Saturday, December 15, 2018

Righteous Tradition vs Mindless Addiction

One of the most interesting ironies I have recently observed is how easy it has become to blur the lines between righteous tradition and mindless addiction. To me, the most fool proof measuring stick for figuring that all out is our beliefs and motives. I'm talking about digging down right to the core our ourselves by biting the bullet, taking one habit or tradition at a time and meticulously winnowing through the details of what our life might be if that habit were discarded or exchanged.

With some things that process can be emotionally excruciating while, with others, wonderfully and joyfully liberating, giving us a wide open door to elevate ourselves exponentially to higher planes of thinking and more joyful ways of living.

What I want to focus on with this is the same principle outlined in Alma 5:19 and Alma 41:3. Here are those verses, with the general principle in italics:

  • "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?"
  • "And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good."
The seemingly ever present theological debate about faith vs. works relates to this as well. C.S. Lewis once said that asking whether faith or works is more necessary for salvation is like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is needed more. The premise of the question itself, as Lewis alludes to, is flawed from the start. It's the same thing with having clean hands and a pure heart with our habits and traditions.

We may be doing really good things or even merely okay things that are innocent enough and be considered in line enough with the Lord's will for the time being. However, according to those verses, even if we are outwardly doing everything right but doing it without being anxiously and lovingly engaged in a good cause within our hearts, it is, as Moroni might say (Moroni 7:8), "the same as if [you] had retained [your good works]." Moroni, in this context, even takes it a step further and says that if your "gifts", or in this case, good works, are done with a bad attitude, it is "counted evil before God"! Wow! That's a pretty heavy idea to consider. It sounds to me like paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom and the law of Chastity, attending the temple, fulfilling our callings, doing our genealogy and temple work and studying our scriptures without really wanting to or even doing it grudgingly is counted as evil!

Does this mean we never do a good thing unless our motives are pure? I doubt it. A good way for God to train us to have pure motives is to do things that, coupled with His grace, will help us develop those motives.

However, the first concern that came to my mind as I happened upon this idea recently was pretty poignant. I've been trying for years to get some specific thought impulses out of my brain that have been plaguing me for way too long, and no matter how long I have remained outwardly obedient in that area, I have still not figured out how to change those impulses. I am aware that the solution is based on a sound and constant understanding and study of the doctrine of Christ and prayer and, thankfully, I am in the process of learning to apply that. I know that only Jesus Christ can cause such a might and lasting change in my mind.

This goes the same way the other way around. No one ever said the road to hell was paved with good results. Elder Oaks said the following. "The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done." He instead declared, "It is an acknowledgement of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become." I think another way to put that is that final judgement is a exposure of the result within us of every thought, belief, desire, action, or lack thereof.

Here's where I tie this into the comparison between righteous tradition and mindless addiction. I believe the best way to determine which of our habits is which is to do a raw, no-holds-barred confrontation with our reasons for those habits and our feelings and thoughts immediately before and after participating in them. In some cases this might mean that those merely okay things and even some good things need to exchanged for something better if they are not actively contributing to our spiritual change and growth. A few entries ago, I mentioned that one of the ways in which Lorraine and I are changing things up a bit for Christmas is by not being so attached to the idea that we have to have a Christmas tree among other things. For me this was slightly hard to accept but after some discussion with my wife I realized that I was only attached to idea of having the tree up because it looks pretty and gets me in the mood for presents and eggnog, etc.

As hard as it was for me to realize that my first thought when seeing a Christmas tree was never anything like "I am thankful for my Savior and how that tree reminds me of Him," it was quite freeing to be able to now make room for much much better things. Therefore, this year I have looked ways to replace that tradition with something that actually does bring my thoughts to my Lord and Redeemer, finding more ways to serve others and deliberately make my prayers more intentional and detailed. Of course, if Christmas trees do draw your mind to Jesus Christ, then all the power to you in that symbol of the Savior, for you.

At certain points in my life I've also identified things that everyone should absolutely be doing no matter what - like core commandments of the gospel - which I came to understand I wasn't really doing with a desire to be "anxiously engaged" in said commandment. It's quite a lot to chew on mentally to consider that doing those essential things for the wrong reasons is, as Moroni seems to have said, "evil before God." Wow. Even writing that hurts a little bit. When we repetitively do good or essential things, - or anything even kind of good for that matter - without any righteous enthusiasm or with impure and unholy motives, we are no longer engaged in righteous tradition, but mindless addiction.

It all boils down to what the habit is turning or not turning us into. Life is like constantly going up a down escalator. If there's anything in our lives that is not enabling us to run faster upward (toward being Christlike) than the escalator is going downward (toward infectiously corrosive standards of the world), they need to be replaced with something better OR, if they are the essential things, done with the correct motivation and attitude.

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