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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Marriage and Grace

Marriage in both the New and Old Testaments is a metaphor for the relationship we should have with God. His love for us is like the love of a perfect groom for his bride. The requirement for loyalty and fidelity on our part is also similar to the expectations expressed in marriage vows. Marriage, after all, is a covenant relationship, a two-way covenant. In entering into that covenant, one accepts certain limitations and exclusions in life, promising sacrifice, service, and complete loyalty, and thereby obtains great blessings and promises (especially true if you’ve managed to marry someone awesome like I did--I still can’t grasp why I should be so fortunate, but that’s another story).

Latter-day Saints believe that when God gave Eve to Adam as his wife in the Garden of Eden, that nothing was said about this being a temporary arrangement. We don’t believe that marriage in God’s eyes is intended to last for just a few weeks or years. The marriage covenant as given by God does not come with the words “till inconvenience do you part” or with those more frequently expressed but still tragic words, “till death do you part.” We believe that marriage can be forever. Yes, of course we’ve heard the verse about how marriage does not occur in heaven. There is also no baptism in heaven. These ordinances are earthly ordinances that must occur here, but both, when properly done and with the right authority, can bring lasting eternal blessings. Heaven is not a place for dating. It’s not a place for people changing their affiliation in faith or in marriage. The ordinances of change, both marriage and baptism, are both ordinances of sealing what should be a permanent relationship and must take place before one can really move forward in the glories of eternity. Thank goodness, by the way, for the blessings of the restored temple where mortals can perform baptism for the dead and other ordinances to eventually give all mankind the fair opportunity to hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Those who have experienced marriage long enough may come to know of its delicacy. The love between even a very good man and a very good woman is delicate and requires nourishment, care, diligence, and ongoing sacrifice. Now that I’ve explained the LDS perspective on marriage as an eternal blessing, can you imagine the disservice an LDS leader could do if he twisted LDS doctrine to offer horrific counsel such as this:
Well, young couple, now you are married, married with God’s power, and since what God does lasts forever, we know that marriage lasts forever, too, so there’s nothing to worry about. No need to do anything, to exert any effort. No need to sacrifice or make any big changes in your life. Oh, sure, the changes will come naturally since you love each other, but there’s no sense trying to change anything about what you do, what you want, how you spend your time or money, etc.. God has done all the work that needs to be done in marrying you and nothing can change that. Once married, always married, you know. Now enjoy!
Returning to marriage as a metaphor for our relationship with God, the writers of the Bible understood that our covenant relationship with God, like marriage, requires loyalty and effort on our part. It requires obedience and endurance to the end. Those in the covenant relationship can fall from grace. The Bible teaches that plainly and explicitly. The covenant relationship with God, not just in the Old Testament but also in the New, requires our obedience and faithful following of God. How tragic that some teachers and pastors would in essence give advice about God that is potentially just as harmful as that hypothetical bad marriage advice.

One of the exciting things about LDS religion is the restoration of the ancient principle of covenants, even down to the level of detailed aspects of ancient biblical covenant patterns being restored beautifully (e.g., in the temple and in King Benjamin’s speech in the Book of Mormon)), patterns that were only recognized by scholars in the past century. Marriage, baptism, the LDS temple, and a knowledge of the real covenant relationship between God and man, with its implications for grace, salvation, and the tragically misunderstood role of human “works” such as obeying God and being loyal to God, are all part of this beautiful and impressive picture.

Marriage is delicate and so is our relationship to God. Just as Paul urged us to “work our your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), I would recommend that all you married folks work out your marriage with fear and trembling (and kindness and patience to boot) because we can fall if we are neglectful. Love can be lost. Trust can be lost. Grace can be lost. He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved. The covenant relationship of marriage likewise demands that we endure and stay faithful to the end. Then we’ll see that there isn’t really an end, but a glorious continuation.

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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeff, the Church is really "off" on this one. So far off that your remarks are quite offensive to many. Yes, local "Christians" part at death. Look at the evidence one is buried, one lives ( in a mortal sense). However if you would attend local funerals you would almost always hear the Priest/minister comfort the bereaved about being reunited with family and loved ones.

While I understand your concept, and have a testimony thereof, I believe your Appleton neighbors would consider your words arrogant.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

I think you're misreading the post, but let me know how I can be more clear. The hope of many Christians for ongoing relationships after death was not attacked nor denied here. Can you tell me what statement or statements you find offensive?

The part of this post dealing with marriage after death is not condemning those who don't accept that doctrine, but defending the LDS perspective from those who condemn us for having it. The tongue-in-cheek offset paragraph is a hypothetical quote of a Mormon leader (gone astray) and is not meant to imply that anyone would ever make such a statement. In fact, the ridiculousness of that statement as marriage advice is meant to illustrate, through satire, the related problem of those who condemn our faith for teaching "works" and obedience. It's taking the issue of marriage, where we have much in common with other faiths in spite of their criticism of marriage after death, and applying that to show some of the weakness in the arguments made against our faith. Both aspects of the post are in the spirit of defending us from ongoing assaults, and not in the spirit of saying Mormons are better than other Christians. Sure, we have some great stuff and exciting news that we want to share, and abundant evidences of a real Restoration, and at some point that is going to be offensive to someone who thinks they've got all that they need and don't need anything more. But that's not something we need to apologize for. But I am sorry that this offended you and would like to know just what exactly triggered the reaction. Can't guarantee I'll back down, but would like to know what the problem is.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Oh, much as I love my Appleton neighbors, it's my other neighbors I tend to worry about more now - the ones here in Shanghai. They may think I'm arrogant, but the Chinese mostly seem to think my wife and I are entertaining because of our strange looks, our funny Chinese, and the intercultural problems we create for ourselves, like letting sweet old grandmother scammers on the street take advantage of us by selling us bogus prayer paper for the local Buddhist temple (fake prayer paper - not the real stuff - so when it burns, it probably doesn't do any good, or so several concerned locals kindly explained to my wife after I thought I was helping an old lady by buying her strange paper stuff). If they think I'm arrogant, it's not because of this post since the government here has kindly protected people from my blog and all Blogspot blogs, thanks to the great Chinese firewall (I say it's not just great, it's awesome! - just in case my monitors are reading this today). One can break past it using certain questionable techniques, so I've heard from irreputable sources, but the local Chinese usually don't have access to those relatively expensive tools. Fortunate, too, wouldn't you say?

Anonymous said...

My point is that other religions accept the doctrine of families being eternal. Our church members often make a big deal of saying we are the only ones who will be together if we qualify for celestial glory. I have heard this said in sacrament meeting, and seen it portrayed in booths at open houses.

P.S. You never offend me.

Steve said...

Jeff, I do appreciate you for your convictions (and fairness). Obviously I don't agree with many Mormon concepts. I understand that Mormons believe in Christ, but to me, that's very misleading. The LDS church has Jesus Christ in its name, which seems on the surface to be a good thing. But looking deeper, the Christ of the Mormon Church is not the same Christ as referenced in the Bible.

Why is this important? If a church calls itself Christian, shouldn't its doctrine be based on the teachings of Jesus? Of course. But several core Mormon teachings are NOT found anywhere in the Bible. For example, take the concept of eternal marriage. Who taught eternal marriage? Not Jesus, not any of his apostles, not any prophet in the Bible or the Book of Mormon. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself said that there is no marriage in heaven (Matt 22:30).

I base my “version of Christ” on His inspired word, the Bible. To be sure, there are many flavors of “Christian” churches. But, as I’ve mentioned in past comments to your blog, the true “church” of Christ is not limited to any one denomination. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” There are disagreements between denominations, some minor, some not so minor, but the test of a Christian church is, “Do they teach what Christ taught?”

In my posts, I try to back up my thoughts with Biblical references. Isolated verses can be taken out of context to imply a totally different meaning, so context is important. Getting back to the concept of marriage, I agree with you that marriage can be a wonderful yet challenging experience. I also agree with you when you say “when God gave Eve to Adam as his wife in the Garden of Eden, that nothing was said about this being a temporary arrangement”. But God never said it would be an eternal arrangement either. It comes down to whether I believe what Christ said, or what some supposed prophet said? I choose Christ.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Getting all of Christ's teachings can be a sticky situation because here we what is arguably from a secular standpoint the most influential man that has ever lived and hands down from a religious standpoint the most influential man but we have so little recorded of what he taught and what is recorded was recorded years later.

But, to the topic at hand. Luke 20:27-40 (all the scriptures given but I will quote only a portion) verse 35 states "but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage"

In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage. It does not say that they are not married (past tense). This tells me that any such ordinance has to have already been done. What is also interesting about the context of these scriptures is it appears that Christ (as we have it recorded in Luke) did not answer the question at hand. He basically states, in mortality you marry, when you are resurrected, you cannot marry. A simpler answer would have been "The marriage covenant is not of force when you are resurrected" but Christ (again, as we have it recorded in Luke) did not say that. Christian denominations either believe that marriage persists in the resurrection or it does not and this coming from the teachings of the Bible, as we have it handed down to us.

You mention many denominations but don't forget Ephesians 4:5 "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."

The Mormon Steve

Anonymous said...

To Steve the "Christian",

I am confused. I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying by, "the test of a Christian church is, Do they teach what Christ taught?”

Are you saying that the only people who are Christians are people that believe only what Christ taught in the Bible? Who decides what Christ taught and meant?

It would seem to me, if it was easy to figure out what Jesus said and what he meant, the Christian world would be able come to an agreement on what Christ said or meant. Chritians are not even in agreemnt on which translation of the Bible is correct or how to reconcile the different translations when they disagree on what Christ said.

Tell me if I got this right? It does not matter how Christ like they live their lives. It does not matter if they witness for Christ or proclaim Christ. It does not matter how sincerely they believe in Christ or testify that Christ is their personal savior. It does mater if have charity in their heart.

So,if any self proclaimed Christian teaches or I guess just believes for example,that marriage continues after this life, they can not be Christians because no where in the Bible is Jesus quoted clearly as saying marriage continues after death. According to you they can NOT be Christian!

Does this mean that every so called Christian that does believe what you believe Christ meant or said is a non-Christian?

WOW! Considering how many different Christian churches there are and how many different interpetations of what Christians believe Christ said and/or meant. WOW!

Steve - I think you have ex-comunicated more then 98% of those that claim to be Christians from Christ.

Bob - the confused and the WOWED!

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Steve, it's just so painful to see that attitude. Who led you to this state, where finding some doctrines you disagree with leads you to condemning others as non-Christian, as somehow worshiping a different Jesus so their faith in Christ and yearning to follow the Jesus of the Bible somehow doesn't count? That's just ugly, IMHO. And it can cut both ways.

If the rest of us are convinced that you're missing some key nuances about the relationship of Christ and the Father in your expressions of the Trinity, should we cast you out as a non-Christian? What if one day you realize you were wrong in some aspects of your theology? Would the wiser Steve of the future say that the Steve of today was a non-Christian the whole time?

Perfection in theology - when did that become the standard for Christianity and salvation? Must one pass Steve's Exalted Theology Quiz to be admitted to heaven, or even to the ranks of mortal Christians?

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone really answered "Christian" Steve's point- about Christ not teaching eternal marriage. The point was not to call people "non-Christians", just to question where this Mormon concept came from. If Christ didn't teach it, where did it come from?

Paul said...

Hi Jeff,

I enjoy your blog, and I enjoyed your post on marriage. I appreciate the tenderness there, and I understand. For me, my marriage is probably the very best thing in my life, and I am profoundly grateful for it.

My wife and I grew up in the Church and were married in the temple, but we left shortly after we were married and we could probably be best described as agnostic now.

As others have pointed out, the belief that you will be reunited with your loved ones is not unique to LDS doctrine. In fact, that IS the point of heaven. Going to heaven alone is like vacationing alone, I think.

Growing up LDS, I always thought (as taught) that we had a very compassionate view of heaven with three degrees of glory and nearly no one goes to hell.

However, as a young adult watching my mother fret about whether my dead father (a good man but less than entirely enthusiastic about attending church) would make it to the Celestial Kingdom, I realized if you love your family and if living apart from them is hell to you, it's not three heavens and one hell. It's three hells and one heaven that's very difficult to enter (even for members). No one can say (second endowment aside) if they will even make it.

Eternity without your loved ones is hell.

That's the kind of existential angst that faith is supposed to alleviate.

It takes on an additional dimension for women, because in the CK, if their spouse doesn't make it, they'll be sealed to someone who is not their mate who already has wives. (This is my understanding from long ago, let me know if I'm wrong about this.)

Anyhow, I guess my view on this is that the 'eternal family' doctrine of the church, presented as benevolent, is actually harsh and anxiety-inducing.