14 December 2014

Mercy and Grace

Generally speaking, the acceptance of things as they currently operate in the LDS Church follows a basic premise: "God brought beauty and blessings out of the painful/sad/horrible/difficult/wrong/abusive/sinful thing that happened. Therefore, what happened was His will." That, combined with quotes like this gem from Marion G. Romney, seal the submissive acceptance of whatever does happen:
“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home. … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.”
What this well-intentioned brother is talking about is God's mercy. His mercy is what turns trial into testimony, burden into blessing. In His mercy, Jesus holds back the punishment that justice demands, and blesses us, instead, hoping we will turn to Him in our extremity. Mercy happens, and can only happen, when we justly deserve a whole lot more consequences than we're getting . . . i.e. when we do something wrong, or stupid, and our merciful, loving God finds a way to turn that to benefit His work and to bless us.

Now, mercy is a distinctly different animal from grace. Our own LDS leaders define grace very well, in addition to the link I just provided. The church's website states: "grace is an enabling power".

When someone is gracious, they extend favor to someone who does not deserve it. It is the gracious response of a hostess that ignores the mud tracked onto her pristine floor by the shoes of the farmer's daughter who came to her home in town, or passes it off as nothing when it is noticed. It's the civilized response to another's discomfort, embarrassment, or pain. It is unmerited favor.

God's grace becomes active in our lives when we are following Him. His grace makes us more than we ever could be on our own . . . but it takes faith in Him. True faith, faith unto salvation. It takes us hearing God's word for us when we are turned toward Him, and then accepting that He has already provided all we need, will help us where we are weak, and perform amazing things through us--weak vessels though we may be. It takes us stepping out in faith--sometimes into total darkness, sometimes off a precipice into an abyss--for His Grace to become active in us. 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us why:
"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
I'll repeat myself: grace makes more of us than we could ever be on our own. 

We have to venture into territory where we are unequipped--not because we have no talent or ability, but because our mortal nature and intelligence falls short of the task at hand. It takes us trusting God enough to move forward despite Him calling us into areas of our weakness. Our weaknesses are what allow us to even SEE God's strength. In my 35 years of Molly Mormonhood, I felt such deep devotion to God, and would cry regularly as I shared my testimony. And yet, I never let Him fill my weakness. I gave Him no quarter in which to show forth His power, because I did it all myself.

Do we deserve either mercy or grace? Definitely not. Christ's sacrifice and victory give Him the right to extend them to us. The question is, which power do you invite into your life?

Can we grow in situations where God's mercy is alone manifest? Absolutely. Can we learn deep truths, beautiful things, and be changed for the better through His mercy? Absolutely. But can we learn as much through the operation of God's mercy as we could through the operation of His grace? 

No.

Can we rise up as on wings of eagles, be made into new creatures in Christ Jesus through the baptism of fire that precipitates receiving the Holy Ghost, can we prophesy, heal, cast out devils, move mountains, or work any other work of the Lord Jesus Christ through mercy alone? 

No.

That takes faith, which calls down God's grace.

It's nothing special for a group of people to claim blessings have come to them from God. It's no different from any other group of people anywhere--believer or not. He blesses all people, as often and as richly as He can. He makes the rain to fall, the sun to shine, on the evil as well as the good. The wheat and tares grow up together, and He blesses them all with what they need to survive, and even thrive.

But Mormon gave us a key to know when a people have true faith in Jesus Christ:
"[H]as the day of miracles ceased? Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has He withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will He, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in His name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made."
Contrast that with what Jesus Himself told His disciples:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."
Please. Take a look at your life. Are you doing the works that we "see", recorded in scripture, that Jesus did? Are you empowered by His grace, and His Spirit, to do even greater works than He did?

Or are you instead living according to this gem from N. Eldon Tanner?
"When the prophet speaks the debate is over."

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I welcome questions and concerns--they are most often what spur us closer to the truth. I only ask that we all give everyone the most generous benefit of the doubt, assigning the best motives possible. A soft answer truly does turn away wrath, and an atmosphere of Jesus's love is the best for learning, no matter which side of a discussion you're on.

Thanks so much, and God bless you!