The camel and needle thing — I do not think that means what you think it means either

September 20, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 11:22 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Scriptures,Theology

Before the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20 there is the tale of the rich young man who approaches Jesus in Matthew 19:

16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.


From a Latter Day Saint perspective it should be fairly transparent that Jesus is teaching this young man that in order to live the law of the celestial kingdom he had to be willing to live the law of consecration. In fact the episode reads almost like a proto temple recommend interview, or perhaps even a judgment day interview. Well the law of consecration proved too great of test for the young man and he went away from the celestial law and God sorrowing.

The Lord used this interview as a teaching moment for his disciples:

23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Now taken out of context it would be easy to see this as a condemnation of all people who make or inherit a lot of money (whatever “a lot of money” means…). But in context the issue is not with people who make a lot of money relative to peers, it is everyone who fails to live the celestial law and the law of consecration. I think the point being made is that it is impossible for a person who is not living to celestial law to inherit celestial glory. The celestial law includes the law of consecration. So therefore, not only is it impossible for rich people to become celestial people if they hold anything back from God (including their money), it is impossible for any person to be heirs of celestial glory if they hold anything back from God (including money). Rich, poor, in-between; the issue is that if we hold anything back from God we are not consecrating and we are not living the celestial law. That is why the disciples who as a group were surely not rich were so concerned about this pronouncement in verse 25. But in verse 26 Jesus assured them that they could indeed live the celestial law with the help of God.

Peter, realizing that he and others already were living the law of consecration then asked Jesus what it would mean for them:

27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Jesus comforts Peter and the other disciples by assuring them that they are indeed on the right track in verse 28. He also explains that because they are living the law of consecration they will sit with him in judgment of the rest of God’s covenant people. My take on this is that they will sit in judgment by virtue of living the celestial law and not by virtue of their church assignment. That is, I think that all who live the celestial law including the law of consecration here on earth will sit with Jesus in judgment of the rest of ancient and modern Israel who went away sorrowing when confronted with living the law of consecration. Then I believe verse 29 and 30 complete the transition in the narrative to begin foreshadowing the inclusion of the Johnny-come-lately gentiles into the covenant of Israel as explained in further detail in the parable of the laborers as I discussed earlier.

Now I’m not saying I can’t be wrong in my reading of this, but I do think this reading does work very well with modern revelations and it helps clear up a lot of misconceptions and wild ideas that come out of Matthew 19. What do you think?

66 Comments »

  1. I like your assessment of this teaching of our Savior. I have been thinking a bit on this story myself and I have determined that one lesson I can learn from it is that you don’t just get to ‘heaven’ (whatever your definition of heaven is) by being a good person. I think regardless of what a camel and needle is we can assume that the camel doesn’t jsut happen through the eye of the needle once in a while, but must be deliberately and faithfully guided there.

    I think it teaches us that you must exert the effort, make the goal, and work towards admittance into God’s presence.

    Comment by cantinflas — September 21, 2006 @ 8:25 am

  2. I agree with your interpretation here. I think the story shows how the young man’s love of his “great possessions” kept him from greater things (including accepting the celestial law). The Savior’s invitation to “come and follow me” was given to some fishermen in Galilee at the beginning of his ministry:

    Matt. 4:19-22
    19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
    20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
    21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
    22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.

    These four apostles were willing to give up their earthly possessions to follow Jesus, and they did so immediately. When faced with the same invitation the rich young man chose instead to keep his riches and possessions, essentially choosing them over an apostleship. He was not willing to live the celestial law and went away sorrowing.

    Comment by Capt. Obsidian — September 21, 2006 @ 12:19 pm

  3. Cantflinas — Good comment. I think the point might be the camels can’t even pass through eyes of needles and people who don’t live the Celestial law can’t ever inherit Celestial glory. It really is impossible for that to happen. Without God’s assistance we could never live the Celestial law but with his assistance we can.

    Capt. — Thanks for the fitting reference. The point I hoped to drive home is that this parable has to do with consecration and not richness. It is just as impossible for a poor person to inherit Celestial glory without living the Celestial law as it is for a rich person to do it.

    The real question we ought to be asking ourselves is “what does living the law of consecration mean to me in my life right now?” If we are not ready to live the law of consecration now then we are just like the rich young man in the story. But again, it is not easy to discern what that really means for us now…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 21, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  4. Geoff J. #3: If you missed it, Kevin Barney posted on what the needle is here. Basically he agrees that it is more likely referring to a literal needle so it’s only possible as a miracle from God.

    Comment by Robert C. — September 21, 2006 @ 6:10 pm

  5. Geoff, it’s imperative for a proper exegesis of these passages to note that Jesus does not mention money at all. The only allusion to it is “treasure in heaven,” which not only isn’t money, but stands in direct contradistinction to it. He does mention being “rich,” but he doesn’t mention what kind of “riches.” What is at stake here, according to some of the scholarship on these verses, is the meaning of these terms. The most important thing to note is the counter-argument the young man gives to Jesus. He doesn’t say anything about his money, but rather his works. He mentions that he keeps all of the decalogue with near perfection. What makes the young man “rich,” according to some scholars, is the young man’s works of the law, or his Torah-keeping. He approaches Jesus as one who thinks he has “treasures in heaven” because he has kept all of Torah, and wants some validation in that. Jesus rebukes the works-based righteousness of Torah-keeping by pointing out that the young man still had other things to “do” in order to have more “treasures in heaven,” viz. following Jesus (which is something that can’t be easily enumerated). In a nutshell — it takes much more than keeping Torah to live in heaven, it takes (as Robert C. aptly pointed out) a miracle from God. That, I think, is Jesus’ point.

    So the “riches” in this verse are quite possibly the Pharasaic 1st century view of good works. However, whether one goes with the scholarship, or with the usual interpretation, both work out the same, I think.

    Comment by David J — September 21, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

  6. The “many that are first shall be last” is a direct reference to the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matt 22:2-14. And of course the reference is to the pride of the wealthy, powerful, and wise in their own sight leading them to despise the gospel and its requirements, thus being among the last that are saved, and also how numerous of the poor and the meek – the lowly ones of the earth, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven before them.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 21, 2006 @ 9:54 pm

  7. The response “if the rich can not be saved, who then can be saved?” is instructive. The assumption is that the rich are the most likely to be saved.

    The continued instruction, that with man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible, is the heart of the teaching.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — September 22, 2006 @ 4:54 am

  8. Two quick reactions.

    Stephen, I think that’s a wonderful point that has to be engaged in interpreting this verse: the assumption was that the rich were the chosen of heaven (Weber, etc.?). I should like to see that pointed out in discussion of this text more often.

    Geoff, I think you are dead on in making this a question of the law of consecration, and I don’t think that consecration is at all to be separated from grace. The two are one and the same thing: we live in consecration because we live in grace, and vice versa. The difficulty that often arises when this passage is discussed is that it becomes a discussion of riches rather than a discussion of consecration. As soon as it becomes a discussion of riches, the “good” side is said to be a ridding oneself of riches through giving to the poor, and the “bad” side is said to be an accumulation of riches by denying them to the poor. Rather, it is a question of consecration: the “good” side is consecrating EVERYTHING, and the “bad” side is not doing so. But who ever said that consecrating is always a question of alms? Consecrating is dedicating EVERYTHING to the building up of the Church and the establishment of Zion, that simple. One must be seeking in the Spirit–and I mean the Spirit that comes by grace–what it is that should be done here and now with this little bit and that little bit. Perhaps right now a neighbor needs an anonymous gift, or perhaps right now I ought to be building up a library of good books for my children, or perhaps right now it is most important that I give some extra fast offerings, or perhaps right now it is most important that I take my wife out for a very nice meal away from house concerns, or perhaps right now there is a cub scout in the ward who can’t get a book and a shirt and I can do something about it, etc. The point is always to be doing all we can to build up the kingdom, and that is a question of the Spirit, and hence a question of grace.

    Longer than I meant to be. My apologies.

    Comment by Joe Spencer — September 22, 2006 @ 8:06 am

  9. Stephen, Joe,

    I am not sure it is so obvious that the assumption was that the rich would be saved. It seems to me the assumption was that people who had been faithfully living the ten commandments since their youth would be saved.

    Comment by Jacob — September 22, 2006 @ 3:59 pm

  10. I am not sure it is so obvious that the assumption was that the rich would be saved. It seems to me the assumption was that people who had been faithfully living the ten commandments since their youth would be saved.

    Except Jesus points out that the rich will no more be saved than camels get through the eye of a needle. The Apostles immediately respond with “who then will be saved?”

    Christ doesn’t say “the poor” or “the rich who repent” or any thing else but that “with man salvation is impossible, but with God it can be accomplished.”

    That really struck me. None of us can be saved with man, only by God.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — September 23, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

  11. Robert C (#4) – Thanks for the link to Kevin’s post. I thought I had read it but looking again I discovered I had only skimmed it before. After debunking the “gate” myth regarding the camel Kevin presents 3 possible interpretations of the camel proverb 1) The consecration approach (Nibley took it and I do too). 2)The hyperbole approach. 3) The post-works grace approach.

    Interestingly, several commenters in this thread are voting with the post-works grace approach. I personally don’t buy that approach at all though it has some traction among Mormons. This is essentially the parable of the bicycle approach that says you should choose to become a good person with your free will here but you will still be FAR short of worthy to be exalted. (Robinson compares this to our saving our pennies to purchase a $100+ bike — he says we’ll never make it because we’ll run out of time at that rate presumably.) The theory goes on to say that if you do that God will change your character the rest of the way for you to make you worthy to be one with him. The problem I have with this approach is that it denies free will after this life. If we retain free will eternally (as I believe we do) then God simply can’t change our character for us. In fact if he were to try to compel us to change for the better our scriptures indicate it would be amen to his priesthood or authority or that he would cease to be God.

    Therefore I think (along with Blake Ostler) that grace is required for salvation but it is a previent form of grace rather than an after-effort character-transforming variety. God constantly offers himself to us in loving relationship and does all in his power to persuade us to love him and our fellow men back; he only persuades us to choose him and can never change our characters for us.

    So I think the consecration model is by far the best way to read this passage. We must become the type of people who love God enough to give him everything — our time and and efforts and our stuff with nothing held back.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2006 @ 3:57 pm

  12. David J (#5) – Interesting points about that approach to these verses. I think it is worth considering. However It smells suspiciously like scholars hoping to downplay works and bolster a “by grace only” theology that is so popular in certain theological circles. I think that interpretaions through such a lens is usually at odds with the restored gospel.

    Stephen – Interesting interpretation of the reaction of the disciples. One certainly could read verse to mean they assumed the rich wouldbe the top candidates to be exalted, but I tend to side with Jacob on this. Condemning rich folk for their selfishness was not a new thing to Judiasm after all. It seems far more likely that they were shocked that keeping all the commandments as this young man did was not enough. The law of consecration is indeed a shockingly difficult law to keep. (But why should we ever hope to receive all that God hath if we are not willing to give him all that we have?) I think Christ then explains that it is indeed impossible to keep the law of consecration without the constant sustaining assistance of God through the Holy Ghost.

    Joe – Thanks for the comment. I’m pretty sure I entirely agree with you (because you are using the word grace in the way I like to use it — as the constant and gracious personal relationship God offers to us.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

  13. On grace and works. I think one problem is that too many equate grace with some sort of cost free exercise of divine power, where the point of the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross was to demonstrate that grace is indeed a gift unto us, but unto Him it involves enormous suffering and sacrifice.

    So can we be saved by our own sacrifice alone? Absolutely not. We need the sacrifice or the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to be saved. What was and is a sacrifice unto Christ is grace unto us. And in our own small way what is a sacrifice unto us, is grace unto someone else. That is what being gracious means. The Lord needs us to make those little sacrifices, so that others can recieve little graces. Otherwise there is no At-one-ment.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 23, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

  14. Geoff, I can see your point, especially as made from a fellow Mormon, who, for the most part, is fiercely against the idea of grace vs. works (after all, grace won’t do my home teaching for me, but works will! ;) ). The problem most Mormons have is that they don’t understand how mainline Christians deal with the works/grace issue. The evans. I know actually think good works are wonderful and helpful and contain some salvific value. However, they do believe that ultimately and in the end, the decision regarding salvation is in God’s hands, regardless of how much we “keep Torah” (and God, ironically, leaves it in our hands through faith).

    A close read of the NT, especially the synoptics, shows that Jesus was very anti-establishment and anti-keeping-of-Torah-as-the-sole-means-of-being-saved. The keeping of Torah was how the temple priesthood and the power brokers who they controlled (and who controlled them on occasion!) kept its tight grip on the Jewish people at the temple and in the synagogue. Jesus was there to set them free of those bonds. With this in mind, it’s NO WONDER that our mainline Christian friends have picked up on it and espoused it as a marvelous doctrine; especially after nearly 2000 years to think about, research, and understand what the text is saying. Our church has what, 170 years of deciding where it stands on this? Frankly, I know guys like the ones over at Iron Rod or M* would (try to) flame the crap out of me for saying this, but I side with our brothers who have the legacy of wrestling with this question and their conclusion on this one. Why? Not because of my education or because of my contradictory spirit, but because a careful reading of the text, in conjunction with centuries of commentary and questioning on it leads me to believe that our mainline friends got their “salvation from grace” doctrine from the only place they could have got it: the Bible (after all, were they not “adrift” without “direct revelation” the whole time???). And the “riches = works” thing fits really, really well in these passages (especially when he lays them out for Jesus); not just textually, but sociologically and historically.

    But I may be wrong (which is likely).

    Comment by David J — September 23, 2006 @ 7:03 pm

  15. David, why the slam on M* ? For the record I believe the LDS view of Grace really isn’t that different from what most formal traditional Christian theology teaches. I think far too many Mormons assume the mainstream Christian view is what Evangelicals like to call cheap grace. I don’t buy Pelegianism. While Mark and I obviously differ on some key theological points, I’d note that most of his recent poss at M* have been quite anti-Pelegian as well.

    Comment by clark — September 23, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

  16. David J,

    Good points. I am not disagreeing with as much as you might imagine on that reading you suggested. For instance, I think that it does make sense that Jesus could have meant that no checklist of commandment to-do’s would lead to exaltation. Further I think that without the gracious assistance of God none of us could ever become exalted either.

    Something you said illustrates an important theological issue though:

    However, they do believe that ultimately and in the end, the decision regarding salvation is in God’s hands

    I have a hard time seeing exaltation being a decision God makes at some point in time. That is because I think that exaltation is the same as becoming of one heart and of one mind with God. When we become one with him we become exalted. But that happens gradually over time and not suddenly in my opinion. So I envision a continuum of potential oneness with God (with total unity on one extreme and total separation on the other). The stronger our personal revelatory relationship with him the closer we are to becoming one with the Godhead and thus exalted. The weaker our realtionship with God the farther we are from exaltation. I think that free will endures forever so we are always free to choose to move into a closer relationship. God’s grace is primary manifest in his never-ending pleading for us to love him and enter his embrace in oneness. The law of consecration is something that one can only fully and properly keep after one has drawn very close unto God in a personal relationship I think. We give him everything we are when we learn to love and trust him enough to truly do so. That was what the rich young man lacked I think — that kind of faith in Christ and personal relationship with God to get him over the hump.

    So anyway, since I believe that the possibility for progression or retrogression don’t end with this life I don’t actually think there is a moment when God makes a decision about our exaltation. I think we are making that decision every moment — either we are accepting God’s gracious invitations and promptings by repenting and moving closer to oneness with him or we are failing to repent and rejecting his gracious offer of a relationship. If we continue to draw closer to him one day we will be exalted persons who are one with the Godhead.

    Interestingly, Zion is the community of people who are one with God. And when they are one with God they are of one heart and one mind with each other also. Outer darkness seems like an appropriate despcription for those on the opposite extreme of the continuum — those who have chosen total alienation from God.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 23, 2006 @ 11:28 pm

  17. David J,

    I believe I do understand quite well what the more conventional Christian approaches are to grace, and some of them are quite good. Any sola gratia approach to salvation is going to have certain characteristic weaknesses, unfortunately, just as any “by works alone” distortion of the gospel, something even the Law of Moses was intended to make quite clear.

    I think it was in a recent thread here I was trying to explain why salvation is a gift, or rather has a wildly predominant gift character – so much so that one’s contribution to his own glory is insignificant compared to that which he receives by grace. Humility, obedience, long suffering even unto death pales in comparison to the blessings which the Lord has prepared for the righteous. Now salvation is a conditional gift, and could not be any other way, but it is primarily a gift.

    Although I am almost certain I disagree with Stephen Robinson on the metaphysics of grace the parable of the bicycle is quite accurate. The only weakness in the parable is the implied possibility that the father could just buy his daughter the bicycle outright. That is an actual impossibility – we cannot earn salvation, but we must prepare our hearts to receive it, and do anything the Lord requires of us – he requires no idle sacrifices.

    Without the sum of the sacrifices made by each member of the household of God there would be no true grace, no Zion. Heaven is a society. I am merely saying that the blessings we receive from proper, humble membership in that society, according to the new and everlasting covenant thereof, infinitely outweighs anything we could accomplish of our own device. It is only through the grace of God that we are saved – the sacrifice that we make (however difficult it seems) is just the key that unlocks the door.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 24, 2006 @ 1:29 am

  18. Just to add, FAIR put up a nice short wiki page on salvation by faith that I think shows the distance in doctrine between Evangelicals and Mormons is narrow even if the distance in understanding is wide.

    Comment by Clark — September 25, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  19. I like the “Parable of the Bicycle” as a general matter. But it breaks down at a certain point.

    Namely, it assumes that we can make ANY positive headway (even mere pennies) toward the bike’s purchase price AT ALL.

    We can’t. All human action is flawed and done in some degree of wickedness (however minor-seeming). You will never get ahead.

    And if you ever do, King Benjamin has made it clear that immediate rewards from God ensure you are NEVER any closer to paying for the bicycle than when you began.

    In fact, there is good reason to believe that, from the moment of baptism, we are continually racking up a negative balance and getting further and further in the hole.

    The idea that you can “make your penny quota” in this life or any life is one of the Mormon heresies floating around out there, and causes a lot of grief for our membership.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 25, 2006 @ 1:08 pm

  20. It is true that we are and always will be in debt to the Eternal Father, no matter how many pennies we contribute. But so is every other man. The Lord Jesus himself is deep in hock to the Eternal Father. There is no man or woman throughout all eternity that is not in debt to Elohim. God is a debtor to no man. But He is no individual either, Endless is His name.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

  21. Wow Seth — are you actually preaching total depravity? And all this time I thought you were a Mormon…

    Mark – Cut the cryptic stuff bro. It doesn’t really move these conversations along — it only confuses people.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 25, 2006 @ 1:44 pm

  22. No more cryptic than the scriptures themselves, Geoff:

    And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

    And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

    And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.
    (Mosiah 2:23-25)

    And so what is the answer to this eternal paradox? The doctrine of the Trinity, something radically underappreciated in LDS circles (though not properly understood elsewhere either):

    Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.
    (D&C 20:28)

    And the greatest exposition of this doctrine that we have to date is in the New Testament, which turns on the following principle:

    For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

    Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
    (1 Cor 12:12,27)

    That is what baptism is all about. And not only baptism, but the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Priesthood, Marriage, and the Resurrection.

    That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
    (1 Cor 12:25-26)

    I hope that is sufficiently clear. Each member has the same name, the name of the body. Each member is indebted to the body and always will be, forever and ever. The body itself is a debtor to no member. That is the doctrine of grace, or the doctrine of the body of Christ.

    Without the other members of the body, each member is dead, being alone. But through obedience to the laws and ordinance of the gospel, they together form one glorious body, the body of Christ, the working whereby He is able to subdue all things.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

  23. Mark,

    You misunderstood. Your cryptic remarks are when you veil your belief that the “the Father” described in scripture is usually really the “divine concert” (not necessarily a person) and that the atonement (or “at-one-ment” as you insist on spelling it) is also really carried out by the “divine concert” and not solely by Jesus Christ.

    The King Benjamin passage is not particularly cryptic as I read it. We will always be indebted to God for loving us when we are hardly loveable and for condescending to offer an undeserved personal relationship with us here. But just because we are indebted to God eternally for that does not mean we can never change to become worthy of a personal relationship. That is where Seth is just plain wrong in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 25, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

  24. I tend to agree with Seth R. I don’t know how he arrived at his understanding of grace, but it seems to be better than most members.

    In Philip Yancey’s book that I talk about all the time, he tells the story of “Babette’s Feast.” I had never heard the story before, but thought it describes LDS people very well. Actually, to be fair, Yancey uses it to describe all Christians, which is what it was written for. We all have a hard time with grace. An eye for an eye is much easier, of course we would soon all be blind and toothless. Back to my point.

    In the story, a most wonderful meal is offered to a small group of people. The meal cost the person who prepared it, everything she had. The short of it, is that no one appreciated the meal, even though it was the best meal they had ever had.

    Robinson admitted that the bicycle story was not a real good analogy of grace, but he knew he was writing to members of the Church, so had to gear the story so members could understand it.

    Believing that God changes your character to be good by His grace and therefore takes away your free will, is to misunderstand what grace is. This is a most difficult matter to explain. That is why I like the way Yancey does grace. He just tells stories about grace, allowing one to see just what grace is and is not.

    Think of the people in prison that do a 180 while in prison due to their acceptance of Christ. It was their free will that allowed them to accept Christ and it is Gods gift to them that sustains them in prison. Two people come to mind.

    One was a woman that killed someone years ago. It was a horrible crime worthy of the death sentence she received. The problem was, by the time they got around to killing her, she was not even the same person that did the crime. The other was a black guy put to death just last year. Again, the crime was terrible. During the years he spent in prison, he changed so much he started writing children’s books. It is too bad they felt a need to kill him too. That is the power of grace, it literally changes lives, and not by any kind of coercion from God.

    Comment by CEF — September 25, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

  25. CEF,

    Seth’s take sounds like a version of total depravity and that doctrine is at odds with modern revelations. For one thing it is based on an understanding of original sin that modern revelation refutes. For another, it assumes an ontological gap between God and man that Mormon prophets have rejected. It also assumes creation ex nihilo as far as I can tell — another doctrine refuted by modern prophets.

    We all have a hard time with grace. An eye for an eye is much easier, of course we would soon all be blind and toothless.

    I think you are confusing grace for forgiveness here. They are related but not completely synonymous.

    Believing that God changes your character to be good by His grace and therefore takes away your free will, is to misunderstand what grace is. This is a most difficult matter to explain.

    It is difficult to explain because it is incoherent in most iterations. Grace exists and is necessary for exaltation but it does not exist in the “free ride” sense many wishfully think it does.

    I agree that because of grace people choose to change and repent. That is not what is in question. The question is whether God changes people through his power (independent of their choices and behaviors) or if God invites people to change through gently loving persuasion and then waits for them to choose to repent. The latter is the only version of grace that works in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 25, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

  26. Geoff,

    Rather than further detract from this discussion, I have posted my response here.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

  27. Niiiice Mark! I like it when you have a blog to respond at.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 25, 2006 @ 4:14 pm

  28. Geoff, the nuances and inflection of the words matters.

    Change “total depravity” to “total imperfection” and you’re closer to what I’m getting at. Because the main difference between my explanation of grace and “total depravity” is that I have a much more postitive view of humanity than the depravity crowd.

    I simply don’t see how you can come away from King Benjamin’s address with the idea that your efforts really count for much in and of themselves.

    By the way, this idea tends to drive “self-made-men” absolutely nuts.

    And Mormonism is chock-full of self-made-men.

    Time to deflate a few egos I think.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 25, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

  29. Seth,

    Your term “Total Imperfection” makes no sense. Imperfect means “not perfect” so the qualifier “total” is superfluous. No one denies that humans are imperfect. But what you are preaching, whether you recognize it or not, is run of the mill total depravity and it puts you theologically at odds with the prophets and the restored gospel.

    Pithy quips about self-made-men don’t score you any points either. If men really are free to choose then we really are in a significant sense self made. However I believe exaltation is best defined as a perfect personal relationsip with God and relationships require both sides to put out significant effort so I agree that no one is spiritually “self-made” in the sense that no one could have a relationship with God if God did not offer it first.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 25, 2006 @ 9:27 pm

  30. President Hinckley said to the sisters the other night (from memory) “You are not second class citizens in the Church. No one can take you lightly. You are 50% of the church, and the mothers of the other 50%”.

    So as you see, there are no self-made men. (There are not even any man made men, not any more.)

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 25, 2006 @ 10:19 pm

  31. Geoff, another look at your original post could be that these verses reflect what I think Harold B. Lee taught, that the most important commandment is the one you are having the most trouble with. In another case, a disciple might have sold his possessions and given to the poor, but maybe didn’t honor his parents, or keep the Sabbath day holy. For a rich man, selling his possessions and giving to the poor is apparently the most difficult commandment.

    I don’t see the context you refer to here: “But in context the issue is not with people who make a lot of money relative to peers, it is everyone who fails to live the celestial law and the law of consecration.” On the contrary, the context deals specifically with riches and failing to share. If everyone was “rich,” there would be no excess to share.

    In our society, we tend to rationalize the accumulation (or inheritance) of wealth; rather than giving it away to the poor, we build bigger houses, make more investments, etc., thinking we are “stewards” and have a responsibility to properly manage what we have. It seems clear from these verses that this is the attitude that keeps us out of heaven.

    I think we must accept Jesus’ words that a rich man cannot, by definition, enter heaven. A person who is rich doesn’t understand the gospel, which requires us to seek the welfare of our neighbors.

    Comment by jonathan n — September 25, 2006 @ 10:28 pm

  32. Geoff,

    Are you really trying to tell me that any of us is capable of doing ANYTHING without even the slightest little degree of sin?

    We are constantly undermining ourselves in our standing before God. The only way to get ahead is through constant repentance, in which case, “getting ahead” is bestowed as a loving gift. Perfection is an absolute condition. You’re either there or you aren’t. There is no “moving closer to perfection” for the same reason my taking two steps across the room brings me no closer to traveling an “infinite distance.” Helping my wife do the dishes does not bring me quantitatively any closer to Exhaltation than if I’d ignored her and played video games.

    But helping her DOES meet some of the requirements God has made of me in obtaining the correct ordinances unto salvation. “Works meet for repentance” has always refered to the necessary ordinances and not “being a good Samaritan,” “doing my home teaching” or whatever else. That’s where Exhaltation is.

    We keep God’s commandments more as a matter of establishing the correct loving and humble relationship with God than as a matter of obtaining personal advancement on our own merits.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 26, 2006 @ 6:52 am

  33. Seth: Are you really trying to tell me that any of us is capable of doing ANYTHING without even the slightest little degree of sin?

    Of course we can do all sorts of things without sinning. Are you actually saying that we can’t do anything without sinning? So we can’t blink without sinning in your view? Sneeze? Eat an apple? Sleep? Kiss our babies? Love and serve one another? If that is actually what you are preaching I think it is ludicrous.

    You are again preaching run-of-the-mill total depravity. As I keep reminding you — total depravity has no place in the restored gospel because it ain’t true.

    Perfection is an absolute condition.

    I think perfection is better described as perfect oneness with the Godhead. That is, we will be exalted when we change to become one in mind and heart with God. Do you think it means never doing a wrong think on a checklist of millions thou shalts and thou shalt nots or something? By that definition Jesus was not perfect either.

    There is no “moving closer to perfection” for the same reason my taking two steps across the room brings me no closer to traveling an “infinite distance.”

    Really? Do you have any scriptural support to back this claim up or did you make that up yourself?

    Helping my wife do the dishes does not bring me quantitatively any closer to Exhaltation than if I’d ignored her and played video games.

    I think you couldn’t, as they say, be more wronger. Exaltation is about relationships — with God and with others here (especially your spouse). Therefore, every time you selfishly neglect your relationship with God or your spouse you are indeed moving further from exaltation because you damage your relationship with God and her by so doing.

    “Works meet for repentance” has always refered to the necessary ordinances and not “being a good Samaritan,” “doing my home teaching” or whatever else. That’s where Exhaltation is.

    This is just wishful thinking amigo. The ordinance don’t do squat for you if you don’t actively repent and change yourself and improve your personal relationship with God after entering those agreements. They are contracts. The terms of the contract require you to change and repent (“always rememeber him”, “keep his commandments”, etc) so one cannot keep one’s covenants without actively doing good and repenting and changing to become closer to God and more like him.

    We keep God’s commandments more as a matter of establishing the correct loving and humble relationship with God than as a matter of obtaining personal advancement on our own merits.

    These two things are one.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2006 @ 8:14 am

  34. I cannot sit and read this debate any longer without just chiming in to say that I’m on Geoff’s side. If God could simply mercifully change us into something it would be done already. And yes, while I see that our fallen nature seems to drip from most of what we do – that does not mean that we are unable to choose right from wrong.

    Comment by Hal H. — September 26, 2006 @ 8:41 am

  35. Jonathan (#31),

    Interesting point about the most important commandment being the hardest to keep. I think that is right in line with the concept of consecration though. Whether we are financially rich or poor, talent rich or poor, or whatever the law of consecration stipulates that we develop enough faith in Christ to give it all to Him in order to help him establish Zion. (I think that faith is only developed as a result of a intimate and personal revelatory relationship with Christ and the Godhead, BTW)

    I don’t see the context you refer to here: “But in context the issue is not with people who make a lot of money relative to peers, it is everyone who fails to live the celestial law and the law of consecration.”

    I was mostly trying to leave room for the relative nature of what it means to be “rich”. Living like a rich person in 30 AD would be dirt poor in modern America after all (no electricity, no car, etc.) So “rich” is a comparative term rather than an absolute term. That is the context I meant.

    If everyone was “rich,” there would be no excess to share.

    Huh? You lost me here…

    I think we must accept Jesus’ words that a rich man cannot, by definition, enter heaven.

    If you are looking to bash “the rich” you won’t find support from me. As I said, rich is entirely a relative concept. It all depends on who you are comparing yourself against. If we are comparing ourselves against all people since Adam then most every modern person is filthy rich. Are you ready to concede that it is impossible for you to “enter heaven” because you are rich by that standard? If not then what standard will you apply? (Surely one that leave the possibility of you exaltation open. I do the same.)

    But the point is that anyone who lives the law of consecration is no longer “rich” in any age. They may retain stewardship of earthly goods but if they sincerely devote all of their time and resources and talents to Christ and building up his kingdom they are consecrating and thus are not “rich” in the sense of sense of selfishly holding back from God.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2006 @ 9:15 am

  36. Seth,

    I continue to read this exchange with amazement.

    There is no “moving closer to perfection” for the same reason my taking two steps across the room brings me no closer to traveling an “infinite distance.”

    Geoff asked for scriptural support in his response to this, but my bigger concern is that this makes no sense. In what way is perfection like an infinite distance? The idea that nothing is closer or farther from perfection is an absolute denial of meaningful judgment. You are claiming that there is no such thing as “better” or “worse,” which might be the most problematic thing I’ve read in a long time.

    Comment by Jacob — September 26, 2006 @ 9:22 am

  37. (#35) I agree that rich is a comparative term, but it’s a comparison in a context. A person who was rich in AD 30 was rich relative to his/her contemporaries, and that’s where the injustice is. It’s not a question of comparing a rich person in AD 30 to a rich person today. That’s what I mean by if everyone was “rich” no one would have excess to share. It’s the relative disparity to one’s contemporaries that is the problem. That’s what I think 4 Nephi means when it says there were no poor among them.

    I agree that there’s no point in bashing the rich. Christ has done that more effectively than we ever could. But at the same time, we see considerable rationalization of riches in our society–and in our church. The most common is that we are “stewards” of our own possessions and so, rather than distribute them to the poor (whom we rationalize are less effective stewards), we keep them but use some portion of our time and resources toward building up the kingdom, instead of having all things in common. Convinced that we’re somehow consecrating ourselves, we can then walk by the poor and needy and notice them not.

    The evidence of this permeates our society, but is nowhere more blatant than in Salt Lake and Utah counties. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of people who freely give of their resources and avoid the large houses, cars, and other manifestations of the “deceitfulness of riches” that Christ spoke of; but there are many more who rationalize away the plain language of the verses in Matthew 20.

    This topic comes up frequently in an ethics class that I teach, and one thing the students often bring up is the lack of a role model who exemplifies these teachings, shunning the materialism of our world in favor of ministering to the poor and needy. Most often, students think of a Mother Teresa or other Catholic charity they’re familiar with. I’ve never yet had a student come up with an LDS example.

    Comment by jonathan n — September 26, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

  38. jonathan n,

    Do you have TV? How do you justify owning a TV when there are people in the world without enough food to eat. Why havn’t you donated that money to those who need it more?

    Hugh Nibley is commonly brought up as an LDS example of what you describe.

    Comment by Jacob — September 26, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

  39. Hello Geoff,

    It seems that you have had other exchanges with Seth R. and therefore understand where he is coming from better than I do. But… :)

    I agree, I do not believe in total depravity and all the other stuff mentioned.

    I have come to see the whole world in terms of grace or ungrace. So maybe I use the term grace when forgiveness would be the word that might be more correct.

    I do not think of grace in terms of being free in the sense that we can sin more because it gives God a better chance to forgive us more. I know there are theological discussions about such things, Yancey mentions some of them in his book. But that is not my understanding of grace.

    I understand grace in terms of prevenient grace, in that we love God because He loved us first. Brennan Manning makes the point that we can ask God to forgive us because we know he will. I had a hard time with that concept at first, but decided he is right. So I believe what draws us to God is his grace. Knowing that he loves me just the way I am and offers to forgive me, and all I have to do is accept it, is the most powerful motivating force I have ever felt. It is what makes a mighty change of heart possible in my opinion.

    Comment by CEF — September 26, 2006 @ 2:55 pm

  40. Jonathan,

    Jacob is right. You are rich. By most any standard when compared to the entire population of the earth in 2006 you are a rich man. I feel pretty certain of that because you are on the Web discussing theology on a blog. I think it is safe to guess that you have more than enough access to food, a roof over your head, running water, and all kinds of other luxuries like a car, TV, couches, beds, a stove, a refrigerator (with a freezer!) etc. Yet there are millions of people on our planet who have none of these extravagant luxuries.

    Since you are rich, do you believe it is impossible for you to be exalted?

    Also, the scriptures do speak of stewardships. Why do you dismiss those revelations so fippantly?

    The problem with the logic you are using is that you have resorted to the same easy theological grenades Nibley tended to huck at people. You have not defined rich or poor or specific standards. You use nebulous terms like “large houses and cars” to condemn “the rich” but don’t define large. You use the “there were no poor among them” verse as a club but don’t define the poor either. So you leave us wondering what the supposed goal is. Must one live a life that is equally poor with the poorest human on earth to avoid being “rich” in your world view? If not then what is the definition?

    Of course you sounds sort of Nibley-ish in your comments. I was a huge Nibley-head a few years ago but I find myself with an irritating Nibley hangover as of late…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  41. I don’t know Geoff.

    Perhaps I am preaching a form of “total depravity” and I just don’t know it (quite possible given my unfamiliarity with the concept). But I don’t like the implicit focus behind the words. I would posit that our divine heritage is a more fundamental characteristic of humanity than our fallen nature.

    And yes, I basically made up that part about the eternity analogy. But I do think that divinity is a matter of quality, not quantity, and it cannot be earned, only bestowed.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 26, 2006 @ 7:26 pm

  42. That was a response to #33, FYI.

    As far as what qualifies as “large” …

    “More than enough” is “more than enough.” I don’t know how much plainer you can get than that.

    Maintain “sufficient for your needs.” Anything more than that is a spiritual liability.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 26, 2006 @ 7:29 pm

  43. Seth: But I do think that divinity is a matter of quality, not quantity, and it cannot be earned, only bestowed.

    In the standard Mormon naarative about our premortal existence, Satan’s plan was to “bestow” salvation and divinity on everyone regardless of their efforts/works (aka thoughts, words, and deeds). Jesus’s plan in this narrative was to allow for free choices wherein men could freely choose to be like God (or not) and to turn to him (or not) in a loving albeit difficult to maintain personal relationship.

    What you are preaching sounds very much like a variation on the former plan and a rejection of the latter plan to me. Calvinists love those ideas, but Mormonism rejects the views you are pushing. (Hence my comment #21)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2006 @ 8:45 pm

  44. CEF,

    Forgiveness is extremely important, of course, a key aspect, of being gracious – which is literally, giving others more than what they naturally deserve. By the same token service, suffering, sacrifice on behalf of others are also a manifestation of grace. And certainly a life of service, especially in cheerful ignominy, giving all credit to God for whatever you accomplish, and none to oneself, is generally a more difficult task than learning to forgive others freely.

    The At-one-ment cannot be accomplished by forgiveness alone, but only through benevolent service, suffering and sacrifice. And Jesus Christ set the example for us in that regard, suffering even unto death, that he might bring many sons (and daughters) unto glory.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 26, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  45. Actually I think Seth’s philosophy will get him to heaven a lot faster than he thinks. For example if he were my husband and he felt that playing video games was as important as helping me with the dishes he would find me whacking him upside the head with a frying pan causing him to float up to heaven with his little angel wings.

    Comment by Kristen J — September 27, 2006 @ 8:18 am

  46. Trouble getting help with the dishes last night Kristen? Is Geoff okay or should I call the police?

    Comment by Jacob — September 27, 2006 @ 9:07 am

  47. Geoff? Geoff who?

    Comment by Kristen J — September 27, 2006 @ 9:43 am

  48. (#40) Geoff, outside the extremes, it would be difficult to determine who is rich and who is not in a world-wide sense. I’ve traveled extensively on every continent and there are rich and poor everywhere, but there is less hunger today than ever before and conditions worldwide are improving (with some exceptions). But I have friends who blog from grungy upper rooms in run-down apartment buildings in India, so I don’t think blogging reflects wealth one way or the other.

    But I don’t dismiss the scriptures on stewardship at all, and certainly not flippantly. I just point out that these scriptures are often abused to justify accumulation and preservation of wealth far beyond what one needs.

    I would say the goal is not to have all become poor, but to reach the point where everyone has sufficient for his/her needs. I know of families right here in the U.S., and even in Utah, who don’t have the cars, refrigerators, and adequate food you refer to, so it’s not a question of looking very far to see the problems.

    I don’t understand the point of trying to define away the term “rich” that Christ used in Matthew, other than to justify ignoring what he said. It’s not my place to define who is rich; I think each individual at some level knows whether he has more than he needs, whether he takes pride in his possessions, feels competitive with others about possessions, income levels, and social standing, and whether he is willing to give away what he has. But in a nutshell, yes, I don’t think a rich man can be saved, unless he repents.

    There are plenty of other scriptures that make the same point, but one that seems to sum it up is Proverbs 28:20–A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.

    Luke 12 and 16 both contain parables that make the point even more clearly, and King Benjamin made the point as well.

    I’m curious about your Nibley hangover. That sounds suspiciously like someone who doesn’t like what Nibley said, more than someone who has a clearer understanding of the scriptures than Nibley did.

    :)

    Comment by jonathan n — September 27, 2006 @ 11:12 am

  49. jonathan,

    I don’t understand where you are coming from at all. It seems like you want to make theoretical points about riches but you are not connecting them to the real world.

    In #37 you said:

    It’s the relative disparity to one’s contemporaries that is the problem

    but in #48 you said

    It’s not my place to define who is rich; I think each individual at some level knows whether he has more than he needs, whether he takes pride in his possessions, feels competitive with others about possessions, income levels, and social standing, and whether he is willing to give away what he has.

    Which is it? Is being rich an attitude about wealth as you describe it in #48 or is it simply having more than someone else as you describe it in #37?

    Using your definition from #37, it is quite clear that you are rich because you said that you personally “know of families right here in the U.S., and even in Utah, who don’t have the cars, refrigerators, and adequate food you refer to.” So, again, how do you justify owning a TV given this admission. It is fun to make points about the evil of riches, but it is harder to come to terms with how a person should respond in the real world. You have not made sure to have less then or equal to the wealth of others in your immediate community, so what is the story? Do you need to repent? (“But in a nutshell, yes, I don’t think a rich man can be saved, unless he repents.”) Or is there some reason that it is, as a practical matter, unclear how to apply this principle in the real world. You teach an ethics class, so I assume you can see some complexity in the question, but all your statements here are striking me as pot-shots instead of well-reasoned thoughts on interesting ethical dilemmas. For example: “That sounds suspiciously like someone who doesn’t like what Nibley said, more than someone who has a clearer understanding of the scriptures than Nibley did.” You have not yet convinced me that you like what Nibley said except for the purpose of getting on a high horse to denounce rich people.

    Comment by Jacob — September 27, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

  50. Jacob, the issue isn’t how any one else lives his/her life, because we can’t live anyone’s life but our own. The issue is what did Christ mean?

    I don’t see a discrepancy between #37 and #48. We each have to apply the scriptures to our own circumstances, including the definition of being “rich.” I happen to think it’s related to being equal in earthly things, as D&C 78:6 and other scriptures suggest, but my main concern is with scriptural interpretation that justifies people, especially LDS, in modeling their lives after the standards of the world in this area: i.e., accumulate and preserve as much as you can.

    Geoff’s original post stated that one must “be willing to live the law of consecration.” I’m saying that willingness is irrelevant. We either live the law or we don’t. I don’t think it’s a good idea to define away the term “rich” as used in Matthew 20 the way Geoff did by inventing a different context for it. It’s a common rationalization in our society, and in our church, but I think it reflects a reluctance to give up our possessions more than a deeper understanding of the scriptures.

    I don’t mean to take pot shots and I don’t see how I did that. I don’t know and I don’t care about any individual’s personal circumstances, because I’m no one’s judge. I don’t see any need to denounce rich people; we all have to deal with our own problems, and being rich is one of the biggest problems, according to the scriptures. Here I fully agree with Nibley.

    After all, the deceitfulness of riches is one of the key factors identified by the Savior when he explained how the word of the gospel gets choked by the thorns.

    As for how to apply this in the real world, opportunities abound. Missionary work (even local missions); service projects, both in and out of the church; magnifying church callings; etc.

    I think that faithful church activity and scripture study, so long as it is not tainted by materialistic rationalization about what the scriptures really say, leads people to live the law of consecration. I think the day will come when we will wake up and realize that we’re all living the law of consecration, almost in spite of ourselves. I see it all around me (I’m actually on a service mission right now), but many, many LDS are still oblivious to it because of the materialistic obsessions they have.

    Comment by jonathan n — September 28, 2006 @ 8:57 am

  51. jonathan,

    I am sure you are sincere in saying what you do, and reading my previous comments it becomes clear to me that I have not done a good job articulating my concern with your view. I apologize for the accusatory tone of my previous; I have become intolerant of the view you seem to be expressing because I hear it a lot on various blogs from various people and it strikes me a fairly naive view of how consecration relates to my financial obligations in the real world.

    There seems to be a big difference to me between trying to apply the principles of consecration to my life in the current US economy and living the law of consecration as it was envisioned and outlined in the D&C. Being dedicated to the work, going on missions, magnifying callings, etc. are all good, but they do not live up the the full blown system of consecration in the scriptures.

    I think this is what Geoff was getting at in the post by saying we must be “willing” to live the law; it seems that by its very nature, consecration is a system that cannot be entered into unilaterally, and Geoff is making allowance for the fact that the full blown system is not available today. We must approximate and apply the principles as best we can in the current system. I feel confident that Geoff was NOT trying to say we can just be willing without doing anything, which appears to be how you took his comments.

    Thus, the issue becomes one of figuring out the law of consecration should be incorporated into our lives today. You seem to be saying (among other things) that it is incorporated by us making sure that we are not “rich,” which you have defined as not having more stuff than the next guy. This seems totally impractical to me, and I tried to point that out succinctly with the question about the TV. I noticed you have not engaged that question yet, despite my bringing it up a couple of times. I don’t mean that as a joke. I assume you own a TV (correct me if I’m wrong) and according to the views you have expressed here, I don’t know how you can justify that. It seems to me that your view requires you to sell that TV and give the money to the poor.

    Personally, I think there are a number of good reasons why you are justifyied in owning a TV (but I don’t see how you can use any of my reasons if you also hold the views you have stated here). One key thing to notice is that in a consecrated society (again, it doesn’t work to do this unilaterally) people are not required to plan for their own future and become self-sufficient. Everyone turns over their excess and the society takes the responsibility for planning for the future. But right now, it is my obligation to save for retirement. It is my obligation to provide for my family and have enough in savings to plan for a rainy day when I could lose my job. These obligations necessitate the building up of a large stockpile of money/assets, which seems to be exactly what the church counsels me to do in the area of preparedness and finiancial independence.

    This is what I mean when I say your views seem to be disconnected from the real world. I see you taking a hard line that anyone with more stuff than his neighbor must repent or he can’t be saved, but I don’t see anything in your comments to account for my obligations in the real world which require me to have more than my neighbor.

    Comment by Jacob — September 28, 2006 @ 9:50 am

  52. Jonathan,

    I think Jacob is right on in his points. You may not be meaning to take pot shots, but as I read you that is primarily what you have been doing so far. You condemn rich people and say they will be damned, but you refuse to define the term “rich people”. Every time we try to pin down a definition from you in this conversation you try duck the issue. Sometimes you infer it means having more than anyone else but when it is pointed out that you are rich then, you back away from that definition. So who exactly are trying to condemn? And how are you not just taking pot shots at the undefined “rich”?

    Geoff’s original post stated that one must “be willing to live the law of consecration.” I’m saying that willingness is irrelevant. We either live the law or we don’t.

    I agree. We either live the law of consecration or we don’t. But the issue is what does it mean to live the law of consecration now. Here again you are all over the map in inferences (and accusations), but have not nailed anything down. I completely agree with Jacob when he says “Thus, the issue becomes one of figuring out the law of consecration should be incorporated into our lives today.” As Jacob mentioned I used the word willing in the post assuming that we actually will live the law of consecration today.

    As for Nibley, I have most of those “Approaching Zion” lectures on tape and a couple of years ago I was enamored with them. I have listened to those lectures (and read them) dozens of times. I still love them. But I recognize the high horse you are riding because I have ridden that pony many times myself as a result of my Nibley reading. But Nibley in those lectures faces the same problems you are facing — he refuses to define the term “rich” and he never defines what living the law of consecration means in any real world terms today. (I’ll probably post on that soon.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2006 @ 10:33 am

  53. In the language of Vennie Barbarino, “I am so confused.” I thought it was established that to live the law of consecration (rich people beware) was impossible for man to do, but with Gods help (all things are possible with God) man can do all things. What kind of help does God offer?

    Living the law of consecration allows me to have things according to my wants and needs. You may not want a television, but I do. And yes, during General Conference you may come over to my house and watch it with me. :)

    I really do not see where the argument is coming from. Maybe some kind of middle ground would work. Just trying to help, so please do not take me too serious.

    Comment by CEF — September 28, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

  54. Geoff,

    You wrote:

    “Satan’s plan was to “bestow” salvation and divinity on everyone regardless of their efforts/works (aka thoughts, words, and deeds). Jesus’s plan in this narrative was to allow for free choices wherein men could freely choose to be like God (or not) and to turn to him (or not) in a loving albeit difficult to maintain personal relationship.”

    So which is it?

    Works or choices? You kind of equate the two in that comment.

    Salvation is a matter of making choices first and foremost. The ultimate choice is whether you are “for God” or not. Works are merely an outgrowth of that.

    God has put forth a structure of “works” by which we can manifest this “choice.” Namely, the holy ordinances. What we commonly refer to as “good works” are obviously part of true performance and acceptance of those ordinances. But those good works are secondary to the ordinances that accompany the crucial choices we make.

    Kristen,

    Anyone who knows my wife knows that the only possible way that comment can be read is hypothetically. If I ever decided to test that hypothesis in reality, I would end up hypothetically dead.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 28, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  55. Seth,

    I am baffled by your question about works or choices. We don’t repent without first choosing to do so. If we “choose” to repent but don’t do it then we never actually chose to do so…

    But I am glad to see you are backing down from your earlier Calvinist-esque preaching.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2006 @ 4:40 pm

  56. CEF: I really do not see where the argument is coming from.

    If you mean the TV argument, it comes from the idea expressed ealier that “rich” means having more than someone else and that rich people cannot be saved. By such a standard, owning a TV makes you rich and, therefore, unable to be saved unless you repent. I’m with you, I want a TV too and would love to have you over for general conference.

    Comment by Jacob — September 28, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

  57. Geoff #52: Nibley’s Approaching Zion is frustrating for me to read. I think he raises some great issues, but then never really addresses them, and at times even comes across as self-righteous, jugmental and smug (on my reading, which may be a result of my own baggage more than his writing). I think how we spend our own money (just as our time and other resources we’ve been blessed with) is a very important decision that we should make very carefully and prayerfully, but most importantly, individually! What to one family might be an extravagant vacation or house may, to another family, be the best way to build family relationships and unity. Frankly, I think zealot judging “the rich” are often committing the greater sin than the rich person not giving to the poor (cf. the “greater sin” of not forgiving others in D&C 64…).

    Comment by Robert C. — September 28, 2006 @ 7:54 pm

  58. There is no need to argue about the meaning of what christ said to the rich man who wouldnt give away his money to be with christ and his lowly apostles. I personally feel that the meaning is just as it reads. Very plain spoken as christ was in this instance. I feel that the way people decide to interpret this scripture they put themselves among other people who interpret the scripture in the same way. In other words those people who don’t think that christ is condemming the rich have already put themselves among people that have the same opinion. They put themselves among those types of people.When we live our lives the way we decide to live it by our free agency we automically place ourselves among those who we feel most comfortable with.

    Comment by james — September 28, 2006 @ 8:23 pm

  59. I had the same impression as Robert C when reading Approaching Zion, though I readily maintain that the celestial order (even the terrestrial) will be radically different than what prevails in the telestial world. The love of money is indeed the root of all evil, but that doesn’t mean that business management (in the best sense of the term) is not a fit topic of study at a university.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 29, 2006 @ 6:46 am

  60. Proverbs is a much disregarded book, but there are tidbits of prophecy (and wisdom on the subject of wealth) all over the place:

    He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.
    (Prov 28:8)

    Compare:

    For I will make my people with whom the Father hath covenanted, yea, I will make thy horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass. And thou shalt beat in pieces many people; and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth. And behold, I am he who doeth it.
    (3 Ne 20:19)

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 29, 2006 @ 7:10 am

  61. (#51 & 52.) I don’t see where I’ve ducked the issue or taken pot shots. The man in the parable was referred to as rich because he had great possessions and he was unwilling to give them to the poor. Hence, there is a component of comparative wealth and a component of unwillingness to share. It has nothing to do with comparing to people who lived in the past or future.

    The notion that the law of consecration cannot be lived in today’s society is a perfect example of the destructive rationalizations that I object to. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that people can live the law of consecration despite living in a society that doesn’t. I think you’re confusing the united order with the law of consecration, but we don’t covenant to live the united order and there’s no indication that the united order was intended as anything more than a brief experiment.

    Jacob, I didn’t respond to your TV comments because I thought they were rhetorical. (It’s not a good example, anyway, since over 98% of U.S. households have TVs, and I can’t think of a place I’ve traveled that has electricity that doesn’t also have lots of TVs.) Actually I don’t have a TV (I do use video projectors instead). We’ve given away all our TVs.

    But I don’t think the point is adding up possessions and then comparing to an abstract average, anyway. The definition of “rich” in Matthew involves relative wealth and sharing. That’s the definition I’ve tried to articulate in my posts.

    I disagree with Geoff that Nibley doesn’t discuss how to live the law of consecration today. I think every General Conference pretty well spells it out, as well, but the scriptures still do it best. It’s not a matter of having some authority tell you what to do. It involves a change of heart, a detachment from one’s material possessions, and seeing through the deceitfulness of riches. It requires no change in politics, no edict from Salt Lake City, and no special meeting with the Bishop.

    For all I know, everyone on this blog already lives the law of consecration. I hope so. I’m not condemning anyone, but I do think it’s useful to point out how easy it is for us to rationalize a lifestyle that is far, far from living a consecrated life.

    Here’s an example. A friend of mine is a bishop in a wealthy ward in Utah. He’s talked to several of the retired couples about serving missions, but none of them are willing unless they can be the Mission President. It’s because they are used to running companies and organizations. Now I suppose it’s easy for those on this blog to see that error in thinking, but it’s less easy sometimes to see the errors in thinking we can’t live the law of consecration right now, whatever our circumstances.

    I’d have to see specific language from his writings to see what anyone means when they characterize Nibley as judgmental. All Nibley does is articulate the scriptural (and prophetic) language in other words. Some might not like the implications of what Nibley says, but the implications of the scriptures are even greater. Which explains so many efforts to rationalize away the plain meaning of the scriptures such as Matthew 20:16-30.

    Comment by jonathan n — October 2, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  62. Jonathan: I don’t see where I’ve ducked the issue or taken pot shots. The man in the parable was referred to as rich because he had great possessions

    You have ducked the issue because you have failed to define what having “great possessions” means. At times you think it means having more than anyone else, but when we show that you are then a rich man you demur.

    The point of my post is that since there is apparently no useful or universal measure of “rich” then I believe Christ is actually talking about the law of consecration. That is, individual net worth or annual income are not relevant here — living the law of consecration or not is the only truly relevant point that Christ is making. I think the point is that no one is exalted without living the Celestial law regardless of their income or net worth. Let me remind you that Abraham was rich and yet Abraham was also exalted. So if we take this vague definition of rich that you are using then Christ was simply mistaken in this passage because a rich man (Abraham) did end up exalted. I think it safer to assume that you are misreading Jesus’ meaning than to assume he was totally out to lunch in this passage.

    The notion that the law of consecration cannot be lived in today’s society is a perfect example of the destructive rationalizations that I object to.

    I don’t know who you are addressing here. I have never once said the law of consecration can’t be lived now. In fact I have always said the exact opposite. As I understand the covenants, we must live the law of consecration here and now if we wish to be exalted. As I said, I will explore the questions of what that means exactly in future posts though.

    I should add that I don’t want to dump on brother Nibley. I simply have realized that he asks a lot of good questions regarding the law of consecration but gives almost no good, concrete answers. There is nothing wrong with that, but there are a lot of people who assume answers to his questions and attribute them to him.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 2, 2006 @ 11:29 am

  63. I haven’t failed to define what having great possessions means, but I haven’t said it means having more than anyone else. That would apply only to the richest person. I don’t mind if you want to characterize me as rich, but I’ve consistently said that each person has to judge this for himself or herself.

    I just think it’s misleading to claim there is no useful meaning of the term “rich” so Christ wasn’t talking about rich people. That’s the type of rationalization of the scriptures that is destructive.

    Referring to Abraham as “rich” is a common rationalization for accumulating wealth, although the verse you cite was several chapters before God made his covenant with Abraham in Chap 17. But Abraham was generous with his possessions, he declined additional wealth when it was offered to him, and he offered his most prized possession, Isaac, as a sacrifice. So I don’t see how you can conclude that Abraham was the type of rich man Christ was referring to. Besides, no one is saying that a rich person cannot enter heaven, only that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

    LDS doctrine has always been influenced by the popular culture, and the notion that it’s okay to be rich, despite the scriptures, is increasingly popular in our culture (both the LDS and world cultures). A couple of weeks ago Time magazine ran a cover story on the debate over the gospel of wealth. All I’ve tried to say here is that while it’s possible to rationalize away the plain meaning of the parables, including the camel and the eye of the needle, it’s better to conform our lifestyles to what Christ said than to conform what he said to our lifestyles.

    Comment by jonathan n — October 3, 2006 @ 12:23 pm

  64. Jonathan: I haven’t failed to define what having great possessions means, but I haven’t said it means having more than anyone else.

    Good grief… What does this sentence even mean? I see English words but can’t make any sense of it… If you “haven’t failed to define what having great possessions means” where did you define it?

    I’ve consistently said that each person has to judge this for himself or herself.

    Wha…? So we must judge ourselves whether we are rich or not, but it is impossible for a rich person to enter heaven… Ummm… Who exactly would judge themselves as rich then. You are a smart guy Jonathan. I am astonished to see you saying things that are such non-sense.

    I just think it’s misleading to claim there is no useful meaning of the term “rich” so Christ wasn’t talking about rich people.

    You are begging the question. Until we agree on what the term “rich” means this sentence is pointless.

    the verse you cite was several chapters before God made his covenant with Abraham in Chap 17.

    I also cited Gen. chapter 24 (in the footnote there). According to the records Abraham stayed rich after the covenant yet he was exalted.

    So I don’t see how you can conclude that Abraham was the type of rich man Christ was referring to.

    Hold on there. This is the first you’ve mentioned the “type of rich man” argument here. Until now you have been taking the untenable position that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. So are you now saying that it is only impossible for certain types of rich men to be saved? If so then you are basically agreeing with my post after all. That is that it is the type of person we become that matters, not Net worth or income levels.

    the notion that it’s okay to be rich, despite the scriptures, is increasingly popular in our culture (both the LDS and world cultures).

    Ahhh… that’s more like it. You’re back to bashing “them”. The undefined “rich” again. This is much more in line with your position than that anomolous “type of rich man” comment you made earlier.

    All I’ve tried to say here is that while it’s possible to rationalize away the plain meaning of the parables, including the camel and the eye of the needle, it’s better to conform our lifestyles to what Christ said than to conform what he said to our lifestyles.

    And by that you mean it is morally superior to be poor (even though that is still undefined) than to be rich (also undefined).

    For that reason I believe you are taking potshots. And until you are willing to define the terms rich and poor in any usable terms I must assume you are doing so in order to ride a high horse and condemn people who have a higher net worth or income than you do. I recognize the high horse you are on because I’ve enjoyed that pony ride in the past myself.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 3, 2006 @ 1:36 pm

  65. Geoff,

    This is a tough distinction to make and it’s more a matter of intuition for me than articulable reason. I’m not disputing that a true choice is always accompanied by the appropriate fruit (i.e. good works). Anyone who says they’ve “chosen God” without showing any of the fruits that go therewith (in any degree) hasn’t really made a true “choice.” They’re just paying lip service and God, “who looketh upon the heart” will judge accordingly.

    But my problem is where the focus is. Popular Mormon culture overcompensates for the old Puritan idea of human depravity and predestination by going the other way entirely. To listen-in on a typical Mormon Sunday School where I grew up, you’d think salvation was a matter of completing all the “category A” tasks in your Franklin Planner.

    My assertion is that it is “the choice” that will determine salvation, not the quantity of works. Works accompany the choice of course, but focusing on them leads to faulty thinking like the spiritual checklists I mentioned. It also ironically, leads to the very sort of self-flaggelation that you dislike in the old Puritan impulses.

    If I live again with God, it will be because I chose Him. Not because I had 100% home teaching. And not because I’m a generally “nice guy.”

    Comment by Seth R. — October 4, 2006 @ 8:26 am

  66. Seth: If I live again with God, it will be because I chose Him. Not because I had 100% home teaching. And not because I’m a generally “nice guy.”

    I agree. Thanks for the clarification. (And I got a chuckle out of this line: where I grew up, you’d think salvation was a matter of completing all the “category A” tasks in your Franklin Planner.)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 8:32 am

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