Things To Act
Saturday, February 14, 2004
 
Save he shall accomplish...
This thread on Nauvoo, discussing an apparent contradiction between 1 Nephi 3:7 and D&C 124:49, raises several interesting points. The major point I felt was only partially addressed, though, was how we know whether we've done what God has commanded.

Someone did say "I am heartened, though, by the fact that the two scriptures that you cited have at least one common theme: and that is that, when we receive a commandment from the Lord, we must strive to obey it with all our strength. Perhaps that commonality has more to tell us than the apparent contradiction."

This is true, as far as it goes. However, I think it still leaves plenty of ambiguity.

First, due to human nature, no one is perfect. In my experience, only the Lord can judge when a person has really employed 'all his strength' in a task. It is too easy for us to deceive ourselves and think we are trying harder than we are, or just to plain screw up. This line of thought, though, seems to lead to an easy out clause for God with respect to 1N3:7--'well, I had a way prepared, but you just didn't have enough faith...' This can lead me to not want to try as hard, rather than spurring me to try harder, as I will always be able to find some imperfection in my effort.

Second, our decisions about how to spend our time and energy carry opportunity costs. Every bit of effort we spend maximizing our effort on one problem is effort that can't be spent on a different problem. We are given much counsel to seek for balance, rather than extremism, in many endeavors. For instance, studying the scriptures, raising children, developing talents, temple worship, and even prayer could each, in theory, take every minute of every day--but we can't drop everything else to just put all of our strength into one thing.

Third, many of the commandments we receive interrelate in many ways to the agency of others. Getting married, baptizing converts, going home teaching, etc, all depend to a great degree on the agency of the other party/ies in the process. I don't think that we can write off the commandments to do any of those things because of this objection though--the Lord wants the Church collectively to be engaged in these pursuits--it's at the individual level that things get sticky. But at the same time, often these things are undone at least in part due to others.

All of these problems intersect in ways that don't necessarily have easy or quick answers. For instance, the plight of the unmarried. On the one hand, it's easy to say 'the Lord must have prepared someone for you, so if you're righteous enough you'll find him/her.' On the other hand, it seems entirely possible that the intersection of agency, personal shortcomings, temporal factors, etc, may make it so the person's unwed status is not her/his fault at the present time. In the area of missionary work, I had an acquaintance say that in his mission, 1N3:7 was most associated with unrighteous dominion and guilt-tripping missionaries; while missionaries do need to have faith the Lord is preparing a work for them to do, it seems wrong to assume sin or weakness in every case where no obvious marvel is forthcoming.

Ultimately, I think we need to be careful in suggesting applications of either scripture, especially in situations in which the individual is already experiencing significant concern/pain/guilt. On the other hand, individuals must work out for themselves just what the good faith effort the Lord requires of them is--which is in and of itself a subject far too complicated for this post. I will say that I suspect the ambiguity may be intentional, to allow room for personal inspiration rather than mechanical compliance with a rigid standard. Perhaps the Spirit is the only one who can direct us between 'there must be some easy solution I could find if I just tried harder' and 'I may as well stop stressing, as it will all work out in the Millennium.'

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