Saturday, August 17, 2019

Moral Honesty

If I haven't already, I should try to explain what I mean by Moral Honesty. Moral Honesty involves admitting one's own flaws and not trying to hide them, especially from others. In essence, it means being Honest about exactly how Moral (or immoral) you are. Moral Honesty is directly opposed to hypocrisy, which I understand to mean pretending to be better than you are (that, and telling others to be more moral than you are, but that's not how I'm using it here). A Morally Honest person admits their flaws and makes no attempt to hide them.

In some situation, Moral Honesty can be a good thing. After all, Honesty is usually good, and hypocrisy is usually bad. Honestly admitting one's own faults is, in most cases, an essential step in overcoming them. Yet, Moral Honesty can get in the way of personal growth, especially when others might observe it.

Let's say that a certain kid knows that he's not allowed to eat cookies before dinner, but he's a kid, so he sneaks into the kitchen for some cookies anyway. But just before the kid grabs the cookie jar, his mom walks in and asks the kid what he was doing. A dishonest kid might lie and say that he came into the kitchen for some other reason, but a Morally Honest kid would admit that he came into the kitchen for some cookies. After that, he might express either shame or a persisting desire to eat cookies, depending on how he feels at that moment, and if he's especially Morally Honest, he might continue to go for a cookie anyway, despite knowing that his mother is watching him.

Moral Honesty is the evil twin of integrity. Integrity means being just as moral when you're not being observed as you are when you are being observed, and Moral Honesty means being just as moral when your are being observed as you are when you aren't. When a person has integrity, they are just as good when they're alone as they are when they're being watched. When a person has Moral Honesty, they are just as bad when they're being watched as they are when they're alone. Moral Honesty means always acting the way you would normally act -- no better, no worse. In that sense, Moral Honesty has some integrity in it, but integrity is always a good thing, and Moral Honesty sometimes isn't.

Moral Honesty can be a bad thing by reducing the positive effects of positive peer pressure. Good people can bring out the best in us, and we sometimes find ourselves on our best behavior when we're around them. However, if we are Morally Honest we would have to acknowledge that this would lead those good people to have a skewed perspective of us, making us seem better than we truly are. Moral Honesty may convince someone to show their true colors, regardless of any positive influences. Moral Honesty stunts spiritual growth.

While honesty is generally commendable, Moral Honesty is a terrible vice. Moral Honesty compels people to show others their "true self" rather than their best self, while the actual best solution is for people to make their best self become their true self. One wouldn't even need to lie to do so. One can admit to having faults and weaknesses and can still strive to overcome them. We can even allow other people to be a good influence on us, especially if we let them know that they are. We shouldn't cover up our vices, but we shouldn't give in to them either, whether we're being observed or not.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Lying Paladin

When I make a conscious effort to be good, especially when I try to behave like a Paladin, I sometimes worry that I'm just putting on a show, that I'm not really changing myself, that I'm only temporarily changing my behavior or even just how I talk. In short, I worry that I lack something I call Moral Honesty. I'm trying to be (or worse, just appear to be) better than I really am. A Morally Honest person would admit their flaws rather than trying to act as though they didn't have them. But Moral Honesty may not actually be a good thing. Sure, it keeps a person from being a hypocrite, but it also keeps a person from growing. I need to grow. And if lying to myself, telling myself that I am a good, moral person, is the best way to talk myself into growing, then maybe I should exercise enough Moral Honesty to accept that I am a liar and a hypocrite, and keep lying to myself until the lie affects my behavior.

I am not a Paladin, nor am I anything like one. If I were an honest man, I would admit that. But I am honest enough to admit that I am not always honest, and I have enough Moral Honesty to admit that I am a hypocrite. So, no, I am not a Paladin, but, being a liar and a hypocrite, I will keep telling myself that I am one. And maybe, if I keep pretending to be a Paladin, it will stop being a lie.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Two Bagfuls of Compassion

I'd like to share a passage from Elder Gerrit W. Gong's General Conference talk titled Good Shepherd, Lamb of God.
A dear friend shared how she gained her precious testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She grew up believing sin always brought great punishment, borne by us alone. She pleaded to God to understand the possibility of divine forgiveness. She prayed to understand and know how Jesus Christ can forgive those who repent, how mercy can satisfy justice.
One day her prayer was answered in a spiritually transforming experience. A desperate young man came running out of a grocery store carrying two bags of stolen food. He ran into a busy street, chased by the store manager, who caught him and began yelling and fighting. Instead of feeling judgment for the frightened young man as a thief, my friend was unexpectedly filled with great compassion for him. Without fear or concern for her own safety, she walked straight up to the two quarreling men. She found herself saying, “I will pay for the food. Please let him go. Please let me pay for the food.”
Prompted by the Holy Ghost and filled with a love she had never felt before, my friend said, “All I wanted to do was to help and save the young man.” My friend said she began to understand Jesus Christ and His Atonement—how and why with pure and perfect love Jesus Christ would willingly sacrifice to be her Savior and Redeemer, and why she wanted Him to be.
This story stood out to me because I, much like Elder Gong's friend, sometimes struggle with the idea of mercy. I understand the concept of justice and paying the price for wrongdoings, but I sometimes struggle to understand why Jesus Christ would be willing to pay that price for me.

Yet, I can perfectly understand why someone would want to pay for someone else's groceries. Elder Gong's friend felt great sympathy for the young man. I'm not sure if the young man looked like he deserved help, and judging by the fighting he reportedly did, I kind of doubt it, but that's not the point. Elder Gong's friend didn't help the young man because he deserved her help but because he needed her help. That's just about all there is to it. We may not deserve mercy, but deserving isn't part of the equation. The main question is whether or not we need mercy and whether we'll accept it and make good use of it.

Jesus Christ offers His mercy to all of us, whether we deserve it or not, largely because He can, He loves us, and we need Him to. His offer has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with compassion. The thing is, I can understand compassion on a human scale, but I can hardly imagine the kind of compassion Jesus must have. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of how He can love everyone so much. Yet, down-to-earth examples like this one, with Elder Gong's friend and the young man who stole groceries, can give us a glimpse into the nature of Christ's compassion.

If we can love someone enough to want to help them, even at great cost, whether they deserve it or not, so can He.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Exercising Our Spiritual Muscles

What little scripture study I did today reminded me of why I need to do more. Elder Juan Pablo Villar of the Seventy said that spiritual gifts, such as the ability to perceive spiritual messages, are like physical muscles. We need to make a habit of "Exercising Our Spiritual Muscles" in order for them to grow. This means that we need to do more than just pray and read the scriptures. We also have to use our spiritual gifts, just like we use our muscles. If we don't use our spiritual gifts frequently enough, we can lose them, just as muscles can atrophy if we don't use them.

I'm afraid that may be what happened to me. I used to be better at blogging, but then I got complacent in looking for spiritual messages, and now I'm lucky if I can come up with anything blogworthy at the end of the day. Fortunately, I have already begun to work on the solution to this problem. One way we can strengthen or regain our spiritual muscles is by exercising them. Thus, the way to get better at noticing spiritual messages is to make a conscious effort to do so. The same goes with other spiritual gifts, as well as almost everything. If you want to get better at anything, the only necessary step is to practice it.  Studay and training can help, of course, and they can sometimes be essential, but it is always essential to practice. That's the main reason I really ought to practice what I preach. I can blog about righteousness until my fingertips bruise, but unless I actually practice said righteousness, I'm not really doing much, if any good.

I want to do good and become better. To do that, it is essential for me to exercise my spiritual muscles by regularly using them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

On Not Looking for Blogworthy Thoughts

I know that there are spiritual messages all around us, and I know that, if I paid better attention, I would notice some of them, and I know that if I spent more time pondering those messages, I would probably remember them long enough to blog about them. Yet, that's not what happens. I go about my life, not really paying enough attention to anything, and then the night comes, and I grasp at straws to find something even vaguely blogworthy. If only I spent more time thinking about spiritual matters throughout the day, rather than just at the end of the day. I suppose that's part of the reason missionaries typically hold their personal and companionship studies in the morning. I suppose I should, too.

I often struggle to find things to blog about, and I think that's because I don't start trying until it's late and I'm tired. That may be why, ages ago, I decided to set a goal to always blog during the daytime. I won't promise to bring that back, but I will promise to read some scriptures before sunset tomorrow. Maybe there'll be something blogworthy in them.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Willing but Weak

My family and I spent part of our evening trying to unpack Romans 7-9. In these chapters, Paul continues teaching about the law and justice, and some parts of it were easier to understand than others. One part that I understood a bit too well was when he talked about his struggle against what he called "sin that dwelleth in me" (Romans 7:20). His struggle, though awkwardly worded, is fairly common among those who try to follow Christ. The natural man is a part of each of us, and it resists many aspects of righteousness and tempts people towards certain sins, putting otherwise righteous people at odds with themselves. Our hearts and minds want to be righteous, but our bodies want to sin. Thus, self-mastery is a goal that many of us strive for, so we can keep our bodies under the control of our spirits.

Naturally, we don't always succeed at this, and apparently Paul didn't either. Thankfully, I have it on high authority that God judges people, not so much by their bodies, but more by their hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). Of course, God judges us by our actions as well, but Paul seems to suggest that, as long as we're trying to be righteous, God won't judge us too harshly when we slip up.

What's important is that we try to be righteous. We need to try to behave righteously and maintain control of ourselves. As long as we are trying to keep the commandments, the weaknesses that hold us back won't be held against us, or at least, I hope they won't. God is certainly concerned with whether or not we try to keep His commandments, but I'm less sure how much He cares whether or not we succeed. As long as we are willing to obey Him, I don't think He cares much if we, on our own, are too weak to do so.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

No Broken Laws

In Priesthood this afternoon, we discussed Tad R. Callister's talk titled The Atonement of Jesus Christ, in which Brother Callister shared an analogy of a skydiver. Without a parachute, the skydiver would be subject to the full consequences of the laws of physics. The skydiver would fall like a rock until he or she hit the ground, hard. But with a parachute, the skydiver could survive, not because the parachute broke or nullified the laws of physics, but because the parachute worked within the laws of physics to bring about the desired outcome.

Similarly, the Atonement doesn't break or nullify the laws of justice, but rather works within those laws to bring about the desired outcome. Without the Atonement, we would be just as doomed as a skydiver without a parachute. Our spiritual debt would come due, and our spiritual death would be certain. However, through the power of the Atonement, we can avoid that grisly fate, not by breaking the laws of justice, but by cleverly working within them. In the garden of Gethsemane, Christ paid our spiritual debt in full, satisfying the demands of justice, and in turn allows us to repay our debt to Him by repenting and keeping His commandments. By buying our debt, Jesus worked within the laws of justice to prevent our otherwise inevitable spiritual death.

The Atonement doesn't break the laws of justice any more than a parachute breaks the laws of physics, yet they both save physical and/or spiritual lives through clever applications of those laws. God is a God of justice, but He is also a God of mercy, and that isn't a contradiction; it's the result of what one hymn calls "redemption's grand design, where justice, love, and mercy meet in harmony divine" (Hymn 195).