Commandments and Compassion (#ldsconf Odyssey)

Feb 16, 2016 by

Editor’s note: This post is part of a collaborative effort of Mormon bloggers who are reading and writing about General Conference talks. We call it the General Conference Odyssey. This article at Meridian Magazine explains more about the Odyssey, and includes some thoughts from those of us participating in this project.

One of the things I appreciate about being a part of this effort is to read the words of my fellow brothers and sisters. Their perspectives and experience enrich my experience engaging the words of the prophets. Of course, we don’t want our posts to replace the words of the prophets, but we hope perhaps this project will inspire you in some way, as it is inspiring us, to engage their words with more deliberateness and faith.

The other posts from this week’s reading, which focused on the Priesthood Session of the October 1971 General Conference, are at the bottom of the post.

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And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

~2 Nephi 2:13

Reading these General Conference talks from 1971 has been a meaningful experience for a lot of reasons. It’s interesting to see how relevant the messages are, how timeless so much of the counsel is, how prescient much of the preaching was.

Not only am I interested in watching for patterns across decades, I also am struck by patterns that appear within each conference. For example, so many talks focused on the commandments. Note titles like, “Should the Commandments be Rewritten?” and “The Ten Commandments” and “‘Thou Shalt Not‘” and “‘Thus Saith the Lord.” Specific commandments such as honesty, chastity, and the Word of Wisdom were addressed in numerous talks throughout the October 1971.

This focus on clear teaching of the commandments has been reviewed by a lot of the General Conference Odyssey bloggers, and with reason. We live in a world where the commandments of God are often ignored on one hand, or broken in ignorance on the other. The culture of “do what you want” is all the more pervasive than it was 45 years ago. Truly, the messages about commandments are timeless.

My title was actually chosen Sunday night after reading through my General Conference Odyssey friends’ blog posts from last week. On one of the posts (which for some reason is now returning a 404 message), there was a comment from someone who was feeling frustrated at the message focused on commandments, the importance of righteous parenthood, and the Church’s mission to save the world (yet another theme that appeared in these 1971 talks).

I could sympathize with this person’s comments, not because I take issue with a focus on commandments or the mission of the Church or the importance of good parenting, but because I know there are a lot of situations where pain exists in the life of a parent or loved one (or child) because of the choices of another. And sometimes, a message focused only on commandments may not offer the solace that a soul may need when the commandments are being lived but life is just hard.

I think of Jacob’s words when he had to speak with sharpness to the disobedience of the men in his congregation, knowing that there were others who needed a different message.

Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.

I wonder sometimes how our leaders feel when they feel prompted to speak about commandments. Do they sometimes feel like Jacob did? I imagine they might.

And yet, as I read these General Conference talks, I am reminded that the responsibility is on us, the listeners, to hold the message of the whole of the gospel as we listen to individual talks. No one talk can cover that whole.

In truth, of course, the commandments are evidence of God’s love, and I think our leaders urge us to remember and understand that. We are right to feel an urgency to uphold the commandments, because that is part of our mission as a Church. I love how the 1971 conference messages also remind us that we have a God-given duty to communicate His love and mercy as we minister to others.

When looking at the whole of the messages of the October 1971 conference so far, that message is very clear. Thus, while some of the talks may be “reproving betimes with sharpness,” other talks can reach out to those who need also to hear of God’s love in a direct way, and can remind us of our duty to channel that love to others.

For example, consider Marvin J. Ashton’s talk, “You Can Get There from Here,” (I invite you to listen to this talk because even Elder Ashton’s voice radiates compassion.)

Elder Ashton helps people understand the reality that commandments are compassionate:

“Young people, be not deceived. God loves you. He cares about you. He wants you back in his paths, where there is comfort, companionship, and purpose.”

And then, he urges leaders to be sure to communicate God’s love with clarity:

We as leaders need to effectively communicate to our youth that God loves them no matter where they are. We need to sacrifice our time and talents in this direction….

I pray to God that we in the future may communicate the positive, the happy, the abundant way of life to those around us.

Elder Ashton shares stories of hope, stories of people who have found God’s love even when they might have thought they had strayed too far from God’s way. (I am fairly certain that one of these stories is of one of the people mentioned in Elder Brown’s talk that I wrote about last week. If not, it’s a very similar story. Again, patterns were so evident in this October conference!)

I loved this story of hope, too, from a young man in a family situation that was not ideal for fostering faith. This story shows that family circumstance need not determine one’s destiny. Agency is always intact — a true evidence of God’s love.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting with an elder in the mission field. During our interview, I inquired, “Is your father a member of the Church?”

He said, “No.”

“Is your mother a member of the Church?” he was asked.

He responded with a smile, “Just barely.”

I said, “Did your father want you to go on a mission?”

He answered, “No.”

“Did your mother want you to go on a mission?”

“She really didn’t care whether I went or not.”

“Who influenced you most in your decision to go?”

Without hesitation he said, “I did. I’ve always wanted to go, and I knew I could make a success of it.”

Elder Ashton also pointedly warns against reproof when perhaps a different kind of response is warranted.

Many drug abusers are desperately trying to find their way back today. The road is difficult, the challenge tremendous. I am pleased to report many are making it, thanks to friends and volunteer members, priesthood bearers, who are concerned, care, and understand. Very often our glances, our indifference, our hasty comments and lack of patience convey the message, “You are hopeless. You can’t get back from here. You are too far down the road.”

After visiting with one of our young women who has been lost to drugs for many months, her only encouraging remark after more than three hours of sincere communication was, “Thanks for not chewing me out.” Two visits later she asked, “Do you think I would make a good schoolteacher?” To a sincere yes, she said, “Thanks, I’ll try. I’m only three semesters away from getting my teaching certificate.” This girl is making it back. Someone believes in her. Someone has convinced her she can get there from here. The trip she is on this time will bring her back home.

Other messages about compassion were also plentiful in this priesthood session of conference.

For example, N. Eldon Tanner ended his talk by saying

May the Lord bless us that we might realize the importance of a soul; that right in our midst we have people needing attention and help, and it is our responsibility to keep them active, to encourage them, and to reach them if they are having problems.

(Like Elder Hanks, though, Elder Tanner also urged individuals to reach out to their leaders and take responsibility for their activity as well. Once again, compassion is not the only answer — obedience and accountability also allow people to access God’s love!)

From Robert L. Simpson’s talk, “Strengthen Thy Brethren“:

A recurring theme during the life of the Savior as he taught the people was that each man is his brother’s keeper. No priesthood obligation is more important. The scriptures say something very similar but in another way that I like very much: “… when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.)

Interestingly, Elder Simpson teaches how holding up the commandments is, again, an important way to show love, and is part of our covenant responsibility:

The world today tells you to leave your friend alone. He has the right to come and go as he pleases. The world tells you that persuasion to attend church or priesthood meeting or to discard a bad habit might lead to frustration and undue pressures; but again I repeat the word of the Lord: You are your brother’s keeper, and when you are converted, you have an obligation to strengthen your brother.

How can we know how to strengthen those around us? Elder Simpson uses the words of the Lord to guide us:

He also says: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men;

“For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.”….

“… inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.” (D&C 100:5–8.)

I loved Elder Marion D. Hanks’ talk, again giving specific examples of the kinds of struggles youth (and others) have in their lives. His talk, in particular, felt like it could have been written in 2016 because he addressed topics that are hitting headlines in our time. For example, he shared the anguish of a stalwart family who lost a son to suicide, and a letter from someone who had a friend “who questions a Church position which he feels he cannot accept, which he thinks makes his position in the Church tenuous or untenable.”

“What can we do?” Elder Hanks asks.

“How can we help this great young generation meet the challenges of their time? I am certain that we must thoughtfully examine not only their needs and their problems, and what we have to give them, but how we undertake to give it, and what we appear to them to be as they observe it. I have been rethinking my own experience and will give you just an example or two quickly. May I do it in the spirit of a statement that to me for a long time has been very choice: ‘Neither laugh nor weep, nor loathe, but understand.'”

And then, like other leaders, Elder Hanks teaches how essential the commandments are to helping youth know of God’s love. I love that he talks about the fact that how we reach out matters, but the what cannot be ignored as we reach out in love.

“[T]hey need faith. They need to believe. They need to know the doctrines, the commandments, the principles of the gospel….

[T]hey need to be accepted as they are, and to be included. [They need family above all] and they need the supportive influence outside their home of others, of neighbors, of friends, of bishops, of brothers, of human beings.

As others in this session taught, Elder Hanks taught that love can also be shown by giving people opportunities to serve, and

“[T]hey have to learn somehow that they are more important than their mistakes; that they are worthwhile, valuable, useful; that they are loved unconditionally.”

I find it interesting how unconditional love and the need for commandments (God’s conditions for being able to bless us with His full measure of love) are taught in the same talk? I’m reminded of Elder Oaks’ profound sermon, “Love and Law.”

The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments, and the effect of God’s laws and commandments does not diminish the purpose and effect of His love….

Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children.

This reality of the dance between love and law, between commandments and compassion, is something I will continue to ponder as we finish the 1971 General Conference messages and prepare for the 2016 April General Conference which is fast approaching.

God’s love is both in His law, and in His mercy when we break His law. He desires to protect us from undue harm in a world full of conspiring people and philosophies which could lure us away from His ways, and He desires to help us find our way back when and if we stray. He desires us to teach the commandments and to teach of His love.

It’s all there in the whole of the message of the gospel. I pray we can all have eyes to see the beautiful mosaic of that whole that our leaders create as will let the Spirit show how their messages weave together in a tapestry of truth.

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Other posts in this week’s Odyssey:

Mormon Privilege http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2016/02/16/mormon-privilege/
 Becoming a Male Mother  http://rainscamedown.blogspot.com/2016/02/becoming-male-mother.html
 The Way Back into Love  http://comfortablyanachronistic.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-way-back-into-love.html
Yes, you can get there from here https://symphonyofdissent.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/yes-you-can-get-there-from-here/
Don’t Do Acid http://goodgazette.blogspot.com/2016/02/dont-do-acid.html
Our Virtue – Faith and Education http://patheos.com/blogs/soulandcity/2016/02/our-virtue-faith-and-education/
It Takes Men and Women http://www.ldswomenofgod.com/it-takes-men-women/

 

1 Comment

  1. “There is a strong tendency today for many to talk of Jesus Christ as if His teaching on love were somehow inconsistent with His teaching on divine commandments. Of course the Savior’s love was never withheld from anyone, and His words on the cross exemplify that. But He also expressed love by teaching clear doctrine and standing firmly against sin with sometimes tough lessons for which people rejected Him.”
    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/commentary-understanding-the-handbook

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