Thursday, 26 January 2012

Gifts and Covenants

This is Part 2 of a 3-part post begun with Rituals and Ordinances.

Let me start by confirming that God can do anything He likes. That's kind of His thing. There's no reason whatsoever to assume that limits on God's power are anything other than self-imposed. That being said...

Our Heavenly Father isn't particularly fond of giving free gifts, unless they're really big. Our existence is a free gift. Letting us come to Earth is a free gift. Christ's Atonement is a free gift - we just have to ask for it. Most other things, we're not given for free. There's a simple reason for this.

Yesterday I asked my wife why we're on the Earth: to show God what we'll do, or because what we'll do is important? For instance, why are we asked to care for the poor: so God can see how well we do it, or because caring for the poor on Earth is actually important? She came back pretty much instantly with a third answer: we're here to learn to do it. (And this is part of why I love my wife - she's brilliant). How can we learn if we're handed everything on a plate?

So rather than gifts, God gives us covenants. He will offer us something, in exchange for something we give. To use the terminology from part 1 of this post, covenants are a way of accessing the ordinances of God. According to the Sacrament prayer (ritually given every time we partake of the Sacrament - see Part 1 again):

'... [we] may eat in remembrance of the body of Thy Son, and witness unto Thee, O God the Eternal Father, that [we] are willing to take upon [our]selves the name of Thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments, that [we] might have his Spirit to be with [us]'.

... or words to that effect. This is a covenant, or a 'principle with a promise': we promise to take Christ's name upon us, remember Him, and keep the commandments, and in return, God promises that we will have the Spirit with us.

Not every covenant is as simple as this. God made a covenant with Abraham that his descendents should be as the stars in the sky. That simple 'promise' ended up as the foundation for a massive load of 'principles' - the entire Law of Moses, really, was about keeping that covenant with God (and, yes, the Sacrament covenant does mention 'keep the commandments'...).

So, we can have a ritual, through which we access an ordinance. As part of that ordinance, we make promises to God, and He makes promises in return. If we keep ours, He keeps His - again, it's kind of His thing. A lot of the time, the ritual itself is part of our promise - think of the Old Testament sacrifices for remission of sins. The goat or dove wasn't anything special - it was ritual - but it was ritual that God had required as part of His covenant with the people. Through ritual, the covenant was fulfilled, and the ordinance was enacted.

But how strict is God about these rules? Here we're heading into the territory of belief, not facts - so here's what I believe.

I believe that God loves all of His children, even the ones who don't get access to the Church and its rituals. I believe that He can and does enact His ordinances and use His power wherever He sees fit, outside the structure of the Church. Remittance of sins, having the Spirit with you, words of comfort to yourself or another - all of these can and do happen outside the Church.

However, I also believe that the rituals exist for two reasons. One is that they teach us a lot. Through the ritual of baptism, we are symbolically buried with Christ and rise again with him - and I've not realised how deep that is until this very moment. A Priesthood blessing is an act of humility for both participants - we acknowledge that we need another to enact it, and the Priesthood holder acknowledges that it's only God's words that count, not their own. Virtually the entire Plan of Salvation can be found in the words of the Sacrament prayer (I know - I've looked).

Secondly, God knows that the best way to become who we are meant to be is by following Him. We are here to learn, and He's the one with a copy of the curriculum. By asking us to participate in rituals, to make promises and keep covenants, He is training us to be obedient - but that isn't the ultimate goal. By being obedient, we will learn the value of what God teaches - and so we will better believe those teachings. When we truly believe that we are all God's children - that the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God - that His work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man - we will begin to truly live the Saviour's commandments:

Love the Lord thy God
Love thy neighbour as thyself
As I have loved you... love one another

Or that's what I believe.

This post will conclude with Part 3: Time and All Eternity

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