s the “thou shalt’s” that get me. Do I love my neighbor as myself? That’s why we “mormons” have so many commandments added to help us with those main 10 that everyone reads about. Each helps us personally become better and to love more and follow the big 10 more perfectly. In the end God wants us to be able to love Him and our neighbor naturally. Let me tell you a personal story that may explain what I mean by “natural consequences” and “love naturally”. Members of my church are “commanded” (counseled or advised might be my choice of words here, but they are commandments nonetheless) to do things like pray and read scriptures daily as well as attend church and temple services regularly. With school and work and family, life kinda gets in the way for me sometimes, especially for those daily things. I had fallen short on that commandment for a little while.
For a short time, I found myself saying and doing things here and there that weren’t like me and certainly not like Christ. I was more impatient, rude, and temperamental than usual. Personal and family life became rather unhappy at times (natural consequences). After some chastening from the Lord, I realized I needed to get those habits back into gear. Slowly, I naturally thought before I spoke or acted. A completely different attitude filled (and is filling) my soul and my home (natural love). Thus, “doing” naturally took care of the “don’t do’s.”
Most of all, it is important to think about why God ultimately “gives” us commandments. When He created the earth was He like, “Hmmm, I think I will tell them that they can’t go to Heaven if they aren’t nice to each other?” Not exactly. All that God works for -His purpose- is to give us, his children, immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39). That means that he wants a lot more than for us to just go to Heaven. He lovingly gives us the commandments, or guidelines, to become immortal, perfected beings like Him.
C.S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian writers, puts this in the best way I can think. He said,
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him-for we can prevent Him, if we choose-He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
What he is saying is that God intends us to be like Him (…a topic for another day). When C.S. Lewis said “if we let Him,” I think he means, if we chose to follow God (a.k.a. keep his commandments). He is also saying that it isn’t always easy. And that’s when people start using words like “rules” and “strict” to make those commandments seem unnecessary or untrue. No matter what we call them, they are from God, the One who knows best. As I said, I nor anyone I know is perfect. We constantly fall short, we feel the natural pains of sin, and we change to become better. Thanks to Jesus Christ, that sin or mistake or bad habit can be completely erased and we come closer to that attainable goal of perfection.
In the end, no matter how good we are it is Christ who brings us to God even after we do our very best (…also a topic for another day). It is Christ who caused a change in my heart and attitude. He changes my nature and makes it more like His. It hurts sometimes, but I am always grateful (and happier) in the end.