In part one of this reconstruction journey, I talked about how being hyper-focused on being right intensifies the impact when you come to see that ambiguity (essentially the opposite of right/wrong clarity) is inseparably interwoven into the LDS gospel. I’ve been taught my whole church life to “choose the right” and I have heard testimony born time and again that we are so fortunate to have the whole truth (as compared to other partial-truth-holding faiths). Coming face to face with the reality of ambiguity is like diving into a very cold pool of water on a very hot day. In this follow-up article, I want to talk about my own reaction to breaking the surface of this water, and after allowing myself enough time to acclimate to the change in temperature, changing my focus so I can enjoy the benefits of this new fluid world.
To begin, I think I need to define the vocabulary. I’ve chosen to speak in terms of “being right”. What I mean by that is seeking to know the empirical truth because it is the Truth, and not because it can bring about some positive benefit for the knower. I feel that as Mormons, because of the implications of the restoration concept, we are very susceptible to looking at Truth as having implicit1 value because it is true and truth comes from God, and we can become content to not inquire about the explicit2 value. In lieu of actually understanding the explicit value of the Truth we presume to hold, we may substitute the satisfaction that we are among the fewer holders of this knowledge. The surrogate value is a sort of pride, but it exists in such a subtle form that we mistake it for drawing nearer to God. It makes you feel good, but the ultimate deficiency is that it does not make others around you feel good.
Even the good feeling you get from this satisfaction of being right, or the assurance that you are in the right place, doesn’t seem to match the expectation I get from the scriptural promises of The Good News. In this sense, the mere circumstance of thinking I have the Truth is deficient in its ability to make even myself truly happy. Being right does not even come close to touching what Peter spoke of as “joy unspeakable and full of glory”, or Ammon being “overpowered with joy”. The Book of Mormon really drives home the importance of this unspeakable joy in the oft-quoted verse from 2 Nephi, “…men are, that they might have joy.”
One of the upsides to having the assurance of Truth challenged for me, is that it exposes the lack of joy. Just like when you are empty of food, you can sometimes go for quite a while without feeling the pangs of hunger, but when your attention is awakened to your emptiness, you feel it full force. Having your own lack of joy revealed to you is painful. As is said in the Psalm, “They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy.” The sowing we do with these tears is to really ask ourselves why we lack joy. I feel like I have answered that question for myself. I share it now for you to take what you can from it.
I believe I have to let go of both the saccharine3 satisfaction of having the Truth and the distracting, self-centered pursuit of being right. Now, if I were my prior self, heavily focused on being right, I might take a statement like that to imply an abandonment of moral commitment. Its not that at all. In fact, I’m trying to suggest a new commitment to what I now see as a higher moral goal. This is the goal of having joy. After all, that is our purpose of being, right?
Again, my former self would look at that and see the abandonment of God (after all, Truth comes from God) in exchange for self-gratification. I think that view grossly misunderstands the nature of joy and the means by which it is generated. Real joy ( or love, or peace), as is proclaimed in scripture to be the result of goodness, is not anything like gratification. It is in itself paradox-producing, because in order to have joy for yourself you must lose your own self from your purpose and effectively work to bring joy to others. You only become a receiver if you become a producer.
So more than just *having* joy, I want to be a source of joy. I think it is the great jewel in the crown of Mormonism that we believe in our potential to be something divine. This idea that we can be a producer of light, not just a consumer. That is the standard that measures the value of any belief or position for me. Does this idea create peace, joy, progression in myself or others?
How then do I live in a framework of faith when I have abandoned the pursuit of acquiring Truth? Simply put, faith no longer becomes a proposition of knowing things that are unseen. Instead, faith is now an offering of hope given to a principle that proves itself joyful. I hope the principle is true, and I am willing to live with it like it is true as long as it is joyful, but there is no value its veracity. There is no satisfaction in having that piece of the Truth, and there is no disappointment in having given my faith to a falsehood. The fruit of joy that results is the explicit value.
Of course, living like this isn’t easy. I have a really hard time shedding the old habits. It’s instinctive to seek for justice, from a desire for things to be right, by actually taking joy away from the offender and then realizing with disappointment that justice does not create joy. I think there are some principles which may be eternal and essential and therefore are over-glorified. I think of a particularly popular analogy of the Debtor that places justice as one of God’s great attributes. The debt must be paid with suffering by someone, because justice must be satisfied. To me this suggests that God’s forgiveness is not powerful enough to overcome the demand of justice. It says to me that forgiveness doesn’t actually accomplish anything because the debt remains the same and is merely transferred to someone else to pay. I prefer to think that justice only exists to make forgiveness beautiful.
I am in need of amnesty, and the amnesty of God’s grace is incredible to me, but in those moments of closest contemplation of who I want to believe Jesus is, I find myself much less willing to cause so much pain to one who would love me. The parable of the debtor supposes that these two eternal opposites, justice and mercy, are in complete equality. It is Mormon doctrine that everything has its opposite, but certainly not that all the opposites are equal. The sting of death is swallowed up in resurrection. The plan of Jehovah triumphed over the plan of Lucifer by two to one. Good overcomes evil. Joy overpowers. Why then can mercy not overcome, overpower, or swallow up justice without having to doll out incomprehensible suffering on the one being who deserves it least?
I need forgiveness to be better than justice. I need more joy and less Truth. I want to stop being satisfied, and start being overpowered.
- American Heritage Dictionary, definition 3: Contained in the nature of something though not readily apparent.
- American Heritage Dictionary, definition 1b: Fully and clearly expressed; leaving nothing implied.
- American Heritage Dictionary, definition 2: Having a cloyingly sweet attitude, tone, or character.