Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Gospel: Easy or Difficult?

Stepping aside from the controversies with our critics in California for a moment (may there be reduced anger and increased understanding on both sides), I'd like to address the "difficult" nature of living the Gospel. The world and some Christians looks at the sacrifices required by the Gospel and sees a boatload of difficulty. Fidelity, tithing and other financial sacrifices, kindness toward enemies, hours of service, going to Church instead of partying, and other expectations counter to the desires of the "natural man" may seem difficult and unreasonable to some. In the Mormon flavor of Christianity, some of the additional "opportunities" like giving up alcohol and tobacco and holding Church callings can make things seem even harder.

On top of that, the growing gap between Christian faith - particularly the LDS Christian faith -- and the rest of the world can give us a sense of isolation and risk, especially when ancestral memories of angry mobs are triggered by scenes of hostility today.

When one considers the call of Jesus Christ to follow Him completely - as in Matthew 5:48 where He asks Christians to "be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect," well, it seems to be an impossibly difficult and overwhelming standard.

But is living the Gospel really difficult? There are painful moments, yes, as there are in every human life, including the ultimate loss of death. Difficult - compared to what? Compared to not knowing our purpose in life and who we are, to know knowing and feeling the love of God, to not having the companionship of the Holy Spirit, to not knowing that we and our loved ones will be resurrected and reunited? The difficulties of this journey seem well worth the great joy and blessings we receive in the Gospel. These are great blessings, but still, is living the Gospel difficult?

Difficult for whom? That is the real question. Here is a great answer I found this morning from the last General Conference in the talk of Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge called "The Way."
"My Yoke Is Easy, and My Burden Is Light"
One of the most popular and attractive philosophies of men is to live life your own way, do your own thing, be yourself, don't let others tell you what to do. But the Lord said, "I am the way" (John 14:6). He said, "Follow me" (Mark 8:34). He said, "What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am" (3 Nephi 27:27).

Don't think you can't. We might think we can't really follow Him because the standard of His life is so astonishingly high as to seem unreachable. We might think it is too hard, too high, too much, beyond our capacity, at least for now. Don't ever believe that. While the standard of the Lord is the highest, don't ever think it is only reachable by a select few who are most able.

In this singular instance life's experience misleads us. In life we learn that the highest achievements in any human endeavor are always the most difficult and, therefore, achievable only by a select few who are most able. The higher the standard, the fewer can reach it.

But that is not the case here because, unlike every other experience in this life, this is not a human endeavor. It is, rather, the work of God. It is God's work and it is His "glory ... to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). There is nothing else like it. Not anywhere. Not ever.

No institution, plan, program, or system ever conceived by men has access to the redeeming and transforming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, while the Lord's invitation to follow Him is the highest of all, it is also achievable by everyone, not because we are able, but because He is, and because He can make us able too. "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind [everyone, living and dead] may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" (Articles of Faith 1:3).

The Lord's way is not hard. Life is hard, not the gospel. "There is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11), everywhere, for everyone. Life is hard for all of us, but life is also simple. We have only two choices. We can either follow the Lord and be endowed with His power and have peace, light, strength, knowledge, confidence, love, and joy, or we can go some other way, any other way, whatever other way, and go it alone -- without His support, without His power, without guidance, in darkness, turmoil, doubt, grief, and despair. And I ask, which way is easier?

He said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; ... and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don't quit, and you will make it.

There is only one way to happiness and fulfillment. Jesus Christ is the Way. Every other way, any other way, whatever other way is foolishness.

I bear record of Him, even Jesus Christ, that He is the Son of the living God, He is the Bread of Life, He is the Truth, He is the Resurrection and the Life, He is the Savior and the Light of the World. He is the Way, the only Way.

May we have the good sense to follow Him. In His holy name, even Jesus Christ, amen.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree Jeff. Living the Gospel is not that hard. In fact I find it very easy to live this way. Am I doing something wrong?

My perspective, from the outside looking in; those who don't have this LDS standard that I live by, have to make their own choices and suffer the consequences. For me there is no debate, decision, heartache, or guilt. I follow the prophet and find blessings along the way.

And by the way, what's so easy about a hangover? Explaining yourself to a betrayed spouse? STD's?

Come on Jeff, no need to be a Martyr! Keep on!

Fair Game said...

Uh, I think Jeff's point is that some people, especially those outside our faith, think of it as hard, but Jeff seems to agree with you: Living the Gospel is a blessing and is not hard, especially when we see that it's the Lord doing the real work.

Noah said...

I think the difficult part of living the gospel, and the part that will probably continue to be difficult for most of us, is aligning our will with God's. It takes a tremendous amount of faith, and I would argue, experience.

Perhaps if we believed in unconditional grace, we'd find things easier. Or perhaps if we were like the Zoramites in Alma 31, who believed in salvation by election, things would again be easier. But while I think Alma 31 is certainly a warning to the Latter-day Saints (and not, say, the Calvinists), God chooses anyone who is willing to choose him.

Augustine's Confessions dealt extensively with the problem (I found the book thoroughly cathartic overall), and I agree, at least to a large extent, with his conclusions (as well as the talk excerpt above).

If we believe Salvation is granted according to merit, then the life of Christian discipleship will seem difficult and painful to us. If we believe Salvation is free, as the BoM tells us, then the Grace of God will make the yoke seem easy, and the burden light. We see this principle all throughout the Standard Works, probably most plentifully in the BoM.

Yes, Grace is granted according to Covenant (if you will be my son/daughter, I will be your parent), but one needs to realize just how easy Grace is to obtain. Consider the Vision of the Tree of Life, Alma's inexpressibly horrifying descent in Hell, and the account one finds in Helaman 5. Each time it was freely available to those who chose Jesus Christ over the World.

So while discipleship may be easy, it may take an entire lifetime to convince ourselves of that fact, and until we arrive at that conclusion, internalizing, expanding upon, and living according to what we learned in Sunday School as youth, life will be undeniably hard.

Joel Glanfield said...

This was my favorite talk at conference. The original wording "any other way is madness" is one of my favorite lines.

To me, sin is hard. When we lose the Spirit, things get hard. Life is hard either way, but it does not make sense to say the "Gospel is hard", because that statement implies that it is not accessible to everyone, which it is.

Jayleen said...

I think where it may get a little harder is when we have to stand up for Christ while someone beats us to death, tars and feathers us, drives us out of our homes in the snow, rapes and pillages our family/friends in our presence. Holds a knife to our throats and demands we renounce our faith. Things like that.

I don't care how much faith you have, that's not easy. We've been living in a very easy time to be Mormon. That may not be the case in the coming years. I pray we all find the strength and courage to stand after all we can do and I pray we'll all be willing to die rather than renounce the Savior.

The thing I always wish I could communicate to people is how this life is but a sneeze in time compared to eternity. Nothing in this life is more important than eternity.

Roxy said...

When I first became a memeber of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I often found it hard to stay focused and remember everything I had just learned. I would get distracted by the things of the world that sometimes I found it hard to see through it all.

I had to sacrifice a lot before joining the Church. I'm not complaining, but it was hard getting used to this new lifestyle that was totally different comapared to my last. I knew it would take time before I got used to most of it. Reading the scriptures every day, praying everyday, going to activities, accepting callings, and things like that while at the same time trying to explain this sudden change to my family which I still haven't been able to do completely after 3 years, letting go some of the people I once called my friends, and trying to hold on to what makes it all worth it. I have to admit, getting over some addictions was the most hardest thing I ever had to do, so far, in my life.

I have been to the deepest, darkest place I could have ever imagined going, and still find myself there sometimes, but He is my Light, my Savior who always gets me out of there just in time. He is worth living. Worth all the pain and suffering.

So, can it feel hard sometimes? Yes. Does it have to be. No way. Jesus already payed the price for us so we won't have to.

Mormanity said...

Roxy, well put. Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Seriously? What is so hard about it? If you choose the right, the yoke is light. Why the struggle?

Keep on!

Lilola said...

When I joined the church, my family couldn't believe what I was giving up. Take the Word of Wisdom... "You don't drink alcohol, coffee or tea?? What DO you drink?" Duh. Anything else! The focus makes the difference.

Anonymous said...

As an active member, I loved living the Gospel. It all made sense and every day was not a turmoil for me. I had already chosen to live my life that way. I made choices before they were placed before me. :)
After my mission at BYU some of my professors would say things that would trouble me though. Things that just didn't add up. I subsequently became inactive. It took me a while to figure out what I had always heard about less active members, that they are always unhappy with the new life they were living. I came to realize I had been conditioned through weekly teachings to think of some things as wrong, but that were not really wrong.
I have enjoyed my life living life as a non-active member more than my previous life as a member.
Life just makes more sense to me now. I suppose that it is all about what makes you happy. Those that live the Gospel are happy doing that, and there are those that find greater joy outside.

MainTour said...

On top of that, the growing gap between Christian faith - particularly the LDS Christian faith -- and the rest of the world can give us a sense of isolation and risk, especially when ancestral memories of angry mobs are triggered by scenes of hostility today.

Someone just quote a prophecy from Neal Maxwell along those lines. In the last days as we stand for principles of righteousness against an increasingly wicked world - it may seem that we are all alone.

The Prop 8 battle, I Fear, is just a small taste of what the future holds.

A trial of fire is never easy.

Jayleen said...

Anon at 7:21 - You shouldn't be so flip. This is just the beginning of what we may be facing. Think of the Pioneers... could you look any one of them in face and say what you said?

"Seriously? What is so hard about it? If you choose the right, the yoke is light. Why the struggle?

Keep on!"

Tell that to the person in the handcart company who just lost their spouse or a child and is starving and freezing with cloth for shoes.

Tell that to a member who is facing being tarred and feathered. What might we be facing in the very near future.

Or tell that to a mother who is watching her child in convulsions from a brain tumor.

I pray that you'll find compassion in your heart for those who have serious struggles in their lives.

Ryan said...

I've never been quite sure how to catalog persecution and other forms of coercion in answering Jeff's question...

All too often we hear about the following "proof" perpetrated upon some hapless victim:

Premises:
1. "you do X"
2. "I don't want you to do X"

Argument:
3. Therefore (by 1 and 2) "I do Y to you or someone you care about"
4. Therefore (by 3), "Your life is hard"
5. Therefore (by 1 and 4), "Your life is hard because you do X"
6. Therefore (by 5) "It is bad to do X (and you should stop)"

Pharoah used it on Moses and the Israelites (twice as much work "because" Moses interfered), King Noah used it on Abinadi (burned at the stake "because" he testified of Christ).

While it has a certain diabolical logic to it -- you have to admit that the trial might not have come if the victim didn't do "X" -- I'm just not convinced that this sort of transitive closure holds when there are intervening decisions by free agents. It isn't a simple case of cause and effect like the mafioso wants you to believe.

Your life is hard because *I* chose to do Y. The Israelites got twice as much work because *Pharoah* decided to impose it. Abinadi burned because *King Noah* inflicted it. No rationale baddies use to justify their actions can change the fact that *they* made the decision to do something cruel; that yoke of oppression is not Christ's yoke.

Sound or not, though, it is a very persuasive "argument" and therefore very popular. Oh, and diametrically opposed to the Lord's approach to leadership outlined in D&C 121...

Alex Valencic said...

The Gospel is easy. Living it, now, there's a different matter all together!

It is a blessing to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People who live by the tenants, even without believing in the divine institution of them, tend to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. There are also blessings that come to those who live the Gospel as a part of a covenant relationship with the Lord.

But it is often difficult to fully live the Gospel. We live in a very hedonistic world, and the pressures to look out for "number one" are strong. Temptations are all around us. To truly live the Gospel requires, if I may quote one of my favourite literary figures, "CONSTANT DILIGENCE!" And that is what makes it difficult.

But it what we often forget is that it is also difficult to NOT live the Gospel. And that is simply because life is difficult. How does that quote go? "Show me someone who is smiling all the time, and I'll show you someone who has no clue as to what is going on." (Or something like that.)

And yet, at the end of the day, it is better to have done all you can to keep your covenants with the Lord than to have not.

Anonymous said...

or . . .

even while accepting the grace Christ offers (or learning to; I appreciated the person who brought that up; it CAN take a lifetime for some of us more stubborn ones)--

persecution can come for much more than being LDS--

sometimes even withIN the LDS community there is persecution when we choose to do something a little differently, even when it is perfectly aligned with the teachings of the prophets (modern AND past) and the scriptures and personal revelation--

sometimes when you choose a "higher road" for a particular reason that doesn't seem to be as common a part of the mainstream culture, even if it is NOT against church doctrine in any conceiveable way--

you can feel the pinch . . .

such a thing happened to me--

I was so surprised; it was a very good thing that I did--and many of my ward members had a difficult time with it--

It was one of those instances when I felt strongly and profoundly urged to follow literally the counsel of a general authority--
and I had "friends" who became uncomfortable around me--LDS ones--

*sigh*

KingOfTexas said...

Isaiah 28
1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
2 Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
3 The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:

I see a lot of priesthood holders here (the for ordained elect of God) that could use a pride adjustment. By the show of hands, how many here live the law of concretion? If you have $4000 in the bank for tithe and your child has an accident do you spend the money at the hospital or pay the tithe? It’s easy when you are being tested but hard to see your spouse or children suffer from your test. Your wife needs cancer medication. Do you work on Sunday? If you have the gift to heal her do you heal her? Or, do you give her a blessing and let Gods will be done. When is the last time we lifted up a brother or sister with our compassion or understanding?
Right it’s easy. We sin and don’t even realize it.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Easy. The Gospel is easy. It's ME that's difficult.

NM said...

Jeff, what do you mean by 'living-the-gospel'?

NM